Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Short Story Wednesday: "Three Times Loser" by Michael Gilbert

Todd Mason at Sweet Freedom sent me several links to archive versions of old mystery magazines in comments on my last Short Story Wednesday post. One of those links was to some Ellery Queen magazines at Archive.org. I looked at a few of the issues, and picked a short story by Michael Gilbert to read from this issue:

Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, Vol. 29, No. 5, MAY, 1957.

"Three Times Loser" by Michael Gilbert

This is a somewhat humorous, somewhat sad story of a young boy who gets in trouble several times as he grows older. Each time he is looking for recognition of some sort.

Tom Carney was born into a large family which lived in "a depressed part of Swansea" in the 1930s. For the most part they were a happy family. The parents and older children had jobs, but the youngest two children were still living at home and going to school. Tom, the youngest, was unhappy because he wanted to be taken seriously. His first "prank" was quite serious and dangerous, although he may have been, at age six, too young to realize this. Tom spends a lot of time and effort preparing for his exploit, but he doesn't succeed, even with his sister Dilys's help. Tom is dismayed because his father laughs at him when he fails. Over the years, he plots more harmful behaviors towards others.

This is a far as I want to go in a description of the story because it is very short. Michael Gilbert tells a good story and tells it in a light-hearted way, so the reader doesn't know what to expect. The ending is definitely troubling and unsettling.

From what I can tell, the story was first published in The Evening Standard, Sept 15 1954 as "Twm Carney."

I chose this story to read because I had enjoyed Michael Gilbert's short stories about two spies, Mr. Calder and Mr. Behrens. I have also read five of his novels and plan to read more.

I used this link to access the story online. Per Wikipedia, the story was published (as "Twm Carney") in a collection titled Even Murderers Take Holidays and Other Mysteries, in 2007, which appears to be scarce and very expensive. 

Monday, November 27, 2023

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet: Becky Chambers


I was influenced to buy this book after reading a review at Cath's blog, Read-Warbler. I am so glad I did.

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet is a space opera. To get away from an unhappy event in her past, Rosemary Harper (not her real name) joins the small crew of a ship that creates tunnels through space for faster travel. She is the clerk, taking care of ordering and forms and such. Some of the crew is human and others are various types of aliens.

The captain of the ship, Ashby, has contracted with the Galactic Commons to create a tunnel to allow travel to a planet belonging to the Toremi Ka, an alien species new to membership in the GC. The Toremi Ka are kind of scary and not much is known about them, so the reasons for the new alliance are questionable. But the job provides a good payday for Ashby and his crew.

My Thoughts:

I liked the various aliens and their different gifts, needs and culture. The author did a great job with differentiating between the characters. 

All the characters are nice, almost too nice. Only Corbin, the algae specialist, is obnoxious, and even he has morals. He is more on the focused, self-centered side and finds it hard to compromise. Many of the characters are quirky and everyone has to learn to accept the quirks on a long journey in a small ship. It reminds me of the characters on various Star Trek TV shows.

This article at TOR.com describes Becky Chambers books as sort of feel-good, comfort reads. There is tension and conflict but the basic theme seems to be that being kind, thoughtful, and accepting of other beings is important.

The book is over 400 pages long, which is sometimes a challenge for me, but this time I was sad when I finished reading the book because I enjoyed the world it created so much. This is the first book in the Wayfarers series by Becky Chambers, and I already have the 2nd book, and two other books not in the series. I think I could reread this one again when I have finished the rest of the author's books.


Publisher:  Harper Voyager, 2016 (orig. pub. 2014)
Length:      438 pages
Format:     Trade paperback
Series:      Wayfarers, #1
Setting:     Space
Genre:      Science Fiction
Source:     I purchased this book in 2022.

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Short Story Wednesday: Leopold's Way


Leopold's Way is a collection of short stories by Edward D. Hoch (1930-2008). Hoch wrote over 900 short stories. Starting in 1962, he had a short story published in every issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery magazine for 34 years. Over the years, he had many series characters in his short stories. I am a newbie to the Hoch's stories. I have purchased several collections of Hoch's stories, but have only sampled stories from a few of them.

This short story collection, originally published in 1985, contains stories featuring Captain Leopold, the head of the Violent Crimes Squad of a police department in a fictional city in Connecticut. The book has an excellent introduction by Francis M. Nevins, which gives an overview of many of the series characters that Hoch created, and goes into more detail about Captain Leopold and the stories featuring that character. By the end of 1984, when the introduction was written, Hoch had published 72 stories about Captain Leopold. Now I believe that the total is over 100 stories.

Recently I read the first five stories in the collection. They were all good but I did have my favorites. A few of the stories had ambiguous endings, leaving the reader to decide how the situation was resolved. I usually like that kind of ending fine and they worked for me here.

The stories:

A ten-year-old boy is found dead in "Circus." He was walking to the circus from his home, which was nearby. The solution to this one was unexpected and sad.

"Death in the Harbor" starts with the death of a man who was alone on his yacht. At first the police assume it was suicide, but later there are more deaths in the harbor. Captain Leopold starts an investigation into skindivers in the area. This one also had an unexpected ending, at least for me. 

"A Place for Bleeding" is a murder / kidnapping story. I thought the resolution for that one was pretty obvious, but still a good story.

In "Reunion," Captain Leopold is visited by Harry Tolliver, a man who went to high school with Leopold and graduated the same year. Twenty five years later, Harry wants to plan a reunion, and asks Leopold for assistance. All he has to do is locate thirteen people from the yearbook and contact them. Leopold is reluctant but agrees to help. Later Harry will regret getting Leopold involved, when the death of one of the students from their graduation class comes up again.

In "The House by the Ferris," a woman is accused of killing a man who owns an amusement park. The wife of the dead man says that Stella Gaze is a witch who foretold the death of her husband and his three other business partners. Stella Gaze is an old woman who lived in a house on the property to be developed for the amusement park, and the park was built up around her house when she refused to sell the house. This is probably the most creepy of the five stories.

The last two stories are my favorites in this group. I hope to be reading more of these stories soon, because there is a Christmas story later in the book.

Other resources: 

George Kelly's review, including a list of the stories.

A list of Hoch's series detectives and short stories in collections, as of July 2018, at Mysteries, Short and Sweet.

Mike Grost's page on Edward D. Hoch.

Saturday, November 11, 2023

Wanderlust Bingo Challenge

I am joining in on the Wanderlust Bingo challenge that is hosted at FictionFan's Book Reviews. It was initially announced in January 2023. I have been planning to join this all year and just now have decided to start working on it in earnest. The goal is to read about countries from all over the world, in either nonfiction or fiction books. 

The card includes various areas in the world, plus topics such as Beach, Village, River, Island. FictionFan gives her home country of Scotland a square of its own.

The Bingo card is below:

Any type of book will count – crime, fiction, science fiction, non-fiction. However, two requirements are (1) that a country can be used only once and (2) a book can only fill one box.

You might notice that the card notes the years of the challenge in 2023 and 2024. Since I am starting at the end of the year, I will probably run over into 2025 but that is fine.

There is one book I read in April 2023 that I intend to include in this challenge: The Blind Man of Seville by Robert Wilson. Other than that I will probably use books I read in the future from this date on. 

You can check out FictionFan's post for this challenge and her latest update is here

Thursday, November 9, 2023

Books Read in September and October


I am late in reporting on my reading for the previous two months. I read 7 books in September and 6 books in October. Most of the books were crime fiction, but I did read one nonfiction book and three non-genre fiction books. All in all it was two months of good reading. 


Something Wholesale (1962) by Eric Newby

This is a memoir by Eric Newby, a renowned British travel writer. It is mostly about the years he was working in the family garment business. I plan to read more books by this author. My review here.

General Fiction

The People on Platform 5 (2022) by Clare Pooley

I first saw this book at Cath's Read-warbler blog. Her review was posted in early September and I had read this by September 17th, so I must have purchased it almost immediately. This book is contemporary fiction about a group of people who commute to work by train at the same time every day. They never talk to each other, until one day there is an event that brings them together, eventually. The central character is Iona Iverson, 57 years old, working for a magazine as an advice columnist. She is treated abysmally at work, although at one time her writing for the magazine was in different areas and in very much demand. The remaining characters were of various ages, including a teenager in school and adults of various ages in different work environments. I loved this book. Each person has their talents that they end up sharing  with others, and each has a problem that needs to be solved. Some of the results were predictable, but not all. The US title of this book is Iona Iverson's Rules for Commuting.

Today a Woman Went Mad in the Supermarket: Stories (2020) by Hilma Wolitzer

This short story collection contains 13 stories by Hilma Wolitzer. Eight of the stories in the book are vignettes of events in the life of a couple, Howard and Paulie (Paulette), starting with a story about the birth of their first child. Some of these are funny, some are sad, and all are told from the point of view of the wife. My review here.

I Capture the Castle (1948) by Dodie Smith

Rose (20), Cassandra (17), and Thomas Mortmain (15) live with their father and stepmother in a decrepit old house that is attached to an equally decrepit castle. The setting is the English countryside in the 1930s. This book is beloved by many and has many good points but I did not enjoy reading it. My review here.

Crime Fiction

The Eighth Detective (2020) by Alex  Pavesi

This is a mystery with an unusual structure. Grant McAllister, a professor of mathematics, wrote a mathematical theory of the structure of mystery stories and published a book in the late 1930s with seven short stories to illustrate his theory. He then moved to a remote island and retired. Thirty years later a company wants to republish the book of short stories and sends an editor to review the stories with him. This book includes the text of all seven stories, so it is almost like reading a short story book. See my review.

Death in the Fifth Position (1952) by Edgar Box

From 1952-1954, Gore Vidal wrote three mystery novels as Edgar Box. They all featured public relations specialist Peter Sargeant. This first book in the series is set in the world of ballet in New York. I liked the characters, the picture of a ballet production, and the time setting. I also read the third book in the series, Death Likes it Hot.

Generation Loss (2007) by Elizabeth Hand 

This is the first of four books in the Cass Neary series. The main character is a photographer who was famous for one book she published in the 1970s, but she has gone downhill since, and has mostly spent her time working in a bookstore, not pursuing her photography. An old friend offers her the opportunity to interview her idol, Aphrodite Kamestos, who now lives on a secluded island in Maine. The setting is fantastic, dark and cold and threatening. My review here.

Messenger of Truth (2006) by Jacqueline Winspear

This is a series that many readers love but I did not get past the third book. After 11 years I tried the fourth book; I liked it better than the first three books but still did not like it that much. I didn't connect with any of the characters, but I do like the picture of life in the UK in 1931. I am not giving up and I have several more books in the series that I got at the book sale in September.

Greenwood (2019) by Michael Christie

This is a multigenerational family story with a focus on nature and ecology, especially trees. The author is Canadian and the story is set in various parts of Canada. It starts in a dystopian future in 2038 but soon travels back to follow the previous generations of the Greenwood family. This book was nominated for Best Novel by the Crime Writers of Canada in 2020, and it won, but I have yet to figure out why it was considered crime fiction. There are crimes that take place, and mysteries that run through the story, but it is not like any other crime fiction I have read. It is a great read in any case. My review here.

Gambit (1962) by Rex Stout

Rex Stout is my favorite author, so of course I loved this book. I had not read it in years because I can remember the ending. The Nero Wolfe series is fun to read because Wolfe has so many quirks. He hates to leave his home, thus he needs Archie Goodwin to do the legwork for him. He loves spending time caring for his orchids and eating good food. However, this book has one of the most straightforward plots of the 33 novels that Rex Stout wrote. Less of the quirks are evident or emphasized. My review is here.

Something Wicked (1983) by E.X. Ferrars

This is the first in the Andrew Basnett series.  This book is set around Christmas although the Christmas setting is not a focal point. Andrew Basnett is a retired botanist, widowed, in his mid-seventies. He is living in his nephew's house while his nephew is away; all the neighbors in the surrounding area are strange, and many of them are unlikeable. I have liked everything I have read by Ferrars, including this book. However, I would not start here if you have never read anything by this author. She is known as Elizabeth Ferrars in the UK. 

Vera Wong's Unsolicited Advice for Murderers (2023) by Jesse Q. Sutanto

Vera Wong is sixty years old, widowed, and lives alone above her tea shop in San Francisco. One morning when she goes downstairs to start on her walk, there is a dead body of a man on the floor of her tea shop, a man she does not recognize. See my review.

The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle (2018) by Stuart Turton

This book is a roller coaster ride that takes the reader to a world that doesn't make sense. The author describes it as a "time travelling, body hopping murder mystery novel."  A man wakes up with amnesia, and when he finds a decrepit old country house nearby, complete with butler and guests, he is told that he is Sebastian Bell, a doctor. Later in the day, he wakes up in another body and realizes that this is not just a case of amnesia. Along the way he finds out that he has a mission to find out who is going to kill Evelyn Hardcastle, and only by doing this can he be returned to his previous life, which he has no memory of. The entire story was very confusing but I enjoyed it. I was disappointed in the ending. It wasn't that it wasn't a satisfying solution, but there was not enough explanation of the machinations of body hopping. The journey was wonderful, but the destination was not, at least for me.

The photos in this post are of some flowers we planted together in a pot in early summer. The one below is a geranium (or pelargonium) but the plant at the top I can't identify. The geraniums in the pot are still blooming beautifully, in the back, even with no sun. The other plants don't last so long.

Photos taken and processed by my husband. Click on the images for the best viewing quality.

Tuesday, November 7, 2023

Short Story Wednesday: Larry Niven's Known Space


Recently my son told me about Larry Niven's Known Space stories and novels. The books he has are two spin-off Man-Kzin Wars anthologies. The first book, The Man-Kzin Wars, began with an early story by Larry Niven, "The Warriors," and includes two novellas by other authors.

I then looked into overviews of the tales of Known Space. I purchased ebook copies of Three Books of Known Space and Neutron Star. Three Books of Known Space has a number of short stories plus two novels, Worlds of Ptavvs and A Gift from Earth. Neutron Star is a short story collection. 

These are the stories I have read from those books:

"The Coldest Place" (in Three Books of Known Space)

This was Niven's first published short story; it first appeared in Worlds of If, December 1964.

There are two characters, Eric and Howie. Eric had a terrible accident; his brain and spinal cord was saved and integrated into a spaceship. He and Howie travel together on missions. When they are in space, they are mutually dependent for their survival. On this trip they are visiting Mercury.

"Becalmed in Hell" (in Three Books of Known Space)

This story also features Eric and Howie. On this trip they visit Venus. I liked both stories about Eric and Howie; they are entertaining and humorous.

"The Warriors"  (in Three Books of Known Space and The Man-Kzin Wars)

This was the first story that Niven offered for publication but it wasn't accepted for publication until 1966. It was also the first encounter between humans and the kzinti. According to the larryniven.net site: "Kzin are larger than Humans, a large male Kzin may be eight feet tall and weigh nearly 500 pounds. They are bipeds, standing erect on short legs. They have bright orange fur with individualized black markings, which most commonly appear on the face and hands. They are powerfully built, with thick limbs and torso." Per Niven's introduction to The Man-Kzin Wars, the kzinti in "The Warriors" are not so well defined at that point.

This one was also a very good story. The kzinti in a spaceship see an alien ship in the distance; a kzin telepath determines where they are going, etc. The kzin Captain wants to kill all the people on board the alien ship, then find out what world they come from, and take it over. The alien ship's crew are humans from Earth on a colony ship heading to the planet We Made It.

"Neutron Star" (in the Neutron Star short story collection)

This story was very full of science facts (and fiction) that almost overwhelmed me. Maybe my brain hasn't recovered from the time change yet. But it was a good read and entertaining. A pilot in need of a job takes on a mission to go to a neutron star and figure out why the previous mission failed. This story starts out on the planet called We Made It.

So, I have questions. Do I need to read more books by Larry Niven before I read novellas from the Man-Kzin Wars spin-off series? Does order matter within the Known Space books? I did find some articles online that address this but the answers vary.