Book Review: Magpie Murders

 

 

I am a huge Agatha Christie fan, but that doesn’t mean much. Who doesn’t love A.C.? But, having run through her entire collection (twice), I was thrilled to find this gem.

41TDQZ5XDsL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_The story is actually two stories: a murder mystery written by a famous author who has suddenly passed away, and then his agent who discovers, much to her chagrin, that the final chapters in the book are missing. The story is a pastiche, which, thanks to the power of the internet, I learned means it’s like a parody, except it honors a style rather than pokes fun at it.

This was such a delightful read. I could hardly put it down, except sometimes I had to seeing as it is several hundred pages long and the kids start to complain when they don’t get fed on a regular basis. I don’t want to spoil it but there’s a story within a story and the one depends on the other and it’s just great, so go get this Easter egg of a book and savor every page.

About the author: After reading his bio, I feel like a complete slacker. Anthony Horowitz is quite a prolific person. According to his website, he has written over 40 books, as well as the successful TV series Foyle’s War and Misdomer Murders. He received an OBE for literature in 2014.

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Book Review: Vinegar Girl

Another book review based on geography: very local geography in this case. Anne Tyler is a fellow Baltimor9780804141284ean and when I read her stories, I can’t help but hope I’ll run into her at the grocery store.

Vinegar Girl is the retelling of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. Tyler supposedly hated the story and was happy to get a chance to rewrite it.

Kate Battista is a brusque preschool assistant and college dropout. Her future is looking rather bleak when her father, a quirky scientist at Johns Hopkins, asks her to marry his Russian research assistant so he can stay in the country. She balks at first, but then starts to reconsider when she discovers that Pyotr – whose name gets mangled by just about everyone – is as rude and brash as she is.

It’s a quick, light read and the ending is anything but a surprise, but I enjoyed it very much. And I related to Kate more than I should probably admit.

About the author: Anne Tyler is the author of more than 20 books. She won a Pulitzer Prize for Breathing Lessons, but my personal fave is The Accidental Tourist.

Book review: The Truth According to Us

It seems I’m on a geography-related reading kick lately. I loved The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and so was excited to see Annie Barrows had a new story out. The Truth didn’t disappoint.

22551743It takes place during the 1930s in Macedonia, West Virginia. In other words, a place that was hit hard by the Depression.

The narration alternates between a young girl in the household of a former leading family in the small town, her aunt/caretaker, and a young socialite who boards with them. In defiance of a paternal order to marry a rich man she doesn’t love, the socialite is forced to go ‘on the dole,’ accepting a job with the WPA to write the history of the seemingly uninteresting small town.

Of course Macedonia is anything but, and the winding paths her research takes open a whole can of worms (and whup ass) many in the town would prefer she leave undisturbed, including and especially the family she is developing a relationship with.

A lazy, hazy day kind of book, but any time you have an hour to relax into another time and place, give this one a shot.

About the author: According to Barrows’ website, her aunt fell ill before she could finish Guernsey Literary and so Annie stepped in to finish it. Then she wanted to write a tribute to her aunt’s home town and wrote The Truth. She also claims to have a superpower of being invisible around young people, which is something we have in common, and an indispensable trait for a writer.

WILD ROOTS: Coming Alive in the French Amazon

Discover your own wild roots, or be an armchair traveler. Either way, Mulvenna’s stories make for a great read.

The Naked Reviewers

4

Donna Mulvenna had everything she wanted in her modern Australian life: a rewarding career, a spacious home, and an around-the-clock connection to mobile technology. But for all these comforts, she couldn’t shake the feeling something was missing.

So when a Frenchman entered her life and invited her to move to France, she instantly daydreamed of strolling through lavender fields and sipping espresso in Paris. How could she have known he had two tickets to an obscure, mosquito-infested French territory in South America: French Guiana?

After that life got a little crazy. Donna found herself hacking through a perilous jungle, canoeing along anaconda-infested rivers, and overcoming a tropical disease: in a place that became more hostile by the minute. Harrowing ordeals became just another pothole in the road as she battled with bureaucratic nightmares, befriended a bizarre assortment of lively characters, and encountered oddball creatures in a chocolate-colored sea.

Then it…

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Book review: Swimming with Bridgeport Girls

This one was a surprise. I picked it by the title, which is a flimsy enough reason to choose a book. But what a find.

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I don’t know what is bigger: Ray Parisi’s dreams, his heart, or his gambling debt. Any way you slice it, this story is a fantastic ride.

Everyone wants a piece of Ray, from his bookie to the police (although not, much to Ray’s chagrin, his ex). You’d think his troubles are over when he unexpectedly inherits from his estranged father. Nope. That’s just another reason to hit the casinos.

I laughed, I cried, I winced through every horrible choice Ray makes (and there’s a lot of them). Needless to say, I stayed up late to find out how it all turned out. The way it ended, I’m wondering if there’s might be a sequel in the works.

I certainly hope so.

About the author: I was so encouraged to learn that this is Anthony Tambakis’s first novel and he’s fifty! There’s hope for us all. And I certainly hope there’s more to come from this talented writer.

Interview with author DeForest Day

About the only thing I like better than Belgian chocolate is discovering a good book. Blown Away (A Marital Misunderstanding) blew me away. Supremely funny, wickedly twisted, all the more appealing because I could imagine this scenario actually happening. Needless to say, I couldn’t put it down.
I don’t usually feel like Julie Andrews, but I must have done something good because I was lucky enough to score an interview with the lovely and talented author, Deforest Day.
Without further ado, let us proceed with the interview.61pY7ewitPL._UX250_
What are your ambitions for your writing career?
Turn a profit before I die.
Day gazes wistfully at a calendar.
At 76, I need to get busy.
Which writers inspire you?
Lately I find myself rereading dead guys. John Updike, Faulkner, Elmore Leonard. This worries my therapist, but I think it is just simple memory loss. That, or today’s writers are all a steaming pile of—my therapists says don’t go there; I need to maintain a positive outlook during my Golden Years. I told him I’d have a lot more gold if I stopped seeing him, so I did.
So, what have you written?    
I have written, he said wryly, dozens of novels. Published is a touchy subject, but since it is just the two of us I will confide. August Ice, a mystery, was published thirty years ago, when an editor at St. Martin’s Press had a momentary lack of judgement. The publishing world is a pack of sheep, and one of them at Carroll & Graf followed his mistake by publishing two more. You can look at the covers at here, but thankfully they are out of print.
What are you currently working on and what is it about?    
Funny you should ask. I’m attempting a series of shorter humorous works, aimed at the attention span of the modern reader. I tell ya.
Day says this in a rather skillful imitation of the late Rodney Dangerfield. It ain’t easy, competing with 140 characters.
51z-M6p4PVL._SY346_I always say, my next book is going to be written in emoji.
What drew you to write in this genre?    
I published Blown Away, a dark domestic comedy, on Amazon. Sales were so stagnant President Trump used it as an example of a swamp that needed draining. So I dashed off a short story called The Nose Knows, staring two characters in the novel. Duane Munch and his bloodhound partner Bugle Boy. Sales of it skyrocketed into double digits, and I was off and running. A Nose for News quickly followed. I am furiously working on a third, and hope to earn enough for both a night on the town and bail money.
How much research do you do?     
I found that my ‘style’ has changed with the advent of the internet and Google. I probably use it a dozen times a day, researching small things that give depth to a story. I recently researched 1940’s women’s hats, and the value of a a first edition copy of Little Women. (five figures, so check you attic)
When did you decide to become a writer?     
I never consciously made a decision, I just started ‘writing’ around the age of five. At first I was following in the tradition of Homer, telling stories aloud as a way of holding my parent’s attention, because they ignored my demands for candy and comic books. Then came works on paper, done with crayons, and were one-page illustrated stories. Jimmy Crad was one.(spelling is still a challenge) My father always made up stories to amuse me, and the natural competitor that resides in small children responded with ones of my own.
Where do the your ideas come from?     
The Idea Store. A guy runs it out of his van, in the alley behind Kinkos.
Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer just see where an idea takes you?         

51dJ5r1li6L._SY346_I start with a character, and then watch where he takes me. Before he gets too carried away with the story I make notes, and try to put some controls on where he goes, and who he interacts with. It’s a bit like Second City improv. What looks effortless takes a lot of practice.

What is the hardest thing about writing?         
It’s all hard, until you realize it’s done indoors, with no heavy lifting. (That’s my take on life. My mantra is “Life is good, considering the alternative.”)
Do you think that the cover plays an important part in the buying process?        
Does a short red dress?
How are you publishing this book and why?          
Amazon, because at my age I don’t buy green bananas. Finding an agent and then a publisher takes years. Which is another way of saying never. . .
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What are your thoughts on good/bad reviews?        
I doubt if many buyers read the reviews on Amazon.They just glance at the stars and the numbers. My second hard cover thriller (A Cold Killing) got a very nice review in the Sunday NYT. There was no notice of a disturbance in the force.
Any amusing story about marketing books that happened to you?        
My first Book Tour was set up by the publisher, and consisted of a table outside a bookstore in a local mall. There were three of us, and I discovered the other two were self-published by a vanity press. (This was decades before Amazon.
What do you think of “trailers” for books?        
I think it is a good idea to include the first chapter of another book, with a link to Amazon.
Do you think that giving books away free works and why?       
YES! Short of setting yourself on fire in Times Square it is the best way of getting attention.
Excuse me while I make a note to return that fire-proof suit I just bought.
How do you relax?        
I think you are too young and innocent to learn the answer.
What is your favorite motivational phrase.        
“I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man with no feet.”
What advice would you give to your younger self?    
 “Stop staring out the window. There’s no money in writing fiction.”
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?        
Buy a pair of Nikes, and then Just do it.51TiMMDJfGL._AC_US218_
When you develop characters do you already know who they are before you begin writing or do you let them develop as you go?     
If you create interesting characters they lead the way. And sometimes a walk-on will steal a scene, and then demand a larger role.
Where is your favorite place to write?      
My desk in front of the keyboard. That’s where the rubber hits the road. But every place else—awake or asleep— is where the dreams are born.
Thanks for meeting with me today, Mr. Day, and extra thanks for the laughs.
Readers in the need of more humor therapy should head straight over to Day’s Amazon page.