Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Book Review: The Monogram Murders, By Sophie Hannah

It's Agatha Christie week on Mystery Playground and everywhere else in the free mystery world.  So we're reviewing the new Hercule Poirot mystery, written by Sophie Hannah in the spirit of Agatha Christie.

I'm a big Poirot fan, so much so that I haven't watched the final episode of the David Suchet Poirot series, Curtain because I don't want it to end. (Even though I read the book years ago and know how it ends.) And I'm not the only one who misses Hercule. There's a new Poirot book, written by Sophie Hannah, approved by the Christie estate. The book is called the Monogram Murders, and it came out last week. 

Stepping into the sensible walking shoes of Agatha Christie, is not an easy feat. I'll admit that I'm of the "let's create something new" crowd rather than extending the old past the life of the author. So, I approached this book with some skepticism. I also knew when I opened the book that it wouldn’t be exactly like Agatha wrote it herself, because she didn't. 

But picking up The Monogram Murders is like visiting a friend you haven't seen in twenty years. They aren't exactly the person you knew back then, but your friendship is still there, and it's great to see them. 

After the first chapter, I forgot to keep comparing Christie's original books to this book because I was thoroughly entertained. 

The book begins when Hercule Poirot meets a young woman, named Jennie, who tells him that she is about to be murdered. She seems resigned to her imminent death because "justice will be done." 

Of course, Poirot doesn't believe that she deserves to die, and he can't get additional information out of her before she disappears. Of course, we all know Poirot's crime solving track record is galactically better than his crime prevention record. He knows that too, and this encounter sticks with him. 

Soon, Poirot is embroiled in another case - this time three people have been poisoned in separate hotel rooms in the same London hotel. Jennie is not among the victims, but Poirot can't help but wonder, as events unfold, if these murders tie back to her plight. And so the intricate plot begins to unfold. 

Since we don't do spoilers on Mystery Playground, I can't tell you anymore. But I can tell you another obvious way that this book deviates from the Christie books. Hannah changed up the narrator in this book from the amiable Captain Hastings to a new character, Scotland Yard Detective, Edward Catchpool. 

I missed Hastings and Inspector Japp, but I liked spending time with Catchpool. 

To my mind, Hannah did a great job with her daunting task. 

Of course, the true test of the ages will be if someone who's never read Agatha Christie picks this book up and it inspires them to go back and read more original Poirot. 

For those who would like to give The Monogram Murders a try before buying it, can find the first chapter downloadable in multiple languages on the Agatha Christie website  

I do hope Hannah is working on the next one. I miss Poirot already. 

And before you go, don't forget to enter our Agatha Christie giveaway...

Monday, September 15, 2014

Are you Team Marple or Team Poirot?

In honor of Agatha Christie Week, Kerry Hammond asks the age old question, Are you Team Marple or Team Poirot? 

Let me start out by saying that many of us like both Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot. I’m not asking anyone to denounce either detective, after all they are two of the best known crime solvers of all time. But if you dig down deep, really deep, you probably favor one over the other. Admitting it, well that’s another thing entirely.

I actually had my own personal battle with the question when I started to write this blog post. I really do love them both. But as I researched the crimes they’ve each solved, the characters who have played them in films and on TV, and their long running history as Agatha Christie’s legacy, I will tell you that there was a clear winner—at least for me. I will reveal which team I chose at the end of this post, I don’t want to bias anyone. So let’s start with the detective who first graced the pages of an Agatha Christie novel.

According to Wikipedia, Hercule Poirot has appeared in 33 novels, the play Black Coffee, and more than 50 short stories. He was introduced in 1920 in the book The Mysterious Affair at Styles, and his last appearance was in Curtain, published in 1975. Anyone who has read a Poirot novel will be familiar with the fact that Poirot is constantly being mistaken for a Frenchman, but is in fact Belgian. He was a policeman in Brussels before he entered England as a refugee during WWI. He became a private investigator in England and traveled all over the world solving cases. He even worked with Scotland Yard on occasion when he assisted his friend Chief Inspector Japp.

Poirot is best known for his egg shaped head, the fact that he solved cases by using his “little grey cells,” and, of course, his mustache. He is always impeccably dressed and let’s face it, a bit of a neat freak. His sidekick is Captain Hastings, a retired military man that oftentimes comes across as a bit daft, but whose observations invariably help Poirot solve cases.

David Suchet as Poirot

He is best known for Death on the Nile, And Then There Were None, and Murder on the Orient Express. Actors who have played him include, but are not limited to: Albert Finney, Peter Ustinov and David Suchet. Most recently, the last five shows filmed with David Suchet aired on Acorn TV. The adaptations, which Suchet filmed over the course of almost 25 years, finished with the airing of Curtain. Suchet has now officially played Poirot in every story in which he appeared. No wonder it took him nearly 25 years.

Miss Jane Marple, on the other hand, is an elderly spinster from the town of St. Mary Mead, and according to Wikipedia has appeared in 12 novels and 20 short stories. She first appeared in a short story called The Tuesday Night Club. It was published in The Sketch magazine in 1926. Her first full length novel was Murder at the Vicarage in 1930 and that is one of her most famous books, in addition to The Body in the Library and At Bertram’s Hotel. She has been played on both big and small screens by actresses such as Margaret Rutherford, Joan Hickson, Angela Lansbury, Geraldine McEwan and Julia McKenzie.

Joan Hickson as Miss Marple

She doesn’t use her little grey cells to solve cases, she uses her knowledge of human nature. She watches people and she observes (often while knitting in the TV shows) and can’t help but compare people she meets to residents of her little English village. In doing this, she ends up seeing what others cannot. In addition, since she is a little old lady and very unassuming, people talk to her. They tell her things and confide in her. This adds to her knowledge of a situation and helps her solves cases that baffle even the police. She has been known to solve a case after hearing just a snippet of a conversation, which leads to a solution once she has unraveled its meaning.

So there you have it, two of the most famous “detectives” of all time. Which do you favor? Personally, I have to admit a fondness and slight scale tip for Hercule Poirot over Miss Marple. If I had to make a decision on books alone, I honestly don’t know if I would say the same thing. When we lost Joan Hickson, in my opinion, we lost the best Miss Marple ever seen on any screen. To this day, I will re-read a Miss Marple story and I am picturing Joan in the role. The actresses who followed her had to fill awfully big shoes, and although they gave it their best, it just wasn’t the same.

I have spent the last 25 years watching and re-watching David Suchet’s portrayal of Poirot and he is such a wonderful version of the detective that I believe this has swayed me. Also, the characters of Hastings, Japp and Miss Lemon are also played by spectacular actors, so it truly is a wonderful package. I love the amateur detective and little English village stories, but Poirot’s international adventures have won me over.

So, I now ask you, are you Team Poirot or Team Marple?

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Agatha Christie Week & Giveaway

It's Agatha Christie week and we're starting it out right with a giveaway. Just comment below on your favorite thing about the works of Agatha Christie and you'll be entered to win a copy of the Agatha Christie book After The Funeral and this black Agatha Christie tote. US residents only.

We'll be covering a different aspect of Agatha Christie's life and writing every day this week.  

Today we're starting with a listing of all of our favorite Agatha Christie posts from the past...

Kim Hammond tells us here about her collection of Agatha Christie books from around the world. 

Poirot is one of my absolutely favorite characters of all time. 

The Labors of Hercules is one of my favorite books and here I tell you why.

You can write your own Agatha Christie novel and we give you everything you need to know. 

Now come back tomorrow for more Agatha Christie fun. 

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Mad Scientist Decor

I must admit that I have a big penchant for Halloween decor and science. So it's no surprise that I love these Halloween items from the Mad Scientist line at Pottery Barn

These would be so fun at a party now. Anyone for a Sinister Sangria?

Friday, September 12, 2014

Down on the Farm with Rummy Cider and Murder

Today on Drinks with Reads, Edith Maxwell joins us for a fabulous fall drink to go with her book, 'Til Dirt Do Us Part...

In ‘Til Dirt Do Us Part, autumn has descended on Westbury, Massachusetts, but the mood at the Farm-to-Table Dinner in Cam Flaherty's newly built barn is unseasonably chilly. The produce is local--and so is the crime--when long-simmering tensions lead to murder following the festive dinner on Cam’s organic farm. It'll take a sleuth who knows the lay of the land to catch this killer. But no one ever said Cam wasn't willing to get her hands dirty.

And what would be better to soothe her spirits after a long day of chopping down Brussels sprouts and hunting down a murderer than a fresh apple cider cocktail? Cam has no qualms about enjoying an adult beverage as long as it’s made with mostly local ingredients. 

Rummy Cider

1 half gallon local apple cider
1 cinnamon stick
3 whole cloves
Locally distilled spiced rum

  1. 1. Simmer the cider with the spices for an hour on low, then remove from the heat and let cool.
  2. 2. Combine four ounces spiced cider, two ounces rum, and one ounce Cointreau, and serve in a pretty glass. For a hot drink, pour the warm cider into a mug and add the alcohol.
Amesbury resident Edith Maxwell writes the Local Foods Mystery series (Kensington Publishing), the Country Store Mysteries (as Maddie Day, also from Kensington), the Lauren Rousseau mysteries as Tace Baker (Barking Rain Press), and the historical Carriagetown Mysteries, as well as award-winning short crime fiction.

A native Californian, mother, world traveler, and former technical writer, Edith lives in an antique house north of Boston with her beau and three cats. She blogs every weekday with the Wicked Cozy Authors, five other New England cozy mystery writers. You can find her here: 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Crafty Thursdays: Book Chopstick Holders

The craft club got a little crazy in ceramics studio, and we made these super fun little book chopstick holders. The original design came from the amazing brain of craft clubbian and librarian Pat. You can see she always has books on the brain.

Because they need to be fired, you'll need access to a kiln and glaze to complete this one, although I suppose theoretically it could be done with Fimo. 
We haven't tried it with Fimo, so I can only speak to the traditional clay material. 

We're giving a pair of two of the yellow ones away, so go ahead and comment below and tell us your favorite type of Chinese food (I'm partial to beef with broccoli myself). US Residents only. 

Beef with Broccoli Lunch Special at Chef Li's 

And away we go...


  • Clay
  • Glaze for the books, we used red and white
  • A pointed tool for cutting the shape of the clay and making the writing
  • A surface you can work with the clay on. We used clay mats, but I waterproof table plastic table cloth would work. 
  • A little cup with water
Step One: 
Roll out your clay until it's about the thickness of a sugar cookie. Then cut out a strip about and inch and a half wide. Your clay will shrink a bit when it dries, so you want to make it a little bigger. We make four books at a time to create a "set."

Step Two:
Cut a piece of your strip into the shape of a hardback book. We angled the sides a little as you can see in the photo. 

Step Three:
Cut smaller "pages" of clay to insert inside your book. Make sure they don't completely lie flat. You want to create the three-dimensional book look. Wet the top of the clay book cover and score it before you set the pages on top. This technique will help the clay pieces stay together after the firing process. 

Step Four:
Take the pointed tool and make little squiggles for stylized words on the book. 

Step Five:
Now you are ready to fire your project. 

Step Five:
Once your project is fired, you should glaze it. We glazed the pages white to create contrast and make it look more like a book.

Step Six:
Once it's glazed, it needs to be fired again. 

Once it comes out of the kiln for the final time, you have your book chopstick holder. Isn't that fun? 

Don't forget to comment below to win a set of two yellow book chopstick holders.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Ten Books

I was challenged via Facebook post to name ten books that influenced me in some way. Now, there are hundreds of books that have influenced me in some way, but this is the list I came up with off the top of my head. I still own eight of the ten hence the photo of only eight books.

I think I might have a different list if you ask me next week and still another list in a month.  But here it is, ten awesome books. 

1)   The Scarlett Slipper Mystery, Carolyn Keene – A friend asked me why I named this Nancy Drew out of all of them. The answer is simple. It was my first Nancy Drew and after I finished this book, I didn’t stop until I read them all. Reading Nancy Drew was my mom's idea. She let me pick between the Scarlett Slipper Mystery and the Secret of the Old Clock. Even though the series started with the clock, I’d pick red shoes over a clock any day. That's still true today. 

2)   Katherine, Anya Seton – My seventh grade English teacher, Mrs. Phillips, recommended this book to me because I liked English history and novels. She said I would love it, and she was right. I’ve handed copies of this book to several friends over the years, and it has won many new fans.

3)   Alexander’s Path, Freya Stark – I could have picked any of Freya Stark’s books. These non-fiction works chronicle her trips to the middle east, as a British woman traveling in areas where British women didn’t usually travel circa 1920-50. Her observations are enlightening, and her example as an adventurer is to be admired.

   Frankenstein, Mary Shelley – She came up with this book on a dare as she hung out with her husband, Percy Shelley, Lord Byron and Claire Claremont. It was raining, and they were bored, so the story goes, so Lord Byron dared them all to come up with a ghost story. Mary’s was nicely done, even though it has little relation to most of the Frankenstein movies out there.

5)   Childhood’s End, Arthur C. Clarke – This work of science fiction is mind boggling even today. Alien’s become the overlords of humanity and while it’s cool for awhile, it eventually winds up being very uncool. I don’t want to give away too much in case you pick up the book itself, but I can tell you I first read this in high school and sometimes I still think about it.

6)   Do Android’s Dream of Electric Sheep, Phillip K. Dick – This book served as the model for the movie Blade Runner. It’s a precursor to Battlestar Gallactica and examines the differences between Androids and Humans.

7)   Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll –Many people are familiar with Alice’s adventures in Wonderland – her run-ins with the Queen of Hearts, her quasi friendships with the Mad Hatter, The White Rabbit and the Cheshire Cat. My favorite quote from this book is,  “I once believed six impossible things before breakfast.” It’s a wonderful, wonderful book.

8)   The Aeneid, Virgil – One of the first hero quests every written, it’s really a really, really long poem. Our hero Aeneas is from Troy. He goes to Rome, fights a war, and spawns a civilization. Along the way, he tells a lot of stories including the ones about the Trojan Horse and the Judgment of Paris.

9)   How to Write A Damn Good Novel, James Frey – this just lays out what you need to write a good novel. If only it were this easy, everyone would do it.

10) Rebecca, Daphne DuMaurier – This is the suspenseful tale of an insecure second wife and the craziness that surrounded the first one. You’ve got everything you need for a gothic tale – the crazy mother-in-law, dramatic house to live in, secrets, secrets everywhere. You don’t ever know the protagonist's first name in this book because it doesn’t matter.

So there you have it - ten books that influenced me. What are some books that influenced you?