Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Intruder in the Dark, by George Bellairs

Inspector Littlejohn #43
First published 1966
Kindle edition, Ipso Books, 2016; 224 pages

Description (from
In the strange, nearly-deserted village of Plumpton Bois, Mr Cyril Savage inherits the home of his wealthy and estranged Aunt. But before Savage has the chance to discover her fortune, he is struck dead in the cellar of this once grand country house. 
The police are baffled and, unable to unearth a motive – let alone a killer, call for the assistance of Scotland Yard. Superintendent Littlejohn and Inspector Cromwell arrive in Plumpton Bois and find the village, the family, and the house itself full of secrets. 
The door to a locked room has been bashed open, Savage’s aunt is not nearly as rich as she seemed to be, and now another body has turned up on Littlejohn’s watch…

The Inspector Littlejohn mysteries are a new discovery for me. Not sure how I managed to miss out on such a long-running series (57 books between 1941 and 1980!), but I'm very happy that I've found them.

Overall, I enjoyed this entry in the group. A little more "procedural" than I might have liked -- I think I would have been happier with a little less talking about the case, and a little more action. But apart from that quibble, I thought it was very well written and found Superintendent Littlejohn a very intriguing character. I can definitely see myself continuing with this series in the future.

Rating: ★★★

Cloak and Dagger Reading Challenge


A Murder is Announced, by Agatha Christie

Miss Marple #5
First published 1950
Pocket Books paperback, 1990; 275 pages

Description (from the website):
A Murder is Announced is a staple of crime fiction and is often considered the best of all the Miss Marple novels. The villagers of Chipping Cleghorn, including Jane Marple, are agog with curiosity over an advertisement in the local gazette which reads: ‘A murder is announced and will take place on Friday October 29th, at Little Paddocks at 6.30 p.m.’ A childish practical joke? Or a hoax intended to scare poor Letitia Blacklock? Unable to resist the mysterious invitation, a crowd begins to gather at Little Paddocks at the appointed time when, without warning, the lights go out….
... and, of course, murder happens. And would you believe it -- Miss Jane Marple just happens to be staying at the local hotel where the victim worked. And Inspector Craddock, who's investigating the goings-on, just happens to be the godson of Sir Henry Clithering, the ex-commissioner of Scotland Yard who is a confirmed fan of Miss Marple. Sir Henry strongly encourages Craddock to avail himself of the old bag's the talented spinster's sleuthing abilities. And the game's afoot.

I haven't read all the Miss Marple books, but I do think this is my favorite of the ones I've read so far. It has all the classic Christie touches -- village setting, lots of quirky, intriguing characters, hidden identities, several red herrings, and a lovely chatty summing up by la Marple in the final chapter. What more could you want?

In addition, this entry in the series has a strong emphasis on the post-WWII society emerging at the time. Several characters comment on the fact that the world is changing, with "new people" and new ideas making life less secure and predictable than it was before the war. In fact, that new unpredictability is a major part of the book's story line. Just how well do any of the villagers really know their neighbors? Or their close friends? Or even members of their own families? Well, since this is Agatha Christie, we know we're in for some big surprises and unexpected twists. That's why she's the best-selling novelist of all time.

Rating: ★★★★

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Family Tree Reading Challenge


Vintage Murder, by Ngaio Marsh

Inspector Roderick Alleyn #5
First published 1937
Jove paperback, 1978; 272 pages

In Vintage Murder Chief Inspector Alleyn is vacationing in New Zealand (Ngaio Marsh’s homeland), and finds himself traveling with a group of English actors touring the country with their latest play. Alleyn thinks their company intriguing and slightly amusing, until one of the group is rather gruesomely murdered. Naturally, the New Zealand authorities are delighted to find the famous policeman in their midst and all but beg him to aid them in their investigations. At first, he's reluctant to join in, but of course cannot keep his nose out for long.

Not my favorite of the Roderick Alleyn mysteries. Lots of long discussions about how the murder was committed and the various relationships among the actors in the company. Not a great deal of action. And I missed the presence of stalwart Sergeant Fox and Alleyn's artist friend Agatha Troy. But it was nicely plotted and did keep me guessing the identity of the murderer right up to the final few chapters. So definitely worth a read -- any Inspector Alleyn is better than no Inspector Alleyn, after all.

Rating: ★★★

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If Morning Ever Comes, by Anne Tyler

First published 1964
210 pages (e-book)

Publisher's description:
Ben Joe Hawkes is a worrier. Raised by his mother, grandmother, and a flock of busy sisters, he's always felt the outsider. When he learns that one of his sisters has left her husband, he heads for home and back into the confusion of childhood memories and unforeseen love.

Ben Joe Hawkes is 25 years old and a student at Columbia Law School when he begins to feel his North Carolina roots calling him home. It's an odd combination of homesickness, impatience with the icy New York winter, and just general restlessness -- but it's an irresistible urge and he soon finds himself back in the midst of the family and townsfolk he hasn't seen for a number of years.

Ben Joe was raised in a house full of women (mother Ellen, Gram, six sisters), and they're all still there. Even his older sister Joanne who had moved away, married and had a daughter of her own, has left her husband and returned (with her child) to her old room in the family home. Will she stay, or come to her senses (as Ben Joe sees it) and return to her marriage and husband Gary? And the situation is further complicated by the fact that Ben Joe's first sweetheart (a girl he hasn't seen in years) has moved back to town after the death of her parents and younger sister in a car accident. Will seeing her again affect Ben Joe's decisions about his future? Oh, and we also have all those revelations about the marital break-up of Ben Joe's parents and the "other woman" in their story.

Complicated, yes. But Anne Tyler puts everything together perfectly. There's even a bit of a surprise ending. Well, maybe "surprise" isn't the right word -- but certainly something I didn't really see coming. Hard to believe this was her debut novel, back in 1964 when she was just 22 years old -- it's such a skillful and mature piece of writing. True, there are distinct hints of Eudora Welty in places (and Tyler has admitted Welty was an early influence), but overall the voice is unique and assured. I've read a few of Tyler's later books, and liked some more than others; but this is definitely one of my favorites.

Rating: ★★★★

Monthly Key Word Reading Challenge (JANUARY word: "if")

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Catching Up With: The USA Fiction Challenge

Back in 2014, I signed up for the USA Fiction Challenge, and set out to read at least one book set in each of the fifty states (plus Washington DC). Hosted by Kerrie of Mysteries in Paradise, it was intended to be an ongoing challenge with no official ending date. That was perfect for me, of course, since I'm one of the world's slowest readers. But after the first year or so I stopped keeping track of my progress on the challenge, and it mostly slipped my mind.

Until this month, that is. A few days ago, I did a little checking and found out that the challenge still seems to be active! (Thank you so much, Kerrie!) So I'm making it one of my priorities this year -- maybe not completing the challenge (I'm nowhere near the finish line), but at least making a bit of progress.


Here's my list of states and books I've read, with links to any reviews I've done. As you can see, I still have a long way to go. But it's a fun challenge and it's introduced me to quite a few new authors.
  2. ALASKA 
  3. ARIZONA: Fear the Darkness (Brigid Quinn #2). Becky Masterman (read in 2015)
  5. CALIFORNIA: The Lady in the Lake. Raymond Chandler (read in 2014) / The Case of the Velvet Claws (Perry Mason #1), Erle Stanley Gardner (read in 2015)
  10. FLORIDA 
  11. GEORGIA 
  12. HAWAII 
  13. IDAHO: Pines (Wayward Pines Series #1). Blake Crouch (read in 2015)
  14. ILLINOIS: Anything Is Possible. Elizabeth Strout (read in 2017)
  15. INDIANA 
  16. IOWA 
  17. KANSAS: The Roanoke Girls. Amy Engel (read in 2017)
  20. MAINE
  21. MARYLAND: Vinegar Girl. Anne Tyler (set in Baltimore; read in 2016)
  22. MASSACHUSETTS: Island Girls. Nancy Thayer (read in 2014) / The Last September, Nina de Gramont (read in 2016)
  26. MISSOURI: The Weight of Blood. Laura McHugh (read in 2014) 
  27. MONTANA: As Good As Gone. Larry Watson (read in 2017)
  29. NEVADA: The Days of Anna Madrigal (Tales of the City #9). Armistead Maupin (read in 2014)
  31. NEW JERSEY: Jack of Spades. Joyce Carol Oates (read in 2015)
  33. NEW YORK: The Transcriptionist. Amy Rowland (read in 2014) / Peter Pan Must Die. John Verdon (read in 2014) / I Am No One. Patrick Flanery (read in 2016)
  34. NORTH CAROLINA: Lovely In Her Bones. Sharyn McCrumb (read in 2016)
  36. OHIO 
  38. OREGON: Ramona Quimby, Age 8. Beverly Cleary (read in 2015)
  39. PENNSYLVANIA: The Quilter's Apprentice. Jennifer Chiaverini (read in 2014)
  40. RHODE ISLAND: The Forgotten Room. Lincoln Child (read in 2015) / Newport, Jill Morrow (read in 2015)
  43. TENNESSEE: Devil Sent the Rain (Detective Billy Able #3). Lisa Turner (read in 2017)
  44. TEXAS
  45. UTAH 
  46. VERMONT: The Night Sister. Jennifer McMahon (read in 2015)
  47. VIRGINIA: The Litter of the Law (A Mrs. Murphy Mystery). Rita Mae Brown (read in 2014)
  49. WEST VIRGINIA: Missing May. Cynthia Rylant (read in 2014) 
  50. WISCONSIN: What We Keep. Elizabeth Berg (read in 2015)
I have a list of possible books from each state, over on my challenge blog (see it HERE), but I'm always looking for new suggestions if anyone has any ideas.

I've read at least one book for each of the red states (21 of 51).

Sunday, January 28, 2018

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Well, last week I didn't finish any books, so I'm still reading the two books I mentioned in last Monday's update...

The Chalk Man, by C.J. Tudor


The Road to Lichfield, by Penelope Lively

... both of which I'm enjoying a lot and fully intend to finish (and review!) this week.

And after those are finished up, I might start on my February choice for the Monthly Key Word Reading Challenge. I have a list of possibilities over on my challenge blog (see the list), but I'm thinking it'll most likely be either...


The Ponder Heart, by Eudora Welty

Oh, and I want to apologize for not visiting many blogs last week. More of that real life stuff interfering with my reading/blogging life -- you know how that is, right? I'll try to do better this week. Really.

Enough. Back to the books. Happy reading, everyone!

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is now hosted by Kathryn at Book Date. If you want to let the world know what you're going to be reading this week, head on over to her blog and leave your link. It's also a great way to discover new books and new blogs.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Well, here we are, entering Week 4 of 2018. Already. This year seems to be speeding along just like 2017 did, no matter how much I try to slow things down.

So far I've actually managed to finish four books this year, three fiction...

A Murder Is Announced, by Agatha Christie

Intruder in the Dark, by George Bellairs

Vintage Murder, by Ngaio Marsh

... and one nonfiction. (One of my goals for this year's reading is to knock a few more nonfiction reads off my lists.)

Balthus: Cats and Girls, by Sabine Rewald

Two of those (the Christie and the Bellairs) are books I started last year, but put aside -- so I'm counting them for 2018.

This week, I'll be reading one of the ARCs I have left over from last year...

The Chalk Man, by C.J. Tudor

... and working on my January book for the Monthly Key Word Reading Challenge:

The Road to Lichfield, by Penelope Lively

Hope to get reviews of some of those up on the blog, later this week. Another of my bookish goals for this year is to be a little more organized about reviewing what I read. I only posted a dozen or so reports on my reading last year, and I regret that. If I don't write at least a few words about a book, I'm likely to forget what I thought about it. (Getting old is such an adventure!)

So now I'm off to visit some blogs. Happy reading, everyone!

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is now hosted by Kathryn at Book Date. If you want to let the world know what you're going to be reading this week, head on over to her blog and leave your link. It's also a great way to discover new books and new blogs.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

There Be Madness Here! One More Sign-up

Host: Bev @ My Reader's Block
Dates: Throughout 2018 (sign-ups open until November 1, 2018)
Challenge Goal: Each month during 2018, read at least one book with a title that includes one or more of that month's key words (see the sign-up page for the monthly word lists).

There are soooo many reasons why I should NOT be looking around for more reading challenges to sign up for in 2018 – the main one being that I promised myself I wouldn't overdo it again this year. I've already got myself involved in ten other challenges, and I figured that was more than enough to keep me busy.

But it's really hard to pass up the Monthly Key Word Challenge. All those lovely lists of words to match up with books! I tried it last year and did pretty well for the first four or five months. Then the host blog (My Soul Called Life) disappeared, but even if it hadn't gone away I don't think I would have been able to finish the challenge. Too much real-life stuff going on. And I'm really not sure I'm likely to do any better this year, but I do love the idea of using Bev's word lists to guide some of my reading choices each month. And I'm hoping it will help me knock a few books off my ridiculously enormous TBR lists.

The plan is (in theory, at least), to make a list of possible reads for each month and then somehow choose at least one, as randomly as possible. (Is "randomly" a word?). For January, the key words were: white, ice, year, baby, hat, dance, top, road, if. And after spending quite a while combing through my physical library and my want-to-read list at GoodReads, I came up with a batch of possibilities for the month. It was surprisingly short:
  • Death in a White Tie (Roderick Alleyn #7), by Ngaio Marsh
  • The Road to Lichfield, by Penelope Lively
  • Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, by Henry Farrell
  • The Year of Magical Thinking, by Joan Didion

I thought about using a randomizer to choose my book, but with just four titles, that seemed a little like overkill. So I wrote each title on a slip of paper, put all the slips in a teacup, and pulled one out. And the winner was... The Road to Lichfield – which was actually the one I was intending to read anyway. Must be fate.

OK, now I should get reading. During the year, I'll be tracking my progress over on my challenge blog.

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

2018 Picture Book Reading Challenge

Host: Becky @ Becky's Book Reviews
Dates: January - December 2018

I shouldn't try to kid myself. I know I'm gonna be reading picture books this year -- so why not make it official? I did pretty good on Becky's 2017 Picture Book Challenge, and certainly enjoyed reading all the books. For 2018, I think I'm going to go with the checklist option (see below), and just try to read as many books as possible. During the year, I'll be tracking my progress over on my challenge blog (HERE), but I'll also try to remember to update the list on this post.

_1. Title beginning with A
_2. Author beginning with A
_3. Title beginning with B
_4. Author beginning with B
_5. Title beginning with C
_6. Author beginning with C
_7. Title beginning with D
_8. Author beginning with D
_9. Title beginning with E
_10. Author beginning with E
_11. Title beginning with F
_12. Author beginning with F
_13. Title beginning with G
_14. Author beginning with G
_15. Title beginning with H
_16. Author beginning with H
_17. Title beginning with I
_18. Author beginning with I
_19. Title beginning with J
_20. Author beginning with J
_21. Title beginning with K
_22. Author beginning with K
_23. Title beginning with L
_24. Author beginning with L
_25. Title beginning with M
_26. Author beginning with M
_27. Title beginning with N
_28. Author beginning with N
_29. Title beginning with O
_30. Author beginning with O
_31. Title beginning with P
_32. Author beginning with P
_33. Title or Author beginning with Q
_34. Title beginning with R
_35. Author beginning with R
_36. Title beginning with S
_37. Author beginning with S
_38. Title beginning with T
_39. Author beginning with T
_40. Title or Author beginning with U
_41. Title or Author beginning with V or W
_42. Title or Author beginning with X or “Ex”
_43. Title beginning with Y
_44. Author beginning with Y
_45. Title or Author beginning with Z
_46. An alphabet book
_47. A counting book
_48. A color word in the title
_49. A number word in the title
_50. Concept book of your choice— picture book
_51. Concept book of your choice — board book
_52. bedtime book —board book
_53. bedtime book — picture book
_54. book that rhymes —picture book
_55. book that rhymes — early reader OR board book
_56. holiday of your choice — board book or early reader
_57. holiday of your choice — picture book
_58. wordless picture book
_59. new to you author
_60. new to you illustrator
_61. favorite author
_62. favorite illustrator
_63. free choice
_64. fairy or folk tale adaptation
_65. fairy or folk tale traditional
_66. a title with the word “first” in it
_67. a book set in the state you live
_68. a book set in a place you’d like to visit
_69. a book set in an imaginary place
_70. a book set in the past — fiction or nonfiction
_71. a book set in the present
_72. picture book for older readers — fiction
_73. picture book for older readers — nonfiction
_74. early reader — fiction
_75. early reader — nonfiction
_76. picture book with photographs
_77. one word title
_78. long title (four or more words)
_79. oversized book
_80. tiny book
_81. a book about playing (hide and seek, tag, or peekaboo, etc.)
_82. a book about school
_83. a book about hobbies (art, dance, music, crafts, sports)
_84. a title that is a question
_85. a title that is an exclamation
_86. an award winner or an honor book
_87. a collection (of poems OR stories)
_88. a book with animals (fiction)
_89. a book with animals (nonfiction)
_90. a book about books or reading
_91. a book celebrating family
_92. first book in a series
_93. any book in a series
_94. book with an adventure or misadventure
_95. a book about a pet
_96. A title with the word “yes” or “no” in it
_97. A title with the word “big” or “little” in it
_98. a classic published before 1968
_99. a book you think should be considered a classic
_100. Out of print
_101. Library book
_102. Impulse Pick
_ 103. Board book published in 2018
_ 104. Picture book published in 2018

Monday, January 01, 2018

Books Read in 2018

Cumulative Reading List

Here's where I'll be tracking my reading in 2018.

My goal for the year, as usual, is 50 books. In 2017 I just barely made it to 30, so I'm hoping for a much better showing in 2018.


1. Balthus: Cats and Girls. Sabine Rewald (2013; nonfiction/art history; 176 pages)
2. Intruder in the Dark (Chief Inspector Littlejohn #43). George Bellairs (1966; fiction; 196 pages)
3. A Murder Is Announced (Miss Marple #5). Agatha Christie (1950; fiction; 298 pages, e-book)
4. Vintage Murder (Roderick Alleyn #5). Ngaio Marsh (1937; fiction; 278 pages, e-book)
5. If Morning Ever Comes. Anne Tyler (1964; fiction; 210 pages, e-book)


6. How to Be Human. Paula Cocozza (2017; fiction; 288 pages)
7. My Sister's Bones. Nualla Ellwood (2017; fiction; 385 pages)
8. Miss Zukas and the Library Murders (Miss Zukas #1). Jo Dereske (1994; fiction; 227 pages, e-book)
9. Just Kids. Patti Smith (2010; memoir; 304 pages)


10. Coffin, Scarcely Used (Flaxborough Chronicles #1). Colin Watson (1958; fiction; e-book)
11. Holmes Entangled. Gordon McAlpine (2018; fiction; 215 pages; e-book; ARC)
12. Five Children and It. E. Nesbit (1902; children's fiction; 109 pages, e-book)
13. Give the Boys a Great Big Hand (87th Precinct #11). Ed McBain (1960; fiction; 204 pages, e-book)
14. The Rabbit and the Shadow. Mélanie Rutten (2013; US edition 2018; children's fiction/picture book; 51 pages)


15. Murder in the Meadow (DI Hillary Greene #7). Faith Martin (first published 2008 as Beside a Narrow Stream; fiction; 239 pages, e-book; NetGalley ARC, 2018)
16. The Cottingley Secret. Hazel Gaynor (2017; fiction; 383 pages; ARC)
17. Time Out of Joint. Philip K. Dick (1959; fiction: sci-fi; 240 pages, Kindle edition)


18. The Quiet American. Graham Greene (1955; fiction; 232 pages, Kindle edition)
19. Pale Horse, Pale Rider: Three Short Novels. Katherine Anne Porter (1939; fiction; about 150 pages, e-book)
20. At the Mountains of Madness. H.P. Lovecraft (1931; first published 1936; fantasy/sci-fi; about 200 pages, e-book)

21. When You Reach Me. Rebecca Stead (2009; fiction; 210 pages, Kindle edition)
22. Golem. David Wisniewski; illus. by author (1996; fiction: children's lit; 32 pages)
23. The Gardener. Sarah Stewart; illus. by David Small (1996; fiction: children's lit; 40 pages)
24. The Adventures of Miss Petitfour. Anne Michaels; illus. by Emma Block (2015/2018; fiction; children's lit; 144 pages)

25. Tailspin. Sandra Brown (2018; fiction; 300 pages, Kindle edition)
26. The Mystery of the Blue Train (Hercule Poirot #6). Agatha Christie (1928; fiction; 304 pages, Kindle edition)

27. The Dead House. Billy O'Callaghan (2017/2018; fiction; 224 pages, Kindle edition)
28. A Long Time Coming. Aaron Elkins (2018; fiction; 268 pages, Kindle edition)
29. Last Song Sung (Cullen & Cobb #3). David A. Poulsen (2018; fiction; 352 pages, Kindle)

30. Call for the Dead (George Smiley #1). John le Carré (1961; fiction; 171 pages, Kindle)
31. A Morbid Taste for Bones (Brother Cadfael #1). Ellis Peters (1977; fiction; 213 pages, Kindle)

32. The Night She Died (Inspector Thanet #1). Dorothy Simpson (1980; fiction; 220 pages, Kindle)
33. A Shadow on the Wall. Jonathan Aycliffe (2000; fiction; 200 pages, Kindle)
34. The Man Who Couldn't Miss (Stewart Hoag #10). David Handler (2018; fiction; 272 pages, Kindle)
35. Last Bus to Woodstock (Inspector Morse #1). Colin Dexter (1975; fiction; 324 pages, Kindle)
36. Last Seen Wearing (Inspector Morse #2). Colin Dexter (1976; fiction; 376 pages, Kindle)

37. Broomsticks Over Flaxborough (Flaxborough Chronicles #7). Colin Watson (1972; fiction; 192 pages, Kindle)

38. The Red Book of Primrose House (Potting Shed Mystery #2). Marty Wingate (2014; fiction; 274 pages, Kindle)