Friday Book Whimsy: The Sentence is Death

Author Anthony Horowitz is one of my favorite writers. He is the creator of and writer for two of my favorite Brit mystery programs: Foyle’s War and Midsommer Murder. He has also joined the legion of folks who have written Sherlock Holmes mysteries, but done a much better job of most. With his  2018 novel The Word is Murder, he came up with one of the most clever story ideas I’ve ever come across as a reader. He continues this clever idea in The Sentence is Murder.

What is the idea? With a wink at Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, Horowitz writes himself –not a takeoff on himself, but actually his very own person — as a character in the book. In fact, he is Dr. Watson to London private investigator Daniel Hawthorne’s Sherlock Holmes.

London attorney Richard Pryce is found dead in his home, having been hit over the head with a bottle of expensive wine. It seems clear from the get-go that one of his clients — a famous, if odd writer is the murderer. After all, she threatened to kill him with a bottle of wine in front of a restaurant full of people. Still, just like Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, nothing is as it seems.

though Horowitz (the character) is getting much better at figuring out the nuances of the mystery, he still is pretty klutzy when compared to the much-more astute Hawthorne.

The mystery is good, but the real fun is reading about Horowitz’s insecurities and problems around writing and producing real-life shows like Foyle’s War as part of the story line. And it was fun to get to learn a bit more about the heretofore secret life of the brilliant detective Hawthorne.

I loved this book, and can’t wait for the next.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: Top Five for 2018

Every year, my reading goal is 100 books. I don’t think I have ever reached my goal, and this year I fell even shorter than last year. Nevertheless, I read some books that I really liked. Not all of my top five books were published in 2018. Furthermore, it was pretty hard to narrow my book list down to five.

Here are the five favorite books I read this year, in no particular order…..

Book of Polly by Kathy Hepinstall
Willow is 10 years old, and her mother Polly was in her 50s when she was born. Willow lives in fear that her mother will die before she is grown. As for Polly she lives life to the fullest, but carries the burden of secrets that she refuses to share with her daughter. And then when tragedy strikes, they take a trip back to Polly’s old stomping grounds and Willow learns her secrets.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine Gail Honeyman
Eleanor struggles with appropriate social skills, and prefers to live her regular, if boring life in which she never strays outside the lines. And then she meets Raymond, and their friendship opens her up to new possibilities. I loved this book primarily for the characters.

 

The Word is Murder Anthony Horowitz
In The Word is Murder, author Horowitz literally writes himself into the book as one of the characters. A disgraced police detective, let go from the London police force is hired as a consultant for the case of a mysterious murder of the mother of a famous actor. In Sherlock Holmes/Dr. Watson style, the detective — known only as Hawthorne — hires Horowitz to work with him on a case, and chronicle it by writing a diary. The premise is as clever as can be, earning it a place in my top five favorites.

Be Frank With Me Julia Claiborne Johnson
Alice Whitley agrees to become the assistant to famed author Mimi Banning as she writes her first book in years to ensure that the book is completed. Part of Alice’s job description is taking care of Mimi’s 9-year-old probably-autistic son Frank, who is one of my favorite characters of all time. He is smart, funny, and loves to dress up like 40s movie stars. I enjoyed the story, and simply adored Frank.

Clock Dance Anne Tyler
Anne Tyler is one of my favorite authors of all time, but I have been disappointed in her most recent efforts. I found Clock Dance to be back to the author’s standards, featuring characters with whom I could be friends. Willa Drake has had plenty of sadness in her life. Her mother was bipolar, and her first husband died in a road rage accident. She is comfortably settled into a pretty boring marriage with her second husband, when she gets a call that takes her to Baltimore and changes her life forever.

Honorable mentions: Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn; Caroline: Little House on the Prairie Revisited, by Sarah Miller; and Then She Was Gone, by Lisa Jewell.

Next year: 100 BOOKS

Friday Book Whimsy: The Word is Murder

Author Anthony Horowitz has created and written some of my favorite mystery television programs — Foyle’s War being my most favorite of all. As a writer of fiction, he is known primarily for his young adult books, with Alex Rider being perhaps the most well-known. But I fell in love with him originally for a book I reviewed a while back called Magpie Murders, a cleverly-written mystery story within a mystery story. Intrigued by that book, I quickly read a couple of Sherlock Holmes stories that he had written. Many have attempted to duplicate Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, but most haven’t succeeded. Horowitz did.

I was very excited, therefore, to see that he had a new novel being released. The premise of The Word is Murder was again so, so clever. And the result, I’m happy to say, met my expectations.

In The Word is Murder, Horowitz literally writes himself into the book as one of the characters. A disgraced police detective, let go from the London police force, is hired as a consultant for the case of a mysterious murder of the mother of a famous actor. In Sherlock Holmes/Dr. Watson style, the detective — known only as Hawthorne — hires Horowitz to work with him on a case, and chronicle it by writing a diary.

The actor’s mother visits a funeral home one day, making arrangements for her own funeral. This isn’t particularly unusual. However, what IS unusual is that she is murdered that very afternoon. Hawthorne and Horowitz work together to solve the mystery.

The character of Hawthorne is modeled directly after Sherlock Holmes. He is brilliant and cocky and brash. Horowitz writes himself as a likable Watson.

The ending was a surprise, and quite gratifying.

I will warn you that, while I absolutely LOVED this book — finding it so incredibly clever — I can see where a reader might be turned off by the way Horowitz portrays himself. There is lots of name-dropping, lunches with Stephen Spielberg, and so forth. It didn’t deter me. I recommend this book with great gusto!

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: Best Reads of 2017

My reading goal each year in terms of quantity is 100 books. I never make it, despite the fact that I think I read a LOT. In 2017, I read 91 books (and am in the process of my 92nd as we turn the pages of the calendar to 2018). That is three more than I read in 2016, and two fewer than I read in 2015. I abandoned a number of books this past year, however, which may account for fewer total books. I also had more books to which I gave a bad review than I usually have, and I don’t know exactly why that is. Generally, operating under my standard reading rule which is Life is too short – and there are too many choices – to read a bad book, I don’t finish books I dislike. This year, however, I did that on a number of occasions. Maybe I’m finally getting more mature!

I read a number of new books, but as usual, I also read a number of books published prior to 2017. So a couple of my favorite books of 2017 which are listed below were actually not published in 2017.

Having given you all of this useless background, here are the books I most enjoyed reading in 2017, with a link to my review…..

The Alice Network, by Kate Quinn
Historical fiction is my favorite genre, and stories about strong women are always of interest to me. The Alice Network is based on the true story of a network of women spies during World War I. It is 1947, and New York City socialite Charlie St. Clair begins searching for her beloved French cousin whom she doesn’t believe perished in World War II as most assume. In the course of her search, she meets Eve Gardner, who was a member of the Alice Network during WWI. The two stories intermingle, and a great novel is the result.

Before We Were Yours, by Lisa Wingate
Speaking of historical fiction, this excellent novel was based on a fact so horrifying that I almost couldn’t believe it was true. In 1939, five children who live with their parents on a riverboat in Tennessee are left alone one night when their father is forced to take their mother who is having a dangerously difficult labor into town to the hospital. While they are gone, a group of people, claiming to be government officials, enter the boat and take the children to an orphanage. Run by real-life Gloria Tann, poor children were kidnapped and then sold to rich people unable to conceive. Decades later, the daughter of a United States senator, comes across the practice and learns her family’s part in it. Great storytelling by the author.

I Found You, by Lisa Jewell
I just finished this book and haven’t yet reviewed it. Nevertheless, it is definitely one of the best books I read this past year. Jewell is the author of another book I liked – The House We Grew Up In – one of my favorite books of 2015. Single mother, somewhat bohemian in her lifestyle, Alice Lake comes across a man sitting on the beach in front of her house. She greets him only to learn that he has no memory – he doesn’t know his name, his background, or why he is sitting on the beach in this little English village. The book is a combination of three story lines that connect in a way that I dare you to predict. The story is so clever that at one point, I was so taken by surprise I thought I might have whiplash.

The Magpie Murders, by Anthony Horowitz
Speaking of clever, this murder-within-a-murder mystery is one of the more interesting books I have ever read. The charm of Hercule Poirot meets the serious police business of Harry Bosch. The author is the creator and writer of Foyle’s War, one of my favorite PBS mystery series. His writing is outstanding and I’ll bet you can’t figure out the ending.

The Tumbling Turner Sisters, by Juliette Fay
This novel is a delight from beginning to end. The father of four girls in the early 20s finds himself unable to work when he is seriously injured on the job. The family is in despair when the mother decides that the girls will learn to become acrobats and work the vaudeville circuit. Part love story, part adventure novel, part history lesson. I loved these characters and nearly everything about the story.

Happy reading in 2018!

Friday Book Whimsy: Magpie Murders

Magpie Murders, by author Anthony Horowitz, is a refreshing break from many mystery novels with predictable plots and authors that try just a bit too hard to give the reader a surprise ending. Horowitz is the creator and writer of one of my favorite British television crime dramas Foyle’s War, so I was very excited to see what he had up his sleeve with the unusual format of this novel.

Magpie Murders actually gives the readers two separate mysteries to ponder – a mystery within a mystery, so to speak.

Editor Susan Ryeland is given a copy of the manuscript of author Alan Conway’s latest novel featuring his famed detective Atticus Pund. Pund is very much like Agatha Christie’s famed detective Hercule Poirot, spending his time solving mysteries in little English villages, providing his readers with hints and red herrings galore. Since Ryeland has been Conway’s editor from the get-go, she is used to his formula; however, the more she reads, the more she thinks Conway is giving the reader a mystery within a mystery.

She continues to read, but just as Pund is getting ready to gather the suspects together to identify the killer, the story stops. Whaaaaat? The last chapter is missing. Why did Alan Conway not finish the book, but turn it in to his editor anyway shortly before he commits suicide?

Despite being ordered by her boss to leave it well enough alone, Ryeland begins trying to figure out why Conway would end the story in this manner. As you follow along with Ryeland, can you figure out what’s going on?

What I liked best about this book is that in the first chapter, Ryeland sits down with a cup of tea and hours of time and begins to read the manuscript. And then the book is presented to the readers of Magpie Murders just as Ryeland is reading it. And the Pund novel is a fun romp, very reminiscent of Agatha Christie. Manor houses, murders, mysterious guests. If that had been the entire book, I would still be giving it a good review.

But it isn’t. Because suddenly, the book ends, and the second mystery begins. It was so much fun (if you can call murder and suicide fun).

This really is a must-read for lovers of good mysteries with challenging endings, and definitely a must-read for Agatha Christie fans. As for me, I’m on the lookout for other books by this author.

Here is a link to the book.