Another Review!

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Home Sweet Homicide – Craig Rice

Amber’s Review: So here’s the thing, I’ve never read a Craig Rice mystery, well other than Home Sweet Homicide. So in preparation for writing this review, I did some research on Rice and her writing style.

This is where things got interesting.

Well more interesting, as her book was entirely engrossing.

At first blush Home Sweet Homicide doesn’t appear to be a typical Craig Rice novel. Her primary detectives are three kids, ages 14, 12 and 10. There isn’t a drop of alcohol anywhere to in the pages which, according to my reference books, is unusual. As Rice’s detectives typically spend an inordinate time throwing the sauce back. In addition, the kids work loosely with the police, which her hard-boiled detectives rarely consider a worthwhile option.

However.

Digging further into her other mysteries, I began to glimpse Rice’s genius for the absurd and her flair for recycling old tropes into fresh plot devices.

Need an example of her absurd literary recycling? When short of the necessary pocket change, our junior detectives in Home Sweet Homicide would hit up the owner of the soda fountain for a malt on credit. Then pay off their debt when they managed to get two nickels to rub together. Archie, Dinah, and April were also not above hustling an unsuspecting mark to obtain a free malt or two or three.

This complicated relationship with the soda fountain, its owner and malts – bears all the hallmarks of Rice’s most famous detective of John J. Malone. Who favors whiskey over malts and Angel’s City Hall Bar over the dimestore on the corner.

And it works!

Another intriguing facet of this work is Archie, Dinah and April’s mother Marian Carstairs.

Marian Carstairs is considered by most an imperfect self-portrait of Craig Rice herself. Both were at one point crime reporters, freelance writers, and mystery novelists – who published under several nom de plumes. Even more telling? Their writing style. Both women simply rolled a blank sheet of paper into their typewriters and started typing. Neither woman constructed outlines, character lists, the major plot points, or even the solution until they punched it out. They just sat down at the typewriter and typed until they reached the end!

(btw- I’d be lost without an outline.)

This mystery was witty, smart, and fun to read.

I would recommend this zany mystery to anyone who could enjoy a plot which at one point or another – rests of a band of grubby boys, a mother’s day present and an impromptu dance party.

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P.S. – The picture, above my review, is of a Rue Morgue edition I bought at the shop years ago and is unfortunately out of print now.

But never fear! Otto Penzler has reissued this great mystery in his American Mystery Classic series. So you click on the green cover above the postscript to go to Otto’s site and grab yourself a copy of this great book!

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P.P.S. – Don’t forget to check out this week’s edition of Finder of Lost Things – Penny In The Air!

Both Wood and Orin come clean about the shenanigans they both pulled on Phoebe this evening!

An Extra Review!

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(The cookies in the picture are garam-masala chocolate gingerbread cookies – I use a different recipe than the one Nancy Atherton put in her book because it required nuts and I’m allergic!)

Aunt Dimity & the Heart of Gold 

by Nancy Atherton

Did you ever wonder how Miss Marple honed her investigative abilities? Or in fact, how she remained so sharp in between each case?

I believe she kept her wits keen through continual practise. Miss Marple not only investigated the occasional murder that crosses her path – but all the little mysteries that popped up in her village of St. Mary Mead as well.

Now you shouldn’t confuse the word little with unimportant.

As Miss Marple’s learned the small mysteries (and therefore their solutions) are often analogous to the bigger mysteries, like murder and blackmail.

Which I think explains how Miss Marple was able to solve Colonel Protheroe murder in her first full-length mystery, Murder At The Vicarage. She’d already had decades worth of parallels to draw from and years of practice finding answers to prickly questions.

Now you might be wondering why on earth I am talking about Miss Marple in a review for an Aunt Dimity mystery.

The answer is this: Lori Sheperd (our sleuth), in many ways, reminds me of Miss Marple.

Go with me for a minute here.

Married with three children, an American and decades younger than the Grand Dame herself – I know superficially, Lori doesn’t appear to resemble Miss Marple in the slightest. However, if you take a closer look at their traits, striking similarities start popping out of the text.

Both women are fixtures in their community, volunteer their time, help their friends, and enjoy a good chat with their neighbors.

This “chatting” is where we find one of the most significant similarities between these two extraordinary women – their marked partiality to obtaining and occasionally disseminating village gossip. This “newsgathering” allows them both to acquire a richer view of the villages in which they reside and a better understanding of human nature – which is essential in solving mysteries.

The other important trait Lori shares with Miss Marple is her love of solving little mysteries. Any curious puzzle that pops up in Finch – Lori wants to solve it. From a quilting bee that ends with a revelation of a widow’s curse to a mysterious wishing well – very little can stop Lori from pursuing the truth.

And by keeping this murderless mystery series, Nancy Atherton has successfully avoided the Cabot Cove Syndrom which oftentimes plagues series of this length (24 books and counting). Meaning? We aren’t left wondering why anyone would live in the small village of Finch if people keep getting shot, stabbed, poisoned or garrotted in it.

Similarly, Agatha Christie was able to neatly sidestep this Syndrome by only penning twelve full-length titles and of those she set a fair few of those outside the borders of St. Mary Mead. (Atherton’s done this as well only her mysteries are set outside Finch – though wouldn’t it be fun if Lori visited St. Mary Mead? Or is that to on the nose you think?)

The most notable difference between these two ladies that I think needs addressing is their outlook on life. Miss Marple’s take on the world is one of pronounced pragmatism. Over the years, Miss Marple’s heard a plethora of rumors and solved a multitude of crimes. This knowledge has lead to the understanding that while not always pleasant, the dimmest view of someone’s motives is often the most accurate. While Lori, who hasn’t seen nearly as much, holds a far more upbeat vision of the world and the people in it. Perhaps in time, Miss Marple and Lori’s world views will align, but only time will tell.

Until then Lori will continue to hone her skills (much as Marple did) solving every niggly little puzzle that creeps up in Finch.

Such as the latest installment, Aunt Dimity & The Heart of Gold. A lovely mystery which uses Christmas/winter as a backdrop/springboard to propel this mystery forward. Where a mysterious motorist crashes a Christmas party, then discovers a Hindu alter hidden in a priest hole no one, including the homeowners, knew was there!

Lori really has her hands full in this one…

I thoroughly enjoyed every page in this book. Atherton does a great job in balancing the mystery with the Christmastime theme. Happily, she never succumbs to the syrupy sweetness that often plagues book set in December! Again using the time of year to move the mystery forward – not stall it under a ton of garland.

Now, if Atherton’s backlist daunts you, don’t worry. So long as you understand you are not starting with the first book and are willing to roll with it, you’ll be fine. As it was, I was a few books (six) out of date and had no problems picking up the thread of the series again. Now I normally recommend you start with the first book first, so you understand the hint of magic eddying around the fringes of this series, but it’s not required.

All that being said, I must say I couldn’t put this book down until I finished the very last (and highly satisfying) page. And the only reason I didn’t finish it in one sitting is that I needed to get some sleep!

I would recommend this book to anyone like me who loves a great mystery and/or enjoys reading Christmas books in July!

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Don’t Forget to check out my other blog – Finder of Lost Things!

This week, Dourwood decided is the perfect time to execute The Brace Affair…what could go wrong?

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!