THOUGHTS ON BOOKS (#3): And Then There Were None / Empty Mansions (Audiobook) / Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops


And Then There Were None
And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Two things I can’t believe: (1) That it’s taken me sooo long to read this book (being that I’m a big mystery fan), and (2) that I’ve been able to avoid spoilers given how popular this book is (and has been for the past 75+ years)! It’s an amazing, complicated, intricate, puzzling mystery, and I enjoyed it very much.


Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune
Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune by Bill Dedman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

EMPTY MANSIONS is my first audiobook of 2018. (The plan is to dedicate most of my audiobook listening to nonfiction this year. We’ll see how it goes!) Abandoned places are fascinating to me. While the mansions in this book weren’t abandoned entirely (there were caretakers on-site), the eccentric owner – Huguette Clark – hadn’t lived in them or seen them in decades. In fact, she spent her last 20 years living unnecessarily in hospital rooms, until her death in 2011 at age 104.

The first part of the book was all about Huguette’s father, W. A. Clark, who amassed a great fortune in copper mines and railroads during the late 1800s. Mr. Clark had quite an exciting life, going from a humble Pennsylvania farm boy to an extremely wealthy industrialist with a passion for art and the finest things money could buy. When he died in 1925, his fortune was split equally between Huguette and her four older half-siblings.

The rest of the book focused on Huguette and the ways she spent her inheritance. She was an unusual person, private to a fault, and very generous to people and causes close to her heart. She seemed happiest when she was hidden away from the world, among her art and her dollhouses.

As she got older, I think there were some who took advantage of her generosity. She gave away millions and millions, but was she manipulated by those few who were close to her? Conflicting wills written close together bring her mental state into question.

EMPTY MANSIONS is a well-researched blend of American History, biography, and family drama. The audiobook was performed by Kimberly Farr, and she did a fantastic job keeping me engaged in Huguette’s story. It also contained snippets of phone conversations between Huguette and her cousin, Paul Clark Newell, Jr., one of the co-authors of this book.

Overall, I enjoyed EMPTY MANSIONS, though given how insanely private Huguette Clark was during her life, I think she would cringe knowing this book is out there.


Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops
Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops by Jen Campbell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Customer: If I came to work here, would I get a discount at the liquor store next door?” (Ah, sure.)

Customer: Do you have any books by Jane Eyre?” (If only!)

I had a very brief career as a bookseller just after college, so reading this book was a fun reminder of some of the weird things customers say. 🙂 A funny, quick read. I borrowed this book from the library, though I should have bought it from a bookstore!


“If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.” – Haruki Murakami

THE LOST LETTER by Jillian Cantor


Publisher: Riverhead Books
Release Date: June 13, 2017
Source: Penguin’s First to Read Program
Rating: ★★★★½


A historical novel of love and survival inspired by real resistance workers during World War II Austria, and the mysterious love letter that connects generations of Jewish families. A heart-breaking, heart-warming read for fans of The Women in the Castle, Lilac Girls, and Sarah’s Key.

Austria, 1938. Kristoff is a young apprentice to a master Jewish stamp engraver. When his teacher disappears during Kristallnacht, Kristoff is forced to engrave stamps for the Germans, and simultaneously works alongside Elena, his beloved teacher’s fiery daughter, and with the Austrian resistance to send underground messages and forge papers. As he falls for Elena amidst the brutal chaos of war, Kristoff must find a way to save her, and himself.

Los Angeles, 1989. Katie Nelson is going through a divorce and while cleaning out her house and life in the aftermath, she comes across the stamp collection of her father, who recently went into a nursing home. When an appraiser, Benjamin, discovers an unusual World War II-era Austrian stamp placed on an old love letter as he goes through her dad’s collection, Katie and Benjamin are sent on a journey together that will uncover a story of passion and tragedy spanning decades and continents, behind the just fallen Berlin Wall.

A romantic, poignant and addictive novel, The Lost Letter shows the lasting power of love.


Three words: beautiful, moving, and bittersweet. This book is a unique tale of the Austrian Resistance during World War II, centering around the love story between the daughter of a Jewish stamp maker and his apprentice. THE LOST LETTER is really historical fiction within historical fiction; the story alternates between the fall of the Berlin Wall (late 80s/early 90s) and the German invasion of Austria (late 1930s).

In 1989, Katie Nelson, whose life has been upended by her divorce and caring for an ailing father, finds a curious stamp on a letter from the World War II era in her father’s extensive stamp collection. With the help of an appraiser named Benjamin, Katie is able to uncover the story behind the mysterious letter.

I enjoyed this book very much, and was intrigued by both Katie and Benjamin in 1989, and Elena and Kristoff in 1939. What secrets did the stamp and letter hold? This book was a lovely blend of mystery, romance, and history. I do love vintage stamps, and this book gave readers a look at the intricacies of stamp engraving, and how they were miniature works of art. Highly recommended!

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book through Penguin’s First to Read Program in exchange for an honest review.

THE VICTORIAN CITY: EVERYDAY LIFE IN DICKENS’ LONDON by Judith Flanders (Audiobook)


Publisher: Tantor Audio
Release Date: March 28, 2017
Source: Review copy from the publisher
Rating: ★★★★


The 19th century was a time of unprecedented change, and nowhere was this more apparent than London. In only a few decades, the capital grew from a compact Regency town into a sprawling metropolis of six-and-a-half million inhabitants, the largest city the world had ever seen. Technology – railways, street-lighting, and sewers – transformed both the city and the experience of city living, as London expanded in every direction.

Now, Judith Flanders, one of Britain’s foremost social historians, explores the world portrayed so vividly in Dickens’ novels, showing life on the streets of London in colorful, fascinating detail. From the moment Charles Dickens, the century’s best-loved English novelist and London’s greatest observer, arrived in the city in 1822, he obsessively walked its streets, recording its pleasures, curiosities, and cruelties.

Now, with him, Flanders leads us through the markets, transport systems, sewers, rivers, slums, alleys, cemeteries, gin palaces, chop-houses, and entertainment emporia of Dickens’ London, to reveal the Victorian capital in all its variety, vibrancy, and squalor.


THE VICTORIAN CITY is a meticulously researched and very detailed book about London life during the time Charles Dickens walked its streets. The focus is mainly on the mechanics of daily life, and it gives an in depth look at everything, from how the streets were paved to the little amount of water each family had to take care of all their needs. This book puts you there, surrounded by the constant movement and bothersome noise.

The author blends in snippets from Dickens’ work to show where his inspirations came from. In truth I haven’t read much Dickens, maybe just A Christmas Carol years ago, but I love historical fiction set in the Victorian times, so I was interested in learning more. The book could be a bit dry at times, but also eye-opening. Made me appreciate living in modern times even more.


Audiobook • 16 hrs, 5 mins • Corrie James, Narrator

I listened to the audiobook narrated by Corrie James, and I thought that she was a good fit for this book. Even though this is nonfiction, she was able to add inflection and flair in the reading, especially with the voices of the different Londoners.


Disclosure: I received a copy of this audiobook from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.