My Agatha Christie Obsession

Agatha Christie books March 2022

The first Agatha Christie book I ever read was And Then There Was None. I was 10 or 11 and my mom picked it out for me because I had read all the Nancy Drew books, all the Trixie Belden books, and I wasn’t into the Hardy Boys. Mom was a mystery book lover and Agatha Christie fan. After And Then There Was None, so was I. 

Over the years, my Agatha Christie book collection has grown, depleted as I’ve worn out copies, and then grown more as I discovered how much I love the cover art on some of the older versions. My husband and I enjoy poking around antique and vintage shops on weekends and it’s become my habit to keep an eye out for old books that may fit into my collection, in particular, any Christie books. 

I’ll admit, I’m picky. I won’t pick up any copy. It has to have cover art that catches my eye, be one of my favorite titles, and I try to rescue those fabulous older pocket novels because they have so much character. 

Recently, we were exploring the amazing stores in the West Bottoms area of Kansas City. If you’re into vintage, antiques, and historic buildings, most definitely plan a visit when in the K.C. area. We began our exploration of the multi-story shops early, enjoying the wide array of displays. There really is something for everyone here, and so much to see, that it can almost be an overload. But it’s worth it. 

At our second stop, Martin’s Memories, I was browsing through a display of furniture and spied a bookcase. Of course, I had to take a look and see what was on the shelves. A quick glance and I saw “Agatha Christie” on a spine. Well, that got my attention. I looked closer. There was another one. And another, and another, and another. 

The little bookcase held all Agatha Christie books, and one Martha Grimes. 

50 Agatha Christie books.

 Box of books

Now I had already bought two others at our first stop, but that most certainly wasn’t going to stop me from picking through this batch. As I started pulling the books off the shelf, I was struck by their good condition. A little dusty, but definitely in good condition for their age. The majority of the books were from the 1960s and 1970s. And the covers!

Oh my. I was in love. 

We offered to buy the entire lot, and they were happy to sell us the lot. I was thrilled! My Agatha Christie collection consisted mostly of my favorite titles of her work, largely Poirot mysteries. This lot has many that I never had purchased plus some that I’ve never read. I’m looking forward to indulging in some reading time, but I wanted to share a few pictures of some of the fantastic covers.

If you’d like to see a full list of Agatha Christie titles, please visit AgathaChristie.com.

January & 2022: Time for Book Stuff

It’s 2022. We’re midway through January and things have been hectic. Hectic for me isn’t always a negative. After a wonderful holiday season, it was time to get back to work on January 4. Since that day, my freelance work days (and sometimes nights) have been full. Again, not a negative thing. But I do find that in order to keep a balance, it’s essential for me to take a step back every now and then. That’s what this week is for—a hiatus of sorts. 

So what’s on the calendar for me this week if not tip-tapping the keyboard with client words?

Book stuff!

  • Reading. Lots of reading!
  • Outlining a new middle grade mystery.
  • Writing! Working on zero-draft of the MG mystery.
  • Fine-tuning my query letter.
  • Tweaks to my MG book SEEN, based on beta reader feedback. 

Because I have a lot I want to share about the books I’ve already read this year and the ones that I’m planning to read in the next few weeks, that will be a separate post. Keep an eye for it, because you don’t want to miss it. 

New middle grade mystery? Yes, indeed! I’m super excited about this book, but I’m also not ready to share too much about it. I can tell you that my critique partners have read the opening chapter and the response was positive! 

And onto querying. Again. Last year at this time I had a tiny spark of an idea for a story, a fairytale retelling of sorts inspired by one of my favorite Disney movies: Tangled. By the end of January 2021 I had started outlining the book and once February hit, I had pages to share with my critique partners. I’m about ready to send it out into the world, off to agents with the hope that there is one agent out there that will fall in love with this story and want to sign me. 

This is not my first time in the query trenches and I’ve been thinking about sharing some of my journey here on the blog. Who knows? It may help someone and honestly, querying is hard and I do think it helps not to go it alone. I’m fortunate and have an amazing writing network and support group. But not everyone does. So if I can help even a tiny bit, I’d like to do that. 

What I’ll likely do is a weekly post about my querying journey with SEEN, including some helpful tips I’ve learned about querying. As I said, this is not my first time in the query trenches. I queried my 2019 Pitch Wars book for about a year, but was unable to find representation. I came close, but it didn’t happen. That’s part of this business—rejection. A lot of it. But you keep writing and telling stories. It’s worth it, at least I think it is or I wouldn’t do it.

I have several posts lined up for the next few weeks, including some book recommendations you do not want to miss plus the first posts about my querying journey. 

See you soon! And if you want to connect, I’m active on Twitter and Instagram.

Book Review: Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen M. McManus

“I want to do something.

For the missing girls, and the ones left behind.”

(Ellery, chapter 8, page 82)

Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen M. McManus

I love a mystery and Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen M. McManus checked all my boxes for a really good mystery. Author McManus keeps the reader guessing, offering twists and turns throughout the story. There’s plenty of deception, betrayal, secrets, and murder as well as a bit of romance and family drama. It’s got it all.

tckas

Two Can Keep a Secret opens with the Corcoran twins, Ellery and Ezra, arriving in Vermont. With their single mom in rehab, they’ve said goodbye to their life in La Puenta, California and hello to starting their senior year of high school in the small town of Echo Ridge. They’ll stay with their grandmother in the same house their mother and her twin once lived together. Unfortunately before they can settle in, the twins encounter a dead body. Yes, we get a body in the first chapter, which as a murder mystery geek, made me very happy.

Ellery Corcoran is a lover of true-crime stories, her interest stemming from a horrific family incident that happened when her mom was a teen—Sarah, her mom’s twin disappeared and her body never found. Several years later, Echo Ridge was hit with a another teenage tragedy when Homecoming Queen Lacey Kilduff is murdered. It’s only been a few years since Lacey’s murder and now it looks like the killer may be back and targeting this year’s Homecoming court, which includes Ellery.

Also important to know, Ellery has an encounter with Malcolm Kelly soon after arriving in Echo Ridge. Malcolm just happens to be the younger brother of Declan Kelly, who was Lacey’s boyfriend at the time of her murder. Malcolm’s mom also has remarried and her new husband is Peter Nilsson, who once dated Ellery and Ezra’s mom.  Connections, connections. And there are many in this book, but that’s one of the things I like. McManus knows how to weave a story and plot a mystery.

I don’t do spoilers, but I can reveal there is another murder and Ellery can’t help but become involved in the mystery. The cast of characters are numerous and include the twins and their classmates, the twenty-somethings that are connected to Lacey’s murder (and even related to the Ellery and Ezra’s new friends and classmates), and the parents of Echo Ridge who were teens when the twin’s aunt disappeared. Everyone has something to hide, but who would kill to keep their secrets safe?

Two Can Keep a Secret had many elements I really liked, from strong and likable characters to witty dialogue and fun pop culture references. As a die-hard fan of the classic murder mystery, I particularly love the placement of clues that can help the reader arrive at certain conclusions. And I’m not ashamed to admit that one of my conclusions was wrong, but that’s half the fun, isn’t it?

Definitely grab a copy of Two Can Keep a Secret for an engaging mystery with plenty of action, cleverness, and red herrings. It’s the perfect book to curl up with on any day—rain, snow, or shine. Karen M. McManus has a winner here. If you haven’t read her first book, One of Us is Lying, I highly recommend that one as well. Both books are stand-alone novels. You can check out my personal review of One of Us is Lying here.

Book Review: “The Lies They Tell” by Gillian French

“Whatever you heard ain’t likely to be the truth. I don’t think anybody left alive knows the truth, except that boy.”

(Marilyn, The Lies They Tell, page 212)

The Lies They Tell by Gillian French offers a dark, twisting mystery amid family drama and the socio-economic divide of Tenney’s Harbor, Maine. This was the first Gillian French novel I’ve read, and it was a page-turner!

I love a good mystery and The Lies They Tell delivered.

LiesTheyTell

Told from the eighteen-year old Pearl’s perspective, the story opens with an introduction to the Garrison family. They are wealthy and one of the prestigious families at the country club where Pearl works as a waitress. When four of the five Garrison family members die in a horrific fire, we learn that the surviving son Tristan may be a suspect. Unfortunately, Pearl’s father also is suspect as he was the watchman on duty the night of the fire.

The bulk of the story takes place six months after the fire. It’s summer and Tristan and the other summer rich boys are in Tenney’s Harbor. As Pearl waits on Tristan and his friends at the club, she’s drawn into their group. While, she’s not a fan of the affluent summer boys, she has hopes that getting close to them may help her clear her dad’s name. Since the fire, her dad has lost work and buried himself in the bottle. They are barely scraping by.

Author Gillian French provides an immersive experience, creating a rich atmosphere with her settings in this book. It’s very easy to “see” Tenney’s Harbor, the country club, and Pearl’s world.

Personally, I enjoyed following Pearl and her discoveries into the truths behind the closed doors of the Garrison household and the family life that only Tristan knew. There was ample drama, suspense, and the weaving of the lies and betrayal worked. I also really liked the final setting for the ending, just enough creep factor but not too over-the-top.

The Lies They Tell by Gillian French was the perfect book to curl up with on a stormy afternoon and I recommend it to any YA mystery fan.

Book Review: Until the End by Christopher Pike

Until the End by Christopher Pike is his original trilogy titled Final Friends. Until the End contains the three books: The Party, The Dance, and The Graduation.

The Party and The Dance were both originally released in 1988 and The Graduation came out in 1989. I wish they would have kept the original Final Friends title, because it’s an actual line in the book and I think it ties the trilogy together a bit better.

IMG-1591

When I found Until the End at a bookstore during some travel, I squealed. No lie. Squealed loudly and most likely frightened the couple browsing in the next aisle over. The squeal came from stumbling upon the “Pike” name on the book’s spine. As a teenager and into my early twenties, I bought and devoured every Christopher Pike book available. I was obsessed. When I picked up Until the End and discovered that it was the entire Final Friends trilogy in one, super-thick book—I knew it was coming home with me. It took all I had not to plop down in the aisle and begin reading right there.

The Final Friends trilogy or Until the End is a YA mystery/thriller that’s contemporary. Because it was written in the late 1980’s, the pop culture references reflect that time, ie: mention of the “big TV movie The Day After” and of course, no cell phones plus what now would be considered archaic computer technology. Set in California, the story follows a group of friends and acquaintances attending the same high school. Most of the story is told from the perspective of Jessica Hart and Michael Olson.

Book One: The Party introduces the main characters and sets the stage for the tragedy that will bring them all together and tear many of them apart. Like many good mysteries, The Party ends with a dead body and a lot of questions.

Book Two: The Dance is the aftermath of that tragic party. Author Pike takes readers on a ride exploring the various reactions/coping mechanisms each character employs while also attempting to deal with daily teenage life. There’s ample witty dialogue, teen crushes, and general high school drama woven in as well, but the main thread continues to be the mystery. The Dance concludes with Homecoming and another tragedy.

Book Three: The Graduation picks up on the last day of high school for this band of seniors. They’ve all experienced many ups and down during their last year of high school. Their all-night senior party aboard a cruise ship to Catalina is to be a great celebration, but someone has other plans. Everyone who had been present during the party when a life was lost, will be on that boat. More than one person has an agenda, and everyone is shocked by the revelations.

All three books of the trilogy are fast-paced and offer enough clues that an observant reader can begin to put together a theory or two on the who, what, and why. The characters, although a bit cliche at times, are overall likable and Pike does give them growth, as well as redemption for those in need of it.

Even after 30 years, the Final Friends trilogy by Christopher Pike still delights and entertains me. My inner teenage was transported back in time and that was just plain fun!

Book Review: One of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus

Want to know what drew me to One of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus?OOUIL front cover

This:

The Breakfast Club meets Pretty Little Liars, One of Us Is Lying is the story of what happens when five strangers walk into detention and only four walk out alive. Everyone is a suspect, and everyone has something to hide.

This blurb called to me. Not quietly. It SHOUTED.

How the hell did I miss this when it released?

So anyway…

Breakfast Club meets Pretty Little Liars. Um, yeah. I’m reading it. And I did. And I couldn’t put the book down. Mysteries have always been and always will be my favorite stories. And when they’re YA, it just doesn’t get any better for me.

For a quick breakdown, One of Us Is Lying gives readers the brain, beauty/princess, criminal, athlete, and the outcast. These five find themselves stuck in detention on a Monday afternoon. One of them dies. They all have something to hide and they’re all lying.OOUIL page

Author Karen M. McManus gives readers a fast-paced, contemporary mystery filled with red herrings, teen drama, and relatable characters. The dialogue is witty and believable, the integration of technology contemporizes the themes from the classic Breakfast Club movie and Pretty Little Liars books/tv show. As a huge fan of the latter, it was fun to read all the twists and turns in One of Us Is Lying, and of course I was totally suspicious of every character.

I gave the book a 5-star rating on GoodReads and I do highly recommend it. She has another YA mystery coming out January 8, 2019: Two Can Keep a Secret. I’m very much looking forward to reading that.

Please stop by Karen M. McManus’ website and check out more information about her and her books. And don’t forget to add One of Us Is Lying to your TBR List!

Writing & Reading . . . Well, Mostly Writing

It’s been about a month since my last post and probably one of the longest periods I’ve been away from this blog. As a freelance writer, the tide of work ebbs and flows. When it’s ebbing, I find myself spending as much time chasing the work as I do completing the work. Clients come and go, that’s just the way it is and I much prefer this as a day job than other options.

Freelancing as a content creator allows me the flexibility to pursue the completion of my first book and prep for NaNo, which I’ll discuss in just a moment. After several drafts, professional editing, revisions, more editing, more revisions, rounds with beta readers and CPs, and more revisions, it’s reallllllllly close to query time. And while that’s slightly terrifying, I’m ready. Actually mentally ready. I’ve done my best and it’s time to see if I can convince an agent that they should take a chance on it and me. And really, they should because the book’s awesome and so am I, right? Right? Anyhoo . . .

So I’ve been writing during this time I’ve been away from sharing book reviews here on the blog. From many, many freelance words to additions/revisions on the book, and prep work for my NaNo project. Which is:   drum roll please!    YA Mystery!

I’m really looking forward to this project and can’t wait to dive in!

nano-2017-participant-badge

If you’re considering NaNo (National Novel Writing Month) head over to their site HERE. Be sure to click over to THIS PAGE to find out how it works. It’s super easy, free, and trust me, you’ll have a blast. It’s a great way to meet other writers, get in the habit of writing daily with no excuses, and crank out a first draft in 30 days.

Now about the time I’ve spent reading. old booksLong before I was a writer, I was a reader. I can’t ever remember NOT being a reader. I only post a few of the books I read here, so even when I’m not posting book reviews, I am still reading several books. Since the beginning of the month I’ve been rereading Michael Grant’s GONE series in anticipation of his new book MONSTER that releases October 17. As this is one of my all-time favorite young adult series, I’m really looking forward to reading it! Keep your eyes out, I promise I will post a full review as soon as I can.

I’ve also been rereading “Murder on the Orient Express” by Agatha Christie and YES, I do plan to go see the new movie in November. I own the 1974 version, and while I don’t favor it as much as “And Then There Were None” and “Death on the Nile” it does have its merits.

I’d love to hear from you! Comment below and share with me and other readers the new book releases you’re anxiously awaiting. I’m always looking to add to by TBR pile. If you’re an Agatha Christie fan like me, are you planning to see the new “Murder on the Orient Express” movie? Tell me in the comments.

 

 

 

Book Review: Closed Casket by Sophie Hannah

“The words, they are here and there! He does not recognize the illogic! To what dos one listen if not the words? If one matters, then so must the other!”

Hercule Poirot, CLOSED CASKET by Sophie Hannah

Closed Casket by Sophie Hannah is the second in the new Hercule Poirot mysteries based on the infamous sleuth created by the legendary Agatha Christie. As readers of my book reviews know, I am a huge fan of Agatha Christie and rate her as my all-time favorite author. And I always enjoy a good mystery. While there are definite differences in Ms. Hannah’s writing style as compared to Christie, I nevertheless found Closed Casket enjoyable and good read.

Closed Casket

Two of the main reasons I liked Closed Casket was its setting and the type of mystery — a murder mystery during an estate house party, complete with family drama, last-minute will/beneficiary changes, and the presence of the one and only Hercule Poirot.

The little Belgian detective and his friend Inspector Edward Catchpool have been invited by Lady Athelinda Playford to her mansion. At dinner on the evening of their arrival, Lady Playford makes the dramatic announcement that she’s changed her will, cutting off her children and instead leaving her fortune to her dying secretary Joseph Scotcher.

Before the end of the evening, Scotcher is dead, bludgeoned brutally and there’s even a witness. Alas, like any good Poirot mystery, things are seldom what they seem and author Sophie Hannah weaves a tale that kept me interested and even guessing to the end — I do love a good red herring or two.

Closed Casket was an enjoyable read and interesting mystery. I do recommend the book, and be sure to visit Sophie Hannah’s site to see her other novels.

Book Review: Passenger to Frankfurt by Agatha Christie

Passenger to Frankfurt by Agatha Christie has been in by TBR pile for a while, one of the few books by my favorite author that I had not read. Unfortunately, I found this to be a tedious read and not much mystery at all. When I read a Christie, I want a good, juicy mystery that keeps me guessing or at least keeps me engaged. This did not do it for me.

Passenger to Frankfurt

This is one of Christie’s books that does not feature one of her famous detectives. Personally, my favorites star Hercule Poirot, although there are several Miss Marple mysteries I enjoy as well. However, Passenger to Frankfurt fell flat for my tastes. It was repetitive and while I liked the main character Stafford Nye, after a while, I just didn’t care if he actually discovered why he was entangled in an international issue.

The story started just fine, Nye meets a mysterious woman during an airport layover and allows  himself to be convinced to give her his identity because she says her life is in danger. Upon returning home to England he reconnects with the mysterious passenger to Frankfurt — is she spy or what? And quickly, Nye is now involved with a global plot that includes Hitler-influenced youth, wealthy matriarchs, and even his great-aunt Matilda, who was one character I genuinely adored.

No regrets reading the Passenger to Frankfort, but definitely not a book I’ll pick up again. There are many really wonderful Agatha Christie mysteries out there to read. Back in November, I reviewed the Five Little Pigs and gave it 4 of 5 stars on Goodreads. You can check out my review here — definitely enjoyed it more than Passenger to Frankfort.

Other Christie favorites of mine include:

  • Death on the Nile (my number one favorite!)
  • Halloween Party
  • And Then There Were None
  • A Caribbean Mystery
  • Evil Under the Sun
  • Dead Man’s Folly
  • Murder on the Orient Express
  • The Seven Dials Mystery
  • Death in the Clouds

I do recommend heading over to the official Agatha Christie website for everything about the author and her books. You can check out news about the latest adaptations of her work, including the anticipated new movie of Murder on the Orient Express. Plus I highly recommend printing out the complete list of her novels (by publication year) if you’re like me and trying to complete your collection.

Happy reading!

Book Review: The Last of August by Brittany Cavallaro

Jamie Watson and Charlotte Holmes are back again in The Last of August by Brittany Cavallaro, the second book in her Charlotte Holmes trilogy. Teens Jamie Watson and Charlotte Holmes are descendants of the infamous duo Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. While book one in the trilogy (A Study in Charlotte) takes place at their boarding school in the United States, book two has the duo in Europe during winter break. Of course because this is Holmes and Watson, a tangled web of mystery and intrigue abounds — a poisoning, a disappearing uncle, art forgery, and kidnappings are just the tip of the iceberg.

Last of August

While Holmes and Watson may have survived last fall with their lives (barely), this winter break will prove to be even more dangerous. Not only will they find themselves working alongside a Moriarty, but they’ll have to deal with their own complicated relationship and Charlotte’s dark past.

I enjoyed reading The Last of August quite a bit, for which I’m glad since I always hope that the second book of a trilogy doesn’t fall flat. This didn’t, not at all. It gave me everything I like in a mystery with the added bonus of characters I’m still learning about — Charlotte Holmes and Jamie Watson. I love that author Brittany Cavallaro has given the reader a slow reveal of these two. And there’s still plenty left to learn, which is why I’m now looking forward to book three.

The Last of August by Brittany Cavallaro is a fast-paced YA mystery with plenty of action, suspense, and dialogue that pops. The European settings were a nice combination of gritty (perfect for the underworld of the art forgery) and fanciful when viewed through Jamie’s less jaded eyes. If you’ve already read A Study in Charlotte, definitely don’t miss out on book two!

You can check out author Brittany Cavallaro’s website here to see  more about her Charlotte Holmes trilogy as well as her other work.