Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Book Reviews 27, 28 & 28.5

In January last year I set myself a challenge to read more books in 2013 than I had in 2012 (you can read about it here). 2012's tally was 24, so the challenge for 2013 was to read at least 25. I'm very pleased to say that I DID IT! I actually read 28.5 books in 2013. I really, really wanted to get that last book finished before midnight on Dec 31st, but I was just too tired and had to admit defeat with about 60 pages to go. So, I suppose I can only claim 28 books, but I did finish that 0.5 of a book the next morning.

Since I don't want my reviews of last year's books to start running over into this year I've decided to bunch these last three together in one post.

Book No. 27: Damsel in Distress by Carola Dunn

Set in the UK during the 1920s, this is a cosy crime series which differs from many, as I've mentioned in previous reviews, since most cozies (that I've read) are set in modern-day USA. The main character is Daisy Dalrymple, a fairly well-to-do young lady fighting against the social constraints of the era to be 'independent'; despite her mother's complaints, she is employed by a magazine to write about stately homes around the country, which is how she so often happens to be in the right place at the right time to help solve murder(s). The atmosphere of the 1920s is apparent in the language, behaviour, settings, etc throughout the series, making it a gentle read where the modern world (computers, mobile phones, even motor cars for the most part) does not intrude. I'm sure a historian of the 1920s would find fault with some part(s) of the book, but I enjoy the fact that we are taken back to a time when things seemed, even if they weren't actually, a little gentler and less frantic.

This is the fifth in the Daisy Dalrymple series and the story goes something like this: Daisy's good friend Philip falls head-over-heels in love with a young American lady whose father is extremely rich. The young lady, Gloria, is kidnapped and held to ransom and it's down to Daisy and her friends to track her down after the kidnappers warn against any police involvement. After several days of searching Daisy finds, but then loses (yep, it's true) Gloria and finally her "friend" Chief Inspector Alec Fletcher of Scotland Yard is brought in (under cover) to help.

I enjoyed this book for its gentle but still quite fast-paced style of writing. I didn't get bored with it or find myself skipping paragraphs, it held my interest throughout. The style is the same as with the other Daisy books: gentle, easy-to-read and engaging, just so long as you are willing to suspend belief and simply enjoy the book/series for what it is.

If you are a fan of cosy crime books you might be interested to give this series a go; even if you're more au fait with Agatha Christie and/or Patricia Highsmith you might enjoy it, for the settings or time period as much as anything else (autopsies, finger prints and other detection methods are evolving which is interesting in itself), although I'm not sure the plots are anything to match those penned by Ms Christie.

Book No. 28: A Highland Christmas by MC Beaton

Apparently this is billed as a standalone book for fans of Hamish Macbeth, rather than part of the series; having read it, I'm not sure I'd agree with that since there is talk of other characters who have appeared in the actual series (Priscilla, for example) and discussion of their past/present relationships/interactions with Hamish. I can't see that this is a standalone any more than any other book in the series could be. Having said that, I've also seen it described as the 16th book in the series, and I think that is a more accurate description. Had I known that before I started reading it, I probably would have put the book on hold and read it in its proper place since details are revealed about Hamish and Priscilla that I would rather have found out 'in order'. Anyway, enough of my complaining and back to the book. It's Christmas in Lochdubh, but you wouldn't know it. The Calvinist element in town have always resisted the festivities, so there are no carols, feasting, gifts, etc. But when a Christmas tree and lights are stolen from a nearby village, Hamish must investigate and put things right.

This is a sweet little book - more of a pamphlet really, since it comes in at just 136 pages! A swift read indeed. But perfect for reading at Christmas time to put you in the mood for the Yuletide season. I've only read one other book from the Hamish Macbeth series and, as with that one, this is a gentle, easy read as books in the cozy crime category tend to be. There's no murder or major foul play here, but Hamish still has the opportunity to right a few wrongs and make Christmas a happier time for several village folk.

Book No. 28.5: As the Pig Turns by MC Beaton
I didn't intend to read two MC Beaton books back-to-back, but I really fancied a bit of Agatha Raisin to read over Christmas and thus it came to pass. I call this 'Book 28.5' of the year since I started it in 2013 but only finished it on New Year's Day, hence it spilled over in 2014. Hubby insists, therefore, that I can't count it towards my total for either years, so it's a bit in limbo.
The first crime committed in this book is actually a bit gruesome for a cozy; Agatha and her friends visit the nearby village of Winter Parva for a hog roast but it turns out that the hog has been replaced by the body of a local policeman - urrgghhh. Not long after and the policeman's ex-wife is also killed and Agatha's friend Roy is kidnapped. It's time for Agatha to solve the mystery.

Oh, what to say? I do love this series but, honestly, some of the books are SO badly written (especially, it seems, as the series progresses) as to be laughable and this happens to be one of them. When I read cozy crime, I'm not expecting Dickens, Austen, Shakespeare but that doesn't mean that the story can't be put together without it feeling like the author was in a hurry to meet her publisher's deadline. There are a lot of characters in this book; many of them are recurring ones like Roy, Toni, Bill, Agatha's ex-husband James, her friend Charles, and various employees of her detective agency. I can imagine if you haven't read any other books from this series you would find it very confusing trying to work out who they all were and their relationships with Agatha. There were also a lot of other characters introduced just for this story and it was hard to keep track of them all at times. The plot? Umm, what was it? I only finished this book a week or so ago and I'm struggling to remember what happened. There were lots of tangents, lots of page-filling for no apparent reason, lots of loose ends. Quite honestly, I can't recommend this book at all unless, like me, you are an avid Agatha Raisin fan and you can't bear not to read all the books in the series. Otherwise, you should definitely give it a miss :(

So, there we have it, a quick round up of the last books I read in 2013. I'm rather pleased that I managed to read that many (28.5) in a year; shall I resolve to read even more in 2014?!?

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