Monday, October 19, 2020

A Six Pack of Christie

I've found that I like to dabble in Agatha Christie's short story collection from time to time, usually after I've read a spate of books with "too much middle" as Barbara Peters would say. Having experienced that, it was time to join the Queen of Crime, and I read six of her short stories, written in 1924 and 1925. The following are short "impressions" that I had about each one.

~

Philomel Cottage
A nice little gem from the Queen of Crime. Alix has had a drab life, but things begin to look up when she inherits a little money. Then her long-time boyfriend gets cold feet. Out of the blue, Alix falls head over heels for Gerald Martin, marries him, and buys the perfect Philomel Cottage to move into. She begins to worry when she is plagued by a recurring dream that shows her former boyfriend standing over her husband's dead body. What follows has the trademark Christie misdirection that didn't lead me very far down the garden path, but I enjoyed it all the same. (B+)

The Mystery of the Blue Jar
I loved this one! Jack Hartington is a twenty-four-year-old golf fanatic whose job interferes with lowering his handicap. He gets up very early every morning to get in a few rounds of golf, but when he starts hearing a woman's voice shouting murder and calling for help, he begins to panic. Is he going mad? No one else hears it! He definitely needs assistance. This is one of those stories that you really can't say anything about in order not to give anything away; however, it is one of the few things written by Christie that I've read so far which made me crow with delight when I turned the last page. (A+)

Jane in Search of  a Job
Jane Cleveland applies for, and gets, a job that pays a very large sum of money for a few days work as a double for a grand duchess whose life is in danger. Jane keeps telling herself that there must be a catch, but she can't afford to pass up the money. Your enjoyment of the story will hinge on how much you like the twist at the end. Me? I was moderately amused. Wasn't it P.T. Barnum who said there's a sucker born every minute? Poor Jane Cleveland... (B-)

The Mystery of the Spanish Shawl
Anthony Eastwood has the perfect title for a mystery: "The Mystery of the Second Cucumber." Problem is, he simply can't follow up his perfect title with the perfect plot. That might change now that he's recuperating from a phone call and its aftermath. Christie certainly has fun with the gullible, but I found this offering to be a bit run-of-the-mill. (C+)

The Red Signal
Here Dame Agatha gets to play with seances, unrequited love, otherworldly messages of danger, and murder. Unfortunately, I didn't find this to be one of her best. (D+)

The Witness for the Prosecution
A short story from a master that has a nice little twist at the end. Is Leonard Vole innocent or guilty of murdering a rich old woman? This story makes me think of a Shakespeare quote: "What's in a name?" Christie basically gives it away with the names she uses for the alleged murderer and his wife. (A)

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Win an Autographed Copy of Vaseem Khan's Midnight at Malabar House!

 

 

It's been a couple of months or so since my last giveaway, and I'm happy to announce that I have a few lined up (like Riley Sager's Home Before Dark and Craig Johnson's Next to Last Stand) to share with you all. First up is Vaseem Khan's Midnight at Malabar House. If you like historical mysteries set in 1950s Bombay, India, you can get in at the very beginning with this first Persis Wadia mystery. I can also tell you that if you've already read Sujata Massey's excellent Perveen Mistry historical series, this is one you should enjoy.

I've already provided a link to my review of Khan's book, but here's the synopsis:


"As India celebrates the arrival of a momentous new decade, Inspector Persis Wadia stands vigil in the basement of Malabar House, home to the city's most unwanted unit of police officers. Six months after joining the force she remains India's first female police detective, mistrusted, sidelined and now consigned to the midnight shift.
And so, when the phone rings to report the murder of prominent English diplomat Sir James Herriot, the country's most sensational case falls into her lap.

As 1950 dawns and India prepares to become the world's largest republic, Persis, accompanied by Scotland Yard criminalist Archie Blackfinch, finds herself investigating a case that is becoming more political by the second. Navigating a country and society in turmoil, Persis, smart, stubborn and untested in the crucible of male hostility that surrounds her, must find a way to solve the murder - whatever the cost."
 


~~~What You Will Win~~~

  • One autographed hardcover edition of Vaseem Khan's Midnight at Malabar House. It has a protective mylar cover on the dust jacket, and is fresh from The Poisoned Pen Bookstore. You can see it in the photo. (Pardon the reflection of Denis sitting at his monitor behind me!)

 


 
 
 
~~~The Rules~~~
  1. To be entered in the drawing, send an email to kittlingbooks(at)gmail(dot)com.
  2. The subject line of your email must read Malabar Giveaway.
  3. The body of your email must have your name and mailing address.
  4. Send your entries to me by noon, Sunday, October 25, 2020.
  5. Due to the high cost of postage, this giveaway is open to US residents only.

 

~~~The Small Print~~~

Very Important: If your emails are missing any of the required information, i.e., the correct subject line and your name and mailing address, you will not be entered to win. How do you know if you've been entered? If you have not received an email from me within 24 hours which says, "Your entry has been received. Good Luck!" you'll know something went wrong. That's okay. Try again!
 
 
The winner will be notified by email, and the announcement will be made here on Kittling: Books on Monday, October 26, 2020. The book will go out in the mail the very next day.

Now it's time to fill up my inbox with entries!

 


Friday, October 16, 2020

A Snap & Crackle Weekly Link Round-Up

 


It would seem that sometimes a person just has to do something stupid to keep herself humble. My time was this past Tuesday when a man came to give us an estimate on how much it would cost to cut down our huge deceased Aleppo pine. I often need an electric scooter to get around, and I got on "Esmeralda" to check something out on the property before the man arrived. (Hey, she's green, okay?) As I trundled through what I thought was a big shadow, I discovered part of it was a bog where one of Denis's irrigation hoses had sprung a big leak. I got well and truly stuck. And that's when Stupid struck. Evidently, I thought I was Superwoman and without thinking (doh!), I got off Esmeralda and tried to lift her front wheels out of the bog. My lower back did a superb imitation of two thirds of the Snap, Crackle & Pop trio. As a result, I've been taking it easy, putting cold packs to good use, and now have only the occasional twinge that reminds me of my stupidity. My dear friend who recently went through back surgery has most definitely been on my mind a lot!

In the meantime, I finally got something I've been awaiting impatiently...

 


Needless to say, my ballot's been completed and turned in. I hope you are all planning to vote because-- regardless what the ill-informed think-- each and every vote matters! Now I'm going to (carefully) make my way out to the corral. Head 'em up! Moooove 'em out!


►Books & Other Interesting Tidbits◄

 
►Channeling My Inner Indiana Jones◄
 
►Channeling My Inner Elly Mae Clampett◄
 
►The Happy Wanderer◄
 
►Fascinating Folk◄
 
►Crafty Little Gems◄
 
►I ♥ Lists◄

That's all for this week! Don't forget to stop by next Friday when I'll be sharing a freshly selected batch of links for your surfing pleasure.

Stay safe. Stay healthy. And don't forget to curl up with a good book!

Thursday, October 15, 2020

A Beam of Light by Andrea Camilleri

First Line: Since the first light of dawn, the morning had shown itself to be erratic and whimsical.

The weather is causing the irascible Inspector Salvo Montalbano to have strange dreams, and his mood is further hampered by the appearance of a beguiling art gallery owner. In fact, he's so bewitched that his relationship with the fiery Livia may be in danger. Personal life aside, Montalbano has to deal with the assault and robbery of a merchant's young wife and a search for arms traffickers. It's no rest for the weary.

~

A Beam of Light is vintage Camilleri. From the inimitable Catarella's knowledge of Latin to Montalbano's "friendship" with a crab down at the end of the jetty, Camilleri knows how to make readers laugh. Food also plays a mouthwatering part in the proceedings. One of Montalbano's most important indulgences is food. The man breaks into a cold sweat when someone else chooses the restaurant. It's true!

But before you think everything is played for laughs, think again. The meaning of the book's title is so poignant that it may make a tear come to your eye. There are three cases that Montalbano and his team must solve, and-- as always-- it is so enjoyable to watch the inspector's mind work as he investigates and begins to put everything together.

I've been slowly savoring each book in this series, knowing that it would inevitably come to an end. If you haven't read a Montalbano mystery, grab one. The purist in me suggests that you start at the beginning with The Shape of Water, especially if you're in the market for a long-running, high-quality series that will keep you laughing, keep you guessing, and keep your mouth watering. Worried about books in translation? Don't be. Stephen Sartarelli is a master of his craft. You're in good hands with Camilleri and Sartarelli. Come on... take a trip to Sicily!


A Beam of Light by Andrea Camilleri

Translated from the Italian by Stephen Sartarelli.

ISBN: 9780143126430

Penguin © 2015

Paperback, 288 pages

 

Police Procedural, #19 Inspector Montalbano mystery

Rating: B+

Source: Paperback Swap

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

The Betel Nut Tree Mystery by Ovidia Yu

First Line: What we came to think of as the betel nut affair began in the middle of a tropical thunderstorm in December 1936.

The gossip mill in Singapore is all abuzz with the news of King Edward VIII's abdication to marry American divorcée Wallis Simpson, and as a Crown colony, it's no wonder that the city views the arrival of the Honorable Victor Glossop and his rich American widow Nicole Covington with a bit of suspicion. But the wedding certainly doesn't go according to plan when Glossop is found dead, his body covered in bizarre symbols and betel juice.

Chen Su Lin, now the secretarial assistant to Chief Inspector Le Froy in Singapore's newly formed detective unit, has dreams of becoming a journalist, so investigating murder amidst the rich and shameless suits her splendidly. Reluctantly becoming a chaperone to the temperamental (and self-proclaimed black widow) Nicole Covington, Su Lin is determined to get the truth out of her somehow, but as the observant young woman uncovers secrets and more deaths occur, she realizes that she may not be able to save her own life, let alone Nicole's.

~

The Betel Nut Tree Mystery is the second book in Ovidia Yu's highly enjoyable Crown Colony historical mystery series set in 1930s Singapore. Written as a memoir, Chen Su Lin recounts her adventures as a young woman who begins as a governess to the governor's children and now is the secretarial assistant in the newly formed detective unit of the police. I'm glad this is a memoir because one of the menacing elements in the book is the growing power of Japan in the area, a very real and present danger that the government of Singapore is ignoring, so it's very good to know that Su Lin survives that. 

The books are told in Su Lin's voice, and she draws me right into the story with her observations and wry humor. This young woman had polio as a child and as a result has one leg that's shorter than the other-- something that marks her as very bad luck to traditional Chinese. Fortunately, Ah Ma, Su Lin's grandmother, pays no attention to this and has made sure that Su Lin has gotten a good education. Su Lin originally thought her indomitable grandmother saved her just to be perverse, but she's slowly learning the truth as the series progresses. The Chen family in Singapore has many fingers in many pies, most of them illegal, and that not only adds spice to the story, but it also gives readers the Chinese viewpoint of what's happening in Singapore. It doesn't hurt that Su Lin can get help from them in an investigation from time to time either.

The author's portrait of rich, entitled Americans is brilliant and reminds me of some things that are happening today. What's even better, Ovidia Yu can take stereotypical portraits like that of Nicole Covington, spoiled brat extraordinaire, and Su Lin's best friend starstruck and romance hungry Parshanti, and give them depth, make them real. 

The mystery is a good one, although if you have a finely tuned slime meter like mine, you'll be able to deduce the killer's identity. That doesn't matter much, however. What does matter is that Ovidia Yu's Crown Colony historical series is equal parts fun and informative, with a main character who's so very easy to care about. Bring on book three!


The Betel Nut Tree Mystery by Ovidia Yu

eISBN: 9781472125231

Constable © 2018

eBook, 266 pages

 

Historical Mystery, #2 Crown Colony mystery

Rating: B+

Source: Purchased from Amazon.

Hello, Bookmark Collectors!

Last time we took a look at my (unintentional) bookmark collection, I just barely scratched the surface, so I thought it wouldn't hurt to take a look at more.

Probably the easiest category for anyone to procure is what I call Advertising. Lots of places have freebies, and it's amazing how looking through my advertising bookmarks took me on a stroll down Memory Lane. Not to worry, I've included bookmarks from other categories, too!

I spent a lot of money at Brentano's. I wish I still could. *sigh*

I love Port Townsend, and I bought some wonderful books about its history at this bookstore.

This one is 45 years old. See those dark edges on either side? That's from all the underlining I did in my college textbooks because-- of course-- all my lines had to be straight! (A well-ordered mind and all that...)

This one is 25 years old and is laminated with real pressed flowers.

This one belonged to my mother and has a quote from one of my favorite writers.

This is the bookmark I normally used when reading a book in a location with a high probability of being interrupted.

A magnetic bookmark from one of my absolute favorite places in England.

A holographic favorite for the season.

That's all for now. Who knows? I may be doing this again in the future. Since so much of my reading is done on my Kindle now, I don't use many bookmarks, and I've been enjoying going through my collection.

Monday, October 12, 2020

Next to Last Stand by Craig Johnson

First Line: Years ago, on one particularly beautiful, high plains afternoon when I was a deputy with the Absaroka County Sheriff's Department, I propped my young daughter, Cady, on my hip and introduced her to Charley Lee Stillwater.

Sheriff Walt Longmire has had a rough time of it lately, and he's still recuperating from his experiences. Maybe that's why he finds himself visiting the Wyoming Home for Soldiers and Sailors and talking to the wheelchair posse of old veterans who sit and wave at traffic everyday. He even finds himself wondering how he'd decorate his own wheelchair when the time comes. 

Charley Lee Stillwater was a resident of the home and a character that Walt made sure to introduce Cady to when his daughter was small enough to carry around on his hip. When Charley dies of an apparent heart attack, the Absaroka County sheriff is called in to try to make sense of items found in the old man's room: a piece of a painting and a shoebox containing a million dollars. Will a good old-fashioned art heist be what Longmire needs to perk up and get back to normal?

~

This particular review is written by someone who's been a card-carrying Walt Longmire/Craig Johnson fan since the very first book, The Cold Dish. As crazy as I am about this series, even I will admit that, while they're all good, some books are stronger than others. When I began reading Next to Last Stand, I grew a little impatient, even a little worried. Vic spent most of her time whining about being bored and being a pain in the rear end. On the other hand, Walt kept having episodes where his mind would wander off to parts unknown and he'd stare off into space for long periods. Granted, my reaction to Vic comes from personal experience. I remember being bored only once in my life, and I tend to roll my eyes when anyone says that they are. Walt is another story. I'll let Vic ride shotgun with me any day, but I love Walt. I want him to be recovered from his experiences in the last two books. I want my Walt back! (Now look who's whining...)

The good news is that, once this investigation picks up speed, Vic and Walt are both back to the normal that all fans know and love. Yippee!

I happen to enjoy a good art heist, and that's what readers will find in Next to Last Stand. The even better news is that there's more to love in the book than finding a stolen painting and the identity of the thieves. There's the look into the cutthroat art world. There are the Wavers at the Wyoming Home for Soldiers and Sailors, characters all. There's the African proverb which states "When an old man dies, a library burns to the ground." (Could we change "man" to "person," please?) There's a topnotch chase scene. There's the only chicken coop on the National Register of Historic Places. And best of all-- whether showing us how to persuade a nude prisoner to don his clothes or helping a new employee learn the ropes, there's humor, there's intelligence, there's Walt. He's my kind of guy. It's good to have him back.


Next to Last Stand by Craig Johnson

ISBN: 9780525522539

Viking © 2020

Hardcover, 336 pages

 

Police Procedural, #16 Walt Longmire mystery

Rating: A

Source: Purchased from The Poisoned Pen.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

On My Radar: Ragnar Jónasson's The Girl Who Died!

 

 

If you've been visiting Kittling: Books for any length of time, you know that I'm a huge fan of Ragnar Jónasson's. I love his Hulda trilogy, which set the timeline of the usual crime fiction series on its head. It's obvious that translating all those Agatha Christie mysteries into Icelandic has taught him how to craft a compelling plot. Yes indeed, any time I learn of a new Ragnar Jónasson mystery, it's a cause for celebration, so let me share what I've found out about his next book-- and there will be an added extra at the end!


Available in US on May 4, 2021!

Synopsis:

"Una is struggling to deal with her father's sudden, tragic suicide. She spends her nights drinking alone in Reykjavik, stricken with thoughts that she might one day follow in his footsteps.

So when she sees an advert seeking a teacher for two girls in the tiny village of Skálar - population of ten - on the storm-battered north coast of the island, she sees it as a chance to escape.

But once she arrives, Una quickly realizes nothing in city life has prepared her for this. The villagers are unfriendly. The weather is bleak. And, from the creaky attic bedroom of the old house where she's living, she's convinced she hears the ghostly sound of singing.

Una worries that she's losing her mind. And then, just before Christmas, there's a murder..."


The Girl Who Died certainly sounds like another atmospheric, claustrophobic story, doesn't it? The book is available in the UK on April 29. Only five days difference between the two release dates means that it will be easier for me to be good and wait for the US release. Besides, there may be a chance of getting an autographed copy from The Poisoned Pen. If you haven't read any of Jónasson's books, I hope you'll give one a try. (Besides his standalones and the Hulda trilogy, he also writes a police procedural series set on the north coast of Iceland.)

And now for the added extra I promised you!

Let's have a Cover-Off!



Hands down, my favorite cover of the two is the US cover. By comparison, the UK cover is absolutely drab and eminently forgettable. What completely floors me is the fact that the US cover has no blurb. None!

But then, who needs a blurb when you've got a gorgeous cover like that? My favorite shades of blue and just the author's name and the book title. The graphic looks like a Pre-Raphaelite painting, and even though it looks as though the woman is drowning (thus giving me the creeps), I want to know what happened to her. And what's up with that key?

Most definitely, if I were in the bookstore, I'd walk right past the UK cover, but the US cover would stop me in my tracks. How about you? Which cover catches your eye? US? UK? Does neither one do the trick for you? Inquiring minds would love to know!