Monday, November 22, 2021

It's Monday 11/22! What Are You Reading?


I'm starting today's post with an apology (and a cry for help!). Although I was late, I DID finally get around to visiting a bunch of blogs on Sunday, only to find that I was unable to leave a comment on any blog hosted by Blogger/Blogspot - including my own! I enjoyed your posts but was unable to leave comments on many of them. There's a long-time issue with Blogger with certain devices not being able to leave comments on certain blogs (this blog is fine; my chronic illness blog has this issue), but in that case, it looks like you're leaving a comment but then it just disappears. The issue yesterday and today is a new one - Blogger won't even let me type in the "comments" box.

Is anyone else suddenly having this issue?

(late addendum - it seems to be fixed now!)

It was otherwise a week of ups and downs for me. My father-in-law has been in really bad shape and getting worse (he's 96 and has dementia). I did have a nice visit with him last week. He was having one of his bad days, but the pet therapy lady came by as we were waiting in the hallway for lunch, and her adorable little doggie snuggled right up to my father-in-law, and the two of them had a little love fest for 20 minutes! It really made his day and was perfect timing. We tried to bring him over for dinner this weekend, but he just couldn't manage it. It's really heartbreaking for all of us.

We had some gorgeous fall weather last week! Even though I had a few days of my chronic illness acting up, I tried my best to get outside and enjoy the sunshine and the last of the fall colors. I took some short, slow walks and enjoyed my favorite tree, my neighbor's huge sugar maple that was at peak color last week! And I spent one warm afternoon (probably our last for a while) out on our deck in the sunshine.

Sugar Maple in Its Fall Glory   

Sunny Day on the Deck

This weekend, we needed a little break, so Saturday morning, we drove up into nearby Lancaster County to visit an Amish/Mennonite farm market that was open for its last day until spring. I wanted some more local apples, while we could still get them. Oh, and they have hot, freshly-made apple cider donuts!! They are made of all stuff I'm not supposed to eat, but they taste so amazing, especially when still hot from the fryer.

Traffic Jam in Lancaster County

Fresh, Hot Donuts - YUM!

And we leave again this week for another long drive up to western New York, to my hometown of Rochester. We haven't seen most of my family members in more than 2 1/2 years, so we are very excited about the journey, with both of our adult sons joining us, and seeing everyone again!  

Hope all of you American readers have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

I posted two new videos on my YouTube channel last week:

And here's what we've all been reading this week:

I finished reading Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner, a book that has been lauded as a Best Book of 2021 ... well, pretty much everywhere. My husband gave it to me for my birthday, and I was saving it for Nonfiction November. It's the story of how Michelle lost her mother to colon cancer when she was only 25 years old. In flashbacks, she recounts her childhood and rocky adolescence and the complicated relationship she had with her mother, who was from Korea. It's filled with references to the delicious Korean foods she and her mother shared as part of their heritage (her dad is American), and she describes the loss of her mother with raw emotion. It got me thinking a lot about my own dad's death from melanoma six years ago, but it was excellent, engaging, and powerful.

Now, I am reading another birthday gift I was saving for Nonfiction November, I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara, a gift from my son's girlfriend. You may have heard the stunning story about the author and this book; it was made into an HBO documentary and splashed across news headlines. McNamara, a true crime writer, began looking into a bunch of unsolved rapes and murders in California, spread across the state throughout the 1970's and 80's. Unfortunately, she died before her book was published, but the work she did eventually helped police to identify and catch the culprit who committed those horrifying crimes. The book itself is an interesting mix of memoir and true crime, including sections she wrote and those her editor put together from what she left behind. I'm having trouble setting it down at night!

I forgot to mention last week that I squeezed in a YA graphic memoir, Other Boys by Damian Alexander that was recommended by Completely Full Bookshelf blog. The memoir is about his first year of high school, in a new school. He lost his parents (in a horrific way) when he was very young and lives with his brother and his grandparents, who are very kind and caring. But Damian was cruelly bullied at his last school--because he isn't like other boys--so his solution at the new school is to not talk, ever. The narrative moves back and forth between his earlier childhood, how the things he enjoyed (including playing with girls) were gradually deemed "not for boys," and his current situation in his new school, struggling to adapt and finally seeing a helpful therapist and coming to some startling revelations about himself. It was excellent!

On audio, I finished listening to An Elegant Defense: The Extraordinary New Science of the Immune System: A Tale in Four Lives by Matt Richtel. I figured as long as it's nonfiction month, I might as well learn more about my own health problems! This book was outstanding and fascinating. The author is not a scientist or doctor or any kind of expert; he's a journalist, a reporter for the New York Times, who became interested in the immune system when his childhood friend was battling a particularly difficult type of cancer. So, he explains everything--including some very complex science--in a simple, easy-to-understand way for laypeople. And, as the subtitle suggests, he explains it all from the perspective of real patients with cancer, AIDS, and autoimmune conditions.The mind-blowing thing is that he wrote this book before COVID, so he keeps mentioning Dr. Fauci and explaining who he is (like we don't know!) and referring to new medical breakthroughs that have become household names, like monoclonal antibodies.  Even though I already knew the basics, I learned a lot, and the book is relevant to everyone.

So far in Nonfiction November, I've covered memoir, inspiration, true crime, and science, so I thought I was ready for a bit of history. I'm listening to The Sisters of Auschwitz: The True Story of Two Jewish Sisters' Resistance in the Heart of Nazi Territory by Roxane van Iperen. This nonfiction book describes the lives of two Dutch Jewish sisters, Janny and Lien, from their peaceful childhoods growing up in Amsterdam with their parents to the Nazi occupation of their beloved country when they are young women and new parents to their large roles in helping the Resistance while they tried to avid the Nazis. I sometimes have some trouble understanding the Dutch names of people and places on audio (it helps to see them in print), but so far, it is a fascinating and inspiring story of courage in the face of terror.

My husband, Ken, is still reading Billy Summers by Stephen King. I've been hearing great things about this one from lots of people, and it was one of my birthday gifts to Ken. This sounds like one of King's more thriller-like novels, rather than horror. The title character is a very talented hit man, the best in the business, only now he wants to get out of the business. He's also unusual in that he only takes on clients where the hit is a bad guy. Now, for his very last kill, he sets his eyes on the evilest man he has ever come across. He's excellent at what he does and especially at disappearing afterward, but this time, everything goes wrong. Oooh, sounds like some great King suspense! Ken is almost finished with it now and enjoying it very much. He says he prefers this kind of thriller to King's more paranormal stories.

Our son, 27, is coming home tomorrow! He'll be riding with us to Rochester (our younger son has to work and will be driving separately). It will be wonderful to spend almost a week with him. My only regret is that he no longer enjoys listening to audiobooks with us like he did when he was a kid! He says they are too slow, and he'd rather read. He doesn't get car sick when he reads and used to bring an entire duffle bag of books along when we took our annual three-week-long road trip each summer, so I know what he'll be doing in the car. Last I heard last week, he was enjoying The Magic Engineer, book three of the Saga of Recluce by L.E. Modesitt, Jr., another of the epic fantasy series he loves. 

 

Blog posts last week:

TV Tuesday: The Big Leap - I love this dance-centered drama!

Fiction Review: Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell - the excellent novel everyone's been talking about!

My Summary of Books Read in October - a fun reading month for me!

What Are You Reading Monday is hosted by Kathryn at Book Date, so head over and check out her blog and join the Monday fun! You can also participate in a kid/teen/YA version hosted by Unleashing Readers.

You can follow me on Twitter at @SueBookByBook or on Facebook on my blog's page.   

What are you and your family reading this week?


Friday, November 19, 2021

Books Read in October


October was a wonderful reading month! As usual, I enjoyed the annual fall R.I.P. Readers Imbibing Peril Challenge, and every single book I read fit the challenge: mysteries, suspense, thrillers, ghost stories, and more! It made for a fun, fast-paced reading month.

If you want to hear a bit about each of the books listed here that I read last month, you can check out my October Reading Wrap-Up on my YouTube channel.

Here is what I finished reading in October:


 


 


So, I finished seven books in October, and all were fiction for the R.I.P. Challenge! Five were adult novels, two were for teens and YA, and one was a middle-grade book--a good mix. I fit in three audio books. I enjoyed all of these; these kinds of mystery/suspense/thriller novels are a lot of fun for me. I think my favorite of the month was Young Man with Camera by Emil Sher because it was so unique and so powerful.

Progress in 2021 Reading Challenges:
You can see all of the reading challenges I am participating in and full lists of the books read for each at the challenges link above. I have some fun ones going this year!

Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2021 - Just three of my books came off my own shelves (and the audios had been in my backlog for a while, too, but I only count the ones that take up physical space!). That's a total of 30 so far ... but my goal for 2021 is 48!
2021 Monthly Motif Reading Challenge - October was Lurking in the Shadows, and Illegal by Francisco X. Stork has a black cover and is even about living in the shadows!
Back to the Classics 2021 - No new classic in October.

2021 AtoZ Reading Challenge - Most of my spots are already filled (19 of 26), so I was surprised to fit one in this month: Y for Young Man with Camera by Emil Sher, and I also used that one for the month's Mini Challenge of a new-to-me author.

PopSugar Reading Challenge 2021 - this is a unique one, with 50 quirky categories. My list is getting pretty full now, with 31 filled, and I didn't add any this month.
2021 Nonfiction Reader Challenge - It was an all-fiction month!
Diversity Reading Challenge 2021 - Only two of my books were diverse last month (!), but one of them, Young Man with Camera by Emil Sher, also met the Mini Challenge of being about someone with a disability.
Travel the World in Books Reading Challenge - Alas, my international reading travel was confined to UK, Ireland, and Australia 9where I have already been many times this year!).
2021 Literary Escapes Challenge - I added South Carolina!

2021 Big Book Summer Challenge - Finished in September, with a total of 12 for summer 2021!

R.I.P. Readers Imbibing Peril Challenge - I added seven more dark and creepy books, for a total of eleven for this year's challenge!

And finally, Bookish Bingo hosted by Chapter Break - not really a challenge per se, but a fun game that I play each month! Stop by to print out this month's Bingo card and play along. In October, I filled 17 spaces on my bingo card

 

Spaces Filled:

Apples Never Fall - not in a series, coffee, multiple narrators

Broken Harbor - read a physical book, in a series

Illegal - black on the cover, man on the cover

The House on Tradd Street - trope, plants on the cover

The Mystery of Mrs. Christie - book club read, library book, multi-word title

Young Man with Camera - free book, shelf love

The Ghost of Midnight Lake - set during school break, trick or treat, audio book

Free Space

What was YOUR favorite book read last month?


Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Fiction Review: Hamnet

I was thrilled when one of my book groups chose Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell for our November selection. I've been hearing rave reviews of this novel since its 2020 release, so I've wanted to read it. And O'Farrell's The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox got a rare unanimous approval from my other book group a few years ago, so I knew I liked her writing. Hamnet, which won the Women's Prize for Fiction in 2020, is historical fiction and was original and compelling.

Though the father of the title character is never directly named in the novel, it's clear that he is William Shakespeare. In 1580's England, at just eighteen years old, he meets Agnes, who is a unique woman, older than he, deemed by the others in the village to be wild and perhaps even magical. She's a healer who grows her own herbs and raises a falcon. Their families would never approve of their union, so Agnes gets pregnant so the two of them can marry. She gives birth to a daughter, Susanna, and later, to twins, Judith and Hamnet. The family lives in the narrow annex to his parents' house. His father, John, is a successful glove maker in the village, though his alcoholism and temper have caused him to become an outcast. He is clearly not happy working for his angry father, so Agnes encourages him to follow his dreams to London, even though it means long months away from his family. There, he soon gives up on his goal of expanding his father's glove business after he picks up several new accounts for playhouses and acting troupes in London and becomes enchanted with the life of an actor and playwright. And the rest, as they say, is history. As the novel opens, though, Judith is very sick with large buboes emerging in her neck and under her arms. Hamnet is the only one at home, and he desperately searches for someone in his family or the village physician, but no one is around. The story moves back and forth in time, between Agnes' past and the story of her childhood, how she met and married her husband, and their growing family and the terrifying present, as Judith's perilous situation become known.

This is a captivating bit of historical fiction, for its intricate look at life around 1600, its up-close examination of the horrors of the plague, and of course, its consideration of the background, childhood, and growing career of the world's most famous writer from a whole new perspective. But it's not his story, and oddly, in spite of the title, it's really not Hamnet's story, either. My book group all agreed that Agnes would have been a more accurate title for the novel! But, I suppose Hamnet lets you know who the father character is and leads to a satisfying conclusion. Everyone in my book group loved this novel, with lots of ratings of 8 and 9. Its an engrossing, original look at a fascinating time and the family of an intriguing historical figure.

320 pages, Knopf

Random House Audio

Note: This post contains affiliate links. Purchases from these links provide a small commission to me (pennies per purchase), to help offset the time I spend writing for this blog, at no extra cost to you.

 

Visit my YouTube Channel for more bookish fun!

 

Listen to a sample of the audiobook here and/or download it from Audible. It sounds like a good audio!

 

You can buy the book through Bookshop.org, where your purchase will support the indie bookstore of your choice (or all indie bookstores)--the convenience of shopping online while still buying local!

     
  

Or you can order Hamnet from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

TV Tuesday: The Big Leap

Together, my husband and I watch a lot of TV shows, including many action/thriller types, medical dramas, sci fi, legal dramas, and a few select comedies. But, on the rare occasions when I have some TV time to myself, I most enjoy watching dramas and especially anything that includes singing and/or dancing. So, while my husband was golfing last month, I tried a new show, The Big Leap, a fictional drama about a reality dance show. I was hooked! I have been loving this show, both for its drama and for the wonderful dance scenes in each episode.

Reality TV director Nick Blackburn, played by Scott Foley, has a new show to focus on, and he is determined to make it a hit. It's a dance competition with open auditions, with the ultimate goal of doing a production of Swan Lake with the disparate group of amateur dancers (of all kinds) that are chosen. Former ballerina Monica, played by Mallory Jansen, and dancer/fashion icon Wayne, played by Kevin Daniels, will act as judges and directors of the final production. The contestants who make it onto the show (this is still first episode stuff) are a varied group, from diverse backgrounds and with very different dance styles. Simon and Brittney, played by Adam Kaplan and Anna Grace Barlow, are ballroom dance partners who have won many awards (and have an interesting backstory). Julia, played by Teri Polo, is a married mother of two daughters who feels stuck in her current life and long ago had a dream of being a professional dancer, with some training in classical ballet. Many of the other contestants have less structured dance backgrounds. Paula, played by Piper Perabo, is a breast cancer survivor with some good moves on the dance floor. Mike, played by Jon Rudnitsky, is down on his luck: laid off from his job, recently divorced and still pining for his ex-wife, and drinking way too much. His dancing has mostly been confined to dive bars while drunk. Gabby, played by Simone Recasner, and Justin, played by Raymond Cham, Jr., were best friends in high school, where Gabby was on the school dance team and Justin was known for his breakdancing moves. They both gave up their dreams, though, and Gabby is struggling to raise and support her son on her own, while Justin works at a bowling alley. Other contestants are into hip hop and other contemporary dance styles and from very different backgrounds. To boost ratings, Nick adds a final contestant, NFL player Reggie, played by Ser'Darius Blaine, who is athletic but has no dance experience and recently ruined his career (he was "cancelled"), providing him with good incentive to show his old coach that he's pulled himself together. Together, along with other dancers, these contestants go through various trials and tribulations each week, in both their personal lives and on camera (and sometimes the two collide), while Nick tries to boost ratings with as much drama as possible.

I am just loving this show, in part for the same reasons I have loved shows like Glee and Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist: I've come to care about the characters and root for them, plus the music and dancing in every episode lift my spirits! The dance aspect alone caught my eye when I saw trailers for the show (check out the one below--it still gives me chills). I also spotted Teri Polo in the cast, whom I absolutely loved in The Fosters, another old favorite show. After watching 8 episodes so far, I have come to enjoy all of the cast members, together forming a wonderful ensemble. The writing is clever, with humor woven in, as well as drama. And, of course, there are the dance scenes! Though they are working on Swan Lake, there are plenty of opportunities for each of the characters to indulge in his or her own special form of dance, which is just fun and uplifting to watch. I'm loving this show and looking forward to the next episode ... my husband is golfing tomorrow afternoon!

The Big Leap is a FOX network show, so it is available On Demand, as well as streaming on Hulu.

This trailer leaves me smiling every time!

 

Monday, November 15, 2021

It's Monday 11/15! What Are You Reading?


Did you miss me?? I missed you! I really did miss the book blogging community the past two weeks and am glad to be back.

Last Monday was a planned absence: we took one last quick camping trip before it got too cold. And, wow, it worked out perfectly. When we booked the campground reservation two weeks earlier, the forecast was showing highs in the 50's (F) for our planned two days--pretty chilly for camping, even with a heater. But, we got lucky and ended up with two days with temperatures in the mid-70's, full sunshine, brilliant blue skies, and gorgeous fall colors.

Water views and fall colors
 

We went to Trap Pond State Park, about two hours south of us, here in Delaware, and while leaves had started to drop here at home, colors were at their peak there. 

From our site, we could see the beautiful pond, just a short walk away. We took full advantage of being so close to the water, going out to the shore or dock at sunset, in the first light of morning, and even stargazing at night.

Reflections in Trap Pond in the morning

Sunset reflected in the water

Trap Pond is known for having the furthest north, naturally-occurring cypress grove in the U.S. I didn't know that, and I didn't realize that cypress trees turn a bright orange color in the fall. The scenery was just breathtaking, and we enjoyed a couple of short hikes (luckily, I was feeling good that week!).

Cypress trees and fall colors

We got back home feeling relaxed, but we had to leave again two days later. My stepfather's father had died, and we drove to Buffalo for the funeral this weekend. That's about an 8-hour drive each way for us, but we really wanted to be there. We knew him well, and are close to my stepfather's entire family, so we were glad we could be there for them. The good thing is that he lived a long, happy, and very healthy life, dying at 94 in his own home. We appreciate that so much more after dealing with assisted living for my father-in-law. Despite the sad occasion, it was wonderful to see our family again, for the first time in about three years! It was odd to reunite in that way, but it was so good to see everyone. The "kids" have all grown up! Even my sweet "little" nephew is now taller than me (though, admittedly, that's a low bar). LOTS of fierce hugs were exchanged. And, since it was Buffalo, it snowed!!

Snow in Buffalo!

We got back home very late Saturday night, and I am still recovering from the exertion and long drives. We had my 96-year-old father-in-law over for dinner last night. He really seemed to enjoy the visit, conversation, and food (he ate every crumb on his plate!), but wow, he has gotten so much weaker and more confused in the past month. We try to see him several times a week, but he hadn't been inside our house in a while, and he had a terrible time with just the two steps to get in and walking between rooms with his walker.

OK, enough catch-up ... let's talk books! Of course, a big part of our camping experience is reading while relaxing outdoors, though the gorgeous scenery was a bit distracting on this trip!

Reading while camping

Since my last Monday post, I uploaded three new videos to my YouTube channel:

Finally, here's what we've all been reading the past two weeks:

My first book for Nonfiction November was No Cure for Being Human by Kate Bowler. I've never met her, but Kate is one of my favorite people in the world. She has a wonderful podcast, Everything Happens, that is my favorite. She is living with incurable cancer, though she is stable and doing well for now. She talks a lot about what it's like to live this kind of life in limbo and how our culture can make us feel like being sick (or divorced or depressed or whatever) is our own fault. The best way to tell you about her is to share this bit from the intro to her podcast: "Hey, there are some things you can fix and some things you can't, and it's OK that life isn't always better. We can find beauty and meaning and truth, but there's no cure for being human. So, let's be friends on that journey. Let's be human together." As I expected, I loved this short memoir and tabbed every other page because she expresses things so perfectly. As with her podcast, I laughed out loud and teared up and felt deeply understood.

Now, I have moved on to a different kind of memoir, Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner. This book has been lauded as a Best Book of 2021 all over the place. My husband gave it to me for my birthday, and I was saving it for Nonfiction November. It's the story of how Michelle lost her mother to colon cancer when she was only 25 years old. In flashbacks, she recounts her childhood and rocky adolescence and the complicated relationship she had with her mother, who was from Korea. It's filled with references to the delicious Korean foods she and her mother shared as part of their heritage (her dad is American), and she describes the loss of her mother with raw emotion. In hindsight, it was probably not the best choice for a week when I was attending a funeral (and thinking a lot about my own dad's death from melanoma six years ago), but it is excellent, engaging, and powerful.

On audio, I am listening to An Elegant Defense: The Extraordinary New Science of the Immune System: A Tale in Four Lives by Matt Richtel. I figured as long as it's nonfiction month, I might as well learn more about my own health problems! This book has been excellent so far (I'm almost finished now). The author is not a scientist or doctor or any kind of expert; he's a journalist, a reporter for the New York Times, who became interested in the immune system when his childhood friend was battling a particularly difficult type of cancer. So, he explains everything--including some very complex science--in a simple, easy-to-understand way for laypeople. And, as the subtitle suggests, he explains it all from the perspective of real patients with cancer, AIDS, and autoimmune conditions.The mind-blowing thing is that he wrote this book before COVID, so he keeps mentioning Dr. Fauci and explaining who he is (like we don't know!) and referring to new medical breakthroughs that have become household names, like monoclonal antibodies.  Even though I already knew the basics, I am learning a lot. It's been fascinating.

We slipped in a fiction audiobook, too, for our long trip back and forth to Buffalo. We haven't been able to travel far from home in two years because of my father-in-law, so we have a huge backlog of mystery and thriller audios I've been saving for joint road trips! We listened to Eight Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson, a highly acclaimed and very creative mystery. Bookseller Malcolm Kershaw is surprised when an FBI agent comes to ask him questions. She thinks that someone might be using Malcolm's list from the bookstore blog of "8 Perfect Murders" from classic mysteries to actually commit multiple murders. The two of them begin working together, studying the books and looking for similar murders that might have been overlooked by police. It was excellent, clever and twisty, and it kept our attention on the long ride. The only downside is that it spoiled the endings of nine classic murder mysteries for us (only two of which I had previously read)!

My husband, Ken, is still reading Billy Summers by Stephen King. Before our camping trip, he also went on a four-day business trip, so he hasn't had a lot of reading time! I've been hearing great things about this one from lots of people, and it was one of my birthday gifts to Ken. This sounds like one of King's more thriller-like novels, rather than horror. The title character is a very talented hit man, the best in the business, only now he wants to get out of the business. He's also unusual in that he only takes on clients where the hit is a bad guy. Now, for his very last kill, he sets his eyes on the evilest man he has ever come across. He's excellent at what he does and especially at disappearing afterward, but this time, everything goes wrong. Oooh, sounds like some great King suspense! Ken has been enjoying it.

Our son, 27, is still enjoying the Saga of Recluce by L.E. Modesitt, Jr. He finished reading The Towers of the Sunset, book 2 in the series. Now, he's moved onto the third book, The Magic Engineer. He started this series with book 1 several years ago, back in college, and it should keep him busy for a while--the series has 22 books in it, each one 600+ pages! He loves this kind of epic fantasy. We saw him briefly this weekend at the funeral, but we are really looking forward to having a full week with him over Thanksgiving!

 

 Blog posts from the past two weeks:

Nonfiction November 2021 - my plans and the week 1 discussion questions

Teen/YA Review: Illegal by Francisco X. Stork - fast-paced thriller

 Fiction Review: The Mystery of Mrs. Christie by Marie Benedict - novel about the real-life disappearance of Agatha Christie in 1926

Middle-Grade Review: The Ghost of Midnight Lake by Lucy Strange - mystery, family drama, friendship, and ghosts!

What Are You Reading Monday is hosted by Kathryn at Book Date, so head over and check out her blog and join the Monday fun! You can also participate in a kid/teen/YA version hosted by Unleashing Readers.

You can follow me on Twitter at @SueBookByBook or on Facebook on my blog's page.   

What are you and your family reading this week?

Thursday, November 11, 2021

Middle-Grade Review: The Ghost of Midnight Lake

I love reading for the R.I.P. (Readers Imbibing Peril) Challenge each fall! At the end of October, though, I had to finish out the season with a non-R.I.P. book for my book group, so I made sure to choose an audio book perfect for the season. The Ghost of Midnight Lake by Lucy Strange fit the bill ... and I finished it on Halloween night! This ghostly middle-grade mystery was just right for ending my spooky season of reading.

In 1899, Agatha's father, the Earl of Gosswater, has just died, leaving her orphaned and grieving. Things get much worse, however, when her cousin Clarence, who inherited the estate and became the new Earl, abruptly tells her that she is moving out of the only home she's ever known. Before she can even attend the Earl's funeral, he tells her to pack her things and sends her to live in a small cottage in the village, a very different lifestyle than the manor house she has always known. He also tells her that the Earl wasn't her father and that the owner of the cottage, a woodworker and farmer named Thomas, is her real father. Agatha is, of course, stunned, and doesn't understand how any of this could be true. Thomas seems like a nice man, though he's very quiet, and Agatha struggles to adjust to her new life. Meanwhile, she and her new friend row a boat out onto the lake at midnight on New Year's Eve because someone told them that spirits can come through the crack between one year and the next, especially at the turn of a new century. Sure enough, Agatha does see a ghost, a young girl, who she begins to see regularly, though she can't figure out what the spirit wants from her. One more mystery is playing out at the same time. The Earl had two priceless opals, a white one and a black one, that Clarence is desperate to find. But the will said he wanted Agatha to have the black opal, so she surreptitiously took it with her when she left the manor house. The white opal has been missing for many years, and no one knows where it is. As Clarence frantically searches for the opals, Agatha tries to figure out who she is and where she came from ... and what the mysterious ghost girl wants from her.

This is a fun adventure story for middle-graders. It blends family drama, friendship, suspense, and of course, ghosts. Agatha is a very likable character (and Clarence a sufficiently evil villain), and the writing is fast-paced and engrossing. I enjoyed listening to this gripping tale on audio, read by the author. The tangled mysteries kept me guessing, but there is plenty of warmth and heart here, too. The spookiness is quite mild, so this is a great book even for scaredy-cat middle-grade readers who enjoy a bit of suspense in an engaging story.

336 pages, Chicken House (Scholastic)

Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher in return for an honest review. My review is my own opinion and is not influenced by my relationship with the publisher or author.

 

Note: This post contains affiliate links. Purchases from these links provide a small commission to me (pennies per purchase), to help offset the time I spend writing for this blog, at no extra cost to you.

 

Visit my YouTube Channel for more bookish fun!

 

Listen to a sample of the audiobook here, from the start of the book, and/or download it from Audible.

 

You can buy the book through Bookshop.org, where your purchase will support the indie bookstore of your choice (or all indie bookstores)--the convenience of shopping online while still buying local!

 
    
  

Or you can order The Ghost of Midnight Lake from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.

Friday, November 05, 2021

Fiction Review: The Mystery of Mrs. Christie

It's sometimes discouraging when I have to temporarily pause a seasonal reading challenge I'm enjoying to read something else for one of my book groups, but in October, my neighborhood book group's pick fit right in with the R.I.P. Challenge: The Mystery of Mrs. Christie by Marie Benedict. This is a fictional account of a real-life event, when Agatha Christie went missing for eleven days in 1926. 

No one knows what really happened to her or where she went during those eleven days (the author herself didn't even mention the disappearance in her autobiography), even though her disappearance made newspaper headlines across Europe and inspired a countrywide search in England. The novel alternates chapters between the days after her disappearance and her earlier life, leading up to it. The chapters on her earlier life begin when she is just a young woman, living with her family and meeting Archie, her husband-to-be, for the first time. That narrative thread continues through their courtship during the Great War, their impulsive marriage while he is on leave, the birth of their daughter, Rosalind, and the beginning of her writing career. The chapters taking place after her disappearance go day by day, showing Archie's reactions, the police investigation, and the flurry of activity in the frantic search for her across the region and then the country. Gradually, the two narratives come together, when the mystery of Agatha's Christie's mysterious disappearance is finally solved.

As you can see, I'm not providing many details about the story itself because it unspools much like a Christie mystery itself, with suspense and surprises, and much of the delight of this novel is in that slow discovery of its secrets. There is a lot packed into this short novel. It is something of a biography, providing a glimpse into the famous author's life and the beginning of her writing career, which would eventually lead to her selling more books worldwide than any other writer! It's fascinating to see how she became the famous mystery writer we all know and love. The author did extensive research, so both the information about Christie's life and the historical details are based in well-known fact. But the mystery! Benedict has come up with a creative, clever story to fill in those missing eleven days of which I think the Queen of Mystery herself would approve. It was a fun, highly entertaining novel.

270 pages, Sourcebooks

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Listen to a sample of the audiobook here, from the early days of the disappearance and investigation, and/or download it from Audible.

 

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