For the last couple of years at least, December has been the most I read the most, partly because I have time off of course, but also because I’ve been finding myself falling a little far behind the number of books I challenged myself to read at the beginning of the year. I also end up reading a whole lot of shorter reads and in fact have ended up “discovering” an author or two in the process whom I end up enjoying quite a bit. Last year, I read a few books from the Miss Pickerell series by Ellen MacGregor, science fiction and adventure, as well as Thornton Burgess’ books whose books were sweet little tales of small animals living by the Laughing Brook, very like Enid Blyton’s stories and Beatrix Potter’s.
This December I read 19 books (to finish my goodreads challenge of 100), not all of which were full length, of course (in fact, plenty were very short between 30 and 80 pages). But I did manage to read a range of genres even though 17 of the 19 books I read were mysteries. Still I read a classic, historical fiction, children’s fiction, and one with a ghost/supernatural theme, besides a number of cosy mysteries. This will therefore be a pretty long post.
I read four children’s books this month, all of which were from the Five Findouters (and Dog) series by Enid Blyton. I loved Enid Blyton as a child and still love her books. I’ve read a lot of her books (but nowhere near all since she wrote over 700). I’ve been doing a personal challenge reading all the 15 Findouters books chronologically, and this month I read books 7, 8, 9, and 10. The findouters are five children, Frederick Algernon Trotteville (“Fatty”- a name which he gets from his initials and appearance), Laurence and Margaret (Larry and Daisy) Daykin, and Philip and Elizabeth (Pip and Bets) Hilton, and Fatty’s scottie Buster. They live in Peterswood Village and every holiday when the older children (all but Bets attend boarding school) are back home, they come upon a mystery to solve. Their “arch-rival” is the village constable Goon who isn’t the nicest or brightest of people but the children’s tricks on him (including planting false clues, and making up false mysteries) do tend at times to go too far. The four books I read this month were the Mystery of the Pantomime Cat, Mystery of the Invisible Thief, Mystery of the Vanished Prince, and Mystery of the Strange Bundle. The children are faced with robbery, kidnapping, and mysterious happenings at night in these books and as usual beat out PC Goon at solving them. Unlike some other adventure series where the children stumble upon and solve mysteries, the findouters, particularly Fatty wants to be a detective and goes about acquiring skills including writing in invisible ink, escaping from locked rooms, and trying out a variety of disguises. Fatty’s disguises are not only useful in solving the mystery at hand but he also uses them to play tricks on poor Mr Goon. Another favourite feature of mine in these books is the food―the children pretty much gorge in all the books, in some more than others―pies and cakes, buns, macaroons and sandwiches, with lemonade and ice cream in summer and hot chocolate in winter. My reviews of all the books I’ve read in the series so far are on this page.
The historical fiction I read in December, three books, were also all mysteries but took me to different periods. The Coffin Lane Murders by Alanna Knight is book 11 in the Inspector Faro series which took me to Victorian Edinburgh, where the Inspector is faced with what seems to be a serial killer. Being close to Christmas means that there is ice all around making it harder to look for Clues. Sulari Gentill’s The Prodigal Son, the prequel to her Rowland Sinclair series, is set in 1920s Sydney to which Rowland returns to find that he doesn’t fit in any more, until he gets into the Sydney School of Art and begins to work on his skills. But there is something mysterious going on, his expenses turning out to be too high and household treasures disappearing. The third was Alan Bradley’s The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag, the second of the Flavia de Luce series, in 1950s England. Flavia, an eleven-year-old is a genius of sorts at chemistry and at solving crimes. In this one, a travelling puppet show arrives at her village, Bishops Lacey, and the puppeteer is killed mid-show.
Another newer mystery (2010) I read, also dealing with a serial killer was Ruth Rendell’s The Monster in the Box, book 22 featuring Inspector Wexford. Wexford finds himself spotting a serial killer who he knows has killed in the past but he has not a shred of evidence against him. In the process of catching the killer, Wexford revisits the initial days of his career and life.
Among the cosies I read this month were two books featuring Chef Maurice Manchon by J.A Lang. One a full length mystery Chef Maurice and A Spot of Truffle is free on Kindle and the second a short prequel, Chef Maurice and a Very Fishy Tale I got again free by signing up to the author’s newsletter. Chef Maurice is a Frenchman, who runs a restaurant Le Cochon Rouge in a small village in the Cotswolds. In A Spot of Truffle, his mushroom supplier goes missing and then ends up murdered and Chef Maurice must solve the case to get to the source of his supply of white truffles and rescue his pet pig Hamilton, who he has recently adopted to be a truffle-pig. In A Very Fishy Tale, Maurice finds a wooden fish with a call for help engraved on it on a sea bass supplied to his restaurant and his friend restaurant-critic Arthur Wordington-Smythe is keen to get to the bottom of the mystery. Maurice is something like Poirot, with a big moustache, pork-pie hat, even in a sense in his manner of speaking, and an exaggerated but fun character. This was a new to me author and series and I had fun reading both.
Another series of very short cosies I found myself reading were the Julia Blake mysteries by Gillian Larkin, an author who was a first time read for me, but I ended up reading six books by her this month, all free through Kindle or her newsletter. Julia Blake is a middle-aged lady running her own cleaning business. She seems to off and on stumble onto bodies in the course of work and even in her own neighbourhood leading her father to joke that she’s cursed. These are mostly very short stories so one leaps directly into the mystery without too much background. The four I read were Virtually Scared to Death, A Deadly Restoration, A Party to Die For, and A Lesson in Deceit. These are all quick reads, but ones I didn’t manage to guess the killer so good fun. Also by Gillian Larkin I read Playing at Murder, first in the Butterworth series. This features two retired sisters-in-law Connie and Sabine Butterworth, both very likeable ladies. When Sabine, who has worked in insurance, retires, Connie informs her that she intends to start a detective agency with her as partner and before Sabine can even process this, in walks their first client looking for her missing child-minder. Finally, also by Gillian Larkin was A Different Shade of Death, which was really different from what I usually read having a ghost/supernatural theme, though also a cosy mystery. Grace Abrahams who runs an antique shop with her brother has the ability to see and communicate with ghosts of murdered people who she helps solve their deaths. This one has her looking into the death of Charlie Ford, a loan-shark (he claims he isn’t) who doesn’t know who or what killed him.
The one other cosy I read was The Case of the Hidden Flame by Alison Golden and Grace Dagnell, part of the Inspector Graham series which sees the Inspector arrive at a small police station on Jersey to take up his new post. But just as he is settling in to the White House Inn, a body is discovered by a retired army-man on the beach below.
Besides all the mysteries I’ve written about, the two other books I read were Undelivered Letters by J. Alchem, one I’d received for review. I liked the concept but the writing and the end were disappointing. My review is on the blog. Finally, there was The Curate in Charge by Margaret Oliphant which tells the story of a country curate who has served faithfully and conscientiously for 20 years not having bothered to advance his own prospects but suddenly finds himself out of work when the rector passes away. Margaret Oliphant’s books have pretty strong female characters and so did this one in the Curate’s elder daughter Cecily, who has to take charge of the house and family when trouble descends on them.
My reviews of all the books I’ve mentioned are on goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/5917681?shelf=read.
So a really interesting and enjoyable reading month, with a bit of a race to the finish at the end. But I had fun doing it, discovered some fun new (to me) authors, and have set up a new challenge on goodreads for this year 108 books!