The Secret at Lone Tree Cottage by Carolyn Keene

The Secret at Lone Tree Cottage

Information

Goodreads: The Secret at Lone Tree Cottage
Series: Dana Girls #2
Source: Library
Published: 1934

Summary

Louise and Jean Dana discover their English teacher’s car on the side of the road–Miss Tisdale has been abducted! Her mother does not want Mr. Tisdale to know, so she won’t contact the police. It’s up to the Dana girls to solve the mystery before it’s too late.

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Review

Published in the 1930s, the Dana Girls books were meant to capitalize on the success of serialized mysteries like Nancy Drew and, indeed, the same pseudonym was used for the series, though it has not managed to last through the decades. But the Dana Girls mysteries have their charms. They rely on the same, comforting formula as the Nancy Drew stories, while having the added interest of featuring two sisters solving cases while enrolled at a boarding school. The Secret at Lone Tree Cottage feels very much like stepping back in time to a wonderful moment where teens can take on adult responsibilities like detective work, while still enjoying the perks of school life. Anyone who loves Nancy Drew will want to check out the Dana Girls books.

Part of what makes this series so interesting is the fact that readers get two protagonists, as well as a boarding school setting for the series. Louise and Dana are one year apart, but they are nearly inseparable, which makes for a charming depiction of loving sisterhood, even as the two repeatedly rush headlong into danger. The series would admittedly be stronger, however, if it tried to differentiate the two girls a little more, aside from their hair color. They work, live, and study together to the point where they seem practically to be functioning as one person. While Louise seems to be a little more sensible than Jean, they work in tandem for the most part, taking turns discovering and solving clues and, in general, one girl could easily be replaced by the other and readers would probably barely notice. Hopefully, this weak characterization will be addressed as the series progresses.

Even so, the books are delightful and the boarding school setting adds to that. While Nancy Drew barely seems to have a home life, the Dana girls are firmly placed at Starrhurst Academy, and they must figure out how to balance their detective work with their studies–as well as with the rules of the school. Fortunately, for them, youth, good looks, money, and a pleasant disposition are usually enough for them to be able to bend the rules with only the occasional finger shaking from the headmistress, apparently so she can pretend she’s trying to be fair. More drama comes from the girls’ standing rivalry with mean girl Lettie Briggs, who enjoys playing mean pranks on them, just to liven up the plot between clues. This tactic of adding everyday drama is also a hallmark of the Nancy Drew stories, where every chapter must have some sort of dramatic incident, mystery-related or not, to keep readers engaged.

Overall, the Dana Girls books are pretty much what one would expect from a Nancy Drew story. Readers get rich, popular teen protagonists who like solving dangerous mysteries the officials cannot seem to crack, as well as the formulaic writing that makes the mystery easy to solve, but somehow still rewarding to read. Readers who enjoy Nancy Drew and are looking for something similar will find it in the Dana Girls books, which were written around the same time by the same syndicate. It’s hard to get closer to a new Nancy Drew than that!

4 stars

Reading Through Nancy Drew (Books 1-10)

Book One: The Secret of the Old Clock

It’s hard not to love the mystery that started it all. In The Secret of the Old Clock, readers are introduced to Nancy, an attractive, rich, and popular eighteen-year-old who enjoys helping her lawyer father with his cases. A chance encounter leads her to suspect that a rich bachelor left a second will to his fortune, and she begins tracking down his relatives to uncover more clues. This story establishes many of the later traits of the series, such as Nancy’s curiosity and resolve, her involvement with Carson Drew’s legal work, and her ability to ingratiate herself into the lives of random strangers so she can solve mysteries for them.

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Book Two: The Hidden Staircase

Who doesn’t love a classic haunted house mystery? In her second case, Nancy answers a friend’s plea to discover the truth behind the ghost frightening her relatives. At the same time, Nancy begins to investigate a railroad case her father is working on, and the threats he is receiving as a result. This is a fun mystery that includes all the staples such as hidden passages, disguises, and good old-fashioned sleuthing.

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Book Three: The Bungalow Mystery

Nancy’s third mystery gets a little wilder than the previous installments. This time, Nancy suspects that the guardians of a girl she met while on vacation are not what they seem. As usual, her mystery ends up being connected with a case her father is working on, though the odds of such a connection are slim indeed. Readers will need a healthy helping of credulity to enjoy this story, but that is true of most of Nancy’s mysteries.

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Book Four: The Mystery at Lilac Inn

This is arguably one of the weaker installments of the series. The motivations of the villain are a little unbelievable, as is her bizarre method of revenge. A series of coincidences ends up connecting two disparate cases Nancy is working on, and she ends up solving the mystery largely by stumbling into the villains instead of by actively sleuthing. The plot is also a bit redundant, recycling elements from previous books such as a capsized boat, a storm, and a haunted building.

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Book Five: The Secret of Shadow Ranch

Shadow Ranch is one of the most popular Nancy Drew books, and for good reason. This story takes Nancy out West, where the author delights in creating a deeply atmospheric setting full of old cave dwellings, square dancing, and horseback riding. The accuracy of this depiction may be suspect, but it is fun, and the setting is furthermore tied to a romantic story involving the doomed love between an outlaw and a sheriff’s daughter, which gives the story a sense of historical depth. This installment is also notable for introducing Nancy’s best friends George and Bess and for name dropping Ned, though Nancy will not actually meet him until book seven. All this, combined with a fast-paced plot and hint of romance with Dave the cowboy, makes Shadow Ranch one of the best Nancy Drew mysteries.

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Book Six: The Secret of Red Gate Farm

The Secret of Red Gate Farm throws a new, tantalizing mystery Nancy’s way as she tries to figure out why a mysterious saleswoman was so reluctant to sell Bess a bottle of perfume, as well as whether or not the “nature cult” on Red Gate Farm is truly what it seems. As usual, Nancy manages to solve the case when no one else can simply because she is incredibly lucky. The bottle of perfume, the man she meets on the train, the strange job advertisement her friend answers, and the cult–they all happen to be related! But, though the plot is unbelievable, it is still entertaining. I enjoyed something new since three of the last five books included haunted properties.

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Book Seven: The Clue in the Diary

Book seven is most notable for the introduction of Ned Nickerson, soon to be Nancy’s steady boyfriend (for the next few decades!). It is fun to see the usually composed Nancy start to blush and get nervous around Ned, who quickly proves himself a valuable asset to the sleuthing team. Nancy deserves someone who is interested in and supportive of her work, and she gets that in Ned, who gamely runs errands for Nancy and is always willing to lend a hand. There’s also a mystery involving two missing persons, a suspected arson, and mail theft, but, it is not one of the stronger plot lines in the series.

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Book Eight: Nancy’s Mysterious Letter

Book eight is not known for being one of the stronger installments of the series, but I admit I heartily enjoyed this mystery. Nancy mistakenly receives a letter addressed to another Nancy Drew, who has inherited a fortune in England. Now, Nancy must find the other woman before she is swindled out of her money. The story is essentially a comedy of errors, with Nancy tracking down two individuals, and always arriving at their former location just as they have left. There may be little mystery here, since Nancy knows exactly whom she seeks. But I enjoyed the chase nonetheless.

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Book Nine: The Sign of the Twisted Candles

Book nine is certainly one of the stronger mysteries of the series. Nancy arrives at an inn to investigate rumors that the old man who lives there is being kept as a prisoner in the tower by the innkeepers. In the process, she discovers an ancient feud that also threatens to estrange her from Bess and George. A gripping plot, combined with richly-drawn characters, secret compartments, and plenty of danger makes this a thrilling story.

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Book Ten: Password to Larkspur Lane

Password to Larkspur Lane continues a strong streak for the series. An injured messenger pigeon leads Nancy to two related mysteries, one involving a strange wheel of fire at her friend’s grandparents’ house and one involving a missing woman. Nancy does some solid sleuthing, piecing together some fairly tenuous clues to arrive at the truth, before attempting a daring rescue escape, complete with disguises, angry guard dogs, and airplanes. The series needs more stories like this!

5 Classics from the Middle Ages I Recommend (Classic Remarks)

Classic Remarks

WHAT IS CLASSIC REMARKS?

Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.

HOW CAN I PARTICIPATE?

Leave your link to your post on your own blog in the comments below. And feel free to comment with your thoughts even if you are not officially participating with a full post!

You can find more information and the list of weekly prompts here.

(Readers who like past prompts but missed them have also answered them on their blog later and linked back to us at Pages Unbound, so feel free to do that, too!)

THIS WEEK’S PROMPT:

Recommend a classic from the Middle Ages.

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5 Classics from the Middle Ages

The Obvious

Let’s get the obvious out of the way. If you know very little about medieval literature, you’re probably familiar with The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, King Arthur, and Robin Hood. All of these I do, in fact, recommend, although I admit it took me a while personally to warm up to The Canterbury Tales and appreciate them, and I literally studied medieval literature in grad school. So they’re worth reading, but you don’t have to start there, and I wouldn’t sweat it if they’re not your thing. Also, there is the small problem that there isn’t really an original/definitive King Arthur OR Robin Hood tale. There are just a lot of stories from different authors and years during the Middle Ages, so if you’re interested in these things, you have a lot to choose from. Have at it. (The more obscure the stories are, however, the less likely there will be a modern English translation of it.)

For King Arthur (and his knights) stories, check out:

For Robin Hood stories, check out:

The Less Obvious

1

Silence

Silence French Romance

Silence is the story of a girl who is secretly raised as a boy because the king has decreed that women can no longer inherit, and her parents want her to have their estate after they die.  Silence wrestles with her identity throughout the story, knowing she has the body of a woman but recognizing that she acts like a man and enjoys playing a male role in society.  Nature and Nurture get into some heated arguments over what makes someone’s gender.

Read my full post: 5 Reasons to Read the French Romance Silence.

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2

The Lais of Marie de France by Marie de France

A collection of twelve short stories recorded by Marie de France and translated into prose.  The stories are classic lais Marie heard told during her lifetime, often featuring brave knights, lovely ladies, and a bit of magic.

Read my full review here.

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The Song of Roland

An 11th century epic poem that takes place during the reign of Charlemagne. It tells the story of Roland, who is guarding Charlemagne’s rear as the army departs Spain, how his stepfather betrays Charlemagne and the Franks, and how he pridefully refuses to call for aid as he and his party become overwhelmed by enemy forces.

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four

Troilus and Criseyde by Geoffrey Chaucer

A classic love story that has been told and retold (Shakespeare wrote a play, too), featuring star-crossed lovers during the Siege of Troy. If you thought Chaucer only wrote The Canterbury Tales, you’ll be pleased and surprised by the nuance with which he tells the story of Troilus and Cressida and how they fall in love and experience tragedy.

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Amis and Amiloun

Amis and Amiloun cover

In this medieval romance, two knights (unrelated but very similar in appearance) swear a troth plight to be true to each other in wrong or right. The ethicalness of this oath comes into question when Amiloun agrees to fight as Amis in a trial by combat—where Amis is clearly in the wrong and deserves to lose. As a result of his decision, Amiloun is struck with leprosy, but is this a punishment from God or simply a trial he is willing to endure for his love of Amis? And is there anything Amis can do to repay him?

Read my full review of “Amis and Amiloun”.

Read the full text of “Amis and Amiloun” online (in Middle English).

Briana

A Classic I Just “Didn’t Get”: Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (Classic Remarks)

Classic Remarks

WHAT IS CLASSIC REMARKS?

Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.

HOW CAN I PARTICIPATE?

Leave your link to your post on your own blog in the comments below. And feel free to comment with your thoughts even if you are not officially participating with a full post!

You can find more information and the list of weekly prompts here.

(Readers who like past prompts but missed them have also answered them on their blog later and linked back to us at Pages Unbound, so feel free to do that, too!)

THIS WEEK’S PROMPT:

Is there a classic book you just “didn’t get?”

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Madame Bovary A Classic I Didn't Get

Despite my love of classics, there are a number didn’t really “get” (at least until I went to a class discussion about them and could begin to see what other readers were getting out of the book!), but my mind really blanked at coming up with specific titles when I saw the prompt for this week.

In a stroke of genius, I decided to go to my Goodreads shelves and see what classics I had given low star ratings to. The only problem: many of these I read ten years ago or more, and I don’t think I remember enough about them to say why I didn’t like them or what I didn’t get about them! (Though I did actually write a review of The Turn of the Screw for the blog, and I think I “get” Brave New World; I just don’t like it.)

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With all that in mind, I’m officially going with:

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

Unfortunately I don’t seem to have written a review of Madame Bovary, which would be helpful in refreshing my thoughts because I read it in 2013. However, personally I’m just not a fan of that genre of novel that (perhaps reductively) could be called: wealthy woman becomes unhappy in her marriage and starts taking lovers and…readers are supposed to be sympathetic to that? I’m not a big fan of Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D. H. Lawrence or The Awakening by Kate Chopin for similar reasons.

I suppose there’s an argument that, in the past, women were stuck in unhappy marriages, if divorce was not an option, and that makes infidelity more forgivable than if they could leave their husbands and pursue new prospects that way. Even with that in mind, I’ve never been on board with books about adultery, especially in instances where the woman isn’t really being treated badly but has just never been truly in love with or excited by her husband.

Madame Bovary really focuses on that point, that Madame Bovary is experiencing ennui. This means 1) it’s hard to feel that she’s doing the “right” thing or “doesn’t have other options” when she cheats because she’s just bored! and 2) the book is kind of boring because it focuses on how boring the life of the protagonist is. I felt as if I were listlessly drifting through the whole book, not as if I were reading anything interesting.

Even if one argues we’re not supposed to sympathize with Madame Bovary, I don’t get the appeal of the book. So Flaubert is just portraying a bored immoral woman and asking us to ponder how bored and immoral she is? I’ll pass, thanks.

Have you read Madame Bovary? What did you think?

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Summary of the Dover version of Madame Bovary:

Bored and unhappy in a lifeless marriage, Emma Bovary yearns to escape from the dull circumstances of provincial life. Married to a simple-minded but indulgent country doctor, she takes one lover, then another, hastens her husband’s financial ruin with her extravagance…

Gustave Flaubert (1821-1888) was brought to trial by the French government on the grounds of the novel’s alleged immorality, but unlike his less fortunate contemporary, Baudelaire, he narrowly escaped conviction.

Falubert’s powerful and deeply moving examination of the moral degeneration of a middle-class Frenchwoman is universally regarded as one of the landmarks of 19th-century fiction. It is reproduced here, complete and unabridged, in the classic translation by Eleanor Marx-Aveling, daughter of Karl Marx.

Briana

Belinda by Maria Edgeworth

Belinda book cover

Information

Goodreads: Belinda
Series: None
Source: Purchased
Published: 1801

Official Summary

(Oxford World Classics edition)

The lively comedy of this novel in which a young woman comes of age amid the distractions and temptations of London high society belies the challenges it poses to the conventions of courtship, the dependence of women, and the limitations of domesticity. Contending with the perils and the varied cast of characters of the marriage market, Belinda strides resolutely toward independence. Admired by her contemporary, Jane Austen, and later by Thackeray and Turgenev, Edgeworth tackles issues of gender and race in a manner at once comic and thought-provoking. The 1802 text used in this edition also confronts the difficult and fascinating issues of racism and mixed marriage, which Edgeworth toned down in later editions.

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Review

Maria Edgeworth’s Belinda is an exciting Regency-era novel that throws scandalous characters together with kindhearted ones to tell a story that ultimately brings most characters their happily-ever-after (or, in some cases, their just desserts!).

I wasn’t sure what to expect going into Belinda, my knowledge of this time period, of course, being dominated by Jane Austen novels. I was startled to discover a novel that, at times, is a bit wild and over-the-top, with women challenging each other to duels and people playing scary pranks and all kinds of things. I had this vague idea I would be reading about balls and matrimonial maneuverings, and while those are part of the novel, their presence doesn’t make the book staid.

Protagonist Belinda herself, perhaps, will be accused of being dull by some readers; she’s a bit like Austen’s Fanny Price, very nice and proper, a young lady who could never be accused of anything by anybody. Personally I think her goodness grounds the book; if everyone were doing crazy things, the story might lose any sense of reality or any claim to its ability to comment on social issues or contemporary matters. (It does, for instance, quite directly address interracial marriage and the question of what women should look for in a marriage and domestic life in order to truly find happiness.) And Belinda, while a bit Mary Sue-ish, has her little challenges and frustrations to help make her more human.

The other characters are a bit more obviously fascinating. There is Belinda’s chaperone, who is wildly popular but has an unhappy domestic life and a secret she is keeping from even her husband. There are Belinda’s suitors. There is a mysterious girl who is beautiful and naïve and seems like something out of a fairy tale. (And, personally, I’d love to read some academic articles about this character in particular, if I had access to academic databases because I certainly have some questions about her that I’m sure have been explored in scholarship!)

In short, the book is wonderful. I enjoyed every moment of it (though the ending was a bit cheesy), and I’m not sure why I haven’t seen more people talking about this classic.

Briana
4 stars

To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

To the Lighthouse book cover

Information

Goodreads: To the Lighthouse
Series: None
Source: Purchased
Published: 1927

Official Summary

The serene and maternal Mrs. Ramsay, the tragic yet absurd Mr. Ramsay, and their children and assorted guests are on holiday on the Isle of Skye. From the seemingly trivial postponement of a visit to a nearby lighthouse, Woolf constructs a remarkable, moving examination of the complex tensions and allegiances of family life and the conflict between men and women.

As time winds its way through their lives, the Ramsays face, alone and simultaneously, the greatest of human challenges and its greatest triumph—the human capacity for change.

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Review

You can read Krysta’s review of To the Lighthouse here.

To the Lighthouse is, on the surface, a book not about much: it shows scenes from the lives of the Ramsay family and the impressions of some of their friends who stay at the house, yet without a central plot. However skeptical I was of this at the beginning, I came to appreciate the stream of consciousness and Woolf’s occasional keen insights into human nature and the thoughts that crossed her characters’ minds.

As someone who has studiously avoided any stream of consciousness literature up to this point, I’ve never encountered a book before that represents thinking how it so frequently occurs– that is, people often are thinking about things that have nothing to do with the scene in front of them or the actions they are taking. One might be sitting at dinner but actually randomly remembering something that happened 10 years ago. One might be playing with a small child but actually planning out one’s novel. Woolf captures this excellently.

The thoughts of Woolf’s characters are, of course, not entirely random, and her ability to touch on things like emotional labor and the mental load and how women relate to men also is impressive. For instance, Mrs. Ramsay sporadically thinks about the cost of repairing the greenhouse and how she must remember to bring it up with her husband. This could seem like a boring thing for her to think and a weird detail for Woolf to include– and I probably would have thought this myself about this book if I’d read it at a younger age. Now, however, I can appreciate that randomly intruding thoughts about mundane things are common for people trying to run a household– Oh, we need more milk. Remember to buy milk, Put milk on the list…. Tellingly, these thoughts tend to occur to the female characters in To the Lighthouse. The men are all too busy thinking about their great works, whether poetry or academic, to be bothered with such things.

To be fair, I think one book of this type is enough for me. Since the appeal is really the structure of the book, how Woolf captures thought and sometimes interesting human relations, and not any real plot, I don’t think I’d get much out of reading a second book of this type unless it had a bit more action going on. But for one time I definitely found it interesting, and I’m a bit sorry I put off reading anything by Woolf for so long.

Briana
4 stars

The Best Sherlock Holmes Mystery for Beginners (Classic Remarks)

Classic Remarks

WHAT IS CLASSIC REMARKS?

Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.

HOW CAN I PARTICIPATE?

Leave your link to your post on your own blog in the comments below. And feel free to comment with your thoughts even if you are not officially participating with a full post!

You can find more information and the list of weekly prompts here.

(Readers who like past prompts but missed them have also answered them on their blog later and linked back to us at Pages Unbound, so feel free to do that, too!)

THIS WEEK’S PROMPT:

Which Sherlock Holmes work should someone start with if they have never read a Holmes mystery before?

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What Sherlock Holmes Story Should Beginners Start With?

Because Sherlock Holmes stories do not need to be read in order (Watson, as narrator, might vaguely mention some previous case having occurred, but the reader needs no knowledge of it), I believe the best place for a reader new to Holmes mysteries is a story that will capture their attention and make them eager to read more. For this, I propose The Hound of the Baskervilles.

The Hound of the Baskervilles has the benefit of being a full-length novel, rather than a short story. Personally, I tend to find longer mysteries more engaging and more suspenseful than short stories, as the length gives the author time to really develop a complex narrative, introduce multiple suspects with multiple motives, etc. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle did write some excellent short stories featuring Holmes, of course, but a reader can happily delve into them after becoming familiar with Holmes in The Hound of the Baskervilles. I believe Hound is also generally one of the most beloved and recommended Holmes stories, so popular opinion also recommends it as a good place to start.

And not all Holmes stories are created equal. In 2020, I read The Sign of the Four, the second of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Holmes stories, and I found it 1) disappointing and 2) racist. Doyle is a product of his time, of course, but I think this as an introduction to Holmes would be extremely off-putting to many readers. If one were to read the Holmes stories in order, one might start off with A Study in Scarlet, think it fine, and then be quite surprised (negatively surprised) by The Sign of the Four. So while I am generally an advocate of reading books in order, I think it unnecessary and possibly a bad idea in the case of Holmes.

What are some of your favorite Holmes stories?

Briana

Midwinter Murder: Fireside Tales from the Queen of Mystery by Agatha Christie

Midwinter Murder by Agatha Christie

Information

Goodreads: Midwinter Murder: Fireside Tales from the Queen of Mystery
Series: None
Source: Borrowed
Published: October 1, 2020

Official Summary

An all-new collection of winter-themed stories from the Queen of Mystery, just in time for the holidays—including the original version of Christmas Adventure, never before released in the United States!

There’s a chill in the air and the days are growing shorter . . . It’s the perfect time to curl up in front of a crackling fire with these wintry whodunits from the legendary Agatha Christie. But beware of deadly snowdrifts and dangerous gifts, poisoned meals and mysterious guests. This chilling compendium of short stories—some featuring beloved detectives Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple—is an essential omnibus for Christie fans and the perfect holiday gift for mystery lovers.

INCLUDES THE STORIES:
– Three Blind Mice
– The Chocolate Box
– A Christmas Tragedy
– The Coming of Mr Quin
– The Clergyman’s Daughter/Red House
– The Plymouth Express
– Problem at Pollensa Bay
– Sanctuary
– The Mystery of Hunter’s Lodge
– The World’s End
– The Manhood of Edward Robinson
– Christmas Adventure 

Review

Midwinter Murder is an atmospheric selection of Agatha Christie short stories that take place around the holidays or generally in winter. As someone who has never read any of her short stories (though “The Chocolate Box” seemed familiar; perhaps I read it in school?), I enjoyed the variety of tales, as they ranged in style and substance and featured a number of the protagonists from her longer works.

Personally, I have never solved an Agatha Christie mystery (though, to be fair, there are many I haven’t read), so I was thrilled to have multiple opportunities to finally become a worthy detective with this collection of short stories. However, it turns out that some of the stories are truly mysteries; there is some plot going on, and the reader might be trying to figure out what is going on, but mostly there’s a lot of talking and characters putting together an intriguing string of events. This is particularly true of the stories featuring Mr. Quin, who is a Christie character I am not familiar with, but perhaps that is in keeping with how the author normally structures his stories.

The first story, “Three Blind Mice,” is the longest and the most like what I would expect a mystery to be: there are clues the reader can pick up, multiple motives, multiple suspects, etc. Alas, I didn’t figure this one out anyway, but my friend who read it did, so really I’m just a terrible detective, and perhaps one day I will finally read enough of Christie’s work to figure out how her mind works and guess the culprit!

The other stories are still interesting, and I don’t think one needs to be familiar with the protagonists to enjoy and understand them; there’s generally enough exposition for one to understand at least generally that Poirot is a famed detective with a keen mind, that Miss Marple is an amateur who dabbles in solving murders, that Tommy and Tuppence are a young husband and wife detective duo. Anyway, characterization is never really Christie’s focus; it’s her plots, so who is solving the mystery hardly matters in some sense.

I’m not sure if these stories are commonly in other collections, but as someone who hasn’t seen any of them (or perhaps only one?) before, I thought it was a great anthology for reading in winter.

Briana
4 stars

The Invisible Chimes by Margaret Sutton

The Invisible Chimes

Information

Goodreads: The Invisible Chimes
Series: Judy Bolton #3
Source: Library
Published: 1932

Summary

When Judy Bolton meets a strange girl who cannot seem to remember her own name, Judy is determined to find out her identity. At first, she wants to help the girl she has named “Honey.” But Honey was found in the company of thieves. Could it be she is not telling the truth about her past?

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Review

The third book in Margaret Sutton’s Judy Bolton series continues the adventures of teenage Judy as she attends high school and solves mysteries in her spare time. In this episode, Judy meets a mysterious girl who seemingly cannot remember her identity. Judy names the girl “Honey” and is determined to figure out where she comes from, so she can notify the girl’s presumably worried parents. As with the previous books in the series, the mystery is rather formulaic and thus easy to solve. However, that familiarity is part of what gives the series its charms. The Invisible Chimes will delight readers who enjoy serialized mystery stories like Nancy Drew.

For me, serialized mystery series like the Judy Bolton books are comfort reads. They follow a predictable pattern and often present mysteries that rely on incredible coincidences, meaning the protagonist can wrap up two seemingly unrelated cases at once, by the end of the book. So far, the Judy Bolton books have followed this formula, allowing Judy repeatedly to connect people and places that ought not to be connected at all. It’s a little unbelievable, of course, but it’s also comforting to know that, by the end of the story, everything will be resolved. Families will be reunited, lost property restored, and justice done. Sometimes one just needs a book where everything comes out all right.

This series is also fun because Judy is not a static character, but one who grows over the course of the series. She’s still in high school in book three, but so far she has already moved towns, changed schools, integrated herself into elite society, and caught the attention of two men, both of whom are subtly vying for her affections. While Judy’s personal life does not get as much attention in this book as it has in previous installments, readers can rest assured that she will continue to face personal problems that make her come to life as a protagonist.

The Invisible Chimes is well worth a read for those who enjoy books of this nature. And the best part is that there are over thirty more books to come! So readers who enjoy Judy can continue to watch her grow up and take life head on.

4 stars

An Old-Fashioned Girl by Louisa May Alcott

Old-Fashioned Girl by Louisa May Alcott

Information

Goodreads: An Old-Fashioned Girl
Series: None
Source: Owned
Published: 1869

Summary

Fourteen-year-old Polly Milton visits her friend Fanny Shaw in the city, where she is impressed by Fanny’s fashionable lifestyle. However, she also feels that Fanny and her friends judge her for her “countrified” manners and clothing. Over the next six years, Polly keeps visiting the Shaws, until the day she moves into the city to earn her living as a music teacher. She realizes that many of the Shaws’ old set will no longer speak to her, since she is now a working woman. But when the Shaws face financial adversity, Polly will be there to help teach them that a loving family is the greatest wealth of all.

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Review

Louisa May Alcott’s An Old-Fashioned Girl will feel familiar to fans of Little Women. Once again, Alcott chronicles the coming-of-age of a young woman who realizes that riches do not equal happiness, and who finds her own contentment in serving others and forming part of a loving family. Alcott’s vivid characters, however, with their many foibles, prevent the story from becoming sickeningly sweet or overly didactic. Instead, what readers get is one girl’s personal journey made utterly engrossing by the way in which Alcott tells it.

Even though centuries may separate readers and the protagonist Polly, Polly’s worries about wanting to fit in, wanting to be appreciated, and wanting to be admired, still ring true. Her journey thus becomes a journey that readers can not only go along with, but also one that they can use to reflect on their own. An Old-Fashioned Girl will appeal to fans of Alcott, but also readers who enjoy a good, old-fashioned story where the drama is limited, but the characters make everyday moments feel just as interesting and important.

Some readers may feel put off by Polly’s values. She remains dedicated to dressing and living simply even as she witnesses the extravagances of her rich friends. She also thinks it wrong to flirt for fun, because she could end up hurting a man who takes her advances seriously. She believes it is important to love and support her family, and she values those relationships more than she values her own comforts. For some modern readers, Polly may seem like nothing more than a prudish, subjugated girl who does not know how to have fun. Behind the outward gestures like simple clothes, however, is real conviction. Polly knows who she is and what she wants. She does not need her friends or high society to tell her how to be happy because she already is.

Alcott’s work makes it clear that, even in her day, there was some concern that outward appearances were taking precedence over true happiness and that people, worried about keeping up with their neighbors, were actually making themselves miserable. Even if readers do not agree with Polly that avoiding unnecessary expenses and keeping house for their brother can help them discern what they truly value, the main idea of looking inward for contentment instead of chasing the latest fads can still ring true. An Old-Fashioned Girl thus combines a delightful story with a thought-provoking question, “What really makes us happy? And do we have the courage to chase it, even when society will laugh at us for it?”

5 stars