Archive for February, 2021

Nights at the Circus

Friday, February 26th, 2021

By Angela Carter

The Short Take:

This 1984 classic is incredible: a feminist fantasy, magical realism writ large, whip smart, deliciously naughty. It’s a full plate and night not be to your taste but I gobbled it up.


I’m so glad I stumbled across a reference to this complex and highly entertaining novel. Set right before the 1900s become the 20th century, it follows a winged (maybe) aerialist and her pursuing journalist from London to St. Petersburg to Siberia.

It’s filled with entertaining absurdities like waltzing tigers as well as acute observations on women’s rights–many of which are still applicable. It’s literally stuffed with points of interest, quotable lines, religious allusions, and truly fascinating characters. It won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction when it came out and 28 years later was voted the best book to ever win that award. that’s saying something since books have been winning that award since 1919.

It’s a rich, lively, thought provoking read. Try it.

A Little Plot:

Journalist Jack Falser suspects the supposedly winged trapeze artist Fevvers is a fraud, despite her being the toast of Europe. Now she is joining a circus bound for St. Petersburg and then Siberia and he decides he must follow her, not just for the story but for love.

The Kingdom

Tuesday, February 9th, 2021

By Jo Nesbö

The Short Take:

Nesbö writes great mysteries featuring his Harry Hole character. This is a stand-alone that is as noir as they come, unpredictable, and mesmerizing. Be aware that it is very dark, but then that’s what we expect from Norwegian mystery writers.


While The Kingdom isn’t quite as violent as the typical Hole mystery its pervasive aura of alienation adds darkness to every plot device. The normally positive themes of family love and loyalty become perverted and deadly, creating bonds built on guilt and lies.

The action takes place in a small and isolated community, where everyone thinks they know everything about each other but are often wrong. The town’s atmosphere of hopelessness has a valid basis–a planned new highway will pass it by, removing the meager income provided by summer tourists.

But the return of a long-absent resident brings hope. Carl, brother to the book’s narrator, Roy, has big plans and wants the whole community to be part of them. But there are dark undercurrents of feelings and even darker secrets that could derail everything.

Nesbö’s writing is a delight, revealing one surprise after another–but seldom what you expect to happen. Older brother Roy is a taciturn loner with his astute insights that too often lead to violence. Carl charms with ease but has no problem with deception.

It’s a rich brew of conflicts old and new, with explosive revelations and that’s what keeps this reader happy.

A Little Plot:

After a 15 year absence, Carl comes home with a new wife and plans to build a luxury hotel to make them rich and save the town. His brother has misgivings but stands by his brother. In fact, protecting his brother has shaped his entire life.

For more about Jo Nesbö click here.

Moonflower Murders

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2021

By Anthony Horowitz

The Short Take:

This is Horowitz’s second “book within a book” mystery and it’s as much fun as the first. Susan Ryeland is back, once again trying to fix a mess that involves the late writer, Alan Conway.


You don’t need to have read Horowitz’s Magpie Murders to fully appreciate this book, but why miss out on that fun? The author knows how to craft a mystery and in these books he doesn’t stop at one. In the middle of his modern mystery is another one, written in the classic style of the Agatha Christie era, with a main character who is practically a clone of Hercule Poirot.

I particularly like how Horowitz’s “own” writing purposefully out sparkles that of the “book” written by the fictional Alan Conway. It’s yet another clever touch in a well-crafted yet complicated plot. After all, how many mysteries serve up an eight years old murder, a current disappearance, and a fictional murder and then blend them together seamlessly.

The characters–or suspects–are intriguing and not exactly forthcoming when Conway’s former editor, Susan Ryeland, talks to them. She then delves into Conway’s book to discover what the missing Cecily saw that identified the guilty party of that long-ago murder.

Through this reading we learn a lot about the dead Conway and his strained relationship with Susan. And why the plot and writing of his book isn’t top-notch (guess what–it’s not her fault).

Did I mention the characters in Conway’s book are all based on the “real” people who figure into thee old murder and the current disappearance. It doesn’t get much more entertaining than that.

A Little Plot:

Susan is struggling with her small hotel in Greece when a couple approach her and offer a large sum if she’ll come to England to investigate their daughter Cecily’s disappearance. Why? Cecily told them that reading a mystery book by Alan Conway revealed who had killed a hotel guest eight years ago and then promptly disappeared. Since Susan edited Conway they figure she would be able to figure out what happened.

For more about Horowitz, his books, and his many other writings click here.


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February 2021