Top Ten Tuesday REWIND: Top Ten Favorite Places to Read

Welcome to another edition of Top Ten Tuesday!  This week is a rewind week, so we get to pick any previous top ten list and run with it! This week, I’ll be talking about my top ten favorite places to read!

I have to say at the onset though, I can read anywhere!  If there are printed words, I’m there. Just saying.

Anyway, and in no particular order…

Top Ten Favorite Places to Read

1. In Bed.  Especially in the morning on the weekend.  I love that feeling of being able to read a book start to finish and not have to worry about anything else that needs to get done or anything else that’s going on.  It’s a rare luxury these days so I definitely savor it when the opportunity arises.

2. At the Beach.  Here’s a picture of my beach:

I live about four miles away from the ocean so it’s delightful to pack my stuff and spread out in the sun.

3. On the Couch.  Under the couch is where I store all my library books so when I’m feeling spontaneous I’ll grab a book off the stack and just start reading.  Good times.

4. In the Waiting Room.  I’m a very good patient at the doctor because I always have a book with me so I don’t stress out about how long I’ve been there.

5. Car Rides.  Maybe not print books, but I LOVE listening to audiobooks while I’m driving long distances.  Makes the time fly!

6. With Kids. I love sharing stories with the students in my class!

7. Airplanes.  If you have to wait for hours for something, you might as well pass the time in a nice way.

8. On the Swing Set.  Maybe not so much anymore, but when I was little I used to love to sit at the top of my slide with a book.

9.At the Park. Lay out a blanket and stretch out with a book.

10.At the Library.  When a book is finished there are plenty more to choose from?

What are your favorite reading places? 

Review: The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag

Title: The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag
Author: Alan Bradley
Page Count: 364 pages
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Genre: historical mystery
Copy for review obtained via my public library

Back Cover Summary:
From Dagger Award–winning and internationally bestselling author Alan Bradley comes this utterly beguiling mystery starring one of fiction’s most remarkable sleuths: Flavia de Luce, a dangerously brilliant eleven-year-old with a passion for chemistry and a genius for solving murders. This time, Flavia finds herself untangling two deaths—separated by time but linked by the unlikeliest of threads.

Flavia thinks that her days of crime-solving in the bucolic English hamlet of Bishop’s Lacy are over—and then Rupert Porson has an unfortunate rendezvous with electricity. The beloved puppeteer has had his own strings sizzled, but who’d do such a thing and why? For Flavia, the questions are intriguing enough to make her put aside her chemistry experiments and schemes of vengeance against her insufferable big sisters. Astride Gladys, her trusty bicycle, Flavia sets out from the de Luces’ crumbling family mansion in search of Bishop’s Lacey’s deadliest secrets.

Does the madwoman who lives in Gibbet Wood know more than she’s letting on? What of the vicar’s odd ministrations to the catatonic woman in the dovecote? Then there’s a German pilot obsessed with the Brontë sisters, a reproachful spinster aunt, and even a box of poisoned chocolates. Most troubling of all is Porson’s assistant, the charming but erratic Nialla. All clues point toward a suspicious death years earlier and a case the local constables can’t solve—without Flavia’s help. But in getting so close to who’s secretly pulling the strings of this dance of death, has our precocious heroine finally gotten in way over her head?
*****

So I’m pretty notorious, at least in my own mind, for starting a series and loving the first book and then not keeping up with the series, right? Well, stop the presses, because I have continued reading a series in a timely fashion compared to when I started it.

That series is the Flavia de Luce series, which features, quite possibly, my favorite narrator under the age of 13 in any book, ever. Flavia is what could charitably be called precocious, which as anyone knows is a word that people use when they don’t want to say “that kid is annoying.” She’s smart as a whip (far too smart for her own good in fact,) terribly observant, insatiably curious, and has a mind like an endless filing cabinet. These characteristics come together to make a narrator who’s a chemist, an investigator, and a believer in justice, even when she’s not sure what an affair is or how to tell if her older sisters are having fun at her expense.

As I’m writing this review, I’ve read the next two books in the series as well (reviews forthcoming) and I have to say that as far as the mystery goes, this book’s puzzler was my favorite. I loved the descriptions of the puppets and the puppet show and I thought it was great the way the history of the town of Bishop’s Lacey was intertwined with the mystery of how the puppet man died and why it clearly wasn’t an accident. But who could want to murder a guy that, as far as anyone knew, nobody had met before that week? Well, read the book and find out!

This book introduces several characters who have repeating roles in future books, and their inclusion added some interesting historical aspects to the story as well, especially Dieter, the German pilot who was a POW but couldn’t bring himself to leave after the war was over.

Unsurprisingly, Flavia saves the day and puts the facts together in a new and unusual way, and I don’t think that’s a spoiler because it wouldn’t be much of a mystery if our detective didn’t solve it, right? One of my favorite parts of these stories is the big reveal at the end, where Flavia and the Inspector sit down and compare notes, and the Inspector tries not to be too impressed or too annoyed at the eleven year old that beat his own cops at figuring out the story.

I’m pretty sure I’m the last person on earth to start reading this story, but just in case you’re actually that person, I highly recommend making a place for Flavia on your TBR. My next two review slots are taken up by the next two books in this series, and then I’ll only have one book to go before I’m current! Imagine that!

A Favorite Quote:

I am often thought of as being remarkably bright, and yet my brains, more often than not, are busily devising new and interesting ways of bringing my enemies to sudden, gagging, writhing, agonizing death.

  

Audiobook Review: The Case of the Missing Servant

Title: The Case of the Missing Servant
Author: Tarquin Hall
Narrator: Sam Dastor
Length: 8 hours, 27 minutes
Publisher: AudioGo
Genre: mystery
Copy for review was purchased by me

Back Cover Summary:

Watch out Alexander McCall Smith! Here comes the first novel by the highly acclaimed writer Tarquin Hall in an entrancing new mystery series set in India.

The portly Vish Puri is India’s most accomplished detective, at least in his own estimation, and is also the hero of an irresistible new mystery series set in hot, dusty Delhi. Puri’s detective skills are old-fashioned in a Sherlock Holmesian way and a little out of sync with the tempo of the modern city, but Puri is clever and his methods work.

The Case of the Missing Servant shows Puri (“Chubby” to his friends) and his wonderfully nicknamed employees (among them, Handbrake, Flush, and Handcream) hired for two investigations. The first is into the background of a man surprisingly willing to wed a woman her father considers unmarriageable, and the second is into the disappearance six months earlier of a servant to a prominent Punjabi lawyer, a young woman known only as Mary.

The Most Private Investigator novels offer a delicious combination of ingenious stories, brilliant writing, sharp wit, and a vivid, unsentimental picture of contemporary India. And from the first to the last page run an affectionate humour and intelligent insights into both the subtleties of Indian culture and the mysteries of human behaviour.
*****

If I remember correctly, I grabbed this book during one of the many sales that Audible has had since the start of this year. I was willing to break my rule of audiobooks (only listen to books where I’ve already read/enjoyed the print version) since for five or seven bucks, there’s not much to lose. I’m happy I did, because this was a fun mystery with a great cast of characters, showcased to perfection by an excellent narrator. Had enough superlatives yet? If not, read on.

I have to say, if you’re expecting something tremendously different in the field of mystery novels, you may be disappointed. What makes this book unique is the setting (modern day India) and the tongue-in-cheek observations made about life in India and Indian society. The overall mysteries and the mini mysteries aren’t that hard to figure out and are often deduced by logical thinking and arranging the facts in order. If you’re a fan of Agatha Christie or other mystery novelists of that ilk I think you’ll find a lot to like, but if you were expecting some grand reconfiguring of the genre then you might not. Just saying.

The back cover summary does a good job summing up what the book is all about, so I’ll make my contribution by saying the usage of the classic elements of a mystery novel- gathering the clues, arranging the facts, etc. into something that was fun and engrossing with a new setting you don’t often see were the big selling points of the book for me. The narrator does an excellent job of giving characters individual voices and personalities and he kept the narration moving at a good pace. I think my favorite character is Mommy-ji, Puri’s mom, who makes a fair detective in her own right, although her son would never admit that in a million years. Decades of marriage to a police detective weren’t wasted apparently.

Even though I had figured out the whodunnits before the big reveals (it takes a lot longer to listen to a book than to read it in print) I was totally sucked in to this story. I’m training to walk a half marathon right now and this book was one that I listened to as I went around and around the jogging track at the park trying to build mileage. If you like fun mysteries, great characters, and excellent narration, get this book on your TBR. 

Review: Winterblaze

Title: Winterblaze
Author: Kristen Callihan
Page Count: 400 pages
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Genre: historical paranormal romance
Copy for review was purchased by me

Back Cover Summary:
Once blissfully in love . . .

Poppy Lane is keeping secrets. Her powerful gift has earned her membership in the Society for the Suppression of Supernaturals, but she must keep both her ability and her alliance with the Society from her husband, Winston. Yet when Winston is brutally attacked by a werewolf, Poppy’s secrets are revealed, leaving Winston’s trust in her as broken as his body. Now Poppy will do anything to win back his affections . . .

Their relationship is now put to the ultimate test.

Winston Lane soon regains his physical strength but his face and heart still bear the scars of the vicious attack. Drawn into the darkest depths of London, Winston must fight an evil demon that wants to take away the last hope of reconciliation with his wife. As a former police inspector, Winston has intelligence and logic on his side. But it will take the strength of Poppy’s love for him to defeat the forces that threaten to tear them apart.
****

This is truly a series of excellence. In the span of three books Kristen Callihan has become an auto-buy author for me- I will follow her wherever she goes storywise at this point. With that said, in the interest of not spoiling the awesome reading experience for anyone, there are probably spoilers in this review for previous books in the series. Ye be warned and all that jazz.

Poppy Lane is a bad, bad girl. She went from having a great marriage with her detective husband Winson and a million skeletons in her closet to having all her dirty secrets out in the open and a husband who (she thinks) can’t stand the sight of her. She bears so much responsiblity and can’t set it down, even now when her life has gone to crappy crap crap.

Winston is recovering from a life-threatening attack and the added bonus feature of finding out his wife is keeping about a million secrets from him. He has a top-shelf mantrum and starts trying to figure out what to do with all this new knowledge he has, all while ignoring Poppy. Things come to a head when they’re both on the same ship; Lord knows close quarters with no relief in sight is awesome when you’re trying to avoid someone.

I have to say, the beginning of the book took a little while to get going. I would have been totally happy had the whole book been nothing but me reading along as Poppy and Winston dealt with their issues, but I wasn’t surprised at all when there was a supernatural bad guy that had to be defeated. At about 8% the plot kind of gets the Heimlich and we find out that there’s a super bad demon on the loose that Poppy has fought and temporarily defeated before; we don’t know how much of an influence this demon has had Poppy and Winston’s past.

I loved Poppy and Winston as a couple, and I loved watching them find their way back to each other. If I have a complaint about this book, it’s that we had to deal with all of their backstory all at once- the issues that came up in this book were never mentioned before and there were times that it felt like they had to be developed so there would be a conflict besides ‘you lied to me, no I didn’t you never asked the right questions.’ I’m super excited to find out about Poppy and Winston’s baby as well as to watch Mary whip Jack Talent into shape in the next book.

Yes, NEXT BOOK! I thought for sure this was supposed to be a trilogy, but I am wrong about that- there is going to be at least one more book in the series! Shadowdance is due out in November 2013, according to Goodreads, and I will definitely be reading it. Hooray for good news!

As a parting thought, I’m giving this book a full rating of 5, even though there were a couple of pacing issues I wasn’t expecting. I was so pleased with the ending, the incorporation of elements for future stories, and just, oh, everything that I was able to overcome my stumbles very quickly.

A Favorite Quote:

“If you die on me, Winston Lane, I shall kill you.”
His lips tilted. “Don’t worry, sweeting. I live to thwart you.” Then his eyes slid closed.

 

Review: A Rogue by Any Other Name

Title: A Rogue by Any Other Name
Author: Sarah MacLean
Page Count: 386 pages
Publisher: Avon
Genre: historical romance
Copy for review was purchased by me

Back Cover Summary
What a scoundrel wants, a scoundrel gets…

A decade ago, the Marquess of Bourne was cast from society with nothing but his title. Now a partner in London’s most exclusive gaming hell, the cold, ruthless Bourne will do whatever it takes to regain his inheritance—including marrying perfect, proper Lady Penelope Marbury.

A broken engagement and years of disappointing courtships have left Penelope with little interest in a quiet, comfortable marriage, and a longing for something more. How lucky that her new husband has access to such unexplored pleasures.

Bourne may be a prince of London’s underworld, but he vows to keep Penelope untouched by its wickedness—a challenge indeed as the lady discovers her own desires, and her willingness to wager anything for them… even her heart.
*****

I had seen this title bandied about on various blogs a couple of months ago, right before the second book in this series was released, and filed it away for future reference. After reading enough good reviews and seeing that the price had temporarily dropped on Amazon, I was ready to dive in.

The story was a nice tale of redemption for Bourne, one of the owners of a notorious gambling hell who, in his wild younger years, made a stupid mistake that changed the entire course of his life. That mistake was, for whatever reason, gambling all of his holdings that weren’t entailed on a single hand of cards. It’s something a young and stupid person would do but for whatever reason Bourne was surprised when the scumbag he was playing against held him to his bargain. Bourne’s obsession with regaining his family estate was born on that night.

Enter the other half of the equation- Lady Penelope Marbury, whose family estate bordered on the one that Bourne (Michael) lost in the card game back when they were children. Penelope had a secret crush on him when they were both young, but kept it a secret and nurtured her feelings in private, writing and never sending lots of letters and the like. Fast forward to the present day of the story and Penelope is something of a pariah, having broken an engagement years ago when she found out her fiance was in love with someone else. The fiance is happily married with children; Penelope is a walking punch line and her family really wants to get her to the altar.

Penelope’s family was kind of douchey in this book- I understand that Penelope’s actions had consequences for them but the whole “we’d rather you be unhappy forever than have your choices impact me” line got old after awhile. It was her dad deciding that enough was enough and adding more land to Penelope’s dowry that got Bourne on the scene to ruin Penelope’s reputation in the first place. I wish there had been more explanation of how Penelope’s dad came by some very sensitive information about Bourne’s nemesis, but what can one do.

Anyway, the best part of the story was easily the blossoming romance between Bourne and Penelope. Penelope is the best kind of nice girl heroine- the one who is honest and true without being vapid or shallow, the one who has beliefs and lives by them and tries to make the best of a bad situation without coming across as naive. Penelope wants the kind of love that lasts a lifetime and resents the implications of oh, everyone she knows that she should be happy with a groom who is vertical and above room temperature. She decides to make the most of her marriage with Bourne, even before Bourne realizes that revenge isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Likewise, Bourne makes an excellent redeemed bad boy. He’s faced with the inconvenient situation of actually falling in love with the woman he was supposed to marry to get his estate back and then forget about. She’s determined for them to be happy together, and his friends at the gambling hell are happy as clams to see Bourne entangles so thoroughly. Meeting the other owners of the Fallen Angel conveniently introduces us to the heroes for future books in the series. It all works out nicely.

Overall this story was a pleasing way to spend an evening after work, and it definitely got me on board for future installments in the series. Each of the owners of the Fallen Angel has his own terribly convoluted story that true love can help sort out, so I’m excited to be around for the ride. 

Review: Dandy Gilver and the Proper Treatment of Bloodstains

Title: Dandy Gilver and the Proper Treatment of Bloodstains
Author: Catriona McPherson
Page Count: 293 pages
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Genre: historical mystery
Copy for review obtained via my public library

Back Cover Summary:
Welcome to Edinburgh, 1926. Dandy Gilver, a wealthy and witty aristocrat (and sometimes amateur sleuth) receives a letter from Lollie Balfour, who insists that her husband of five years is having her followed and her mail is being steamed open.

The only way for Dandy to help is by pretending to applying for a job as a lady’s maid in Lollie’s house. Dandy gets a crash course from her own maid and arrives at 31 Heriot Row, ready to put all of her detection skills to good use. Why does Mr. Balfour want to get rid of his wife? And can Dandy stay in disguise long enough to evade the villains?

Charming and funny, Dandy Gilver is an irresistible sleuth who is sure to win over mystery lovers everywhere. Readers who can’t get enough of Dorothy L. Sayers, Barbara Pym, and Dorothy Parker will definitely find a new favorite in Catriona McPherson’s smart and original mystery.
*****

Remember how, when I was reviewing the first book in this series (After the Armistice Ball) I commented on how glad I was to have read the first book first?  Well, happily enough for me, that wasn’t a requirement for the rest of the series, since I apparently had grabbed this, the fifth book in the series, in one of my library forays.

Having read the first book was helpful because I had met most of the characters already, but the mystery itself definitely stood on its own.  Dandy goes undercover as a lady’s maid in order to find out why Lollie Balfour’s husband is acting cray cray and trying to kill her.  Everyone who knows Dandy finds the idea of her passing for a second as a servant to be hilarious, and Dandy herself is very honest in her appraisal of her own abilities to pass as a lady’s maid.  In fact, the reactions of several members of the Balfour household end up being the key to the whole business.  Sometimes it isn’t what a character says, but what isn’t said, that ends up being the biggest clue.

With that said, I did figure out who the bad guy was fairly early on, although I didn’t see the precise details come together until they were revealed in the course of the story.  This wasn’t/never is a problem for me- I like to see a plan come together.

The most fascinating (and unexpected) part of this story was definitely the peek into how the lives of servants and workers were different from those of the people you generally read about (wealthy people.)  At the same time as the events of this story was a general strike in Britain; Dandy has to consider how her attitudes towards working people were shaped by her and her husband’s social position and finds that meeting these people in the flesh is a lot different from reading about people in the newspapers.  The book doesn’t preach, just provides some food for thought, and it’s clear that Dandy leaves the Balfour household with a lot to think about.

All in all, this was another fun venture into this series, and when I went to put my next installment on hold, I made sure to find book number two.  I’m looking forward to reading and reviewing all the shenanigans that Dandy gets up to- this is rapidly becoming one of my favorite historical mystery series.