Sunday, 29 December 2019

Read in Nov/Dec - Book Reviews

Trying to "catch up" with a number short reviews of what I've been reading and listening to in November and December...


The Murder at Redmire Hall by J.R. Ellis
(Kindle + Audible)
No 3 in the Yorkshire Murder Mysteries series

Lord Redmire intends to perform an impossible locked-door illusion on live TV. But the trick goes fatally wrong - and right in front of special guest DCI Jim Oldroyd... As Oldroyd and his DS Stephanie Johnson soon discover, nearly everyone at the event had a reason to resent the eccentric lord. But in this case, it’s not just a question of who did it and why - but how?

It may have been this locked-door mystery that made me look up and re-read another classic in that genre. (Which I've read before, in Swedish, but I always seem to forget the details of mysteries after a while, so usually fall for the same traps when I reread ...) 

The Red House Mystery by A.A. Milne (1922)
Yes - by the author of Winnie the Pooh! Milne wrote other things as well, but I think this was his only mystery novel. The book was an immediate success when it was first published, frequently reprinted, and is still regarded as a classic in its genre. The setting is an English country house, where the owner has been entertaining a small house party, when a long-lost brother, the black sheep of the family, arrives - and is shortly afterwards found shot under mysterious circumstances. A friend of one of the guests turns up, and together the two friends take on trying to solve the mysteries in a Sherlock & Watson fashion.

Miss Hargreaves by Frank Baker (1940)
(Kindle + Audible) 

This is a book I got curious about after reading a review by Terra at the blog *Terra Garden*. I first read it on Kindle, but then decided this was one I'd also probably enjoy listenting to (and perhaps more than once) - so bought the audio as well. (I don't regret that. The audio narration is very good too.) 

The narration style reminded me a bit of one of my favourite classics, Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome. However, Miss Hargreaves also has a touch of magic to it - although I don't think the word magic is ever used in the story. (Mary Poppins also came to mind for me - even if I suspect that both Mary and Miss Hargreaves might resent the comparison...)

It is not a children's story, but it involves a great deal of whimsicality or "spur of the moment" ideas - and afterthought. It all starts when the narrator, a young man by name of Norman, and his friend Henry, are away on a holiday and visit a church as tourists. In conversation with the man showing them around in that church, they "happen" to invent a fictive acquaintance - Miss Hargreaves. This spur of the moment impulse comes to cause them a lot more trouble than they could ever have imagined...

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
 (Audio, 18:37, multiple narrators)

Quick summary: Not worth the time!!

I kept hoping that at some point I'd reach an 'aha' moment in this book... But it never came! It's a fantasy story, and like many great stories it starts with a door to a different world. However, to me this book read like a tedious computer game of the kind where ever so often you just come to a dead end, and have to start over; and then it's the same story all over again with very little change; until another dead end, and so on and so on. For a while I thought that perhaps to realize this was meant to be "the point" - but having reached the last page, I still couldn't really see it leading anywhere. So either I missed the point, or else there wasn't one. Only one thing seemed certain, and that was that I wasn't going to try and listen to it again to find out.  So for once, I actually made use of my Audible membership benefit to send back a book one didn't like (and get a credit to use for another instead).

Decided to "play it safe" with the next listen, and catch up with the latest Botswana No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency adventures... Oops, I found there were two I had missed...

The Colours of All the Cattle by A McCall Smith
(Audio, 8 h, narrated by Adjoa Andoh) (2018)
No 19 in the No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series 

Mma Potokwane suggests to Mma Ramotswe that she run for a seat on the city council - against Mma Makutsi’s old enemy Violet Sephotho...

To the Land of Long Lost Friends by A McCall Smith
(Audio, 7:35 h, narrated by Adjoa Andoh) (2019)
No 20 in the No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series 

Mma Ramotswe takes on a case for a childhood acquaintance; and Charlie is dreaming of getting married, but wondering how to be able to afford it.

McCall Smith is one productive writer...!
I actually found both these quite enjoyable, though.

Letters from Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien
(Audio, 2:07 h) 

Letters written by J. R. R. Tolkien (alias Father Christmas) for his children, between 1920 and 1943. The book was released after his death. I'm guessing it's best read in print with the original illustrations - but the audio presentation was quite nice to listen to as well (with Christmassy music interposed between the letters).

The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen
(Kindle) (2008)

I haven't quite finished this book yet, but hope to do so before the end of the year (or else, at the very beginning of the next one). Sarah Addison Allen writes novels classified as "magical realism" and "chic lit". I think I've read them all now; this was her second out of six. (They're stand-alones so the order doesn't really matter.)  
Typically the magic in her books has to do with food (especially sweets) - like women having inherited a special witchcraft kind of knowledge how to use secret ingredients to create certain effects. In this book, she also sort of gives new dimensions both to hiding things (or people!) "in the closet", and of books turning up just when you need them (even if you're not looking for them), giving you hints to what you ought to do...


  1. Too bad that the book with the most beautiful title is the worst one! The last one looks appealing to me, and also Tolkien's letters. Did he draw the illustrations as well?

    1. Yes, I get that impression. I've never seen the printed book, I just happened to find the audio cheap. The stories comment on the pictures ("as you can see...") Must have been a lovely tradition for Tolkien's children to receive these letters at Christmas time :)

  2. The first three sound like something I'd enjoy. The last one sounds like the kind I often come across for free in the kindle shop, and read them on my daily train journeys to and from work.
    Three Men on a Boat is a masterpiece!! It deserves re-reading, it really does...

    1. Meike, I think Sarah Addison Allen's novels are probably 'a snap above' most of the ones one tends to find for free. (There is one short story for free on Amazon though.) For me, chic lit romance is not really my favourite genre - and yet I quite like hers, as she has a certain way with words. And something else a bit harder to define... Surprise, perhaps. Anyway I find myself quite often noting quote-worthy sentences in her books.

      Like, from the one I'm reading now:

      "Furniture was a lot more patient than books. Furniture waited for space in your life instead of just showing up and demanding attention."

      "When she stood, 'Finding Forgiveness' had appeared on the couch again. She stuffed it under the cushions, more firmly this time. Books usually gave up after a while when she didn't want to read them. But not this one. 'Behave,' she told it."

    2. ... And yes, Jerome K. Jerome's Three Men in a Boat is an outstanding masterpiece in my opinion... I got my Swedish copy of that book in the late 1960s, and I think I've probably reread it in some form or other almost every year ever since (I also have it in English, and as audio book in both languages). :)


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