Saturday, November 12, 2011

Not weekend cooking but weekend booking; and The Christmas Spirit Reading Challenge

I'm going to forego my usual Weekend Cooking post today in order to catch up on some book notes on recently read books.

68. Murder Casts a Shadow - first Hawai'i mystery
by Victoria Nalani Kneubuhl
mystery, 2008
finished, 10/27/11

An especially wonderful mystery set in 1935 Hawai'i. The book is full of incredibly vivid descriptions, and very well-drawn characters. I learned a great deal about the history, the language, the culture of this most wonderful place. I've bought the second in the series called Murder Leaves Its Mark. I can't praise this highly enough. More a novel with a mystery than a straight mystery. Though written recently, it has the feel of a Golden Age mystery, and not only because it is set in the thirties. The writing is truly beautiful, and the description of a pre-WW II Hawaii filled me with longing to have lived there then.

69. Three Witnesses - a Nero Wolfe mystery
by Rex Stout
mystery, 1956
Kindle book, 44
finished, 10/28/11

I've raved about Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin a few times in my letters. They are two of my favorite fictional characters of all time. This book is comprised of three novellas, or long short stories. Each one perfect. The last one involves a dog, with a most surprising, warm-hearted ending. No one can beat Rex Stout for his evocation of New York City in older days.

70. Death Among Friends (Dead and Buried, English title) - ninth in the Mrs. Malory series
by Hazel Holt
mystery, 1998
finished, 10/29/11

Not completely a Christmas book, since 3/4 of it takes place after Christmas, but it was still fun reading about Mrs M's Christmas. Not going to list it under my Christmas Books since it really isn't an important part of the book. A little formulaic but saved by sparkling wit. It took until page 106 to kill off the 'miserable cuss' as my father used to say. And it was the third 'accident' the person had had. I do get annoyed at her constant trying to make things better. Making excuses for someone's bad behavior. Perhaps this is good manners but I get frustrated with her inability, or her decision, to not deal directly with unpleasant people. Very satisfying but sad, as is often the case in these mysteries. The reader learns of the terrible things the murdered person did to many others.

72. No Mark Upon Her - fourteenth in the Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James series
by Deborah Crombie
mystery, 2011
finished, 11/6/11

I could write pages about this book, but I think I shall simply say that this fourteenth in the series is the best ever. Period. The domestic life and the work life of Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James are perfectly described. The characters grow and change just like real people in real life. The mystery is particularly interesting being set in the world of competitive rowing.

I've now read this series in three formats: twelve on the Kindle, one in paperback, and this one in hardcover, and by far, I prefer the latter. I love the way a big hardcover book will just sit there on my lap. It stays open easily. And the print is a good size for any reader. My friend Kay bought this via an UK seller because it isn't yet available in the US. Why on earth does this happen? Why isn't a book offered everywhere at once? Anyhow, because she hasn't yet completed the series, she most generously offered to let me read it first. And then I shall send it off to Teri, a friend of ours, and then it goes back to Kay. Lovely.

73. Mrs. McGinty's Dead - an Hercule Poirot mystery
by Agatha Christie
mystery, 1952
Kindle book, 46
finished, 11/8/11

Not my favorite Agatha Christie. I enjoy Ariadne Oliver but I begin to see her as a caricature rather than a character, with her apples strewn all about. This is one of those books where the sins of the past come back to haunt the present, and that people will do anything, including murder, to prevent knowledge of the past becoming known. Nice little twist at the end, but mostly the characters weren't so appealing to me.

From now through Christmas, I shall be reading Christmas books exclusively, except for my Kindle books.

I am going to join The Christmas Spirit Reading Challenge at the Mistletoe level, 2-4 books. I'm also going to read some of the children's Christmas books I've kept from when my kids were little so shall sign on for the Visions of Sugar Plums level. And I may even write about some of the many Christmas movies we always watch for the Fa La La La Films level. All in all, a delightful way to spend my reading and watching time for the weeks leading up to Christmas. It runs from November 21 through Epiphany, January 6. I don't have a list of books I plan to read. My titles will come from the adult books on the table,

and the children's books in the basket.

I'm beginning my Christmas reading with a reread of Miss Read's Winter in Thrush Green.

Fa La La La Films:

Adult Books
1. Winter in Thrush Green by Miss Read
2. Skipping Christmas by John Grisham
3. The Old Peabody Pew by Kate Douglas Wiggin

Adult Short Story
1. Journey into Christmas by Bess Streeter Aldrich

Visions of Sugarplums
1. Children of Christmas by Cynthia Rylant
2. The Christmas Village by Melissa Ann Goodwin
Told For Children by William Dean Howells


  1. The Hawaiian mystery sounds intriguing. I associate pre war Hawaii with one of my favorite novels, "From Here to Eternity". California and Hawaii, two paradises. Or were they?

  2. One of the author's acknowledgements was: 'my father, Ben Knuebuhl, whose sharp memories of a Honolulu I have never seen enriched this story.' It is really a wonderful book.

  3. Wow - that was indeed some catching up on book reviews :-)

    It's all legal stuff, copyright regulations and agreements between publishers that make for the differences in publishing dates, changing of titles and cover art for one and the same book.

  4. What a great collection of children's books for the holidays. Nan, I also love your mini review style.

  5. All of those sound good! I've noted a few and will (someday) get to some new series.

    I love the look of your table of books, and the basket of children's books. I put all the children's Christmas books in a basket like that too.

  6. Good to hear the Crombie book was a winner. Good luck with your X-mas reading!

  7. Nan, I'm so glad you're joining the challenge. You have some great books lined up. I love Letters from Father Christmas. It sounds like you love Christmas books as much as I do. I picked up some new titles for my boys at the library sale this weekend. It's going to be a terrific holiday reading season!

    Also, I fixed the linky and you can see your link in the linky now. I just had to switch it to a two column layout. Had no idea I could do that! Duh. ;O)

  8. Librarian, thanks for the info. But why? Why does it matter legally if a book has the same title worldwide? There's such confusion in, for example, PG Wodehouse's work, and Agatha Christie's because of different names. Ah, just one of the many things I guess I'll never get. :<)

    Thanks, Diane. It was thrilling and liberating to me to do those little reviews and be done. I gave myself enough info so I could look back and recall what the books were about but it didn't take me five days/five blog posts to do so. :<) Not that I won't continue with occasional postings on one book, but it's nice to do this sometimes, too.

    Raidergirl, the 'basket' is actually called a 'hod' - it has been used in many ways around here. Vegetables from the garden, storing seeds, etc. This is the one I have:

    Kay, I love reading Christmas books beginning this month. Pure pleasure.

    Michelle, I'm really tickled to have found your challenge. (I wish some brilliant blogger would come up with a different word!)

  9. so much good reading, so little time...

    My very favourite Miss Read Christmas book is The Christmas Mouse, then I enjoy No Holly for Miss Quinn, although the village books are wonderful as well.

    I subscribed to the Christmas Spirit and shall enjoy browsing through everyones lists...I may even join myself, since I do have my regular reads every Christmas.

    Have a wonderful week,

  10. Looks like you've been on a good reading roll. The one that stands out for me is the Nero Wolfe book. I recently discovered a TV series featuring Nero Wolfe that I liked. I read all those books many years ago and I'm thinking about some re-reads. I'm also going to joing the Christmas Spirit challenge. You have some great choices there.

  11. Niki and Margot, I so love the Christmas Spirit challenge. Such a fun thing to do in these months.

  12. Terrific list of books, Nan. Some I've read (the Nero Wolfes and the Agatha Christies) some I haven't.

    MRS. McGINTY'S DEAD is one I like more than you, I think. :)

    That Hawaiian debut sounds very interesting...

    On your recommendation I bought A RUMPOLE CHRISTMAS months ago and I've been saving it for this year's season. :)

  13. Such wonderful books, and book reviews. Most of the books I have already read, alas. Like you, I adore Archie Goodwin. If he were real, you and I might have to arm wrestle to see who won his favor! :0)

    Love, Carol

  14. Thanks for the reading hints Nan. I'd forgotten about Rex Stout -- great addition to my Kindle list. and I haven't ever read Deborah Crombie -- those sound great -- I'll probably go Kindle or Library though because (you know my space limitations).

  15. Yvette, it pleases me so much that you bought Rumpole. Oh, how I love that book, and him! The Hawaiian book is really quite wonderful.

    Carol, if you haven't read the Kneubuhl book, it is a real treat. Good mystery with historical roots, and good characters.

    Sallie, if you click on the 'authors' tab, you will see all the Deborah C. books that I've written about (the whole series!)- in alphabetical order, not series order. You can find out that on her webpage. Great, great writing.

  16. Nan! So much to say...I am extremely jealous that you have the new Deborah Crombie. I agree with your assessment of Ariadne Oliver in Agatha Christie's books. I recommend other AC's: Why Didn't They Ask Evans, The Man in the Brown Suit and The Secret of Chimneys, The Secret Adversary. They are just so Golden Age. Do you know the web site SYAKM? (Stop. You Are Killing Me) I refer to it quite a bit.
    I saw your Miss Read book in the picture; I really loved her books. And finally, I made the buttermilk cookies over the weekend. Family and I loved them.

  17. Anonymous?? - have you visited before? I have the two 'Secret' books you noted, and hope to read them this coming year. I have a couple other Golden Age mysteries and I so look forward to them.
    I am familiar with the website, but I need to visit much more often!
    I'm hoping Ariadne will change a bit in the later books. I think there's one where she is the star of the show, with no Hercule.
    And oh, Miss Read. She is just the best!
    I'm so happy you wanted to make the cookies.
    Thank you for your very kind enthusiasm!

  18. Nan - the most recent anonymous is me, Pam. I have visited before but I couldn't remember how I posted! I. read a lot, but I am technically challenged

  19. Very funny, Pam! I thought it might be you.That whole anon./sign in thing is confusing.

  20. I'm inspired to gather up my Christmas books and spend the next 5-6 weeks reading them (adult and children's books). I love that Rosamunde Pilcher book, as well as the Susan Branch.

    Guess what came home with me yesterday? No Mark Upon Her (Crombie). However, it's an ARC and I know you don't like to read those. I'm wondering (and Kay can chime in, too) if I can read it without spoiling the entire series or should I tuck it away until I have a chance to catch-up on Gemma and Duncan? I also got the new Peter Robinson book (Before the Poison). I've never read his books, but my mom has.

  21. Les, Kay recently proclaimed that she will no longer be bound to read all the early books before reading the latest in the series. So I'm sure she would say, read it. Me, I like to meet the characters and follow them along in their journey through a series. And, as you wrote, I don't like ARCs. But that said, go ahead and read it. It really does stand alone, as do each of the books. One of the many gifts of the author is that she can do this. Not many can.

    It just so happened that I did read PR out of order because at the time I was listening to audiotapes and they didn't offer the whole series. Then I went back and read the first three, wasn't wild about one of them, and haven't gone back to him. I should because some of his later stuff is really so excellent.

  22. Les, Nan has it right from me. Go ahead and read it - AS LONG as you don't mind spoilers for various other plotlines in earlier books. Not necessarily the mystery part, but the character development part. I think I'll go ahead and send you the first 4 books in the series that I've finished. Sorry, I'm moving slowly with them. However, I think that 2012 may be the "year of the series" for me. I still struggle with reading out of order, but when you start learn about a new series or mean to read a new-to-you series that has 15+ books already, what do you do? LOL

    I have read one or two of Peter Robinson's books. And they were mid-series I think. I enjoyed them. Let's see - think it was with my book group and it was paired with another author's book. The similarity was a story about a lake that was drained and an old crime discovered. I might have a post about it.

    I thought that Robinson's new book was a stand alone. Maybe it won't matter in that case. :-)

    As to Christmas books, I always read a few. Especially Lee Smith's THE CHRISTMAS LETTERS. I read that one every year. I love it.

  23. Kay, YES! I think most people think that is Peter Robinson's greatest book. I read it and still think about it. Other than his series, I think most others I've read in order. The Nero Wolfe books don't need to be read in order, and Agatha's don't really either. Only occasionally does she refer to an older case of Hercule's. As you know, I'm just beginning the Cleo Coyle coffeehouse series. I have a whole scheme mapped out for next year. I know. I know. I'm hopeless.
    And I do so love The Christmas Letters. As I do A Redbird Christmas.

  24. We're officially at (or a little past) go time! Happy Christmas reading!

  25. Michelle, I've a post all ready for today!


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