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October 30, 2020

Magpie Murders

 


Mystery
2018 Harper Perennial (first published in 2016)
Finished on October 28, 2020
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

From the New York Times bestselling author of Moriarty and Trigger Mortis, this fiendishly brilliant, riveting thriller weaves a classic whodunit worthy of Agatha Christie into a chilling, ingeniously original modern-day mystery.

When editor Susan Ryeland is given the manuscript of Alan Conway’s latest novel, she has no reason to think it will be much different from any of his others. After working with the bestselling crime writer for years, she’s intimately familiar with his detective, Atticus Pünd, who solves mysteries disturbing sleepy English villages. An homage to queens of classic British crime such as Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers, Alan’s traditional formula has proved hugely successful. So successful that Susan must continue to put up with his troubling behavior if she wants to keep her job.

Conway’s latest tale has Atticus Pünd investigating a murder at Pye Hall, a local manor house. Yes, there are dead bodies and a host of intriguing suspects, but the more Susan reads, the more she’s convinced that there is another story hidden in the pages of the manuscript: one of real-life jealousy, greed, ruthless ambition, and murder. 

Masterful, clever, and relentlessly suspenseful, Magpie Murders is a deviously dark take on vintage English crime fiction in which the reader becomes the detective.

Magpie Murders has been lurking on one of my bookshelves for a couple of years and I decided to add it to my stack of books for this year's RIP challenge. It wound up taking me over two weeks to finish, partly because it took me a long time to get fully invested in the mystery and partly because we were camping, and I'm usually too distracted to settle down to read while traveling. As it turned out, we had gorgeous weather at our campground and I spend a good chunk of one day reading in the warmth of the sun. A mystery like Magpie Murders requires one to read continuously rather than in fits & starts. There are not only numerous characters, but a mystery within a mystery. Plotlines overlaps and similar names for characters and locations make for a very complex, if not convoluted, tale. I considered giving up, but hated to quit after spending so much time on one book. I'm glad I stuck with it, as the pace picked up and the denouement had me so enthralled, I didn't stop reading until I'd finished the book. 

I was torn between a 3- and 4-star rating, but settled on the higher of the two since the conclusion was so strong. And, I enjoyed it so well, that I plan to read Horowitz's upcoming release, Moonflower Murders. I'm also excited to see that PBS plans a six-part series based on Magpie Murders.
The television adaptation is scripted by Horowitz, who is known to Masterpiece fans for the popular World War II mystery Foyle’s War

Masterpiece executive producer Susanne Simpson said, “Anthony Horowitz is a master mystery writer, and Magpie Murders is a beautiful and complex work. Our Masterpiece audience will truly enjoy this intriguing story of a mystery within a mystery.” Masterpiece is presented on PBS by WGBH Boston.

Anthony Horowitz said, “Magpie Murders is my most successful novel and it wasn’t easy to adapt. But I think the result is a completely original drama that will delight and beguile audiences in equal measure.” (PBS.org)

Magpie Murders is a clever read. There are actually more than two mysteries, none of which I solved before they were revealed, and there are nods to familiar works within the genre, which I found very entertaining. I do have one quibble, though: If you're a reader who pays close attention to the page count, this book will drive you crazy. The page numbers change depending on whether you're reading Alan Conway's manuscript or Horowitz's novel. No wonder the book felt especially long!

I read Magpie Murders for the RIP XV Challenge.





October 16, 2020

Looking Back - Remember Me

Looking Back... In an effort to transfer my book journal entries over to this blog, I'm going to attempt to post (in chronological order) an entry every Friday. I may or may not add extra commentary to what I jotted down in these journals. 



Fiction
1999 Henry Holt and Company
Read in January 2000
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

In the tradition of Barbara Kingsolver and E. Annie Proulx, this enthralling first novel tells the story of a woman who trusts nothing except her own ability to survive.

Meet Rose Devonic, the wily and ferociously determined twenty-nine-year-old who is as unorthodox as any in recent fiction. Rose lives in the tiny mountain town of Queduro, New Mexico, where she--like most others--makes her living selling embroidery. But Rose has no home or family. In winter she sleeps in a cold cabin in a mostly abandoned motel, and in summer she lives out of her car. A tragedy in her past, which serves as a constant reminder to neighbors of their complicity, has made her an outcast. Determined though she is to make a fresh start, Rose is haunted by a past that continually threatens to engulf her. Only by facing down her ghosts--and her hometown--will she learn to accept the ultimately liberating challenges of belonging, identity, and love.

My Original Thoughts (2000):

Very good novel! I wish it weren't Hendrie's first - I want to read more of her books! It reminded me a little bit of Barbara Kingsolver and Kent Haruf's writing. Thought-provoking topics (aging, nursing homes, etc.). Sad, yet well-worth reading. Engrossing.

My Current Thoughts:

I've had a copy of this book on my shelf for 20 years, with great intentions of reading it a second time. It will be on the top of my re-read stack for my personal challenge in December. I remember it so fondly and hope it stands the test of time.

October 12, 2020

Blood Harvest

 


Mystery
2010 Minotaur Books
Finished on October 8, 2020
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

The Fletchers' new house--built between two churches in a small village--ought to be paradise, but they've barely settled in before they find that someone seems to be trying to drive them away with increasingly dangerous threats targeting their oldest child, ten-year-old Tom.

The adults in his life try to help, but there are hints that something isn't quite right in the village, starting with the mysterious deaths of three toddlers over the last ten years. It's not until Tom's younger siblings go missing that the village's secrets turns the family's dreams into a nightmare.

With Sacrifice, Awakening, and now Blood Harvest, Bolton displays her remarkable talent as a beguiling storyteller, a master of thrills, and the mistress of her own brand of modern Gothic tale. 

Blood Harvest was a perfect selection for this year's RIP challenge. This atmospheric mystery includes creepy voices in an old church and graveyard, unexplainable events and missing belongings, all of which add up to a chilling read. It was much spookier than I anticipated (with a supernatural Stephen King vibe) and I discovered that I couldn't read it late at night. As the mystery began to unfold, the tension ebbed and flowed ever so slightly and I was able to enjoy some of the light humor and tender scenes between Harry (the vicar) and Evi (the psychologist). I would love to see more of them in another book by Bolton.

Speaking of S.J. Bolton (aka Sharon Bolton), I didn't think I had read anything by her, but as I got further into this book, the more I sensed a familiarity to her writing. It turns out I read Awakening in 2011 and while I enjoyed it,  Blood Harvest was much better. It looks like she has seven stand-alone novels, as well as a couple of series. Yay! I'm looking forward to reading more by her.

If you enjoy Gothic mysteries, you'll love Blood Harvest. It's one I won't forget and may even read again in a few years. 

I read Blood Harvest for the RIP XV Challenge.




October 9, 2020

Looking Back - The Tiny One

Looking Back... In an effort to transfer my book journal entries over to this blog, I'm going to attempt to post (in chronological order) an entry every Friday. I may or may not add extra commentary to what I jotted down in these journals.



Fiction
1999 Knopf
Read in January 2000
Rating: 3/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

With clarity, sensitivity, and striking authenticity, Eliza Minot adeptly captures the voice of a vibrant, intelligent child swept into a sea of sorrow and confusion in The Tiny One.

Via Mahoney Revere is eight years old when her mother is killed in a car accident. Confused by anguish, bewildered by her mother's absence, and mystified by the notion of death itself, Via retells the day of her mother's death in minute detail, trying to discern the crack in the world through which her mother must have slipped. She takes us through the seemingly ordinary moments of her day, from a cold-cereal breakfast to math class, when she is called to the principal's office to hear the news. Every small event of the tragic day calls up earlier memories from Via's young life, resulting in a beautifully patterned portrait of a comfortable childhood guarded by a warm and loving mother. Via attempts to grasp "how something so big could fit into such a little thing as a day."

My Original Thoughts (2000):

Difficult to get interested in at the beginning, but once I got about 30 pages read, I was hooked. Sad story, but fun to read through a child's eyes. Her mother has just died and the book Via's recollection of that the entire day. As she remembers details of that day, she remembers details of other events in her life. This book brought back a lot of my own childhood memories.

My Current Thoughts:

I enjoy books told from a child's perspective (The Bear and Room are two that come to mind), but while I don't remember anything about this book, the synopsis and my notes don't inspire me to read it again. It looks like the author has only one other published novel (The Brambles), but it doesn't sound promising, either. 

October 6, 2020

A Month in Summary - September 2020

Little Whale Cove
Depoe Bay, Oregon
September 2020


It's hard to believe that summer is over, especially since we finally have some warm weather here on the coast. We saw temps in the 80s last week and it actually felt hot while walking on the ocean path. Crazy weather, but I'm not complaining, especially since we had several days of rain earlier in the week. 

Every month in 2020 seems especially long and September was no exception. We started the month off with a terrible windstorm on Labor Day, which caused a power outage and downed trees in our neighborhood, in addition to terrible air quality due to local forest fires. It was very unsettling for several days, but we had luck on our side and didn't have to evacuate our home. 

The big news of the month was Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death. Such a loss for our country. I still have Notorious RBG on my nightstand, but won't get to it for a few more weeks. I'm sure it will be a bittersweet read.

My husband is still recovering from his broken arm. He had a CT scan a couple of weeks ago and has since been referred to an orthopedic surgeon. We're trying to stay optimistic, but he may be facing surgery in the coming weeks. Sigh.

With all that's been going on in our lives and the world at large, I managed to have a pretty good month of reading; only one dud and a couple of books that I couldn't get interested in. 

Books Read (click on the title for my review):

The Summer Guest by Justin Cronin (4/5)

Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough (4/5) for RIP XV

Every Last Lie by Mary Kubica (2/5) for RIP XV

When My Time Comes by Diane Rehm (4/5)

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett (4/5)

Elevation by Stephen King (2/5) for RIP XV

Abandoned:

Sycamore by Bryn Chancellor

The House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier

First Lines:

North of Boston they followed the sea. (The Summer Guest)

Pinch myself and say I AM AWAKE once an hour. (Behind Her Eyes)

They say that death comes in threes. (Every Last Lie)

Death was a part of my life at an early age. (When My Time Comes)

The first time our father brought Andrea to the Dutch House, Sandy, our housekeeper, came to my sister's room and told us to come downstairs. "Your father has a friend he wants you to meet," she said. (The Dutch House)

Scott Carey knocked on the door of the Ellis condo unit, and Bob Ellis (everyone in Highland Acres still called him Doctor Bob, although he was five years retired) let him in. (Elevation)

Movies and TV Series:


Bosch - We finished the series and thought it was excellent. I'm going to miss those characters!


Goliath - We watched one episode and decided not to continue.

Van der Valk - Not as good as Bosch, but still pretty good. (Only 3 episodes.)


Enola Holmes - I know I'm in the minority, but I wasn't impressed. I'm not a big fan of breaking the fourth wall.


Can You Ever Forgive Me - OK, but not great. 


Mystery Road - Watched a couple of episodes and decided not to continue.


New Recipes:

Puzzlemania:





I love Pomegranate puzzles and I especially enjoy those of Charley Harper's artwork. This one was so much fun!

Outings:

We've been getting takeout from a couple of our favorite restaurants during the pandemic, but last week we decided to go out to lunch! We ate outside on the patio and felt relatively safe, but it sure felt strange. We wore our masks until it was time to eat and were careful to sanitize before handling our food and drinks. We agreed that the tables could have been spaced a little further apart, but all in all it was nice to have a meal out while sitting in the sun. The food was exceptionally good, so we plan to go back before it gets too chilly to eat outside.


Stay well and please wear your masks!

October 3, 2020

Elevation

 



Fiction
2018 Scribner
Finished on September 30, 2020
Rating: 2/5 (Fair)

Publisher's Blurb:

Although Scott Carey doesn’t look any different, he’s been steadily losing weight. There are a couple of other odd things, too. He weighs the same in his clothes and out of them, no matter how heavy they are. Scott doesn’t want to be poked and prodded. He mostly just wants someone else to know, and he trusts Doctor Bob Ellis.

In the small town of Castle Rock, the setting of many of King’s most iconic stories, Scott is engaged in a low grade—but escalating—battle with the lesbians next door whose dog regularly drops his business on Scott’s lawn. One of the women is friendly; the other, cold as ice. Both are trying to launch a new restaurant, but the people of Castle Rock want no part of a gay married couple, and the place is in trouble. When Scott finally understands the prejudices they face–including his own—he tries to help. Unlikely alliances, the annual foot race, and the mystery of Scott’s affliction bring out the best in people who have indulged the worst in themselves and others.

The last time I picked up a Stephen King novel was in 2014 when I read 11/22/63. It's a great book, especially for those who enjoy speculative fiction or time travel stories. I wish I could say the same of Elevation, which I initially borrowed from the library for my husband, but decided to add to my RIP XV reading challenge stack. This small volume is more of a novella and can be easily read in one sitting, for which I was thankful; I doubt I would have continued, had it been any longer. It started out fine, and I was curious about what evil forces could be causing Scott's unnatural weight loss, but after a couple of chapters, I felt it was too trite and sappy, as if Nicholas Sparks and Mitch Albom had gotten together to write a horror story. When it's time to compile my year-end summary, Elevation will go down as the weirdest book I've read since Aimee Bender's bizarre novel, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake.

I read Elevation for the RIP XV Challenge.


October 2, 2020

Looking Back - A Patchwork Planet

Looking Back... In an effort to transfer my book journal entries over to this blog, I'm going to attempt to post (in chronological order) an entry every Friday. I may or may not add extra commentary to what I jotted down in these journals.


Fiction
1999 Ballantine Books (first published in 1998)
Read in January 2000
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

In this, her fourteenth novel--and one of her most endearing--Anne Tyler tells the story of a lovable loser who's trying to get his life in order.

Barnaby Gaitlin has been in trouble ever since adolescence. He had this habit of breaking into other people's houses. It wasn't the big loot he was after, like his teenage cohorts. It was just that he liked to read other people's mail, pore over their family photo albums, and appropriate a few of their precious mementos.

But for eleven years now, he's been working steadily for Rent-a-Back, renting his back to old folks and shut-ins who can't move their own porch furniture or bring the Christmas tree down from the attic. At last, his life seems to be on an even keel.

Still, the Gaitlins (of "old" Baltimore) cannot forget the price they paid for buying off Barnaby's former victims. And his ex-wife would just as soon he didn't show up ever to visit their little girl, Opal. Even the nice, steady woman (his guardian angel?) who seems to have designs on him doesn't fully trust him, it develops, when the chips are down, and it looks as though his world may fall apart again.

There is no one like Anne Tyler, with her sharp, funny, tender perceptions about how human beings navigate on a puzzling planet, and she keeps us enthralled from start to finish in this delicious new novel.

My Original Thoughts (2000):

Wonderful story! Eccentric, quirky, memorable characters. I loved the idea of Rent-a-Back. What a great idea for a business. Barnaby is a fun, interesting character.

My Current Thoughts:

I might have to get a copy of this from the library for a re-read. 

October 1, 2020

The Dutch House

 



Fiction
2019 HarperAudio
Read by Tom Hanks
Finished on September 29, 2020
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

At the end of the Second World War, Cyril Conroy combines luck and a single canny investment to begin an enormous real estate empire, propelling his family from poverty to enormous wealth. His first order of business is to buy the Dutch House, a lavish estate in the suburbs outside of Philadelphia. Meant as a surprise for his wife, the house sets in motion the undoing of everyone he loves.

The story is told by Cyril’s son Danny, as he and his older sister, the brilliantly acerbic and self-assured Maeve, are exiled from the house where they grew up by their stepmother. The two wealthy siblings are thrown back into the poverty their parents had escaped from and find that all they have to count on is one another. It is this unshakable bond between them that both saves their lives and thwarts their futures.

Set over the course of five decades, The Dutch House is a dark fairy tale about two smart people who cannot overcome their past. Despite every outward sign of success, Danny and Maeve are only truly comfortable when they’re together. Throughout their lives, they return to the well-worn story of what they’ve lost with humor and rage. But when at last they’re forced to confront the people who left them behind, the relationship between an indulged brother and his ever-protective sister is finally tested.

The Dutch House is the second book by Ann Patchett that I have read this year. In July, I read State of Wonder, which I thought was outstanding. As with State of Wonder, I was quickly drawn into the narrative, eager to see where the story would lead as I came to know the characters. As the final pages drew near, I realized that there would be no big surprise or twists of fate. This is not an action-packed novel, but rather a quiet character study, very much like Patchett's earlier work, Bel Cantowhich is another favorite of mine. We come to know the characters through their conversations, but there is little in the way of action to propel the narrative, just lives lived, one generation not really any different than the previous: birth, school, marriage, divorce, remarriage, work, and ultimately, death. 

Patchett's novel is comprised of numerous themes including love, betrayal, abandonment, jealousy, obsession, revenge, and forgiveness. Sounds a bit bleak, doesn't it? And yet, it isn't. I enjoyed the story (and even felt sympathetic toward Danny and Maeve), never once feeling the urge to quit reading.

On abandonment:
To grow up with a mother who had run off to India, never to be heard from again, that was one thing--there was closure in that, its own kind of death. But to find out she was fifteen stops away on the Number One train to Canal and had failed to be in touch was barbaric. Whatever romantic notions I might have harbored, whatever excuses or allowances my heart had ever made on her behalf, blew out like a match.

I've never done a read/listen combo, but after hearing great things about the audiobook, which is narrated by Tom Hanks, I knew I wanted to listen rather than read the book. As it turned out, I also wound up with a print copy, so I decided to listen on my walks and read at night. It was the best of both worlds; I was able to mark a few passages in the book and have Hanks entertain me while I walked. Speaking of Hanks, he is a great audiobook reader! I appreciated that other than softening his tone for the women, he didn't try to alter his voice between characters; no dreaded high-pitched female voices, which is so annoying. Hank's pacing was perfect and he was able to convey feelings with authentic emotion, whether it be humor, surprise, anger or sadness. I'm not sure whether Hanks became Danny or Danny became Hanks, but his voice rings true. If he (Hanks) ever wants to give up his day job, I would gladly listen to more audiobooks narrated by him!

As I began writing this review, my initial reaction was that while I enjoyed reading The Dutch House, it wasn't an outstanding book. Danny and Maeve are well-developed characters, but neither is terribly likeable. I was entertained, but the ending fell short of my expectations. The novel was selected by my book group for our October discussion, so once I finished, I dove into the internet and started reading reviews and author interviews. I still feel that the ending was too neat and tidy, but having done said literary research, I gained a greater appreciation for Patchett's work. The Dutch House is a sad book about a broken family, but in the hands of this accomplished writer, it's one that I couldn't put down and didn't want to end. I'm looking forward to my book group meeting and I have a feeling there will be quite a bit to discuss and analyze.

Highly recommend!