Review of The Man With a Load of Mischief by Martha Grimes (1981) (Richard Jury Series)

 Bottom line: A pleasant and intriguing read with a few murders thrown in for good measure.

Rating: Recommended

Blurb:

At the Man with a Load of Mischief, they found the dead body stuck in a keg of beer. At the Jack and Hammer, another body was stuck out on the beam of the pub’s sign, replacing the mechanical man who kept the time. Two pubs. Two murders. One Scotland Yard inspector called in to help. Detective Chief Inspector Richard Jury arrives in Long Piddleton and finds everyone in the postcard village looking outside of town for the killer. Except for one Melrose Plant. A keen observer of human nature, he points Jury in the right direction: into the darkest parts of his neighbors’ hearts…

Review:

Just a few weeks ago I was complaining about not being able to find new-to-me cozy mystery series to get lost in. Well, of course the next day I picked up an older book that I had gotten last year at my neighborhood’s community book swap, and found just that. The Richard Jury series by Martha Grimes has about two dozen books, and I’m looking forward to working my way through them. Some may quibble with my including this as a cozy, since the lead character works for the police, but the setting, atmosphere, and lack of CSI type talk make me feel ok about sticking this in with the cozies.

I had a few minor complaints, as I usually do, the biggest one being that I didn’t feel like the partnership between Richard Jury and Melrose Plant, who are being established as the crime fighting duo who go on to work together throughout the series, was explained or explored very well. The men seemed almost to be the same person. I would have like to see more differentiation, and a more solid foundation of their relationship established.

That being said, that was my main complaint. It met all my other criteria for a good cozy mystery, and the characters were well drawn and intriguing enough that I’m hoping to learn more about them as the series progresses.

One thing I will say is that I found this to be a fairly light read – the best way I can explain this is to compare it to something like Louise Penny’s mystery series, which always leaves me a touch hesitant to get into the next book. Not because I am afraid the quality will be lacking, but because reading those books is an emotional investment. There are some deep tragedies and pain explored (not even necessarily related to the crime being investigated) that, frankly, I just don’t always have the energy to tackle. I can’t speak to the rest of thisseries, since I’ve only read the first (though I have the second waitlisted at the library), but The Man With a Load of Mischief was exactly what I was looking for when I started searching for new cozies a few weeks ago – an entertaining read that wasn’t too draining mentally.

PS – this was set around Christmastime in a small English village (though the Christmas parts are very minor), so it may be fun to earmark to read around then.

I know I’m late to the party since this was first published in 1981, so have any of you read the Richard Jury series? What did you think?

Get it: Amazon, Barnes and Noble

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

It’s almost Christmas!

Merry Christmas from all of us here (that would be me) at Lector’s Books!

If the kids or in-laws are driving you crazy and you’ve run out of all your favorite Christmas books/movies, I’d recommend diving into The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe – both the book and latest movie adapation are fantastic, and at this point in December the Witch’s curse on Narnia probably resonates deeply with everyone: the fear that it will be always winter and never Christmas!

Short Christmas Mystery

Last night, my mom and I watched The Theft of the Royal Ruby to help get us in the Christmas spirit. It’s a perfect Christmas moment for those of you who like a little crime, and a little 1930’s England thrown in with your “bah, humbugs!”

The Theft of the Royal Ruby is available to watch on both Netflix  (Series 3, Episode 9) and Amazon Instant View (currently free for Prime members), and is part of David Suchet’s fantastic Agatha Christie’s Poirot series.

It’s really fun – Poirot’s quiet Christmas plans are interrupted by a spoiled prince, a stolen ruby, and a plum pudding – and it’s only a TV hour, so you’ll still have time to wrap presents afterwards.

I’m having trouble finding a rating for it, but there’s no language, no sex, and there is only one scene that might be a bit scary for children: a girl is found outside with a knife through her back, and quite a bit of blood. This sounds much scarier than it is, but if you’re not sure about whether your children would find it disturbing, I’d recommend previewing it first (as is always a good idea!). But it is really quite tame and civilized.

What are your favorite Christmas mystery TV shows/movies?

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

Review of A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny (2007) (Three Pines Mysteries #2)

Bottom line: A strong continuation of a very good series.

Rating: Recommended

Blurb:

CC de Poitiers managed to alienate everyone in the hamlet of Three Pines, right up to the moment she died. When Chief Inspector Armand Gamache begins his investigation, it seems like an impossible murder: CC was electrocuted on a frozen lake, in front of the entire town, during the annual curling tournament. With compassion and courage, Gamache digs beneath the idyllic surface of village life to find long buried secrets, while his own enemies threaten to bring something even more chilling than the bitter winter winds to Three Pines.

Review:

I went into this book expecting it the all-too-common sophomore slump – a great debut followed by a much less than stellar number two. I was pleased to discover that I enjoyed this one almost as much as the first book. I was even more pleased when I picked it up at the library in November, knowing only that it was the second book in the Inspector Gamache series (see a quick review of the first here) and discovered that it was set during Christmas. Yay!

I would definitely recommend that you read Still Life first, as many of those characters reoccur here. There were still the frequent POV changes that irked me from the first book, and several times she wrote scenes to be intentionally misleading or used words like “the object” to keep the suspense up, which I hate (though this may have been magnified since I had just read Dan Brown’s Inferno), but overall it was a very good mystery. She wove some trouble into Gamache’s life in such a way as to leave me dying to get my hands on the next seven or so books to see how that will resolve itself.

There was also an underlying theme of how brokenness can be passed down through the generations – something that I’ve been thinking a lot about as I’m finishing up my first year as a parent. Nothing will make you more aware of your own faults than raising a child and wanting desperately not to screw up too badly.

But anyways, it was very good, and I can see that I’m going to have to continue haunting my library’s on hold section as I work my way through the series. The depictions of village Christmas life were a charming backdrop to the murder – so get in the holiday spirit and read about a murder!

Get it: Amazon, Barnes & Noble

Have you read any Louise Penny? What did you think?

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

 

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Happy Saint Nick’s Day!

Today is Saint Nicholas’s Day, which is celebrated in various ways across the world. Because nothing makes me happier than the idea of observing a full month of Christmas (Dec 6 to Jan 6 – Epiphany), I’ve decided to start observing this day with my family.

My plan is to just do something small to mark the day – we’ll have a special breakfast (read: not Cheerios, or at least not just Cheerios), and do some small stockings.

In our stockings today, for example, Saint Nick left everyone Christmas pajamas (these  adorable ones for the baby) and a Christmas book to share (Merry Christmas, Ernest and Celestine).

I’m hoping to use this day to talk about the real Saint Nicholas as my baby gets older, and why we give presents at Christmas, but also just for fun. This post by one of my favorite bloggers has a good overview of St. Nick’s day and why they’ve decided to start celebrating it.

What do you think? Do you celebrate St. Nicholas Day? If so, how?

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P.S. If the stockings in the photo look lumpy, it is most definitely something wrong with the camera, and NOT because I crocheted them myself without using a pattern. I call this style of crochet “Janie-rigged”. Actually, this style applies to all of my crafting attempts.

Review of A Rumpole Christmas by John Mortimer (2009) (Rumpole series)

Bottom line: A fun holiday read with a little murder, theft and blackmail thrown in here and there.

Rating: Recommended

Blurb:

Of the late Sir John Mortimer’s many beloved characters, it is widely agreed that Horace Rumpole was his greatest fictional creation. Here, collected in book form for the first time, are five delightful tales that capture the beleagured barrister at his grumpy, yet warm-hearted best.

Rumpole isn’t particularly fond of Christmas Day-he finds it has a horrible habit of dragging on as She Who Must Be Obeyed leads him through the usual rituals. But at least the criminal fraternity rarely takes a holiday. Whether it’s a suspicious Father Christmas, or an unseasonably nasty murder trial, there’s always something wonderfully unlawful to liven up Rumpole’s dull holiday plans.

Review:

This is a collection of short stories set over the Christmas holidays. It is very light in tone and feels like you’re sitting down over a glass of the horrible wine Rumpole drinks while he tells you these stories in his own, slightly meandering way. It is a fun read to get you in the mood for the holidays – especially if you prefer you holiday spirit with a little crime and mayhem on the side. It’s very short, and could easily be read in an evening – cup of tea and Christmas cookies optional. 

Get it: Amazon, Barnes and Noble

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

 

Family Fridays – Pre Christmas Five

I hope everyone enjoyed Thanksgiving yesterday and has a respectable, but not overwhelming, amount of leftovers. Today is our last Pre Christmas Post! See below for links to all four previous installments.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas is such a classic that it needs no introduction. So I shall simply say, if you don’t have the book, get it! (Amazon, Barnes and Noble) It’s really wonderful and you can find it just about anywhere. I think I used a coupon and got mine at Kohls for about $5 last year. I also really like the original animated tv adaptation (Amazon, Barnes and Noble). I don’t have that yet, but I’m hoping to add it to my collection in the next couple of years so I can enjoy it with my son.

Ok, now your turn! Which of your favorite Christmas books and movies did I miss?

To review, I’ve covered:

1. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever and The Snowman (movie)

2. Merry Christmas, Ernest and Celestine and A Muppet Christmas Carol

3. A Little House Christmas Treasury and A Charlie Brown Christmas

4. Angelina’s Christmas and Claymation Christmas Celebration

5. How the Grinch Stole Christmas

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

 

Family Fridays – Pre Christmas Four

Here’s is the fourth in my Pre Christmas series. Have you started shopping yet? I’ve had my baby’s presents for weeks now. Not that I’m excited or anything…

Angelina’s Christmas (1985): Amazon, Barnes & Noble

I adore this book. The illustrations are beautiful and it tells a simple tale about wanting to make an old man happy for Christmas, which ends up benefiting everyone. It’s in the Angelina Ballerina series, but it’s not a girly book, so don’t hesitate to try it out on your boys, too. This is set in a small English town (Chipping Cheddar – hehe), and they say things like “biscuit” and “Father Christmas”, so depending on the age of your kids, you could also use it as a jumping off point to talk about different Christmas customs around the world. At least I hope that’s still the case and they haven’t Americanized it. Don’t get me started on why “translating” books between English dialects is ridiculous, unnecessary, and insulting to the reading public. Anyway, this is a charming, lighthearted Christmas tale, and well worth incorporating into a gift or new family tradition.

Claymation Christmas Celebration (1987): Amazon, Barnes & Noble

You have to buy this movie bundled with some other holiday Claymation specials (which I haven’t seen, but have heard aren’t that great), but it’s worth it just to get this one. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a collection of Christmas carols all set to really differently styled Claymation action. Some are funny, some are quite beautiful, and some are just joyous. The event is emceed by a couple of dinosaurs argue about the word wassail throughout the interludes, which makes for a nice conclusion as they end on “Here we come a wassailing”. I’m going to try it with my son this year and see if the music will be able to hold his interest (he’ll be almost one). He loves music and bright colors, so he might be able to sit through it, and it’s only 24 minutes long.

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

 

Family Fridays – Pre Christmas Three

Here’s the third Pre Christmas set of recommendations. By the way, how is it already mid-November?!?

A Little House Christmas Treasury: Festive Holiday Stories: Amazon, Barnes & Noble

This enchanting collection of Christmas stories will delight and entertain the elementary school aged crowd. If you have the Little House books, you could of course just find all the Christmas bits and read them together, but if you don’t have them, this might be a fun way to see if your family likes the series. I remember being fascinated by the way children lived in that time and place when I was young, and am hoping my son will enjoy them when he’s old enough. You could also do some subtle, “Hey, Laura was excited to get TWO pieces of candy in her stocking, maybe you could be happy even if you don’t get all of the Star Wars Lego sets this year.” Or you could just enjoy one family’s celebration of Christmas.

A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965): Amazon, Barnes & Noble

This is where I’m going to get arrested by the Children’s Blog Police…I don’t like Peanuts. There, I said it. I think it’s depressing and painful, not funny. However, A Charlie Brown Christmas might be one of the most powerful, lasting, and succinct (it’s only 25 minutes) movies about Christmas that I’ve ever seen. Though nearly fifty years old, it is more timely today than ever. Here’s the blurb: “Repelled by the commercialism he sees around him, Charlie Brown tries to find the true meaning of Christmas.” That could be written today, and I suspect could be written about a movie in another fifty years. Near the end, Linus quotes the Christmas story from the Bible [spoiler alert: that’s the true meaning of Christmas]. It’s hard to see that happening on a show produced today. Anyways, I think this is a fantastic Christmas movie, AND it’s appropriate for all ages.

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

 

Family Fridays – Pre-Christmas Two

I’m continuing with part two of our Pre Christmas series (you can see my twisted logic as to why this is ok here).

Merry Christmas, Ernest and Celestine by Gabrielle Vincent (1983)

It is perhaps unfair of me to recommend this book – it is out of print. But I have to. It is such a sweet, sweet book about love and family and friendship and poverty and joy anyways. I think the message in this book is so important: just because you don’t have money does not mean you cannot bring happiness to those around you. That’s a message for Christmas and the rest of the year. I bought my copy through Barnes and Noble’s marketplace. It is not in great condition, but it is certainly good enough to enjoy. I strongly encourage you to see if your library has a copy, or you could look for it used at your favorite used bookstore, half.com (eBay for books), or Amazon’s marketplace. Caution: Happy tears may abound.

The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992): Amazon, Barnes and Noble

On the lighter side, I present to you: The Muppet Christmas Carol. This surprisingly good adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic Christmas tale is both faithful to the original and a fun movie on its own merits. The Muppets add enough comic relief to keep kids interested during the more somber moments. Plus, watching Michael Caine singing to puppets is a bit surreal. But anyhow, everyone does a great job, both puppets and humans alike. The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come part is a bit scary (as are the ghosts of the Marleys earlier on, but to a much lesser degree), so I’d recommend previewing it before deciding if your children are ready for it (it is rated G). This is a Must Watch Every Year in our household, and has been for decades.

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.