Aunt Dimity Down Under

Aunt Dimity and Lori Shepherd are back on the case in Nancy Atherton’s Aunt Dimity Down Under.  It’s a mystery that all genealogical enthusiasts will appreciate, as well as fans of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies.  I know those are two very different things, but Nancy Atherton manages to combine them in a heart wrenching book.

Ruth and Louise Pym rock the village of Finch to its foundations when they take to their deathbed.  Instead of celebrating Nell and Kit’s wedding the citizens of Finch begin to hold a vigil as they take care of everyone’s favorite neighbor, the Pym twins.  Lori vows to do whatever she can to help her beloved friends.

Little does she realize that this vow will take her to the ends of the earth in search of a long-lost black sheep brother.  Ruth and Louise give her the assignment to their estranged brother Aubrey and bring the family back together again.  Lori flies to New Zealand to track down their older brother, whom she is sure is dead since the twins are very very old.  This is how genealogy and the Lord of the Rings connect together in this book.  Lori travels all over New Zealand on the track of Aubrey and his descendants.

It’s a fun read mingled with the sadness of saying goodbye to some old friends.  Thankfully Nancy Atherton brings some new characters into the mix who will probably be around for a while.  I’ll admit that this is probably the first Aunt Dimity book that made me cry.

This is a cozy mystery so it is a clean read.  There is not any explicit scenes or much foul language, if there is any.

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The Broadmoor Legacy Series

Last week I reviewed A Daughter’s Inheritance by Tracie Peterson and Judith Miller.  It took me two trips to the library to find the other two books in the series.  Book two of the Broadmoor Legacy is An Unexpected Love, and book three is A Surrendered Heart.

Book two continues the story of the three Broadmoor cousins.  It begins quite soon after the first book finishes so that the story is continuous.  This time it is Sophie who is the featured cousin, although the story of Fanny and Amanda continues to play out.  Josiah, scheming man that he is, decides to get Fanny, and her questions, out-of-town by sending the three girls to England with his wife as chaperone.  He sends his chosen suitor for Fanny along with them, after giving him instructions to get engaged to Fanny even if he has to compromise her to do it!

While Fanny is struggling to get away from Daniel, Sophie is headed into a most delicious flirtation with an older man.  Wesley is a wealthy widow and flirts right back.  Soon Sophie is head over heels in love with Wesley.  She knows this because she gets tingles up her back whenever he is near.  Fanny tells her this happens to her whenever she falls out of a tree.  That made me laugh!

Despite Fanny and Amanda’s warnings to be careful Sophie charges full steam ahead until her ship sinks in the deepest water possible (figuratively speaking!  Her ocean liner doesn’t really sink.)  Paul, the detested minister who works for her father, comes to her rescue.  Will she find real love at last?  Will she be able to get the attention she craves from her father?

The story continues in the third book, but from Amanda’s point of view.  She’s the oldest of the cousins and daughter of Josiah.  She has her heart set on a medical career, but her father has other plans for her.  While she is busy apprenticing with Dr. Blake Carstead he is busy trying to find a wealthy man for her to marry, to save them all from financial disaster.  His unwise investments have caught up to him.

The Broadmoor family finds themselves in a crisis when cholera strikes Rochester.  Do they flee to their Thousand Island retreat or stay in Rochester.  The decision is taken from their hands when Amanda is stricken and then quarantined.  As she recovers she is sent to the island to regain her health.

In the meantime her father has discovered a path to financial salvation.  He secures a loan from another businessman, only to discover that he has been tricked.  What will be the price he must pay, and why should Amanda worry about it?

The stories are compelling to read and the characters matter more and more as the books progress.  I’ll admit that I was blown away by the third book.  I never ever expected that Amanda would actually have to go through everything that happens before she is allowed to have her happiness.

I enjoyed this series quite a bit.  It’s fun to read about the opulence of the time period, although to be honest I am glad I didn’t live through it.  One of the things that I find interesting in historical series like this is the struggle of women to define themselves outside of their expected roles.  Each of the three cousins manages to flout expectations of women, at least for a time period.  Fanny marries a servant instead of someone of her “class”.  Sophie broke most of the rules for genteel ladies before she settled down into a more traditional role.  Amanda choose to follow a career instead of marriage despite her family’s objections.

I see this all the time in historical fiction, and I have to wonder how much of it is due to the author’s reluctance to relegate women to the more passive role assigned to them in previous times in history.  I am not sure that things would have turned out so well for any of these three women if they had really lived during that time period.  But I have to admit that independent women are usually more interesting heroines to read about than a more passive woman would be.

When I think about my favorite characters in classic literature I think about Elizabeth Bennet or Eleanor Dashwood.  Elizabeth is lively and fun, and still manages to live within the parameters of society.  Eleanor is more reserved, but she is not really passive or weak.  Then there is Jo March.  She’s pretty independent, but still manages to live by society’s rules.

Is the difference because of the time periods in which the books are written?  Can an author today write successful historical fiction without giving the characters some of the qualities society values now?  What do you think?

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Peony In Love

It’s time to take a break from the mysteries.  I’ve read a lot of them lately, and this blog isn’t supposed to be dedicated solely to mystery novels.  Besides, my brain is tied in knots from trying to figure out who did it!

Today’s review is another of Lisa See’s books.  Snow Flower and the Secret Fan was the first Lisa See book I read, and I found it to be a qualified success.  I decided to give her another try and picked up a copy of Peony in Love.

I enjoyed this book much more than Snow Flower and the Secret Fan.  It is as much a discussion of love and women’s need to express themselves as it is a fictional story.  It revolves around The Peony Pavilion , a real opera written in 1598 about a girl who falls in love with a man she sees in a dream.  She literally dies from love sickness.  (Because we all know that true love means you can’t eat!)  She visits her lover in his dreams and eventually is resurrected because of the love he feels for her.  That is a very rough outline of the opera’s story.

Nominally it is the story of Peony, a sixteen year old girl in seventeenth century China, who accidentally meets the perfect man during the performance of The Peony Pavilion opera at her house.  She falls in love with this stranger, but has already been betrothed to another.  She has three gloriously clandestine meetings with this perfect man over three nights while he is a guest in her house.

When the opera is over Peony is driven to write a commentary on the opera as a way to stay connected to her stranger.  She begins to waste away as love sickness takes it toll.  Unfortunately for Peony she dies before she even really gets the chance to live, mimicking the opera.  She spends the next two decades as a hungry ghost and learning the true meaning of love.

The history behind the story is fascinating.  I hadn’t known that there was a time period when women in China were published authors and respected poets.  This book is actually partly based on a book published in 1694 that was titled The Three Wives Commentary.  It was a thorough and comprehensive examination of The Peony Pavilion written and published by women.  The Author’s Note at the back of the book reveals the story behind her story.

In the book Peony struggles to accept the differences what she perceived while alive and the realities after her death.  Peony thinks her father hosts the opera in honor of her birthday, when in reality it was the opening of a bid to become more influential and powerful.  Her perceptions of the reality of the opera affect her to the point of death and haunt her after her death.

As I read this book I found myself thinking about how easy it is to be blindsided by our perceptions when reality can be quite different.  That perfect family at church has hidden sorrows and pains.  The man down the street with all the latest technology and new cars, he’s overwhelmed by debt and can’t sleep at night.  The woman who has so many talents couldn’t possibly suffer from low self-esteem.  The list could go on.

Learning to see beyond our perceptions is something each of us has to learn to truly connect with others.  When Peony finally discovers this she learns about real love and its tremendous power.  It is up to each of us to do the same.

I don’t remember there being much in the way of foul language in this book.  It’s a little weird when Peony is a ghost and interferes in the bedroom.  Other than that, this is a great book with a lot to think about if you so choose.

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Celebrate Halloween with Cards on the Table

What better way to celebrate Halloween and Dia de los Muertos than reading a spooky story featuring a gathering of murderers?  It is bound to be a little more relaxing than taking kids out to trick-or-treat and telling them to stop eating so much candy!  Whether you have little fairies or ninjas to take or just plan on providing the treats to them, this is a book that should have broad appeal to mystery and suspense lovers.

Cards on the Table by Agatha Christie takes a unique approach to the murder mystery genre.  There are only four suspects, and they are all equally suspect!  If you guess you have a 25% chance of being right.  (I was wrong…)  What makes this story so unique is the set up.

Hercule Poirot meets a man with whom he is slightly acquainted at a charity event, an exhibition of antique snuff boxes.  Mr. Shaitana admits to being a collector of “interesting pieces”, but only the best of their kind.  He offers to share his “criminal” collection with Poirot at a dinner party.  The best of his criminal collection is a group of murderers who have gotten away with murder.

A few weeks later Mr. Shaitana gives a dinner party and invites eight guests.  Poirot knows three of the guests.  One is Superintendent Battle from Scotland Yard.  One is Colonel Race from some secret agency.  One is Mrs. Ariadne Oliver, the famous mystery novelist.  The other four are unknown to Poirot.  At dinner Shaitana refers to murders that appear to be accidents.  After dinner the group splits in two to play bridge.  Poirot’s group, all the detective type people, go into a different room to play, leaving Shaitana with the other group.  And the fun begins….

In the foreword Agatha Christie wrote about mystery novels being like horse races, with people betting on the least likely person as the perpetrator.  She warns that “there are only four starters and any one of them, given the right circumstances, might have committed the crime …. they are four widely divergent types; the motive that drives each one of them to crime is peculiar to that person, and each one would employ a different method.  The deduction must, therefore, be entirely psychological, but it is none the less interesting for that, because when all is said and done it is the mind of the murderer that is of supreme interest.”

You can make your guesses.  I did, but I backed the wrong horse.  The solution is quite brilliant.  I can see why Ms. Christie maintained that this was Hercule Poirot’s favorite case!

 

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The Whole Enchilada

If you like mystery and mexican food this books is for you.  Diane Mott Davidson has written 17 books featuring her caterer Goldy Schultz and her amazing recipes.  The latest book is The Whole Enchilada, and features some luscious sounding mexican food in the midst of a murder investigation.

Things take a wrong turn at the birthday party for Arch Korman, Goldy’s son, and his friend Drew when someone dies rather unexpectedly.  Talk about ruining a party!  You’d think Goldy would expect people to die every so often around her since this is her 17th investigation, but she’s ever an optimist.  Or else, Diane Mott Davidson keeps hatching up plots to keep Goldy going!

This time Goldy gets permission from her detective husband to do some poking around,  She also is blessed with the help of her best friend and a police escort to keep her safe.  Even with all this help Goldy manages to find herself in some pretty dicey situations as she investigates and cooks up a storm.  She needs to find out who the really murderer is before someone manages to take a slice out of her and her business.

It’s a fun read over all.  It’s a little bit more introspective than the previous books have been, which was a little different.  I was pleased to note that Ms. Davidson has stopped including so many foul words in her books.  There were still a few, but not nearly as many as she had in the books right in the middle of the series.

I will also admit that I did not guess the solution to the mystery.  In fact I was surprised.

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A Daughter’s Inheritance

I have to give a shout out to D.L Kamstra for suggesting this particular series to me.  She left a comment on my review of A Sensible Arrangement recommending The Broadmoor Legacy series by Tracie Peterson and Judith Miller.  I finally got a chance to read the first book and I love it.  So a ig thank you to D.L. Kamstra.  She also reviews books, so if you haven’t checked out her blog click on the link above.

The first book is A Daughter’s Inheritance, and it is brimming over with inheritances, intrigue, and budding romance.  It is set in 1897 among the wealthy families of Rochester, New York and their summer resorts in the Thousand Islands.  Fanny is the only daughter of one of three sons.  Both of her parents die before she does, and she is raised by her grandparents.  When her grandfather dies he leaves her one-third of his fortune and under the care of one of her uncles.  Unfortunately for her, other people have designs on her money, and the only man she loves is a servant.  What is a properly bred girl to do?

The story is fast paced, with plenty of action.  The main characters are either loveable, entertaining, or plain evil.  Since it is inspirational fiction there is some emphasis on Christian living, but not very much.  I’d classify this more as a historical novel.

What I found so fascinating about the book, beyond the story itself, is how much research went into writing.  I had recently finished reading about the Vanderbilt family during the same era.  It is amazing to me how similar the lifestyles are in A Daughter’s Inheritance to the lifestyles of the Vanderbilt’s and their society.  The jealousy, mania over wealth and social prestige, and boredom are very realistically depicted.  Also mentioned are the fabulous houses the rich built in the area, including the Singer Castle shown below.  I am now wondering if the Broadmoor family is going to face the same decline as the Vanderbilts.  The money is being divided, they’re spending a lot…  Very Vanderbilt.

Singer Castle in Thousand Island (from Wikipedia)

Because it is a series, there are some cliff hanging situations.  Argh!  I have to go back to the library and find the next book.  What’s going to happen to Fanny, Amanda, and Sophie?!?

Have you read any good books lately?  I’m always open to suggestions.

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Hercule Poirot’s Early Cases

I know I have been on an Agatha Christie kick lately.  There is something about fall that makes me want to curl up and read a really good mystery.  When it comes to good mysteries, Agatha Christie is one of the best authors of all time.  Her books are an intellectual treat in a field that increasingly relies on suspense and action to carry the story along.

There’s just one bad thing about wanting to curl up and read during the fall: the unlikelihood of uninterrupted reading time.   Never fear Christie mystery fans!  I have the perfect Agatha Christie for you.  Hercule Poirot’s Early Cases is a compilation of 18 short stories featuring, ahem, Hercule Poirot.   These short stories are perfect reading for busy times.  I can fit in a short story here or there throughout my busy days and be happy.  I get a whole story done and can cheerfully get back to work without having to drag myself away.  I get more done!

image from wikipedia

Because these are in the short story format there isn’t as much development of story.  I was able to guess the bad guy fairly accurately throughout the book.  However, my method of guessing doesn’t hold a candle to the thought process of Hercule Poirot’s little grey cells.  That is one of the things that I have really enjoyed about Agatha Christie.  She is able to reason her solutions out and presents a wonderful case and solution without relying on the all-knowing, verging on voodoo magic powers, detective like Sherlock Holmes.  She also doesn’t have to rely on the fumbling detective who basically falls into the truth.

Instead she uses clues like a chocolate box with the blue lid instead of the pink lid.  I think my favorite clue was found in the story The King of Clubs.  Solving the entire mystery revolved around one significant item, the king of clubs.  I don’t play bridge, but I can appreciate the clue none the less, because I do play games.

If you haven’t ever read this book you should check out a copy from your library.  Amazon has a million for sell, but there isn’t a kindle edition.  That disappointed me.  I am getting quite fond of my kindle that allows me to own and read books without having to buy more shelves!

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