Posts Tagged ‘Agatha Christie’

maisie dobbs in this grave hour book

Female sleuths have been my heroes since childhood, from Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden to Miss Marple and Harriet Vane. But these days, my favorite female investigators have an extra dimension: their complex, layered backgrounds inform their approaches to the cases they take.

Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs starts out as a scullery maid, but thanks to a wealthy patron, she attends university, then works as a battlefield nurse before hanging out her shingle as a private investigator. Her eponymous first adventure lays out her background and her first few cases, and sets up a richly drawn, insightful historical series. My favorite installments illuminate aspects of Maisie’s personal life, such as A Dangerous Place, which follows her to Gibraltar and Spain in the wake of great loss. 

mary russell books series sherlock holmes mystery

Orphaned, bookish and prickly, Mary Russell literally stumbles over Sherlock Holmes while walking on the Sussex Downs. The great detective takes her on as his protege in Laurie R. King’s The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, and they eventually become full partners in crime-solving and life. But Mary resolutely pursues her own scholarly interests at Oxford, which leads her to a mystery that quickly goes beyond the academic in A Letter of Mary. Russell’s complicated history, academic prowess and sharp wit make her a more-than-worthy compatriot for Holmes. (I blazed through this series when I discovered it some years ago, and have loved each new installment.)

clare russ book stack julia spencer fleming mysteries

Arriving in Millers Kill, N.Y., the newly ordained Reverend Clare Fergusson, carrying the scars of her Army career, must prove she’s a capable priest (In the Bleak Midwinter). But as Clare is drawn into several local mysteries and a growing friendship with the married police chief, Russ Van Alstyne, things get messy. Julia Spencer-Fleming’s gripping series ably explores Clare’s grit, compassion and her complex bond with Russ. Hid From Our Eyes, the long-anticipated ninth installment, is out this spring, and I can’t wait to see where Clare’s unusual talents take her next.

I originally wrote most of this column for Shelf Awareness, where it ran last week. 

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I’ve blown through half a dozen books recently – which feels good after a stretch of not reading quite as much. Here’s what I have been reading lately:

Heart of Barkness, Spencer Quinn
Chet the dog and his pal Bernie Little, P.I., are back. Their ninth adventure finds them investigating a couple of suspicious deaths involving an elderly country singer. It was slow to start, but I love Chet’s entertaining narrative voice, and the mystery plot was satisfying.

The Bookshop on the Shore, Jenny Colgan
Single mother Zoe is desperate to get out of London, and when she lands two part-time gigs in Scotland, it seems like a good idea. I like Colgan’s fiction and this had more depth than usual, with the motherless children Zoe cares for and the challenges facing her young son. Nina (from The Bookshop on the Corner) features too, but I grew irritated with her. I gobbled this up in two days.

Death in a Desert Land, Andrew Wilson
After her divorce, Agatha Christie heads to Baghdad and Ur to visit an archaeological dig and do some spying for the British government. But she soon finds herself investigating a murder. Wilson’s third mystery featuring Christie as amateur detective (the first one I’ve read) was fast-paced (after a slow start) and engaging.

The Vanderbeekers to the Rescue, Karina Yan Glaser
The five Vanderbeeker kids have all kinds of plans for spring break – which do not include accidentally ruining their mother’s baking business. But they band together to outwit a grumpy inspector, build a tree house and deal with mysterious pets (chickens!) guinea pigs!) that keep appearing on their doorstep. I love this middle-grade series and this third entry was so much fun.

Land’s End: A Walk in Provincetown, Michael Cunningham
Set at the very end of Cape Cod, Provincetown has a unique character and mythology. I have several friends who love it there, and Cunningham’s memoir/history is evocative, fascinating and melancholy. I found this at Three Lives in NYC; the manager, whose taste I trust, waxed lyrical about it. Lovely.

How to Love a Country, Richard Blanco
Blanco, who served as President Obama’s inaugural poet, is back with a fierce, vivid, haunting collection exploring what it is to be an immigrant, to live between two worlds, to be gay in this country, to mourn various national tragedies (the Pulse shooting, the Boston Marathon bombings). These poems pull no punches and they’re also beautiful.

A Dangerous Engagement, Ashley Weaver
Amory Ames and her husband, Milo, sail to New York for the wedding of Amory’s childhood friend. But when one of the groomsmen is found murdered, Amory and Milo begin investigating. I love this stylish, well-plotted mystery series and this was a delightful entry.

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

What are you reading?

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almost sisters book christmas tree

We’re two weeks into a new year, which has included (so far) a foot of snow, a record-breaking cold snap and – thank goodness – a batch of fantastic books.

Here’s my first reading roundup for 2018:

The Almost Sisters, Joshilyn Jackson
Leia Birch Briggs, a successful graphic artist, finds out she’s pregnant with a biracial baby after a one-night stand. Then she’s summoned to Alabama to check on her grandmother, Birchie, who’s been hiding her health problems and other damaging secrets. I loved this novel – it’s funny, wise, warmhearted and thought-provoking. Leia is a great narrator and her relationship with her stepsister, Rachel, felt so real – as did her experience as a well-meaning but often clueless white woman. Recommended by Leigh and Anne.

One Goal: A Coach, a Team, and the Game That Brought a Divided Town Together, Amy Bass
Soccer, like other sports, has historically taken a backseat to hockey in Lewiston, Maine. But an influx of Somali immigrants to this white, working-class town began to change that. And Lewiston High School’s coach, Mike McGraw, saw his chance to build a championship team. Insightful, vividly told, deeply researched nonfiction about a group of boys who became the emblem of a changing town. I’m not even much of a soccer fan, but I loved it. Reminded me of The Newcomers. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Feb. 27).

Over Sea, Under Stone, Susan Cooper
After loving The Dark is Rising, I went back and read this first book in the series, in which three children find a mysterious treasure map while on holiday in Cornwall. With the help of their great-uncle (whom I recognized from TDIR), they embark on a quest while dodging some sinister folks. Fun and enjoyable, though not nearly as compelling as TDIR.

In the Bleak Midwinter, Julia Spencer-Fleming
During a bitterly cold Advent season in upstate New York, someone leaves a newborn baby on the Episcopal church steps. The Reverend Clare Fergusson, new to town, investigates the baby’s parentage plus a few murders alongside longtime police chief Russ Van Alstyne. I’d heard about this mystery series from Lauren Winner and loved this first book: Russ, Clare and the other characters felt satisfyingly real.

Wade in the Water: Poems, Tracy K. Smith
I’d heard of Smith but really started paying attention to her when she was named poet laureate last summer. Her memoir, Ordinary Light, is on my to-read stack. This new collection of her poems was the first I’d read. It includes several “erasure poems” based on text from correspondence of former slave owners, the Declaration of Independence and other documents. But my favorites were the others, like “Ash” and “4 1/2” and “Unrest in Baton Rouge.” To review for Shelf Awareness (out April 3).

Other People’s Houses, Abbi Waxman
Carpool mom Frances Bloom is used to taking care of everyone, including her neighbors’ kids. But when she catches her neighbor, Anne, in flagrante delicto with a younger man, the neighborhood is thrown for a loop and so is Frances. This was sharper and sadder than Waxman’s debut, The Garden of Small Beginnings (which I loved). Some great lines and realistic characters, but I thought it ended too abruptly. To review for Shelf Awareness (out April 3).

The Library at the Edge of the World, Felicity Hayes-McCoy
I read Hayes-McCoy’s memoir, The House on an Irish Hillside, a few years ago and loved it. This novel was fluffier than that, but still enjoyable: librarian Hanna Casey, who has returned to her rural Irish hometown after a divorce, suddenly finds herself an unlikely community organizer. Lovely descriptions of western Ireland and several appealing characters.

The Woman in the Water, Charles Finch
I love Finch’s mystery series featuring Victorian gentleman detective Charles Lenox. This prequel explores Lenox’s start as a detective, as the recent Oxford graduate investigates the deaths of two unknown women. A satisfying mystery plot, and I also enjoyed the appearances by Lenox’s invaluable valet, Graham, and other familiar characters. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Feb. 20).

Agatha Christie: A Mysterious Life, Laura Thompson
Known today as the Queen of Crime, Agatha Christie led a long and interesting life. Thompson explores Christie’s childhood, her two marriages, her prodigious creative output and her 11-day disappearance in 1926. I found this biography engaging, though it dragged at times, and the section on Agatha’s disappearance was decidedly odd. I’m a Christie fan (but 485 pages is a serious commitment!). To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 6).

Links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

What are you reading this winter?

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bookstore lenox ma interior

“What do you like to read?”

I get this question a lot: when I tell someone about my book-reviewing gig for Shelf Awareness, or when someone sees the long book lists I keep here on the blog and at Goodreads. I also get it when a friend comes to my apartment for the first time and sees my bulging bookshelves. (Though in that case, it’s usually drowned out by, “Wow, that’s a lot of books.”)

Broadly, I love both fiction and nonfiction: novels, memoirs and biography, travel writing, mystery, poetry, middle-grade and young adult lit. But I’ve been thinking lately about a few sub-genres I adore.

These aren’t official classifications in most bookstores, but they share definite characteristics, and they are my literary catnip.

For starters, I love clever British mysteries – preferably with an engaging detective or two and not a lot of gore. Dorothy Sayers and Agatha Christie remain my favorites, but I also love Jacqueline Winspear, Rhys Bowen, Carola Dunn, Charles Todd and Charles Finch. (All of these authors have created protagonists – some professional detectives, some amateur sleuths – whom I adore.) I am a longtime Anglophile, and there’s something about watching a mystery unfold in my beloved England – especially with plenty of tea and biscuits on hand.

Related: I enjoy the occasional dive into Sherlockiana. I haven’t read all the original Conan Doyle stories, but I have relished a few books and series that feature the great detective. My favorite Sherlock riff is Laurie R. King’s fantastic series about Sherlock Holmes and Mary Russell, but I also enjoyed A Study in Charlotte (a 21st-century YA take on Holmes and Watson), Nancy Springer’s middle-grade series featuring Sherlock’s younger sister Enola, and The Great Detective, Zach Dundas’ fantastic nonfiction history of the Sherlock Holmes phenomenon. (Also, it’s not a book, but I can’t forget the BBC Sherlock.)

Continuing with the British theme: I love gentle interwar British fiction. Miss Read’s tales about the village of Fairacre fit this bill, as do D.E. Stevenson’s warmhearted novels of life in England and Scotland. These books are not dramatic or world-changing and that is precisely why I love them: they are stories of ordinary people living quiet, beautiful lives.

There isn’t an official name for this genre, but I love dual-narrative fiction that shifts back and forth in time, twining two different storylines together until they meet in the end. Kate Morton and Beatriz Williams both do this very well, but I’ve read other books that employ this technique to great effect. (Most recently: Maggie Leffler’s The Secrets of Flight; June by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore; Natasha Solomons’ The Song of Hartgrove Hall.)

Like a lot of inveterate readers, I adore books on books. These include novels set in bookstores (Parnassus on Wheels, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore); books about the reading life (Ex Libris, Voracious, Howards End is on the Landing), and novels that feature books as a key plot point (The Word Exchange, The Bookman’s Tale). Jasper Fforde’s literary fantasy series featuring Thursday Next, book detective, is its own wildly quirky variation on this theme.

What are your favorite sub-genres? (And does anyone have a more elegant name for this phenomenon?)

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flavia de luce series books mysteries
It’s no secret around here that these are two of my favorite things.

A couple of months ago, I noted that the Daisy Dalrymple mystery series are “my Cadbury milk chocolate: smooth, sweet and delightfully English.” I still like that metaphor, and it got me thinking about how to classify my other favorite mystery series as different types of chocolate.

So, for your culinary/reading/book-nerd pleasure, a list:

  • Dorothy Sayers’ mysteries featuring Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane are rich dark chocolate: smooth, layered and delightfully complex. (She weaves in history, politics, feminism, culture, mental health – so many subjects.)
  • Spencer Quinn’s Chet and Bernie series (narrated by Chet the dog) is a handful of M&Ms: colorful, addictive and so much fun.
  • The Maisie Dobbs novels by Jacqueline Winspear remind me of a good chocolate caramel: rich, bittersweet and just slightly salty.
  • Tommy & Tuppence, Agatha Christie’s youthful detectives, are those Ghirardelli chocolate squares with mint inside – surprising and fun, and not too complex.
  • Miss Marple, that sweet elderly sleuth, and her cases are a truffle assortment – because there are always surprises inside.
  • Sherlock Holmes (in all his many iterations) is like an assortment from Burdicks, the gourmet chocolate shop in Harvard Square. These boxes always contain treats I’ve never heard of, made with exotic liqueurs – reminiscent of Holmes’ penchant for unusual cases with highly irregular details.
  • Rhys Bowen’s Her Royal Spyness mysteries are Hershey’s kisses: light, sweet and uncomplicated.
  • The Flavia de Luce series (pictured above) is a bar of wicked dark chocolate – since Flavia’s twin passions are for sleuthing and poison.

Any mysteries-as-chocolate you’d add to the list?

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books by color portsmouth nh

Summer always means digging into dozens of good books. A rainy, lazy 4th of July weekend and a stack of tempting titles mean I’ve been reading even more than usual. Below, the books I’ve tackled so far this month:

Butternut Summer, Mary McNear
A story of summer, first love and second chances in a Minnesota lake town. Heartwarming and pleasant, if predictable. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Aug. 12).

Mrs. Pollifax and the Whirling Dervish, Dorothy Gilman
Mrs. Pollifax heads to Morocco, posing as the aunt of an unpleasant CIA operative. Things (as always) become complicated and she finds herself fleeing through the desert with unlikely companions. Possibly the best Mrs. P adventure yet. I could NOT put this one down.

Gutenberg’s Apprentice, Alix Christie
Christie’s novel delves into the story of Johann Gutenberg and his secret printing workshop, told through the eyes of his apprentice, Peter Schoeffer. Utterly fascinating. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 23).

The Ides of April, Lindsey Davis
I liked Enemies at Home enough to pick up the first mystery featuring Flavia Albia, a private informer in ancient Rome. Albia’s sharp tongue and the intriguing setting made this a satisfying read, though I figured out the killer before she did.

To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
My third read of this classic and I found it as powerful as ever. I love the vividly drawn characters, especially Scout and Atticus, and the ending makes me weep. One of the great American novels, wise and engrossing and moving.

The Alpine Path: The Story of My Career, L.M. Montgomery
I bought this slim memoir at the L.M. Montgomery homestead in Cavendish, and loved her account of her childhood and early writing ambitions. Her love for the Island comes through in every line.

The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side, Agatha Christie
Miss Marple investigates a death by poisoning at the local grand estate, using her famous blend of gossip and intuition to find the killer. Ingenious and fun – Christie makes perfect summer reading.

Ravenscliffe, Jane Sanderson
This sequel to Netherwood continues the intertwined adventures of working-class folks in a Yorkshire mining town and the local earl’s family. It’s Downton-esque in the complex upstairs-downstairs connections. Not as good as the first one, but compelling.

Kitchen Chinese, Ann Mah
I loved Mah’s memoir, Mastering the Art of French Eating, so picked up her novel, which follows Chinese-American Isabelle Lee as she tries to build a life in Beijing. Great food descriptions, but the story is predictable and Isabelle is frustratingly naive and dense. Pass (but pick up Mah’s memoir).

Mrs. Pollifax and the Second Thief, Dorothy Gilman
Mrs. Pollifax is summoned to Sicily by an SOS from an old CIA pal. Art forgery, old enemies and Interpol all come into play before a resolution is reached. A little hard to follow, but still fun.

The Prank List, Anna Staniszewski
This sequel to The Dirt Diary finds Rachel Lee determined to help her mom’s cleaning business succeed – even if drastic measures are required. I like Rachel as a narrator, but the “pranks” often cross over into sabotage. So-so.

Links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

What are you reading?

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brattle book shop sale carts lot outdoor boston

Finding Colin Firth, Mia March
A sweet story of three women whose lives intersect in a small Maine town, where Colin Firth is filming a movie. A few characters from March’s debut, The Meryl Streep Movie Club, appear. I liked the characters (and the mouthwatering descriptions of Veronica’s “magic” pies). Predictable, but light and fun. (I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.)

Soil and Sacrament: A Spiritual Memoir of Food and Faith, Fred Bahnson
A thoughtful memoir about the connections between faith and food, largely lost in the U.S. today. Bahnson explores several faith-based food movements, from an abbey in South Carolina to a Jewish organic farm in Connecticut, while musing about our ties to, and responsibility for, the land. Rambling at times, but still interesting. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Aug. 6).

The Finishing Touches, Hester Browne
Left on the doorstep of a London finishing school as an infant, Betsy Phillimore grew up amid white gloves and curtsies, but always wondered about her birth parents. When her adoptive mother dies, it turns out the school is in trouble, and Betsy jumps in to modernize it (while secretly researching her past). A fun, modern-day fairy tale.

The Thin Man, Dashiell Hammett
“Retired” detective Nick Charles and his wife Nora get pulled into a missing persons case involving the family of an old friend. This book is known as a noir classic, and the plot was compelling, but I didn’t care for most of the characters. (I had hoped to like Nick and Nora better.) So-so.

Eat With Joy: Reclaiming God’s Gift of Food, Rachel Marie Stone
We’re all overwhelmed by conflicting messages about food, diets and calories. Stone takes a refreshing perspective, exploring the ways in which eating (and cooking and buying) food can be a creative, restorative, life-giving process instead of a string of worries. (She gardens and shops at farmer’s markets, but admits to ordering takeout regularly.) Unpretentious, encouraging and delicious (several recipes included).

To the End of June: The Intimate Life of American Foster Care, Cris Beam
The U.S. foster care system is broken – and the statistics for drug abuse, homelessness, etc. among former foster kids are staggering. Beam follows several foster kids (mostly teenagers) and foster families in NYC, trying to understand where the system breaks down, and why. Heartbreaking, well-researched, and ultimately more descriptive than proscriptive. But one thing is clear: the system needs to change. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Aug. 13).

Surviving the Applewhites, Stephanie S. Tolan
After Jake Semple gets kicked out of yet another school, he comes to live with the Applewhites, a cheerful, chaotic family of eccentric creatives. Only E.D., age 12, is completely non-artistic, and she resents Jake’s intrusion into their family. But when a local theatrical production of The Sound of Music meets with several disasters, the Applewhites – and Jake – rise to the occasion. Fun and kooky.

Le Road Trip: A Traveler’s Journal of Love and France, Vivian Swift
A pair of middle-aged newlyweds take a wandering honeymoon in France, from Paris to country villages and back again. Swift’s watercolors and sketches accompany tidbits of history and musings on love, travel and the lure of the road. Lovely and amusing.

Swept Off Her Feet, Hester Browne
London antiques appraiser Evie Nicholson heads to Scotland to appraise a castle full of ancient furniture and clanking armor. She’s especially intrigued by the story of a Downton-esque American heiress who saved the estate from ruin – and by the handsome current heir, Robert. Fun and witty, full of meaningful glances, dusty heirlooms, complicated Scottish reels and a glorious candlelit ball.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Agatha Christie
Hercule Poirot sets out to solve a murder in a small English village, with the help of the local doctor (who narrates). He interviews a varied cast of suspects, all of whom (of course) are hiding something. Intriguing, with a shocking twist near the end. Great fun.

This post contains IndieBound affiliate links.

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books tree snowman christmas

(This really means “week before vacation and vacation” reading, and/or “The Final Book Roundup of 2012.”)

The Secret Keeper, Kate Morton
As a teenager in 1961, Laurel Nicolson sees her mother kill a man. She doesn’t know who he was or why he came to their house – and the family never speaks of it again. Forty years later, as her mother begins to slip away, Laurel and her brother begin a feverish search for answers. This was my first Morton novel and I loved it – so evocative of both modern-day England and London during the Blitz. The sibling dynamics are perfectly drawn, and there were a couple of brilliant, dramatic twists. Utterly absorbing. (I received a galley from the publisher, but was not compensated for this review.)

All Shall Be Well, Deborah Crombie
I tore through this second book featuring the Scotland Yard team of Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James. They investigate the death of Kincaid’s terminally ill neighbor Jasmine, from a lethal dose of morphine. She had considered (and mentioned) suicide, but the details add up to homicide instead. Better plotted, better written and more interesting than the first one, with more insights into Kincaid’s and Gemma’s lives. (I wonder – especially since the writer is a woman – why she calls him “Kincaid” and her “Gemma.” Perhaps it’s my feminist self being nitpicky?)

At Bertram’s Hotel, Agatha Christie
Miss Marple, staying at the posh, old-world titular London hotel, observes a number of strange events that add up to a murder case. As usual, she solves the crime with keen observation and unruffled calm. Dashing celebrities, foggy nights, fast cars and lots of secrets make this an entertaining mystery.

A Thousand Mornings, Mary Oliver
Oliver’s newest collection is full of lyrical observations, several elegies to a beloved dog, and the nature imagery for which she is known. I didn’t love it quite as much as Thirst, which blew me away, but it was still quite lovely.

The Game, Laurie R. King
Sherlock Holmes and Mary Russell travel to India, to search for an Irish spy who has disappeared – none other than the title character of Kipling’s Kim. They travel in the guise of gypsy musicians, stay at a maharaja’s palace, and encounter a dizzying array of characters, both friend and foe. This is a fabulous adventure story and a brilliant tribute to Holmes’ and Russell’s ability to think on their feet. One of my favorites in the series.

Locked Rooms, Laurie R. King
Fresh from their Indian adventure (above), Holmes and Russell land in San Francisco, so Russell can deal with matters relating to her family’s property there. But a series of disturbing dreams forces her to rethink her memories of childhood, and of the car wreck that killed her family. A dazzling portrait of San Francisco in the early 20th century, both before and after the 1906 earthquake. I loved the exploration of Russell’s character and her family history, and the Chinese bookseller, Mr. Long.

The Language of Bees, Laurie R. King
Arriving home at last, Holmes and Russell can’t rest for long: Holmes’ grown son Damian, whom he has met only once before, turns up on their doorstep asking for his father’s help. As they search for Damian’s missing wife and child, Russell doubts Damian’s innocence and worries over Holmes’ refusal to suspect his son. Not my favorite of the series – the plot involves a creepy cult, and the ending is literally “to be continued.” But I’ll still read The God of the Hive to find out what happens.

A Fatal Grace, Louise Penny
Chief Inspector Armand Gamache returns to the village of Three Pines (introduced in Still Life) to solve another murder, this one of a self-styled, self-centered design guru whom no one liked. Many characters from Still Life reappeared, but for some reason this story fell rather flat for me. Perhaps it was too similar to the first, or I was simply irritated at several plot threads left dangling. I do like Gamache, though: he’s a thoughtful, wise character.

What did you read over your vacation, if you had one?

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For a girl who grew up on Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden and the Mandie books (anyone else remember those?), I came rather late to Agatha Christie. The inimitable Book Club Girl hosted a read-along last summer, and before long I was head over heels for Christie’s clever plotting and utterly English characters. I gushed this summer about Tommy and Tuppence, so I thought Miss Marple deserved her turn in the spotlight.

miss marple books agatha christie

My Miss Marple collection

I’ve read nine books featuring Miss Marple so far (there are 12 novels, plus several short story collections). I was a bit put off at first by the widely varied narration – some books are narrated in the first person by a minor character, some told in a third-person-omniscient style. So Miss Marple is sometimes the center of the story, and sometimes comes in from offstage (rather like an elderly deus ex machina) to solve the mystery and save the day. She is a wonderful character, though: a “fussy, fluttery” old lady, with snow-white hair and old-fashioned clothes and usually a knitting project in her hands, but with a keen mind and a sober sense of the evils people are capable of committing. Although she has lived her whole life in the village of St Mary Mead, she has a rather low (or unflinchingly realistic) opinion of human nature, and a seemingly endless insight into the motives of criminals (and victims).

Because Miss Marple is not always the center of the narrative, and because her primary role is always to solve the mystery, we don’t always get a sense of her as a character: her background, her internal journey, her emotions. However, we do know a few things about her: she enjoys surprising the police (and everyone else) with her quick mind; she is kindhearted and compassionate, especially to misguided young women; and her years as an observer of village life have made her wise.

I loved The Murder at the Vicarage, which marks Miss Marple’s first appearance and is also the first Christie I’d ever read; the plotting was brilliant and so was Miss Marple. I also loved A Pocket Full of Rye, in which she is the first to grasp that a pattern of killings is following (in a deadly way) the old “Sing a song of sixpence” nursery rhyme. My favorite Miss Marple book, though, is probably Nemesis (in which an acquaintance of Miss Marple’s asks her to solve a mystery after his death, but leaves very few clues as to what it is). The story follows Miss Marple’s thoughts quite closely, since she must solve the case largely by reflection and rumination (there are few obvious clues until later in the book). As usual, she pulls off a brilliant solution, to the astonishment of many.

Have you read any of the Miss Marple books? What do you think of them? (And what are your opinions on the various TV adaptations? I haven’t watched any of them yet.)

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kramerbooks afterwords washington d.c.

The White Robin, Miss Read
Another sweet Fairacre story (one of the shorter ones), involving a rare white robin who quickly becomes the darling of the village. I love Miss Read’s attention to the details of country life, and her incisive observations on human nature. It’s always comforting to spend a few hours in Fairacre.

Nemesis, Agatha Christie
Miss Marple receives an odd summons from a recently deceased friend: he wants her to solve a crime, but gives her almost no details. She is intrigued, and of course manages to solve the case with her usual insight and aplomb. One of my favorite Miss Marple stories, because it focused much more on her as a central character than some of the others do. Fascinating and fun.

Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child, Bob Spitz
A magnificent, detailed biography of Julia, from her childhood in California through her wanderings in Europe, up to her years in Cambridge. I’ve read My Life in France, her memoir, and also her correspondence with Avis DeVoto, but this book gave me an even more extensive look at the woman who changed the face of food in America. Julia was no saint, but she was warmhearted, generous, passionate and fascinating. Spitz confesses to having a crush on his subject, and by the end, I did too. Fabulous.

The Body in the Library, Agatha Christie
Miss Marple is called in by a friend to help solve the title crime (whose body? What was she doing there? Who killed her?). In the process, she discovers a nest of family secrets and various other tidbits. Not as much fun as Nemesis (see above), but still entertaining.

The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, Laurie R. King
Sherlock Holmes, ostensibly retired (and tending bees), takes on an unlikely apprentice: headstrong, orphaned teenager Mary Russell. They drive each other crazy sometimes but work astonishingly well together, and have solved a few cases when they realize someone is out to murder both of them. The witty banter, the rich descriptions, the twisty plot and the cast of fascinating characters all thrilled me – I loved it. This is the first in a series and I’ll be checking out the others for sure.

The Convivial Codfish, Charlotte MacLeod
This fifth book in the Sarah Kelling series focused mostly on her art detective husband, Max, who is called in to track down a killer after Sarah’s uncle is injured and a few of his friends are poisoned. Amusing at times, though the plot dragged. Not the best in the series, but still fun.

A Novel Bookstore, Laurence Cosse
A beautiful heiress and a penniless book lover join forces to create a Paris bookshop called The Good Novel, whose stock is chosen by themselves and a secret committee of authors. Despite accusations of literary snobbery, sales are strong and all seems well until several committee members are attacked and nearly killed. I loved the idea of this book – a paean to great literature and its power to alter our lives, and it’s fun to think about which novels I’d choose for such a bookstore. But the plot was confusing, the mystery unsatisfying and the ending rather abrupt. Lovely concept, so-so execution.

What are you reading lately?

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