My 52 Weeks With Christie…

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      Amber Here:

So here’s the deal, five years ago my blog series My 52 Weeks With Christie officially ended (though I’ve kept photographing Christie books and posting them on Tumblr). But it’s always nagged at me that I never completed reading/reviewing the entire Christie canon. I’ve missed a few of the full-length Poirot’s, all his short stories, the latest Sophie Hannah Poirot mystery and I never even started the Parker Pyne’s or her Mary Westmacott’s! Even worse? Recently, I’ve had a hankering to reread some of my old favorites (a complete bibliophile problem – when you have a stack of new titles ready to read and all you want to do is reread old books)!

So I thought I’d finally finish what I started.

Not a weekly post, because I don’t have enough time, but sprinkle these posts thru the year (along with my regular reviews) until I completed Christie’s entire body of work!

Huzza!

Tune in tomorrow to see which book I’m reviewing next! (BTW it will be a two-part review – so the length is more manageable!)

Another February Review!

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      Amber Here!

This came out mid January and I couldn’t wait another week to tell you guys about this book! 

Don’t forget to check out my other blog – Finder of Lost Things! This week you learn why Phoebe learned as a child to loathe sheds…

      Behold A Fair Woman – Francis Duncan

It’s been a while, five years in fact since I used my Christie rating system, but I think its applicable to Francis Duncan’s Mordecai Euripedes Tremaine mystery series.

Now let me remind you of the three categories…

My highest accolade, Shrimp Level. Which hearkens back to a wonderful dinner in which I ate shrimp sauteed with a delicate steak in butter. Seriously, years later I can still picture the plate and almost remember the taste! Christie’s Murder of Roger Ackroyd, A Murder Is Announced, Crooked House and Endless Night all fall within the Shrimp category (and many others besides).

Still superior, but not achieving the dizzy heights of Shrimp is the Potroast Level. Lovely warm and filling, I’ve never eaten a bad bite of this comfort food. For Christie, this category helps to level out the towering heights and bottom scraping lows of her long career. Peril At End House, Sleeping Murder, The Man In The Brown Suit and Cards On The Table fall into this category for me.

Then there’s the Meringue Level. Which are all fluff and no substances an ultimately disappointing type of cookie. I do not care for meringue in any form, whether baked as a cookie or topping a pie. This level is where I place Christie’s Passenger To Frankfurt, Destination Unknown and N or M.

Now, why am I speaking of Christie during a review of an entirely different author?

(Besides the fact I’ve been devouring some of Christie’s works again?)

Because I feel Duncan’s books can stand toe to toe against any of the books in the Potroast Level (one or two even hovering just under the bottom line of the shrimp level) of the Christie canon! Francis Duncan’s books are all an excellent read.

Each of the five Mordecai mysteries fall within the purview of the classic British mystery Christie helped to evolve. A closed cast, multiple suspects who often possess “unshakable” alibies and each one interestingly enough occurs on a holiday of one kind or another. One fascinating feature of Duncan’s mysteries are the motives. Often stemming from the same emotion, the author is able to show the nuances found within that single emotion and how each may or may not lead to murder. Which I find fascinating to read.

Now onto Behold A Fair Woman.

I am bereft, as this is the final Mordecai Euripidies Tremaine mystery! Francis penned five in total, and I relished reading each one. I cannot recommend them highly enough! Perhaps Source Books will discover other titles, possibly written under another pseudonym, and republish them as well? Please?

But in any case back to Behold A Fair Woman – where Mordecai is taking a holiday away from his hobby of murder. The sorrow left in his heart after a successful investigation always weighs on him, despite the succor his other secret passion, romantic tales, brings him.

But as they say, the best-laid plans of mice and men…Soon Mordecai is embroiled in a murder investigation when he discovers the body of a local hotel owner in the water tank of a neighboring tomato grower.

What I found most astonishing in this installment was how fair Duncan plays with his reader and yet is still able to pull off a bait and switch in the end – which makes complete sense with the evidence compiled by our intrepid amateur sleuth! It has been a very long time since I’ve read anything which pulled this feat off so well, perhaps dating all the way back to my Christie reading.

Which is why I pulled out the Christie rating system because I felt the classic nature of Duncan’s mysteries, deserved to be tallied against The preeminent classic British mystery writer!

I would recommend Behold A Fair Woman, or any of his other titles, to anyone looking for a lively classic mystery!

A Gift Idea

Amber Here!

With December in full swing, most of my spare time is taken up with shopping, crafting or baking commitments. Leaving me very little time for reading and reviewing books for you guys.

However, back in the beginning of November while killing some time in Bellevue Square I ran across a toy I think any mystery lover would enjoy!

Lego’s Detective’s Office !

With a suspicious barbershop (which has a secret exit), hoods playing pool & drinking beer in the Highlander and a femme fatal, this Lego set answers the question: Does Lego Town contain a seedy side? And the answer is yes!

(Though it is a kids toy so it’s rather tame.)

So if you are looking for a gift idea for someone who already has enough mysteries to read (like that’s even possible) and enjoyed Legos as a kid, I highly suggest this build!

BTW the finished product is nowhere close to the size of the box all the pieces come in, I promise! It fits comfortably on an IKEA bookshelf!

One other thing, it takes 2,262 bits and pieces to build and if you’re great at following instructions, then you shouldn’t find this build to intimidating (even if you haven’t played with Legos for over thirty years). However, younger less patient builders may find the set frustrating if assembling it on their own – so I’d recommend building it with them.

Seriously I forgot how much I enjoyed playing with Legos as a kid until I picked up this Lego set and assembled it over several weekends while watching football. It even inspired me to purchase another set, the Ninjago City, which reminds me of the cityscapes in Total Recall (the new version), Firefly and Bladerunner.

I cannot wait to start putting it together!

My Other Blog:

And don’t forget to check out my weekly penny dreadful – Finder Of Lost Things!

This week the crew’s recounting unfortunate roommates over pizza and Phoebe discovers she might not be the oddest one in the house!

Another November Review!

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Amber Here!

Merry Black Friday!? Remember to be nice to those ringing you up today! I will be walking around Green Lake trying to work off my Thanksgiving Day dinner!

Don’t forget to check out the latest installment in my mystery series Finder Of Lost Things! This week Phoebe & Beatrice hammer out details and you get introduced to the Residents…

Mercedes Lackey – The Bartered Brides

What happens when you combine Sherlock Holmes and one of the pillars of the fantasy genera?

You get Mercedes Lackey’s The Bartered Brides!

An exciting take on what happens when Watson, Mary, and their (new to us) crew work a case after the events of Reichenbach Falls…

Now I must tell you I have a secret vice….after years of advising everyone at SMB to read series in order. I must admit I absolutely LOVE to start a long series in the middle! If an author can catch you up with who everyone is without using standard boilerplate descriptions of characters (one of the few things which drive me crazy about the In Death series by J.D. Robb) I take it as a positive sign for the quality of the story.

Now, mind you, in this case, the only reason why I started with the fourteenth book in the series is that I wasn’t wearing my glasses in the bookstore (seriously I need to get a chain for them & channel my inner librarian). So the cover art caught my eye, the author name sealed the deal – but I completely missed the fine print – ah’well no one is perfect.

But to my complete satisfaction Lackey did an excellent job with this book! I thoroughly enjoyed reading the shifting perspectives of all involved, detectives, elemental masters (this is Mercedes Lackey after all – there had to be a supernatural spin to it – which Holmes regards with no small amount of skepticism), a mass murderer & his maid and two master criminals (one living and one dead)! A plot device which sometimes can get out of hand, but works well in this mystery.

Overall I think this book (and undoubtedly the entire series – which I intend to hunt down and read in its entirety) is well worth your time. Lackey marries together the quintessential detective duo of Holmes & Watson with the supernatural flawlessly while sprinkling in gothic elements to add an extra zing to her mystery. With the addition of two remarkable, well rounded, heroines it makes the Sherlock & Watson’s adventure more accessible to a wider range of readers (plus Mary Watson is rather kick-ass herself and hilariously often shields her husband from the more flagrant flouting of social conventions – like the when Nan & Sarah sneak off wearing men’s clothing!)

I would recommend this book to anyone who’s had trouble getting a foothold in the Sherlock canon. There are enough fantasy elements to keep a fan of the genera engaged (seriously, they are fun to read – elemental masters & wizards – earth, air, fire, water, and spirit nothing but fun). But for those of you who are Sherlock aficionados, there are enough of the elements from the original texts to keep you content (plus Lackey does not have Watson, Holmes, Mary or Mrs. Hudson doing anything out of character. Watson & Mary may have a bit more going on – but they stay true to their roots).

I cannot wait to start cracking on the other preceding thirteen books!

Yet Another November Review!

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Amber Here!

Happy Almost Thanksgiving!? Is that a thing?

(And btw how is it Thanksgiving time already? Next thing you know it will be Christmas! I swear someone pushed the fast forward button on the calendar.)

Well to celebrate this tangential holiday I give you a beer…..mystery review!

Hope you guys enjoy reading reading it, and don’t forget to check out this week’s installment in Finder Of Lost Things! This week Morticia (aka Phoebe) meets the Lavender Lady!

Oh and if you like listening to podcasts and drinking beer check out the Pico Dudes! A couple of home brewers who brew & then review their beers (with hilarious results).

Ellie Alexander – Death On Tap

When I was a kid, my family would head over to my grandparent’s house for burgers and fries every Saturday night. And every Saturday night unlabeled, blue capped, brown bottles of beer would be ingested by my grandfather and any other adult who wanted one. I thought the no label thing was weird, but since I wasn’t allowed to drink it, the question didn’t bother me often. Eventually, I did ask why my grandfather why his bottles didn’t look like the ones I saw in the store. That’s when he took me downstairs into the basement and showed me his homebrew & bottling set up.

Trying to instill the passion for homebrewing into me early, we brewed several batches of root beer together. Unfortunately for my grandfather, I was (and am) a cream soda & sarsaparilla girl and my attention soon wandered onto other unsolved mysteries in my universe.

I’d completely forgotten about this early episode of my life until I read Ellie Alexander’s Death On Tap! Then it all came flooding back to me, the light turquoise wall, buckets, tubes, yeasty smell and stacks of brown bottles in the corner of the laundry room. So I must thank the author for helping me recall good times with my grandparent!

Now, why did this mystery remind me of my grandfather’s beer (which FYI I never got a taste of, because he stopped brewing by the time I was old enough to drink)?

The clue is in the title of the book.

This cozy mystery is set around the word of brewing, both macro & microbreweries, hops, and beer. Which really works, since the book is set in Leavenworth, Washington where Octoberfest is bigger than Christmas (but not by much)! So it’s easy to meld the brewing theme in without distracting the reader from the mystery, which is the most important part.

Now here’s the thing, it doesn’t matter if you’re into beer or not (I’m a vodka & juice box girl myself) because Alexander gets just technical enough to keep a brew enthusiast interested while not boring the pants off non-brewer cozy aficionados. Plus after reading so many cozies themed with – books, baking and candlestick making (okay I made up that last one – I liked the rhythm of it), it’s nice to read a mystery which deals with a different kind of craft!

I also appreciate the deftness which Death On Tap deals with a cheating husband (and the complications which arise from said deed), motherhood (and trying to stay adult about the aforementioned zipper challenged spouse with your kid), a new job (because working at the family business, even if you love his parents to pieces, is out of the question since the ex and his partner The Beer Wench both work there) and solving a mystery (aka clearing your ex-husband’s name, despite what he did)!

Plus I was pleasantly surprised with the complex layering of mysteries which Alexander was able to achieve in just one book – while still hoodwinking the reader and having them make complete sense in the end!

Death On Tap is a well written themed mystery which I would recommend to anyone looking to read a mystery on the lighter side to escape (for even a moment) from these uncertain times. The characters are well rounded, the plot’s engrossing and the beer isn’t overwhelming. In fact, after I finished the first book, I went immediately out and purchased the second installment, The Pint of No Return.

That’s how much I enjoyed it.

An Additional November Review

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Amber Here!

Seriously this Fall is full of wonderful new releases which cannot wait for our monthly newzine! So here a great historical mystery I couldn’t wait until December to share.

Don’t forget to check out my original mystery blog, Finder of Lost Things

Shelley Noble – Ask Me No Questions

One interesting fact about readers of the nicer (but not cozy) mysteries – they are a bloodthirsty lot. If a body doesn’t drop within the first three chapters of a mystery, they are often disappointed. Many readers confessed to quitting book entirely if the mystery didn’t smack them in the face immediately. Which seems counter-intuitive I know, they want the mystery, just not the blood and gore associated with it.

For those of you who count yourselves amongst this lot, I found a book for you!

Shelly Noble’s Ask Me No Questions, an excellent historical mystery which deposits its first body on page five – right into the lap of a bottled blond chorus girl. Which is extremely embarrassing for his wife, who ends up witnessing the entire tableau, screeching mistress and all, while picking up her old school chum (and our heroine) from the docks (as she’s just arrived from England). From this point onwards the book continues at a brisk pace, making it extremely hard to put down – because you want to know what twist is coming next!

Noble does a wonderful job of making you feel like your in the time and place of Ask Me No Questions, tackling the challenges of the day. Such as staring down the barrel of a police investigation (for the murder of Reggie Reynolds) in 1907 New York. Meaning? Our heroine Lady Philomena must contend with the two opposing faces of the NYPD. The honest cop, who believes in Teddy Roosevelt’s vision of what the police body needs to espouse to serve New York to its fullest potential, whose conducting the investigation. Then there’s the old guard, which Roosevelt only partially excised during his stint as police commissioner, famed for their corruption and thuggish methods – who horn in on the case. This dichotomy provides exciting plot points and heightens the underlying tension to the story. Plus, if your interested in the history of New York, gives you a nice (fictional) first-hand taste of what this situation may have looked like, which I thoroughly enjoyed!

Then there’s our amateur sleuth herself, Lady Philomena Dunbridge (Phil to her friends), whose witty, savvy, sophisticated, clever and rankles under the title of Dowager at the ripe old age of twenty-six. Who absolutely refuses to be pigeonholed, for the rest of her life, by her first (bad) marriage. Also, thru her internal and external dialogues, exposes the reader to the realities of marriage in 1907 for women amongst the upper class – so their families can gain wealth, prestige or a title. Then expectations foisted onto them if they become widows. But never fear, while this theme is present, Noble does a beautiful job of working it seamlessly into the plot! Making it propel the book forward without ever bogging it down!

About the only real criticism, I can level at this Ask Me No Questions is the with Phil’s maid Lily. And not at the girl herself, but at the fact that Phil repeatedly, hammers at the fact that Lily’s past is a complete enigma. She can speak at least three languages, refuses to tell Phil her real name and knows how to pick locks. Yes, these all add up to a mystery, but to bang on about them was unnecessary. I know this sounds nit-picky (because it is, I think I need to eat something) but it is the only flaw I found in the book!

But really, other than a trivial (and superficial flaw) this book was a lovely read, and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading historical mysteries who are looking something a bit different from the English country house mysteries (this one is a New York brownstone mystery). Or looking for something to read between Rhys Bowen’s Royal Spyness series (only set a bit earlier) or Dianne Freeman’s Countess of Harleigh series (just set a bit later). I cannot wait (fingers crossed) for the next book, as I adored Phil and the other cast of characters!

Another October Review!

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Amber Here!

Yup you guessed it another book review! There is so much good stuff coming out this fall I can’t contain my reviews to just once a month. 

Don’t forget about my other penny dreadful mystery blog – Finder of Lost Things! Phoebe gets her second ever job and an invitation!

Edgar Cantero – This Body’s Not Big Enough For Both Of Us

How long does it take to learn Spanish? Seriously. A couple of years?

Why am I keen on learning a second language? I need to become absolutely fluent because if Cantero’s Spanish language books are half as zany, unconventional, inexplicable and hilarious as their English counterparts I need to have the language down pat.

If you can’t tell I am a huge fan of this man’s writing.

One reason? He takes traditional mystery tropes and turns them on their heads. Meddling Kids (his second English Language book) takes a group of young sleuths (who bear a striking resemblance to the Scooby Doo gang) and tells the story of what happens to them after their last extraordinary and unsettling case.

In This Body’s Not Big Enough For The Both Of Us, he takes a multitude of noir & mystery themes and adds his unique twist to them. Like our detective – A.Z. Kimrean – a brother & sister, twins, who didn’t completely split from each other in the womb – so they occupy the same body and have very different thoughts on how to execute their cases.

And let me tell you their very divergent styles make this book move at lightning speed! This adventure finds them called in by the L.A.P.D to help investigate the murder of a crime boss’s son, stop a gangland war and safely extract an undercover detective while dodging thugs, a ninja, and requests by femme fatals…

Now here’s one thing you need to know when you start the book – I think Cantero took Elmore Leonard’s Rules for Writers as a challenge and set out to break every one of them while writing the prologue(he also left Raymond Chandler’s set in tatters as well).

This piece of trivia is important to know, so you can fully appreciate it (looking up Leonard’s ten rules of writing also helps).

Don’t make my mistake! I didn’t bother reading the flyleaves, I just read the author’s name and thrust my money into the cashier’s hand and ran out of the store to start the book. Which left me a bit confused while reading the opening – so I’m trying to help you all out! (The rest of the book follows a much more sequential order to events, so don’t worry.)

This above is not a criticism of the book – it’s just a helpful hint.

This book is well written and surprisingly dense given the irreverent nature of it and stands up to multiple rereadings. Because there is so much going on and so many layers written into the story you get something new out of the mystery each time. I absolutely loved this book, and if you enjoy a twisted sense of humor and the warping classic mystery motifs, you’ll love this book. (BTW there isn’t any magic, fantasy or alternate realities at play here – A. Z. Kimrean’s condition is based in science, not science fiction – I promise)