Monday, July 4, 2022

Books Read in June 2022



In June I read seven books, six of them from my 20 Books of Summer list. I enjoyed all of them, so it has been a good reading month.

And here are the books I read...


General Fiction

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine (2017) by Gail Honeyman

I loved this book. Most reviews talked about how funny it was; I found it much more serious. It is about a woman who is socially awkward, in this case as a result of traumatic events in her past. It was set in Glasgow, and I felt that the setting was used very well.



Historical Fiction

The Assault (1982) by Harry Mulisch

This was a great read, brief and straightforward. Set in the Netherlands, it starts with a horrendous event that occurs near the end of World War II in the Netherlands. This novel takes that one event and shows how it affected the people who were involved.  It continues up to 1980. The story is based on a real event that happened during the war. My full review here.


Fantasy

Lincoln in the Bardo (2017) by George Saunders

I am not very comfortable describing this book as fantasy, I think it is more a blend of historical fiction and magical realism. And it is full of supernatural elements. But that is the problem with labeling books and a topic for another day. The story is set in 1862 in the first year of the Civil War in the US. President Lincoln's eleven-year-old son, Willie, has died and Lincoln visits his body at the crypt several times. As I understand it, one definition of the bardo is a transitional stage between death and rebirth. I liked reading the book, but I am sure I missed a lot and much of it mystified me.



Crime Fiction

The Long Goodbye (1953) by Raymond Chandler

We recently purchased a Blu-ray version of The Long Goodbye starring Elliott Gould, and I wanted to read the book before watching the film again (after 20 years). This is one of the best books in the Philip Marlowe series; I liked it nearly as well at The Big Sleep. It is the sixth book in the series and it seemed more aimless than the other three I have read. Marlowe is more cynical and there is more social commentary. All of which I enjoyed. And the writing is beautiful.


Some Die Eloquent (1979) by Catherine Aird

This is the eighth book in Catherine Aird's police procedural series; I enjoyed all the previous books in this series and this was no exception. This one is about a chemistry teacher who has died at 59 of complications from diabetes. The police get involved when they realize she has just come into a lot of money. Of course there are plenty of suspects, mostly family members. (And I love this cover. Look at the colors of those gorgeous flowers.)


A Quiet Life in the Country (2014) by T. E. Kinsey

This is a historical mystery series with a lot of humor. I was attracted by the premise of a lady and her maid solving mysteries, but I was not sure how that would work given the class differences in England in 1908. Lady Hardcastle and her maid Flo are more friends than mistress and servant, and each has skills that complement the other. The early 1900s is a time that I haven't read much about (in fiction or nonfiction). I really like the characters. Cath at Read-warbler recommended this book, and I am so glad I read it. I have already started reading the second book in the series. 


A Pitying of Doves (2015) by Steve Burrows

The second book in the Birder Murder Mystery Series. The protagonist is DCI Domenic Jejeune and the setting is the Norfolk town of Saltmarsh. At this point, DCI Jejeune is still new to the area. He originally came from Canada, then worked in London. He clashes with his immediate superior quite often. So not a lot different from the usual police procedural series except for the emphasis on birding and the beautiful surroundings. I will be continuing this series.


Currently reading

At this point in July I am reading:

  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • In the Market for Murder by T. E. Kinsey
  • Agatha Christie: A Mysterious Life by Laura Thompson

None of those are on my 20 Books of Summer list. The Great Gatsby is my Classics Club Spin book.



The photos at the top and bottom of the post are of chalk paintings at the I Modannari Italian Street Painting Festival at the Santa Barbara Mission this year. Click on the images for best viewing quality.


Wednesday, June 29, 2022

The Assault: Harry Mulisch

The Assault by Harry Mulisch was a great read, brief and straightforward, and very effective. Set in the Netherlands, it starts with a horrendous event during World War II.

Near the end of the war, when many countries in Europe had been liberated, the Netherlands was still occupied. A policeman in the city of Haarlem, who was collaborating with the Germans, was shot down in a small neighborhood. Reprisals are taken and many people are killed, including children. This novel takes that one event and shows how it affected the people who were involved.  It continues up to 1980. 


The focus of the novel is on Anton Steenwijk, who is only 12 years old when the event happens. It follows him through important times in his life, each of which trigger memories and emotions in him.

The story is based on a real event that happened during the war, although I have no idea how closely it follows the actual event.

This historical novel about World War II was very different from others I have read. I found the writing style mesmerizing. Along the way there are revelations and surprises both for Anton and the reader. I especially like that the story focuses on a child and how he carries the trauma of the war with him throughout his life. 


This book was recommended to me by Patricia Abbott at Pattinase. Also see Sam Sattler's review at Book Chase.


 -----------------------------

Publisher:   Pantheon, 2016 (orig. pub. 1982)
Translated from the Dutch by Claire Nicolas White
Length:       185 pages
Format:       Trade Paperback
Setting:       Netherlands, World War II
Genre:        Historical Fiction
Source:       A recent purchase.

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Short Story Wednesday: Murder at the Foul Line



Today I am featuring two stories from Murder at the Foul Line, edited by Otto Penzler, and published in 2006. I have had this book for a long, long time. This one and Murder in the Rough, also edited by Penzler. This book got buried under a pile of books and I had almost despaired of ever finding it.

The theme for stories in this book is basketball, obviously. The subtitle is "Original Tales of Hoop Dreams and Deaths from Today’s Great Writers." I was a basketball fan for about a decade of my life, in the 1990s. I watched professional basketball games, focusing on the Lakers games of course. So I know enough about basketball to enjoy reading about the game but I am no expert.



The first story I read was "Shots" by S. J. Rozan. I have discussed short stories and novels by Rozan several times on this blog. Her Lydia Chin and Bill Smith series is one of the few contemporary mystery series that I keep up with, buying each book as it comes out. Lydia and Bill often work together on cases. Each book in the series is narrated by either Lydia or Bill.

This is a story featuring only Bill Smith and it was my fondness for the character and Rozan's writing that pulled me in. It was like getting a mini-dose of the series. The story was fairly long, 42 pages. 

The story is set in New York, and the team is the Knicks. Tony Manzoni, an investigator that Bill had worked with in the past, is one of the suspects in the murder of a star player for the Knicks, Damon Rome. The evidence is all circumstantial, but he is the prime suspect because he was playing around with the player's wife and he and Rome had a fight shortly before the murder. Bill takes on the case with the goal of finding out who really did it. He questions the wife, members of the team and those connected to management, etc. Nobody really liked Damon Rome and most people questioned don't have an alibi. It is a quiet story but I liked it.


The next story I read was "White Trash Noir" by Michael Malone. I have read novels by this author and one other short story, but now I can see I need to read more of his short stories. According to copyright dates in Murder at the Foul Line, this story was first published in 2006, but actually it first came out in a 2002 in a collection of Malone's short stories, Red Clay, Blue Cadillac: Stories of Twelve Southern Women (which is on my bookshelves). 

In "White Trash Noir," Charmain Luby Markell tells the story of her life leading up to when she killed her husband, at age 24. She is in court, on trial for that crime. Her lawyer wants her to get on the stand and tell her story; he is afraid that she will get the death penalty if she doesn't. As he says to Charmain: "This is Murder One, Charmain. You just cannot kill your husband in the state of North Carolina if he played ACC basketball." Charmain is more worried that her husband's parents will get custody of her young son. A fantastic story. Very emotional.


Monday, June 13, 2022

Reading Summary for May 2022



May was an unusual reading month for me. I read only one crime fiction book. I also read three general fiction books, the first three books in the Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell. I did not plan to read the books in that series in succession, it just happened. Each time I finished a book in the series I found a copy of the next book and started reading it as soon as it arrived.  I have a copy of the fourth book on the Kindle, and I will be reading it soon.

And here are my thoughts on what I have read...


Crime Fiction


Unruly Son (1978) by Robert Barnard

This book was published in the UK as Death of a Mystery Writer. The main character is an obnoxious and overbearing mystery author who has made many enemies and insulted just about everyone he encounters. His wife and daughter love him, or at least tolerate him, but his two sons don't have much good to say about him. Of course, all of his children would like to inherit his money. So when he dies by poisoning they are the first persons the police consider as suspects. This was a very good read, which I expected because Robert Barnard is one of my favorite authors. He rarely disappoints me. 




General Fiction 


Justine (1957) by Lawrence Durrell

Rick Robinson at Tip the Wink recommended this book to me, and I am so glad he did. The setting is Alexandria, Egypt in the years before World War II. The main character is the unnamed narrator, who is having an obsessive affair with Justine, the Jewish wife of a rich business man in Alexandria, Egypt. The protagonist is an Irish writer, not very successful and with little money; he is romantically involved with Melissa,  a Greek dancer, at the same time. In addition to the narrator, this book focuses on Melissa, Nessim, and Justine. My summary does not do justice to the novel, but I am wary of revealing too much of the plot. 

The writing is beautiful, and the depiction of Alexandria in the pre-war years is well done, but the story is not told in a linear fashion so at times it was hard for me to follow. Nevertheless, I was eager to read the next book.



Balthazar (1958) by Lawrence Durrell

In Book 2 of the Alexandria Quartet, the Irish writer continues narrating the story, but in this part of the quartet, he has received a copy of his novel (the story told in Justine) from Balthazar, plus Balthazar's copious notes about his text. Balthazar is a doctor and a teacher of the Kabbalah. The narrator has studied the Kabbalah with Bathazar. 

The notes cause the narrator to examine again the events reported in Justine and come up with a completely different interpretation.


Mountolive (1958) by Lawrence Durrell

Mountolive, the third book in the Alexandria Quartet, introduces a new major character, David Mountolive. He was a minor character in the first two books. This story is told in third person and is taking place at the same time as the events in Books 1 and 2. The focus is on Mountolive's return to Alexandria as the British Ambassador and his relationship with Nessim, Nessim's mother, and his brother Narouz. This one introduces political relationships and intrigues that were not directly touched on in previous books.

I did not prefer one book over another, but as each book added more information (and surprises) about the characters and their motivations, my enjoyment of the overall story was increased.



Currently Reading

At this point in June, I have read three books for my 20 Books of Summer list.

  • The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler
  • A Pitying of Doves by Steve Burrows 
  • Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders



The photos at the top and bottom of the post are of Rosie the cat, both taken by my husband. Click on the images for best viewing quality.


Thursday, June 9, 2022

Classics Club Spin #30

 

The latest Classics Club Spin has been announced and I have chosen twenty books from my classics list. The choices are very close to my last list, so no big surprises here.

On Sunday June 12th, 2022, the Classics Club will post a number from 1 through 20. The goal is to read whatever book falls under that number on my Spin List by August 7th, 2022. (And ideally, I would review it by then.)


Here is my list of 20 books for the spin.


  1. Things Fall Apart (1958) by Chinua Achebe   [209 pages]
  2. The Talented Mr. Ripley (1955) by Patricia Highsmith
  3. The Sign of Four (1890) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle 
  4. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1892) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  5. The Great Gatsby (1925) by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  6. The Quiet American (1958) by Graham Greene   [180 pages]
  7. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (1940) by Carson McCullers
  8. The Wind in the Willows (1908) by Kenneth Grahame 
  9. A Wrinkle in Time (1962) by Madeleine L'Engle
  10. The Thirteen Clocks (1950) by James Thurber
  11. Anna Karenina (1878) by Leo Tolstoy  [over 800 pages]
  12. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1964) by Roald Dahl
  13. My Ántonia (1918) by Willa Cather
  14. Goodbye to Berlin (1939) by Christopher Isherwood
  15. Dracula (1897) by Bram Stoker    [420 pages]
  16. Fahrenheit 451 (1953) by Ray Bradbury
  17. Jane Eyre (1847) by Charlotte Brontë [453 pages]
  18. The Postman Always Rings Twice (1934) by James Cain
  19. Sense and Sensibility (1811) by Jane Austen [411 pages]
  20. We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962) by Shirley Jackson



Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Short Story Wednesday: Weird Detectives



Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations, edited by Paula Guran, is another anthology from my son's book collection. This one was loaned to me and I am checking out the stories. The detectives in these stories are in some way involved with the supernatural. I have read cross-genre novels combining mystery and either fantasy or science fiction, and enjoyed them, but I wasn't so sure about short stories in that area.



I skipped the first story in the collection, "The Key" by Isla J. Bick. It was about a dead baby, and I wasn't reading that type of story on that day. Maybe I will come back to it. 


I moved on to the second story, "The Nightside, Needless to Say" by Simon R. Green. This was a story from Green's Nightside series, which stars John Taylor. The author describes the Nightside as "the secret, sick, magical heart of London. A city within a city, where the night never ends and it's always three o'clock in the morning. Hot neon reflects from rain-slick streets, and dreams go walking in borrowed flesh. You can find pretty much anything in the Nightside, except happy endings."

Taylor does not show up in this story but another character from the series does, Larry Oblivion.  Larry Oblivion is dead; he wants to figure out who killed him, and seeks revenge. This was a brief story (10 pages) and it was light, clever, and fun.


I skipped "The Adakian Eagle" by Bradley Denton, because it was novella length, but I will definitely come back to that one. It appears to be a World War II detective story with a supernatural element.


I then read "The Case of the Stalking Shadow" by Joe R. Lansdale. I have only read one short story by Lansdale, and none of his novels, but I have heard a lot of praise for his writing. I did enjoy this one a lot. The author's style of storytelling drew me in.

The main character is Dana Roberts; she tells about her first encounter with the supernormal, which lead to her becoming a detective of the supernormal. She and her cousin Jane both sense an evil presence in the woods near their aunt's house when they are children. When they are in college they return to the site of that experience to see if it is still there. 


The last story I read was "Hecate's Golden Eye," a novelette by P. N. Elrod. It stars Jack Fleming, a vampire detective, who has interesting gifts that he can use in detection. His partner, Charles Escott, is just a normal man, but they work well together. In this case they have been hired to recover a valuable pendant that has been stolen from their client. The setting is 1937 Chicago; I liked that, and the story has good pacing with several twists and surprises. 

There is a series of novels by Elrod featuring Jack Fleming which I would like to try some day. 


So, having tried several stories in this book, my reaction is positive. I did not run into one I did not like.

The stories were introduced in a way that did not tell too much about the story. In one or two sentences, the case is described. This is followed by a brief description of the detective(s). 

And each story is followed by some notes about the author, which I always like to read.