Review of To the Land of Long Lost Friends, by Alexander McCall Smith

To the Land of Long Lost Friends

by Alexander McCall Smith
read by Lisette Lecat

Recorded Books, 2019. 9 hours on 8 compact discs.
Review written June 16, 2021, from a library audiobook

Okay, the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series seems to me like it’s getting more slow-moving than ever. But I have come to love the people who inhabit the pages, and I’m happy to spend time with them. My impatience with the pace is mitigated by listening to Lisette Lecat’s lilting accent during my commute. And I have to say that I did enjoy my time spent listening to this book, visiting with old friends. This is the 20th installment.

The first book in the series had some very clever solutions to cases. This one did cover a few cases, but the solution ended up having some fairly large coincidences bring about a solution. It’s fun, but doesn’t necessarily highlight their detective work.

Mma does reconnect with some long lost friends in this book, which gives the title. As always, this book is loaded with charm and philosophical musings about things such as meeting up with long lost friends.

And Charlie! Charlie, who for a long time was just a “young apprentice” as a mechanic, is now jostling for respect as an “apprentice detective,” and he wants to get married! He has to come to terms with what he’s willing to do to make that happen.

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Review of One By One, by Ruth Ware, read by Imogen Church

One By One

by Ruth Ware
read by Imogen Church

Simon & Schuster Audio, 2020. 13 hours and 8 minutes.
Review written November 13, 2021, based on a library eaudiobook.
Starred Review

One By One is a mystery and thriller designed with nods to Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. The setting is a ski chalet in the Alps. Soon after a ski outing where a guest goes missing, there’s an avalanche that cuts them off from civilization.

The guests this week are from Snoop, a U.K.-based app that lets you listen to the music other people are listening to. But Snoop’s in trouble financially, and they have to decide whether to take a buyout offer or try to turn things around with new technology. Tension is high because of that decision, and millions of dollars are at stake.

But the new technology is location-based and using it shows them the missing founder is in the bottom of a gorge. And may not have landed there by accident. When deaths follow that are definitely not accidental, we know that a killer is stuck in the chalet with them.

As is traditional, we start the book with ten people in the chalet — eight from Snoop, plus the two staff for the chalet, Erin the hostess and Danny the chef. We get alternating perspectives from Erin and from Liz, who was once a personal assistant at Snoop, and is now the smallest shareholder with two shares. But that means she’s the deciding vote for whether the company should take the buyout or not, which puts her under lots of unwanted pressure.

We get a window into the complicated relationships among the Snoop coworkers from Liz, who thought she’d left it behind long ago. Erin has an outsider’s perspective, but we get hints of some secrets of her own.

As time goes by, their phones have no connection, their power goes out, the temperature drops, the snow keeps falling, and the police fail to come. All while more deaths happen and tension builds.

I wasn’t surprised by Whodunit — I’ve read enough Agatha Christie mysteries to suspect this person — but I still thoroughly enjoyed the way it was unveiled. And yes, as is traditional with thrillers, figuring out the solution puts the one who figures it out in terrible danger.

I had to find things to do that would let me listen to this book to finish it as quickly as possible. Too much suspense to set it aside! Wonderful!

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Review of Firekeeper’s Daughter, by Angeline Boulley

Firekeeper’s Daughter

by Angeline Boulley
read by Isabella Star LaBlanc

Macmillan Audio, 2021. 14 hours.
Review written September 21, 2021, from a library eaudiobook
Starred Review

Firekeeper’s Daughter is an amazingly good mystery/thriller for teens by an indigenous author. From the cover image, I mistakenly expected a fantasy, but got a lovely contemporary novel focusing on Daunis Fontaine, the daughter of a Native American Firekeeper and a non-Native woman. Only her mother is still alive, but Daunis has embraced Native American spirituality and the traditions of her people.

Since I listened to the audio version, I don’t trust myself with spelling the Native American terms freely used through this book in a natural way, but the narrator helped make their use seamless. As the book begins, Daunis has graduated from high school, but has not left for college because she doesn’t want to leave her grandmother, who recently had a stroke, and who is being cared for by Daunis’s mother. Daunis is also troubled by the recent death of her uncle, a chemistry teacher, which neither she nor her mother believes was really from an overdose of meth.

Daunis had been a star on the hockey team, but an injury has sidelined her, though she still supports the team with her brother the captain this year. An attractive new kid has come to town, but he turns out to have some secrets.

And before long, there are more deaths and more people using meth, and Daunis gets pulled into the investigation and mystery of who is behind the meth ring and how does that relate to her uncle’s death. It all seems tied up in the reservation and the hockey team, and Daunis has insider information on both.

This book is wonderful on many levels. Yes, it becomes suspenseful and yes, our main characters are in danger. But it also works as a richly emotional story before any suspense is present, about romance and family and belonging and caring for others and learning to trust. There are also underlying issues as to Native American people and their treatment by law enforcement, and citizenship issues on the border with Canada.

Something I loved about this book was the same thing I loved about Darcie Little Badger’s Native American fantasy, Elatsoe — Daunis is part of a community and gets help from the community. She respects and values her elders and gets important help from them, and it’s lovely how it works out.

angelineboulley.com

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Review of Into the Water, by Paula Hawkins

Into the Water

by Paula Hawkins
read by Rachel Bavidge with a Full Cast

Penguin Audio, 2017. 12 hours.
Review written March 8, 2021, from a library eaudiobook

I decided I’d been reading too many children’s books and I was ready for a thriller, so I checked out this book by Paula Hawkins, who wrote the incredibly suspenseful The Girl on the Train. This one does have suspense, with danger and mysterious deaths.

The setting is an important part of the book. It all happens in Beckford, at the Drowning Pool part of the river that runs through town. Years ago, they used to use the pool to put accused witches through their ordeal and end up drowning them. In more recent years, it’s been the site of multiple suicides.

Nell Abbot has always been obsessed by the Drowning Pool and those who died there. She used to terrorize her little sister Jules with stories of the little boy who saw his mother jump to her death. She was working on a book about the “troublesome women” who died there. But now Nell Abbot is dead, having jumped off a cliff into the river. Or did she jump?

Her fifteen-year-old daughter Lena is convinced she did, and is devastated because of the argument they had shortly before. Jules has been called back to Beckford to care for Lena, and Jules has her own guilt because she’d refused to talk to her sister for years, and had been convinced the urgency in her voice on the phone recently was just a bid for attention.

All of Jules’ narrated sections are in the style of her talking to Nell. She thinks she hears Nell’s voice, and she sees Nell in everything, in all the memories of being in the same house where they grew up, and looking at Lena, who looks so much like Nell when they were young.

But it turns out that the little boy of of Nell’s old story is Sean Townsend, the detective in charge of her case. He didn’t actually see his mother jump into the river so many years ago, but he was at the river, and his mother’s death in the same way brings extra emotion to the case. And there was another death in the river only a few months before Nell, when Lena’s best friend Katie jumped to her death. Katie’s mother can’t forgive Lena for still being alive, and she couldn’t forgive Nell for being so obsessed with women drowning in the river that she surely gave Katie the idea.

But that’s just the beginning of this complicated story. We’ll find out more about all those recent deaths – from Sean’s mother to Katie to Nell. And to do it will take many perspectives. I wish I had paid attention and realized when I started listening that it was a full cast production. At first, I quickly lost track of who was who in the many voices I heard. It helped when I realized my eaudiobook showed the name of the current narrator on my phone screen, and I think if I’d read the book in print, that would have been easier to follow. There were so many characters, the different voices didn’t help me keep track of who was who.

It’s a sordid story. It seems like almost everyone in it was having sex with someone they really shouldn’t have had sex with. And I’m not talking merely adultery. There’s an awful lot of death, too – though we know that right from the start. Let me just say that not all the deaths in this book turn out to be suicide, which is also not a surprise. Who is responsible for different deaths is more of a surprise.

The characters also aren’t tremendously likable. Though by the end, I was especially rooting for Jules and Lena to make a family relationship with each other and find peace.

So it’s not exactly a pleasant story – but it’s certainly suspenseful and engaging. I stayed up an extra hour to finish it when I got to the end because I didn’t want to put off finding out what happened. Paula Hawkins does know how to weave a suspenseful story and feed us bits of what happened in a way that realization gradually dawns on us how much is at stake.

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Review of Even If We Break, by Marieke Nijkamp

Even If We Break

by Marieke Nijkamp

Sourcebooks Fire, 2020. 306 pages.
Review written December 9, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review
2020 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#3 General Teen Fiction

Even If We Break is a Then There Were None-style thriller for teens. As the book begins, five teens are making their way to a high-tech mountain cabin owned by one of them. There was a storm the day before that blocked the path for the car and boulders on the path still make it difficult for the two who have mobility issues.

We get the perspective of different teens in each chapter. Finn and Ever are transgender, with Ever using they/them pronouns. Finn uses crutches and Maddy, who is autistic, has been in an accident recently that changed her from a star lacrosse athlete to someone whose knee hurts when she walks, especially over boulders. Liva is the one whose parents own the cabin, and Carter works for her father’s company.

They are all high school students, but Liva, Carter, and Finn have graduated and will be going off to college at the end of the summer. So their three years of playing a role-playing game together will come to an end. They’re going to have one last immersive game experience in the mountain cabin first. Even though Finn hadn’t been joining them as often lately, and even though Liva’s ex-boyfriend Zac had stopped altogether.

There are stories that the mountain is haunted, and Ever, the gamemaster, weaves that into their adventure. Every adventure started with a murder, as the group are Inquisitors from the land of Gonfalon, and the Council hires them to use magic and skills to solve crimes. For this adventure, a councilor herself (represented by a pile of blankets) is dead.

But as the adventure begins, things begin to become all too real. The power goes out. They hear a music box, just like the story of the haunted mountain. Then bloody handprints. And yes, there’s murder. And that high-tech cabin? It’s hard to get out when it locks.

Never mind solving the murder – the teens who are left want to escape with their lives.

The author pulls the story off well. I’m tempted to say more, but won’t for fear it will give you clues. I did love the central role of the transgender teens and enjoyed that all the characters had emotional depth.

And I was very glad I had a chance to finish it in one sitting! This is not a book you want to set aside.

mariekenijkamp.com
FIREreads.com

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Review of A Christmas Resolution, by Anne Perry

A Christmas Resolution

by Anne Perry

Ballantine Books, 2020. 175 pages.
Review written January 5, 2021, from a library book

I like reading Anne Perry’s annual Christmas mysteries at Christmastime. Since I’m usually on a Cybils panel at Christmas, though, lately I end up reading them for the New Year.

I keep thinking that I should read her regular mystery series, since then I would probably enjoy these more. As she often does, this one looks at a couple on the periphery of her regular main characters. A lady named Celia is married to a police captain. They met during a criminal case, and it sounds like that is quite a story.

This book involved a case of blackmail and figuring out what happened in the past, which wasn’t as compelling to me as a good old murder mystery. There wasn’t really a puzzle to solve so much as to read about the characters’ way of tracking down the solution.

I did like the framing with a question of forgiveness: Who deserves forgiveness? Does the person have to be contrite? And how generous should one be in giving forgiveness? The main character is thinking about these things throughout the book, prompted by a Christmas sermon.

So even though I wasn’t too captivated by the mystery in this case, I still say that there’s nothing like a nice cozy little mystery for Christmas.

anneperry.co.uk
randomhousebooks.com

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Review of The Hand on the Wall, by Maureen Johnson

The Hand on the Wall

by Maureen Johnson

Katherine Tegen Books (HarperCollins), 2020. 369 pages.
Review written March 17, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

The Hand on the Wall is the third and final book in the Truly Devious mystery series, and ties everything up beautifully. Yes, you have to read these books in order. You will be rewarded with an exquisitely crafted series.

In this trilogy, each book gives you pieces of the mysteries in the past and in the present, and each book gives you parts of the solution. You get information about the past mystery in flashbacks as our hero, Stevie Bell, figures out clues. You also have at least one death in each volume. In this book, Stevie and the reader figure out what happened.

This book also has the added drama – perfect for a mystery – of a bunch of students blizzard-bound at the ever-so-interesting isolated Vermont campus created by the eccentric millionaire Albert Ellingham. A blizzard always makes a good backdrop for murder! Can Stevie figure out the solution before the snow melts and she has to go home?

I so appreciate all the atmosphere and nods to great detective fiction that Maureen Johnson slipped into this book. Both mysteries – past and present – have layers to them so that even stretched over three books, they didn’t lag. And enough happened in each book to feel that it deserved to be a book and not just cram the whole thing together.

But the final volume, pulling everything together, was indeed the most satisfying. This is a mystery series with teens taking the starring roles, including the brilliant detective and the person getting a little too close to the truth for her own good. Mystery and danger both! And the fantasy of a school where you can study what you’re good at – even if that talent is finding a murderer.

maureenjohnsonbooks.com
epicreads.com

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Review of The Vanishing Stair, by Maureen Johnson

The Vanishing Stair

by Maureen Johnson

Katherine Tegen Books (HarperCollins), 2019. 373 pages.
Review written March 5, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

The Vanishing Stair is the second book in the Truly Devious trilogy. Yes, you need to read the books in order, because this is a mystery series, and clues are revealed along the way.

Stevie Bell was invited to Ellingham Academy to work on a decades-old mystery about the kidnapping of the wife and daughter of Albert Ellingham, the founder of the academy. In the first book, though, a present-day student dies, and another one disappears.

This book begins with Stevie back with her parents because of the death at Ellingham Academy. But, no surprise to the reader, she quickly gets back to the school, and more of the old and new mysteries unfold. In fact, this volume has Stevie making a major breakthrough about the old case – but we also have another death.

Fortunately, this time I’m reading with the book that comes next checked out and ready to go! I read the first book much too long ago, but anyone who starts the series now will not have the same problem. Check all three books out – you’re in for a well-crafted mystery, with many different layers. On top of that, the characters are quirky, interesting, and fun to spend time with.

Stevie does make a breakthrough in the old case in this book, but there’s still a lot to find out. These books finish at a satisfying place, but still make you eager to find out more.

maureenjohnsonbooks.com
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Review of The Ambrose Deception, by Emily Ecton

The Ambrose Deception

by Emily Ecton

Disney Hyperion, 2018. 359 pages.
Starred Review
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#7 Contemporary Children’s Fiction

This book opens with three unlikely candidates from three different Chicago schools being offered a $10,000 scholarship opportunity. When Melissa Burris, Bondi Johnson, and Wilf Samson arrive at the office, they’re first made to sign a form saying they won’t discuss the clues with absolutely anyone. Then they’re given an envelope with three clues and told to take a picture of the clue solution. They are also given a cell phone, a camera, a debit card – and the use of a car and driver to take them anywhere in Chicago city limits.

Now, the kids are pretty sure something’s fishy. Given the title of the book, the reader is pretty sure, too. Wilf decides to enjoy the car and driver while he has them and plans a list of fun activities in Chicago. But Melissa and Bondi start seriously tackling their three clues.

So begins a clever and inventive puzzle novel. The clues all lead to locations in Chicago – and they are clues that require some thought. I now wish I’d tried to solve some using the internet – but I was reading the book in bed and didn’t bother. I imagine kids who live in Chicago might have an advantage, but this is still a legitimate puzzle that you feel like you as a reader can solve along with the characters.

I like the way they repeat the clues periodically – so you don’t have to keep turning back in the book.

I like that the characters are pretty ordinary kids, each with their own quirks. In fact, the drivers also have their own quirks. Wilf is a real slacker, trying to take advantage of this. Melissa is very suspicious, not wanting to even use the debit card or the car and driver. Bondi is a take-charge kind of kid, but he jumps to conclusions in a few spots.

I won’t say what the “deception” is in the title, but it’s all very satisfying when it works out. A puzzle novel with ordinary kids cast as the solvers, kids whom adults had written off.

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Review of Truly Devious, by Maureen Johnson

Truly Devious

by Maureen Johnson

Katherine Tegen Books (HarperCollins), 2018. 420 pages.
Starred Review
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#5 General Teen Fiction

This book is a little unfair. There’s no Book One printed in bold on the cover – so how dare it finish up with those dreaded three words, “to be continued”? Well, it does.

Stevie Bell is a junior in high school, and she’s been invited to attend Ellingham Academy, where an eccentric millionaire established a school for bright kids and gives them a unique education – for free.

But Ellingham has a mystery associated with it. 80 years ago, the wife and child of the eccentric founder were kidnapped, and the wife’s body was found. One of the students as well was found dead – but the daughter was never recovered. The kidnapper sent a note signed “Truly, Devious.”

In the present day, Stevie is obsessed with true crime – and she wants to solve the mystery of Ellingham Academy.

The mystery and the story is woven well. Every few chapters, we’ve got a flashback to a scene that happened in 1936, when the kidnapping took place.

Stevie’s obsessed with the old mystery – so she’s not exactly prepared to find the body of one of her fellow students.

Now, there’s a fun surprise at the end, but I can’t exactly tell you if the clues are helpful or how well the mystery is woven – because of those dread words, “to be continued.” I am very annoyed that I can’t read the second volume right now. [Reader, the good news is that since I couldn’t post this in 2018 when I read it as part of my Newbery reading, now all three volumes are published, and you can read them all together!]

But I will say that I enjoyed every minute leading up to those dread words. (The surprise at the end is perfect!) The characters are quirky. The setting is well-drawn. Stevie even gets to look at some papers and other items from the time of the kidnapping.

Here’s the letter from Truly Devious:

Look! A riddle! Time for fun!
Should we use a rope or gun
Knives are sharp and gleam so pretty
Poison’s slow, which is a pity
Fire is festive, drowning’s slow
Hanging’s a ropy way to go
A broken head, a nasty fall
A car colliding with a wall
Bombs make a very jolly noise
Such ways to punish naughty boys!
What shall we use? We can’t decide.
Just like you cannot run or hide.
Ha ha.
Truly,
Devious

I can’t wait to get more clues in the next book!

maureenjohnsonbooks.com
epicreads.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

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