Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2021

I am joining the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge for 2021. The challenge is hosted by a new host, Marg at The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader. It runs for the entire year.

To participate, you only have to follow the rules:

  • Add the link(s) of your review(s) including your name and book title to the Mister Linky we’ll be adding to our monthly post (please use the direct URL that will guide us directly to your review)
  • Any sub-genre of historical fiction is accepted (Historical Romance, Historical Mystery, Historical Fantasy, Young Adult, History/Non-Fiction, etc.)

The sign-up post is HERE on Adventures of an Intrepid Reader.

Participants can select from the following levels:

  • 20th Century Reader - 2 books
  • Victorian Reader - 5 books
  • Renaissance Reader - 10 books
  • Medieval - 15 books
  • Ancient History - 25 books
  • Prehistoric - 50+ books

Even though I had a hard time writing reviews for all the historical fiction I read last year, I am going to aim for The Renaissance Reader level at 10 books.

I have already read one book for this challenge, Black Robe by Brian Moore, and I am doing a slow read of Master and Commander by Patrick O'Brian.

Here are some possibilities from my TBR piles:

  • Mad About the Boy? by Delores Gordon-Smith
  • Murder in the Place of Anubis by Lynda S. Robinson
  • Goodnight Sweet Prince by David Dickinson
  • Elizabeth, Captive Princess by Margaret Irwin
  • The Mirror & The Light by Hilary Mantel
  • Gallows Court by Martin Edwards
  • Confusion by Elizabeth Jane Howard 
  • In Farleigh Field by Rhys Bowen
  • Poor Tom is Cold by Maureen Jennings
  • Beware This Boy by Maureen Jennings
  • The Ghost Rider by Ismail Kadare
  • Dark Fire by C.J. Sansom
  • The Meaning of Night by Michael Cox
  • A Decline in Prophets by Sulari Gentill
  • Then We Take Berlin by John Lawton

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Short Story Wednesday: "The Cross of Lorraine" by Isaac Asimov

I have never read any of Isaac Asimov's stories in the Black Widowers series. Now I find out that they were collected in six books. The one I read recently was in Detective Stories, stories chosen by Philip Pullman. The story was first published in 1976 and was collected in Casebook of the Black Widowers.

"The Cross of Lorraine" is the type of story I did not think I would like, but in fact I enjoyed it very much. A group of middle-aged men gather monthly for dinner, and at that dinner they are presented with a puzzle to solve. I don't know how all the stories go, but in this one the puzzle pops up unexpectedly, it was not brought to them for a solution. 

The story begins with a magician joining the group as a guest, and the group questions him about his experiences in his job. This leads to a puzzle that he has not been able to solve on his on, try as he may. He is trying to find a woman that was traveling on a bus with him. They were traveling at night and she left the bus while he was asleep. The solution is clever and amusing, if a bit far-fetched. But I think it was the tone of the mystery I liked most, playful, light.

So I will be looking for a copy of one of the books of collected stories, hopefully the first one, Tales of the Black Widowers.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Japanese Literature Challenge 14

Again I will be joining in on the Japanese Literature Challenge, hosted by Dolce Bellezza

The guidelines are simple:

  • The Challenge runs for thee months, from January 1, 2021 through March 31, 2021.
  • Read and review one or more books which have originally been written in Japanese.

There is a dedicated review site to link up reviews for the Japanese Literature Challenge 14.

Also, there will be a group read of Breasts and Eggs, by Mieko Kawakami, for those who wish to join in.

I am currently reading my first book for this challenge: Under the Midnight Sun by Keigo Higashino. This book is a standalone crime fiction novel, and it is a chunkster, at about 550 pages. 

I also plan to read Malice by the same author. That is the first book in the Police Detective Kaga series. This one is not such a long read, about half the length of Under the Midnight Sun. Both of these books belong to my husband.

Friday, January 15, 2021

The Chief Inspector Gamache series, books 8 and 9

The Beautiful Mystery is the eighth book in the Inspector Gamache series. Following that book is How the Light Gets In. The books have a connection, with a cliffhanger ending (of sorts) in The Beautiful Mystery leading to events which are resolved in the next book. Thus I am posting my thoughts on them together.

The Beautiful Mystery

I really can't do justice to a summary of the plot for this book so I will rely on the description at the author's website:

No outsiders are ever admitted to the monastery of Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups, hidden deep in the wilderness of Québec, where two dozen cloistered monks live in peace and prayer. They grow vegetables, they tend chickens, they make chocolate. And they sing. Ironically, for a community that has taken a vow of silence, the monks have become world-famous for their glorious voices, raised in ancient chants whose effect on both singer and listener is so profound it is known as “the beautiful mystery.”

But when the renowned choir director is murdered, the lock on the monastery’s massive wooden door is drawn back to admit Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and Jean-Guy Beauvoir of the Sûreté du Québec.

As usual this was a beautifully written story. I enjoyed the new setting. The stories set in Three Pines are charming and I love visiting the inhabitants of that small town, but I also enjoy exposure to other parts of Québec. It was interesting to get a look at the workings of a small monastery.

There is a second plot in The Beautiful Mystery. In past books there have been references to differences within the Sûreté du Québec. At the highest levels, there are people who resent Gamache. This situation comes to a head in this novel, but is not resolved.

How the Light Gets In

Had I realized that this book was set at Christmas, I might have tried to read both of these books before the end of the year. As it is, I started this book a couple of days before the end of the year, and it was the first book I finished in 2021. I read the books back to back because I saw that the cliffhanger ending in The Beautiful Mystery was going to bug me until I read the next book.

There is a mysterious death that is determined to be suicide at the beginning of the book. The incident keeps coming up until it is finally tied in to the rest of the plot towards the end of the book. Around the same time, Myrna, the owner of the bookshop in Three Pines, calls Inspector Gamache and asks him to check on a friend who lives in Montréal and was scheduled to visit Myrna for Christmas. When Gamache goes to her home, he finds the friend dead, murdered. He also discovers that she was one of a famous set of quintuplets who were born in Québec in the 1930s. She had used an assumed name to conceal her identity. 

But at the same time that Gamache is investigating that death, he is dealing with changes in his department. Many of his best detectives have transferred out of his department, some voluntarily, some forced to move by Gamache's superior officer. Only Inspector Isabelle Lacoste is still working with him. New officers have been transferred into Gamache's department.

This book was a very good read. It was overly long, but had a faster pace than The Beautiful Mystery, and kept me reading too late at night in order to finish the book. I will admit to having some reservations as to some plot choices in both The Beautiful Mystery and How the Light Gets In, but not enough to deter my enjoyment. 

These two books fit together very well, it was like reading one very, very long novel. And fortunately, I enjoy immersing myself in the Inspector Gamache books. But that only worked for me because I already had a copy on hand. I would have been quite unhappy to read The Beautiful Mystery when it first came out and then find out I had to wait a year to find out what was going on.


Pub. data for The Beautiful Mystery

Publisher: Minotaur Books, 2013 (orig. publ. 2012)
Length: 373 pages
Format: Trade Paperback
Series: Inspecter Gamache, #8
Setting: Québec, Canada
Genre: Police Procedural
Source: Purchased in 2020.

Pub. data for How the Light Gets In

Publisher: Sphere, 2018 (orig. publ. 2013)
Length: 534 pages
Format: Trade Paperback
Series: Inspecter Gamache, #9
Setting: Québec, Canada (Three Pines, Montréal)
Genre: Police Procedural
Source: Purchased in 2020.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021


Rose City Reader is hosting a TBR Challenge. It is called the TBR 21 in '21 Challenge. The idea is to read 21 books from your TBR shelf in 2021. "TBR" counts as any book that was on your shelf prior to January 1, 2021. "Shelf" includes your ebook reader and audiobooks you own, but it doesn't include library books. 

The rules and sign up for the challenge are here. Rose City Reader's sign up post is here.

I love this idea -- I like picking a specific number of books and I like visuals. I went through my shelves pulling books for the challenge but I will have to put them all back because I don't have a shelf I can devote to this purpose. 

I was aiming at books on my TBR purchased prior to 2020. The only exception on my list is The Travelers by Chris Pavone, which I purchased in mid-2020. 

Here are the books I selected:

In case some of the titles are hard to read, here's a list:

  • Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
  • The Sirens Sang of Murder by Sarah Caudwell
  • Human Croquet by Kate Atkinson
  • The Small Boat of Great Sorrows by Dan Fesperman. Second book in a series of two books. Set in Bosnia, Germany, and Italy.
  • The Travelers by Chris Pavone
  • Murder in the Place of Anubis by Lynda S. Robinson
  • Vanish by Tess Gerritsen. Fifth book in the Jane Rizzoli and Maura Isles series. I read the fourth book in 2011 and I have had this one on my TBR since then.
  • Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama, The Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution by Diane McWhorter. This book was the 2002 Pulitzer Prize Winner in General Nonfiction.
  • Bangkok 8 by John Burdette
  • Goodnight Sweet Prince by David Dickinson
  • The End of Your Life Book Club by David Schwalbe
  • Case for Three Detectives by Leo Bruce
  • Don't Look Back by Karin Fossum
  • Wife of the Gods by Kwei Quartey
  • A Carrion Death by Michael Stanley
  • Village School by Miss Read
  • Death Has a Small Voice by Frances and Richard Lockridge
  • Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood by Mark Harris
  • Mad About the Boy? by Delores Gordon-Smith
  • Lincoln at the Bardo by George Saunders
  • Three Stations by Martin Cruz Smith. The seventh book in the Arkady Renko series. I read the sixth book in 2008 and I have had this one on my TBR since 2010.

If you have any thoughts on these books, please let me know.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Short Story Wednesday: Stories from Home Schooling by Carol Windley

I honestly don't know how I happened upon this book, except that I always have an eye open for books by Canadian authors. This one seemed especially appealing because the stories are all set in the Pacific Northwest, and many of them are set primarily on Vancouver Island.

The first three stories in the book focus on some upheaval or major change in the characters' lives. These events are seen mainly from one character's point of view, although multiple characters may be affected. At the center of each story is children and their families.

I was rooting for that central point of view character in each story, which was always one of the children, but sometimes there was no real resolution. That is realistic, but I found it somewhat unsatisfactory. Yet, I kept thinking about all three stories after I had finished them. They stuck in my mind. The writing was very good. I would have read the stories just for the author's way with words. 

My favorite of these three stories is "Family in Black." 

It is a familiar story of a family split by divorce and children adapting to two households. The point of view character is Nadia, a teenager as the story begins, out of high school by the time it ends. Her mother leaves her father for a wealthy logging contractor. Everyone in both families has to change and adapt, but this story focuses on Nadia's relationships with her mother's new family, including the new husband's daughter who is about the same age as Nadia. There is also a theme of environmental issues and climate change.

There is a great quote in the story, from a bookstore owner:

He'd always had a fondness for books, he said; the way their spines lined up on a shelf; the prickly sense of expectation and dread in just taking one down and opening it.

I did have one quibble with "Family in Black." The novel, Rebecca, comes up, and the ending is revealed, in detail. I have read the book, years and years ago, and seen the movie, but still that bothered me. 

I also read:

"What Saffi Knows"

A woman remembers events in her childhood related to the disappearance of a child. Very affecting.

"Home Schooling"

A couple runs a private school, but the school is shut down due the accidental drowning of a 10-year-old student. With no students at the school, the school reverts to a farm and the couple continue to home school their teenage daughters. A complex story, and one with a nebulous ending.

I will continue reading the remaining five stories in the next couple of months.