At Bertram’s Hotel by Agatha Christie

I’m on an Agatha Christie kick so I picked this up at the library.

At Bertram's Hotel (Miss Marple, #11) Stats: The books was first published in January, 1965 (she died in 1971). In print it’s 223 pages. In audio form it’s only 2 discs – 2’20”. I listened to the BBC version, which is a dramatization, so there are multiple people involved, all playing their own character and sound effects – like a radion drama. Always enjoyable to listen to.

Blurb: An old-fashioned London Hotel is not quite as reputable as it makes out! When Miss Marple comes up from the country for a holiday in London, she finds what she’s looking for at Bertram’s Hotel: traditional decor, impeccable service and an unmistakable atmosphere of danger behind the highly polished veneer. Yet, not even Miss Marple can foresee the violent chain of events set in motion when an eccentric guest makes his way to the airport on the wrong day!

What I like: Mostly I liked the presentation of the story in drama form. I didn’t figure out who was the mastermind behind the chain of robberies, but Christie makes it easy to see who is at least partially involved. She has her usual trick of having many people involved in the story itself to keep you guessing on how they all fit in.

What I didn’t like: Miss Marple is hardly part of the story. I read another of Christie’s Miss Marple stories that was the same way. I suppose an old lady can only be in the center of so many murders, but when she isn’t, the stories just aren’t as enjoyable to me. You don’t get a feel for the other characters in a way that you care enough what is going on. And this was very short too.

Rating: 3/5  Not one of her better stories. I would rate the drama a 4/5.

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Published in: on February 1, 2018 at 11:26am02  Leave a Comment  
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Death on the Nile – Agatha Christie

Death on the NileI am writing a mystery (the third book in the Agnes Kelly Mystery Adventure) so I want to listen to good mystery novels and who is better than Agatha? – Not many 🙂

Stats: First published Nov. 1, 1937. Audio book is 8 hours (7 discs). This audio books was narrated by the actor David Suchet.

Blurb: (Goodreads) Linnet Doyle is young, beautiful, and rich. She’s the girl who has everything–including the man her best friend loves. When Linnet and her new husband take a cruise on the Nile, they meet brilliant detective Hercule Poirot. It should be an idyllic trip, yet Poirot feels that something is amiss.

What I liked: I really didn’t have a clue to “who done it” until the very end even though the murder took place on a moving boat. And I think the only reason I figured it out before Poirot announced it was I think maybe I have read the story a long time ago but don’t remember that I read it. But I didn’t remember the surprise at the very end. I wonder why Christie decided to add that last bit. It is interesting as a writer how there is quite a bit of setup before the murder even takes place. That would never fly in a story written today. And not only does the murder kill once, but three times before Poirot figures out who did it. I always enjoy Christie’s portrayal of Poirot – he does think highly of himself.

What I didn’t like: There was a bit too much background information to my liking and it got a little confusing about who was who, because there has to be many different characters since the murder happens on a moving boat and there has to be various people to suspect of the crime. David Suchet does a wonderful job creating the different characters.

Rating: 4/5

 

Published in: on January 14, 2018 at 11:26pm01  Leave a Comment  
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Death of a Chimney Sweep by M.C. Beaton

Death of a Chimney Sweep (Hamish Macbeth #26)I was up for a mystery. I wanted to listen to Agatha Christie but the library I was in didn’t have her in audio (unheard of!) so I picked this up. I’d never read Beaton (aka Marion Chesney) before. It’s not the first dead body I’ve read about in a chimney, however. I wonder if this is mostly a writer’s fantasy or do murderers really stuff bodies in chimneys? Sounds difficult to me!

Stats: published in 2011, print is 247 pages, audio book is 5 discs or 5′ 37″, narrator is Graeme Malcolm.

Blurb: In the south of Scotland, residents get their chimneys vacuum-cleaned. But in the isolated villages in the very north of Scotland, the villagers rely on the services of the itinerant sweep, Pete Ray, and his old-fashioned brushes. Pete is always able to find work in the Scottish highlands, until one day when Police Constable Hamish Macbeth notices blood dripping onto the floor of a villager’s fireplace, and a dead body stuffed inside the chimney. The entire town of Lochdubh is certain Pete is the culprit, but Hamish doesn’t believe that the affable chimney sweep is capable of committing murder. Then Pete’s body is found on the Scottish moors, and the mystery deepens. Once again, it’s up to Hamish to discover who’s responsible for the dirty deed–and this time, the murderer may be closer than he realizes.

What I liked: I especially liked the narration. Malcolm does a wonderful job with the various characters so that you can almost picture them. I don’t know the man, but he’s got to be from England or maybe even Scotland, where the story takes place. I liked the town folk of Lochdubh (what a wonderful town name – I wonder if it’s real?). Beaton/Chesney does well in playing up the local flare. The lady spinster giving the bad guy bleach with his tea was a particularly nice touch! And the Hamish character is very lovable – a practical man (gets rid of a dead body rather than have his cat implicated), smart and quirky. I’m not surprised she has more books around him.

What I didn’t like: The author has an odd writing style – bouncing around from one character to another to tie up loose writing end no matter what was going on. It threw me at first but by the end, I was used to it and could just take it in stride. I wonder if all her Hamish mysteries are written this way?

Rating: 4/5 – A fun read/listen

That Old Black Magic by Mary Jane Clark

I like mysteries, so I thought I’d try this one and I have never read any Mary Jane Clark novels.

That Old Black Magic (Wedding Cake Mystery, #4)Stats: Audio is narrated by Therese Plummer, 6 discs for 7.5′, pubished in 2014, print is 368 pages.

Blurb: New York Times bestselling author Mary Jane Clark whips up a savory and suspenseful confection in her newest mystery featuring Piper DonovanAspiring actress and wedding-cake decorator Piper Donovan has barely arrived in New Orleans to perfect her pastry skills at the renowned French Quarter bakery, Boulangerie Bertrand when a ghastly murder rocks the magical city.Intrigued by the case, Piper can’t help but look for the “Hoodoo Killer” among the faces around her. Could it be the handsome guide eager to give her special private tours? Or the inscrutable jazz musician who plays on historic Royal Street? What about the ratings-starved radio talk-show host? Or even the amiable owner of the local Gris-Gris Bar?Though Piper has a full plate decorating cakes for upcoming wedding celebrations, she’s also landed an exciting but unnerving role in a movie being shot in the Big Easy. When the murderer strikes again, leaving macabre clues, she thinks she can unmask the killer. But Piper will have to conjure up some old black magic of her own if she hopes to live long enough to reveal the truth.

What I liked: I’m not sure. It was an “okay” read and I didn’t figure out “who done it” before the author told me, but it was just kind of blah. I’m not even sure why I say that. I guess Piper was not a particularly interesting character and I guess the author really didn’t make me care too much about her. Maybe if I’d have read other books in the Piper Donovan series – this is #4 I think – I might have enjoyed it more. Oh, and Theresa Plummer does a fine job.

What I didn’t like: It wasn’t so much I didn’t like this thing I’m about to mention, it was more that it seemed odd – Piper is a cake decorator and an actress?!  What? The oddity of this in the story is she is visiting New Orleans to work with a renowned baker, then she hears about a 2 day acting job. Weird. Two day acting job in a movie? I don’t know the movie business much but that seems very unrealistic. I could see an actress moonlighting as a baker between gigs but to take on intership, so to speak, for baking must mean you’re serious about baking. But how can you be serious about baking and be serious about acting. I know it’s picky and this is supposed to be a cozy mystery, but…it just bothered me. And the writing was “okay.” It wasn’t very inspiring, if you know what I mean.

Rating: 3/5

Published in: on November 27, 2017 at 11:26pm11  Leave a Comment  
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Nevertheless by Alec Baldwin

34647681I like Alec Baldwin so I thought it might be interesting to read his memoir.

Stats: Published in April of this year. I listened to the audio book. Alec is the narrator. It is 7 discs and 8.5 hours long. The print book is 288 pages.

Blurb: In Nevertheless, Baldwin transcends his public persona, making public facets of his life he has long kept private. In this honest, affecting memoir, he introduces us to the Long Island child who felt burdened by his family’s financial strains and his parents’ unhappy marriage; the Washington, DC, college student gearing up for a career in politics; the self-named “Love Taxi” who helped friends solve their romantic problems while neglecting his own; the young soap actor learning from giants of the theatre; the addict drawn to drugs and alcohol who struggles with sobriety; the husband and father who acknowledges his failings and battles to overcome them; and the consummate professional for whom the work is everything. Throughout Nevertheless, one constant emerges: the fearlessness that defines and drives Baldwin’s life.

Told with his signature candor, astute observational savvy, and devastating wit, Nevertheless reveals an Alec Baldwin we have never fully seen before.

What I liked: It is a candid memoir – as the marketing material proposes, and so you get to see the inside world of a struggling and then not so struggling actor. One thing that struck me was how gracious Alec (born in 1958 as Alexander Rae Baldwin III) to his ex-wife, Kim Basinger, who pulled him through a 5 year court battle over their daughter (or was it 7). Alec has a bit of a temper it seems – as he describes some encounters with reporters or photographers trying to go where normal people would not (and should not) go – so I’m sure that didn’t help in with the court battle. But what normal person could go through that and not come out scared and angry in some way. The book is mostly chronological, so you get to see how he grew up in Massapequa, New York, which I think is a Long Island community, and his round-about way into acting. I’m also impressed by Alec’s writing skills. He did a wonderful job writing about himself and keeping it interesting, which I think would not be an easy thing to do, even if your life is more interesting than most, as in this case.

What I didn’t like: Strangely enough, I wouldn’t have picked Alec to narrate this story. His normal voice is a bit too monotone for an audio book. But otherwise, it’s an interesting read, if you like memoirs.

Rating: 4/5

Published in: on November 13, 2017 at 11:26pm11  Leave a Comment  
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Go Set a Watchman – Harper Lee

Go Set a WatchmanHad to listen when I saw this at my local library.

Stats: Audio book was 8 CDs (I think – can’t remember now) – 6′ 57:, narrated by Reese Witherspoon , print is 278 pages, published in July 2015

Blurb: Twenty-six-year-old Jean Louise Finch–“Scout”–returns home from New York City to visit her aging father, Atticus. Set against the backdrop of the civil rights tensions and political turmoil that were transforming the South, Jean Louise’s homecoming turns bittersweet when she learns disturbing truths about her close-knit family, the town and the people dearest to her. Memories from her childhood flood back, and her values and assumptions are thrown into doubt. Featuring many of the iconic characters from To Kill a MockingbirdGo Set a Watchman perfectly captures a young woman, and a world, in a painful yet necessary transition out of the illusions of the past–a journey that can be guided only by one’s conscience. Written in the mid-1950s, Go Set a Watchman imparts a fuller, richer understanding and appreciation of Harper Lee. Here is an unforgettable novel of wisdom, humanity, passion, humor and effortless precision–a profoundly affecting work of art that is both wonderfully evocative of another era and relevant to our own times. It not only confirms the enduring brilliance of To Kill a Mockingbird, but also serves as its essential companion, adding depth, context and new meaning to an American classic.

What I liked: The writing was wonderful, just wonderful, I think better than To Kill a Mockingbird (TKAM) . I loved listened to these well-known characters and Lee hasn’t skipped a beat. They are so rich and believable, I can tell Lee took much time constructing them. I particularly like the Uncle, until he slaps Jean Louise – twice! The story itself is interesting. I can see how some didn’t like the much-loved protrayal of Atticus in TKAM. I’m not sure why Lee took Atticus’ character the way she did- protecting his white privilage, other than to portray in very dramatic terms, the thinking of many at that time (1950s). It shocked current readers as it shocked Jean Louise. It was a masterful way of illustrating the point. Reese Witherspoon was also masterful in her narration. Loved every minute of it and would highly recommend the audio version of this book, even if you’re read it.

What I didn’t like: I didn’t think it followed Calpurnia’s character from TKAM. She was too cold to Scout for someone that brought her up for so many years, knowing that Jean Louise was truly colorblind. Calpurnia would have seen that and softened Scout’s angst at their meeting. I think Lee also overdid the wonderful tea that Aunt Alexandra had for Jean Louise, when she repeated multiple times and mixed snippets of their meaningless gossip. It was done so well and with great humor, but unfortunately over done.

Rating: 5/5 even despite the things I didn’t like. It wasn’t enough to decrease my enjoyment of this story and Lee’s writing.

The Orphan Mother by Robert Hicks

This was a new historical fiction audio book in my local library, so I snatched it up.

29214753Stats: Published September, 2016, print 320 pages, audio books: 9 discs read by Adenrele Ojo.

Blurb: In the years following the Civil War, Mariah Reddick, former slave to Carrie McGavock–the “Widow of the South”–has quietly built a new life for herself as a midwife to the women of Franklin, Tennessee. But when her ambitious, politically minded grown son, Theopolis, is murdered, Mariah–no stranger to loss–finds her world once more breaking apart. How could this happen? Who wanted him dead?
Mariah’s journey to uncover the truth leads her to unexpected people–including George Tole, a recent arrival to town, fleeing a difficult past of his own–and forces her to confront the truths of her own past. Brimming with the vivid prose and historical research that has won Robert Hicks recognition as a “master storyteller.”

What I liked: I liked the idea of the book. I was looking forward to leaning about how Mariah Reddick acquired her fortune – the setup in the first chapter of the book. For a woman born into slavery, it is an intriguing question.

What I didn’t like: Sorry to say, Mr. Hicks but most of what came after that first chapter. I don’t know if this fictional story is based off a true story or a fictional story set in a historic post-civil war background. I think Hicks portrays the times and the people (white and black) well, but not so that I care much about any of them. I try to want to find out about Mariah and Mr. Tole’s story, but it is so slow and so poorly edited, that I can’t get past disc 4. I tried, I really did. It just seems like Hicks tried to weave a much smaller story, much larger and the suit doesn’t fit. Adenrele Ojo’s voice as narrator works well, but it’s a bit sing-songie too much of the time for my taste.

Rating: 2/5, though I do like the cover!

Published in: on August 10, 2017 at 11:26pm08  Leave a Comment  
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The Care and Management of Lies by Jacqueline Winspear

18655870I saw the author name on this audio book at my local library and enjoyed the one mystery I had read of hers and my daughter really likes her Maisie Dobbs series, (Maisie Dobbs – the first in her Maisie Dobbs series) so I thought this was worth a go.

Stats: Published in 2014, print is 319 pages, audio is 8 discs – 9.75 hours read by Nicola Barber

Blurb: (Goodreads) By July 1914, the ties between Kezia Marchant and Thea Brissenden, friends since girlhood, have become strained—by Thea’s passionate embrace of women’s suffrage and by the imminent marriage of Kezia to Thea’s brother, Tom, who runs the family farm. When Kezia and Tom wed just a month before war is declared between Britain and Germany, Thea’s gift to Kezia is a book on household management—a veiled criticism of the bride’s prosaic life to come. Yet when Tom enlists to fight for his country and Thea is drawn reluctantly onto the battlefield herself, the farm becomes Kezia’s responsibility. Each must find a way to endure the ensuing cataclysm and turmoil.

As Tom marches to the front lines and Kezia battles to keep her ordered life from unraveling, they hide their despair in letters and cards filled with stories woven to bring comfort. Even Tom’s fellow soldiers in the trenches enter and find solace in the dream world of Kezia’s mouth-watering, albeit imaginary, meals. But will well-intended lies and self-deception be of use when they come face-to-face with the enemy?

What I liked: It was well written and does a good job portraying the life of those in England and somewhat at the French front in WWI. Winspear does a good job with the bad guy in the book – the sergeant who has singled out Tom as his whipping boy. Nicola Barbar does a wonderful job with the narration.

What I didn’t like: Winspear didn’t really get me to care about most of the characters or their lives, except maybe Tom – the farmer and the main protagonist’s wife. Kezia is a wonder in that she takes to farm life like a duck out of water despite not having set foot in a kitchen before this. I think this is possible, but it’s just too tiddy – she really hardly has any hiccups with this new roll, even when she does it without her husband, hitching up the horse and everything!  (Not likely!) And Winspear uses a nice device of connecting with her husband in France through the recipes she makes (or pretends to) but it is way over used. I found myself fastforwarding through the 3rd and 4th and 5th time she uses this device. I won’t give away what happens at the end, but the sergeant does something that seems extreme even for the nasty man he is. It is supposed to be shocking bu just isn’t believable. She also lets you in on the life of their neighbor, who ends up being Tom’s superior, but she ends is participation in the book in a odd way, I think.

Rating: 2.5/5 If you want to read Winspear, stick to the Maisie Dobbs books.

Published in: on July 5, 2017 at 11:26pm07  Leave a Comment  
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Robert B. Parker’s Wonderland by Ace Atkins

I needed a short book for a car trip and picked this one.

Robert B. Parker's WonderlandStats: Audio book is 6 CDs, narrated by the actor Joe Mantegna, print is 306 page, published in 2013

Blurb: Henry Cimoli and Spenser have been friends for years, yet the old boxing trainer has never asked the private eye for a favor. Until now. A heavy-handed developer is trying to buy up Henry’s condo on Revere Beach and sends thugs to move the process along. Soon Spenser and his apprentice, Zebulon Sixkill, find a trail leading to a mysterious and beautiful woman, a megalomaniacal Las Vegas kingpin, and plans to turn to a chunk of land north of Boston into a sprawling casino. Bitter rivals emerge, alliances turn, and the uglier pieces of the Boston political machine look to put an end to Spenser’s investigation.

Aspiration, greed, and twisted dreams all focus on the old Wonderland dog track where the famous amusement park once fronted the ocean. For Spenser and Z, this simple favor to Henry will become the fight of their lives.

What I liked: I liked listening to Joe Mantegna. His voice was perfect for the New York area characters. The story fit the area as well. I have never read any Robert Parker so I can’t say how close Atkins is to Parker’s style, but I did enjoy the humor of Spenser’s character – note: Ace Atkins is apparently trying to write in Parker’s style, though I don’t know if he is using Parker’s outlines or why it’s titled Robert B. Parker’s Wonderland since Parker is dead and Atkins wrote this story. The story itself is entertaining enough though not one in which I couldn’t wait to get back in the car to listen to. The subplot of Spenser and his sidekick “Z” is semi-interesting and adds a bit more depth  and humor to the story, so that was helpful.

What I didn’t like: The real story takes a while to take form. It starts out with Spenser helping a friend with an issue related to his condo being bought from underneath him. Not anything that makes you particularly interested. Atkins throws in some tough guys beating up on each other, but still, it doesn’t peek my interest. When this finally uncovers the real things that are happening – the political involvement, the gambling interest, the dead guy in the trunk – it starts to get a bit more interesting, but the story kind of just plods along. It’s not bad, but it’s not amazing either.

Rating: 3/5

Published in: on June 26, 2017 at 11:26pm06  Comments (2)  
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The World Before Us by Aislinn Hunter

22860181 Another blind library pick. The description sounded good, so I gave it a try. Real mistake!

Stats: Audio book is 10 CDs, or approx. 12.5 hours. Print is 368 pages, first published in 2014

Blurb: Deep in the woods of northern England, somewhere between a dilapidated estate and an abandoned Victorian asylum, fifteen-year-old Jane Standen lived through a nightmare. She was babysitting a sweet young girl named Lily, and in one fleeting moment, lost her. The little girl was never found, leaving her family and Jane devastated.

Twenty years later, Jane is an archivist at a small London museum that is about to close for lack of funding. As a final research project–an endeavor inspired in part by her painful past–Jane surveys the archives for information related to another missing person: a woman who disappeared more than one hundred years ago in the same woods where Lily was lost. As Jane pieces moments in history together, a portrait of a fascinating group of people starts to unfurl. Inexplicably tied to the mysterious disappearance of long ago, Jane finds tender details of their lives at the country estate and in the asylum that are linked to her own heartbroken world, and their story from all those years ago may now help Jane find a way to move on.

What I liked: The narration by Fiona Hardingham was very good. She gave you a feel for every character, and there were many of them, including the dead people.

What I didn’t like: I’m sorry to say, Ms Hunter, but most of it. I was going to stop listening many times and at about disc 5 or 6 it started to pick up a bit so I thought, okay, here goes… but then it went nowhere. I kept going because I was curious where Ms Hunter was going to ultimately take the story but she didn’t take it anywhere. Jane was a portrayed as a real person but I never understood Jane’s quest and by the end, neither did anyone else. It was hard to figure out the point of it all. Jane was focused on finding out who “N” and how N fit in with  the lives of the people in an old asylum and the rich family that lived close by. Once she found out, it made no difference to the story, and as far as I could tell, no difference to Jane.  This was on top of Jane trying to come to grips with an old love and the lost daughter of that love, who she was responsible for. Hunter never ties any of this together so it’s hard to understand the point of it all. And then there are the dead people who come and go in the story and are following Jane on her quest – dead people who lived and worked in either the asylum or the home of the rich family. The concept of the dead watching and talking about us live ones is an interesting one, but again, I couldn’t see the point of their presence in this story and particularly in Jane’s quest. Hunt uses these dead people to reveal some information about the past, but otherwise they were mostly just annoying to listen to.

Rating: 1/5 – Sorry Ms Hunter

Published in: on May 23, 2017 at 11:26am05  Leave a Comment  
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