Tag Archives: fiction

MAGPIE MURDERS by Anthony Horowitz (2016)

m murders

Mystery Fiction

“As far as I’m concerned, you can’t beat a good whodunnit: the twists and turns, the clues and the red herrings, and then, finally, the satisfaction of having everything explained to you in a way that makes you kick yourself because you hadn’t seen it from the start.” page 4

This is the quintessential quote about whodunnits and it expresses exactly how I feel.  They’re not just about reading; they’re a game, a puzzle, an experience. My adoration of whodunnits directed me to this novel because it promises, not one, but two whodunnits in a single book.  What could be better than that!  There has been a lot of buzz around this novel and it even made the list as one of Oprah’s favourites of the year.  That said, I typically don’t write about such “High profile” books, mostly because there are about a gazillion reviews out there already – do we really need another? No, but here I go.

I’ll start by saying that I’ve never read an ANTHONY HOROWITZ book in my life until now,  but I am still a big fan of his.  But, how can that be?  Well, this talented man has written and/or created some of my favourite tv shows of all time. He wrote many of the scripts for the first year of “Poirot”, “Midsomer Murders” and “Foyles War.”  I am a Canadian but I  subscribe to a special channel so I can receive these  programs.  And isn’t it nice to watch a show where every single character does not look like a Barbie or a Ken Doll – yeah I’m talking about you American tv.  When you read this book you will notice that these shows are mentioned often.  The title of the book (within the book) is MAGPIE MURDERS but the publisher complains that it sounds too much like MIDSOMER MURDERS.  The novel even contains guest stars (yeah guest stars just like tv)  with Agatha Christie’s grandson making an appearance in a couple of the chapters.

The novel begins with Susan Ryeland, the editor of a small but successful publishing house, getting cozy with the intention of reading the first transcript of a novel from her most successful writer.  Then we are introduced to the novel – Magpie Murders – and the reader is transported to an English Village circa 1955, and an eccentric detective named Atticus Pünd.  This is classic English village mystery literature.  Just as the detective is about to gather his suspects and announce the murderer – the novel ends because the last chapters are missing.  And…the  second mystery begins.

This is certainly an homage to Dame Christie and the other writers of the golden age of mysteries.  A modern whodunnit in the old style – you know – no tracking people with cell phones or catching the murderer on cctv.  All the clues are there so just get comfortable and enjoy the experience- it really is a fun book.

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz, 2016, HarperCollins Publishers, 236 pages

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CLOSED DOORS …by Lisa O’Donnell (2013)

closed doors

SCOTTISH ISLAND FICTION

Whoever gossips to you will also gossip about you… Spanish Proverb

A secret is a kind of promise…it can also be a prison…Jennifer Lee Carrell

Shame is a soul eating emotion…C.Jung

Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead…Benjamin Franklin

While you were judging others, you left your closet open and a bunch of skeletons fell out…Unknown

Guilt is one side of a nasty triangle; the other two are shame and stigma. This grim coalition combines to inculpate women themselves of the crimes committed against them…Germain Greer

Gossip, rumour, secrets and judgements are a part of life in this community on the Island of Rothesay in  Scotland during the 1980’s. Michael is a twelve-year-old boy who is just starting to understand the whispers and giggles when his Grandma and Ma  exchange information in the kitchen. He knows it’s about other people but he is also picking up on some of things that are said – even if he occasionally needs to check out some of the words in the dictionary.  His neighbour  dances in her living room  and he cannot help watching because, well gee, she does keep her curtains open. And girls seem to fascinate and disgust him in equal measure. His home is mostly happy until one night something happens, and suddenly everything is different. Why has everything changed at home? The behaviour of adults can be truly baffling in the best of times – and these are not the best of times. Gossip can be crippling, but silence can also have consequences.

This is a coming of age story but it is also much more; shame and fear of shame, action vs. inaction, and personal responsibility vs. group responsibility are also examined.

CLOSED DOORS is a fairly short novel but it left me with lots to think about.

CLOSED DOORS    Lisa O’Donnell  2014  HarperCollins  246

 

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THE ISLAND HOUSE …by Posie Graeme-Evans (2012)

SCOTTISH ISLAND FICTIONisland house

I adore Scottish Island fiction and I was fortunate to find this novel at my local library. This is a dual-timeline story where both narratives center around a Scottish Island called Findnar (a fictional island) In the modern tale, the reader is introduced to young grad student named Freya Dane, who has just inherited an Island from her recently-deceased archeologist father. Freya had been estranged from her father for many years but she is also an archeologist and she is curious to learn more about his research – and maybe more about him.

The narrative switches back and forth between Freya’s story and the story of Signy – a Pictish girl in 800A.D. The time period is significant because it was a time of conflict between the Vikings, the Picts, and the newly arrived Christian community.  Signy’s entire family is slaughtered in a Viking raid and she taken in by the Christian community survivors. She also falls in love with an injured Viking youth left behind by the raiders. This story-line is interesting and  I’m thinking that the appeal should be quite timely; especially since tv shows like “The Last Kingdom” and “Game of Thrones”  have popularized hairy, tattooed men with swords, and clubs, and berserker warriors. Fun stuff.

Signy’s story is really quite interesting but I have to admit that I found Freya’s story dull . And her romance – yawn.

THE ISLAND HOUSE   Atria Paperback   2012   448 pages

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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GIRL WAITS WITH GUN … by Amy Stewart (2015)

Historical Fiction Novel

GIRL WAITS

This novel begins in 1914 as three American sisters are heading into a nearby town, from their rural farm, to pick up a few provisions. Suddenly a motor car, driven by a young factory owner, slams into the ladies’ pony cart, causing extensive damages and narrowly avoiding serious physical harm or death. This is the only form of transportation for these three women so elder sister Constance has the  damages assessed and sends the bill to the factory owner. He ignores it. Constance decides to take the factory owner to court. At this point in the story the factory owner – a man by the name of Henry Kaufman – enlists his group of thugs to systematically harass, stalk, blackmail and endanger the three sisters. Not a nice guy.

One of the best aspects of this fiction novel is that it is based on the real life story of Constance Kopp – a woman who became America’s first female sheriff.  The factory owner is pretty easy to dislike; he sees himself as an entitled man with his inherited wealth,  and his treatment of all women and his employees is despicable.  Of course these events took place one hundred years ago so things would be different now (we wish –think of affluenza teen in the U.S.A.)

This is a great book to read for fans of strong female characters. Don’t suggest to these ladies that they may improve their life by finding a man to marry them. They will do whatever they can to stay together.  In their past we find that they would handle a problem “head-on” and find a solution, And yes they had problems (even secrets).

The ladies find assistance from the sheriff. He’s a good sort and not afraid to ruffle some feathers.

Throughout the story the woman have other difficulties as well, especially their dwindling cash reserves. They have recently realized that they can’t keep selling off packets of the farm or they will soon have nothing. Youngest sister Flaurette has some sewing talent but A paying job would sure help.

Perfect for fans of female fiction and historical fiction.

Possibly first of a series.

GIRL WAITS WITH GUN      HOUGHTON MIFFLIN HARCOURT PUBLISHING      2015       408 PAGES

 

 

 

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THE GILDED HOUR by Sara Donati (2015)

THE GILDED HOUR HISTORICAL FICTION

I first encountered the novels of author Sara Donati Years ago when I was looking for something to bide me over until Diana Gabaldon came out with her next OUTLANDER novel. I loved the outlander novels and someone suggested I might enjoy INTO THE WILDERNESS (1998), as it too was a sweeping historical romance-adventure (without the time travel)set in America in the 18th century. I loved it enough to quickly read all six books in the series – often collectively referred to as “The Wilderness Series”.

In 2015 Donati published a new book called THE GILDED HOUR which she promises will be the first in a new series. This novel opens in 1883 and many of the protagonists are descendants of characters from her “Wilderness” series – a clever way to appeal to a built-in fan base.

The reader is introduced to the upper-middle-class, New York City home of elderly Aunt Quinlan. This eighty-something lady lives in the home with her nieces, who are both physicians. Aunt Quinlan was once Lily Bonner; conceived in the first Wilderness book and born in the second. The author should have included a family tree because there are characters from three different branches of the Bonner family. Fortunately, the motivated reader can access a family tree at thegildedhour.com. There is a noticeable lack of male relatives since the civil war was so thorough in cutting through the male population twenty years earlier. Photographs sit on the mantle – a sad reminder of the sons and nephews lost to war. The household is unusual for its time since it is a multi-racial home; and racism is an issue that the family must contend with everyday.

The actual phrase “the gilded hour” is used on the very last page of this novel, but I think it must also be a nod to a term coined by Mark Twain when he referred to the years 1870-1900 as the “Gilded Age”. Gilded on the outside but beneath the surface those years were characterised by crushing poverty, disease, prejudice, hunger, and horrible sanitation… Yet, the Vanderbilts could spend one million dollars on a single party.

I have made many references to Donati’s Wilderness novels but I need to be clear that the reader does not need to be familiar with those books to appreciate this one. This is the first of a series so some of the threads are left unresolved but there is one plotline that I felt should have been resolved in this book – my own opinion – but it just felt wrong. That is probably my main complaint but I think this novel is perfect for fans of historical-romance-adventure-fiction.

 

THE GILDED HOUR    SARA DONATI   2015    BERKLEY     732 pages

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THE ICE TWINS by S. K. Tremayne

Scottish Island Fictionice twins

“It is a traumatized yet beautiful landscape” p. 70

The Scottish Island in this novel is the perfect choice for a creepy thriller like “The Ice Twins”. Allow me to do a checklist; remote–yes, isolated– very,  unpredictable weather–you bet, unreliable communication–no wifi or cell service on this island. If that’s not enough- well, the locals call this Island a “thin place”, somewhere between our world and the next.  And this particular Island has been uninhabited for two decades, so throw in a dilapidated old house with lots of drafts and a vermin problem and this is the setting for this chilling thriller.

The “just-barely-functioning” Moorcroft family have quit London and  decided to take up residence on this Island off the coast of Skye, after the father (Angus) inherited the land from his Grandmother.  They have had a bad couple of years (understatement). It has been just over a year since one of their identical twin daughters died in an accident and the surviving twin, Kirstey (or is it Lydia) has been experiencing behavioural problems. Angus was fired from his job and Sarah (mother) is overwhelmed with grief and guilt. There is also a problem involving the consumption of alcoholic beverages. Somehow, moving to this spooky island is going to help? Is there method to this madness?

The story is told by alternating the points of view between Angus and Sarah. Personally, I was surprised by some of the twists and turns. The author manages to use the eerie setting  to great advantage and some of the characters are soooo… creepy.

The author is a travel writer and this Island is based on an island he visited in his youth. There are photos that accompany the text and I can only assume that they are from this same island; Eilean Sionnach. I like the photos – they’re a nice touch.

THE ICE TWINS by S. k. Tremayne

Grand Central Publishing, 2015

 

 

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THE ISLAND HARP by Jeanne Williams…..(St. Martin’s Press, 1991)

Scottish Island Fictionisland harp

The year is 1844 and Mairi and her family live a simple but satisfying life on the Island of Lewis in the Hebrides. They raise sheep, weave their tweed fabrics, farm, fish, and send their young men to fight in the English Queen’s army; all this to ensure their rents are paid to the factor and that they may remain on the land. But sheep are a more profitable use of the land than humans so they are deceived and men are sent to turn-out the villagers and burn their homes and processions. Mairi’s beloved grandfather is killed during this attack, although his prized harp is rescued.  The villagers are still dazed by what has happened when an Englishman, who has been renting a nearby estate, stumbles upon them and offers some temporary shelter. It is during this time of “the clearances” that many islanders will immigrate to North America or Australia but Mairi is determined to remain on the land of her ancestors.

Now allow me this awkward digression while I reminisce about a 60’s American tv show called “Green Acres” and trust me that I will eventually make a point about this. This is a very basic outline——-In this comedy sitcom, a successful Park Avenue lawyer leaves city life behind and purchases a farm (a fixer-upper in the extreme) and moves there with his socialite wife. On many occasions throughout the show, people ask this fellow (Mr. Douglas) why he chose to become a farmer. And he answers them. He usually delves into a speech about the farmers being the backbone of the country …. and ancestors turning to the earth……planting small seeds in the ground and watching plants shoot  into the air…..growing food and breathing fresh air…..and blah blah blah. During these speeches, the audience can hear a fife in the background playing a patriotic tune—usually Yankee Doodle or something.  Now here is where I make my connection, you see Mairi liked to give these impassioned speeches about her ancestors living on this land…the land and the music are a part of her….in her veins and body….and the unfairness of the English taking their land…and so on, and so on.  At this point I probably should have heard bag pipes or something in my head, but noooo—I had Pocahontas singing away. Weird right!  You think you own whatever land you land on, The earth is just a dead thing you can claim, But I know every rock and tree and creature, Has a life, has a spirit, has a name.  You think the only people who are people, are the people who look and think like you…..”Colors of the Wind”
 Mairi gives alot of speeches and the reader is privy to her thoughts. Yeah so I spent a great deal of this book with Pocahonas singing in my head. It was like “don’t think of pink elephants” if you catch my meaning. I must say that “Colors of the Wind” is appropriate.

The Islanders have to deal with nonhuman problems as well –the potato famine, harsh weather, and angry seas. There is more to Mairi’s story but I don’t want to get into spoiler territory. I read some reviews before I read this book and some people found Mairi a little too headstrong but I liked her and I liked the book. Oh and there is a love story as well.

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February 6, 2015 · 12:39 am

THE SEA HOUSE…….by Elisabeth Gifford (St. Martin’s Press, 2013)

Capturesea houseScottish Island Fiction;

(Originally published as SECRETS OF THE SEA HOUSE)

I am enthralled with Scottish Island Fiction, and consequently, I am always trying to scope out a new book to feed my reading obsession. I’ve found one! THE SEA HOUSE is a dual narrative novel; a writing style that appears to be very popular of late.  I think of the authors Kate Morton, Lauren Wellig, Erin Hart, Susanna Kearsley, Diane Setterfield, Titiana de Rosnay and Ciji Ware (to name but a few) and their novels that feature the past and present intertwined. In “The Sea House” it is a house on the Isle of Harris that provides the link between the two narratives, and naturally it is a house by the sea.

The modern story begins in 1991, as a young married couple are attempting to renovate a dilapidated old house, with the hope they can run it as a Bed and Breakfast. As they lift the rotting floor boards in “the sea room” they make a gruesome discovery—the skeleton of a human baby with peculiar “fused leg bones”.  The police take the remains away but they can offer little information on this infant or why she was buried in such a manner. The wife, Ruth,  soon finds that she is beyond  curious about the baby and her research uncovers “a Reverend Alexander Ferguson” would have resided in the house during the approximate time-frame of the child’s death.

In 1860, Reverend Alexander Ferguson, is living in the sea house (it is the manse at the time); he tends to his parishioners but he also has a keen interest in Darwin’s work and an educational background in Scientific studies. Conflicting interests?–not for him, he has an answer for that. It is during this  time period  that the cruel Island clearances are taking place. Lord Marston is a despicable character whose greed and selfishness know no bounds as he ships the Island inhabitants off to other countries in filthy ships where death is a constant reality— all because sheep are a more profitable use of land than people.

This novel is heavily populated with the folklore stories of selkies,  mermen and mermaids (and some pretty darn interesting suppositions.)

On a personal note–I found myself caring about the 1860 characters (flaws and all) more than the modern Characters (and their flaws). By the end of the novel I thought I should have had more understanding for Ruth (maybe I did), but I just didn’t warm up to her. But I didn’t dislike her either–I was just sort of ambivalent.

This novel is delightful, insightful, interesting and enjoyable.

A great example of Scottish Island Fiction.

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Amateur Sleuths …… some thoughts

 

mama

I recently read and reviewed a mystery novel I enjoyed called “Murder at the Brightwell”,(Ashley Weaver,Minotaur 2014) featuring a spirited socialite named Amory Ames. It was set primarily in an upscale  seaside resort hotel in 1930’s England and the dialogue was cracking …sort of Nick and Nora Charles–witty. The reason I am writing this post is because I am actually quite confused with a review I read in Publishers Weekly–“….the affable Amory could carry a series, though plausibly involving her in future murder cases will require some imagination.” Wait–huh? Somebody should have spoken to Madame Christie before she wrote twelve novels featuring a elderly spinster with a hankering for solving murders…and knitting. This has sent me pondering on the nature of the amateur sleuth ( not including the P.I. or police consultant ) The book stores are full of them; bakers, knitters, cake makers, Jane Eyre, librarians, cat lovers, cats, basket weavers (okay, not really sure about that one) decorators,dog lovers, dogs , etc.—all solving murders!  I am not saying I am a fan of all these books but I am saying that the idea of any amateur sleuth is probably a stretch. I sincerely hope I never come across a single murder in my life,  to say nothing of double digits. I am thinking now of Alan Bradley’s brilliant series featuring eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce; a child who has solved at least six murders (did I mention she’s eleven-years-old). Bradley writes so well she is almost  believable.

So what is my point?  How about this….Amateur sleuth series…you like them or you don’t, they’re good or they’re not, but plausible, credible, believable—-probably not most of the time.

And don’t have dinner with Jessica Fletcher.

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PERSONALITY ……..by Andrew O’Hagan (Harcourt, 2003)

personality

 

 

Scottish Island Fiction

Personality :

1. The set of emotional qualities, ways of behaving etc., that makes a person different from other people

2. A person of importance, prominence, renown, or notoriety, “a television Personality”

(from Merriam Webster online dictionary)

 

This is a fictional account of the rise and eventual fall of a child singing sensation in the 1970’s.The title of the book “personality” is both meaningful and appropriate. As this young girl becomes more of a “show biz personality” her own individual personality becomes absorbed by the expectations of the people around her. She is  surrounded by managers, talent scouts,  family, obsessive fans, and entertainers who all want to have a piece of her. She suffers clinical depression and anorexia nervosa (a condition that was still misunderstood in the 1970’s) and requires repeated hospitalizations.

At the center of this story is 13-year-old Maria Tambini—-“the little girl with the big voice”—- who, as this story opens, is already well-known, in her hometown, as a great talent. She is a 13-year-old Scottish/Italian girl who has spent her entire life in Rothesay, on the Isle of Bute in Scotland. Maria’s mother has ambitions for her only child  and when a talent scout arranges for her to appear on “Opportunity Knocks with Hughie Green” her family and the entire Island are overjoyed for “their girl”   (“Opportunity Knocks” was a real British tv show fronted by an oily character, Hughie Green — sound familiar Simon Cowell X Factor) The British public were crazy for her. Her story is told from the different perspectives of the people surrounding her; family, managers, friends, Hughie Green, and even her stalker fan. In one chapter we see the revealing letters written between Maria and her childhood best friend, Kalpana.  Kalpana’s letters talk of school, boys and other preteen girl stuff ( and she complains that Maria almost never writes back), but Maria doesn’t write about much more than her make-up routine.

Her own reputation overwhelms and undermines her. At 13, she is beginning to develop a woman’s body but she is under pressure to be THE LITTLE GIRL with the big voice.  She is way out of her depth—this is a girl who had never seen a traffic light until she was thirteen.

I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that this fiction novel has to be based on the real-life story of Lena Zavaroni. Lena was a Scottish girl of Italian heritage raised in Rothesay on the Isle of Bute who became a singing sensation in the 1970’s. She was known as “the little girl with the big voice”.  I am Canadian and I have to admit that I was not very familiar with her story until I researched it a little after reading this book. My understanding is that she was huge in Britain. I went on you-tube where I was able to catch some of her performances and wow—she could really belt out a tune. (Think Judy Garland, Ethel Merman and Barbra Streisand) On you-tube I saw a performance where she appeared on “THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JOHNNY CARSON” and I swear I saw that episode forty years ago. I would have been about fifteen and I sometimes stayed up late to watch Johnny—but there was something familiar–like it was there in the back closet of my mind. (Of course sometimes I can’t remember yesterday so maybe I am dreaming this) Lena’s story has a sad ending. When she was thirty- five she begged doctors to perform brain surgery to alleviate the symptoms of her depression. She died of pneumonia a few weeks later. She was said to be seventy pounds at the time of her death. There was an inquest

This is beginning to be a familiar story “child star unable to cope with life as an adult”  This novel provides possible insight.

 

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