Tag Archives: Trixie Belden

Four NECESSITIES FOR A GOOD MYSTERY SERIES on Friday

mysteries

I think by now it is pretty clear that I love a good mystery series.  It probably started back in my Trixie Belden days, although I did read a fair amount of Nancy Drew as well.  When I was in college, I worked at a small bookstore in Geneva, Illinois.  There I got hooked on the Anne Perry mysteries.  I read a lot of different things in college for fun, but Anne Perry’s books truly solidified my love of series mysteries.  I branched out and read other authors, and the rest, as they say is history.

I currently have about fifty mystery series that I follow regularly; over the years, there have been some I have let go for a variety of reasons and I am always on the lookout for a new series.  For me, there are certain details that keep me engaged in a mystery series.  So for my completely biased opinion, these are my necessities of a good mystery series.

Four NECESSITIES OF A GOOD MYSTERY SERIES on Friday

Interesting, plausible protagonist
Although I have read a lot of true crime novels, a good mystery for me is rooted in the characters.  I think that any good series must maintain strong, consistent characters to stabilize the continuity of the series.  It is what ties each book to the previous one and it is what the reader follows from book to book.  When a new release of a favorite author comes out, it feels like catching up with an old friend and visiting about what has happened since the last time we met.

I am not picky about the gender of my protagonist.  I love the female Lady Darby in Anna Lee Huber’s books and Amory Ames in Ashley Weaver’s series, but I find Mark Pryor’s Hugo Marston and C. S. Harris’ Sebastian St. Cyr just as engaging.  The key, and I know I have said it before, is that context in which the protagonist encounters a crime must be believable, it must be consistent, and it must be evolving.  I love a good cozy mystery but after a while, multiple deaths in a small town or at a certain ski resort; well, I don’t think I would put that on a place to visit!

Inquiry agents like Charles Lenox in Charles’ Finch’s series or Derek Stone in Kate Carlisle’s Bibliophile mysteries, police detectives like Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James in Deborah Crombie Scotland Yard series, or even judges and attorneys like Verlaque and Bonnet in M. L. Longworth’s Provencal mysteries all have realistic reasons to encounter, and more importantly, be involved in, solving crimes.

Cozy mysteries are very entertaining and enjoyable, but they don’t have the same sustainability as something that is more grounded.  A good cozy writer should know when to quit and move on to a new series.

Historical setting
Not everything I read has a historical setting but it is definitely a huge plus in what makes a series my favorite.  Yes, I love the simpler time, the fascinating couture, the social customs and limitations, but honestly, the very best part is the lack of technology, specifically the internet.  Historical crime solvers must rely on their ingenuity and inquiry skills.  Now I am not discrediting modern detectives, but I truly love watching characters fit different pieces together.  I know that much of the detecting work could be completed a lot faster with modern tools, but what’s the point of a 50-page mystery!  I often think “why don’t they just look it up online” when I am reading a historical mystery before I remember that isn’t an option.

With characters spending days traveling by horseback or coach or waiting for letters to arrive, the tension of the story builds.  The reader often is sidetracked by the minutia of daily life and seemingly unimportant details; this adds depth and personality to the story and enables the reader to have a stronger grasp on the setting and characters and how they are woven together.

There is also something exotic and mystical about a historical setting; the grittiness seems darker and more threatening while the society and lifestyle creates a more glamorous and opulent feel.  I’ve always felt I that I was born in the wrong decade; reading historical mysteries helps me to channel my inner dreams.

Fun, quirky secondary characters
Remember, it is all about the characters for me.  Mystery books provide great opportunities for secondary characters to pop up over the course of a series.  These characters provide rich ambiance for the time period or foils for the different personalities of a protagonist.  They have the feel of that “crazy Aunt Edna” or “cousin Steve” that we all have in our families; the topic of holiday table conversations with details of their grand adventures, disasters, or both.  I think these characters add a dimension to the story to remind the readers that crime doesn’t occur in a bubble; life still goes on all around which is often what both helps and interferes with the solving of a crime.

Some of my favorite secondary characters are Bonnie Brock in the Lady Darby series, Sid and Gus in Rhys Bowen’s Molly Murphy mysteries, and Oscar in the Witchcraft mysteries by Juliet Blackwell.  Sometimes these characters are integral to the development of the plot, sometimes they create obstacles that interfere with the progression of the inquiry, and sometimes they just add a diversion of spice and humor to a darker theme.

Just a hint of romance
Okay, call me a hopeless romantic but I like a bit of a love story in my mysteries.  I like the tension between two characters when they aren’t sure who they can trust, and then how it builds to when they discover that must trust one another.  Relationships often cloud judgement and perception and this added depth creates more conflict in a story and therefore makes it more suspenseful for the reader.  I don’t ever want a relationship in a mystery book to take away from the mystery itself, but a good author with meld the two with thought and purpose.

I like how some relationships grow over the course of the series, like C.S. Harris’ Sebastian and Hero, Tasha Alexander’s Emily and Colin, or Julie Spencer-Fleming’s Russ and Clare.  In contrast, I enjoy how Ashley Weaver’s Amory and Milo stories jump right into an established marriage.  Then of course there is Brad Parks’ Carter Ross and Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum; who knows if they will ever settle down!  What does Keanu Reeves’ character say in the movie Speed:  I have to warn you; I’ve heard relationships based on intense experiences never work.  Ah, love . . .

Any other mystery buffs out there?  What are the “must-haves” for your favorite series?

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Four BOOKS TO PACK on Friday

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Four BOOKS TO PACK on Friday
Yesterday, my friend and fellow blogger at SmartGirlsRead posted a meme from Good Reads about choosing which book to read next.  She commented how appropriate it was as she was trying to pick which books to pack for an upcoming trip.  As I am also getting ready to head out for Spring Break, I started to think about which books I was planning to pack.

I honestly think I spend more time choosing which books to pack than which clothes!  There are strict guidelines and criteria for every travel adventure and the books chosen must meet those standards.  I usually put out a pile of books on the bed and evaluate each: hardcovers are cumbersome and heavy in a carry-on, library books are ripe for getting left or lost, and ebooks . . . well, that is a completely different blog post!  Anyway, as I look at the stack, I realize that there are four main types of books that I pack for a trip.

The one I’m currently reading
This is the book that I intended to finish prior to the trip.  You know, the one that just has about 50 pages left and I am going to sit down and finish it as soon as I finish packing . . . folding laundry. . . cleaning out the fridge.  The one, despite my best intentions, does not get finished.  I can’t wait the three days, five days, or week until I get home to finish it!  Then I will be busy unpacking . . . doing laundry . . . restocking the fridge.  You get the picture.  It doesn’t matter how many pages are left; it has to get thrown into the carry-on bag and most likely will be completed in the waiting area before I even board the flight.

The one I can’t wait to read
This is the one I’ve been saving.  The one that I’ve put aside special for the trip.  The one whose anticipation gets me just as excited as the trip itself.  When I was young, my mom would purchase books for us whenever we traveled.  She quickly realized that I would read them before the trip, and she started to wrap them and they couldn’t be unwrapped until the vacation started.  For me, as soon as the car was backing out of the driveway, the spine would be cracked open and I would start reading.  The apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree because I have to do the same with my own children!!  I often remember these books as I remember the trip:  California 1983 – Trixie Belden 12:  The Mystery of the Blinking Eye, New England 2009 – C. S. Harris’ What Angels Fear, Austin 2014 – Deborah Harkness’ The Book of Life.  See what I mean.

The one I’m not sure about reading
This is the book that involves a psychological game with myself.  This is the book on my shelf that either I am not sure that I want to read or that I am afraid to read.  For whatever reason – a new author, a major plot twist, an uncomfortable conflict – I am apprehensive about starting this book.  My thought is that if it is with me, I will be forced to try it.  I may like it, I may not; but I will try it because I have it with me and there are no other options.  This way, I have found books that I have loved and books that I have given 50 pages to and said forget it.  For some reason, books are easier to let go of without guilt when you are on vacation!

The one for the flight home
I very intentionally pick a book that I plan to read on the flight home.  It is almost always a fluff book that requires little to no brain-power, an author or plot-line that I know I will enjoy, and one that can be completed easily within the flight timeframe.  I know that when I get home, reality will hit me in the face and my reading time will become non-existent.  If I don’t finish the book on the trip home, it won’t get finished.  This is my detox downtime reading before the transition back to real-life.  These are my guilty pleasure books that will make me laugh-out-loud but won’t remember days later.

As an additional note, I usually budget a book a day.  I rarely complete that, but as you know, one must be ready for a zombie apocalypse . . . or a delayed flight . . . so it is best to be prepared!   Yes, this makes my suitcase heavy, and yes, I will sacrifice shoe space for books.

So, what kind of books to you pack for travel?

Four on Friday: CHILDHOOD FAVORITES

Childhood Favorites

So . . . to mix things up a little, every Friday I will make a list of four things. Hope you enjoy and I would love to hear feedback.

Four CHILDHOOD FAVORITES on Friday
I thought it might be fun to revisit some favorite books from my youth . . . yes, children of mine, that was a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away!! These books were ones that I read and reread and then shared with my own children. I am curious to see what favorites you have!

Trixie Belden by Julie Campbell / Kathryn Kenny
Thirteen year old Trixie Belden lives with her parents and three brothers on a small farm in New York State. All Trixie wants is a horse and her wish is somewhat granted when a new family moves into the Manor House up the street. The Wheelers have a 13-year-old daughter, Honey, and numerous horses. It is a bit of a rocky start for the two girls because they come from very different backgrounds but soon become fast friends. Their adventures begin when they discover a boy living in Trixie’s neighbor’s rundown mansion. Jim is the nephew of the old miser who recently was taken to the hospital with pneumonia. Local legend is that the miser hid his money after his beloved wife’s death. Jim is determined to find the money and use it to escape his evil stepfather’s grasp, but his stepfather is closing in on both the fortune and Jim.

There are 39 books in the series, which were written between 1948 and 1986; all of which I own and most of which I purchased with my babysitting money. This series marks my own first obsession with books and mysteries. I remember going to the small, independent bookstore in my hometown and purchasing two or three books at a time as I earned my babysitting money. I appreciated the simpler life that harkened back to growing up in the 50’s and early 60’s even though some of the language dated the stories. And . . . with full honesty, I will admit that Jim was my first book crush!

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Mary Lennox is a selfish, ill-mannered child born in India to wealthy British parents. When a cholera epidemic kills her parents, she is sent to England to live with an uncle she has never met, Archibald Craven, at his home, Misselthwaite Manor. Mary is pretty much ignored and confined to two rooms, but slowly she befriends her maid Martha. Mary is given a little bit of freedom and begins to explore the house and gardens. She finds a key and discovers a secret garden. She also discovers another child living in the manor; Colin is the son of her uncle who suffers from some unknown spinal ailment. Mary, Martha, and Dickon, Martha’s brother, work to restore the garden and bring it back to life. Colin joins them in his wheelchair, and his restoration parallels the garden’s renewal.

I think this book probably solidified by choice to be an English teacher, although it took me a long time to realize it. I love all the symbolism and metaphorical descriptions of both the garden and Colin’s rejuvenation. One of my favorite passages is Mary’s description of her discovery of the garden; the idea of a secret magical place hidden in plain sight is a beautiful image of peace and serenity. I think many people search for their own secret gardens. The copy of the book I currently own was one that I gave to my daughter for Christmas when she was 6 months old. I have read it to both my daughters; it is a beautiful book to share.

All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor
Five sisters living on the East Side of New York City at the turn of the century?? Yep! I started loving historical books at a young age. The girls have all sorts of adventures, as girls will do, as they interact with the peddlers in their papa’s shop, they visit the library, they do their chores, and they travel on the streetcar to Coney Island. There are five books in the series: All-of-a-Kind Family, More All-of-a-Kind Family, All-of-a-Kind Family Downtown, All-of-a-Kind Family Uptown, and Ella of All-of-a-Kind Family.

These books are truly timeless. As one of three girls myself, I could relate to and appreciate the bond and strife of these five sisters. The author did a wonderful job at evoking the feel of turn-of-the-century New York and I remember being drawn into the story through the descriptions of sights and scents and sounds. This series made me truly appreciate what good description can do to a story. The family is Jewish and there were a lot of descriptions of religion and customs. As any good nerd of the 80’s would do, I spent a lot of time looking up holidays and traditions in our family’s trusty World Book Encyclopedias.

The 21 Balloons by William Pene du Bois
When Professor William Waterman Sherman wants to escape his life as a schoolteacher and enjoy his solitude, he embarks on an adventure in a giant balloon. As he floats over the Pacific, seagulls puncture his balloon and he lands on the island of Krakatoa and discovers an amazing civilization of families. Many years prior, a young sailor was shipwrecked on the island and discovered its vast diamond mines. Realizing that this incredible wealth could be exploited by many, he instead chose 20 families to live on the island together and create an uptopian society. Instead of using their wealth, the families worked together in a very democratic way to employ of barter system of survival. Krakatoa is also the home of a very active volcano and when it becomes evident that the volcano is going to erupt, the families escape on a giant balloon barge. Professor Sherman is rescued and shares his incredible story with the members of the Western American Explorers’ Club.

Taking a balloon ride is on my bucket list and I know that the idea originated from this story. As an adult, I appreciate and understand the concept of creating an uptopian society and the social commentary the author is making, but as a child, I just thought what an amazing adventure! The creativity of how the governing structure of the island was formed and the really cool inventions captivated my imagination. The scientific descriptions coupled with a tongue-in-cheek type of story-telling appealed to my sense of humor. The simple, yet quite humorous illustrations, only increase the enjoyment value of this book. This is a great book to enjoy at both a child and an adult level.

So, how about you?  What were your CHILDHOOD FAVORITES?