Tag Archives: mysteries

Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks

I really love it when things show up in my life that are such a good match to something I’ve been pondering, or thinking about doing.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about keeping a journal, and I talked about my idea that I might have luck, finally, with journaling if I just let myself write whatever I wanted in it. I wouldn’t demand consistency from myself; I’d just let the journal take shape with all the scraps of my life and thoughts and imaginings that I might think to jot down.

So after writing that post, I did start journaling, exactly as I mentioned: eclectic snippets of this and that. And I discovered myself also jotting down notes about different story ideas too, because they are so much a part of my daily thoughts.

Then, two days ago, I ran into the library to pick up a few holds and, as I normally do, I checked out the “new books” shelves. And I discovered this book:

Agatha Christie's Secret Notebooks

I’m pretty sure I gave a gasp of delight. Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks! I’m a huge Christie fan, and as a writer the thought of reading through her notebooks is so very exciting.

I’ve read the first few chapters and it’s such a delight to see how she worked out her story ideas in her notebooks. What’s even more wonderful is the discovery that Christie used her notebooks in much the same way I’ve just started using my own blank journals:

She employed her Notebooks as diaries, as scribblers, as telephone-message pads, as travel logs, as household accounts ledgers; she used them to draft letters, to list Christmas and birthday presents, to scribble to-do reminders, to record books read and books to read, to scrawl travel directions. She sketched maps of Warmsley Heath (Taken at the Flood) and St. Mary Mead in them; she doodled the jacket design for Sad Cypress and the stage setting for Afternoon at the Seaside in them; she drew diagrams of the plane compartment from Death in the Clouds and the island from Evil under the Sun in them.

Part of the pleasure of working with the Notebooks is derived from the fact that when you turn a page you never know what you will read. The plotting of the latest Poirot novel can be interrupted by a poem written for Rosalind’s birthday; a page headed, optimistically, “Things to do” is sandwiched between the latest Marple and an unfinished stage play. A phone number and message break the flow of a new radio play; a list of new books disrupts the intricacies of a murderer’s timetable; a letter to The Times disturbs the new Westmacott novel.(p. 68-69)

Christie didn’t even stick to just one notebook at a time. She kept a batch of them around, never dated anything, and in one notebook there are notes that span 17 years!

This is the notebook habit that I have just started, and Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks is inspiring me to keep on track with my own eclectic form of  journaling.

And eventually we come to the realisation that, in fact, this very randomness is her method; this is how she worked, how she created, how she wrote. She thrived mentally on chaos, it stimulated her more than neat order; rigidity stifled her creative process. (p. 74)

I’m still digging into this book, and so far it’s been really wonderful to see how she worked on plot ideas amid other snippets of her life; if you’re an Agatha Christie fan and a writer, too, I think this is definitely something you might want to check out. The only thing to keep in mind is that there are, as author John Curran warns, hints to the endings of various of her works scattered throughout. Since I’ve read almost all of Christie’s novels, this isn’t a problem for me; if you haven’t, each chapter very considerately includes, at the beginning, a list of books for which the solutions have been revealed.

[TSS] A Little Bit Holds Happy

These past six months or so, I’ve really been getting a lot of use out of my library card. Ever since I signed up for Library Elf, that wonderful service that sends out reminder emails about books coming due or overdue, I’ve even managed to keep my library fines down to a minimum (you don’t want to know about the arm and the leg I paid to my library before I discovered Library Elf – and I have no excuse, not really, because there’s a branch of the library within a few blocks of my house).

(If you’re not using Library Elf, I definitely recommend you check it out and see if your library is listed with them.)

I discovered a few months ago that my library offers monthly newsletters that feature their latest acquisitions in a variety of genres. I’ve signed up for several of these newsletters, and always look forward to getting these emails – I’m always sure to add a few more holds to my library account.

Yesterday came with a flurry of these emails. The books listed in them aren’t necessarily new releases – often they are just “new to us” acquisitions. And of course, I placed several holds!

The Crossroads

The Crossroads, by Chris Grabenstein. I’m not sure why this showed up in the new books for teens newsletter, actually, as I’d already borrowed it once previously (but then got stuck under an avalanche of deadlines and had to return it unread). It’s by Chris Grabenstein, who writes the John Ceepak mystery series for adults, which I really enjoy.

Zack, his dad, and new stepmother have just moved back to his father’s hometown, not knowing that their new house has a dark history. Fifty years ago, a crazed killer caused an accident at the nearby crossroads that took 40 innocent lives….

The Brightest Star in the Sky

The Brightest Star in the Sky, by Marian Keyes. I think I’ve read one Keyes novel in the past – I seem to remember I enjoyed it. The storyline in The Brightest Star in the Sky sounded very intriguing. Since Keyes is such a popular author, it will be a while before I get my hands on this one.

The Brightest Star in the Sky follows seven neighbors whose lives become entangled when a sassy and prescient spirit pays a visit to their Dublin townhouse with the intent of changing at least one of their lives.

But what will this metamorphosis be and who will the sprite choose? There’s Matt and Maeve, the newlyweds struggling to overcome the first obstacle in their storybook romance; Lydia, the brassy but vulnerable cabbie; Katie, the just-turned-forty PR executive searching for a more gratifying life; and the eldest resident, Jemima, currently playing hostess to her son Fionn, who is in town to star as the hunky gardener in a hot new television show.

The Book of Tomorrow

The Book of Tomorrow, by Cecelia Ahern. I haven’t read Ahern’s P.S. I Love You, but I did enjoy the movie (much more so the second time around, when I knew what had happened – I think I went through a whole box of tissue paper that time). The Book of Tomorrow sounds quite interesting:

Tamara Goodwin has always got everything she’s ever wanted. Born into a family of wealth, she grew up in a mansion with its own private beach, a wardrobe full of designer clothes, a large four poster bed complete with a luxurious bathroom en-suite. She’s always lived in the here and now, never giving a second thought to tomorrow. But then suddenly her dad is gone and life for Tamara and her mother changes forever. Left with a mountain of debt, they have no choice but to sell everything they own and move to the country to live with Tamara’s Uncle and Aunt. Nestled next to Kilsaney Castle, their gatehouse is a world away from Tamara’s childhood. With her mother shut away with grief, and her aunt busy tending to her, Tamara is lonely and bored and longs to return to Dublin. When a travelling library passes through Kilsaney Demesne, Tamara is intrigued. She needs a distraction. Her eyes rest on a mysterious large leather bound tome locked with a gold clasp and padlock. With some help, Tamara finally manages to open the book. What she discovers within the pages takes her breath away and shakes her world to its core.

Murder at Longbourn

Murder at Longbourn, by Tracy Kiely. I couldn’t resist this cozy-sounding murder mystery, although on reading the summary, I’m not sure where Jane Austen comes into play …

A die-hard fan of Jane Austen novels and the traditional English mystery, Tracy Kiely has combined elements of both for this truly delightful and witty debut. Planning New Year’s resolutions to rid her life of all things unhealthy, Elizabeth Parker has dumped fatty foods, processed sugar, and her two-timing boyfriend. Indeed, the invitation to join her Aunt Winnie for a How to Host a Murder Party on New Year’s Eve at Winnie’s new Cape Cod B and B comes just in time. But when the local wealthy miser ends up the unscripted victim, Elizabeth must unearth old secrets and new motives in order to clear her beloved aunt of suspicion.

The Taken

The Taken, by Inger Ash Wolfe. This is the sequel to The Calling, which I haven’t read yet either – a copy of The Calling is available on the shelves, so I’m going to get a hold of it and get it read before this hold on The Taken comes my way. It was actually the summary of The Calling that made me decide to give this series a try.

From The Calling:

Detective Inspector Hazel Micallef has lived all her days in the small town of Port Dundas, Ontario and is now making her way toward retirement with something less than grace. Hobbled by a bad back and a dependence on painkillers, and feeling blindsided by divorce after nearly four decades of marriage, sixty-one-year-old Hazel has only the constructive criticism of her mother (the former mayor) and her own sharp tongue to buoy her. But when a terminally ill woman is gruesomely murdered in her own home, Hazel and her understaffed department must spring to life. And as one terminally ill victim after another is found, Hazel finds herself tracking a truly terrifying serial killer while everything around her spins out of control.

Through the cacophony of her bickering staff, her unsupportive superiors, a clamoring press, the town’s rumor mill, and her own nagging doubts, Hazel can sense the dead trying to call out. Will she hear them before it’s too late?

From The Taken:

Detective Inspector Hazel Micallef is having a bad year. After major back surgery, she has no real option but to move into her ex-husband’s basement and suffer the humiliation of his new wife bringing her meals down on a tray. As if that weren’t enough, Hazel’s octogenarian mother secretly flushes Hazel’s stash of painkillers down the toilet.

It’s almost a relief when Hazel gets a call about a body fished up by tourists in one of the lakes near Port Dundas. But what raises the hair on the back of Micallef ’s neck is that the local paper has just published the first installment of a serialized story featuring such a scenario. Even before they head out to the lake with divers to recover the body, she and DC James Wingate, leading the police detachment in Micallef ’s absence, know they are being played. But it’s not clear who is pulling their strings and why, nor is what they find at the lake at all what they expected. It’s Micallef herself who is snared, caught up in a cryptic game devised by someone who knows how to taunt her into opening a cold case, someone who knows that nothing will stop her investigation.

Don’t you love placing holds on books at your library? I like adding to my holds list – it’s like having a guarantee that I’ll always have something good to read. If I’m lucky, the books trickle in at a nice, steady pace … (if I’m not so lucky, I come home with 20+ books and no time to read them all!)

Audiobook Appreciation

I’m done with this most recent clump of deadlines! I don’t think I’ve worked at quite a pace like this for a long while – it’s been three to four weeks of fourteen hour days. I am very, very thankful for my audiobooks – I think they kept me sane in the midst of all those deadlines.

Audiobook Treasure Trove

headphones I was lucky enough to come down with a head cold for Christmas and Boxing Day, so I had a grand time those two days: I got to loll around while everyone took care of me, and to top it off, on Christmas Day, I discovered a virtual audiobook treasure chest! I spent most of Christmas Day and Boxing Day lying on the couch, listening to some great audiobooks and snacking on the most delicious foods.

If you live in Ontario, you might be able to take advantage of this audiobook treasure chest yourself. The Ontario Library Service Download Centre is available to all library patrons of participating Ontario libraries, and it is just wonderful. There are loads of audiobooks available for download, much like you would for Audible. The files are deleted at the end of your checkout period, but you can checkout each audiobook for one or two weeks, which is nice.

So far, in the past two weeks, I’ve listened to Bill Bryson’s The Lost Continent, Ellen Degeneres’ The Funny Thing Is, The Green Witch and The Grey King from Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising series, and The Bunnicula Collection by James and Deborah Howe.

Other Listens

The Price of Butcher's Meat

Over the past three weeks, I also enjoyed the audio versions of Reginald Hill’s The Price of Butcher’s Meat (I listened to the British version, which is called A Cure for All Diseases) and Exit Lines. I’d already read A Cure for All Diseases earlier last year and loved it (my review is here) – it translated superbly into audio.

I also played several Agatha Christie audios while I was working – I find I can do “rereads” in audio, as well as memoirs and nonfiction, while I’m working; I somehow have the ability to follow along while getting my work done at the same time. Audiobooks don’t work well for work if they’re audios of books I haven’t read yet, though.

The Mysterious Affair at Styles, Murder on the Links, Poirot Investigates and The Big Four helped me get through a lot of otherwise tedious work, so I’m very thankful for them!

Curtains for ThreeAnd finally, I listened to Rex Stout’s Curtains for Three, a trilogy of three Nero Wolfe novellas. I must admit, the first few times I listened to audiobook renditions of Nero Wolfe novels, I had a hard time getting used to the narrator, Michael Pritchard, because he didn’t sound quite like I always imagined Archie Goodwin would sound. But Pritchard’s voice has grown on me, and now my idea of Archie Goodwin sounds exactly like him! I like the way that worked out.

Coming Up

Thanks to the Ontario Library Service Download Centre, I have some more goodies waiting for my hearing pleasure this coming week:

About Face

About Face, by Donna Leon. I’ve been wanting to read a Commissario Guido Brunetti book for a while, and since this one was available for checkout, I decided to give it a try. I only just started listening to it last night, and it promises to be a good story.

Silver on the Tree

Silver on the Tree, by Susan Cooper. This is the final book in The Dark is Rising series. The version I have is narrated by Alex Jennings, and I started listening to a bit of it yesterday as well. I’m looking forward to finishing my reread of the series in audio.


So Long as You Both Shall Live, by Ed McBain. This is my first 87th Precinct mystery; it’s a little bit challenging keeping track of all the names in audio, and the story line behind this one isn’t quite to my taste, but I will definitely be looking into reading more of the 87th Precinct series.

Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, by Bill Bryson. I’ve had Bryson’s memoir on my shelf for ages; when I saw it was available at the OLS Download Centre, I decided to check it out, as I really enjoy listening to memoirs in audio.

And from my local library:

The Thirteenth Tale

The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield. The audio version of The Thirteenth Tale came highly recommended – I seem to recall lots of people recommending it on Google Wave. So I thought I’d take the plunge and give it a first read in audio instead of in print.

I recently bought the following, which are waiting for me to get to them:

The Eye of the World

The Eye of the World, by Robert Jordan. This is Book 1 of the Wheel of Time series – I began reading the series ages ago, but stopped at around Book 6 or 7. I recently received a review copy of the final book in the series, The Gathering Storm, which is written by Brandon Sanderson based on Robert Jordan’s extensive notes, so I thought it would be a good thing to reread the series. I’ve had so much luck with rereads in audio, I decided to give the audio version a try.

Dead Until Dark

Dead Until Dark, by Charlaine Harris. I have the first seven books in paperback, but haven’t read the Sookie Stackhouse series at all; a while back, I decided to give the first book a try in audio. I haven’t found myself in the mood for it yet, but I know I will soon – from what everyone’s been telling me, I’ll probably be hooked once I give it a try!

I also have two Audible credits to spend, and I’m thinking I’ll probably splurge on more Rex Stout and Reginald Hill.

So there you have it – audiobooks have managed to keep me on the reading track even while I was submerged up to my neck in deadlines! And yes, I’ve been feeling like a kid in a candy store …

Coming up this week: my giveaway winners! No, I haven’t forgotten about my giveaway. The winners post will be coming soon.

Photo credit

The Boy Sherlock Holmes: Eye of the Crow, by Shane Peacock

Despite appearances, I’ve actually had some time to read lately. Maybe “had some time to read” isn’t totally accurate – it’s been more like “squeezed some time to read” but regardless, it’s the end result that counts, right?

And I’ve been lucky, because everything I’ve picked up to read recently has turned out to be a good read. Eye of the Crow was a  really, really good read, in fact.

Eye of the CrowI picked up Eye of the Crow, by Shane Peacock, from the library one day; the “Silver Birch nominee” sticker on the spine caught my eye (as it turns out, it’s won a bunch of awards, including the Arthur Ellis Award for Juvenile Crime Fiction).

The book is about Sherlock Holmes’ first case, one undertaken when he’s a boy of just thirteen; I’m a Sherlock Holmes fan, and always on the lookout for good books about Holmes (Laurie King’s Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series is another favorite of mine).

But Eye of the Crow stayed sitting in the pile of books on my library shelf for most of the three weeks I had it out.

And then, luckily, one day I read Memory’s review of Death in the Air; it’s the sequel to Eye of the Crow. Memory mentioned that Death in the Air was a good read, but not as good as Eye of the Crow. I realized, “Hey! I have Eye of the Crow sitting in my library pile.”

So I dashed over to my library shelf, picked up the book, and started reading.

I didn’t stop until I’d finished the entire book. The day got darker, my to-do list stayed undone (which, when you think about it, is really not such a bad thing,  because it meant all I had to do was re-use the same list the next day, with a few more additions), but I finished the book, my heart racing because it was gloriously, gorgeously suspenseful.

I know this is a children’s book, but the fact is, once you start reading, you’ll find yourself drawn into the world of 1860s London – drawn so deeply in you can almost smell the grime and feel the grit. And you’re not going to be thinking to yourself, I’m reading a children’s book – you’re going to be too deep in the story to remember that you actually are reading a book.

And really, that’s the best kind of book to sink your teeth into.

Peacock has done an amazing job. His boy Sherlock Holmes gives the adult Sherlock Holmes exactly the right childhood background – all the pieces fall into place. The reasons behind why Holmes is the way he is are all there, in the childhood backstory that Peacock has created for the adult Holmes in Eye of the Crow.

Not to mention, the suspense builds and builds and builds. This one is a keeper, and for the Sherlock Holmes fan, a must read.

Comfort Reads (42nd Bookworms Carnival)

imageI’m just tickled to be hosting this 42nd Bookworms Carnival! Thank you to everyone who sent in their links on such short notice.

I chose the topic of Comfort Reads because there are always those times in life when a much-loved, well-read book is exactly what I need, and I’m hoping you all feel the same, too.

The desire for a spot of comfort reading hits me most often during the winter: usually at night, when it’s toasty warm inside and bitterly cold outside. I look at my special reading armchair and thoughts of a good, familiar book and a mug of hot tea come to mind.

I’ve enjoyed seeing the titles my fellow bloggers turn to when they’re up for some comfort reading; there are many old favorites of mine in the group, plus some new titles that of course I’ve now added to my list of books to get my hands on. All I can say is, it’s a good thing Christmas is just around the corner!


Ah, the classics! I have quite a few classics on my own list – especially Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, A Room with a View, by E. M. Forster, and The Good Soldier, by Ford Madox Ford. Only one person submitted a classic, but it’s a lovely one for reading on a cold night, all warm and cozy in front of the fire.

Heather from Age 30+ … A Lifetime of Books submitted Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë. If you’re like me, whenever you think of Wuthering Heights you think of Heathcliff. I also tend to think of dark and glowering brows, too! Heather has included a great detailed list of the cast of characters that does a wonderful job of refreshing your memory about this classic if it’s been a while since you’ve read it.


There’s something about a good fantasy that gives that old favorite one an edge when it comes to being a comfort read. I think it’s because the world you dip into is so different and all-encompassing (with the best fantasies, anyway), that you literally are swept away for those few hours you’re re-reading.

Heather submitted as another comfort read, Mists of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley, one of my own favorite reads. I’ve always had a fondness for retellings of the King Arthur story, and I read this when I was a teen and just adored it. Heather says, “I guess I’d have to say that if you DO find it challenging, it is VERY worth the effort you put into it. For me, this is a “must read” for just about everyone.” And I agree totally!

Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series is another series I turn to in my own comfort reading, so I was pleased to see it showing up in the submissions. Zee at Notes from the North recommends listening to the Dragonsinger series in audio, which sounds like a great idea. Jemi at Just Jemi has also included the Pern series in her list of comfort reads, and I am in complete agreement with her! I recently bought the first three books in the series in ebook format, so that I’ll always have them to dip into.

Zee also includes in her list a fantasy series by David Eddings, the Belgariad and Mallorean series; I’ve read a few books by Edding, and she’s reminded me it’s time for a revisit.

Jackie at Literary Escapism submitted three urban fantasy books that sound like fantastic reads; I haven’t read any of them, and have added them to my list. There’s Friday Night Bites, by Chloe Neill, a novel about the Chicagoland vampires, and Destined for an Early Grave, by Jeaniene Frost, another novel about vampires. And I’ve had the Riley Jensen series, by Keri Arthur, on my list for a while now; the latest installment, Bound to Shadows, sounds so good.

Sheila, from One Person’s Journey Through a World of Books, picks The Three Sisters Trilogy, by Nora Roberts as her comfort reads; I haven’t read very many books by Nora Roberts, but as soon as I read Sheila’s post, I immediately added these books to my list – I love the concept of three independent women who are all witches. In her email to me, Sheila wrote, “These three books are favorites of mine and are always a “go to” series if I need to just sink into characters that are like old friends to me. Even talking about them now makes me want to go visit them between the pages of these books.”


There’s nothing more perfect than curling up with a good mystery, and with the passage of time, I find that my memory of exactly whodunnit has dimmed enough for old favorites to be just as enjoyable as they were the first time I read them.

For Aarti, at Booklust, Footsteps in the Dark, by Georgette Heyer, is a favorite read. She says, “Footsteps in the Dark is a thriller mystery of the first order, complete with secret passageways, priest holes, skeletons and a cowled monk.” She definitely has me sold on this one! I’ve never read a Georgette Heyer, and one of her mysteries seems like a good place to start.

Candace, at Beth Fish Reads, submitted a book from one of my new personal favorites: the Hamish Macbeth series by M.C. Beaton. In her review of Death of a Travelling Man, she notes that she started this series in audio mainly because of the narrator, Davina Porter. Candace likes to read her series in order, but I tend to grab hold of whatever I can find; I seem to have started the series at the opposite end, and the majority of the ones I’ve listened to have been narrated by Graeme Malcolm. I like Porter’s narration a bit better, but Malcolm does some great accents.

Zee’s picks include J.D. Robb’s In Death series. This is a series I’ve been meaning to read for a while; Zee writes, “This series makes me laugh and the characters feel very real …”

And I’m very glad Jemi included Agatha Christie in her list. She says, “Agatha Christie’s mysteries are kind of like chocolate for me,” and that’s such a perfect description of how the Christie books feel to me, too. My memory isn’t as good as Jemi’s, though – I’ve been rereading Christie in audio, and I find that I’ve forgotten who the culprit is in most of the novels!

Children’s Books

The books I read as a child will always hold a special place in my heart; one of the first things I did as a “real grown-up” holding down a job (ie finally having a bit of money to spend) was to start buying copies of all the old favorites that I’d borrowed time and again from the library when I was little.

I grew up with Anne of Green Gables, by L.M. Montgomery, so I was so glad to see that Jessica, of The Bluestocking Society, and Jemi both chose Anne Shirley as one of their favorite comfort reads. I have read and reread the whole Anne of Green Gables series so many times, I can quote whole sections from the book. Jemi writes, “As a shy, serious girl, I wanted to be Anne’s friend.” I could have written that! I remember wishing I knew someone like Anne, too; the term “kindred spirits” will always hold a special place in my heart.

Jemi also includes The Hobbit in her list of comfort reads – another one of my favorites! I couldn’t decide whether to put this under Fantasy or children’s books, but since I’ll always associate The Hobbit with childhood, I decided this was the proper place for it. (I read The Hobbit long before any of other The Lord of the Rings books.)

Food Writing

There’s something just so comforting to me about reading about food; I go on occasional food-writing splurges, during which time I’ll read nothing but food writing. I also come out of these splurges with a few extra pounds, I think, because one thing about good food writing – it makes you hungry!

Margot, of Joyfully Retired, has submitted a book that’s one of my personal favorites: Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen, by Laurie Colwin. As Margot points out, “Her tone is strictly conversational – just as if you are sitting in her kitchen talking about food.” That’s what makes this book such a charming book for me; I loved Margot’s example of having a conversation with the author as she was reading it!

General Fiction

A lot of the books in my own comfort reading pile fall into a general, non-genre category. When I look at them, I see that a charming, cozy feel is a common element.

I loved Jessica’s review of 84, Charing Cross Road, by Helene Hanff. This is a book that has long been on my “I really want to read that” list, and her review is a good reminder that I really do need to get to it.

Amy, from Amy Reads Good Books, submitted Trouble, by Kate Christensen. I’ve never read any novels by Christensen, but Amy’s caught my attention with this: “it was a thoughtful meditation on how we do or do not bounce back from trauma as we age.” Another interesting book!

Jackie at Farm Lane Books has chosen The Nutmeg Tree by Margery Sharp as her comfort read – Sharp’s books are out of print, but she was lucky enough to find three of them! Ever since I read Jackie’s review of The Nutmeg Tree, I’ve been on the lookout for books by Sharp. They sound like the perfect comfort read.

Myrthe, at The Armenian Odar Reads, submitted The Chosen, by Chaim Potok. This is a lovely review; she writes, “It is the one book that still makes me cry all through the last chapter, a book that I immediately want to start again when I finish it.” I haven’t read The Chosen yet; it sounds like such a beautiful coming-of-age story.

I was also thrilled to see that Melanie, at The Indextrous Reader, submitted Alexander McCall Smith: “My version of comfort reading must always include Alexander McCall Smith,” she says in her post. Me too! She has great things to say about both the Mma Ramotswe series and the Scotland Street series. I haven’t yet fallen under the allure of the Mma Ramotswe series yet, but McCall Smith’s Scotland Street and Isabel Dalhousie series are both very near and dear to me.

Melanie also submitted The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets, by Eva Rice. The title is so charming. Melanie writes, “Full of eccentric English characters, revealing social conditions, ancient houses, True Love, teatime and Selfridge’s, I greatly enjoyed this lovely and unusual novel.” I think it will be one I’ll enjoy too.

Finally, Meg’s review of The Sugar Queen, by Sarah Addison Allen, at Write Meg is so enticing; this is another book I’m adding to my burgeoning list of books to get my hot little hands on. Meg calls The Sugar Queen a “seriously delightful, magical story”, and reading her review, it sounds absolutely charming and whimsical, with dashes of mystery and magic.

This ends the Comfort Reads edition of the Bookworms Carnival! I hope you’ve rediscovered some old favorites in this list, and perhaps added a few to your list that you haven’t read before.

Play along with us! What are some of your comfort reads?

The Likeness, by Tana French

The LikenessIn The Likeness, by Tana French, we meet up with Cassie Maddox again, this time without her former police partner Rob Ryan by her side.

The body of a murder victim has been discovered in the ruins of an old cottage in a village outside Dublin. Not only is the woman Cassie’s virtual twin but the police discover the victim has been going by the name of Lexie Madison, an identity which the police had created for its drug squad years ago, and an identity which Cassie had used during her stint as an undercover officer.

With some trepidation, Cassie agrees to assume this old identity again, and go undercover as Lexie Madison. As Lexie, Cassie steps into the world of a Trinity College graduate student rooming with four other students in an old house close by the cottage in which the victim’s body was discovered.

I had enjoyed Tana French’s first novel, In the Woods, despite not liking the ending very much, so I’d been looking forward to The Likeness.

But when I finally got a hold of a copy from my local library, I found it difficult to get into the book. I kept reading a bit, and then putting it down and not coming back to it for days. I ended up having to renew the book for the maximum number of renewals, and the main reason I finished it was because, going into the last third of the book, I’d run out of renewals and knew that if I didn’t finish it then, I probably wouldn’t be likely to finish it anytime in the near future.

Tana French writes beautifully and eloquently – her writing was one of the things I really enjoyed about In The Woods. But when I finally put down The Likeness for the last time, I found I hadn’t liked it nearly as much as I’d enjoyed In The Woods.

I finally realized why the other day, and, as it turns out, it has everything to do with me, the reader, and nothing to do with the book itself.

You see, I’d picked up The Likeness anticipating a mystery, but the mystery itself isn’t really the draw of the book. The book’s appeal lies in French’s writing, and in her depictions of the many flawed characters who populate The Likeness.

So what happened was this: I expected a mystery, and I kept expecting a mystery. The mystery itself is, of course, an important part of the book, as without it, Cassie wouldn’t be living the tense life of an undercover police officer, surrounded by murder suspects. But I’m not so certain that the mystery itself was the point of the book.

I also tend to favor more of a clear line between good and evil in the mysteries I read, so that, at some point during the narrative, there is a specific  intent to cause serious harm to someone else. The murderer in In The Woods, for example, is a chilling adversary. This isn’t something that happens, however, in The Likeness.

At some point during my reading of the book, I probably should have shifted my expectations – but for some reason, I didn’t. And so I didn’t find it a very satisfying read.

I should have read The Likeness as a work of general fiction that uses a mystery as a device to bring readers deep into the lives of the four unusual people who are Lexie Madison’s roommates. I think it would have worked out to be a far better read for me if I’d approached it with these expectations.

So there you go. The Likeness is a well-written book featuring a cast of flawed and compelling characters. But I went into it with the wrong expectations – the mystery in The Likeness isn’t the sharp, suspenseful mystery (or mysteries, some would say) that drove the plot in In The Woods. So I wasn’t nearly as enthralled with it as I was with In The Woods, even considering that book’s somewhat unsatisfactory ending.

If you go into this book with the right expectations, though, I suspect you’ll enjoy it more than I did.

Where to buy The Likeness:

U.S. (Amazon.com) | Indiebound | Canada (Chapters) | UK (Amazon.co.uk)

Book details: published by Viking Adult, 2008, hardcover, 480 pages

Chris Grabenstein and the John Ceepak Novels

Okay, I’m having a real fangirl moment here. Seriously.

I just stumbled on Part 1 and Part 2 of an interview with author Chris Grabenstein at M.J. Rose’s Buzz, Balls & Hype, as part of Gregory Huffstutter’s The Ad Man Answers feature.

Thanks to Beth Fish Reads, my biggest reading “find” of the year so far has been the John Ceepak mystery series, authored by Chris Grabenstein – I was so hooked after listening to the first book in the series, Tilt-A-Whirl, I promptly bought the rest of the books in the series and indulged in a reading blitz (or reading listen, I guess, since I listened to all the books in audio, narrated by Jeff Woodman, one of my favorite audiobook narrators). I reviewed Tilt-a-Whirl here.

In the interview, Grabenstein talks about his 20 years of working in advertising before he started writing novels (James Patterson was his boss at one time), writing the Ceepak novels, and a little bit about marketing books. And I learned that the sixth Ceepak book, Rolling Thunder, is due out in May, 2010!

It’s a great interview for writers and readers alike. Here’s what Grabenstein says about book trailers (which he thinks are definitely worth the effort): ‘We do not watch TV or book trailers and think: “Isn’t that nice, they did the best they could with no money.”  We see a movie, we either like it or think it sucks.’

Chris Grabenstein Interview, Part 1

Chris Grabenstein Interview, Part 2

I hadn’t realized until reading the interview that Grabenstein also writes YA/MG novels. I’m adding The Crossroads, the first book in a middle-grade ghost story series, to my TBR.

Reading Temptations

I really hate when this happens.

The LikenessI’ve had Tana French’s The Likeness out from the library for a while now. It’s on its last renewal legs, so to speak, so I’ve got to either finish it up in the next few weeks or it has to go back to the library until I can check it out again.

I really liked French’s In The Woods (my review is here) – despite the ending – and everyone I know who’s read In The Woods tells me that The Likeness is even better. But for some reason, I’ve been having trouble getting into it. It’s not that I’m not enjoying it when I do sit down with it, because I am. But for some reason, the book hasn’t hooked me in quite that way yet.

When I was reading In The Woods, I couldn’t put the book down, and if I had to, I could think of nothing else but picking it back up again. This hasn’t happened for me yet with The Likeness. But with only a couple more weeks left for me to finish it, I will need to buckle down and make sure that it’s the book I pick up to read whenever I’m in the mood for reading.

Which will really be difficult, because I’ve got some very interesting books that are calling to me right now. No, really, they are. They’re all making those funny squeaky noises, the ones that my booklover’s discerning ears can hear all too clearly. And those voices are saying, “Pick me up! I’m the one you should be reading right now. Pick me up! I’m so interesting. You won’t regret it …”

First, there’s French Milk, by Lucy Knisley, which I talked about in my last Incoming! new book arrivals post. Since this one is in graphic novel format, it would be so easy to pick it up, because I know it will be a quick and lovely read.

Wait Until TwilightAnd then there’s Wait Until Twilight, which author Sang Pak sent to me in the summer. I read the first chapter online at Sang’s site before the book arrived, and if the book had only arrived shortly after, I would have finished it by now. The first chapter was really eerie and gothic and had me wanting more. So now I keep looking at the book and thinking, yes, I really should see what happens next.

But wait, there’s more (isn’t there always, though?). I also just picked up a whole slew of books from the library that I’d put in requests for.

Most of these books ended up on my library list because I saw it on a blog somewhere, by the way. So we know who’s to blame, don’t we?

KitchenThere’s Kitchen, by Banana Yoshimoto; this is the product description from Amazon: “Mikage, the heroine, is an orphan raised by her grandmother, who has passed away. Grieving, Mikage is taken in by her friend Yoichi and his mother (who is really his cross-dressing father) Eriko. As the three of them form an improvised family that soon weathers its own tragic losses, Yoshimoto spins a lovely, evocative tale with the kitchen and the comforts of home at its heart.” Doesn’t it sound so interesting?

We Have Always Lived in the CastleAnd then there’s Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle, an eerie little book that looks like a wonderfully creepy read.

This one was a rather embarrassing find – I’d quickly skimmed through a review on a blog I frequent (I can’t remember which blog it was – I really need to start jotting down where I find my reads) and for some reason I thought it was “in the style of Shirley Jackson”.

Well, I loved The Haunting of Hill House, and “The Lottery” is one of my favorite short stories, so I quickly chirped in the comments something about being a Shirley Jackson lover, so if this was in her style, it definitely was my kind of book. Then I hopped over to my library’s website, typed in the title, and discovered that We Have Always Lived in the Castle wasn’t “in the style of Shirley Jackson” – it’s written by Shirley Jackson.

Sigh. Did I ever feel stupid for making that comment. (Do you ever make commenting blunders like this, by the way? Just asking. Would love some company on this one …)

The SummoningAnd after reading so many really good reviews online, I also put in a request for The Summoning a while back; it’s the first book in Kelley Armstrong’s YA paranormal series.

There was a bit of a wait for this one, but at long last, it’s my turn – but it also means this is yet another book I’ll have to read within the next few weeks, because I’m pretty sure there’s still a wait list for this one.

See my growing reading dilemma?

Little BrotherAnd it doesn’t quite stop there. When I dashed into the library to pick up my holds, I saw Little Brother, by Cory Doctorow, and couldn’t resist getting it after I read the synopsis:

Marcus, a.k.a “w1n5t0n,” is only seventeen years old, but he figures he already knows how the system works–and how to work the system. Smart, fast, and wise to the ways of the networked world, he has no trouble outwitting his high school’s intrusive but clumsy surveillance systems.

But his whole world changes when he and his friends find themselves caught in the aftermath of a major terrorist attack on San Francisco. In the wrong place at the wrong time, Marcus and his crew are apprehended by the Department of Homeland Security and whisked away to a secret prison where they’re mercilessly interrogated for days.

When the DHS finally releases them, Marcus discovers that his city has become a police state where every citizen is treated like a potential terrorist. He knows that no one will believe his story, which leaves him only one option: to take down the DHS himself.

I know that I shouldn’t do things like this; I should be disciplined enough to be able to pop into the library to pick up an armload of holds without looking around at the shelves to see if something else will catch my eye.

But I’m not disciplined at all when it comes to books and reading.

So there you go. So many reading temptations. But yes, I’m going to finish The Likeness first. I know it’s going to be good – I’m at page 110 and those hooks are finally starting to sink into me.

At least I know it’s going to be a pretty good reading month this month, right?

What about you? Is there a book you absolutely must finish right now, for whatever reason? Are you oh, so tempted by other books like I am, or do you possess the iron will and discipline that I lack?

Saturday Thoughts

I haven’t done a Saturday “this is what’s going on with me” post for ages, so I figured it was about time. And after this week, I actually might be posting something like this regularly on Saturday – because starting next Saturday, I’ll have more time.

The Big List of Book Giveaways

Why will I have more time?

Tomorrow will be my last “Big List of Book Giveaways” post for The Sunday Salon. I will still be posting a giveaways list on Sundays, but after a lot of thought, I’ve decided to change the theme of the list and focus only on giveaways that are open worldwide. I’ve been thinking about this for a while, ever since I read this post at J. Kaye’s book blog, where she mentions that Bookworming in the 21st Century posts Link a Contest Thursday every Thursday, and it’s so easy – if you have a giveaway, you just enter it into her Mr. Linky.

The Big List of Book Giveaways post had gotten to the point where it took up a big chunk of my Saturdays, but I’d been reluctant to give it up because it seems to be so helpful to everyone. Reading through the comments I’ve gotten, I saw that a lot of people liked the fact that I state whether a giveaway is open worldwide or not. So it makes sense to me to narrow down the focus to just international book giveaways – hopefully the list will continue to be helpful for everyone (since everyone can enter), and I get to take back some of my Saturdays!

I’m A Cheerleader for the October Read-a-thon!

I never know what I’m going to be doing on any given day until that day comes (in addition to being a moody reader, I also like to adjust my life around whatever I happen to feel like doing at the moment). So, while the idea of participating in the October Read-a-thon is so tempting, I know myself well enough to know it’s probably not a good idea.

Cheerleading, on the other hand? I can do that! So I’ve signed up to be a cheerleader for the October Read-a-thon, and am in the process of dusting off my Twitter and commenting pom poms. I will try to follow the lead of that great Read-a-thon cheerleader, Beth Fish Reads, whose impressive cheering performance during the April Read-a-thon was really what inspired me to sign up to cheer this time around.

If you’d like to participate in the Read-a-thon, or want to give cheerleading a try, just head on over to Dewey’s Read-a-thon.

100-Mile (160.1 km) Fitness Challenge

Fitness Challenge I’ve been noticing that I seem to have gotten, um, a bit more rounded, shall we say, over the past six months. With both the Thanksgiving and Christmas feasts approaching, now seems like a good time to start running again.

Synchronicity struck – I was over at Amanda’s The Zen Leaf and she mentioned she was signing up for the 100-Mile Fitness Challenge. Perfect! So I’ve signed up, too, and hope this is the motivation I need to get running again. I’ve been noticing that my thighs feel sore after I go upstairs – I truly feel like I’m climbing the stairs, like they were some big huge mountain. Not to mention that out-of-breath feeling. So it really is time to do something about it.

My treadmill gives me Canadian distances, so for me, the challenge will be, roughly, 160.1 km over the next three months It turns out my treadmill gives me miles, not kilometres!. And I’m probably going to start out by walking first. I’ve got a ton of audiobooks waiting to accompany me, so my challenge posts will actually be bookish!

So, What’s Up With NANTUCKET?

I haven’t written anything about my progress with NANTUCKET because I haven’t made any progress with it since the last time I posted about it. I know – it’s a very sorry state of affairs. I still have three scenes to write, after which I can say, “I did it! It’s finished!”

You’d think it would be easy to get motivated to write those final scenes, but I have a small confession to make. NANTUCKET has always been my “practice” novel. After not having written anything for so long, I needed to show myself that I could do it. Since I wanted to use that first book to get myself back into writing, I decided to use one of my good ideas, and not one of the ideas about which I am really passionate.

And it’s worked, too. I have been able to write regularly, consistently, even when inspiration seemed far off. I have sat at the keyboard and invited my muse, rather than waiting on the sidelines for my muse to show up first (she never does, I’ve noticed).

But I haven’t felt inspired to write the ending, and worse, I haven’t been sitting down, so the muse hasn’t appeared.

I’m going to finish this manuscript though. I have to, because I’m itching to start the prep work for my NaNoWriMo novel (code name WAVERLEY), and I’m using this itch as an incentive to finish NANTUCKET. And I’m looking forward to pulling that first draft out of a drawer six weeks later and seeing how it reads, too.

So this is my long-winded way of saying, yes, I’ll be writing that “I’m Finished!” post soon.

Currently Reading

I am about a quarter of the way into Tana French’s The Likeness, and while I’ve been enjoying it, I got tempted out of the book when I picked up a copy of The Lost Art of Gratitude, the latest Isabel Dalhousie novel by Alexander McCall Smith. I haven’t been able to resist dipping into it, and I’ve quite enjoyed the handful of pages I’ve read so far.

I’ve been trying to put my finger on why I like the Isabel Dalhousie series so much. It’s certainly not for the mystery, because it’s definitely not the mystery that drives each of these books. I think it’s because I like how Isabel Dalhousie’s mind works, how, as a philosopher, she is always going off on these strange thought tangents all the time. She’s just so interesting, intelligent and self-aware.

I also like the fact that she’s an older woman in a stable relationship with a younger man. Many of my friends are in similar relationships, but I’ve noticed that this kind of relationship never shows up much in fiction. McCall Smith does a good job with it, I think.

So that’s what I’ve been up to. What about you? What have you been up to this week?

The Brutal Telling, by Louise Penny

The Brutal TellingIn Louise Penny’s fifth Chief Inspector Gamache book, The Brutal Telling, the village of Three Pines is once again witness to murder. And perhaps “witness” is too light a word, because the body of the victim is found on the floor of the bistro owned by Olivier and Gabri, the bistro that is very much the heart and soul of the Three Pines community.

I’ve always thought that Louise Penny set a new standard for the traditional mystery when she came out with the first novel in the Armand Gamache series, Still Life, and as with the previous books in the series, The Brutal Telling explores the broader themes arising from the murder that lies at the heart of the mystery.

And there is more to the mystery in this book than the identity of the killer and the victim. This is a story about lies, myths and secrets, about greed and human nature, about what we treasure and what we learn to treasure. How do we know what is real, how do we discern the the truth?

“Who’s Vincent Gilbert, sir? You seemed to know him.”

“He’s a saint.”

Beauvoir laughed, but seeing Gamache’s serious face he stopped. “What do you mean?”

“There’re some people who believe that.”

“Seemed like an asshole to me.”

“The hardest part of the process. Telling them apart.”

I have grown to love and know all the recurring characters so well: Gamache, kind, just, with a quiet but powerful inner strength; Beauvoir and Lacoste, his investigative team, diligent and filled with the utmost respect and love for their superior officer; Clara, Peter, Myrna, Olivier, Gabri, all former outsiders who had stumbled onto the secret that was the village of Three Pines and made it their home; the mad, Governor-General award-winning poet, Ruth; and Three Pines itself, which is more of a character in my mind than simply a place.

And so I found The Brutal Telling to be a more intense read than any of the previous books, because in The Brutul Telling, we must watch as Three Pines is torn apart.

In addition to the mystery, I enjoyed the continuation of a number of smaller storylines, too: the progress of Clara’s artwork and Peter’s jealousy, Rosa, the duck who as a hatchling had impressed herself on Ruth, the transformation of the bleak, old and evil Hadley house.

I was not completely satisfied with the ending; the motivation didn’t feel as concrete to me as I would have liked. I don’t know, however, how much of this was due to my past relationship with the series; a reader who has read the series from the start is likely, I think, to find herself standing rather uncomfortably in Gamache’s shoes in the end.

For me, this wasn’t a book to race through; it was one I savored, taking the time to get re-acquainted with old friends once again. I closed The Brutal Telling with sadness, but I took away with me an end note of hope, too.

An aside: I also enjoyed a small side plot that found a bewildered Inspector Beauvoir showered with snippets of poetry by resident poet Ruth Zardo. Beauvoir has a bit of a macho flair to him, greatly dislikes poetry and is repulsed by Ruth; it was fun to watch him piece together the lines, and see Ruth’s poetic perception revealed as the poem emerges: “and lick you clean of fever,/and pick your soul up gently by the nape of the neck/and caress you into darkness and paradise.”

I’m not very good at things like this, so I might be very wrong, but I think this is a reference to something that happened to Beauvoir in the previous book, A Rule Against Murder (I just can’t see “Maddening, passionate, full of life” referring to Beauvoir’s wife Enid). If so, it was a soft, sweet thing to remember. If you’ve read both A Rule Against Murder and The Brutal Telling, what do you think? Am I on the right track?

(Note: Ruth’s poetry is actually that of Margaret Atwood, Ralph Hodgson and Mike Freeman, used with permission of the authors; the lines in this instance are from Atwood’s “Sekhmet, the Lion-headed Goddess of War”).

Another note: While I’ve given my review of this book from the standpoint of someone who’s very familiar with the series, The Brutal Telling definitely does also work as a standalone. It doesn’t contain spoilers about the previous books and you won’t need to have read the previous four books in order to understand the mystery in this book.

Another update: I might have been wrong in my assessment that this book works as a standalone, as I’ve read some reviews now where people unfamiliar with the series and the characters were somewhat disappointed with The Brutal Telling. The good thing is that it doesn’t give any spoilers, so you’ll have no trouble going back to the earlier books in the series. But if you do get the chance, it’s a very good idea to read them in order, beginning with Still Life.

Where to buy The Brutal Telling:

U.S. (Amazon.com) | Indiebound | Canada (Chapters) | UK (Amazon.co.uk)

Review copy details: published by Minotaur Books, 2009, ARC provided by publisher, 372 pages