Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Mystery Recommendations

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. Today's theme is Ten Book Recommendations for ______. Since I've been reading a lot of mystery/detective books lately, I thought it would be a good idea to make a list of mystery recommendations. Then I realised I already made a similar list last September ... however, I've read quite a few new ones since then and I think this list is different enough for it to be worthwhile. So, here are ten books I recommend to people who like mysteries (especially of the classic or historical variety.


A Man of Some Repute by Elizabeth Edmondson (mini review)
This is one I've read recently. Set in a small town in 1950s England, featuring a mysterious death which occurred seven years earlier.

One Corpse Too Many by Ellis Peters
This is the second in Ellis Peters' Cadfael series, and one of the best that I've read so far, although I'd recommend the series as a whole.

Arsenic for Tea by Robin Stevens
The second in Robin Stevens' series featuring schoolgirl detectives in 1930s England. I enjoyed this a lot more than the first book in the series and it can be read as a standalone. The characterisation in this book is really well done, and probably stands out more than the mystery (which is also good, but not spectacular).

Whose Body? by Dorothy L. Sayers (review)
The first in Dorothy Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey series, which I've been slowly enjoying my way through. This is one of the shorter books in the series (some are quite long) so it's definitely a good place to start, though for the most part it isn't necessary to read the books in order.


A Murder is Announced by Agatha Christie
Shockingly, this is the only Agatha Christie book I've read to date (I really need to get on that!). It was very good though. Do I need to say any more?

The Draycott Murder Mystery by Molly Thynne
A lesser-known murder mystery from the 1920s, which has recently been republished by Dean Street Press. This was a good mystery and despite it being a standalone novel rather than a series, I found that the characters were very compelling too.

Death on the Cherwell by Mavis Doriel Hay
Set in a women's college in 1930s Oxford; in fact it was published the same year as Dorothy Sayers' Gaudy Night, with the same setting. This is a much more lighthearted book though, with a fair bit of humour as well as good characters and a strong mystery aspect.


The Good Knight by Sarah Woodbury
The first in a mystery series set in medieval Wales. This was a Kindle freebie and I didn't really know what to expect, but I enjoyed it a surprising amount, despite some flaws.

The Matters at Mansfield by Carrie Bebris
Set several years on from Pride & Prejudice, Darcy and Elizabeth have taken up mystery-solving as a hobby. This is actually one of the better Jane Austen sequels I've read, the dialogue felt reasonably authentic (at least it's not jarringly modern) and the mystery is a good story in its own right. This book also features characters from Mansfield Park.

The Thieves of Ostia by Caroline Lawrence
Featuring four young detectives in Ancient Rome, this is the first in a series of seventeen books (which was one of my favourite series in years gone by). It now has a spin-off series, The Roman Quests, which is very good. (Possibly even better than the original series.)

Monday, 14 August 2017

Mini-Reviews #5: The Selchester Mysteries

I've recently enjoyed three books from the Selchester Mysteries series by Elizabeth Edmondson, so I thought I'd combine my reviews into one post. These are a series of mysteries set in 1950s England, featuring a castle, a cast of eccentric characters, a few puzzling murders, and some Cold War intrigue. I found them very enjoyable.
  
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A Man of Some Repute

 
This was a good book, although not outstanding. The mystery aspect was very intriguing, and well done, and there was at least one twist that took me by surprise. The writing was good enough; there were no bits that stood out particularly, but it wasn't bad.

It took me a while to get invested in the characters; I think because the author had two many points of view, and would often move slightly away from the main characters to have a little bit from the viewpoint of another, more minor character. I guess this was partly to show how characters were seen by other people, but I wish she had stuck to just Hugo and Freya, so that we could get to know them quicker. However, by the end of the story I realised that I actually had become quite attached to the characters and location, and wanted more! This was probably just as well, as the story ends on rather a cliffhanger (although the main mystery is resolved, it's clear that there's a lot more to find out).
 

A Youthful Indiscretion

 
This was a quick read, only 60 pages long. I enjoyed it, although it definitely felt like it was just a bridge between two books rather than a story in its own right. It follows on from the cliffhanger at the end of A Man of Some Repute, but also introduces several new plot elements, such as a new colleague for Hugo, that are seemingly unrelated to this and not really developed in this book. Presumably they will be important later.

The ending was not very satisfying; the main plot thread is only partially resolved, and there are still many questions to be answered.

A Question of Inheritance

 
This book carries on pretty much where the last one left off. It takes a pretty long time to get to the main mystery, with lots of details of the characters' lives, and events which later turn out to be important. I found it harder to keep track of the plot in this book; I'm not sure if this is because it was more complex or just because there are a number of things which don't seem very important at the time but become significant later, and I wasn't paying enough attention to remember them. However, I still enjoyed the book a lot. Fortunately, this one doesn't end on a cliffhanger, although there are still some (rather important) loose ends that need tying up. The next book in the series will presumably do that.
 
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Sadly, the author died before finishing the next book in the series, A Matter of Loyalty, but it has been completed by her son and is being released in October. This is the last one, so hopefully it will clear up all the remaining plotlines. I'm hoping it will be just as good as the previous books in the series, although I'll be sad to leave these characters behind.

Both A Man of Some Repute and A Question of Inheritance are currently 99p on Kindle (at time of posting), so if you are interested in this series now is probably a good time to look into it :)

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Book Review: Jane of Lantern Hill (1937)

(minor spoilers follow)
 
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Jane and her mother live in Toronto with her grandmother, who loves her mother but bullies Jane. She has always believed that her father is dead, so she is shocked to find that he is in fact alive and living in Prince Edward Island, and  that he wants her to spend the summer with him. Jane goes determined to hate him, but instead she spends a glorious summer keeping house for her father and making friends with the locals. As time passes, both during and after the summer, Jane finds she has much to learn about herself and about life. She also tries to learn about the reasons for her parents' separation, and dreams that perhaps one day they might all be able to live together...
 
I liked Jane. She is perhaps more ordinary than most of Montgomery's heroines; although she is still imaginative, she's not in the same class as Anne or Emily. However, this doesn't stop her from having plenty of good qualities; she is caring, brave, and determined. Although at the start of the story she is rather awkward and lacking in confidence, as the story goes on she learns to become more confident and to stand up for herself more. She also develops a strong understanding of other people; she can see her parents much more clearly than they can see each other. The other characters are also very well-drawn, and realistic. I liked the story too. It's a gentle, character-driven story, which is my favourite kind, really. The writing is lovely and descriptive (of course).
 
There isn't anything that I strongly disliked about it, though there were some parts that I found hard to believe, like how quickly Jane learns to cook and garden, with no prior experience or training. She's supposed to have a natural gift for it, but I don't believe anyone could really learn that quickly, especially at the age of eleven. I also would have liked to spend more time with Jane's friends and neighbours at Lantern Hill; there were quite a lot of them, and there wasn't really time to get to know most of them in the time we spent there. Some of the parts where Jane's grandmother is being particularly awful were a little uncomfortable to read, and I'd really rather be reading about Lantern Hill. But that isn't necessarily a criticism of the story.
 
Two themes stood out to me as I was reading. One is that of jealousy, of selfish love. We are told that Jane's grandmother loves her mother, but it is a selfish love; she can't bear for anyone else, even Jane, to share in her mother's affections. Both of Jane's parents, too, have a tendency to be jealous, to want to be the exclusive focus of each other's attentions. The other theme was that of home. Jane longs for a proper home; she wants to be away from her grandmother, of course, but she also hates the house they live in. When she and her father are looking for a house in Lantern Hill, it has to be just right, to possess a little "magic". The people in the house matter, but the house itself matters too.
 
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Overall, I thought this was a very good book, which deserves to be better known. It's a shame Montgomery never finished the sequel, because I would have liked to have spent more time with Jane and her friends.

Since family plays a big role in this story (and since, although it's now August, I finished it in July), I'm counting it for the July category of the Old School Kidlit reading challenge, which is "a family story". I'm also counting it for the Back to the Classics challenge, for "a classic set in a place you'd like to visit", because Prince Edward Island is definitely somewhere I'd love to go.

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Review: A Wrinkle in Time (1962)

Despite its popularity in the US, this book isn't particularly well known (as far as I can tell) over here in the UK, so I never came across it as a child. This is a shame, because I think I would have loved it had I read it as a child. However, I still enjoyed it very much, and I'm glad I've finally got around to reading it.
 
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Summary (Goodreads): It was a dark and stormy night; Meg Murry, her small brother Charles Wallace, and her mother had come down to the kitchen for a midnight snack when they were upset by the arrival of a most disturbing stranger.

"Wild nights are my glory," the unearthly stranger told them. "I just got caught in a downdraft and blown off course. Let me be on my way. Speaking of way, by the way, there is such a thing as a tesseract".

Meg's father had been experimenting with this fifth dimension of time travel when he mysteriously disappeared. Now the time has come for Meg, her friend Calvin, and Charles Wallace to rescue him. But can they outwit the forces of evil they will encounter on their heart-stopping journey through space?
 
This is quite a hard book to review, as it's kind of hard to describe why I liked it. I found it a little odd, but mostly in a good way - the sort of quirkiness that makes you want to find out more. For most of the book I had literally no idea what was going to happen next - it seemed like just about anything could happen. It felt very much like the story told in the book was very much scratching the surface of the world it was set in - that there was a lot that wasn't revealed or explained to us. I liked the sense of mystery that this added. Overall, I found it a very interesting story, dealing with themes of Love over Evil; a common theme, but one which I don't think can be over-done.
 
Personally, I didn't find I was particularly interested in most of the characters; probably this was just due to a lack of time spent developing them, which was probably necessarily the case in a book this length, especially as there is a fair amount of plot to get in. (Although I did like that Meg was good at maths, which is a very underrated skill among book heroines.) However, I think the other aspects of the book made up for this. Mostly, it's left me wanting more; so I am looking forward to reading the sequels.
 
(At the time of posting, I've read A Wind in the Door, which I also enjoyed a lot, though not as much as this.)

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Six in Six 2017

Six in Six is an annual meme hosted by Jo at The Book Jotter. The idea is that you pick six categories which relate to your reading in the first half of the year, and list six things for each category. I enjoyed participating in this last year, so I thought I'd join in again this time.

https://josbookjourney.wordpress.com/2017/06/12/the-sixth-six-in-six-2017-edition/


Six new authors to me
Madeleine L'Engle (A Wrinkle in Time; A Wind in the Door)
Anthony Hope (The Prisoner of Zenda)
Mavis Doriel Hay (Death on the Cherwell)
Marguerite de Angeli (Thee, Hannah!)
John Buchan (The Thirty-Nine Steps)
Elisabeth Grace Foley (The Mountain of the Wolf; The Silver Shawl)
 
Six historical novels
The Thunder Omen - Caroline Lawrence
Raider's Tide - Maggie Prince
The Silver Shawl - Elisabeth Grace Foley
A Plague on Both Your Houses - Susanna Gregory
The Little Duke - Charlotte Mary Yonge
St. Peter's Fair - Ellis Peters
 
Six series I read or started
Brother Cadfael - Ellis Peters (St. Peter's Fair; The Leper of St. Giles)
Lord Peter Wimsey - Dorothy Sayers (Unnatural Death)
Paddington - Michael Bond (More About Paddington)
Alice-Miranda - Jacqueline Harvey (Alice-Miranda on Holiday; Alice-Miranda Takes the Lead; Alice-Miranda Shows the Way; Alice-Miranda in Paris)
Chronicles of Matthew Bartholomew - Susanna Gregory (A Plague on Both Your Houses)
Chalet School - Elinor M. Brent-Dyer (The Princess of the Chalet School; The New Chalet School)
 
Six classics I have read
Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea - Jules Verne
The Prisoner of Zenda - Anthony Hope
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe - C.S. Lewis (re-read)
The Two Towers - J.R.R. Tolkien
Marmion - Walter Scott
The Thirty-Nine Steps - John Buchan
 
Six non-fiction books
Mere Christianity - C.S. Lewis
Fierce Convictions - Karen Swallow Prior
The Year 1000 - Robert Lacey & Danny Danziger
Letters to Malcolm - C.S. Lewis
Orthodoxy - G.K. Chesterton
The Reason I Jump - Naoki Higashida
 
Six re-reads
Saffy's Angel - Hilary McKay
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe - C.S. Lewis
The Tanglewoods' Secret - Patricia St. John
Shocks for the Chalet School - Elinor M. Brent-Dyer
Phyllida in Form III - Evelyn Smith
The Little Duke - Charlotte Mary Yonge

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Recent Highlights

photo from Unsplash

It's been rather a long time since I last posted, so I thought I'd do a recap of some recent reading highlights.

Fiction

I've been enjoying quite a few mystery/detective stories recently. I really enjoyed Death on the Cherwell by Mavis Doriel Hay, a murder mystery set in 1930s Oxford. St Peter's Fair and The Leper of St Giles, books four and five in Ellis Peters' Cadfael series, were also very good. Unnatural Death, the third Lord Peter Wimsey book by Dorothy L. Sayers, didn't quite live up to the others in the series I've read, but it was still enjoyable. A Plague on Both Your Houses by Susanna Gregory, set in medieval Cambridge, was good, but not really to my taste; it was a bit more thriller-y than the other books I've mentioned here, with lots of twists and turns and not knowing who to trust, which is not really my sort of thing, although it kept me reading to find out what would happen.

I've also read several lesser-known vintage novels: I really enjoyed A College Girl by Mrs. George de Horne Vaizey (although the title is slightly misleading, as not much of the story is set at college; it's more a coming-of-age tale); The Girls of St. Wode's by L.T. Meade was also very enjoyable, and The Diary of a Goose Girl by Kate Douglas Wiggin was a quick, entertaining read (although rather lacking in plot).

Other books I enjoyed were A Walk Across the Sun by Corban Addison, several books in the Alice-Miranda series by Jacqueline Harvey, and The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Non-Fiction

Mere Christianity and Letters to Malcolm by C.S. Lewis were both excellent (as Lewis always is). Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes by E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O'Brien gave me a lot to think about. Fierce Convictions by Karen Swallow Prior, a biography of Hannah More, was a great read; she is a fascinating person to read about.

Currently Reading

The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis (almost finished)
A Man of Some Repute by Elizabeth Edmondson
North Side of the Tree by Maggie Prince (just started, but really enjoying)
The Diamond of Drury Lane by Julia Golding
Charlotte Fairlie by D.E. Stevenson


Anticipating

Death in the Arena, the third books in the Roman Quests series by Caroline Lawrence, which comes out this week. I really enjoyed the first two books, so I'm looking forward to this one.


I've got a few reviews hanging around in my drafts that I'll probably post soon, so hopefully there'll be a rather shorter interval between this and my next post.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

My Spring TBR

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week's topic is Ten Books on My Spring TBR. I'm very much of a mood reader and usually not very good at sticking to lists, so there is a good chance my reading over the next few months will be completely different to what I've listed below! That said, I really do intend to read most of them soon - we'll see!


The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis (my Classics Club Spin book)
Death on the Cherwell by Mavis Doriel Hay
The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien (after I finish The Two Towers, which will hopefully be this week)
Jane of Lantern Hill by L.M. Montgomery (for the Old School Kidlit reading challenge)
Once by various authors
A Man of Some Repute by Elizabeth Edmondson
The Sound of Diamonds by Rachelle Rea
A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeleine L'Engle
Thalia by Frances Faviell
The Oxford Inklings by Colin Duriez
 
Have you read any of these? If so, what did you think of them? And what are you looking forward to reading soon?