Happy New Year! Gee, time really does fly! I still feel like it is 2018–of course the years between 2018 and 2023 have been “difficult,” so maybe I’m just blocking them out.
I hope that everyone was able to safely celebrate the new year in the way of their choice. We always ring the new year in at home–we really don’t want to be on the roads with all the other revelers! We played some board games in the early evening then, at 9:29:30 PM, we turned on Avengers: Endgame, as is our tradition. Why such a specific time? Because, if you start the movie right then, Iron Man snaps his fingers at exactly midnight! This was much more impactful in the 2020/2021 New Year, but it is still something we enjoy. As usual, I was the only one who was able to make it all the way to the end of the movie. Lillie headed up to bed right after midnight at Chris made it about 10 minutes later. Pat went back up to play video games and stayed up much later than I did.
We decided not to even try making it to church this morning. While technically three of us were up before church started (by we were not up by the time we would need be if we were actually going to church), I knew that trying to get the kids there would just be a disaster. And, by “the kids,” I really mean Pat. In fact, he was the one who slept the latest. I was able to log on to the livestream for our church service, so I still feel like I’m starting the year out on the right foot.
In another New Year’s tradition, I finished all my 2022 reading at 1am on New Year’s Eve morning–which meant I did no reading until I finally hit the sheets last night (er, this morning). Let me tell you, it was weird not reading yesterday! I was more than happy to stay up even later to get a bit of reading in before falling asleep!
And now, onto the books!
As usual, I’m linking up with Kathryn at Book Date and her It’s Monday…What Are You Reading? blog hop.
Since my last update, I finished reading:
The Bullet That Missed (The Thursday Murder Club #3) by Richard Osman
Date finished: December 21, 2022
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐.5 / B+
This series is just so much fun! Meeting back up with The Thursday Murder Club is like gathering with dear friends.
In this third installment, we are reunited with Elizabeth, Joyce, Ron, and Ibrahim, and the Club’s new members (or at least new friends). I would generally be worried about this core group expanding, but it seems right that they add to their ranks after reading this book.
We are again dropped into the middle of a cold case; this time, it is the 10-year-old murder of a TV Presenter. The mystery itself is twisty enough to keep the reader interested, but the chemistry between the main characters is the real draw. Moreso in this book than in the previous ones, each character’s personal strengths are put to good use, and all are needed to solve the mystery.
There is also a bittersweet element here that I found profoundly moving. We see more of Elizabeth and Steven’s relationship and how Steven’s worsening dementia impacts Elizabeth. These passages are so delicately and movingly written that they brought tears to my eyes.
Unfortunately, there were a few issues with this book. Chris and Donna, the police officers who have worked in tandem with the Thursday Murder Club in past books, are here, but they are not part of the central story. Instead, we find them on the edge of things and in a way that seems like Osman wasn’t sure what to do with them.
I also had issues with the end of the book. The end of the story is strong and satisfying. However, the story ends, but the narrative continues. I found this frustrating to read. I would rather that the last 3 or so chapters were chopped off or, better yet, they were better incorporated into the narrative before the mystery is wrapped up.
Even with its faults, the story was a joy to read, and I can’t wait to meet with the Thursday Murder Club again.
Hercule Poirot’s Christmas (Hercule Poirot #18) by Agatha Christie
Date finished: December 24, 2022
What is more Christmas-y than a Christie at Christmas? Well, here we have, and…it has “Christmas” in the title, which is pretty much as far as it goes into the Holiday Season. Yes, it happens over Christmas, but there really isn’t much Christmas here. Fortunately, I had heard from many sources that this Christmas plays a very small part in this mystery. So, even though I picked it up as part of my holiday reading, I wasn’t expecting all the festive trimmings. Had I not known that, I would be far more critical of this book.
This particular book has one of the most entertaining mystery setups–a dysfunctional family. And, lordy, this family is dysfunctional in spades! All the surviving siblings of the Lee family, and one granddaughter, are summoned by the Patriarch back to the family home, where said Patriarch ends up murdered. Fortunately, the local police have Hercule Poirot on their side, and we know that Hercule will get to the bottom of this.
Of all the Christies I’ve read so far, this is the one that perplexed me–in a good way–the most. When the solution was revealed, I was completely shocked. Then, once I thought about it, it made complete sense. Christie plays a tough game, but she plays fair here.
This book reminded me quite a bit of Knives Out (of course, I should say Knives Out reminded me of this book, but I saw Knives Out before I read this). We have an unlikable family, swimming in secrets, with a dead patriarch. While this book isn’t as zany as Knives Out, it hits many of the same notes. If you’ve never read a Christie before, this might be a good entry–as long as you aren’t expecting Santa Claus.
I thoroughly enjoyed this one; honestly, I was fine with the lack of Christmas. Other Christie works have enough holiday spirit to make up for this one. Here, I got the solid and twisty mystery that I look for in the works of Agatha Christie.
Rock Paper Scissors by Alice Feeney
Date finished: December 27, 2022
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐.5 / B+
I tend to tire quickly of twisty thrillers because the twists start sounding all the same. Enter Alice Feeney–this woman knows how to write a twist! I was sucked into this one and completely along for the ride.
In some ways, this book falls into a trope that we know a bit too well. A woman in an unhappy marriage and a husband you can’t trust. Normally, this would irritate me–how many books have I read recently with that setup? Here’s the thing: I believe this was an intentional choice by Feeney because this book is not like other “girl” thrillers out there. This book is intentionally disorienting, but that is what makes it work and what makes the payoff worthwhile. While I couldn’t put this book down, I will say it wasn’t perfect. I wouldn’t say there were plot holes, but there were a fair number of loose threads that I wish had been cleaned up. I can overlook one or two of such threads, but there were enough that I noticed. Fortunately, or unfortunately (depending on how you look at it), they are bothering me more now that I’ve finished the novel than when I was reading it. I was also frustrated that Adam’s face blindness seemed to be no more than a plot device to make things work. It is such an interesting condition, and I would have loved to have seen it better incorporated into his character.
I feel that Alice Feeney is one of those authors who either works for you or doesn’t. While I’ve only read one other book by her (so far), I do think that she hits the right popcorn thriller spot for me. However, if you have read other books by her in the past and they haven’t worked for you, I would recommend not picking this one up.
However, if you have enjoyed Alice Feeney in the past, or if you just want to giver her a try, this might be the book for you.
Bleeding Heart Yard (Harbinder Kaur #3) by Elly Griffiths
Date finished: December 29, 2022
I’m torn on this one. In most ways, this book was incredibly successful…yet, I still found it disappointing.
Elly Griffiths is a talented mystery writer, and this is a strongly crafted tale. It centers around a group of school friends who meet up again at a reunion, where one winds up dead. I enjoyed the characters and found the twists and turns effective. I did guess the culprit, although that was more of a lucky shot in the dark on my part than any slip-up by Griffiths.
We once again meet up with Harbinder Kaur, who has moved to London to take a job with the Met. It did take a bit of effort to settle into this reboot of the series, but I quickly found my footing with Kaur’s flatmates and co-workers. Moving the action to the big city robs it of some of its quirkiness but allows for more mystery flexibility.
So what was my problem with this? I was charmed by how Elly Griffiths added a literary element to the stories in the first two novels in this series. In The Stranger Diaries, we find a book within a book. In The Postscript Murders, Griffiths celebrates the Golden Age mystery. In this book, there is only the very faintest whiff of a literary element. When I say “faint,” I mean I had to work incredibly hard to find anything that might be literary. It comes down to Shakespeare’s The Tempest being quoted a few times, and one character wants to be a writer. That’s it.
I felt robbed by this. It was like reading a book in the Ruth Galloway series that doesn’t mention any archaeology. Even though I still had the main character and a top-notch mystery, I didn’t get what I wanted from this. I hope this is an isolated slip and plan to read on in the series. I pray that Griffiths recaptures what made this series so special.
The Shortest Day by Colm Tóibín
Date finished: December 31, 2022
What a fun little short story!
I have a collection of these Kindle Singles to pull out whenever I need a quick read. This time, it was to have something I could read and finish before New Year’s. This was the perfect selection for this: it was set about this time of year, dealt with the idea of time and the past and the future, and was a little magical.
While this story may be described to be about an archaeologist, it is really about the ageless spirits whose existences are thrown into danger by the impending visit from the archaeologist. Tóibín brings this magical in-between world to life as we learn about many of the spirits who live in the burial place that only sees light on the darkest day of the year.
If I have one regret about this story, it is that I read this book 10 days too late. If this interests you in any way, I suggest that you make a note to read it on the next Winter Solstice so that you, too, will feel as though you are in Newgrange with the ageless spirits.
The Fortunes of Jaded Women by Carolyn Huynh
Date finished: December 31, 2022
This book has much to offer, but I’m not sure I’m the best recipient of it.
As a mother, I quite like Mother-Daughter stories, and this book has that in spades. While I found some of the conflict in this book a bit hard to understand, I realize it was because this story is set in a culture that I know little about. I enjoyed learning more about the Vietnamese-American world of Southern California, and even if I never could quite fathom some of the issues these women dealt with, I was happy to chalk it up to it being unique to this culture.
I wish I had been better prepared for this book’s element of the ridiculous. I don’t consider this to be a drawback of the book. In many ways, it is the charm the story delivers. However, it would be easy to find this all a bit absurd if you aren’t in the right mindset when you read it.
There are a lot of characters here, and many of them are one-dimensional. While both of those things are generally drawbacks for me, together, they actually work. Because the cast is so large, the lack of nuance in many of the players actually makes it easier to follow the story. This book, while not a comedy, definitely has its hilarious moments, and many of those moments rely on playing with stereotypes.
Here is where I struggled: I am not a fan of coincidence. I will give a book one big coincidence because, frequently, coincidence forms the basis of the plot. This book has–well, let’s say–more than one big coincidence, and none of these coincidences are more than just a contrivance to set up another comic moment. This brought me out of the story and made me doubt my experience with it. Only a few things will negatively impact me this strongly, but the misuse of coincidence is one of them.
This is a debut novel, and there was enough to make me want to read more from Huynh, but I feel I was the wrong reader for this particular book.
Right now, I’m reading:
Because of the way the calendar worked out, I combined my weekly reading update video with my 2023 goals video, so you get it all here. If you’d like to see my 2022 wrap up video, you can find it here. And, as always, I would love if you subscribed to my channel!