Parker Pyne Investigates

This is another book that I listened to through Hoopla and was narrated by Hugh Fraser. It is also a series of short stories by Agatha Christie staring Mr. Parker Pyne. And again, these books are a bit different from her more popular books. I had previously read one of the stories in a stand alone ebook, and I was a bit confused about the characters and setting and WHO was Parker Pyne. Reading the full book helped resolve that confusion.

Mr. Pyne is a retired civil servant, who has opened a private firm that aims to cure unhappiness and advertises in the personal column:

“Are you happy? If not consult Mr Parker Pyne, 17 Richmond Street.”

Many people initially ignore the advertisement, but then later come to him for help with their problems. He has the theory that there are five main types of unhappiness and that each can be logically resolved. A couple stories include Ariadne Oliver, crime novelist in a couple Poirot novels, as well as Miss Lemon, who also works as Poirot’s secretary.

He’s a bit unorthodox and presents himself as a bit clumsy and inept, but I enjoyed hearing the creative ways that situations were resolved, and the individuals satisfied with his work. As with the book about Mr. Quin, I do think the stories were so much better because they were narrated by Hugh Fraser.

On a slightly different note, I listened to several BBC dramatizations of these stories. They are modernized (e.g. references to the Iraq war or technology that didn’t exist during Ms. Christie’s time) and, of course, dramatized. Some I enjoyed more than others, but overall they were a bit disappointing. Part of the reason that I like Agatha Christie’s books is the time and place in which they are set. I don’t want a modern day twist to them. However, that didn’t make them terrible, just not as enjoyable. I’ll look for those stories in the short story collections rather than listening to the dramatizations.

The Mysterious Mr. Quin

…and The Harlequin Tea Set.

The Mysterious Mr. Quin is a book of short stories by Agatha Christie. The stories have a somewhat supernatural twist to each of the mysteries…especially about who is Mr. Harley Quin. I listened to the audiobook version read by Hugh Fraser through Hoopla. I couldn’t find the book at either of our local libraries or through Libby, but it was available on Hoopla. We were able to access Hoopla through our old library but my card was going to expire in January. I decided I should go ahead and listen to it if I didn’t want to buy the book. Last year, I listened to a lot of audiobooks through Hoopla while I drove around running errands. Once the pandemic hit, I found audiobooks to be harder to find opportunities to listen and ended up letting my kids use our Hoopla checkouts. I am SO glad I ended up listening to this book though because Hugh Fraser’s narration was amazing! I really think I enjoyed these stories so much because of him.

I must say that the supernatural twist is not overtly supernatural, except in a couple stories. Each story involves Mr. Satterthwaite solving some mystery with the aid of his acquaintance Mr. Quin. I didn’t care much for Mr. Satterthwaite at the beginning, since he comes across as a bit of a stuck up snob, but he was very endearing by the end of the book. He’s still a snob, but not so stuck up. He describes himself as an observer of life rather than life happening to him. He has many friends and is extremely social, but he never married or had kids. He occasionally reminisces about these things but not for too long – they become a tool for setting the stage of the mystery that slowly unfolds. Several stories are set at various friends’ estates, as well as Monaco, an inn on a lonely road, etc.

After I finished this book, I was able to listen to The Harlequin Tea Set on Libby. This short story is included in a separate book, but seems to wrap up the story line (although I thought the final story in Mr. Quin had wrapped it up). This was also read by Mr. Fraser, and was a satisfactory final story with Mr. Satterthwaite visiting an old friend and his family. It is a somewhat sentimental story, but enjoyable.

After finishing The Mysterious Mr. Quin, I was happy to move on to another set of short stories by Agatha Christie read by Hugh Fraser – Parker Pyne Investigates.

52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge

Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks hosted by Robyn

An interesting challenge for 2021 – read a book a week. I’m not sure I can read a book a week, but I know I can read 52 books in a year, so I’m going to give it a shot. I’m looking mostly for fiction for this challenge.

  1. The House of the Whispering Pines

2. The Mysterious Mr. Quin and The Harlequin Tea Set

3. Parker Pyne Investigates

4. Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?

5. 84, Charing Cross Road

6. Bel Canto

The House of the Whispering Pines

To be perfectly honest, I cannot recall how I came across this book. I thought I found it recommended on Amazon after I downloaded The Mysteries of Udolpho, but a quick look at my Goodreads history shows that I downloaded this book six months before getting that book. Overall, I enjoyed the book, but it was very different from most books that I read. This book was my Classics Club spin.

The House of the Whispering Pines by Ann Katherine Green begins with the narrator on a journey through some woods after dark. He notices smoke coming from the chimneys of The Whispering Pines, which is the country clubhouse. He’s the president of the club and closed and locked up the previous day. He turns to investigate, assuming there are ruffians up to no good, but instead sees a woman he knows leaving the building and then discovers her sister, his betrothed – dead, apparently strangled. The rest of the book involves untangling the clues around the mystery of WHO killed Adelaide.

This book was not like most of the books that I read these days. For one thing, it was incredibly WORDY. There are paragraphs of contemplation by the narrator (Ranalegh Elwood for most of the book). The narrator is initially arrested and accused of committing the crime, and though he isn’t guilty, he refuses to divulge the information that would clear his name, which leads me to the second main difference of this book from modern fiction – it is obviously from a much different culture than what we have today. This quote summarizes that difference to me:

I trusted Arthur; I distrusted Carmel. But she had claims to consideration, which he lacked. She was a woman. Her fall would mean infinitely more to her than any disgrace to him.

I’m not sure if the word “chivalry” really captures it, but it is the idea that a woman needs to be protected and guarded, even when she does something terrible (e.g. murder). The true culprit isn’t revealed until the very end of the book, and the book piqued my curiosity about a third of the way through. I’m ended up enjoying the book much more than I expected. I’m not sure if I’ll read any other books by Anna Katherine Green since there are already SO many books that I want to read, but if I hit a mystery slump, I’ll turn to her books.

Back to the Classics Challenge 2021

I’ve been thinking about this for quite a while, but here are my picks for the Back to the Classics Challenge. This is my first year to participate and I’m hoping to balance it with my heavier picks for my 5×5 challenge with the Scole Sisters. A couple of them overlap with Nick at One Catholic Life‘s Chapter-A-Day Readalong for 2021. The only one I haven’t decided on yet is a children’s classic. However, I’m sure that’ll come to me soon.

1. A 19th century classic: any book first published from 1800 to 1899 – Quo Vadis (1894)
2. A 20th century classic: any book first published from 1900 to 1971. All books must have been published at least 50 years ago; the only exceptions are books which were written by 1971 and posthumously published. The Complete Father Brown Mysteries (1929)
3. A classic by a woman author.  Northanger Abby (1817)
4. A classic in translation, meaning any book first published in a language that is not your primary language. You may read it in translation or in its original language, if you prefer. Dante’s Divine Comedy (1320)
5. A classic by BIPOC author; that is, a non-white author. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (1845)
6. A classic by a new-to-you author, i.e., an author whose work you have never read. North and South (1855)
7. New-to-you classic by a favorite author — a new book by an author whose works you have already read. The Man in the Brown Suit (1924)
8. A classic about an animal, or with an animal in the title. The animal can be real or metaphorical. (i.e., To Kill a Mockingbird).Animal Farm (1941)
9. A children’s classic. TBD
10. A humorous or satirical classic. My Man, Jeeves (1919)
11. A travel or adventure classic (fiction or non-fiction). It can be a travelogue or a classic in which the main character travels or has an adventure.  Around the World in Eighty Days (1872)
12. A classic play. Plays will only count in this category. A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1595)

Endless Night

Another novel by Agatha Christie, but very different from her other novels. I was eager to read it after I read a review on Goodreads that called it “one of her best”. However, I’m not sure that I can agree with that statement. I thought the book dragged a bit through the first third – usually a crime is committed by then and the rest of the book revolves around solving the crime.

Instead, in Endless Night, the narrator, Michael Rogers, shares snippets of events and that may or may not be where the story begins, but that he says are important things to share about how everything eventually went wrong. These snippets include his background and work history, his discovery of a house being auctioned referred to as “Gypsy Acres”, his chance meeting of Ellie, a wealthy American heiress.

I’ve spent a few days ruminating over this book – my initial reaction was one of distaste, but I’m not sure if that is completely accurate. There is a twist towards the end of the book…one that I certainly did not see coming! I had to flip back to the previous page and re-read to be sure I’d read it correctly. So, thinking back over it, I’ll have to give the book more credit than I’d originally given it – one thing I love about Agatha Christie’s books is her ability to keep me guessing. As I was reading, I thought this book would be predictable, but it was anything but that. Unfortunately, I don’t think I can say more than that or I’ll give the plot away! The twist is definitely worth it!

The Sittaford Mystery

This book was late in coming to my attention since it isn’t part of either the Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple series. When I first started reading, I thought it’d be a mystery solved by the police – my husband jokes that I prefer books and movies where the mystery is solved by someone who is not the police. However, I love the Inspector Armand Gamache series by Louise Penny, so that is not entirely true, but I digress…

As the back of the book explains, a group of people are gathered together for a small party and decide to have a go at “table turning” (aka a seance). During this, it is declared that someone has been murdered and the name of the victim is revealed to be “Captain Trevelyan”. His stalwart friend, Major Burnaby, decides to trek across the six mile path to the next town, during a snowstorm, to confirm that his friend is okay. When he arrives, he finds his friend has been murdered in what initially appears to be a burglary.

Through the police investigation the next day, it is discovered that the victim’s nephew, Jim Pearson, had visited the town the prior day and left on the first train out. Through bad luck and circumstantial evidence, he is arrested. However, his fiance, Emily Trefusis, a determined and relentless woman, believes he is innocent and commits herself to proving it and finding the real killer. I won’t ruin the story and tell you how it ended.

As I was reading, I thought the name of the victim sounded familiar (“Captain Trevelyan”). Turns out that this book was re-written to include Miss Marple for an episode in the PBS/BBC series. Fortunately, I could not recall the details of that episode, so the solution to the mystery was a surprise to me.

I enjoyed the book, as I enjoy most books by Agatha Christie. I cannot say that I was entirely pleased with the ending, but I accept that it ends as the author determined for it to end. There’s nothing wrong with it, per se, and it is entirely secondary to the mystery, what was first rate. And I’m always pleased when I don’t figure out the solution before I reach the end.

I’m a reader…

I’m a reader, not a writer.

Over a year ago, I decided to read through all the works of Agatha Christie. I really enjoy her books and I want to make sure I got to all of them! I made a list of all the books starring Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. I was also aware that there were some books for Tommy and Tuppence, and a few other books that didn’t have any of those characters, but I really had no idea how many there were. My mother had a lot of her books, and we watched every episode of the PBS and BBC TV series starring her characters.

Over a year, I read all of the books in the Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple series. Then I took a short break to read a bit more widely – books on parenting, simplifying, religion, history, etc. I have wide interests and don’t want my focus on books to be too narrow.

Recently, I decided to pick up a few of Dame Agatha’s books and realized that I barely remember the plots of most of her books that I’ve already read. Now, on the one hand, this means I could re-read each of those books and it’d be like reading it for the first time (though not really). This is similar to when I fell asleep during the movies my husband and I watched in the first few years of our marriage – I’m perpetually short on sleep and doze off soon after the movie starts, then have no memory of ever watching the movie. Drove my husband bonkers!

A few blogs that I follow participate in the Classics Club, which I found intriguing. The only stipulation is the need to have a blog. Ugh.

Well, between that need and my desire to somehow “narrate” my books after I read them, I looked to see if my old blogging attempts were still around and – ta-da! Here I am!

Of course, we’ll see how long this lasts. As I mentioned – I’m a reader, not a writer. Blogging had little appeal to me, but the idea of a semi-private journal is appealing. Semi-private because it resides on the internet, but no one reads it but me. 🙂

Classic Club Spin #25

Updatethe spin number is 14! I’ll be reading The House of the Whispering Pines by Anna Katharine Green!

I’m excited to join in on the Classic Club Spin. This is #25 for them, but #1 for me!

You make a list of 20 classics still on your to-be-read list (or add in a few rereads you’ve been meaning to get to), post the list on your blog before Nov. 22, wait for a number from 1-20 to be drawn and then read the book listed with that number before Jan. 30, 2021. Here’s my list:

  1. Northanger Abbey, by Jane Austen
  2. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
  3. Silent Spring by Rachel Carson
  4. O Pioneers! by Willa Cather
  5. Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton
  6. The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare by G.K. Chesterton
  7. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
  8. Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
  9. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
  10. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  11. My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier
  12. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas
  13. Middlemarch by George Eliot
  14. The House of the Whispering Pines by Anna Katharine Green
  15. 1984 by George Orwell
  16. Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis
  17. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
  18. Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransom
  19. Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
  20. The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

I can’t wait to see what I get – I’ll update this post on Sunday with the result!

The Wind in the Willows

This book took a long time in finishing. The inside cover is inscribed with my sister’s and my name’s, so I’m guessing my parents read it to us when we were much younger, but I have no memory of it. I’ve heard great things about it, so I wanted to make sure my kids had read it. We started it multiple times, but I decided THIS year was when we’d actually finish it. I scheduled it as one of our Literature picks for school this year, so we plodded through it, slowly but surely. There were times of boredom, times of enchantment, and in the end, we loved it.

I enjoyed it mostly because the words were SO beautiful:

A fine powder filled the air and caressed the cheek with a tingle in its touch, and the black boles of the trees showed up in a light that seemed to come from below.

Time and again as I was reading, I had to pause and appreciate the words as they flowed from the tongue. I think this is one that I need to consider re-reading on my own sometime!