So I'm doing some catch-up reading for the Mystery & Suspense Reading Challenge. I started the year off good and then immediately got behind. C'es...moreSo I'm doing some catch-up reading for the Mystery & Suspense Reading Challenge. I started the year off good and then immediately got behind. C'est la vie. My second read is The Alehouse Murders by Maureen Ash, part of the Templar Knight mystery series. As you may have already guessed, it's a medieval murder mystery set in Lincoln, England, in the year 1200. I chose it mostly for the setting. As you may know, I love medieval mysteries and I especially like anything from that particular time period. It's the age of Robin Hood, and my favorite era.
My overall impression of this story was that it's rather - quiet. The story is subdued and the sleuth, Bascot de Marins, is almost in the background compared to the other characters, particularly the suspects. That might sound like a bad thing but it's really not. It's actually fitting when you think about it. What should a sleuth do but listen and watch, staying a little apart from everyone to see what's really going on. I think this contrast actually makes Bascot stand out a little more. Plus, he's a likable character with a scarred history and personal turmoil over his past choices and future decisions. He's compassionate and you can tell without a lot of smoke and flash that there is more to him than meets the eye. (That was actually an unintentional pun - he lost one eye in the Crusades.) And I really enjoyed the relationship between Bascot and his young, mute charge, Gianni. Gianni, despite not saying a word, is also a lovable character from his behavior alone.
As to the actual murder mystery, I had no clue whodunnit until the tale end. I did guess before the reveal, but it could have worked out differently. I have to say I was not into the story that much until the middle when an exciting twist is revealed. At the start, I had no idea how it would all connect and it took me until about the half-way point to really care that much. Thereafter, Ash had my attention, and she kept it going with the palpable tension among the suspects. There is very little action apart from the actual crimes, but you don't miss it. There's so much tension between the characters from the start, and even between races with the included historical import of the Jewish community in England at the time.
With all historical-based novels, setting detail is important to inform the reader and ground you in that world and Ash does a stupendous job of doing just that. It's easy to imagine the land, castle, and town. I know different readers may prefer varying amounts of historical detail, but I eat up specifics, especially for this time period. Along that line is a subplot that's entirely unrelated to the murder. Bascot orders custom boots to relieve pain in his foot from an old injury. It's a small thing, but the details and the personal nature of that side story has stuck in my mind. And Ash does tie it in to the murder mystery via information from the shop owner's son.
All-in-all this is a murder mystery grounded in details and subtleties. It's a quieter read with a lot of personal touches that draw you to Bascot and his companion. But the tension and unexpected twists really make this a mystery worth reading. (less)
Book #3 for the Mystery & Suspense Reading Challenge is Ian Rankin's Doors Open. Until now, I only knew the author by name. I'm pushing out of my...moreBook #3 for the Mystery & Suspense Reading Challenge is Ian Rankin's Doors Open. Until now, I only knew the author by name. I'm pushing out of my comfort zone for this challenge and pulling out titles I might pass over normally. Happily, I wasn't disappointed this time around.
Like wtih The Alehouse Murders by Maureen Ash, Doors Open is a little slow at times with a quieter main character. But plenty happens, and almost worse is the anticipation throughout the entire story that bad things are coming. A relatively normal group of guys have tied up their fates with an Edinburgh gangster and you can bet things are going to go very, very wrong.
What I didn't bet on was liking the characters, especially the the main character, Mike Mackenzie. I don't know why but I went into this novel with the notion that I would hate the characters. I have no explanation for that but there we are. Thankfully, I was wrong. Mike is not what you'd expect for a rich bachelor in this type of novel. He's introverted, intelligent, and bored. I love the fact that boredom with a dose of off-beat sentiment drives him to participate - and ultimately take the lead - in a major art theft.
The whole concept of Doors Open is comfortable but tinkered with. Aspects of the story are a little cheesy and predictable but I really didn't mind. I stayed up late every night to read, and all I could think about the next day was getting back to reading. I finally finished it in the AM hours and just had to sit there for a while to digest. While I always need time between novels, I enjoyed just sitting back and thinking over this one. Part of it is the writer analyzing, and part of it is the reader absorbing.
Did I mention that the story is set in Edinburgh? I've never been to Edinburgh but I want to go now. Rankin makes you feel at home there even if you're all the way on the other side of the Atlantic. That's one thing I love about reading: discovering new places and cultures. This is a good example of a writer using a place he knows (and very, very well) and introducing it to a reader like me. (I'm now more interested in anything set in Scotland.) It's writing like this that has inspired me to make better use of my home state of Massachusetts and other areas I know well.
All in all, Doors Open is an entertaining book and I will definitely be reading more of Ian Rankin's works in the future. (less)
If you want a book that keeps your attention, this is it. I read this book over a weekend and could hardly stand to put it down long enough to eat.
Lu...moreIf you want a book that keeps your attention, this is it. I read this book over a weekend and could hardly stand to put it down long enough to eat.
Lucy is an English orphan in China around the turn of the 20th century. She winds up in jail for stealing and meets Nick Sabine, an Englishman condemned to death. After learning about her situation, he marries her in the prison and gets her out, sparing her a brutal punishment. She is then helped out of the country and sent to England, a foreign land to her. Blundering her way through unfamiliar customs, dealing with the family she's been stuck with, and courting a man whose own parents don't seem to trust him, all leads Lucy to unlock a mystery no one else has been able to solve.
This is my absolute favorite Madeleine Brent book. The characters stay with you, the story line is still exciting despite knowing the end, and even the jacket description is awesome. It's the perfect weekend read. (less)
Lost in Austen by Emma Campbell Webster is a fantastic interactive adventure, mashing up all of Austen's books. You play as Elizabeth Bennett and have...moreLost in Austen by Emma Campbell Webster is a fantastic interactive adventure, mashing up all of Austen's books. You play as Elizabeth Bennett and have to make choices at different story crossroads. Should you go ahead and marry Mr. Collins? Will you accept Darcy's invitation to dance? Your decisions affect you and your family's futures. While following the basic Pride & Prejudice story line, you also run into familiar faces from Mansfield Park, Emma, and even Becoming Jane. The format is fun and addictive, and the author's style has a playful, sometimes acidic sense of humor. Extra quizzes about the life and times of Regency era inhabitants can either give you points or subtract from them. You don't necessarily have to keep score but it's more fun that way. And I would suggest playing some of it with your friends for a good laugh. (less)
If you swoon whenever Mr. Darcy appears or melt when Darcy and Elizabeth finally get together, then I think you will love North & South by Elizabe...moreIf you swoon whenever Mr. Darcy appears or melt when Darcy and Elizabeth finally get together, then I think you will love North & South by Elizabeth Gaskell. A contemporary of Dickens (he was a big fan of her work), Gaskell does not get the attention that other authors of her time do, though she certainly deserves it. North & South, one of her best novels, is a romance complicated by politics, attitudes, and misunderstandings.
Margaret Hale has been forced to move to a fictitious mill town in northern England under unpleasant circumstances with her family. She's resentful and harbors prejudice against northern ways. She's been raised as a lady, living a good portion of her life in London, and starts out as a bit of an uppity-up. John Thornton owns one of the mills and is a rough, working class kind of guy. The two collide amidst a backdrop of restless mill workers ready to strike and hard family times.
Margaret and John follow similar character paths as Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy, and are rather similar in some ways. One of my favorite aspects of the story, however, is that Gaskell tells the story from both Margaret's and John's perspectives so you know exactly how both of them feel.
If you've been looking for more books like Pride & Prejudice, go get a copy of North & South today.
It's amazing what can happen when you meet a stranger on the road. One brief encounter eventually leads English-bred Casey on a journey from Jamaica t...moreIt's amazing what can happen when you meet a stranger on the road. One brief encounter eventually leads English-bred Casey on a journey from Jamaica to turn-of-the-20th century England. Her world is flipped upside down, unraveling some mysteries but creating others. Action, danger, and romance haunt Casey throughout this novel filled with well-developed and multi-dimensional characters. Once you start reading, you won't be able to quit until you know how it all turns out.(less)
When Katy helps to save a stranger's life in her coastal village in England, she unwittingly entangles herself in a family that may either threaten he...moreWhen Katy helps to save a stranger's life in her coastal village in England, she unwittingly entangles herself in a family that may either threaten her life, or save it. Filled with intrigue, danger, and tension every step of the way, Madeleine Brent keeps you guessing where the story (and the heroine) will end up. It's a short, entertaining novel with memorable main characters and key scenes.(less)
This is the first in the series and the dinners take center-stage. Everything I've tried from this book is delicious: the sausage pizza, the sesame no...moreThis is the first in the series and the dinners take center-stage. Everything I've tried from this book is delicious: the sausage pizza, the sesame noodles, the carbonara, the buffalo chicken salad. All fabulous. It's amazing how a few changes to the ingredients saves the taste but slashes calories. Genius!(less)
Fabulous recipes of familiar foods that have just been scaled back calorie-wise. The desserts are my favorite part of this book. I've made the fudgy b...moreFabulous recipes of familiar foods that have just been scaled back calorie-wise. The desserts are my favorite part of this book. I've made the fudgy brownies several times, and the chocolate molten cakes are incredible.(less)
One of my favorite prompt books. Heffron offers a little coaching but this book is all about the writing. I've found it very helpful in tapping into m...moreOne of my favorite prompt books. Heffron offers a little coaching but this book is all about the writing. I've found it very helpful in tapping into my own life, past and present, for traits and emotions I can project onto my characters. It makes you dig, even into things that hurt, and as a result my characters and stories now go deeper. It's excellent for getting a handle on raw emotions but also for jump starting ideas. (less)
War, murder, family secrets, and legend come together in this late 19th century novel. This is one of the books that started the genre as we know it t...moreWar, murder, family secrets, and legend come together in this late 19th century novel. This is one of the books that started the genre as we know it today. Formatted as a series of letters, a few different characters present their take on the story. You might think this would be confusing but Collins is a master and you never miss a beat. Don't let the size of the book scare you off. You'll fly through it. (less)
Another book that makes you dig deeper. I found the exercises refreshing compared to other similar guides. They require more time and thought but I've...moreAnother book that makes you dig deeper. I found the exercises refreshing compared to other similar guides. They require more time and thought but I've had many successful sessions using this book. The advice and suggestions has helped me improve in specific areas like dialogue. Plus, I love all the examples from famous authors. They really show how to use the information in the book.(less)
A favorite book in my library. I've used this several times to "explode" my initial ideas or works-in-progress. Aside from getting you excited to writ...moreA favorite book in my library. I've used this several times to "explode" my initial ideas or works-in-progress. Aside from getting you excited to write, it has all kinds of prompts and exercises to explore, develop, and revive whatever you're working on. When I feel a piece going stale, I pull this off my shelf. (less)
A more advanced play-by-play of the short story. Equipped with exercises that make you think and then write outside of your comfort zone. There are no...moreA more advanced play-by-play of the short story. Equipped with exercises that make you think and then write outside of your comfort zone. There are not too many books dedicated to short story writing so this is a gem.(less)