2016 Vintage Mystery Challenge Wrap-up

2017 Vintage Scavenger HuntHappy New Year, everyone! I’m so excited to get started on the 2017 Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt, but before I do that, I should probably post my 2016 wrap-up! Here’s what I read for the 2016 challenge, along with the items I “found” for the scavenger hunt:

1. Georgette Heyer, No Wind of Blame – cigarette
2. Alan Melville, Quick Curtain – performer
3. Dorothy L. Sayers, Strong Poison – bottle of poison
4. Christopher St. John Sprigg, Death of an Airman – plane
5. Alice Tilton, Beginning with a Bash – blunt instrument
6. Georgette Heyer, Envious Casca – brunette

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Death of an Airmanbeginning-with-a-bashenvious-casca

If you also participated in this challenge, don’t forget to add your wrap-up post here!

Mini-Reviews #12: December, part 2

This is officially my LAST BATCH of reviews for 2016! I’m looking forward to starting next year (aka tomorrow) with a clean slate. These last books are all rereads, and it was lovely to revisit some books I’ve enjoyed in the past!

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Rainbow Rowell, Attachments — I’ve loved all of Rainbow Rowell’s books, but this one (her first novel) remains my favorite. It’s the story of Lincoln, an Internet security specialist whose job is to monitor all emails sent from company accounts. When the emails of Jennifer and Beth get flagged for “inappropriate” usage, Lincoln has to read them; it’s his job. But before long, he gets caught up in the women’s stories and becomes genuinely interested in learning more about them. Then he begins to fall for Beth…but how can he transform his one-sided crush into an actual relationship?

Sharon Shinn, Summers at Castle Auburn — The first time I read this romantic fantasy novel, I didn’t quite pick up on the romance and felt it was a little abrupt. I don’t know what I was thinking, because this time I was all about the romance! It’s subtle and builds slowly, which is just the way I like it. 🙂 I also really enjoyed the vivid fantasy world, and I liked the fact that the heroine truly grows and changes throughout the novel. Definitely recommended for fans of this genre!

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Georgette Heyer, The Corinthian — One of Heyer’s excellent Regency romances, featuring a jaded young man and a scrappy girl (dressed as a boy) who’s running away from home. The plot gets a bit convoluted, comprising highwaymen, elopements, and even a murder. But of course, everything turns out right in the end!

Patricia Wynn, The Birth of Blue Satan — I read this book, the first in a series, a few years ago, but for some reason I didn’t continue with the series. Recently I decided I’d like to read book two, but I had to refresh my memory by rereading this one first. As a mystery novel, it’s not particularly strong — the solution basically comes out of nowhere — but I loved the period setting (1715! More novels about Jacobites, please!) and the main characters. I’m definitely looking forward to reading book two and seeing what happens next!

Mini-Reviews #11: December, part 1

I can’t believe it’s already New Year’s Eve…time to finish up those 2016 (mini) reviews before 2017 arrives!

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Carl Hiaasen, Skink: No Surrender — Teenager Richard teams up with the idiosyncratic Skink (former governor, current homeless eco-warrior) to find Richard’s missing cousin Malley. There’s no particular mystery about what happened to her, but the fun is in the journey, as rule-follower Richard finds his worldview enlarged by Skink’s more reckless lifestyle. Overall, while this isn’t really my kind of book, I did enjoy it and may read more by the author. I believe Skink is a recurring character in Hiaasen’s novels, and I’d like to know more of his backstory.

Kristan Higgins, Somebody to Love — Another light, charming contemporary romance from Kristan Higgins. Although most of her books are not serialized, this one borrows the location (and a few characters) from Catch of the Day, and it also features the couple from The Next Best Thing. Having read those two books, I enjoyed seeing how the various fictional worlds overlapped. That said, I don’t think you’d miss anything important if you haven’t read the other two books. I always enjoy Higgins’ books, but this one isn’t destined to be one of my favorites.

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Donna Moore, Old Dogs — If you enjoy heist movies, you should definitely check out this book, which involves two priceless historical artifacts: solid gold dog statues. Main characters Letty and Dora are aging ex-hookers who hope to enjoy a lavish retirement by stealing the dogs from a museum exhibit. The trouble is, they’re not the only ones after the dogs…. While I didn’t find this one laugh-out-loud funny, it does include plenty of entertaining mishaps, mistaken identities, and mad schemes of vengeance. Definitely worth reading if the word “caper” appeals to you!

Georgette Heyer, Envious Casca — So far, I’ve found Heyer’s mysteries to be a bit hit-or-miss, but I think this is her best one yet! It’s an English country house murder set at Christmas. Of course, there’s a big family party, and of course, everyone has a reason to wish the estate’s owner dead. The novel is very well plotted, and the solution to the mystery is (in my opinion) utterly convincing. Even if you’ve tried another Heyer mystery and didn’t particularly like it, I’d urge you to give this one a try!

Top Ten Tuesday: Santa baby…

Top 10 TuesdayMerry Christmas, everyone! I’ll be honest: I know that Christmas is not about the presents, but I still like to receive them, especially if they’re books! Most of my family and friends don’t buy me books, oddly enough…maybe they figure I’ve already read whatever they might pick out? Anyway, here are 10 books I’d like to get from Santa, in no particular order:

1. Melissa McShane, Burning Bright — I heard about this book from inge87 at LibraryThing, who always has amazing recommendations! Also, it’s Regency-era fantasy, which we all know is my kryptonite.

2. Stephanie Scott, Alterations — I may have mentioned this one on a previous TTT list; it’s a YA contemporary retelling of Sabrina! So I obviously need to read it immediately.

3. Julian Fellowes, Belgravia — As a Downton Abbey fan despite the its many flaws, I’m very interested in reading Fellowes’s novel, which is set in the early 19th century.

4. Jessica Cluess, A Shadow Bright and Burning — Fantasy set in a school of magic in Victorian London? Romance, banter, and subversion of the “chosen one” trope? Yes, please!

5. Emma Mills, This Adventure Ends — I’ve already read this one, so technically I can wait for the paperback. But this book was so charming and good that I’m definitely going to need a copy for my own shelves!

6. Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows, My Lady Jane — When I first saw this book, I frankly thought it looked awful. But then I started reading all the rave reviews, the praise of the humor and fantasy elements, the comparisons to The Princess Bride. I’ve been converted — I need to read this book!

7. Lindsey Kelk, We Were on a Break — After reading and loving two books by Lindsey Kelk, she is officially on my auto-buy list! Fans of British chick lit should definitely check her out.

8. Jane Thynne, Black Roses — Earlier this year I bought another book by Jane Thynne, only to realize that it was the third in a series! Black Roses is the first book, and it’s about a woman who becomes a spy among the Nazis in 1930s and ’40s Germany. I’m eager to read the series but definitely need to start at the beginning!

9. Rachel Bach, Honor’s Knight and Heaven’s Queen — This author also wrote a fantasy series under the name Rachel Aaron, which I LOVED. So of course I want to read her sci-fi trilogy also! I have book one but have been stubbornly waiting until I own all three books to read it.

10. William Ritter, Beastly Bones — I really liked Jackaby, a clever YA historical mystery with more than a few nods to Sherlock Holmes. I’ve been meaning to pick up the sequels for a while, so if Santa wants to leave them under the tree, I’d be fine with it! 🙂

What books are you hoping to receive this Christmas?

Mini-reviews #10: A mixed bag

I’m still so far behind on both reading and reviewing. I’m still hoping to read six more books in December, but with just two weeks left, I’m not sure how possible that is! At any rate, I can at least try to catch up with the review backlog:

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J.L. Carr, A Month in the Country — This quiet, deceptively simple novel is about a World War I veteran who spends a summer restoring a medieval mural in a village church. Nothing much happens, plot-wise, but the narrator (now an old man) remembers this summer as one of the only times in his life when he was truly happy. I really enjoyed this book, which contains some subtle humor despite its overall tone of melancholy, and I’m interested in reading more by Carr.

Kate Parker, The Vanishing Thief — I should have loved this book, which is about a female bookseller in the Victorian era who is also a member of a secret society of detectives. Unfortunately, I wasn’t a fan of the writing style, which I found choppy and clumsy, nor was I interested enough in any of the characters to continue with the series. The author does have another mystery series set in the 1930s, which I might try, but I’ll definitely be going in with more moderate expectations.

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Joseph Bruchac, Code Talker — This YA novel is told from the perspective of Ned Begay, a Navajo man who enlists in the Marines as a teenager and becomes a “code talker” during World War II. Although the writing style is a bit simplistic at times, the book presents a good introduction to the Navajo code talkers, and it made me want to read a lot more about them! I was also very touched by the book’s dedication:

This book is dedicated to those who have always, in proportion to their population, volunteered in the greatest numbers, suffered the most casualties, won the most Purple Hearts and decorations for valor, and served loyally in every war fought by the United States against foreign enemies, from the American Revolution to Afghanistan and Iraq–to the American Indian soldier.

Emma Mills, This Adventure Ends — I loved this book! It’s a YA contemporary novel that, while it contains a (very cute!) romance, primarily focuses on friendship. Main character Sloane has always been something of a loner, but when the charismatic Vera reaches out to her, she suddenly finds herself in the midst of a very tight-knit friend group. I found Sloane very relatable, though not always likable, and I really enjoyed all aspects of the story. Definitely recommended for people who like YA contemporaries — this is a fantastic example of the genre.

Mini-Reviews #9: Readathon reviews

With this batch of mini-reviews, I’m once again caught up with my backlog. I read three of the four books during the October 24-hour readathon, hence the title of this post. 🙂

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Shirley Jackson, We Have Always Lived in the Castle — Merricat Blackwood, her sister Constance, and her Uncle Julian are the last remnant of a once-prominent family. They live in a decrepit, isolated old house, and they don’t associate with any of the people in the nearby town. The novel’s sinister atmosphere is augmented by the suspicion that seven years ago, Constance deliberately poisoned the rest of her family. I’m no fan of horror, but I found this to be a very well-written, creepy but not too scary book. I may even read some more Shirley Jackson in the future.

Eva Ibbotson, Which Witch? — I’ve been a fan of Ibbotson’s YA/adult novels for years now, but this was my first experience reading one of her books for children. It was just as delightful as I expected it to be, telling the story of a dark wizard who holds a competition to determine which witch will be his bride. Beautiful and kind Belladonna would love to be the winner, but her magic is inescapably good. How will she convince Arriman the Awful that she’s his perfect match?

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Teresa Medeiros, Goodnight Tweetheart — The plot of this romance novel is essentially “Boy meets girl on Twitter.” As such, the book is inescapably dated, but I must admit I enjoyed it anyway! It had some good banter and some sweet moments…overall, a pleasant escapist read. It’s not a new favorite or anything, but it’s definitely a fun way to spend an evening (or, in my case, the middle of the night!).

Leigh Bardugo, Crooked Kingdom — If you loved Six of Crows, which I didCrooked Kingdom will not disappoint! The twists and turns of the plot kept me hooked, and I loved the fact that Kaz was always one step ahead of his enemies. And as with the previous book, I was completely invested in these characters and rooting for them all to achieve their goals. I especially liked that this book gave more attention to Jesper and Wylan, the two characters who were least fleshed out in Six of Crows. There was also a very welcome appearance by Nikolai, my favorite character in the Grisha trilogy, which leads me to believe that Bardugo isn’t done with this world yet!

Mini-Reviews #8: Losing steam

The last few months of the year always seem to fly by — I can’t believe it’s the middle of November already! Much as I love Christmas and all the hoopla leading up to it, I’m feeling a little burned out this year. I’m behind on reviews again, and I don’t feel particularly enthusiastic about catching up. So it’s back to mini-reviews for the time being, and I think I’m going to stick with this format until the end of 2016. Hopefully I’ll be ready to come back in January with renewed enthusiasm! In the meantime, here are some thoughts on the books I’ve read recently:

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Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt, The Most Beautiful Book in the World (trans. Alison Anderson) — This collection of eight “novellas”/short stories is an interesting meditation on womanhood and the passage of time. Most of the stories have a melancholic aspect, as the (almost always) female protagonists cope with issues like aging, infidelity, illness, and just plain unhappiness. All the same, I enjoyed these stories, particularly “Odette Toulemonde,” which is probably the most uplifting in the bunch. The only one that stood out to me in a negative way was “Intruder,” which has a gimmicky ending. Definitely worth reading if the description sounds interesting to you!

Jay Kristoff, Nevernight — I saw a lot of buzz about this book when it came out, but unfortunately it didn’t live up to the hype for me. The story is about Mia Corvere, a young woman seeking revenge after the political murder of her father and subsequent destruction of her family. She decides to seek out the Red Church, essentially a school for assassins, in order to pursue her revenge. Sounds pretty cool, right? Unfortunately, I could not deal with the writing style, which was completely overblown and trying way too hard to be impressive. I realize this is a very subjective criticism, and other readers may love the style, but it was emphatically not for me.

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Alice Tilton, Beginning with a Bash — What a fun Golden Age mystery! This is the first book in the Leonidas Witherall series, in which our detective has to solve a murder that occurred in a used bookstore before an innocent man takes the blame. Along the way, Leonidas — who is almost always called Bill Shakespeare because of his resemblance to the Bard — reconnects with an old flame and becomes embroiled in a feud between two notorious gangs. It’s really more of an adventure story than a mystery; the whodunit takes a backseat to the car chases, secret passageways, and assorted goings-on. There’s also some delightful vintage banter, which makes me mad that there’s no film version starring William Powell and Myrna Loy. I’ll definitely be continuing with this series, and thankfully I already own the next book, The Cut Direct!

Kasie West, P.S. I Like You — “You’ve Got Mail” is one of my favorite movies, so I was excited to read this YA contemporary romance with a similar plot. One day while spacing out in chemistry class, Lily absentmindedly scribbles a lyric from her favorite indie song onto her desk. The next day, she discovers that someone has continued the lyric, and before she knows it, she and her unknown correspondent are trading notes about music and a whole lot more. But when Lily discovers the identity of her pen pal, it’s the last person she would ever expect. I really enjoyed this book, despite its utter predictability and Lily’s annoying inability to see what’s right in front of her. It’s an adorable, light romance, and sometimes that’s just what you need.

Top Ten Tuesday: New to the queue

Top 10 TuesdayI really enjoyed coming up with my list for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic, which is books that you’ve recently added to your TBR list. A ton of new and not-yet-published books have caught my eye recently, and apparently I can’t get enough of fantasy or romance (or both)!

1. Jessica Cluess, A Shadow Bright and BurningGillian at Writer of Wrongs loved this one, and from what she says, I think I will too! It’s magic plus Victorian London plus boarding school plus apparently a ton of banter and romance…this is relevant to my interests!

2. Jenn Bennett, Alex, Approximately — Hold onto your seats, because this book is a YA retelling of You’ve Got Mail! Obviously I am here for it…just bummed that I have to wait until April 2017!

3. Megan Whalen Turner, Thick as Thieves — The Queen’s Thief series may be marketed as middle grade, but it is, without qualification, some of the best fantasy I’ve ever read. There hasn’t been a new book in years, but book #5 is finally coming in 2017! They’ve changed the cover art, which is unfortunate, but I can’t wait to get swept up in the world of this series again.

4. Katherine Arden, The Bear and the Nightingale — This book was being offered as an Early Reviewer book on LibraryThing, and the premise intrigued me immediately. It’s a historical fantasy retelling of a Russian folktale, and it looks like exactly the type of dreamy, gorgeous fantasy that I like to sink my teeth into on a winter’s night.

5. Ashley Poston, Heart of Iron — Here’s the summary of this one, from the author’s Tumblr: “Pitched as Anastasia meets Firefly, it’s the story of an orphan girl raised by a band of space pirates who discovers the truth about her origins when she and her android best friend get wrapped up in a political conspiracy.” PITCHED AS ANASTASIA MEETS FIREFLY!

6. Stephanie Burgis, Congress of Secrets — A romantic fantasy novel set during the Congress of Vienna, you say? And it’s been blurbed by the likes of Zen Cho, Martha Wells, and Juliet Marillier? You better believe I already bought my own copy!

7. Stephanie Scott, Alterations — Another YA contemporary retelling of a beloved movie. In this case it’s Sabrina, the lovely romantic comedy starring Audrey Hepburn and (of all people) Humphrey Bogart. Seriously, if you haven’t seen this movie yet, you need to! I’m intrigued to see how well the story will translate to a modern setting.

8. Lucy Parker, Pretty Face — All I know about this one is the very brief summary from Goodreads: “It stars a bombshell and a curmudgeonly—but deadly handsome—theater director.” You had me at curmudgeonly. But seriously, I enjoyed Parker’s previous book Act Like It so much that her follow-up would be on my autobuy list no matter what!

9. Kate Parker, Deadly Scandal — First in a mystery series set in 1930s London. It’s a formula I’m unable to resist!

10. Elizabeth Edmondson, A Man of Some Repute — Subtitled “A Very English Mystery,” which honestly was enough to sell me on this one. 🙂

So, what other books should I be adding to my TBR list? What’s new to your queue?