The Murder at the Vicarage

Murder at the Vicarage

by Agatha Christie

MATV

Murder at the Vicarage marks the debut of Agatha Christie’s unflappable and much beloved female detective, Miss Jane Marple. With her gift for sniffing out the malevolent side of human nature, Miss Marple is led on her first case to a crime scene at the local vicarage. Colonel Protheroe, the magistrate whom everyone in town hates, has been shot through the head. No one heard the shot. There are no leads. Yet, everyone surrounding the vicarage seems to have a reason to want the Colonel dead. It is a race against the clock as Miss Marple sets out on the twisted trail of the mysterious killer without so much as a bit of help from the local police.

You may remember I raved about Christie’s A Caribbean Mystery a few months ago. I just loved reading the adventures of the snarky Miss Marple and decided I was going to read the entire Marple Mystery series from start to finish. So I picked up Murder at the Vicarage.

Sadly, it took me a while to get into the story. Murder at the Vicarage is told from the Vicar’s point of view instead of Miss Marple’s. The Vicar comes home to discover the body of a prominent individual slummed over the writing desk in his study. He then takes it upon himself to figure out what happened, with his congregation jumping at the chance to share their gossip with him. The Vicar is a kind, smart, and curious character but he doesn’t hold a candle to Miss Marple. Murder at the Vicarage lacked the level of snark I had enjoyed in A Caribbean Mystery.

The story starts slow and builds momentum as the murder investigation progresses. It was fun seeing the nuances of the small town unfold on the pages, and I became more invested in the story as Miss Marple steadily made her opinions of the investigation known. The mystery is a tad convoluted but fun, and Marple’s big reveal at the end was fantastic.

Murder at the Vicarage was a good start to the series. It isn’t my favorite story, but one I would still recommend just because of Christie’s fantastic mystery writing! Have you read Murder at the Vicarage? Let me know what you thought!

Lindsay

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Murder at the Brightwell

Murder at the Brightwell

by Ashley Weaver

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Amory Ames is a wealthy young woman who regrets her marriage to her notoriously charming playboy husband, Milo. Looking for a change, she accepts a request for help from her former fiancé, Gil Trent, not knowing that she’ll soon become embroiled in a murder investigation that will test not only her friendship with Gil, but will upset the status quo with her husband.

Amory accompanies Gil to the Brightwell Hotel in an attempt to circumvent the marriage of his sister, Emmeline, to Rupert Howe, a disreputable ladies’ man. Amory sees in the situation a grim reflection of her own floundering marriage. There is more than her happiness at stake, however, when Rupert is murdered and Gil is arrested for the crime. Amory is determined to prove his innocence and find the real killer, despite attempted dissuasion from the disapproving police inspector on the case. Matters are further complicated by Milo’s unexpected arrival, and the two form an uneasy alliance as Amory enlists his reluctant aid in clearing Gil’s name. As the stakes grow higher and the line between friend and foe becomes less clear, Amory must decide where her heart lies and catch the killer before she, too, becomes a victim.

Murder at the Brightwell is a delicious mystery in which murder invades polite society and romance springs in unexpected places. Weaver has penned a debut in the tradition of Jacqueline Winspear.

I discovered Amory Ames through Olive at A Book Olive. (She’s also responsible for introducing me to the Iris Cooper series) She has only great things to say about the Amory Ames mystery series and I was in need of a new historical read featuring a snarky female detective. The first book, Murder at the Brightwell, was the perfect choice for my cruise vacation last March!

Amory is unhappy. She’s bored, and depressed at her rapidly deteriorating marriage to socialite Milo Ames. A welcome distraction arrives with Gil, the fiancé she jilted to marry Milo. Gil begs her to join him on holiday to help persuade his sister from jumping into a bad marriage. Amory agrees to help. She desperately needs an adventure and a chance at a different future. And then someone gets murdered!

I am hooked on Weaver’s Amory Ames series. Our heroine is smart, sharp tongued, and gloriously flawed. I immediately connected with her tendency to overthink everything and her stubborn refusal to backdown from a fight. She begins her investigation with the best intentions, to help a friend, but her quest quickly becomes one of selfish needs as she is desperate to find her own sense of purpose in the world. Thank you Ashley Weaver for not sugar coating Amory’s motives! (Seriously..isn’t this why we mystery lovers enjoy a good whodunnit?!)

I would recommend Murder at the Brightwell just because Amory is so well written. But…all the main characters are just as fantastically developed! The Brightwell Hotel is the perfect setting with its picturesque beach local. And I found myself guessing at the culprit’s identity right up until the big reveal!

Now is Murder at the Brightwell the perfect novel? No. You can tell the historic British story is written by a modern American due to the overall tone. It is what it is. I will also admit to not being a fan of Milo. Don’t take this to mean that he was poorly written because that’s not the case; his personality isn’t one that would mesh with mine. I liked him well enough, just not enough to really root for him to win Amory’s affections. I didn’t really root for Gil either for that fact. I didn’t find the romantic element of the story necessarily engaging. I enjoyed Murder at the Brightwell because of Amory and her murder investigation.

Murder at the Brightwell is the perfect summer read. I definitely recommend the story if you enjoy a strong willed female detective! Let me know if you’re also a fan of Amory Ames!

Lindsay

The Pharaoh’s Secret

The Pharaoh’s Secret

by Clive Cussler and Graham Brown

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The dazzling new novel in the #1 New York Times–bestselling NUMA Files series from the grand master of adventure.

Kurt and Joe tangle with the most determined enemy they’ve ever encountered when a ruthless powerbroker schemes to build a new Egyptian empire as glorious as those of the Pharaohs.

Part of his plan rests on the manipulation of a newly discovered aquifer beneath the Sahara, but an even more devastating weapon at his disposal may threaten the entire world: a plant extract known as the Black Mist, discovered in the City of the Dead and rumored to have the power to take life from the living and restore it to the dead.

With the balance of power in Africa and Europe on the verge of tipping, Kurt, Joe, and the rest of the NUMA team will have to fight to discover the truth behind the legends—but to do that, they have to confront in person the greatest legend of them all: Osiris, the ruler of the Egyptian underworld.

I’m just gonna say this is less a review of The Pharaoh’s Secret, and more a look at my affection for Clive Cussler books.

I only occasionally read Clive Cussler, but there was a time when he was all I read. Dirk Pitt: of course! NUMA Files: yep! Oregon Files: absolutely! Cussler provided an escape from the petty drama of high school. He was my go-to when I needed adventure during my first round of college. I knew who to turn to when I found myself desperately needing an over the top action read in the weeks leading up to my vacation. Clive Cussler delivered!

I honestly chose The Pharaoh’s Secret because of the cover. I mean look at it! Thankfully the plot was fantastically action packed. Readers were provided multiple plots that melded together seamlessly, and included both historical and scientific points. There was SCUBA diving, underwater battles, car chases, and plenty of snarky one-liners. I loved how readers were exposed to both ancient Egyptian and Roman history. My favorite part was, surprisingly, the side story of the Italian WWII soldiers. I even enjoyed Kurt and Joe, though Dirk and Al will always be my favorite Cussler duo.

Do I have any negative thoughts about The Pharaoh’s Secret? Eh, sure..just take all the points I previously mentioned. These are the reasons I don’t read much Cussler anymore. The stories are too over the top, the action scenes a tad too unbelievable, and the stories too similar. Cussler has a formula that works and he has stuck to it through the decades. But I go into his books knowing, and even craving, these traits when I pick one up.

Dirk Pitt holds a special place in my heart. He’s pulled me through reality when I needed an escape into the unknown. The Pharaoh’s Secret made me smile 😊. It did EXACTLY what I wanted.

Are you a Cussler fan? Which series is your favorite? Let me know and happy reading!

Lindsay

A Caribbean Mystery

A Caribbean Mystery

by Agatha Christie

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As Jane Marple sat basking in the tropical sunshine she felt mildly discontented with life. True, the warmth eased her rheumatism, but here in paradise nothing ever happened. Then a question was put to her by a stranger: ‘Would you like to see a picture of a murderer?’ Before she has a chance to answer, the man vanishes, only to be found dead the next day. The mysteries abound: Where is the picture? Why is the hotelier prone to nightmares? Why doesn’t the most talked-about guest, a reclusive millionaire, ever leave his room? And why is Miss Marple herself fearful for her life?

Of note: A Caribbean Mystery introduces the wealthy (and difficult) Mr Jason Rafiel, who will call upon Miss Marple for help in Nemesis (1971) — after his death.

I was first introduced to Agatha Christie as a preteen. I spent many a night curled up on the couch with my mom binge watching David Suchet’s Piorot (and BBC’s Sherlock Holmes and A&E’s Nero Wolfe). My mom is definitely responsible for my love of historical mysteries.

Now, I know I read a number of Agatha Christie novels as a preteen, but I cannot remember which ones, and I decided it was time to revisit her work after watching Murder on the Orient Express over the holidays. I found myself rewatching the old tv shows, and found A Caribbean Mystery to be the perfect read for the Caribbean cruise vacation I took last week.

I have always been a fan of Hercule Piorot, but GUYS, I forgot how much I loved the snarky Miss Marple! Miss Marple is on vacation in order to relax and maintain good health…which of course means that she is bored out of her mind. Then a man suddenly dies, the day after telling Miss Marple that he has a picture in his wallet of a murderer. Marple knows that something fishy has happened, and must discover the truth without her normal confidants.

I loved how our detective assumed a self-depreciation persona to gain information from her fellow guests. It’s refreshing how she does not lament her age, instead embraces it. She frequently rolls her eyes at the ignorance of youth and manipulates people’s preconceptions of ‘little old ladies’ to her advantage.

The mystery was interesting, twisted, and surprising. It kept me hooked and guessing until the very last page. Marple is relatable as she frequently brainstorms the facts in order to discover the culprit; she does just suddenly have the answers. My favorite part of A Caribbean Mystery was Marple’s conversation with the fantastically curt Mr. Rafiel. And it was kinda refreshing that Christie didn’t attempt to provide an explanation behind the murder’s behavior.

A Caribbean Mystery was fantastic and a mystery that I would recommend to anyone, especially those needing a light read for a beachy vacation! I have a feeling that I will be spending more time enjoying the adventures of Miss Marple this year.

Have you read A Caribbean Mystery? What is your favorite Agatha Christie story? Let me know and happy reading!

Lindsay

Vacation Reads!

We are going on a cruise this spring and I get way too excited about picking my Vacation TBR. I always tend to stick to a specific theme. Since I’m cruising…I’m reading all the tropical books!

My list is:

  • Murder at the Brightwell by Ashley Weaver
  • A Caribbean Mystery by Agatha Christie
  • Dress Her in Indigo by John D MacDonald

What reads would you take on a cruise? Have you read any of these?

Lindsay

Darker Than Amber

Darker Than Amber

by John D. MacDonald

DTA

A great bestseller starring Travis McGee, a real American hero–and maybe the star of a new movie franchise! Reissue.

Helping damsels in distress is nothing new for Travis McGee–it’s basically how he spends his life. But this one was different right from the start. Tossed off a bridge with cement wired to her feet, dragged to safety by Travis and Meyer, she was a hot Eurasian beauty with a cold heart…ready to snare them in a murder racket to end all murders….

I started February desperately needing an escape into the tropical Florida weather I love. Sadly, this Florida February was dismally cold, wet, and windy. So I turned to one of my recent favorites for an escape, John D MacDonald.

Travis and Meyer are enjoying a quiet evening fishing under a bridge in South Florida when a body comes pummeling down from the road above. Travis acts instinctively, diving in after the body and miraculously pulling the young woman out alive. Evangeline, Vangie for short, opens up to her rescuers. She tells of the dark life she has lead and the murder ring that led to her attempted disposal. McGee only wishes to help the young woman find a new life but instead finds himself vengefully working to discover the truth and destroy the criminal operation.

I want to start out with the negative. This series was written in the 70s in a James Bond/Miami Vice/Magnum PI style. Feminists who easily get their feelings bent about negative cliche representations of women need to steer clear. The book starts with McGee dealing with an old female friend who had become desperately needy and twitchy thanks to an abusive marriage. The woman uses McGee’s boat as a form of escape that naturally results in consensual adult escapades. Additionally, Vangie and her friends are high paid hookers who lure rich single men onto cruises where the girls’ pimps steal fortunes before tossing the marks overboard. The majority of the women in Darker Than Amber are not presented in a positive light. And this is the biggest complaint I have seen. I will add that Travis does complement a handful of secondary female characters who are wholesome and intelligent.

The negativity is more of a commentary on the lack of honest, good people in the world. McGee laments on how he feels used by his old friend; frustrated that knowing she will return to the abusive husband after all. He grieves at how Vangie’s upbringing has given little other options.

I enjoyed Darker Than Amber because it gives us a different look at Travis than I experienced with Tan and Sandy Silence. Travis’ snarky, happy-go-lucky attitude is missing as he barrels forward in stubborn determination to force the ‘bad guys’ to pay. This is a Travis that will do anything to survive; a more vindictive Travis. I prefer the lighthearted Travis, but I enjoyed the complexity presented here.

I enjoyed Darker Than Amber, and am looking forward to reading more by John D MacDonald this year. Are you a fan? What are you reading to get your summer vibes?

Lindsay

Too Many Women

Too Many Women

by Rex Stout

TMW

Celebrated sleuth Nero Wolfe is renowned for cracking tough cases — and never leaving his New York apartment, where he quaffs beer and cultivates orchids. For legwork, Wolfe employs a fast-talking, wisecracking assistant named Archie, who also serves as our narrator.In Too Many Women, Wolfe and Archie are charged with investigating the mysterious goings-on at a big engineering supply company.

Work has been crazy the last few weeks. I always find myself needing a good cozy mystery when I’m stressed. I was struggling to find what I wanted, so I decided to stick with a solid favorite, Nero Wolfe.

Too Many Women did the trick! Archie finds himself working in an office setting surrounded by beautiful women and conniving men. A man was run down by a car and Archie is asked to prove it was murder. What follows is humorous account of Archie’s attempt to survive in the office world, full of lies and manipulation.

Of course I adore Archie and Wolfe, but I was even more pleased at how the women are presented. Sure some of them are flighty and manipulative (which is accurate based on my personal experience) but there were a number that were smart and self reliant. I didn’t figure out ‘who dunnit’ until right before Wolfe made his big reveal. And the banter between Inspector Cramer and Wolfe always makes me smile!

Nero Wolfe always makes my day and Too Many Women didn’t disappoint. What is your go to comfort read? What historic cozy mystery do you recommend?

Lindsay

The Blind Contessa’s New Machine

The Blind Contessa’s New Machine

by Carey Wallace

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An iridescent jewel of a novel that proves love is the mother of invention

In the early 1800s, a young Italian contessa, Carolina Fantoni, realizes she is going blind shortly before she marries the town’s most sought-after bachelor. Her parents don’t believe her, nor does her fiancé. The only one who understands is the eccentric local inventor and her longtime companion, Turri. When her eyesight dims forever, Carolina can no longer see her beloved lake or the rich hues of her own dresses. But as darkness erases her world, she discovers one place she can still see-in her dreams. Carolina creates a vivid dreaming life, in which she can not only see, but also fly, exploring lands she had never known.

Desperate to communicate with Carolina, Turri invents a peculiar machine for her: the world’s first typewriter. His gift ignites a passionate love affair that will change both of their lives forever.

Based on the true story of a nineteenth-century inventor and his innovative contraption, The Blind Contessa’s New Machine is an enchanting confection of love and the triumph of the imagination.

2018 has been so crazy so far! Thankfully I managed to get some reading in despite the reviews not got out at a consistent rate. We’re starting March off with an interesting historical fiction.

The Blind Contessa’s New Machine follow’s the story of Carolina, the blind woman who inspired the creation of the first typewriter. The story is written from her perspective as she grows from child to woman, deals with matters of the heart, and struggles as the world turns dark around her.

The story is good. I enjoyed Carolina. She is an interesting woman with a pleasant mixture of stereotypical teenage girl characteristics (having crushes and trying her hardest to be a mature adult) and a refreshing intelligence driven by the wonders of nature. Like Carolina, I find contentment in being outdoors alone. She was refreshing and find to read. I enjoyed her friendship with Turri, and her quick whit even when she struggled with depression.

Wallace’s setting is brilliant. You can taste the sugar coated lemons; you can see the lights of the lake cabin beckoning in the darkness. Turri’s experiment are intricate without being tedious; especially the typewriter.

I even enjoyed the tough aspects of the story; the affairs of both Carolina and Pietro, the condescending statements concerning her blindness, the constant underlying feeling of being trapped in a passionless relationship. Wallace handled each masterfully, easily invoking an emotional connection to the characters when I normally would struggle.

Here There Be Spoilers! I didn’t like the ending. I will admit that it was brilliantly written by Wallace, BUT it was too openended for me. Those that have read The Blind Contessa’s New Machine will argue, “but Lindsay, it couldn’t end any other way.” I KNOW. I still wanted answers. I wanted to know if Pietro intercepted Carolina’s letter. I wanted to know Turri’s last words to his love. I wanted to know why it didn’t end with the happily ever after knowing that it could never end that way. And I was so frustrated with Carolina’s pig headed refusal to read that letter! So while the ending was fantastic, I am still over here throwing my sucker in the dirt and pouting.

sad star trek GIF

The Blind Contessa’s New Machine is a fantastic love story and an interesting fictionalization of the woman who inspired the creation of the typewriter. I wish there was more history available about the actual typewriter (history buffs may find this frustrating) but I still recommend it!

Have your read The Blind Contessa’s New Machine? Let me know what you think!

Lindsay

Favorite 2017 Reads

I totally forgot to share my favorite reads of 2017! Looking back on the year I can say that my reading was ok. I read some fantastic books, but I struggled with my reading goals the first half of the year. Thankfully I was back to consistently reading, and writing reviews, after June. Still, I didn’t read as much as hoped so I am sharing only my top fiction and nonfiction reads of 2017.

(Note: these are new reads. I re-read Every Secret Thing, which will always be one of my favorite books. Considering it makes it less fair for all the other books.)

(Other random note: I read both of these via audiobook.)

Fiction

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

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I still find myself thinking about A Gentleman in Moscow. Months later I can still picture the ornate hotel decor, the taste of wines perfectly paired with exceptional food, and the overwhelming since of unconditional friendship that filled the pages. The imagery is enough to boost this book to the top of the list but Towles’ ability to pull readers in and invest them in every aspect of one man’s life makes this story one worth returning to again and again.

Nonfiction

Frozen in Time: An Epic Story of Survival and a Modern Quest for Lost Heroes of World War II by Mitchell Zuckoff

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I picked up Frozen in Time because, well honestly, it promised military aviation and arctic survival. How could I not pick it up?!? Two aspects propelled this book to the top of my list. The first is that this is a TRUE STORY! The second, Zuckoff’s writing has you there surviving on the ice with these airmen. There was many an afternoon where I was super irritated at having to put the book down. It was just fantastic.

I obviously recommend both of these stories, and I would love to hear about your favorites! Happy reading everyone.

Lindsay

Trio for Blunt Instruments

Trio for Blunt Instruments

by Rex Stout

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If Nero Wolfe and his sidekick, Archie, would ever admit to an Achilles’ heel-which they wouldn’t-it would be a weakness for damsels in distress. In these three charming chillers the duo answer the call of helpless heroines with nothing to lose-except their lives. First a beautiful young Aphrodite comes to Nero looking for a hero-and the answer to the mystery of her father’s death….Then an old flame of Archie’s reignites with a plan that may corner him into a lifetime commitment-behind bars….And finally a detective’s work is never done, as a hot tip leads the team into the sizzling center of a sexy scandal that could leave them cold-dead cold.

After a much needed month off, I am back with weekly book reviews!

So, you might know that I adore Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe stories. I tend to read my Nero Wolfe during the holidays because my mom and I like to binge watch the TV series over Christmas. Winter has always been a time for Nero Wolfe; however, Trio for Blunt Instruments would be better suited for a summer read. Trio of Blunt Instruments is a collection of 3 novellas (Kill Now Pay Later, Murder is Corny, and Blood Will Tell) in which the murders are committed with…you guessed it…a blunt instrument! Here are my thoughts on each story.

Kill Now Pay Later

Sadly, this is my least favorite of the three. I adored the murder victim, who was a hard working immigrant who works for Nero Wolfe, but his daughter, main female character, just fell flat. She is presented as an intelligent, hard working woman but the description never matched her actions. Her reactions to the men around her, men that were influencing her future, was distracted and halfhearted, and not in a way that could be explained away with grief. However, the murder is intriguing and I enjoy how Nero Wolfe gets involved and stands up for a man he respected no matter his assigned social status.

Murder is Corny

Definitely my favorite of the three! It may not be the most complex mystery of the three novellas, but I find the way Archie which is framed as the murder to be so simple, yet brilliant, that I find myself rereading that one scene over and over again. Murder is Corny was actually converted into a TV episode for the show. It was fantastically done, and stays true to the story, so I had the film version playing in my head, which only enhanced my reading. Plus, Wolfe’s dialogue on how to properly prepare summer corn will leave your mouth watering!

Blood Will Tell

The last novella, Blood Will Tell, presents the most complex murder. Archie is dragged in to a world of jealousy and manipulation when he is sent a bloody tie in the mail. What follows is a detailed look at the effects of individuals’ actions and the destructive nature of manipulation. My favorite aspect of the story is reading of Archie’s almost romantic wish for everything to turn out right for good people despite the negativity around him.

Trio for Blunt Instruments was a fun quick read that offered a variety of mysteries. It is the perfect book for a hot summer days, or those winter days where you long for summer weather. I definitely recommend it. Let me know what your favorite Nero Wolfe story is (mine is still The Black Orchids), and I would love to hear which books you are reading this winter!

Lindsay