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Celebrating Agatha Christie September 14, 2009

Posted by bookgoddess in Authors, Authors You Shouldn't Miss, Books, Fiction, Mysteries, Reading, West Palm Beach Public Library.
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What comes to mind when you hear the word Torquay?  For me, it is an image of John Cleese as the hilariously incompetent hotel proprietor in Fawlty Towers. 

But this week is different, as Torquay is hosting the Fifth Annual Agatha Christie Festival in honor of the their native daughter (and best-selling novelist of all time, thank you very much).  It sounds like it will be great fun, starting with the opening event:  A Fete Worse Than Death!  I wish I were there. 

Agatha Christie occupies a special place in my reading history.  I first encountered her at age eleven.  I was a precocious reader, and teen fiction as we now know it really did not exist.  My mother loved reading murder mysteries, and she was pretty sure Agatha Christie would provide a reasonably age-appropriate reading experience.  

Well, the die was cast.  I started reading Agatha Christie that summer, and I have adored murder mysteries ever since.  Christie was still living when I started reading her, and for some years my mother would give me the latest hardback for my birthday or Christmas. 

To the best of my knowledge, I have read all of her fiction.  My favorite of her detectives is Miss Marple, and I highly recommend Murder at the Vicarage, the first of the Miss Marple mysteries.  The distinguished mystery novelist and critic H. R. F. Keating named these as her top three titles:  The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (also a personal favorite of mine), Murder on the Orient Express, and Sleeping Murder

Christie is not so well known for the non-mystery novels that she wrote under the name Mary Westmacott.  One of these titles, Absent in the Spring, would make my list of all-time memorable books, and I am happy to see that it is in print.  I will be ordering it for the Library.  

If by some happenstance you have never read anything by Agatha Christie, I think you would enjoy the experience.  And if you like it, there are dozens more! 

Happy Reading! 

The Book Goddess

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Repackaging the Good Life June 4, 2009

Posted by bookgoddess in Audiobooks, Authors, Authors You Shouldn't Miss, Books, Fiction, Great Reads, Literature, Mysteries, Reading.
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Alexander McCall Smith is best known in the United States for the Number One Ladies Detective Agency books, a series of gentle mystery novels set in Botswana. 

But if you lived in Edinburgh, you might be more familiar with his ongoing serial in the Scotsman, 44 Scotland Street.  If my calculations are correct, he has published something like 500 short chapters in the newspaper, and will resume the storyline later this year.  Five collections have been published, starting with 44 Scotland Street, and four are currently available in the U.S.

I am a huge fan of this series, even though I will admit it is not for everyone.  If you require a great deal of suspense, drama, and graphic portrayals of sex, you would do well to look elsewhere. 

What you will find here is a series of stories about people living their lives the best way they know how, set against the backdrop of a wonderful city.  Some of the characters are more commendable than others, but McCall Smith leaves the judgment to us.

What I love about the 44 Scotland Street series is that it asks questions about the good life – and gives some answers, too.  For McCall Smith, friendship, art, good food, and good conversation are all part of the good life.  Caring about our fellow human beings is most important of all.

Am I the only one who thinks that as a culture, we seem to have lost track of much of what makes a life good?  These tremendously appealing stories remind us of the importance of the life well lived.   I love the thought that folks in Edinburgh have had an opportunity to think about this when they pick up their daily newspaper.

Thank you, Mr. McCall Smith, for bringing so much pleasure – and food for thought – into my life!  The goal of the classical writer was to delight and to instruct.  You have certainly done that for me.

Happy Reading,

The Book Goddess

P.S.  Listening to this series on audiobook will definitely enhance your enjoyment!

When Will There Be Good News? November 19, 2008

Posted by bookgoddess in Authors You Shouldn't Miss, Books, Fiction, Literature, Mysteries, Reading, Second Saturday Book Club.
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I just finished reading When Will There Be Good News? By Kate Atkinson, the latest installment in her Jackson Brodie detective saga, and it was terrific!  I have greatly enjoyed all three of the Brodie novels. We read the first one, Case Histories, in the Second Saturday Book Club, and it was a great success.

There are several story lines and a number of memorable characters, but at the center of the book is a question – how do people go on after something truly horrific happens to them?  Joanna Hunter is a successful physician and a devoted mother; but she is also the survivor of the murder of her mother and her two siblings, and the murderer is about to be released from prison.  There are other women in danger, too, including a truly amazing 16 year old orphan.  There’s a train wreck, and a woman that Jackson is very attracted to, and confusion of identities.  If this sounds rather Gothic, I suppose it is (astounding things are always happening to Brodie), but it’s grounded in realistic human emotion. 

If you like mysteries, you should read this book.  If you like a good story with great insight into character, you should definitely read this book – but read the other two Brodie novels first! 

Happy Reading! 

The Book Goddess

Reginald Hill (Authors You Shouldn’t Miss) September 11, 2007

Posted by bookgoddess in Authors, Authors You Shouldn't Miss, Books, Mysteries, Reading.
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 Dear Readers:

Many of you know that the Book Goddess loves mysteries, especially literary mysteries.  And one of my all-time favorite mystery authors is Reginald Hill.

I first encountered him a number of years ago when I read The Spy’s Wife, in which a woman’s husband disappears and she is told that he is a Russian spy.  It’s an exciting story as well as a skillful portrait of a woman finding her way in difficult circumstances.  From then on, I kept an eye out for books by Reginald Hill. 

He’s best known for his Dalziel and Pascoe series, set in Yorkshire.  Peter Pascoe is university educated, has a feminist wife, and is a very modern policeman.  His boss Dalziel is Fat Andy, big, strong, and old school (and sometimes pretty scary), but always has few surprises for Peter.  Two favorites in that series are Bones and Silence, in which the plot turns on the staging of a medieval-style mystery play; and Dialogues of the Dead, based on a classical literary form and involving librarians and word games. 

Most recently, I listened to/read The Stranger House.  This is a standalone mystery in which a brilliant young (female) mathematician from Australia and a former seminary student from Spain set out separately in search of some family secrets.  They meet up in Ilthwaite, a remote English village with some secrets of its own.  It’s a wonderful read, and you’ll learn something about British history and Norse mythology.  (I love novels where I can learn something, and Hill excels at informing in an entertaining way.)

If you like Hill, you’re in luck, because he has written a lot of books – well over thirty (and I’ve read most of them!)

Happy reading!

The Book Goddess

P.S.  I expect “Authors You Shouldn’t Miss” to be an ongoing feature.  Let me know about your favorite authors!

Dance Hall of the Dead by Tony Hillerman July 27, 2007

Posted by bookgoddess in Authors, Authors You Shouldn't Miss, Books, Fiction, library programs, Mysteries, readers, Reading.
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Have you read any of the Tony Hillerman mysteries set in Navajo country?  I’ve read all of them, and I just recently re-read Dance Hall of the Dead, which is this month’s selection for the “Just for Mystery Lovers” Book Club here at the Library (Saturday, July 28th, 2007 at 10:30 a.m.).

I find these books utterly absorbing, and I have from the first one that I “read.”  That was Sacred Clowns, which I listened to on audio a number of years ago.  I think audio is especially good when you are first encountering names and words in a new language, so you know their proper pronunciation.  The narrator, George Guidall, continues to be my favorite reader.

Anyway, I was on a trip to north Florida, and put those tapes of Sacred Clowns into my tape player.  This was also my first audiobook experience, and I was totally enchanted.  As they say, the miles just flew by.

And as they flew, I was drawn not only into a terrific mystery, but also learned a lot about the Navajo people.  Fiction is a fabulous way to learn about other cultures, and Hillerman is truly knowledgeable.  In fact, he has been named an official “Friend of the Navajo” for his sensitive portrayal of the Navajo Nation.

So – I would highly recommend both Tony Hillerman and “reading” via audiobooks.

What are you reading now?

Tina Maura Albee

The Book Goddess