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!

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!

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!

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.