Need A Mother’s Day Gift Idea?

      Amber Here

Do you have a mother who enjoyed playing Lego’s with you as a kid?

Or a mom with a sense of humor, who appreciates you gifting her with a set to reminisce over – i.e. stepping on your missing brick, with bare feet, in the middle of the night?

I have just the set for you – a Pop-Up Book!

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Complete with two different stories – Little Red Riding Hood or Jack And The Bean Stalk! (Jack’s not pictured here. I like Red better.)

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Will Red save Grandma from the Wolf? Depends on the story!

(They didn’t include a Huntsman or his knife – perhaps Lego felt it was a bit to bloody?)

      Review

This is a way easy build (so long as Mom follows the instructions) by comparison to the other buildings I’ve shared with you! I finished in a hour or two watching MLS soccer a few Saturdays ago, so it shouldn’t eat up to much time out of your Mom’s day – especially if you build it together.

The final fairytale tome fits easily on a bookshelf (it’s about the size of a hefty hardback). The only downside is the Red, Grandma and the Wolf  don’t fit inside when the book is closed. So there’s a slight risk of them getting loose and straying under her foot…again.

But that will bring back fond memories of your youth and remind her how much you’ve grown and what a fine job she did raising you…Right? Definitely won’t have her cursing your name…

      P.S.

Don’t forget to check out my other blog: Finder of Lost Things!

This week Wood and Phoebe get confused by a conversational wizard!

Crime In Bricktown….

      Amber Here

Remember way back in December when I posted pictures of the seedier side of Lego’s “Modular Building Sets” (I dubbed it Bricktown just now as it’s easier to type)? The main attraction for SMB was the fact it had a Private Detective’s Agency on the second floor!

As it turns out there was a bit more intrigue to be found next door to the PI’s Office…

(Which of course is a separate build….)

The Brick Bank located next door to the PI’s office is getting robbed!

(Which incidentally is why my brother bought the set for me, he thought it was hilarious and the perfect compliment to my first set!)

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Here’s our Bank Robber preparing to enter the air duct which is conveniently is bereft of security features.

No one in the building suspects that a heist is happing right now! Not the staffer sitting next to the air shaft; nor the lady in the laundromat on the other side of the vault; even the bank teller is unaware of what’s happening a few short paces away!

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Our thief is positively giddy at the sight of his new found loot! All he needs to do now is make a clean get away – thru the secret passage way of the barbershop next door…

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Unfortunately our sleuth missed his opportunity to catch the thief in the act, as he was solving another puzzle (The Case of the Missing Tuna Sandwich).

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But he’ll be hot on the thief’s trail soon…

      Review

This build was perhaps a bit easier than the PI’s Office. Due to the fact you weren’t required to build so many secret nooks, exits and hidden holes. And while those made the PI’s office more difficult to build – it also made it more entertaining.

The Bank build was more straight forward. It contained a complicated aspects, such as the chandelier and the working vault door, it did grab me the same way the previous or my next build has.

(Though, to clarify it is still an Expert build – kids who are either veteran Lego build masters or kids able to follow step by step instructions without frustration or a combo of kids/older kids/adults working together to complete – should tackle this build.)

However, it does complete a great story and for that I found The Brick Bank build worth my time!

      P.S.

Don’t forget to check out my other blog: Finder Of Lost Things!

I promise it has nothing to do with Legos! And everything to do with murder.

Though in tomorrow’s episode Phoebe will enter Wood’s doghouse after a disturbing idea strikes her!

Another April Review!

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Amber Here!

Don’t forget to check out my other blog Finder of Lost Things! This week Phoebe nearly kills herself running up a mountain chasing possibilities!

Anne Bishop – Wild Country

Fran reviewed this novel in the April newzine – but because I love this series (and this book) so much I must add my review on top of hers! So here it is…

What do you get – when you mash together Stephen King’s The Stand with a Clint Eastwood spaghetti western populate the town with werewolves (and every other kind of were-predator you can think of) and a fringe of humanity?

Anne Bishop’s Wild Country.

This book invokes such a feeling of the old west that all I could think of was Aaron Copland’s Rodeo while I was reading it (and if you aren’t familiar with the Copland click here – ignore the first few seconds where there’s a woman speaking and focus on the music – the ballet – meh – but the music is one of my all-time favorite works). From the saloon run by Madame Sythe – complete with alcohol, gambling, and flirty girls (who ONLY flirt) to livery stables, cattle ranches and mounted police – Bishop did a great job of establishing the old west feel without taking it over the top. It was wonderful!

And here’s where I must echo Fran’s review – the events that occur in Wild Country happen concurrently with those in Etched in Bone – so in order to eke out every nuance from this story – you must read both books. You don’t have to if you don’t want to – I think you can pick up a lot in context – but not every event will make complete sense (and again you’ll miss the subtlety in Bishop’s plot). But if you mainline the entire series, starting with Written In Red, you’ll be in good shape! (And in for a treat – I adore every one of Bishop’s books.)

Either way, this book is an excellent read and distracted me from finishing my work so entirely I finally had to sit down and finish it in one marathon session so I could get things done – and because it was so good, I didn’t even feel guilty!

(And I feel guilty about virtually everything!)

Another March Review!

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Amber Here!

This book/series is so brilliant it deserves a second review!

Don’t forget to check out my other blog – Finder of Lost Things! This week Phoebe winds up in another shed waiting for a man about a boat on the way to the gang’s group vacation!

Maureen Johnson – The Vanishing Stair

Now Fran reviewed this book back in March’s Newzine -but I must add my own words to the wonderfulness that is this book! So read her excellent review (click here then scroll down or reread the whole newzine – your choice), then read mine.

Because we both agree you need to start this series posthaste!
Maureen Johnson should sideline as a magician.

Why? She has some serious skill in sleight of hand!

Like any skilled magician, she draws her audiences eye in one direction – while the real trick is occurring someplace else – leaving her readers to sit in awe of her skill.

By the end of The Vanishing Stair, Johnson gives us the answers we were looking for at the end of Truly Devious; who the pair in the picture were, who kidnapped Ellingham’s wife and daughter, what happened to the missing student and many other solutions besides.

But our author is tricksy.

While giving us the answers we crave – Johnson gives us more questions, complicated questions and subtly unravels a case we thought neatly sewn up at the end of Truly Devious. All without her readers fully realizing what’s happening until the final chapter’s finished.

Seriously this book is excellent.

If Johnson’s aiming for a trilogy, then this is one of the best, outstanding and brilliant middle books I’ve read in a very long time. In fact, it’s just a clever mystery on its own – but you have to read the first book first thus making this a superb middle mystery.

What’s even better? I have a sneaking suspicion Johnson’s sleight of hand doesn’t end in this installment – I think both our cold, unraveled & current cases link together to form something far more sinister than we currently suspect. Something which will impact Stevie (our heroine) in ways that she and we cannot yet foresee.

I cannot wait to see where exactly the next book leads us!

The New Flavia de Luce!

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      Amber Here!

Here’s another review that I just couldn’t wait until the March Newzine to share with you! 

And don’t forget to check out my penny dreadful, Finder of Lost Things! This week we find out who our mysterious passenger, Miss Eighties glam might be!

   Alan Bradley – The Golden Tresses Of The Dead

Flavia’s back! Woot!

And she and Dogger are investigating their first case – who put a severed finger in her sister’s wedding cake!

Even if you have never read a Flava de Luce novel, you can start with this installment. While not precisely a stand-alone, as there are a number of references to previous books, The Golden Tresses Of The Dead feels more like the first step in a new story arc. Allowing a new reader to step into the series without HAVING to read the previous nine stories (though if I’m honest there’s a good chance you’d want to go back and read them anyways – but it’s not necessary).

I loved this book! Not only did the mystery capture my interest from the outset, but the way Bradley incorporated real facts into the narrative, made it feel effortless! For instance, the London Necropolis Railway, a line dedicated to carrying mourners and the deceased to Brookwood Cemetary (the largest cemetery in the United Kingdom) between 1854 and 1941. A railway I’d never dreamt existed previously (and will be researching shortly on my own) featured prominently in the story – but its presence never felt forced and description didn’t feel akin to a regurgitated Wikipedia page. As I said above – I loved it, and Bradley sewed it into his mystery seamlessly.

On a side note, while reading this mystery, I finally realized who Flavia reminded me of – and it’s one of my favorite fictional female leads – Wednesday Addams (from the Addams Family)! With Flavia’s love of poisons and churchyards coupled with her reticent nature and unique world view – I think these two girls share some significant similarities. However, I doubt they’d ever get along as Flavia doesn’t possess Wednesday’s sadistic streak and Wednesday doesn’t contain Flavia’s natural empathy. But I think they could come to appreciate one another (from a sheer intellectual standpoint) from opposite sides of the line much in the way Sherlock and Moriarty did.

Perhaps Undine is Flavia’s Moriarty? Only time will tell.

Either way, this parallel struck me while reading, which made the book even more fun to read!

So go out and purchase this mystery post haste! If you’re a fan of classic British mysteries, I seriously doubt this book will let you down! I certainly wasn’t!

Hallowe’en Party: Part Two – Snapdragon

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      My 52 Weeks With Christie:

Hallowe’en Party

   Random (And Almost Relevant) Facts: 

Anyone out there ever heard of Snapdragon before? Yes? No? Well, prior to reading Hallowe’en Party I never had. The only reference point I had was the British tradition of dousing a Christmas Pudding with brandy and setting it alight at the end of Christmas dinner. But Snapdragon, from Christie’s description, sounded far more boisterous, chaotic and merry compared to my single point of reference.


Fun Fact: Apparently Christmas/Plum Puddings never caught on on this side of the pond due in large part to the U.S.’s Puritan & Quaker roots, as they considered it, “the invention of the scarlet whore of Babylon”. Which seems a rather harsh view of a pudding.


Anyways…

Since Snapdragon played such a crucial role in Hallowe’en Party, by giving the murderer the perfect distraction/opportunity to commit their dastardly deed, I decided to investigate.

And much to my surprise I discovered this description in an 1855 party guide called:

Home Games For The People: A Collection of Family Amusements For The Fire-Side, Parlour, or Pic-Nic Parties; Consisting of Games of Action; Games simply taxing the Attention; Catch Games, depending on the assistance of an Accomplice; Games requiring the Exercise of Fancy, Memory, Intelligence and Imagination. For The Use of the Old and Young.

(Yes, that’s the title.)

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This guide’s instructions (along with several others I discovered) tallies with Christie’s description of events at that fateful Halloween Party attended Ariadne Oliver – pretty blue flames which posed a slight risk of injury, alcohol saturated raisins which cause a mess when plucked from the bowl and participants who enjoyed the diversion immensely.

However, what I found most surprising, after reading the lengthy title page, was the fact the publisher was located in New York! So with a bit more perusing, I discovered Snapdragon was played from about the 16th to 19th centuries in England, Canada, and the United States. (Apparently, the Puritans and Quakers found fault with a pudding but filling a bowl full of spirits, raisins and fire then sending their children to play in it was fine.)

Raisins were the preferred treat. However, currents, figs, grapes, plums or almonds could be substituted if needed or suited the audience better. Originally a Christmas Eve activity it eventually evolved into a Twelfth Night and Halloween diversion as well – which Christie’s mystery illustrates.


Fun Fact: Our esteemed authoress keeps great literary company, both Charles Dickens and Lewis Carroll mention Snapdragon in their works as well.


Three guesses why this tradition died out…and the first two don’t count.

While the liquor, flames, and fruit delighted the younger set and made holiday parties a smashing success, these very same elements often made the day after a bit of a misery for the unlucky. Who wants to spend Christmas Day nursing singed fingers and blistered mouth? (And depending on how quick you snatched the raisins out, the younger participates might get a slight hangover – the spirits don’t burn off as quick as you’d think.) So around the beginning of the twentieth century the observance of this custom begun dying out.

Interestingly, its decline in popularity coincides when Christie was growing up – so perhaps she played Snapdragon as a child? No clue. But due to its waning popularity, it explains why the none of the Halloween party-goers notice the killer leading their victim from the room – because Snapdragon could indeed have been a rare treat by 1969!


Fun Fact: According to Atlas Obscura, Snapdragon had an adult variant called Flapdragon. In Flapdragon a lit candle was dropped into a mug of ale, then the individual attempted to down the contents without setting their mustaches, beard or hair on fire.


Now to give you guys a complete picture of this Victorian holiday tradition, I took it upon myself to play a game of Snapdragon.

Purely for due diligence purposes, you understand.

I did, however, decide against playing Flapdragon. Which either proves I am now an adult with an iota of common sense or am merely reluctant to explain to every ER doctor/nurse/lab assistant on duty that I sustained my burns by willingly drinking a beer with a lit candle in it – could go either way.

Plus I already have enough outrageous emergency room anecdotes, thank you.

When I proposed my thrilling new Wednesday night adventure, my husband regretfully declined my invitation. Stating that watching me dip my fingers into fire, popping something on fire into my mouth, while undoubtedly standing to close to the fire was incompatible with one of his primary drives – my safety.

He did not find Snapdragon a safer alternative to Flapdragon.

So while he sat in the other room playing video games, and definitely not making sure the fire extinguisher and car keys were handy – I played Snapdragon on our balcony!

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The flames were lovely. And even better? No burns or blisters to report! Though I am glad, I decided to light the bourbon (we didn’t have any brandy) outside, because a little bit goes a long way, and I used a bit too much! The flames got a bit higher than anticipated but other than that it went great!

I can definitely see why both the children & adult’s full attention was on the Snapdragon in Hallowe’en Party! It’s entertaining and scary all at the same time!

*BTW – Don’t try this without a Responsible adult present! Fire is still dangerous, the Victorians were just plain crazy or bored, either way, while this post (is hopefully) funny – this activity is not to be taken lightly. Burns and/or real fires can result. So be it on your head if you try it!

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Hallowe’en Party: Part One

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      My 52 Weeks With Christie: Hallowe’en Party

   First Published:

November 1969

   Series:

Hercule Poirot with Ariadne Oliver & Superintendent Spence

   Summary:

During the preparations for a Halloween party Joyce Reynolds (thirteen), trying to impress Ariadne Oliver, brags that she witnessed a murder. But that she didn’t know that it was a murder at the time, because she was, “…quite young at the time.” 

Everyone agreed at the time that Joyce was just telling tall tales again – but when she’s murdered a few hours later, Ariadne isn’t so sure she was. Disturbed by the child’s murder, indeed enough to swear off apples, she descends on Poirot asking for his help in solving this mystery.

   My Review:

In school did you ever have a teacher who assigned a report with a minimum page count? You do your research, write it out and print it up – only to discover your draft is eight pages, and the minimum is twelve?

Rather than rewriting a substantial section of your paper, you employ the time-honored tactic of padding. You add superfluous examples, extra quotes from primary sources and tangentially relevant information to your final draft. Which allows you to make your required page count – but unintentionally weakens/dilutes your thesis.

This is precisely how Hallowe’en Party felt to me. The entire time I was reading it, it felt like a short story padded out with extra bits until it reached the required length of a novel.

Which, after some research, I discovered is pretty much what happened.

Hallowe’en Party’s main plot springs from a 1935 Poirot short story called How Does Your Garden Grow?. With its keystone firmly in place, Christie then engaged in more literary recycling by stitching in elements from Dead Man’s Folly, published in 1965, to impart a sense of urgency to her narrative.

Christie then moved onto her cast of characters, Poirot’s there (obviously) but she also included two previously introduced detectives; Ariadne Oliver (who’d appeared in five other novels prior) and Superintendent Spence (who appeared in two others himself). Both easing her writing burden because we already knew who they were and allowed Christie to achieve more depth in her story through the further fleshing out of established characters.

Further augmenting the book’s length Christie embroidered in a sliver of the atmosphere from her 1961 classic The Pale Horse thru one oblique and one overt reference to Macbeth (which is a vital element of the 1961 classic). She also dedicated several paragraphs to our detective’s recollections of four previous cases and two other characters (beyond our writer and retired policeman). And to round out her page count Christie placed in some commentary on the stated of the world and the British legal system.

All of these tricks allowed her to transform an eight-page short story into a two-hundred-and-sixty-six-page novel (I am using the page counts of my editions). It wasn’t a bad story, but it’s nowhere close to the brilliance of Endless Night, or The Pale Horse both penned in the same decade as Hallowe’en Party.

However.

What I ultimately think sinks this book to the bottom of the Potroast Level is the same thing that keeps it out of the Meringue Level. (If unclear about these levels read my review from last week, I detail them there.)

I think Hallowe’en Party is a Miss Marple mystery dressed in Poirot clothing.

Stick with me here.

Despite all the Poirot-ness crammed into Hallowee’en Party, from the reprocessed plot to the upcycled cast of detectives, I think the bones of this book actually lie in the Miss Marple canon (which made this an odd read since it took me a while to put my finger on exactly what was going on). But it started to clear up the night Oliver and Poirot drank brandy before his warm fire while she recounted the elements of the mystery to him, which sent echoes of The Tuesday Night Club thru my mind.

What clarified everything for me was Poirot’s summation of the case, which showed me that the real foundation of Halloween Party lies not with Poirot’s short story Where Does Your Garden Grow? but in Miss Marple’s “last case” Sleeping Murder.

Because it’s not the financial/inheritance shenanigans which set events in motion in Hallowe’en Party – but the eyewitness claims of a thirteen-year-old girl.

Still skeptical? Well, compare the two books. Both feature little girls who’ve witnessed a murder but due to their age don’t understand what they’ve seen until much later. When this revelation finally comes to light the killer, who up until that point believed themselves free from suspicion, murder again to cover up their initial crime. Additionally, the two stories also feature victims who supposedly ran off never to be seen again but are eventually discovered to have met grisly ends, then end up buried in places of natural splendor.

Now before you start shouting at me thru your computer, saying what about Dead Man’s Folly? It was published thirteen years prior to Sleeping Murder and contains these same elements!

But here’s the thing not everyone knows (and which I find vastly irritating about most Marple reading lists), that while Sleeping Murder was published after Christie’s death, she penned it well before its publication, somewhere about the mid-1940s to early 1950s then held onto it for posthumous release. In reality, Sleeping Murder is a mid-series book while Nemesis is the real end of Marple’s series. Published two years after Hallowe’en Party, Nemesis features similar underpinnings and literary padding techniques but is a far more sound book – I believe – in part because the correct detective is at the helm.

Either way, whether you think Hallowe’en Party a padded Poirot short story, based on the Sleeping Murder or a practice run for Nemesis I think this quote from Hallowe’en Party sums the book up best, “The past is the father of the present…” (pg. 128).

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      Don’t Forget

Check out my other fiction blog: Finder Of Lost ThingsThis week Beatrice is “helping” Phoebe out!