3 stars, crime & mystery

Mystery in White

23350057Title: Mystery in White
Author: J. Jefferson Farjeon

On Christmas Eve, heavy snowfall brings a train to a halt near the village of Hemmersby. Several passengers take shelter in a deserted country house, where the fire has been lit and the table laid for tea – but no one is at home.

Trapped together for Christmas, the passengers are seeking to unravel the secrets of the empty house when a murderer strikes in their midst.

Rating

“Sergeant,” said the inspector solemnly, “if you’re not very careful, you will become intelligent, like me!”

This book is absurd in a way only a proper Golden Age mystery can be.  The premise makes even And Then There Were None or Murder on the Orient Express seem quite harmless. And the following coincidences that need to happen for our main cast of characters to get involved and eventually solve the mystery go beyond anything I’ve ever read. Or perhaps I should rather say ‘beyond anything I’ve read and still worked’ because I’ve read lots of books with plots that only worked thanks to outlandish circumstances. And I could never forget those. Meanwhile, I read Mystery in White and was vaguely aware that there are a surprisingly high number of people out in a snowstorm who then coincidentally end up in the same place but I never cared that much.

Here, it worked, because under all this ridiculousness there is a very engaging mystery that is populated by characters that go beyond the typical stock characters. I’m not saying that they have great depth (there isn’t too much space for depth with so many characters in a book of that length) but it’s not one of those cases where you read one chapter and can already tell who is going to be the murder victim and who will fall in love with whom.

Sadly one of the characters is also the weak point of this novel. The guy who did most of the sleuthing in this book was thoroughly unlikeable. He reminded me of the way Holmes is written in bad pastiches or on Sherlock. He misses nothing and makes brilliant deductions but is also constantly rude (unlike the real Holmes who just doesn’t bother too much with social conventions when he deems them unnecessary) and doesn’t care if he upsets the people around him.

But, since this book was just a one-off and the author’s other books have different detectives/sleuths I will definitely check out more by him.


is also part of the 16 Tasks of the Festive Season

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Book themes for Saint Lucia’s Day: Read a book where ice and snow are an important feature.

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3 stars, freebie alert, true crime

Serial Killers Unsolved

18946406Title: Serial Killers Unsolved: 10 Terrifying Serial Killers Who Have Never Been Caught

Author: Rober Keller

From famous cases like Jack the Ripper and the Zodiac to lesser known ones like the Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run and the Frankford Slasher. Robert Keller presents ten serial killers that have never been caught.

Note: This book is available for free if you sign up for the newsletter on the author’s homepage.

Rating3star

 

This book is exactly what it says on the tin: ten unsolved serial killer cases. And even I, as someone who spends too much of their free time listening to True Crime podcasts, had never heard of some of the cases or wasn’t aware of many details about them.

But when it comes to the cases I had heard of before, the book didn’t give me any new facts. And I’m not only talking about Jack the Ripper (about whom I have more books than is probably healthy). Even if all I knew about the killers came from a single podcast like Unsolved Murders, there were no new revelations. Now, if you’re newly into True Crime and unsolved (serial) murders seem especially interesting to you there are worse places to start. The book offers a nice overview and doesn’t dwell too much on the sensational and gory details.

Still, the lack of depth is glaringly obvious in those cases where the author doesn’t just give the plain facts but also weighs in on the theories (or presents his own as in the case of the Boston Strangler where he thinks DeSalvo is completely innocent). Each killer gets perhaps 20 or 30 pages and after presenting the facts, that leaves no more space than a few paragraphs to go into the theories (and the author’s opinion of them) and that’s not enough to provide convincing evidence of anything.


This is also part of 16 Tasks of the Festive Season:

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Book themes for Pancha Ganapati: Read a book whose cover has one of the 5 colors of the holiday: red, blue, green, orange, or yellow.

4 stars, crime & mystery, historical, romance

Think of England

34715257Title: Think of England
Author: KJ Charles

England, 1904. Two years ago, Captain Archie Curtis lost his friends, fingers, and future to a terrible military accident. Alone, purposeless and angry, Curtis is determined to discover if he and his comrades were the victims of fate, or of sabotage.

Curtis’s search takes him to an isolated, ultra-modern country house, where he meets and instantly clashes with fellow guest Daniel da Silva. Effete, decadent, foreign, and all-too-obviously queer, the sophisticated poet is everything the straightforward British officer fears and distrusts.

As events unfold, Curtis realizes that Daniel has his own secret intentions. And there’s something else they share—a mounting sexual tension that leaves Curtis reeling.

As the house party’s elegant facade cracks to reveal treachery, blackmail and murder, Curtis finds himself needing clever, dark-eyed Daniel as he has never needed a man before…

Rating4star

I had not planned to buy any new books for a while but then I read the author’s post about the inspiration for this book and just couldn’t resist. I did grow up with the Edgar Wallace-movies and still love them. Now I only know Wallace’s mystery stories that involve beautiful heiresses and dastardly villains who are after their fortune and I don’t know any of his spy-stories (or any of the other authors she mentions as inspiration) and Think of England is clearly a spy story.  Admittedly, not a genre I would have picked up normally and the blurb also made expect something that it would eventually turn into a more ‘conventional’ mystery (with a murdered country house guests) that just had some connection with the treason/spy part.

It didn’t. But that doesn’t mean I regret reading this book. Rather the opposite: I had a lot of fun. The plot is fast-paced and takes the characters from one seemingly hopeless situation to the next while never going so far that you wonder how any human can cope with all that. But during all that, there was still time for the characters to develop their feelings for each other without it feeling rushed.

The way the book handled the issue that ‘true’ Edwardian pulp fiction tends to be rather full of homophobia, racism and various other-isms was also done very well. Neither is Curtis the single person in the whole novel who miraculously is tolerant of everything (as some historical fiction tends to do with their main characters) nor is he full of the worst prejudices that magically disappeared once he met Daniel. He starts off with a fair share of them but the circumstances soon force him to reconsider them. And he doesn’t just go ‘Well, Daniel is a foreigner but also a good guy so clearly everything I ever thought about foreigners being cowardly and evil is wrong.’ It’s a process that takes much of the book (and a lot of the time in which he isn’t occupied with escaping from mortal danger he spends reevaluating all the things he so far accepted without question).

The only downside to this is that while the scenes with Curtis and Daniel were intense and the development of their relationship believable there also weren’t that many of them and I really wished there had been more. And especially with the teasing at the end that they might have more adventures together, it’s a bit disappointing that this is a standalone. There’s certainly potential to develop their relationship further but alas…

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This is also part of the 16 Tasks of the Festive Season

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Book themes for Hanukkah: Any book whose main character is Jewish (Daniel)

As well as:

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Tasks for Bodhi Day: Perform a random act of kindness. I tweeted the author to tell her how much I had enjoyed the book. Because I know reviews are a great way to help authors and I always try to write them in a way that they are also helpful to other readers who are trying to decide if they should pick up the book or not. But sometimes it’s just nice to tell an author how much you enjoy what they’re doing.

16 tasks, challenges

Half time

Aka time for an overview of my completed tasks:

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Square 1: November 1st: All Saints Day / Día de los Muertos & Calan Gaeaf

Book themes for Calan Gaeaf:
Read any book involving witches, hags, or various types of witchcraft

The Five Daughters of the Moon

 

Tasks for Día de Muertos and All Saint’s Day:
create a short poem, or an epitaph for your most hated book ever.

 

Epitaph for Queen of the Tearling

2 points

Square 3: November 11th: St. Martin’s Day & Veterans’ Day / Armistice Day

 

Tasks for Veteran’s Day / Armistice Day:
Make, or draw a red poppy and show us a pic of your red poppy or other symbol of remembrance

A knitted poppy

1 point (3 total)

Square 5: December 3rd and following 3 Sundays: Advent

Book themes for Advent:
Read a book featuring 4 siblings.

Blood Sisters

Tasks for Advent:
Post a pic of your advent calendar. (Festive cat, dog, hamster or other suitable pet background expressly encouraged.)

Juicy Advent Calendar

 

 

2 points (5 total)

Square 6: December 5th-6th and 8th: Sinterklaas / Krampusnacht (5th) / St. Nicholas Day (6th) & Bodhi Day (8th)

Book themes for Sinterklaas / St. Martin’s Day / Krampusnacht:
A story involving children

Ghostsitter

 

1 point (6 total)

Square 7: December 10th & 13th: International Human Rights Day (10th) & St. Lucia’s Day (13th)

Book themes for International Human Rights Day:
Read any story revolving around the rights of others either being defended or abused.

Hamilton’s Battalion

 

Tasks for Saint Lucia’s Day:
Get your Hygge on — light a few candles if you’ve got them, pour yourself a glass of wine or hot chocolate/toddy, roast a marshmallow or toast a crumpet, and take a picture of your cosiest reading place.

Hot chocolate and cozy reading spot (+moose)

2 points (8 total)

Square 8: December 12th – 24th: Hanukkah (begins 12th, ends 20th) & Las Posadas (begins 16th, ends 24th)

Book themes for Las Posadas:
Read a story where the main character is stranded without a place to stay, or find themselves in a ‘no room at the Inn’ situation.

Revelation

Tasks for Hanukkah:
Play the Dreidel game to pick the next book you read.

 

Unfortunately my lion picked badly

2 points (10 total)

Square 9: December 21st: Winter Solstice / Mōdraniht / Yuletide & Yaldā Night

Book themes for Winter Solstice and Yaldā Night:
Read a book where the cover is a night-time scene.

 

 

An Unseen Attraction

1 point (11 total)

Square 13: December 25th Christmas & Hogswatch

Book themes for Christmas:
Read a book whose protagonist is called Mary, Joseph (or Jesus, if that’s a commonly used name in your culture) or any variations of those names (e.g., Maria or Pepe).

 

The Secret Diary of a Princess

1 point (12 total)

Square 15: December 25th-26th: Newtonmas (25th) & St. Stephen’s Day / Boxing Day (26th)

 

Tasks for Newtonmas:
Take some time out to enjoy the alchemical goodness of a hot toddy or chocolate or any drink that relies on basic chemistry/alchemy (coffee with cream or sugar / tea with milk or sugar or lemon, etc.). Post a picture of your libations and the recipe if it’s unique and you’re ok with sharing it.

Hot Chocolate

 

1 point (13 total)

Square 16: December 26th-31st: Kwanzaa (begins 26th, ends 31st) & New Year’s Eve / St. Sylvester’s Day

 

Tasks for Kwanzaa:
Create a stack of books in the Kwanzaa color scheme using red, black and green and post your creation and post a photo (or post a photo of a shelfie where black, red and green predominate).

Lots of trilogies (or parts of them)

1 point (14 total)
not a book

Bad Lion

So I asked Hiram and the Hanukkah-Task to pick out a book for me and the choice fell on My Fair Lily, a book that promised to be a fun, genderswapped My Fair Lady story.

Reader, it did not go well. I made it through less than 10%. In that time I already had to suffer through several scenes that were meant to be cutesy and *~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*hilarious*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*  but just made me cringe and began questioning if the author had ever opened a book about the period she’s writing (lady’s maids: the people who stand next to the lady while she dresses herself and does her own hair). A look at the reviews informed me that the historical accuracy gets thrown out even more and the drama-lama takes residence in the book and brings its whole herd along. So I’ll give this a pass.

And now? I have nothing to read!

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Well, apart from the three other books I picked for the Hanukkah task and the rest of my tbr-pile (let’s not go into silly things like numbers…) but I don’t feel like reading any of them. It’s not just the fault of My Fair Lily, I already had some trouble picking four books I sort of felt like reading (and had even hoped for MfL because it sounded like short fun fluff). It’s not even that I had a couple of bad reads in a row, I enjoyed most of the last books I read. But I didn’t love any, either. I’m not even talking about this has no flaws and I enjoyed every single page-love, I’d happily go with there were flaws but the good parts were so good that I didn’t care much. (Like An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors which had a mediocre start and some very tired fantasy tropes but became brilliant very quickly). Hashtag First World Problems. *Heavy Sigh* Well, I guess I’ll just do some knitting now.

 

16 tasks, challenges

16 Tasks of the Festive Season: Hanukkah

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Tasks for Hanukkah: Play the Dreidel game to pick the next book you read.

Assign a book from your TBR to each of the four sides of the dreidel:

נ  – Scott Lynch: Red Seas Under Red Skies
ג – Meara Platt: My Fair Lily
ה – Naomi Novik: Black Powder War
ש – Michael Moran: A Country in the Moon

(And yes, all of these also fit book challenge categories…)

Spin a dreidel:

Hey! Hiram! Go and spin the dreidel

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The lion is somehow not inclined to listen. So I guess I have to use the virtual one after all.

*drumroll*

cats

So my next read is My Fair Lily

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