Sunday, December 10, 2023

November Books

 Hi everyone. Happy second half of the weekend to you.

I’m away on a little one night roadtrip (I’m coming home later today) so I thought this would be a good day to post my monthly book list. I started the month with a few quick read mysteries and then I slowed down reading a longer history. The history was excellent though, but it did mean that I didn't get through as many books as I often do. (Oh well.)

My first book for November was book 3 in this mystery series by JM Dalgliesh. It seems lately I've read a lot of mysteries where a body is found in the water, and this story started this way also. 

Tom Janssen, his side-kick and boss  Tamara  Greave, as well as the young detective in the office named  Eric Collet, investigate the murder of a woman  whose mutilated body is found by a fisherman. And who is the woman? Susan Cook disappeared without a trace years earlier, leaving behind her husband and her son. It was assumed she had committed suicide, but after some investigating, she is identified as the dead woman. 

What happened to Susan Cook during her disappearance and then, who killed her? Does it have anything to do with her husband or maybe it's even an event from her childhood? She was in and out of foster care and even in an institutional girls home for a time. Although the girls home has closed, perhaps some clues lie in the decaying building.

This is another good mystery by Dalgliesh. The author creates some strong characters, and he ends with some action that really makes you want to see what happens. This time the author also tries to add more personal life to the main characters in this story, which worked and didn't work for me. The mystery however is  well done and  not particularly long. 

I've been interested for awhile now in checking out the "new" Hercule Poirot mysteries by Sophie Hannah. I saw this one reviewed online at A Wordy Woman's blog back in November, and since it was recommended, I decided to give it a try.  I am glad I did.

It is December 18, 1931. Inspector Catchpool is planning to spend Christmas at Hercule Poirot's London home when out of the blue, the inspector's mother shows up.  She insists that her son and Poirot head out to a crumbling Norfolk estate to help solve the murder of a man, not related to the estate, who died in the local hospital.   The problem is that Arnold, a friend of Catchpool's mother and the man who owns the estate, is soon to be admitted to that hospital because he is dying from cancer. He is quite interested in spending his last days solving the case of the dead man. And of course, he is a fan of Hercule Poirot, and what a lovely Christmas gift it would be to have Poirot spend the holiday at his house.

And just like any decent Christie story, Poirot and Catchpool travel to Norfolk and get involved with the investigation. And when another murder happens, then Poirot must solve it.

Hannah doesn't sound exactly like Christie did, but she does hold true to Poirot's character.  I also like how she set this story back in 1931, and along with  the setting, the characters and storyline could easily be created by Christie.  I'm actually glad this mystery is a Christie in the important ways but not a Christie in other ways because it is not an imitation. It's its own book.  I'm also glad Hercule Poirot is back as he is an interesting  character, even if at times he is  a bit too much and can even border on being obnoxious. Sophie Hannah  skillfully pulled this book off.

I very much enjoyed this book, and I will definitely  read more of this new Poirot series.

One of my mother's favorite  authors was Simenon, a Belgian  writer who wrote many mysteries "starring" Jules Maigret, a Paris detective. I have several of my mother's old books, including this one, which was first published in 1950. 

A couple of human teeth are found in the furnace of a bookbinder's home/office. He is arrested under suspicion of murder. However, all the clues first spotted in his home have seemed to have disappeared. Where is the suitcase? Where is the blue suit with the blood on it?  Since this book was published in 1950, the police procedures were obviously different from what you see in more modern stories, but that does not take away from this book at all.

Then there is Madame Maigret's own mystery.  Every time she visits her dentist, there is a woman  in a white hat with a child sitting on a bench outside of the office.  Before the dental visit that begins this story, while Madame is waiting for her appointment, she sits with the woman. The woman then asks Madame if she can watch the child for a minute while she quickly  runs an errand. Time passes and the woman doesn't return. More time passes, and she still doesn't return.  Madame Maigret misses her dental appointment, but the woman does  eventually return. How does this event play into the story?

Simeon skillfully weaves the 2 stories together, which I knew would happen. I must say I didn't quite expect other pieces of this story.  What's  interesting about  Maigret mysteries are the characters, the time period and definitely life in Paris. This novel was not particularly long, and I  enjoyed it. 

This book was mentioned in a blog post by Elle at Empire of the Cat, and when I looked it up this book up online sounded like a good listen.  I love books set in Victorian London with its "fog", the Thames, ladies and gentleman, Victorian customs and  also street characters.  (Maybe it's time for  another Dickens novel-smile.) That is the setting of this novel.

Nell is a mud-larker. She is a teenager and under the "care" of Benjamin Murdstone since she has no family of her own.  One day when Nell is out digging through the river mud, she comes across a body. This body is big, nearly 7 feet tall, with traits that are not quite human in some ways. This man, who isn't actually dead, is a Minotaur.  Nell and some of her mud-larking friends bring the body into a cave to hide it from Murdstone. 

The "man" Nell saves is named Minos, and since he is the  Minotaur from Greek mythology, he is half man, half bull. He takes a fancy to Nell, and he tries to improve her life.  Nell has dreams to be a dancer, but of course, like in real life, nothing is easy. Especially when she is in debt to Murdstone, who discovered the existence of Minos and also believes that the Minotaur can make him rich. 

This book had a Dickensian feel, and I very much enjoyed the story of Nell, Minos and the other characters during the London winter. Then there is the exciting ending in the sewers under London that luckily happened during a bit of drive because I was glued to the story at that point.  I was rooting for Minos and Nell. This story is much more complex than my brief write up makes it sound, and I don't want to tell you the whole story in case you chose to read it.  My only "complaint" is that this story required some careful listening, and therefore took me a long time to get through. It's not really a complaint, and I say it more because I usually only listen to books while doing other things. Some busy November days as well as the Thanksgiving holiday threw off  my available listening time. For me, I think this is a story I would have finished faster if I had actually read it, but even so, it was well worth my time to listen to it. 

And it's a good book too!

I was ready for something different for my next book, and I decided to go with a biography that I pulled off my bookshelf. This book by Helen Rappaport was excellent. 

Many  people know the story about  Nicholas and Alexandra. They were the last Czar and Czarina of Russia,and  they, along with their 5 children as well as a few other people, were brutally executed by the Communists in July 1918. Teaching biology I was also familiar with their youngest son's (Alexei) hemophilia, passed on through his mother (Alexandra) who was  Queen Victoria's granddaughter. His hemophilia brought  Rasputin into their family life, and that in turn helped weaken the monarchy.  The other story many people know is about Anastasia, the youngest daughter, and how she supposedly escaped the slaughter in July of 1918. There were a few women who claimed to be her, but now we know through DNA evidence that none of these women were actually the Princess.

Otherwise I can't say I really knew much about the family, especially the 4 daughters. This book starts with the parents, and goes through the birth of all 5 children, including the last born son. And although the title focuses on the 4 daughters, this biography is really a story about a family, since none of the daughters were yet married or away from home when the civil war took all of their lives.  However, as the book progresses and the daughters grow up, you learn more about them. Olga, the oldest, was smart and  often in charge of her younger siblings, but as she got older she wanted to get married and live her own life.  Then there was Maria, who was very much like her mother.  Tatiana  was the girl in the middle. Her two older siblings were connected, and her younger siblings were connected, and then, there was Tatiana, the middle child.  Anastasia, the youngest girl, was supposedly quite the wild child, very daring and always up to  pranks. 

I also learned (or I should say I had my memory refreshed since high school was the last time I studied anything about Russia during this time period)  about how superstitious this society was. These girls lived in a time of societal unrest, and to be protected, they lived  apart from the rest of the people.  If they seemed innocent and even a bit boring, it was because they were virtually prisoners in the family's palaces and had a mother that was quite over-protected, very religious and proper  in a very 19th century British way.   (Alexandra was Queen Victoria's grandchild, and since her mother died young, the Queen spent a lot of time raising her.) Alexandra was also ill much of the time, and in many ways not physically there for her children as many modern mothers would be.

Their father, the Czar, was a kind man who spent a lot of time with his children. He taught the older ones to shoot, read to them all every night, and worked hard with the hopes to change the law so his eldest daughter could one day take his place. (No one expected the son, because of his hemophilia, to survive to be an adult. In fact, the family hid the son's hemophilia from the public.)  However, the czar was not a strong leader for the times his country was going through, and he was very old fashioned. Perhaps if someone else had been czar, history would have proceeded differently.

This book was very readable, and it was an interesting story.  I can see why many average Russians in the 1910's did not like the monarchy. Not that the family was in any way horrible, but  they wanted deep down just to be a family and live a more normal ( but royal) life without playing the role of Czar, Czarina, Princesses and Prince.  It would be hard to tell this story and not include the whole family as their lives were very intertwined. It was also interesting to follow the story from when Alexandria met Nicolas  right up through when they had children, then to watch those children grow up.  Sadly, the oldest 2 daughters, who could have been married and living out of Russian at the time of the execution, were not. And if Alexandra had sent her children away when she could have, that might have changed the story too. That also might have changed history.

After the more intense biography. it was time to get back to a mystery. You can probably tell they are my favorite type of books. Asa Larsson is a new author for me, and Sun Storm is the first book in the Rebecka Martinsson mystery series.

Rebecka is a tax attorney in Stockholm. She hears in the news that a famous preacher in her hometown in Northern Sweden has been brutally murdered. She knew this man, and shortly after hearing of his death, she receives a phone call from the murdered man's sister, who Rebecka had been close to years earlier. Sanna found her brother's body, and she is now falling apart. Rebecka flies home to be the lawyer for Sanna.

Soon Rebecka finds herself being more than just Sanna's lawyer. Having known most of the people involved or surrounding the killing, she starts to put bits and pieces of information together. She also has to relive some events that caused her to move out of town years before. What is going on in that church   caused such a brutal killing to take place there?

The author nicely tied the police story in with Rebecka's private story.  I had a hard time putting this mystery down. It was one of the better ones I read so far this year. It was a quick read, a cold winter setting, and a chilling story. FYI, this is not a cozy mystery. 

With winter's arrival (or so it seemed), my next and last book for November was another mystery set in the cold north; this time Alaska. Dana Stabenow is another new author for me, and this book, A Cold Day for Murder, is book one in her Kate Shugak mystery series. 

A National Park ranger has gone missing. Then the FBI agent who comes to search for him has gone missing. Can Kate be the one to find them? 

Along with the mystery, this book  talks a lot about being a Native Alaskan as well as being an Alaskan Native American. Because it was first published in 1992, it is a bit dated, but that really only added to the storyline. The writing is good; I could tell because the scene with the old railroad trestle gave me goosebumps (since I don't like heights). The one thing I didn't love about the book was some of the character interactions. They were well done, but just not my style. Saying all that, I am still adding this series to my continue with list, and I'll decide  later how far I'll read into it. (As of this writing there are 23 books in this series.)

Those are my books for November. Thanks for reading this far if you did. And I hope you're reading some good books so far this December. 😀 If you have anything to recommend, I'd love to hear about it/them.


hels said...

Shame on King George V for not allowing his cousin the Czar into Britain, thus saving those 4 young princesses.

David M. Gascoigne, said...

A lovely summary of your recent reading, Erika. Bravo for all those who still read the printed word, cherish its nuance and beauty, and resist all attempts to censor or ban books. All the best - David

Tom said... have been busy!

Iris Flavia said...

There was one I want. No! I have no time, please... Now I want to read about the 4 Sisters!
Oh, boy, yes, to shoot. Short lesson from my Dad!
OK. I ordered it and now stop reading your post! ;-)
Wish me reading time in Perth, please. Hugs... Oh, the world of books!

Anonymous said...

Enjoy your trip and thanks for these reviews -Christine

Divers and Sundry said...

I enjoy mysteries, and used to read a lot of them. I've actually read that Maigret. He's a favorite of mine both in books and adaptation.

More Poirot?! Sweet!

peppylady (Dora) said...

Not long ago I read diary of Olga Romanov. I add the book Once Monster to my good read list.
At this time I'm reading my third book by Sherman Alexie. Indian Fighter I don't think it as good as other 2 books I read by him. The Absolutely True Diary of Part time Indian. And Reservation Blues.
Coffee is on.

Jeanie said...

You've read some good ones. I'd love to read the Romanov book -- that sounds very good and they intrigue me. I love Simenon -- I have quite a few of his and have read this one. He's a worthy author for a good mystery. Glad to hear the Hannah books are good. Are you watching Lucy W's 3-part doc on PBS? It's probably on Passport or online if you missed the first two.

Aimeslee Winans said...

I think I remember that Begian mystery author's name from my dad mentioning it. He must have liked them too. The Romanov book sounds pretty interesting. Have you heard from Valerie? She hasn't posted on her blog in a week. I hope she's not in the hospital. I emailed you Friday, please let me know if you didn't get it. Hope you had a good trip, xoxo

Lowcarb team member said...

Many thanks for sharing these books.

I hope you enjoyed your one night road trip.

All the best Jan