Behind the Book: Hope Rides Again by Andrew Shaffer

Editor’s Note: Do you ever read a book and think- there’s no way this could get better? And then the author comes out with a sequel?! Well, we are thrilled to tell you that Andrew Shaffer, author of Hope Never Dies: An Obama Biden Mystery, has come out with its sequel Hope Rides Again. The New York Times bestselling author answers our burning questions as part of our Behind the Book series. Continue reading

The Best and Worst of Agatha Christie

With more than 60 novels and 14 short story collections, is it any wonder that Agatha Christie is the bestselling novelist of all time? Her works are ranked third in the world’s most published books, behind Shakespeare and the Bible, and they have been translated into at least 103 languages. However, with 66 novels and numerous short stories, not all of Mrs. Christie’s works are going to be favorites. Then again, one person’s favorite is another person’s least favorite, and sometimes for the same reasons. For example, the first time I read The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, I literally threw the book across the room, vowing to never read another Agatha Christie book again, all because of the twist ending that makes other people count this story as their favorite. So here are some of the best and the worst (in my opinion) of Agatha Christie.

THE BEST
The Mysterious Affair at Styles: This is Christie’s first published novel and introduces the world to retired Belgian police detective Hercule Poirot, Inspector Japp and Arthur Hastings, who becomes the Watson to Hercule’s Holmes. This book is a great one to start with if you have yet to dip your toe into the Christie canon.
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And Then There Were None: One of my absolute favorite mystery books, which will keep you guessing until the end. Interesting Fact: First published in the U.K. in 1939, this book has had several different names, but since those were considered racially offensive (look them up if you dare!), the title was changed to And Then There Were None in January 1940.
And-Then-There-Were-None

The A.B.C. Murders (or the Alphabet Murders): The victims in this book seem to be completely unrelated as Hercule Poirot and his good friend Arthur Hastings begin to investigate. This book doesn’t really follow Christie’s usual style, and so it is a good read if you are looking for something a little different.
ABC MURDERS

The Mousetrap: Yes, this is a play. In fact, it’s the longest-running play in history. The play is actually based on a short story by Christie, who asked that the story not be published as long as it ran as a play in the West End of London. The play was first performed in 1952, and the story has still not been published in the U.K. However, it was first published in the United States in a short story collection in 1950 under its original title Three Blind Mice.themousetrap

THE WORST
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd: In regards to this book, I have been asked to say that “this bloggers opinion does not reflect the opinion of Half Price Books”… or in fact anyone else on the planet apparently. I’ll just say, be prepared to feel cheated.the-murder-of-roger-ackroyd

The Big Four: This is Christie’s first stab at writing espionage. In my opinion, she should have stuck with police detectives and little old ladies and left the spy work to Le Carré.thebigfour

Destination Unknown: Originally called So Many Steps to Death, this is another one of Christie’s spy novels, and it just seems bland, which may be why it is one of only four Christie novels never to be adapted into another kind of medium.destination unknown

Postern of Fate: This is the last novel that Christie wrote, and it is reported that she suffered from dementia during that time, so it’s not surprising that this book would be on the bottom of the Christie spectrum.postern of fate

Now, this is just a sampling of some of the best and the worst of Agatha Christie, or at least this blogger’s opinion about the best and worst of Agatha Christie. Of course, Agatha Christie’s legacy continues through Sophie Hannah’s Hercule Poirot novels, The Monogram Murders (2015), Closed Casket (2017) and The Mystery of Three Quarters (2018), not to mention the movie version of Christie’s novel Murder on the Orient Express that came out in 2017, starring  Kenneth Branagh, Johnny Depp and Judi Dench. Plus, And Then There Was None was voted best mystery by HPB customers in our Mystery Madness tournament this past March! So, I think it’s safe to say Agatha Christie is the queen of mystery and her books (even the worst ones) are worth the read. Check them out at your local HPB and HPB.com.

What’s your favorite (or least favorite) Agatha Christie novel?

If You Liked The Tournament of Mysteries, You Might Also Like…

I am a total book nerd, and I love lists. So, when I was told Half Price Books was having a Tournament of Mysteries as part of Mystery Madness, I set out to read all the books on the bracket, in order to vote for the right book with each pairing. Now that I have read all the mystery books in the tournament, I solve the mystery of what I’m going to read next. Here’s a list of similar books for myself and other book nerds like me who never want Mystery Madness to end.

SherlockIf you liked Sherlock Holmes: The Novels, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle:

AndThenThereWereNoneIf you liked And Then There Were None, by Agatha Christie:

NameOfTheRoseIf you liked The Name of the Rose, by Umberto Eco:

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Solve the Mystery: 6 Character Riddles

How well do you know your mysteries? Below are clues to six of my favorite mystery novel characters. I challenge you to solve them all without looking at the answers below!

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1. A self-proclaimed hobo, I have no address, no credit cards and no cell phone. I don’t even have a middle name. What I do have is 13 years of military training, dozens of medals and nothing better to do with my time. Who am I?

2. My foppish, upper-class persona and classic good looks may have convinced some that I slept my way into the Yard, but my ability to hide a wealth of feeling behind my aristocratic mask has proven useful whether I’m interviewing a confessed murderer, dealing with my partner’s tortured past or watching the girl I love marry one of my closest friends. Who am I?

3. My motto is: it’s better to be lucky than good. And I need all the luck I can get with my ongoing financial disaster, two men who drive me crazy, a gun-toting grandma and a co-worker who would trade sexual favors for a bucket of chicken, not to mention the fact that my cars keep exploding. I need a Tastykake. Who am I?

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Thrills and Chills: Reads for Fall

October is my favorite month, not only because it’s the true beginning of fall (I feel strongly enough about this that I will fight anyone who brings up that the equinox is in September!), but also because it’s the beginning of what I like to affectionately refer to as “creepy weather.” There’s something about fall and the approach of Halloween that bring both the cozy and spooky together, and I love to read a ton of mysteries and thrillers during this time.

Unfortunately, sometimes it can feel like this particular genre gets bogged down by a lot of work from dudes with names like James, Michael, John and Joe (no offense, guys), so I made it my personal mission to read thrillers from female authors this year. Here are several that were recently published that I think are worth checking out:

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The Breakdown by B.A. Paris
I happened to read B.A. Paris’ 2016 debut novel Behind Closed Doors this summer and was thoroughly horrified. So horrified, in fact, that I rushed to the bookstore to buy The Breakdown as soon as it was released in July. It wasn’t anything like Behind Closed Doors, but I liked it even more due to its heavy paranoia factor. Paris navigates various aspects of mental health—from anxiety to depression and dementia—and utilizes memory loss in a truly gripping way; to the point where every time I closed the book, I wondered if I was losing my mind along with the main character. Continue reading

Mystery Solved: A Book Nerd’s Look at Mystery Series Week

Some people would kill to fall in love. Some people are thrilled to be scared out of their socks. Some people are dying to escape to a totally different world. Me? I like to solve mysteries. Of course, I don’t mind if those mysteries include a little love, scare me out of my socks or take me to a different world. Fortunately, no matter what your poison, there is a mystery series out there for you. So, if you’re dying to find a new mystery series to read this Mystery Series Week (October 1-7), here are some that just might crack the case.

The Mystery Lover’s Must-Reads– Classic Mystery Series:
With overly observant detectives, a meddling old lady and a bunch of curious teens, this list may seem elementary to some, but you’ll have to look elsewhere if you think the butler did it.

  1. Sherlock Holmes Mysteries, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  2. Miss Marple Mysteries, by Agatha Christie
  3. The Hardy Boys Mysteries, by Franklin Dixon
  4. Nancy Drew Mysteries, by Carolyn Keene
  5. Hercule Poirot Mysteries, by Agatha Christie

Just Doing Their Job– Crime Detective Mystery Series:
Looking for those hard-boiled detectives and rebel cops? These guys will have you on the edge of your seat.

    1. Inspector Rebus, by Ian Rankin
    2. Alex Cross, by James Patterson
    3. Harry Bosch, by Michael Connelly
    4. Harry Hole, by Jo Nesbo
    5. Virgil Flowers, by John Sandford

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The Best of Alfred Hitchcock

English film director and producer Alfred Hitchcock was a pioneer of cinema, carving out a legacy for himself in the genres of suspense and psychological thrillers. His method of storytelling through withholding information from the audience makes his movies entertaining till the end. And these breakthrough techniques paved the way for generations of filmmakers to come.

His work ranges from the romantic comedy of Mr. & Mrs. Smith (1941), to courtroom drama of The Paradine Case (1947), and dark film noir Shadow of a Doubt (1943).

Hitchcock directed more than 50 feature films in his career, and I’ve seen nearly all of them. So in honor of his birthday today, here’s my list of personal favorites — The Best of Alfred Hitchcock (and where to look to spot his trademark cameo appearance in each).

1. Rear Window (1954) – Starring James Stewart, Grace Kelly, Thelma Ritter and Raymond Burr, Rear Window is an exceptional, suspenseful film. The story is confined almost entirely to the four walls of a studio apartment and the scenes observed across the courtyard from the window.

Cameo: Hitchcock is seen winding the clock in the songwriter’s apartment (00:26:10).

 

2. North by Northwest (1959) – Starring Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint and James Mason, this mysterious story of mistaken identity features a memorable opening title sequence created by graphic designer Saul Bass. North by Northwest is often referred to as the first feature film to use kinectic typography. This film also features some of Hitchcock’s famous innuendos.

Cameo: Hitchcock can be seen missing a bus at the end of the opening credits (0:02:09).

 

3. Dial M for Murder (1954) – In this film – starring Grace Kelly, Robert Cummings, John Williams and Ray Milland – Hitchcock experimented with 3D for a depth effect in one scene. However, it’s reported that the public had grown weary of 3D when the film released, so it was only shown in a few screenings.

Cameo: Hitchcock can be seen on the left side in the class-reunion photo on the wall (00:13:13).

 

4. Notorious (1946)Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman, Hitchcock regulars, are caught in the middle of a plot about Nazis, uranium and South America. Working undercover, they risk it all to reveal the truth.

Cameo: At the big party in Claude Rains’s mansion, Hitchcock can be seen drinking champagne and then quickly departing (01:04:44).

 

5. The Birds (1963) – Bodega Bay, California sets the stage for a sudden, unexplained series of attacks by birds. Jessica Tandy stars as “Tippi” in this horror film, loosely based on the 1952 story “The Birds” by Daphne du Maurier.

Cameo: A man walking dogs out of the pet store at the beginning of the film. They were two of Hitchcock’s own Sealyham terriers, Geoffrey and Stanley (00:00:02).

 

6. Strangers on a Train (1951) – Based on the novel by Patricia Highsmith, Hitchcock directed this suspenseful tale starring Farley Granger and Robert Walker. The premise: Two men meet casually on a train, and one speculates on a foolproof murder plot.

Cameo: Look for Hitchcock boarding a train with a double bass instrament case, just as Farley Granger’s character gets off in his hometown (00:10:34).

 

7. Vertigo (1958)Kim Novak plays the blonde lead opposite James Stewart in this entertaining thriller. Hitchcock used the camera technique dubbed as the “Vertigo Effect” where the camera moves in the opposite direction as the zoom to create a sense of the image stretching.

Cameo: Hitchcock can be spotted in a grey suit walking in the street with a trumpet case (00:11:40).

 

8. Psycho (1960) – This horror film is based on a novel of the same name by author Robert Bloch. There are many icons of the genre within Psycho, including the infamous shower scene. However, the depiction of violence and sexuality brought controversy to this film during its release.

Cameo: Through the window as Janet Leigh’s character returns to her office, you can see Hitchcock wearing a cowboy hat (00:06:35).

 

9. Suspicion (1941) – This film was the first time actor Cary Grant worked with Hitchcock. Joan Fontaine won Best Actress Oscar for her outstanding, anxiety-ridden performance in Suspicion.

Cameo: Spot Hitchcock from a distance, mailing a letter at the village post office (00:46:54) and walking a horse across the screen at the hunt meet (00:00:04).

 

10. To Catch a Thief (1955)Grace Kelly‘s third and final appearance in a Hitchcock film, alongside co-star Cary Grant, To Catch a Thief is set in the French Riveria. It’s more lighthearted and witty than many of Hitchcock’s other films, but loaded with double-entendres.

Cameo: The not-so-subtle appearance of Hitchcock… sitting to the left of Cary Grant’s character on the bus (00:00:10), as shown in the picture at the beginning of this post.

 

11. Spellbound (1945) – Exploring the realms of pscyhoanalysis, Spellbound features a dream sequence (pictured above) which was designed by surrealist painter Salvador Dali. This film, starring Gregory Peck and Ingrid Bergman, also entangles romance with suspense in the way that Hitchcock does so well.

Cameo: Look for Hitchcock exiting an elevator at the Empire Hotel, carrying a violin case and smoking a cigarette (00:43:15).

 

12. The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) – This remake of Hitchcock’s own 1934 film of the same name, starred Doris Day and James Stewart. It won an Academy Award for Best Song for “Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Sera, Sera)” performed by Doris Day

Cameo: Hitchcock is watching acrobats in the opening scene at the Moroccan marketplace. His back is facing the camera (00:00:33).

 

If you’re a fan like me, stay tuned for the upcoming (Sept. 25) release of the “Masterpiece Collection” of Hitchcock on Blu-Ray, 15 movies of digitally remastered suspense — I can hardly wait! Which is your favorite Hitchcock film? If you’ve seen them all, let me know which one you think I should watch next.

Enjoy the plot-twisting thrill – Meredith

Meredith is Associate Creative Director at Half Price Books Corporate.
You can follow her on Twitter at @msquare21.