Book Review: And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

And Then There Were None
by
Agatha Christie

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Ten strangers are invited to visit a luxurious private island off the coast of Devon, England. People are talking about who the mysterious new owner of Soldier Island might be. The curious guests don’t care. Their invitations suggest a vague connection to a person named Owen and they all accept. When they arrive, there is no host, just a message to settle in.

After dinner, a shocking and eerie recording charges each with separate murders. “Prisoners at the bar,” the voice asks, “have you anything to say in your defence?” Although never officially charged with the murders, it’s a new kind of justice on Soldier Island and it turns out that each guest has something to hide:

Something went terribly wrong for one of Dr. Edward Armstrong’s patients. The butler and cook, Mr. and Mrs. Rogers, must explain how a woman under their care died. Spinster Emily Brent must account for the death of a young woman. Former detective William Blore lied under oath, and the defendant died. For Vera Claythorne it’s the drowning death of a young boy. Captain Philip Lombard once left twenty-one East African tribesmen without food or water. General John Macarthur sent one of his men to certain death. Anthony Marston’s drunken driving took the lives of two young people. And Justice Lawrence Wargrave abused his influence in court, sending the defendant to his death.

As a storm rages, one by one, the guests die, just like in the children’s nursery rhyme, “Ten Little Soldiers.” They soon understand they are isolated and their supply boat won’t return for days. What to do?

This is my second Agatha Christie mystery and it’s perfectly constructed. Every clue means something (even the red herring!) and the eventual explanation is clever and satisfying. Just like when you meet a stranger, you have to go through the process of learning about the person and understanding his or her motives. Because they each have something to hide, you can’t know for sure if this one has a good reason for having a weapon or if that one has a good explanation for what went wrong in the past. And as the numbers dwindle, their strategies change. Is staying together as a group a good idea? Is it best to lock yourself in your room?

In a twisted form of vigilante justice, the killer makes his/her guests pay for crimes that were untouchable by the law. How they react and how they justify their actions is just as interesting as the mystery itself.

I enjoyed And Then There Were None, but I’m taking off a star because of the occasional racist commentary, which I also noticed in The Mysterious Affair at Styles. Can you go back and change the way a classic and famous book is written? I don’t think so, but this story did undergo a couple title changes. You can read my review of The Mysterious Affair at Styles and find links about the subject here.

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

Book Review: The Pocket Wife by Susan Crawford

The Pocket Wife
by
Susan Crawford

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Dana Catrell isn’t sure what happened at Celia Steinhauser’s house that afternoon. The only thing she knows is that her neighbor is dead. As she tries to piece together the events, Dana vaguely remembers an argument after a lot of drinks at Celia’s house. That and a picture on Celia’s phone of Dana’s husband, Peter and another woman. Alcohol isn’t the only reason Dana can’t remember, however. She’s on a manic bipolar disorder climb and headed for a crash.

Detective Jack Moss gives the Steinhauser case his full attention, as always. Now it’s a nice distraction from his ruined life at home. Under pressure from the prosecutor’s office, Jack has to solve the case quickly and everything else will have to wait. Moss interviews neighbors as well as Dana, Peter, Celia’s husband, Ronald. Is Dana’s account reliable? Is Peter having an affair? Does Ronald’s alibi check out? In addition to these questions, when forensic evidence points in a new direction, Moss may have to consider an alarming alternative.

Set in Paterson, New Jersey, outside of New York, this debut thriller/mystery looks inside the mind of a woman who struggles to separate the truth from a confusion of thoughts and images. Her manic self becomes obsessed with finding Celia’s phone and the picture of Peter and another woman. If Dana can find that picture, she’ll still have a grip on her life.

I enjoyed this suspenseful story, told in third person, but from both Dana and Jack’s points of view. The author uses Dana’s unreliable memories to drive the story and I was fascinated by Dana’s ability to grasp at pieces of truth, despite her mental illness. That made me want her to prove herself innocent, despite incriminating facts. Readers will feel the stress of Dana’s confusion and watch her approach the brink.

If you’re from New Jersey, you may wonder why the book is set in Paterson, a dangerously violent city, not really a nice suburban town. I’m not sure why. The story does include a violent murder, but the author’s description of the town and the neighborhood where the Catrells and the Steinhausers live don’t seem to fit the actual town. The author also uses a lot of rain to add mood to the story. I thought it was a little overdone, as if the sun never comes out in New Jersey! These are small comments, however, because I felt the story and the suspense of Dana’s eventual collapse were very engaging. I think the story’s strongest parts were the looks inside Dana’s mind.

I recommend The Pocket Wife to readers who like suspense and mystery and are looking for a quick read.

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

Book Review: The Address by Fiona Davis

The Address
by
Fiona Davis

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I’ve always enjoyed reading stories set in New York and have been meaning to read The Address for a long time. In this 2017 novel by Fiona Davis, Sara Smythe and Bailey Camden live in New York, one hundred years apart. They are connected in indeterminate ways to the 1885 murder of the fictional architect Theodore Camden. Set in 1884 and 1984, their narratives revolve around the famous Dakota, an apartment building in New York.

The Dakota is a real place. Located on the northwest corner of 72nd Street and Central Park West on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, its tenants include famous musicians, artists and actors. It’s also where John Lennon was murdered in 1980. When it first opened in 1884, the Dakota was actually in a remote part of NYC, if you can believe it. Designed to attract the newly wealthy, the building opened its doors to a full staff and plenty of luxuries.

Sara’s story begins in 1884 when Theodore Camden recruits her from the London Langham Hotel to become the first managerette (how do you like that job title?) of the Dakota. Unmarried and in her thirties, Sara works as the head housekeeper. She’s ready for a change, however and drawn to Theodore’s charms, despite the fact that he’s married with three young children. In a bold decision, Sara quits her job and crosses the Atlantic to start a new life during New York’s gilded age. She lives at the Dakota and confidently manages a large staff of housekeepers, porters, maintenance crew and the tenants’ maids. Unable to resist their mutual attractions, Theo and Sara begin an affair that leads to Theo’s ultimate death and the end of Sara’s career.

Jumping to 1984, interior designer Bailey Camden must rebuild her life after a struggle with drugs and alcohol. Out of rehab and jobless, she visits her wealthy cousin Melinda Camden, who lives at the Dakota, in the same apartment where Theo was murdered. Bailey’s family connection to the wealthy Camdens began when her grandfather became Theodore Camden’s ward. Melinda will soon inherit trust money, but Bailey, whose family has learned to live without, will not. In a gesture of seemingly good will, Melinda hires Bailey to redesign her apartment and agrees to let her live there until she gets on her feet. When Bailey discovers personal items belonging to Sara and Theo’s family, she will soon learn more about the affair and just how she fits into the Camden lineage.

I enjoyed this novel which is part mystery and part historical fiction. Davis explores the messy themes of money, class, inheritance and family and entertains the reader with images of New York’s upper and working classes and the city’s development and its varied architecture. In addition, a special appearance by investigative journalist Nellie Bly provides an up-close look at the horrors of Blackwell Island’s Insane Asylum. I recommend The Address to fans of New York stories as well as readers who like historical fiction, interesting characters and themes of money and class.

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

Book Review: The Lying Room by Nicci French

The Lying Room
by
Nicci French

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

When Neve Connolly’s phone pings during a family breakfast, she drops everything and goes to Saul Stevenson’s pied-à-terre. At forty-five, she’s deeply embedded in what’s become a drudgery of marriage and children. Her affair with Saul makes her feel young again.

When Neve arrives, she finds Saul dead on the living room floor, brutally murdered. Terrified their affair will be found out, she scours the apartment and removes all evidence that she had ever been there. After hours of careful cleaning, Neve returns home, anxious to resume a normal life. But she can’t shake the feeling that she’s forgotten something and it begins to torment her.

Saul was her boss. His company, Redfern Publishing, has just taken over Sans Serif, a small printing company that Neve and her friends started after college. Now all of Redfern is shocked at Saul’s death. His assistant seems to know all and Detective Chief Inspector Alastair Hitching is on the scene, asking questions and taking DNA samples.

As the story develops, readers learn that Neve and her husband, Fletcher have been struggling. Neve is the main breadwinner and Fletcher, an illustrator, can’t find work and battles depression. Their two young boys need attention and their moody daughter, Mabel may or may not go off to college.

Neve and her Sans Serif friends move in a unit and know each other’s business. Tamsin’s marriage is over. Renata drinks too much and Gary’s bitterness over the merger has changed him. At the center is Neve, the friend everyone thinks has it all together. During the investigation, she continues to play this role, but she’s cracking underneath. Hitching’s relentless questions and shocking revelations at home force Neve into a manic overdrive. A days-long party at their house with awkward overnight guests provides a look at how the characters interact with each other and the secrets they keep.

I enjoyed reading The Lying Room, a standalone book set in London. It’s much different from the other book I read by Nicci French (Blue Monday, the first in the Freida Klein series.). At first, I thought I was reading a thriller but the more I got into it I felt like it was more of a classic mystery. Scenes at the Connolly house remind me of other mysteries in which clues and motives emerge. And while the story begins with the tension of a thriller, it becomes much lighter as we learn about the characters and their lives. In addition, many references to cooking up sophisticated meals during the chaos of Neve’s nightmare give it a cozy feel. Although I enjoyed getting to know all the characters, I didn’t like all of them, but that’s okay.

Themes of marriage, friendship and motherhood play strongly in the story. The authors (yes that’s plural – it’s a husband-wife team) finish up with an exciting confrontation and a satisfying tie-up. I recommend The Lying Room to readers who enjoy lighter suspenseful mysteries.

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

Books set in Australia

Wow, I hadn’t realized until recently just how many books I’ve read that are set in Australia! Here’s what I’ve read. Can you add to this list?

Alone – Lost Overboard in the Indian Ocean – Brett Archibald

The Dry by Jane Harper

Force of Nature by Jane Harper

The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman

The Lost Man by Jane Harper

The Mother-in-Law by Sally Hepworth

The Murder of Mary Russell by Laurie R. King

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough

Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty


Check out these lists for additional books set in Australia:

Goodreads – Best Books Set in Australia

Tale_Away – Books Set In Australia: Australian Novels

Crime Reads – 10 Essential Australian Novels


For even more, visit my post More books set in Australia here.

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

Book Review: The Lost Man by Jane Harper

The Lost Man
by
Jane Harper

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Nathan and Bub Bright were shocked when their middle brother, Cameron died in the outback’s unrelenting heat. It didn’t make sense that he’d had gone out on foot to the legendary Stockman’s Grave, miles from his truck and the family’s cattle ranch. At forty, Cam was a successful and capable rancher and ran the family’s business. And he knew the dangers of the desert heat. Despite signs that Cam was desperate to find shade, investigators suggest that Cam took his own life.

In the following days, more questions arise as the Bright family grieves and the reader gets a closer look at the family’s dynamics. There is obvious tension between Nathan and Bub. Nathan, forty-two, is divorced and runs a small strip of sub-par land adjacent to the Bright ranch. He’s also a smaller stake-holder in the family’s business. Bub, who is twelve years younger, tends to live up to his reputation as a screw-up and he nurses an unspoken bitterness. Another issue is the transfer of ranch shares from Cam to his wife, Ilse, giving her fifty percent ownership. If Nathan sides with Ilse, Bub will not have a voice.

At the house, Cam’s wife, Ilse and their two young daughters must now begin a new life. And Liz, the family matriarch seems to decline by the minute. Also there are Nathan’s teenage son, a long-time ranch hand and a couple transient backpackers.

Written from Nathan’s point of view, readers learn the long history of the boys’ childhoods and difficulties with their father, now dead, and between the brothers as adults. At the center of Nathan’s problems are events involving his ex-wife’s family and the people of Balamara, as well as a missed potential romance from years ago.

A key part of the story is the isolated setting and its dangers. The Brights and the people from Balamara know how to survive the intense desert heat, dangerous wind storms and seasonal flooding that cuts them off from their not-so-close neighbors. But these conditions generate lonely and helpless feelings, particularly for some of the women. Interestingly, Nathan seems to prefer being on his own, deliberately cutting off connections, but could he be the one who needs them most?

Even after Cameron is laid to rest, Nathan continues to dig for answers, but he may not be ready for what he finds. Will he continue to protect the family’s dark secrets?

I liked this atmospheric mystery, although I would describe it more as a family drama, with interesting character studies. I was surprised by the ending, which made the book even more enjoyable. I’m looking forward to reading Jane Harper’s newest book, The Survivors, published in February 2021.

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

Other books by Jane Harper

The Dry
Force of Nature

Book Review: The Bone Hunger by Carrie Rubin

The Bone Hunger
by
Carrie Rubin

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

If you’re looking for a great medical thriller, check out The Bone Hunger by Carrie Rubin, the second in the Ben Oris series. Set in Philadelphia at the fictional Montgomery Hospital, it picks up after the first book, The Bone Curse. (Read my review here.) The Bone Hunger can be easily read as a standalone novel and follows the personal and professional life of Ben Oris. Ben was a medical student in the first book and now he’s a resident at Montgomery. Here’s a rundown of the story’s opening:

Dr. Ben Oris is not looking for trouble. After what he’s been through, he likes the ordinary. Three years earlier, he was cut by an ancient bone and became involved in a strange incident involving a mysterious disease and a Haitian Vodou priestess. Now Ben’s life is busy, but normal. A second-year orthopedic surgery resident, he’s under the tutelage of Dr. Kent Lock, one of the best reconstructive surgeons in the country. He’s also a single dad to three-year-old Maxwell. Nothing but work, family, and a hopeful romance on the horizon, just the way he wants it.

On a wintry walk through the Wissahickon Valley Park, Ben and Maxwell’s mother, Sophie, discover the severed limb of a recent knee surgery patient. Police and hospital seniors think it may be a sick prank, but later, when more orthopedic surgery patients go missing and their hacked-off limbs turn up, bearing alarming bite marks, Ben finds himself at the center of a murder investigation. In a rush against time, he must balance his demanding job and parenting responsibilities, follow hunches and most important, protect the people he loves.

At Montgomery, Lock and his surgical team continue their surgery schedule, replacing knees and hips, on the heels of a near-death plane crash in Alaska while on a humanitarian mission. Psychological stress and fears about who the next victim will be may be too much for the team. In addition, new developments make Ben question his professional loyalties. Are the surgical implants somehow connected to these grisly crimes? Should Ben investigate or leave it to the police?

Rubin provides readers with a great look at what it’s like to work in the medical world, with a big dose of grueling schedules, hospital hierarchies, politics, feuds and power plays. She also offers a realistic commentary about life situations, specifically related to diversity, treatment of the elderly, religion and respecting differing beliefs. She does all this with compassion and humor and expertly builds these details into the story.

Rubin also includes chapters about the mysterious “monster” responsible, but not its identity. Written in first-person, these chapters offer insight and suspenseful details as the story develops.

The plot moves at a steady pace and then, bam! Readers get what they’ve been waiting for: a thrilling confrontation between good and evil, with all sorts of unexpected twists. Even the final pages reveal additional developments, setting Ben and the rest of the characters up for the future.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Bone Hunger and recommend it to readers who like medical thrillers, suspenseful stories and mysteries. I look forward to the next in the series.

I received a copy of The Bone Hunger from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Check out my reviews of Rubin’s other books below:

The Seneca Scourge
Eating Bull
The Bone Curse

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

Book Review: The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Hound of the Baskervilles
by
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

I’m probably one of the last people to read or know the story of The Hound of the Baskervilles, which has also been adapted for film and television many times. It’s also the only Sherlock Holmes novel or short story I’ve read and I enjoyed it very much.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote four crime novels and many short stories featuring Sherlock Holmes and The Hound of the Baskervilles is the most famous and widely considered his best. The novel first appeared in 1901 in The Strand Magazine in serialized format and was printed as a novel in 1902.

The Hound of the Baskervilles is a story of murder, greed and deception. Set on Dartmoor in Devon, England, it’s centered on the legend of a fierce and supernatural hound that preys on members of the Baskerville family and caused the death of Hugo Baskerville. The story begins years later, when Sir Charles Baskerville dies outside his mansion with an expression of grotesque terror on his face. Nearby otherworldly footprints suggest the hound was in the vicinity.

Sir Henry Baskerville, the next of kin, is called to take over the estate. Sir Charles’s friend, Dr. James Mortimer, notifies Holmes and soon the detective and his assistant, Watson begin to investigate Charles’s death. Meanwhile Sir Henry receives a mysterious letter warning him to stay away and it seems that someone is following Sir Henry. For Sir Henry’s protection and to keep attention away from the investigation, Holmes decides that only Watson should go to Baskerville Hall and report to Holmes by letter everything he sees. On arrival, they learn that a convicted murderer has escaped the nearby prison and is on the loose on the moor.

The story is narrated by Watson and includes letters to Holmes, journal entries as well as the original manuscript explaining the legend and how Hugo met his death. Watson details his impression of the Barrymores, the butler and housekeeper at Baskerville Hall, as well as the Stapletons, Mr. Frankland and other neighbors on the moor. He also tells of strange moans and cries coming from the moor and details the moor’s intimidating landscape.

More than one of these characters has something to hide and Watson soon eyes a second figure on the moor. He’s close to uncovering important details but will need Holmes’s expertise to solve the mystery. I don’t want to give anything away, so I’ll leave the rest of the plot out, in case you also have never read this story.

One of the things I enjoyed most about the story is the actual setting on Dartmoor, which dates back to the Bronze Age and retains many of the stone structures built during prehistoric times. This area is now a national park. You can learn more about it here.

I’m likely to read more Sherlock Holmes mysteries. Do you have a favorite?

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

Book Club Mom’s Author Update: Tammie Painter

Author name: Tammie Painter

Book to feature: The Undead Mr. Tenpenny, The Cassie Black Trilogy Book One

News to share: I’m thrilled to announce the launch of The Undead Mr. Tenpenny, the first book in my new series, The Cassie Black Trilogy. I probably shouldn’t admit this, but the novel — which is full of dark humor — first came to mind while I was waiting for my grandmother’s funeral to start.

The book begins when Cassie Black, who works at a funeral home, finds her “clients” waking up.

Cassie thinks she has the problem under control, until her latest client (Mr. Tenpenny) insists he’s been murdered and claims Cassie’s responsible thanks to a wicked brand of magic she’s  been exposed to. The only way for Cassie to get her life back to normal is to tame her magic and uncover Mr. Tenpenny’s true killer.

Simple right? Of course not. Because while Cassie works on getting her newly-acquired magic sorted, she’s blowing up kitchens, angering an entire magical community, and discovering her past is more closely tied to Busby Tenpenny than she could have ever imagined.

The novel earned some happy kudos from a branch of the American PEN Women when it won first place in their novel excerpt contest, and again from Apple who selected it as one of their Most Anticipated Books of 2021.

But what’s truly brought a smile to my face are the responses from my early reviewers who have loved the characters, the humor, and the overall premise of the book.

Anyway, If you like contemporary fantasy with snarky humor, unforgettable characters, piles of pastries, and a little paranormal mystery, you’ll love the Cassie Black Trilogy…a fish-out-of-water tale that takes you from the streets of Portland to the Tower of London.

Brief bio and other books: I’m an award-winning author who turns wickedly strong tea into imaginative fiction. With a creative and curious mind, my stories run the gamut from historical fantasy to modern-day paranormal, and magical realism to humor-laced dark tales.

Besides the new trilogy, I’ve got two, complete historical fantasy series under my belt: The Osteria Chronicles and Domna, plus a fair number of short stories.

Website and social media links:
Web: tammiepainter.com
Podcast: thebookowlpodcast.com
BookBub: @TammiePainter
Instagram: tammiepainter
Twitter: @tammie_painter


Are you working on a new book? Have you won an award or a writing contest? Did you just update your website? Maybe you just want to tell readers about an experience you’ve had. Book Club Mom’s Author Update is a great way to share news and information about you and your books.

Email Book Club Mom at bvitelli2009@gmail.com for more information.

Open to all authors – self-published, indie, big-time and anything in between. Author submissions are limited to one per author in a six-month period.

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

Book Review: A Murder of Magpies by Judith Flanders

A Murder of Magpies
by
Judith Flanders

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Samantha Clair, an editor at Timmons and Ross, has a hot manuscript in her hands. The author is fashion journalist Kit Lovell and he’s about to expose the French couture house of Vernet in his new book, The Gilded Life and Tarnished Death of Rodrigo Alemán. Alemán is the company’s former CEO, now deceased under questionable circumstances. In the manuscript, Lovell claims Vernet has been involved in money laundering and worse.

The story begins when the bicycle courier delivering the manuscript to Timmons and Ross is killed in a hit and run. When Lovell is robbed and disappears and Samantha’s London apartment is mysteriously searched, Sam finds herself in the middle of an investigation. She teams up with Inspector Jacob Field and calls upon her mother, Helena, a powerful solicitor, to solve the hit and run and find Lovell.

Though not a detective, Sam plunges into the sometimes-dangerous investigation, often without Jake’s knowledge. And once they start digging, they discover a much more involved system of crimes with many players. Flanders introduces several mysterious characters, including Sam’s upstairs neighbor, the retired Pavel Rudiger, who never leaves his apartment, and an unnamed lurker who seems to be following Sam. Sam also meets more than a dozen others, including professors, editors, and a crew of solicitors from various firms.

Sam must also tend to problems at the office. Most important is figuring out what to do with one of her authors, the possibly over-the-hill chick-lit writer Breda McManus, whose new manuscript reads like a clunker. Flanders gives readers an amusing look into the publishing business and its politics, one of the stronger parts of the story.

After a complicated middle, Flanders introduces additional characters who quickly push the story to a neatly tied-up finish, solving both the mystery of Lovell’s disappearance and the crimes associated with Vernet.

I thought this story was okay, but felt the crime plot was unnecessarily complicated and a little hard to follow. There’s also an awkwardness between characters and maybe that’s because A Murder of Magpies is the first in the mystery series and readers don’t know them yet. That said, I liked several of the side characters and would like to see them in future stories. In addition, the suggestion of a future romance in Helena’s life would make for some interesting subplots.

So just an average mystery, but with the promise of better stories and characters as they develop. There are three more books in the Sam Clair series. You can learn more about them here.

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!