Friday, October 27, 2023

"And Then There Were None" by Agatha Christie

Oh. My.

I picked this up in an airport bookstore on the way home from visiting my parents earlier this month.  I really was in the mood for a mystery, but hadn't brought any with me, and this seemed like a perfect read for October, especially since I have been participating in the #AMonthOfMystery challenge on Instagram again this year.

What a wild ride this book is!  I almost don't want to say too much about it because I didn't really know anything about the plot before reading it, and that was a perfect way to go into this book.  All I knew was that it was a group of strangers who are on an island together, and then people start dying.  Which sounded kind of like the movie Clue (1985), and I am pretty sure the makers of that movie were referencing this book in several places -- I will have to rewatch it to be sure, though.

Anyway!  This book is thoroughly shocking, in the sense of making me think, "Holy cow, THAT happened?!?" over and over and over.  I read it in a day and a half.  Brilliant stuff -- I can see why it is generally considered one of Christie's absolute best.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-16 for some pretty violent and gruesome murders.

This has been my 20th book read and reviewed for my fourth Classics Club list, my 52nd book read from my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2023, and my second read and reviewed for #AMonthOfMystery this year.

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

And then this happened...

My Rock and My Refuge has won another award!  This time, it has been named the second place winner of the 2023 PenCraft Award for Literary Excellence in the Christian Historical Fiction category!

I am endlessly grateful to God for giving me the ability, tenacity, and opportunity to write books and share them with others. He has blessed my efforts so much. To God be the glory!

If you haven't read My Rock and My Refuge yet, but you love historical fiction, fairy tale retellings, Christian fiction, and/or very clean and gentle romance, I think you might like this book ;-)  It's a Beauty and the Beast retelling set in an 1870s Colorado silver mining town. If you have read it, please leave a review for it somewhere! GoodreadsAmazonB&NNorthwestern Publishing House, wherever. Even just a star rating or a simple "I enjoyed this book" is always a plus!

Sunday, October 22, 2023

"The Ferguson Rifle" by Louis L'Amour

I decided to read this because it had Chantrys in it, and I had just reread Borden Chantry, which remains my favorite L'Amour book.  While I didn't love The Ferguson Rifle as much as Borden Chantry, it was still a very enjoyable read!

This one is set in the very early 1800s -- Lewis and Clark get mentioned as being contemporaries of the characters, so that tells you about what era this would be.  Ronan Chantry lost his wife and son in a terrible fire, and is a broken and haunted man.  Armed with a Ferguson rifle, an early sort of repeating rifle, he heads out into the wilderness to find... something.  Peace?  Himself?  Death?  He isn't sure.

Ronan takes up with some fur trappers, and they make plans to work together in the mountains.  But they run into Spanish soldiers who don't know about the Louisiana Purchase and think that the trappers are trespassers.  Then they run afoul of some Ute warriors.  And then, they rescue a woman and boy who were being pursued by various baddies because the woman might know where an ancient treasure is.  Then the whole book turns into a treasure hunt, which was a lot of fun.

Particularly Good Bits:

As long as one travels toward a promised land, the dream is there, to stop means to face the reality, and it is easier to dream than to realize the dream (p. 17).

"A man is born beside the road to death.  To die is not so much, it is inevitable.  The journey is what matters, and what one does along the way" (p. 99).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG for violence and some mild cussing.

This is my 52nd book read off my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfChallenge2023.

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

"Death of a Christmas Tree Salesman" by Patricia Meredith

Yes, I know it's not even Halloween yet.  But, as someone who keeps Christmas in her heart the whole year 'round like Ebenezer Scrooge, I snuggled right up to read this book even though it's not the Christmas season yet!  In fact, I had such a great time immersing myself in all things Christmas while reading this book, that coming back to the real world and having to think about things like Halloween costumes for my kids was always a bit disorienting whenever I stopped reading.

Anyway, Death of a Christmas Tree Salesman is a pretty jolly book, even though it does involve murders.  The main character is a snowman named Sam Shovel, and if that fact combined with the cheeky book title doesn't clue you in to the kind of festive, referential fun this book contains, probably nothing will.  References to classic mystery books and characters abound, from Sam Shovel (think of Sam Spade) to Nick and Nora Claus (instead of Nick and Nora Charles).  And references to Christmas carols and poems pop up everywhere, as well as innumerable iterations of Santa Claus from around the world.

I absolutely loved how Meredith created a Santa network, with international Santas like Egypt's Baba Noel, Germany's Der Weihnachtsmann, Russia's Ded Moroz, Italy's Babbo Natale, and China's Sheng Dan Lao Ren all being distinct people who work together with Nick Claus to spread Christmas presents and joy around the world.  That was so clever, and it created a natural way to include all kinds of different Christmas traditions and treats in the story.

The mystery revolves around the mysterious death of Mr. O. Tannenbaum, owner of the North Pole's Christmas tree farm.  Sam Shovel and an Icelandic "Yule Lad" named Kertasnikir (secretary to the now deceased Tannenbaum) set out to find the culprit, which is a bit difficult since Kertas spends most of his time trying to quell his urge to eat candles and Sam Shovel's memory is pretty bad since he's a snowman.  But they persevere and eventually do find the killer.

I am not ordinarily a big fan of cozy mysteries, as they can often be too cutesy for my taste.  I prefer hard-boiled mysteries where murder is shown to be the abomination it is.  BUT I make an exception for Christmas mysteries, which can be as cozy and cute as they please, and still not annoy me.  This particular book was such a delicious confection of Christmas-y elements that there was no way I wouldn't enjoy it!  In fact, I suspect it's a book I'll reread in Christmastimes to come.

By the way, if you're starting to think of books you want to read during the Christmas season, I have a page called Christmas Reads where I link to all my reviews of Christmas books on this blog.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.  I was not required to provide a review of it, positive or otherwise. 

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for dealing with poison and murder.  No cussing or smut or on-page scenes of violence except someone throwing things at a snowman from time to time.

This is the 51st book read from my TBR collection for #TheUnreadShelfProject2023 and my first read and reviewed for #AMonthOfMystery this year.

Sunday, October 15, 2023

"A Right to Die" by Rex Stout

This is one of the best fiction books I have read that concerns the Civil Rights Movement and was actually written during the 1960s. 

A father asks Nero Wolfe to investigate his son's fiancee because he is sure there must be something wrong with her or her past, and that his son needs to be aware of it.  The father and son are black, and the fiancee is white, and it's 1964 -- the father is sure that either this girl has ulterior motives for wanting to marry a black man, or she is simply toying with his son's affections.

Wolfe ordinarily doesn't touch things involving digging up dirt on spouses, even potential spouses, but he owes the father a debt of sorts, so he sends Archie Goodwin to dig around in the girl's Midwestern hometown.  Before Archie returns, the case takes a sinister turn, and suddenly they're trying to prove someone is innocent of murder by catching the real murderer.

What made this book noteworthy, in my opinion, is Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin's straightforward attitude toward race.  They admit that, as white people they can't understand fully what life is like for black people, just as the black people they are working for and with can't fully understand what life is like for them.  But they do their best to treat everyone they encounter with equal dignity and seriousness.  As Archie puts it at one point, "...when I consider myself superior to anyone, as I frequently do, I need a better reason than his skin" (p. 56).  

I'd be interested to know how this book was received when it was released because it strikes me as something that could have ruffled some readers' feathers.  Wolfe and Archie are both of the opinion that interracial marriage is fine, for instance.  They are both working for a black man.  There are black characters who are nice, who are annoying, who are helpful, who are dodgy, who are trustworthy, who are proud, who are ugly, who are beautiful -- as complex and varied as any cast of white characters in his other books.  Stout is clearly saying that differences of appearance, habit, style, manners, or upbringing are all external things and don't matter.  What matter are a person's values, morals, and attitudes.

The mystery here is one of Stout's best, I think.  This is going high on my list of favorite Nero Wolfe books.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-13 for discussions of unmarried people sharing an apartment and a bed, though everything is handled delicately.  Suicide plays a central role in the plot, also.  Some mild cussing and reasonably tasteful descriptions of murder.

This is my 50th book read from my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2023.

Sunday, October 1, 2023

"Peter Duck" by Arthur Ransome

This book has a very unusual premise:  it is a fictional story written all together by the (also fictional) characters of Swallows and Amazons and Swallowdale.  It's a story that they made up together that stars themselves, but also a bunch of people they made up, like Peter Duck himself.  Got that straight, now?  If not, don't fret -- it took us a little while to get our minds wrapped around it too.  But we did, eventually!  

I read this aloud to my kids over the summer, though we got sidetracked for a bit and just finished it up toward the end of September.  It's a jolly good treasure-hunting yarn, and was such fun to experience alongside my kids.

Within the story, the four Swallows and two Amazons, plus Captain Flint (aka Uncle Jim) are all set to go on a summertime sailing adventure around Britain.  But when they invite an old seafaring gentleman named Peter Duck to go along, they soon find themselves being chased all over by Black Jake and his foul crew of miscreants, who are convinced Peter Duck knows where there's a fabulous treasure hidden over in the Caribbean on a deserted island.

Well, naturally, they all end up sailing across the Atlantic Ocean to find that treasure and get it before Black Jake can.  Many adventures befall them, especially once they reach the island and go looking for the treasure that Peter Duck did indeed see buried there when he was a boy.

If you like wholesome stories about kids having adventures and learning new skills alongside some trusted but adventurous adults, you need to read this series!

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for some fairly intense parts involving natural disasters and big storms, and also a hand-to-hand fight with pirates.  No cussing or inappropriate content.

This is my 19th book read for my fourth Classics Club list, and my 49th from my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2023.