Sunday, September 25, 2022

Agatha Christie: A Mysterious Life: Laura Thompson


I started out loving this biography of Agatha Christie. It is very readable, and the first chapter about her childhood was charming. I did not know that much about Christie's life at all, especially before her marriage to Max Mallowan, so I learned a lot from the earlier chapters about her courtship and marriage to Archie Christie. The author often mentioned Christie's writing and specific mysteries, and I enjoyed that part a lot. 

However, the author depended too much on quotes from Christie's fiction books (mostly the non-mystery books) to demonstrate and support statements about Agatha's relationships with other people, and especially Archie Christie. 

The chapter about the mystery of Christie's disappearance went on too long for me, and since not much is definitely known about that event, she was making guesses on a good bit of it. On the other hand this was the first I had read on the subject, and she had to handle that period of time in some way, so that is a minor complaint. There were interesting facts (and opinions?) about how the investigation was handled.

Overall, I learned a lot of things about Agatha Christie's life that I have never known, and I appreciated learning about what was going on in her life when she wrote some of her books, especially the earlier ones.  Even with the few quibbles I had regarding this book, I found that it was interesting, informative, and well worth reading.

I would like to read other books on Christie's life. I had forgotten that she wrote an autobiography and I will be looking for a copy of that. I will also be seeking out Come, Tell Me How You Live by Christie, which focuses on her experiences on archaeological trips with Max Mallowan, her second husband. I have a copy of Robert Barnard's A Talent to Deceive: An Appreciation of Agatha Christie, which is more about her books and her writing, but does include some about her life. I would appreciate other recommendations. 


Publisher:  Pegasus Books, 2018 (orig. publ. 2007)
Length:      485 pages
Format:      Hardcover
Setting:      UK, mostly
Genre:       Biography
Source:      I purchased my copy in June 2022.

Thursday, September 22, 2022

My Reading in August 2022


This may be the latest I have ever taken to put up a monthly reading summary. August was a good reading month with six books finished. I read two nonfiction books which was unusual. The rest were crime fiction, which is my favorite genre. The majority of the books were published after 2000, which is a change for me. 

Nonfiction / Biography

Agatha Christie: A Mysterious Life (2007) by Laura Thompson

I started out loving this biography of Agatha Christie. It is very readable, and the first chapter about her childhood was charming. I had some quibbles with this book, but most of it was interesting, informative, and worth reading.

Nonficton / Nature

Why Do Birds Suddenly Disappear (2018) by Lev Parikian 

This is a nonfiction book about a man who decides to return to an old love, birding. He has a goal to find 200 different species in the UK in one year. I love to read about birds and I would have liked to get more about birds and less about his personal journey and the process. But all of it was good, and visiting different parts of the UK was interesting. 

Crime Fiction

The Long Way Home  (2014) by Louise Penny

I am now a big fan of the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series. Except by this book, the tenth in the series, Gamache has retired to Three Pines. I was still very happy with the book, and I look forward to reading the next in the series. See my review here.

The Burglar in the Closet (1978) by Lawrence Block

The Bernie Rhodenbarr series by Lawrence Block now consists of 11 books. The Burglar in the Closet is the second book in the series. Bernie lives in New York City and supports himself by burgling apartments. See my review here.

Vanish (2005) by Tess Gerritsen

This is the 5th book in the Rizzoli and Isles series. It has been eleven years since I read the 4th book in the series, but I caught up with the story easily enough. Jane Rizzoli is a police detective, and she is also pregnant and her baby is overdue. While visiting her doctor at the hospital she gets caught up in a hostage situation. I am not fond of books about sex trafficking and that was a focus here, Also, the book was a bit too thrillerish for me. However, in the end I liked the book a lot because Gerritsen tells the story well, most of the characters are strong and well-defined, and the story has a great twist at the end.

Death Around the Bend (2017) by T.E. Kinsey

This is the third book in the Lady Hardcastle historical mystery series. The books have interesting plots, wonderful characters, and a lot of humor. See this post where I discuss the first three books in the series.

Currently reading

I am currently reading Anna Karenina. I started it on September 12th and am about a third of the way through. 

We have been to the Planned Parenthood Book Sale three times already, and will go again this weekend. It started on September 16th and will end on the 25th. I have bought way too many books, so I hope I won't find too many more on the weekend. 

The photos at the top and bottom of this post are geraniums (actually pelargoniums), my favorite flower. I think it is because there is so much variety in the blossoms for various types of geraniums. Photos were taken and processed by my husband. Click on the images for the best viewing quality.


Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Short Story Wednesday: Book Sale purchases


Last Friday, September 16, was the first day of the Planned Parenthood book sale and it will continue through Sunday, September 25. We went to the book sale on both Friday and Saturday. (And we will go back again tomorrow, and Saturday and Sunday.) 

My goal this year was to cut back on short story book purchases, since I have so many, both in print editions and on the Kindle. Yet I went ahead and purchased these three books for various reasons. I have not sampled any of them yet. So, here they are.

MASH UP: Stories Inspired by Famous First Lines

Gardner Dozois  (Editor)

This is an anthology of science fiction and fantasy stories. The subtitle describes the theme. Each author picked a first line of a favorite classic and use it as a first line in a short story. There are thirteen stories in the 400 page book, and each one is around 30 pages in length. My son found this book for me, and I am glad he did.

Isaac Asimov Presents the Golden Years of Science Fiction: Third Series

Isaac Asimov & Martin H. Greenberg (Editors)

This anthology is 633 pages, with 20 short stories and novellas by various authors from 1943-1944. Each story is preceded by short introduction by Asimov and Greenberg.

In this case the authors are not listed on the cover, so I will include a list of the stories, from the Goodreads summary:

  • The Cave by P. Schuyler Miller
  • The Halfling by Leigh Brackett
  • Mimsy Were the Borogoves by Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore [as Lewis Padgett]
  • Q.U.R. by Anthony Boucher
  • Clash by Night by Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore [as Lawrence O'Donnell]
  • Exile by Edmond Hamilton
  • Daymare by Fredric Brown
  • Doorway into Time by C. L. Moore
  • The Storm by A.E. van Vogt
  • The Proud Robot by Henry Kuttner [as Lewis Padgett]
  • Symbiotica by Eric Frank Russell
  • The Veil of Astellar by Leigh Brackett
  • City by Clifford D. Simak
  • Arena by Frederic Brown
  • Huddling Place by Clifford D. Simak
  • Kindness by Lester Del Rey
  • Desertion by Clifford D. Simak
  • When the Bough Breaks by Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore [as Lewis Padgett]
  • Killdozer! by Theodore Sturgeon
  • No Woman Born by C.L. Moore

A Rare Benedictine

by Ellis Peters, Clifford Harper  (Illustrator)

This last book contains only three short stories, from the Brother Cadfael series by Ellis Peters. I already had a copy of this in paperback, but I jumped at the opportunity to get this hardback copy, mainly for greater ease of reading. It also is enhanced by lovely illustrations, so I am doubly happy to have it. My husband found this book for me; I am very grateful that he did.

Sunday, September 18, 2022

R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril -- R.I.P. XVII

Once again I am participating in the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril event, otherwise known as the RIP XVII Challenge. I am late in announcing this, but I was reviewing the books I read last year especially for that challenge and I enjoyed all of them a lot. I hope to repeat that experience.

This year I was reminded of the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril event by posts at NancyElin's blog and Kay's Reading Life. This event was originally hosted by Carl V. Anderson at the Stainless Steel Droppings blog. Since then it has been hosted by other bloggers and lately has been primarily on Instagram and Twitter. See this post for the announcement for 2022. The event runs from September 1 through October 31, 2022.

The purpose of R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril is to enjoy books, short stories, and movies/television that could be classified as:

  • Mystery.
  • Suspense.
  • Thriller.
  • Dark Fantasy.
  • Gothic.
  • Horror.
  • Supernatural.

I read a lot of mystery fiction and thrillers, so this event is a natural for me. However, it will be more of a challenge this year because I have two longish classic fiction books I also want to read during September and October: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy and Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen.

Two books I plan to read in October that I think will fit the mood of the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril event are:

The Listening House by Mabel Seeley, a mystery published in 1938, set in a boarding house, which promises to have an eerie atmosphere. 

The Ghost of Opalina or Nine Lives by Peggy Bacon, an illustrated children's book about a ghost cat. Published in 1967. Constance at Staircase Wit recently reviewed that book.

I will list my books read for R.I.P. XVII in September and October here:

The Tenderness of Wolves (historical mystery set in 1867, in the Northern Territory in Canada).

Crazybone by Bill Pronzini (#26 in the Nameless Detective series)

The Sanctuary Sparrow by Ellis Peters (historical mystery set in 1140, #7 in the Brother Cadfael series)

Head On by John Scalzi (Science Fiction / Mystery crossover)

Saturday, September 17, 2022

Classics Club Spin #31: Tracy's List


The latest Classics Club Spin has been announced. I have chosen twenty books from my classics list. There are a few changes since my last list.

On Sunday 18th September, 2022, the Classics Club will post a number from 1 through 20. The goal is to read whatever book falls under that number on my Spin List by 30th October, 2022.

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

  1. Things Fall Apart (1958) by Chinua Achebe   [209 pages]
  2. Sense and Sensibility (1811) by Jane Austen [411 pages]  This was the spin number !!  
  3. Fahrenheit 451 (1953) by Ray Bradbury
  4. The Postman Always Rings Twice (1934) by James Cain
  5. My Ántonia (1918) by Willa Cather
  6. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1964) by Roald Dahl
  7. The Sign of Four (1890) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle  [160 pages]
  8. The Wind in the Willows (1908) by Kenneth Grahame 
  9. The Quiet American (1958) by Graham Greene   [180 pages]
  10. The Talented Mr. Ripley (1955) by Patricia Highsmith
  11. Goodbye to Berlin (1939) by Christopher Isherwood
  12. We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962) by Shirley Jackson
  13. A Wrinkle in Time (1962) by Madeleine L'Engle
  14. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (1940) by Carson McCullers
  15. Cannery Row (1945) by John Steinbeck 
  16. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886) by Robert Louis Stevenson
  17. Dracula (1897) by Bram Stoker    [420 pages]
  18. The 13 Clocks (1950) by James Thurber
  19. The Warden (1855) by Anthony Trollope
  20. The Optimist's Daughter (1972) by Eudora Welty   [180 pages]

The complication for me this time is that I just started reading Anna Karenina five days ago, on September 12th, and I am taking it slowly. So I sincerely hope that one of the shorter books on my list above will come up for the classic club spin this time, which will give me a better chance of getting it read by the deadline. 

Sunday, September 11, 2022

The Lady Hardcastle Mysteries by T.E. Kinsey


In this series of historical mysteries, set in the early 1900's, Lady Hardcastle (Emily) and her maid Florence Armstrong solve mysteries while living in the English countryside. I was attracted by the idea of a lady and her maid solving mysteries, but I was not sure how that would work given the class differences in England at that time. Lady Hardcastle and Flo are more friends than mistress and servant, and each has skills that complement the other. 

Cath at Read-Warbler recommended this series. Cath has read several books in the series, and praised them highly. I wasn't sure if the books were too much on the cozy side for me, but I am so glad I gave it a shot. This is a series with interesting plots, wonderful characters, and a lot of humor. 

A Quiet Life in the Country was the first book in the series. It sets up the main characters, why they are living in the country, and a bit of their backstory. Flo came to work as Lady Hardcastle's maid at a very young age. Later, they had some espionage adventures together that are only briefly alluded to. 

Once they have settled into their new home, Emily and Flo go for a walk in the countryside and discover a body. In the course of the investigation, they meet Inspector Sunderland of Scotland Yard and are able to provide useful help in solving the case. This relationship continues in later books.

I read the first book in June, and moved on to the second book in the series, In the Market for Murder, in July. In that story, Lady Hardcastle and Flo work on two cases, one a local case of theft, the other the murder of a disagreeable farmer in the area. In August I read the third book in the series, and I enjoyed all three books.

In Death Around the Bend, Lady Hardcastle has just recently purchased an automobile, and she and Flo take turns driving it. Emily (and her maid of course) is invited to a country estate for a week of motor racing and parties.  The old friend that Lady Hardcastle is visiting has promised that both women will be able to do some racing while visiting. But during the first race, one of the drivers is killed in a crash, which puts a damper on things. Emily and Flo thinks it was murder, but the local inspector does not.

Another interesting element of this book was that one of the women visiting at the same time is an amateur photographer who would love to do more serious work in that area. Lady Hardcastle is very supportive of that, of course. And it is in this book, more details about the early adventures of the main characters are supplied, which I had been waiting for.

My favorite character is Flo. She tells the stories in first person, so we mainly get her point of view. Lady Hardcastle walks a fine line between including Flo in her activities, especially when visiting other Lords and Ladies, and using Flo's ability to blend in with other servants when it benefits the situation. At times it stretches disbelief, but not any more than many other mystery novels.

These books do lean towards being cozy, but Lady Hardcastle and Flo cannot exactly qualify as amateur sleuths because they have a background of dealing with crime and intrigue together for years before they settle down in the country. The stories are excellent historical fiction, and the mystery plots are well-done. The early 1900s is a time that I haven't read much about in fiction or nonfiction, and each book focuses on a different theme. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2022

Short Story Wednesday: Alfred Hitchcock's Happiness is a Warm Corpse

Most of the Alfred Hitchcock fiction anthologies that I have purchased were found at the Planned Parenthood Book Sale, but this one I purchased online. You can probably guess why: it has a lovely cover with skeletons.

These are the stories in the anthology:

  • Once upon a Bank Floor... by James Holding, Jr
  • The Egg Head by Rog Phillips
  • Each Night He Pulled the Trigger by Robert Edmond Alter
  • The Waiting Game by Pat Stadley
  • Destruction is Always Arranged by Gilbert Ralston
  • The Happy Death by John Cortez
  • The Sweater by Richard O. Lewis
  • IQ — 184 by Fletcher Flora
  • Kill, If You Want Me! by Richard Deming
  • Antique by Hal Ellson
  • Mrs. Gilly and the Gigolo by Mary L. Roby
  • This Day's Evil by Jonathan Craig
  • Private and Confidential by Diane Frazer
  • Never Come Back by Robert Colby

This anthology was published in 1969. The stories in it were originally published between 1957 and 1967. I read the first story in the book and I liked it very much. I hope that the rest of the stories are just as good.

"Once upon a Bank Floor... " by James Holding, Jr.

This story was fun, upbeat, and had a great ending. 

Two men are on an airplane trip, seated next to each other. One has a mystery story magazine for reading on the plane trip. The other man works for a bank; he tells a story about earlier in his banking career when the bank was robbed. It was in the early morning and he was alone in the bank at the time. I don't want to go into more details for fear of spoiling the story.

I don't know anything about the author, James Holding, Jr., although the name is familiar. Checking the Alfred Hitchcock Wiki, he had a good number of stories published in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine and various Hitchcock fiction anthologies. I would welcome more information on this author, if anyone knows more.

Sunday, September 4, 2022

The Long Way Home: Louise Penny

This is the 10th book in the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series. At this point in the series, I have a hard time reviewing the books because going into much detail can spoil plot points of earlier books in the series. So if this review sounds vague in some areas, it was probably intentional.

Three Pines, a fictional town in Quebec, Canada, is the focal point for many of the books in this series. Gamache has retired to Three Pines. He and his wife, Reine-Marie, have purchased a home and acquired a dog and are living a peaceful, happy life. And yet, even though Gamache is not seeking more mysteries or investigations in his quiet life, one comes to him. Clara, a friend in Three Pines, wants him to find her husband. 

Clara and her husband Peter agreed on a one year separation, and after one year apart, they planned to meet at their home in Three Pines and have a dinner together  and decide what to do next. Peter did not show up for the dinner and she has been unable to locate him. She wants help from Gamache. So in effect this is a missing persons case. It should be simple enough but it doesn't turn out that way.

Gamache gets help from Jean-Guy Beauvoir, his former colleague. They keep running into brick walls when they try to find out where Peter has been and what he has been doing. Peter is the son of a wealthy family, but it is a very dysfunctional family, and Gamache gets no help in that area. 

Gamache does spend a good amount of time in other parts of Canada in this book, accompanied by Jean-Guy Beauvoir, his former colleague, and Clara and her friend Myrna Landers. At one point even Ruth Zardo, one of the strangest inhabitants of Three Pines, accompanies them. Clara and Peter are both talented, well-known artists; they met at the art school they went to. Thus art and its impact on people is a major theme in this book. 

It took me a long time to like this series. It was not until I read the 5th and 6th books, The Brutal Telling and Bury Your Dead, in April of 2020, that I became a confirmed fan. Since then I have loved all of the books. The writing grabs me and won't let me go, and I feel immersed in the story as I read it. 

I like the close-knit group of friends in Three Pines. When I first started the series I thought that they were all just quirky and sometimes obnoxious; now I enjoy reading about them. And the mysteries are always rewarding. Usually very complex and sometimes circuitous and perplexing, they keep me guessing.  

I have to repeat what many other reviewers say about this book. Don't start with this one; read the series from the beginning in order. Get to know the characters. Otherwise the plot of this one won't have as much impact.

Publisher:   Minotaur Books, 2015 (orig. publ. 2014)
Length:      368 pages
Format:      Trade paper
Series:        Inspector Gamache, #10
Setting:      Canada
Genre:        Mystery
Source:      I purchased this book.