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review 2018-08-16 12:35
A good old-fashioned and convoluted mystery with a Poirot in good shape.
The Mystery of Three Quarters: The New Hercule Poirot Mystery (Hercule Poirot Mysteries) - Sophie Hannah

Thanks to NetGalley and to Harper Collins UK for the ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

I had not realised that an author had been commissioned to write new Poirot mysteries, and as I saw this book after a conversation about Agatha Christie, I could not resist requesting a copy of it. This means I have not read the author’s two previous New Poirot Mysteries (The Monogram Murders and Closed Casket), so I cannot discuss the evolution of the characters or compare this one to the previous two. I am not familiar with any of Hannah’s previous writing either. I have read some of Agatha Christie’s novels and short stories, some of them I read translated into Spanish many years back (and might not have fully reflected her style of writing although I remember enjoying them) and I have not read a Poirot one in many years, although I have watched both films and TV series adapting some of Christie’s classic Poirot novels, so I would not dare to address this review to connoisseurs. Still, for what is worth, this is my opinion.

I enjoyed the novel. The case starts with four seemingly random people accusing Poirot of sending them letters accusing them of a crime. Not only has Poirot not sent them such letters, but the alleged victim died of natural causes (he was an elderly man and drowned whilst bathing, alone in his bathroom). So, who is behind the letters? And what’s his or her motive? I will try and not reveal any spoilers, but I can say that there are plenty of clues to follow, red-herrings along the way, peculiar characters, true and false motivations, slices of cake, dogs, a public school for boys, a wonderful old mansion, faulty typewriters, likeable and less likeable characters, and a Poirot in full form.

The novel is told by Edward Catchpool, a Scotland Yard Inspector who, like Captain Hastings in Christie’s stories, is the scribe behind the stories. He is a new creation and one of a couple of characters that, from the comments, I have read, are regulars in The New Poirot Mysteries. The narration is split between parts written in the third person (when Catchpool is not present) that, when we are some way into the book, he explains he has compiled through later discussions with Poirot, and those written in the first person, that pertain to events he witnessed or participated in himself. This works well, in general (we might wonder briefly how Poirot might have become aware of some detail or conversation, but we all know he has his ways), and it also allows for any differences in style with previous novels to be blamed on Catchpool’s own style of writing (that would not be the same as Hastings’). The language is straightforward and effective in conveying the story, without any jarring moments due to usage inappropriate to the historical period. Catchpool himself does not reveal much of his own personality through the novel and he is mostly a blank canvas to reflect Poirot’s thoughts and his deductive process. There are some interesting personal morsels about the inspector included in the narrative (he does not like his boss at work and he is averse to the idea of marriage, especially one to suit his mother’s taste) but not enough for readers to become truly attached to him. As this is the third novel and I have not read the two previous one, it is likely that people who have followed the whole series will know and appreciate the character more fully (but this is not necessary for the enjoyment of the mystery).

Notwithstanding my disclaimer on my limited expertise in all things Poirot, the Poirot in the novel will be recognisable to most people who have some familiarity with Christie’s detective. People still think he is French, his ‘little grey cells’ are mentioned often, he sprinkles his dialogue with French terms and some peculiar English translations (‘oil of the olives’ instead of olive oil, for instance), he is a keen observer, opinionated, with high regard for himself, and a lover of comfort and good food and drink. Perhaps he is an extreme version of Poirot, but I could not help but remember, as I read the book, that Christie expressed her dislike for the character and called him: detestable, bombastic, tiresome, ego-centric little creep. (We might agree or not with her assessment, although her Poirot had some moments of weakness and sometimes showed more of a soft heart than he would have liked to admit). He is that here and keeps making demands on people, puts to the test his ideas and theories in pretty cruel ways, and drags the resolution of the case, creating anxiety and disquiet among all. But he can come up with pretty amazing insights and his figure has always been one of those that perhaps we would not like to meet personally, but we nonetheless admire.

Some of the secondary characters are almost caricatures, and the story is fundamentally about the plot and not about the psychological complexity of those involved, but there are some likeable characters, and I had a soft spot for the younger generation (and the dog). There are good descriptions and observations that will keep people guessing and turning the pages, although the story is not told at a fast pace, and the ending drags on (as is usual for this type of stories, where the reveal can become as frustrating for the readers as for those present). Although the evidence, in this case, remains mostly circumstantial and stretches somewhat the imagination, everything is explained and tied up and people who like a definite ending will have no complaint. There is a murder but there is no explicit violence or bad language and although it will not suit readers looking for gritty and realistic thrillers, it should not offend or discourage most readers who love a gentler mystery.

I am not sure if this would fit into the category of cozy mystery. By its tone and nature, it should do, but many books marketed as cozy mysteries abound in over-the-top characters, seem to place more emphasis on other aspects rather than the actual mystery (romance, recipes, pets…), include elements of other genres (paranormal, for instance), and can be frustrating to any readers looking for logical explanation and a meaty, intriguing, and complex mystery they can actually solve. This is like a good old-fashioned mystery, with plenty of character, a light read that will keep you entertained, and if that’s what you’d like to read, I’d recommend it. (Does it add anything new to the Poirot canon? Well, that is a matter for another discussion. Judging by the reviews, most people think the author has done a good job and has made the character her own). Personally, I’ll keep track of the author and future novels in the series.

 

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review 2018-08-15 02:58
Midnight Snacks Are Murder - Libby Klein

 

After the death of her husband, Poppy McAllister returns to Cape May, New Jersey to take care of her elderly, purple-haired Aunt Ginny and also help her operate a bed and breakfast.  Keeping watchful eyes on Aunt Ginny and her wild and crazy antics; overseeing the remodeling of the bed and breakfast with all its blunders; the unexpected visit from her meddling mother-in-law; being wooed by two men for her heart, Poppy has become a sensation baking Paleo sweet delicacies.

 

Aunt Ginny’s night time medication has a startling side effect which causes her to sleepwalk and break into the homes of her neighbors, help herself to a midnight snack and take a trophy from her nocturnal escapades.  When Poppy and Aunt Ginny think all is well in the neighborhood, Aunt Ginny has been accused and arrested for the murder of one of Cape May’s humanitarians.

 

I have never snickered and laughed out loud so much while reading a book.  I enjoyed every page in this cozy mystery. Aunt Ginny’s shenanigans are hilarious and never-ending.  Her humor jumps off the pages. She reminds me of the “Golden Girls” Sophia with purple hair. What I enjoyed about Poppy’s character is that she’s a 40-something protagonist who has real daily struggles of living a healthy lifestyle and a dry sense of humor.  The mother-in-law’s character was entertaining, although I felt annoyed with her at times.

 

The author did an excellent job developing several plots and strategically connecting them.  It was easy to follow and the story flowed smoothly. The events happened in a timely manner without a rushed conclusion.  The romance wasn’t over the top and I hope in the next installment, we find out who will be Poppy’s love interest.

 

Midnight Snacks Are Murder by Libby Klein is the second installment of the Poppy McAllister series.  This lively story will have you doubled over with laughter. Also, at the end of the story are Paleo recipes which look very appetizing.  I look forward to baking a few of them.

 

Thank you Netgalley and Kensington Publishing for an advanced reader’s copy in exchange for my honest review.



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review 2018-08-12 05:10
Read It and Weep by Jenn McKinlay
Read It and Weep - Jenn McKinlay

In this entry in the series, Violet La Rue is holding auditions for A Midsummer Night's Dream. The entire town is excited, and not just because many of them want a chance to shine onstage. It turns out that the role of Puck is going to be played by a friend of Violet's, a charming famous actor named Robbie Vine.

Lindsey doesn't want a part in the play, but she does agree to help with costuming. Meanwhile, Sully's helping build the set, and their friends hope that the close proximity will lead to them getting back together. There's definitely still a spark between them, but things become complicated when Lindsey finds herself drawn to Robbie. Sure, his personal life is a mess, but at least he talks to her and tells her how he feels. Unfortunately, something sinister is going on. Someone seems to want Robbie, and possibly anyone close to him, dead.

Mystery-wise, this was a bit weak. I correctly guessed the culprit a little more than halfway through the book and never saw any reason to change my mind. In fact, at one point I noticed a fairly obvious clue - the character made an offhand comment about an event that they shouldn't have known anything about. It took Lindsey quite a bit longer than me, but she finally noticed that comment and connected the dots, as well as a few minor ones I'd missed.

Relationship-wise, this book frustrated me. If it weren't for the library aspects (which were pretty decent this time around - a couple interesting stints at the reference desk for Lindsey) and the fact that this is one of the few series that I know people around me have read and that I can therefore talk to them about, I'd probably be quitting at this point.

I still believe that Sully breaking up with Lindsey at the end of the previous book was out-of-character for him, and this book didn't tell me anything that changed my mind. Sully's sister hinted that Sully had some deeper issues at play, but Lindsey stubbornly refused to let her tell her anything more, insisting that Sully had to tell her himself. Which, fine, except Sully's the quiet type who doesn't talk about himself much, so this left readers with nothing except "Sully dumped Lindsey because he thought her worry that her ex-fiance had been killed meant she still needed time to get over him." Never mind that it would have been weird and creepy if she'd been unmoved by the possible death of someone she'd known well, and never mind that Sully had spent the whole book up to that point taking Lindsey's fiance's presence and attempts to win her back in stride.

I remember rolling my eyes at Lindsey's worry, in the earlier books in the series, that she was reading more than she should into Sully's behavior, that he wasn't really attracted to her and it was all in her head. Still, I could understand it. Unfortunately, in this book she went right back to that state. You'd think she'd have gotten better at reading him - he was clearly still interested in her and displayed it in much the same way he had in the earlier books, only with the added awkwardness of the breakup standing between them.

The addition of Robbie Vine didn't make things better. I was fine with Lindsey having a bit of fun and flirting with him, but I was not on board with her seriously considering dating him. First, he was married. I hated how many of Lindsey's friends responded to that by saying "But only on paper!" Sorry, he was still married, had had years to see about getting a divorce, and never had. And his wife was in the play. It was a complication that Lindsey definitely didn't need. Second, his ex-girlfriend was also in the play and seemed to wish that they'd never broken up. Another complication Lindsey didn't need.

The big plot twist near the end, and Lindsey's reaction to it, did not bode well for the next book in the series. I don't buy that all of this was necessary to keep Lindsey's romantic life fresh and interesting. There are ways McKinlay could have kept Sully and Lindsey interesting as a couple without any of this mess - something from Sully's past could have cropped up, or Lindsey's brother could have stopped by and either gotten along really well with Sully or clashed with him, or...anything but what McKinlay actually gave readers. The plot twist really irked me, and I couldn't understand why Lindsey wasn't more bothered by it.

Extras:

  • The Briar Creek Library Guide to Crafternoons
  • Readers Guide for Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  • Card-making idea
  • Recipe for Nancy's Raspberry Petit Fours. Shockingly, although the book includes references to pumpkin squares, a recipe for them is not included.

 

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review 2018-07-29 02:00
Goose in the Pond (Benni Harper #4)
Goose in the Pond - Earlene Fowler

Reading this now - 7 years after the first read - I wonder if Fowler's editor convinced her she'd overplayed Gabriel's machismo in the last book and recommended toning it down.  Gabriel isn't perfect, in this 4th book, but he's nothing like the horse's ass he was previously.  

 

There's a lot of family drama in this one - some of it amusing (I love the bible verse war Bennie's grandmother and great-aunt engage in), some of it not.  The mystery plot itself stretched itself though; definitely not her best murder plotting.  Too far beyond the realm of believability for a series that is so firmly and deeply rooted in reality.

 

-------old review below-----------

 

I haven't found a book I don't like yet in this series. A bit 'angst-y' but I think the author does a good job of balancing that, so it doesn't weigh you down. I'm looking forward to continuing with the series.

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review 2018-07-28 00:00
Kansas Troubles (Benni Harper #3)
Kansas Troubles - Earlene Fowler

Re-reading this 7 years later, this book did not hold up as well as the others.  My impatience with series books with 'away' settings reared its ugly head and I struggled with impatience.  And Gabriel was an ass throughout most of this book.  Not a misogynist, not a men-are-smarter-than-women ass, but just a closed off, overprotective one.  I'd have left him in the middle of a wheat field more than once. 

 

The writing continues to be solid though, as does the mystery plotting.  Harper doesn't pull any punches in her plots; people are devastated, lives ruined, very little in the way of true happy endings.  But compelling reading nonetheless.

 

---------old review below---------------

 

I think this series just keeps getting better and better. I normally dislike books within a series that "travel" - take place outside the normal setting. This book was an exception. Really, the mystery was just excellent and the character development, the relationship between Benni and Gabe, is outstanding. The author writes these stories with thought, deliberation, and authenticity. 

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