Sunday, November 29, 2020

Moonflower Murders: Anthony Horowitz

Moonflower Murders is the sequel to an earlier book by Anthony Horowitz, Magpie Murders. In both books the main character is Susan Ryeland, and both feature the "book within a book" format. I did not review Magpie Murders and looking back, I can understand why. It was one of those books that is very difficult to review without revealing too much. 

As Moonflower Murders begins, retired publisher Susan Ryeland is living with her boyfriend Andreas, running a small hotel that they own on the Greek island of Crete. She thought this would be an idyllic existence, but she is exhausted with the responsibilities and is having doubts about her relationship with Andreas. 

Then Lawrence and Pauline Treherne visit their hotel, and tell Susan about a murder that happened eight years earlier in their hotel in Sussex.  One of her authors, Alan Conway, visited the Treherne's hotel after the murder and used characters from the actual murder in his next book. Now, their daughter Cecily is missing, and this happened immediately after she read Conway's book and told them that she had discovered who was really responsible for the murder. They approach Susan because she edited the book and was responsible for it being published. 

The Trehernes ask Susan to return to the UK, read the book, and see if she can figure out what has happened to Cecily and what clue she found related to the murder. This seems a bit extreme but they offer to pay her $10,000, which Susan could use to keep her small hotel afloat. 

That summary of the premise for the book sounds complicated – and leaves a lot out – but it does make more sense when you read the book. 

I liked everything about this book. I will confess to getting impatient with some parts of the story, and wondering why Susan takes so long to get to reading the book by Alan Conway (although she is of course already familiar with the story). But I was very happy about how Susan's story comes together in the end. And in Susan Ryeland, the author created a character that I cared about.

The book by Conway is placed almost at the middle of the book and is a complete mystery, complete with cover, copyright page, title page, and dedication page. It is a historical mystery, set in the 1950s, featuring a famous private detective somewhat like Hercule Poirot. 

The "outer" story (set in the present) is a very good puzzle mystery and when it was solved, I felt like the clues and the plot supported the resolution. Sometimes in a puzzle mystery I end up feeling like the author has just thrown in a resolution almost out of the blue. I enjoyed the inner book, set in the 1950s, but I did not feel like it was as challenging as the main story. Together they worked very well, though, at least for me.

Although both Magpie Murders and Moonflower Murders share a main character and have a similar format, Horowitz labels them as standalone books on his website. I agree that this book can stand alone, but it does reveal some parts of Magpie Murders, if the reader wants to go back to read that one.

I first knew of Anthony Horowitz as one of the creators of the Midsomer Murders TV show and then later, Foyle's War. However he has done many other things. He is the author of a young adult spy fiction series which has recently been adapted as a television series. And he has written two Sherlock Holmes novels, a James Bond novel, and two other adult mysteries.

I am including this book in my submissions for the European Reading Challenge for Greece, since the book begins and ends in Greece, and that setting is lovingly described.


Publisher:  Harper, 2020
Length:      580 pages
Format:      Hardcover
Setting:      UK, Greece
Genre:       Mystery
Source:      I purchased this book.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Nonfiction November: New books on my TBR

This is the fourth week of Nonfiction November, hosted at Doing Dewey. Go there to check out other posts for this week. The theme this week is: What books have I added to my TBR during the month? 

The books listed below are on my list to add to my shelves in 2021, and two of them have already been purchased. Following the description of each is a link to the blog where I learned about the book.

Around the World in 80 Trees by Jonathan Drori, with illustrations by Lucille Clerc

The author picks 80 interesting trees from various places in the world to describe and provide interesting facts about. This book has already been physically added to my TBR stacks. 

At Still Life, with Cracker Crumbs

From the description at Goodreads:
"For 337 days, award-winning wildlife cameraman Lindsay McCrae intimately followed 11,000 emperor penguins amid the singular beauty of Antarctica."

Suggested by Book' Out

A nonfiction account of the custom of bacha posh, where girls are raised and presented to the world as boys. I also want to read The Pearl That Broke Its Shell by Nadia Hashimi, a novel about that ancient custom in Afghanistan.

The March Trilogy by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin (Writers),  Nate Powell (Artist)

Three nonfiction graphic novels about the Civil rights movement told from the perspective of John Lewis. Especially of interest because Lewis grew up in Alabama (where I grew up) and I lived for a year in Selma, Alabama.

I have read three other books on the 1918 pandemic this year and had been wondering what other books on the subject I could find. When I saw this at Deb Nance's blog, I remembered that my husband had purchased the Kindle version of this book. So I will be reading that one, probably in 2021. See Deb Nance's review at Goodreads.

Seen at Readerbuzz

Friday, November 20, 2020

The Arms Maker of Berlin: Dan Fesperman

Description from the book's dust jacket:

This powerfully suspenseful new novel from Dan Fesperman takes us deep into the early 1940s in Switzerland and Germany as it traces the long reach of the wartime intrigues of the White Rose student movement, which dared to speak out against Hitler.

When Nat Turnbull, a history professor who specializes in the German resistance, gets the news that his estranged mentor, Gordon Wolfe, has been arrested for possession of stolen World War II archives, he’s hardly surprised that, even at the age of eighty-four, Gordon has gotten himself in trouble. But what’s in the archives is staggering: a spymaster’s trove missing since the end of the war, one that Gordon has always claimed is full of “secrets you can’t find anywhere else . . . live ammunition.”

This book is a mixture of adventure novel and spy thriller. History professor Nat Turnbull gets mixed up with the FBI when his former mentor is arrested for stealing important documents. Initially, I had a bit of a problem with the FBI sending a professor to investigate for them, but they needed an expert to examine the papers and interpret them, and they do keep tabs on him. And pay his travel expenses. The story begins in New York, moves to the National Archives in Washington, DC, then to Berlin, Germany and Bern, Switzerland and back to the US, in Florida.There are many surprises along the way that connect back to Gordon Wolfe's role in intelligence in Switzerland towards the end of the war.

The novel includes a second storyline set during World War II, related to the secrets in the papers that are missing, possibly stolen by Gordon. Kurt Bauer's family owned an armaments firm that is important to the war effort. Kurt is in his teens and falls in love with a young woman active in the White Rose resistance group. He is torn between his loyalty to his family and his desire to keep his girlfriend safe.

I loved this book; it did have a slow start, but there is lots of action towards the end. I like dual timelines, and the topic, World War II secrets and spies, was perfect for me. The ending was fantastic.

I am submitting this book for Switzerland in the European Reading Challenge because a major theme in this book is the espionage and international intrigue in Switzerland during World War II, especially the later years of the war.


Publisher:   Alfred A. Knopf, 2009
Length:       367 pages
Format:      Hardcover
Settings:     US, Germany, Switzerland
Genre:        Spy thrilller
Source:       On my TBR pile since 2010.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Short Story Wednesday: Two Stories from Crimson Snow


Crimson Snow: Winter Mysteries, edited by Martin Edwards, is an anthology of vintage crime stories published by the British Library in 2016. I have only read a few of the stories so far but I am sure I will read all of them before Christmas. Both of the stories I have selected for today's post are set at Christmas.

"The Chopham Affair" by Edgar Wallace 

Edgar Wallace was a very prolific writer and his books were very popular in his day, but I never thought that his stories or novels would appeal to me. Looking back to my review of Silent Nights, another anthology of Christmas short stories edited by Martin Edwards, I was surprised to see that my favorite story in that collection, "Stuffing," was also by Edgar Wallace. (Although Martin Edwards erroneously states in his Introduction that Margery Allingham was the only author featured in both Silent Nights and Crimson Snow.) 

"The Chopham Affair" deals with the fate of a man who makes his living by blackmailing women on a long term basis. The setup is well done and the story has a nice twist. It was very entertaining and I liked the writing style. I guess I should be seeking out more stories by Edgar Wallace.

Per Project Gutenberg Australia, the story was first published as "The Chobham Affair" in The Strand Magazine in 1930 and was collected as "The Chopham Affair" in The Woman from the East, 1934.

"The Man with the Sack" by Margery Allingham

I am a big fan of Margery Allingham's novels but haven't read many of her short stories. 

This is an Albert Campion story. Campion receives two invitations to spend Christmas at Pharaoh's Court with the Turretts. The first is from Lady Turrett, who makes it fairly plain that she is only inviting him to be an unpaid private detective while a wealthy family with expensive jewelry are visiting. Campion plans to decline the invitation. Lady Turrett's daughter Sheila also invites him for Christmas, and describes it as "poisonous," primarily due to the wealthy visitors and her mother's antagonism toward her boyfriend. Albert relents, and joins them on Christmas Eve. There is a party for the village children at Pharaoh's court, with a Santa giving out gifts. The ending is not surprising, but the story is fun.

Monday, November 16, 2020

Classics Club Spin #25

One of the events offered by The Classics Club is The Classics Club Spin. Spin #25 has just been announced. On Sunday 22nd November, the Classics Club will post a number from 1 through 20. The goal is to read, review and post about whatever book falls under that number on my Spin List by January 31, 2021. That gives me plenty of time to read any of the books on my list, so no pressure or angst involved.

Members who participate list twenty books from their classics list that they have not read. As usual, my list is mostly the same as the one I used for the previous spin. I added my latest purchases, Rebecca and Little Women. My main concern for this list is to pick books that I already have a copy of on my shelves.

So, here is my list of 20 books for the spin.

  1. Things Fall Apart (1958) by Chinua Achebe   [209 pages]
  2. Jane Eyre (1847) by Charlotte Bronte   [452 pages]
  3. Rebecca (1938) by Daphne du Maurier  [410 pages]
  4. The Sign of Four (1890) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle 
  5. Anna Karenina (1878) by Leo Tolstoy  [over 800 pages]
  6. The Quiet American (1958) by Graham Greene   [180 pages]
  7. In a Lonely Place (1947) by Dorothy B. Hughes
  8. Foundation (1951) by Isaac Asimov  
  9. A Wrinkle in Time (1962) by Madeleine L'Engle
  10. Beast In View (1955) by Margaret Millar
  11. The Pursuit of Love (1945) by Nancy Mitford
  12. The Moviegoer (1961) by Walker Percy   [200 pages]
  13. Much Ado About Nothing (1598) by William Shakespeare
  14. Little Women (1868) by Louisa May Alcott  [460 pages]
  15. Sense and Sensibility (1811) by Jane Austen   
  16. Dracula (1897) by Bram Stoker    [420 pages]
  17. The Wind in the Willows (1908) by Kenneth Grahame 
  18. The Postman Always Rings Twice (1934) by James Cain
  19. The Invisible Man (1897) by H.G. Wells
  20. We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962) by Shirley Jackson

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Bookshelf Traveling: New Books

I am participating in the Bookshelf Traveling meme. It was originated by Judith at Reader in the Wilderness, and is now hosted by Katrina at Pining for the West.

This time I am looking at newly purchased books. Saturday morning we had a fun trip to Chaucer's Books, a local bookseller. Before that we had been ordering and picking up using curbside pickup occasionally. The bookstore has been open for a few weeks, but this is the first visit we have made. The usual precautions are taken: masks required and social distancing, a limited number of people in the store at one time, and use of hand sanitizer on entering the store.

I had a list of books to look for and I already knew that they should have the books on their shelves (based on their website). 

Here are the books I bought:

Fortune Favors the Dead by Stephen Spotswood. This debut novel just came out in October 2020. I rarely purchase a book in the same year it is published, except in some cases when it is an author I already read and try to keep up with. But I read this article at Shotsmag: "Stephen Spotswood - Fortune Favours the Dead - The Inspiration." It inspired me to go out and buy the book as soon as possible. Why? Because the author expressed a fondness for Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe series and because the series is described at Kirkus Reviews as a "provocative gender-flipping of Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin." And I like the cover too.

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier and Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

These are two classics on my list for the Classics Club. I wanted to have a copy on hand for when the mood hits and I wanted to be assured that the print size was adequate. So many classics have tiny print. So I needed to see them in person.

The edition of Little Women that I picked is a Penguin Classics Deluxe edition with an introduction, a glossary, some brief contextual essays, and some letters and illustrations.

Around the World in 80 Trees by Jonathan Drori with illustrations by Lucille Clerc 

I first read about this book at Still Life, With Cracker Crumbs.

Though more than 60,000 species of trees exist, the 80 selected by Drori were selected to illuminate the diversity of trees across continents. As such, the reader gets a snapshot look at would otherwise be too much information for anyone but an expert to contend with. The species are organized by location, making the book feel like a trip around the world in more ways than one as the reader hops from country to country. Occasional footnotes connect certain species with similar properties so the reader has the option to explore the species through what they have in common rather than geographic location.

Though not a book that most would sit down and read cover-to-cover (unless you really, really love trees!), the short vignettes that make up the book create a visually pleasing and easy to read volume full of botanical and cultural information.

This description from a book review at American Forests.

The illustrations are gorgeous. My father loved trees (and birds) and he would have loved to sit and savor this book.

Friday, November 13, 2020

Other Paths to Glory: Anthony Price

The David Audley / Colonel Butler series by Anthony Price is one my my favorite spy fiction series, written and set during the Cold War. I learned about this series at Existential Ennui. Most of the books in this series have historical events infused into a present day story; in this case it is World War I and the battlefields of the Somme.

Other Paths to Glory is the 5th book in the series. As the story opens, Paul Mitchell is engaged in research at the Institute for Military Studies. He is interrupted by Dr. David Audley and Colonel Butler, who ask Mitchell to identify a fragment of a map that has only German writing on it. At the time he doesn't know it, but they are part of British Intelligence working for the Ministry of Defense. He refers them to Professor Emerson, an expert on the Battle of the Somme and his mentor. Later in the day, Mitchell is attacked and barely escapes with his life. Emerson is already dead. 

Audley and Butler talk Mitchell into going on a mission with them to France, under an assumed name. They think he could be helpful, and it will keep him out of harm's way while they figure out why people are trying to kill him.

This book was awarded the Crime Writers' Association Gold Dagger for 1974, and I can see why. The story is intelligent and challenging, and the characters are well-drawn. 

One thing I like about these books is that the point of view character varies from book to book. Although David Audley is usually the star of these books, he may not even be present in a large part of each book. The story may be told from the point of view of another member of the intelligence team, or one or more secondary players. In this book the reader gets the story from Paul Mitchell's vantage point.

Other resources:

See Nick Jones' review of Other Paths to Glory at his blog, Existential Ennui

And an article at Mystery Scene by H.R.F. Keating: Anthony Price: A Writer to Remember


Publisher:  Weidonfeld & Nicolson, 2010. Orig. pub. 1974.
Length:      263 pages
Format:     Trade Paperback
Series:      David Audley / Jack Butler #5
Setting:     UK, France
Genre:      Spy fiction
Source:     I purchased this book in March 2020.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Nonfiction November 2020: Book Pairings

This is the second week of Nonfiction November, an event that celebrates reading nonfiction. The subject this week is book pairings, specifically pairing a nonfiction book with a fiction book, and this topic is hosted by Julz of Julz Reads.

My first fiction / nonfiction pairing is:

Murder on the Trans-Siberian Express is a fictional ride on the Trans-Siberian Express. It is part of a series by Stuart Kaminsky, set in Russia under Communist rule (to begin with) and later in Russia, following the breakup of the USSR. The books were written between 1981 and 2009. 

This is the 14th book in the series and the series protagonist, Chief Inspector Porfiry Rostnikov, works in the Office of Special Investigation, reporting to its director, Igor Yaklovev, the Yak. He has a group of detectives who work under him, and they usually work on multiple cases in each book. In this one, the Yak sends Rostnikov to recover a treasured historic document on the Trans-Siberian Express.

In The Big Red Train Ride by Eric Newby, the author describes his trip across the USSR on the Trans-Siberian Railway, accompanied by his wife, an official guide, and a photographer. From the book cover: "From Moscow to the Pacific on the Trans-Siberian Railway is the big train ride. It is a journey of nearly 6,000 miles, stretching over seven time zones and consuming nearly eight 24-hour days." This is not considered one of Newby's best travel books, but I think I would enjoy the book just based on the subject matter.

I have not read either of these books yet but I hope that they will be a perfect pairing. However I am open to suggestions for other reads in this area, fiction or nonfiction.

My second pairing is:

Young Bess is the first book in a historical fiction trilogy about Elizabeth I of England, written by Margaret Irwin and first published in 1944.  It covers her life from the time she was 12 until she was about 20, including Henry VIII's death, his son Edward VI's years as king (from age 9 to 15), and Elizabeth's relationships with her brother Edward and Princess Mary, her sister. A large part of the story is about her living with her stepmother Catherine Parr and Tom Seymour, who married Catherine after Henry VIII's death.

The story was beautifully written, vividly describing details of life at that time. I learned a lot, I was entertained, and I enjoyed reading the book. I plan to continue reading the trilogy. The next two books are Elizabeth, Captive Princess and Elizabeth and the Prince of Spain.

Elizabeth: The Struggle for the Throne by David Starkey covers Elizabeth from her early years up through her ascent to the throne and it was described as very readable. 

I picked the book by David Starkey because it sounded good, but if anyone has a suggestion for a better nonfiction book about Elizabeth I, I am interested. I won't be reading any nonfiction in that area until I finish the other two books in the Elizabeth I trilogy by Margaret Irwin.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Short Story Wednesday: I Love Galesburg in the Springtime by Jack Finney

Long ago I read Time and Again by Jack Finney. I loved it. But I haven't read anything else by that author, until now. My husband has a good collection of books by Finney, so I decided to try one of his short story books for Short Story Wednesday.

I read the title story from I Love Galesburg in the Springtime in the morning and liked it; I took the book up to read in bed that evening and finished the book before I went to bed. 

All of the twelve stories in the book are magical, with unexpected, lovely endings. A few included some variation of time travel, and all had some fantastic element, although the setting is our everyday world. The stories in this book were published between 1952 and 1962,  and most were published in McCall's magazine, the Saturday Evening Post, Colliers, or Playboy.

Overall I see this as "feel good" reading, although at least two stories left me in tears. I don't mean that they are light reading, but that I felt entertained and uplifted in some way by each story. But I can see that some of them could be interpreted in different ways.

The short story, "I Love Galesburg in the Springtime", is about a small town saving itself from being paved over and becoming completely modern. Galesburg is a real town in Illinois and Jack Finney attended Knox College there.

I enjoyed every story in the book but these two other stories  were ones I especially liked:

"The Love Letter" is told in first person by a young man who buys a desk with a secret drawer, and finds an old letter in the drawer. He finds an extraordinary way to communicate with the letter writer.

"Hey, Look at Me" is the story of an author whose knows without a doubt that someday he will write great books and be a renowned writer. He dies young, before he can accomplish this. This one is also told in first person, this time by a book critic. The setting is Mill Valley, California, where Jack Finney lived when the story was written.


Publisher:   Simon and Schuster, 1963. 
Length:      264 pages
Format:      Hardcover
Setting:      US
Genre:       Fantasy, short stories
Source:      Borrowed from my husband.

Monday, November 9, 2020

Rosie the Cat

Rosie has been with us over seven years now. We think she is about ten years old.

This is Glen's favorite photo of Rosie, from about five years ago.

The ones below were taken in the last few months.

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Nonfiction November 2020 – Week 1


This week begins Nonfiction November, an event that celebrates reading nonfiction. The event is hosted by Katie of Doing Dewey, Julz of Julz Reads, Rennie of What’s Nonfiction, and Leann of Shelf Aware. The main post for this week (with links to other blogs) is at Shelf Aware.

My year in nonfiction:

I decided to join in on this event for the first time because I thought I had read more nonfiction than in previous years. That is true but only by a couple of books, although there are two more months in 2020 and I am currently reading two nonfiction books. So maybe it is that I am getting more out of the nonfiction I am reading.

To this point in the year I have read three historical nonfiction books: two books about the influenza pandemic of 1918 and one about the life of servants in Victorian and Edwardian times.  I read four books of mystery reference. Plus, one travel journal, one biography, and one book about books. For a total of 10 nonfiction books. In previous years I have read eight or less nonfiction books.

Favorite nonfiction read of the year:

This is easy. Ross Macdonald: A Biography (1999) by Tom Nolan is not only my favorite nonfiction read, it is one of my favorite books of the year.

Ross Macdonald, pseudonym of Ken Millar, was the author of the highly regarded Lew Archer detective series. Ken Millar was born in northern California, spent his childhood in Ontario, Canada, and met his wife Margaret Millar while going to college in Canada. The couple moved to Santa Barbara in 1946 and were living there when Ken died in 1983. He was a very interesting man, and this biography was very well done. The emphasis is on his personal life although that naturally includes his development as an author of crime fiction.

I admire Ross Macdonald as a writer, but for years I have been interested in his life in Santa Barbara, where I have lived for four decades. 

A particular topic that I’ve been attracted to more this year:

Like most people, my reading has been a bit different this year. I always read a lot of mystery fiction of all types, but this year I read more comfort reads. I think I have read a bit less than before, and my concentration has definitely suffered, but all in all I had a good reading year, and that was true of my nonfiction reads also.

My husband has read three books about the influenza pandemic of 1918 but I have never had an interest in that topic. Until now. This year I wanted to know what people experienced in that pandemic and what we could learn from it. 

Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus That Caused It (1999) by Gina Kolata

It is clear from all the books I read on this subject that doctors and scientists had no idea what the disease was that was killing so many people or what was causing it. This book focuses on research efforts to identify the virus after the 1918 pandemic ended.

The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History (2004)

by John M. Barry

This book did go more into the events of the spread of the flu from 1918 through 1920 than Gina Kolata's book. It is also much longer with about 460 pages of text and another 100 of notes and references. There is an emphasis on the state of medicine, science, and research in the US in the 19th century, leading up to the outbreak of the flu, at the same time that the US was getting involved in World War I.


And I am now reading Pandemic 1918 by Catharine Arnold. That book is more focused on first person accounts of the pandemic.

What do I hope to get out of participating in Nonfiction November? 

Two things. I hope that reading posts by people who are enthused about nonfiction will inspire me to read more in that area myself, and I hope to see suggestions for types of nonfiction that I have not considered. 


Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Short Story Wednesday: "The Splintered Monday" by Charlotte Armstrong

Yesterday I started reading Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives, a book I have had on my shelves for five years. Edited by Sarah Weinman, this book contains 14 short stories by women writing from the 1940s to the 1970s.

I have read 6 stories in the book and the best one so far was "The Splintered Monday" by Charlotte Armstrong.

Sarah Brady is staying with her nephew Jeff, and his family, following the funeral of her sister Alice, Jeff's mother. Alice has always controlled her family with her poor health, and her family would often hide things from her. 

Now Sarah is feeling that something is off; information about her sister's death is being withheld from her, and she wants to know what is going on. She will be returning home with her daughter the next day. She queries everyone in the family and even Alice's doctor with no results. It seems that everyone will be relieved when she goes home. 

She does not give up and the resolution is unexpected and chilling.


I have also read these stories in the anthology:

"Everybody Needs a Mink" by Dorothy B. Hughes was a lovely story, shorter than most of them. I learned a new word in this story. Meggy Tashman, mother of two young children, is trying on a mink that she cannot possibly afford, and she describes it as "simple supernal." Supernal means "superlatively good" or maybe in this case "celestial." The story was not what I expected and it was very very good.

"The Purple Shroud" by Joyce Harrington: I had not heard of this author but Weinman's introduction to the story encourages me to look for more of her writing.

"Lost Generation" by Dorothy Salisbury Davis is a well-executed story but it was not a pleasant read. Several men plan to kill another man in the community for reasons not clear in the story, probably some taboo in their community that he had broken.

"The People Across the Canyon" by Margaret Millar is a story that I read earlier, in a collection of Millar's stories. I posted my thoughts on it here.

"Mortmain" by Miriam Allen Deford was very clever; I did not expect the twist at the end. This was another author I was unfamiliar with. 

Monday, November 2, 2020

Reading Summary, October 2020

In October, I finished ten books. That total is a bit misleading because two of them were nonfiction books that I had been reading off and on for a good while. But still, each of those had about 150 pages left that I read during this month, so they count. The third nonfiction book I read was started in early September and finished in late October. 

All of the mysteries I read were published before 1985, so no recent fiction reads this month. Three of the novels were published either in 1955 or 1956.

And these are the books I read in October...

Nonfiction / Biography

Ross Macdonald: A Biography (1999) by Tom Nolan

Ross Macdonald, pseudonym of Ken Millar, was the author of the highly regarded Lew Archer detective series. Ken Millar was born in northern California, spent his childhood in Ontario, Canada, and met his wife Margaret Millar while going to college in Canada. The couple moved to Santa Barbara in 1946 and were living there when Ken died in 1983. He was a very interesting man, and this biography was very well done. The emphasis is on his personal life although there is some evaluation of his writing. This was my favorite read of the month.

Nonfiction / Mystery reference

The Golden Age of Murder (2015) by Martin Edwards

This book looks in depth at mystery authors who were members of the Detection Club in the UK, in the years leading up to World War II. A lot of the focus is on the founding members of the club: Dorothy Sayers, Anthony Berkeley, and Agatha Christie. This very informative and readable book won these two awards: the Agatha Award for Best Nonfiction (2015) and the Edgar Award for Best Critical/Biographical (2016)

Nonfiction / Books about Books 

The Book of Forgotten Authors (2017) by Christopher Fowler

Before publishing this book, Christopher Fowler wrote a column called Forgotten Authors in a British newspaper. He has been interested in finding out about such authors for many years. I found some authors in this book that I did not consider forgotten, some authors I did not think would appeal to me anyway, and many authors that might deserve checking out. Regardless, each of the authors was interesting to read about. Fowler's essays are entertaining and opinionated, and this was a book well worth reading. 

Crime Fiction

The Keys of My Prison (1956) by Frances Shelley Wees

This is a vintage mystery by a Canadian author, set in Toronto, Canada. It is domestic suspense and the author has been compared favorably to Margaret Millar. It was a very good read and not at all what I expected. My thoughts on the book are here.

Shooting in the Dark (1984) by Carolyn Hougan

This story takes place during the Iran hostage situation, and at the time of the coronation of Queen Beatrix in the Netherlands, in late April 1980. Claire Brooks is getting ready to go to the dentist when her husband announces that he is leaving her. To get away from it all, she takes a quick trip to Amsterdam, not realizing that the city will be overrun with people celebrating the new queen's coronation. She meets a reporter and they both get caught in an inept plot relating to Iran and the Shah. The situation is similar to the plots of Eric Ambler's spy fiction; Claire is the amateur unwittingly caught in a dangerous situation that she is not prepared for. I enjoyed reading this fast-paced story.

Sky High (1955) by Michael Gilbert

The US title of this book is Country House Burglar, and both titles are very apt. I knew I was going to like this story when it starts out with a church choir practice. It is mostly set in a small village in the UK, where everyone seems to  be ex-military. A seemingly harmless man is killed when the house he lives in is blown up. Another investigation involves a number of country houses in the area that have been burgled when the owners were away. A lovely story with excellent characters.

Poirot Loses a Client (1937) by Agatha Christie

This is the 16th Hercule Poirot mystery and was also published as Dumb Witness. An elderly woman is concerned about a fall on the stairs and writes a letter to Poirot. He doesn't get it until two months later, but when he visits the woman, he finds she died shortly after she wrote the letter. Her death was ruled natural, but Poirot decides to investigate. Hastings narrates, which I consider a plus.

An Overdose of Death (1940) by Agatha Christie

Another Poirot mystery, #22 in the series, and published three years after Poirot Loses a Client. This was originally published as One, Two, Buckle My Shoe in the UK, and has another alternate title in the US, The Patriotic Murders. Hercule Poirot visits his dentist, and shortly after he has left the office, the dentist dies, apparently a suicide. Inspector Japp investigates but he leans towards accepting that the death is a suicide. Poirot thinks the case is not that simple.

Poison in the Pen (1955) by Patricia Wentworth

This is the 29th book out of 32 in the Miss Silver series. Our elderly heroine takes on an undercover assignment in this book. Actually she uses her real name but pretends to be taking a holiday at Willow Cottage in Tilling Green, staying with Miss Wayne, the town gossip. Detective Inspector Frank Abbott of Scotland Yard has asked Miss Silver to quietly investigate a case of poison pen letters that may have led to the death of a young woman.

The Fever Tree and Other Stories (1982) by Ruth Rendell

This collection contains 10 short stories and one novella. All of the stories are excellent. My review is here.