In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware

Remember the old, creepy nursery rhyme?

In the dark, dark wood, There was a dark, dark house.

And in the dark, dark house, there was a dark, dark room.

And in the dark, dark room, There was a dark, dark cupboard.

And in the dark, dark cupboard, There was a dark dark shelf.

And on the dark, dark shelf, There was a dark, dark box.

And in the dark, dark box,  there was a big white ghost!

With this rhyme as it’s preface, I knew this book was going to be scary and — well — dark.  I saved In a Dark, Dark Wood for the plane home from Europe.   Turns out it was the perfect antidote for the mind-numbing flight.  Here’s the blurb from the book:

When reclusive writer Leonora (Nora) is invited to a hen party (British for bachelorette party)  in an eerie glass house deep in the English countryside, she reluctantly agrees to make the trip. But as the first night falls, revelations unfold among friends old and new and a haunting realization creeps in—they are not alone in the woods.

Forty-eight hours later, Nora wakes up in a hospital bed injured but alive, with the knowledge that someone is dead. Wondering not “what happened?” but “what have I done?” she tries to piece together the events of the past weekend. Working to uncover secrets, reveal motives, and find answers, Nora must revisit parts of herself that she would much rather leave buried where they belong: in the past.

Creepy and yes, dark  — this is pure thriller enjoyment — complete with an Agatha Christie-ish limited list of suspects, much Gothic foreshadowing, and a story line that twists and turns.   Like all good mysteries, the reader is challenged to piece together all the elements —  who, what, where, when, how and why. I had figured out some of it, but was surprised by the final tying up of loose ends.

Ms. Ware has crafted a perfectly creepy setting — a cold, modern glass house that looks out a large forest– a “wood” which looms dark, large and menacing throughout.

The characters were engaging and the story moved at a steady, never once bored, pace.  I must admit that I didn’t find the book to be the scary read promised —  to me it was just creepy — which is plenty for me.  (I’m still recovering from reading my one and only Stephen King novel back in my teens.)  In a Dark, Dark Wood was an easy read that kept me engaged for hours.

I wasn’t a fan of Ms. Ware’s other book The Woman in Cabin 10, but this, her first novel published in 2015 — is much better.

Recommended for your summer reading list– especially if you have a long plane journey ahead of you.

And, guess what folks, Reese Witherspoon is developing In a Dark, Dark Wood it into a film.

A digital review copy was kindly provided by Gallery/Scout Press via Netgalley.

The Chinese Shawl by Patricia Wentworth

Where I have been that I’d never read any Miss Silver mysteries? Naturally, I was aware of this series and even have had one on my shelf for ages.  But not until my friend (and devoted Book Barmy fan), Sally mentioned this series, did I crack open The Chinese Shawl.

But first a trip down memory lane.  If you want to get right to the book you can skip this.  But, you’ll miss a good story.

Let me take a moment to tell you about Sally.  Sally is my mother’s best friend. They met in the 1960’s through a babysitting club where young parents on a budget exchanged free babysitting.   I’ve now forgotten the nameless mothers (and sometimes fathers) who came to babysit when my parents went out.  Except one — Sally, who came over in black Capri pants and a red sweater.  Sally exuded Glamour with a capital G.  Beautifully coiffed hair, dramatic eye makeup framing brilliant aquamarine eyes, and she smelled really good — I think it may have been Chanel No. 5.  Sally brought exciting new-to-us books from her own children’s library.  My little brother and I snuggled up next to this exotic creature as she read aloud.

Sally was, and still is, a cross between Elizabeth Taylor and Mary Poppins.  Turns out her daughter was my age, she had a son my brother’s age and two other little ones who were my littlest sister’s age.  Her husband and my father shared a love of cars and woodworking.  So our families soon became close and we all grew up together in the suburbs of D. C.

To this day, Sally, my mother and I share a secret love of cozy mysteries both on TV (yes, Murder She Wrote – don’t judge) and on the written page (talking about you, Dame Agatha Christie).  The other day Sally sent an email admitting she had binged watched some old Murder She Wrotes and while embarrassed, they got her out of a funk.  She went on to say that she greatly admired Patricia Wentworth’s Miss Silver series on whom it is reputed Agatha Christie stole based her own Miss Marple character.  I remembered my mother also admired the Miss Silver series, so I rummaged through my piles of books book collection until I found The Chinese Shawl and dove right in.

This is the story of Laura Fane, whose parents died while she was quite young and left her a historic estate called The Priory. Laura didn’t have the funds required  to maintain The Priory, so was forced to lease it to her wealthy Aunt Agnes. Now that Laura has turned 21 and gained her inheritance she has come to the Priory to determine if she wants to inhabit or sell it to her Aunt Agnes and her other niece Tanis Lyle.  Laura soon discovers  there is family bitterness over old wounds, and this bitterness is personified most strongly by Tanis Lyle. Tanis is known for stealing other women’s  boyfriends, then unceremoniously dumping them.  We soon realize that Tanis has many enemies who could happily kill her.   And dead she turns up.  

As it happens, Miss Maud Silver, amateur detective is already a guest at the Priory.   And, the Superintendent sent to investigate the murder was a young charge of Miss Silver when she was a governess.  So the investigation proceeds with lively exchanges between these two. Miss Silver gently chiding her “dear Randall” over his hasty judgments and guiding his efforts — all while clicking away on her knitting needles.  The Priory setting is beautifully rendered and Laura is a nicely developed character.  There are plenty of suspects from jilted boyfriends, to angry ex-girlfriends, to a pilfering maid. 

As all this is going on, Laura is falling in love with a handsome war veteran and one of Tanis’s discards.   It’s a old-fashioned 1920’s style courtship but Ms. Wentworth adds just the right bit of heavy breathing   Just read this exchange between the couple as they first fall for each other:

“I shouldn’t be surprised if it meant that we were falling in love.”

She changed colour, but the change was to white, not red.  She looked for a moment as if she had been shocked right out of her senses.  There was a rushing around in her ears like water, like great waves.  And then Carey saying her name urgently

“Laura – what’s the matter?”

“I – don’t  – know”

Then he saw the colour come back and her lips begin to tremble.

“Laura are you alright?”

“Yes, she said.”  He was holding both her hands.

“Would you mind if I fell in love with you?  Because I’m going to.”

“You’ve only got to look me in the eye and say you don’t want me to fall in love with you.”

Laura’s tongue was suddenly loosened  “What would you do if I did?”

He said, “Fall a little deeper.”

I was totally engaged by this splendid mystery. The suspects are characters in and of themselves.  I enjoyed them all, but also tried ascertain their motives, could they have done the deed?    There’s some great writing, such as this small passage:

It was the entry of Lucy Adams which broke the tension.  Flushed with hurry, on the edge of being late, clanking with chains, bangles and assorted brooches, she plunged into the midst of the situation without the slightest idea that it existed.

I had a great time with Miss Silver and the Superintendent, as we solved the crime — actually they solved it — I still hadn’t quite figured out in the end.

Stereotypical? Certainly.  Similar to Miss Marple series? Of course.

I’ve learned the 1920’s Miss Silver series, while lesser known than Ms. Christie’s, set the standard for cozy mysteries solved in old estates, with lots of fun characters, cups of tea, and charming old (OK Older) ladies who knit.

Count me in any day.

The British Library Crime Series

Is it possible to have a crush on a publisher?

My heart beats faster, my fingers fondle their book covers, and my wallet giddily opens its arms — all for The British Library Crime Series by Poisoned Pen Press.

Just look at these beauties, I mean really, what mystery reader could resist?

I first became aware of this series with my first purchase of THIS long lost favorite mystery.  Since then I have cultivated a insatiable craving   finely-tuned taste for this Poisoned Pen Press imprint.

In 1997, husband and wife founders, Robert Rosenwald and Barbara Peters, who are also the owners of the legendary Poisoned Pen Bookstore in Scottsdale, Arizona, saw an opportunity to re-publish the wonderful British mysteries novels of the 1930’s and 1940’s.  They tapped into every bibliophile’s secret desire –out of print titles, long lost authors, and beautiful covers to lovingly add to a bookcase:

“We knew that mystery readers wanted complete collections, so we thought we could make a business out of that.”

I’ve read several of these and, while some are better than others, all are well-plotted mysteries graced with some classic crime writing and completely interesting settings – in short they are pure fun escape reading.

There are locked room mysteries (Miraculous Mysteries), murders in Europe (Continental Crimes), small village settings (Death of a Busybody), and dead bodies in crumbling manors (Seven Dead).

In short, there’s a British mystery for you in The British Library Crime Series.  You got to love any publisher/bookseller who states this as their mission statement:

We are a community Bound By Mystery.

and who gathers praise such as this:

Hurrah to British Library Crime Classics for rediscovering some of the forgotten gems of the Golden Age of British crime writing.(Globe and Mail)

Might I suggest you support this fine enterprise by buying the books direct from their website ~  just click this logo.


Thanks to Poisoned Pen Press for allowing me advanced copies of many of these titles via NetGalley.

Mrs. Malory (or is it Mallory?) by Hazel Holt

Once upon a time, there was a bookstore dedicated solely to mysteries ~~ called the San Francisco Mystery Bookstore.  

It was a dusty old place, with a chain-smoking, sometimes surly owner who would only glance up from her own reading to give a visiting dog a treat or if you asked a question. Once engaged, she could deftly suggest your next perfect mystery read based on your interests and tastes.  (Good bookstore people share this  skill.)

The bus at our corner would take me directly to the shop, where I would browse away many a foggy afternoon. It had mismatched shelving, small nooks with chairs, a creaky wooden floor, with the books arranged in the owner’s unique method.   There were separate sections for historical mysteries, true crime, British crime, and even mysteries set in San Francisco.  In short, it was a local treasure and one of my favorite places.   Sadly this small, independent bookseller closed their doors in 2011, a victim of skyrocketing rent and the demise of small independent bookstores.  (I guess my purchases weren’t enough to carry this little store, despite Husband’s theories to the contrary.)

It was at this quaint bookshop that I was steered towards the Mrs. Malory series after confessing my love for Agatha Raisin.

Hazel Holt wrote an entire series featuring Sheila Malory, a middle-aged widow, Siamese cat owner, tireless volunteer, and snoop in the sleepy English village of Taviscombe –a modern-day Miss Marple.

This is a veddy veddy British series, filled with English villagers, non-stop teas, old country estates, horses, and gentle humor.  The rich descriptions transport the reader right into the middle of these delightful scenes.  At first, these short little mysteries may seem obvious, but stay on your toes readers, as Ms. Holt cleverly deals out potential culprits, plots that twist around, and the murderer is often a surprise.

The first in the series is Mrs. Malory Investigates and my early 1989 St. Martin’s Press edition has the Malory misspelled as “Mallory” throughout the text.   The later edition, published under the title of Gone Away has this content error corrected.


The second in the series The Cruellest Month is set at Oxford’s Bodleian Library, where Ms. Holt (no slouch) once taught.

Turns out the author was quite the intellectual and a good friend of Barbara Pym.  Ms. Holt even wrote her biography and completed one of Pym’s unfinished novels.  These British authors seemed to run around in the same small circles sharing tea and scones, and probably stealing each other’s plot ideas.

Sadly Ms. Holt died in 2015, so the complete series ends after 21 mysteries.   I recommend you seek out these little gems –you’ll find yourself happily whiling away an evening, turning the pages.

Click HERE  to find your own little local independent bookstore to try and keep in business.


The Blackhouse by Peter May

I sat up and paid attention when The New York Times Book Review (Marilyn Stasio) raved: “Peter May is a writer I’d follow to the ends of the earth.”  So, of course I added this author to my TBR list.

The Blackhouse was the final in a string of thrillers I read in a row –and, it turns out, I saved the best for last.

The Blackhouse is the first in a trilogy based in the Scottish Hebrides and featuring Edinburgh cop, Fin Macleod.   Finn is sent to his childhood home on Lewis where a grisly murder on the isolated island seems to be a copy of a murder he has been investigating in Edinburgh.

Our detective is somewhat relieved to leave Edinburgh, as he grieves over the death of his young son, while half-heartily trying to prevent his marriage from crumbling.

But first a few warnings:

If you’re at all squeamish, you’ll have to tiptoe through; 1) a full and grisly autopsy, and 2) an honored, traditional, but gruesome, gannet hunt on a small island. 

If you’re expecting a standard police procedural set in the unconventional Outer Hebrides, you’re happily in for more than you bargained for ~~ this thriller has depth and power.

Now that you have read the Book Barmy safety warnings, fasten your seatbelts, because you are in for a great mystery read.

Mr. May is an extraordinary writer, able to take us seamlessly between two narratives.  Masterfully moving from first person to develop Fin’s story growing up on Lewis, and then the third person to tell the current day story– Fin’s broken and disillusioned adult childhood friends, the crime, and its resolution. 

Mr. May has a gift for developing his characters, all of which are remarkable, but Fin is an especially likeable hero.  Having the grand experience of staying in the Outer Hebrides many years ago, I can attest that he also gives the reader unbelievably lovely descriptions of the harsh life in the Outer Hebrides — bleak, windy, and yet starkly beautiful.





The plot is a compelling mix of retribution, revelations, and intrigue.  The Blackhouse uses the traditional guga bird (gannet) harvest not only as a pivotal plot point, but also showcases its cultural role in the lives of the island community. Gory certainly, but informative.

High accolades for what turns out to be not only a tightly plotted thriller, but an insightful treatise on growing up, moving away, then coming home — one you thought you’d moved beyond.

From the introduction:

Three things that come without asking:  fear, love and jealousy. A Gaelic proverb

And thank you Mr. May for an absolute stunner of an ending.

There are two more in the Lewis series, guess who found both at the recent library book sale – score!










An advanced readers copy was provided by Quercus via Netgalley


Page Habit

I’ve been hearing about special interest book subscription services ~~ where you sign up, pay a monthly subscription fee, and receive a surprise book box each month.  Much like a book of the month club, except you don’t choose the book, the service does.

Hmmm, I thought — Just the perfect monthly fix for this book addict lover.

Surprise, Surprise… I signed up for such a service, namely PageHabit and have received two deliveries.  Such delight, to get a box in the mail without knowing what’s inside (except that’s it sure be a book of some sort).

I can’t contain my excitement when the box  arrives on my doorstep…


(even better when Husband is out and I can sneak it in the house without the ritual – hey here’s a package for you, what did you get – say whaaa more books – really?).*

My first sign up was for Mystery and once opened, there’s all sorts of nifty  book nerd lover surprises.  (Click to make larger)


In the first photo you see a few tchotchkes — a fox coaster, a patch relating to time travel (the book’s subject) and a pin.  There’s a letter from the author of the book — but best of all (third photo) the book itself is annotated with lots and lots of post-its with the author’s reflections and insights as you read along.

Now really, how cool is that?

PageHabit lets you switch genres at the click of a button, so for October,  I switched to Literary Fiction, and that box revealed two (!) books and the following fun stuff.

The second photo shows the swag this month — a library card pillow case (I know who knew?) a Halloween key chain, a cool bookmark, and (another?) fox coaster.

Again, there’s a letter from the author and here’s a close-up of one of the author annotations in the book.

Also, each month, there is also a little booklet, containing a short story commissioned by PageHabit just for that mailing. I’m keeping them in my bag for when I’m stuck in some long line or waiting in the car outside Home Depot (it happens fairly regularly for some reason).

But the best rationalization bit is, that with every mailing, PageHabit partners with a different organization around the world and supports their efforts in spreading literacy throughout their community. These donations help support building schools, public libraries, and community centers to ensure that every child has access to books.

You can match your PageHabit subscription to your favorite genre, there’s also Fantasy, Romance, Young Adult, Science Fiction, and many more.

So far, PageHabit has done itself proud – no duplicates to my  book warehouse  library.

I’ve got my eye on Historical Fiction for January…  and the beat goes on…

The subscription is sort of expensive, so I may move to a quarterly subscription but for the near future, I’ll raid my piggy bank.

Brown packages, surprise books, fun swag, and author notes –



* I’m being mean, Husband is actually very tolerant of my book habit collecting and never grumbles ~~ too much.