Sunday, November 17, 2019

Les Misérables: Victor Hugo


This book was quite a challenge to read in its entirety–1230ish pages in my edition–but it was a journey worth taking. The translator, Norman Denny, has written an introduction to the book, explaining the liberties that he has taken in translating the text. Two appendixes (one about convents, one about argot) were removed from the text and banished to the end of the book but they are not that long, so I read them too.

Description from the edition I read:
Victor Hugo’s tale of injustice, heroism and love follows the fortunes of Jean Valjean, an escaped convict determined to put his criminal past behind him. But his attempts to become a respected member of the community are constantly put under threat: by his own conscience, when, owing to a case of mistaken identity, another man is arrested in his place; and by the relentless investigations of the dogged policeman Javert. It is not simply for himself that Valjean must stay free, however, for he has sworn to protect the baby daughter of Fantine, driven to prostitution by poverty.
A compelling and compassionate view of the victims of early nineteenth-century French society, Les Misérables is a novel on an epic scale, moving inexorably from the eve of the battle of Waterloo to the July Revolution of 1830.
Les Misérables is more than a story about Jean Valjean and the orphan girl he takes on as his responsibility; it also functions as a history of those times and a look at the social issues that concerned Hugo. And for me, both aspects of the book succeeded. I did not mind at all the side excursions into the Battle of Waterloo and convent life, etc.

However, the book is very long and it was hard to stay focused on it. I started reading it on January 1, 2018, as part of a chapter a day challenge. The book in its long version has 365 chapters, many of them quite short. But that approach did not work well for me and I was reading it in e-book format. About a third of the way through I switched to a paperback copy, but that still did not keep me from reading in fits and starts. I will admit that parts of the book were a slog to read. Worth it in the end, of course. By the beginning of December 2018 I still had only read 800 pages. At that point I could not give up so I read the remaining 400 pages and finished at the end of January 2019.

Some parts of the story just flew by, and I was emotionally gripped by the story. The parts that diverted from the story and showed us a picture of France at the time were there for a reason and sometimes provided necessary background for the story. Yet they were slower to read and broke the momentum.

The last 150 pages of the book was a very emotional section of the book, pulling it all together, and I am glad I read the book. I don't recommend it to everyone, for the reasons I have mentioned above, but I will say that if you are interested, the book is worth trying and it has a lot to offer.

There are different translations of the unabridged book, and if you are interested in the differences, Brona's overview covers that very well.


 -----------------------------

Publisher:  Penguin Books, 1982 (orig. pub. 1862). 
Length:     1232 pages
Format:     Trade Paperback
Setting:     France
Genre:      Fiction, Classic
Source:    I purchased this book.
Translation from French by Norman Denny.


Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Death After Breakfast: Hugh Pentecost

I read the Pierre Chambrun novels by Hugh Pentecost years ago, and remember them fondly. Chambrun is the manager of a luxury hotel in New York. The narrator of the stories is Mark Haskell, the hotel’s public relations director.  He is devoted to Chambrun, as is the rest of the upper level staff.

Summary from the back cover of my paperback edition:
Something was terribly wrong. Pierre Chambrun, manager of the elegant Beaumont Hotel, was late for breakfast–an ominous sign for a man whose schedule ran with the precision of a fine Swiss watch. What's more, he was nowhere to be found.
But that was just the start. Suddenly a beautiful socialite is found dead in her suite. Suddenly the most prominent guests are under suspicion. Chambrun's loyal staff must find him and the missing piece in a deadly puzzle before ... a sadistic killer strikes again.
The problem with reading this particular story as my re-introduction to the series is that Chambrun is missing for a good bit of the story. Thus this is not typical of the series. Although Pierre Chambrun usually does the sleuthing in this series, in this story, Mark Haskell and the hotel's security chief, Jerry Dodd, are in the spotlight.

There really is not a lot of tension about whether Chambrun will be rescued, but there is the mystery as to who would abduct him and why. I actually did begin to suspect the reason as the plot progressed but that did not spoil the fun for me. And there is the complication of the murder of the hotel guest to solve.

I do think it is the setting of a luxury hotel, and the behind the scenes look at how it runs, that appeals the most to me.  Of course if the characters were not interesting, that might not be enough. I enjoyed reading this book, it was very nostalgic for me. I will read one or two more to see if the quality holds overall in the series and continues to entertain.

About the author:

Hugh Pentecost was a pseudonym used by Judson Philips. Philips wrote many, many mystery novels (over 100?), including standalone books and series about John Jericho, Uncle George Crowder, Luke Bradley, Pierre Chambrun, Julian Quist, Grant Simon, Dr. John Smith, and Peter Styles. But it is only his Pierre Chambrun series that I have read. Twenty two books in that series were published between 1962 and 1988.


 -----------------------------

Publisher: Dell, 1980 (orig. pub. 1978).
Length:    208 pages 
Format:    Paperback 
Series:     Pierre Chambrun
Setting:    New York City
Genre:     Mystery
Source:    I purchased this book at the Planned Parenthood book sale, 2019.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

The Woman in White: Wilkie Collins

This book is one of the first sensation novels. First published in 1859, it tells the story of a young woman  (Laura Fairlie) who marries unwisely and the man (Walter Hartright) who loves her and tries to rescue her from the clutches of an evil man.

First sentence:
This is the story of what a Woman's patience can endure, and what a Man's resolution can achieve.
And a few paragraphs later, the author tells us how the story will be told:
When the writer of these introductory lines (Walter Hartright by name) happens to be more closely connected than others with the incidents to be recorded, he will describe them in his own person. When his experience fails, he will retire from the position of narrator; and his task will be continued, from the point at which he has left it off, by other persons who can speak to the circumstances under notice from their own knowledge, just as clearly and positively as he has spoken before them.
Thus, the story here presented will be told by more than one pen, as the story of an offence against the laws is told in Court by more than one witness...

Walter Hartwright is seeking a job, and his good friend Pesco suggests a position that will fit him perfectly – drawing instructor to two young women. He seeks and gets this position. The two women he will be tutoring are half-sisters, Laura Fairlie and Marian Halcombe; they live with Frederick Fairlie, Laura's uncle and owner of Limmeridge House in Cumberlands.

One night before he leaves for his new position, Walter meets a mysterious woman in white who has a strange connection to Limmeridge House.  Once he arrives at his new home, he seeks more information about this woman, with little initial success.

That is the set up for the story and I did not even know that much when I started reading the book. I liked going into the story with little knowledge, so I will not elaborate on the plot any further.

I enjoyed this novel, very much more than I expected to. I had resisted reading The Woman in White for years. Even though it is a well-known crime fiction classic, I did not think I would enjoy the old-fashioned story (how wrong I was!). Even then I might have tried it if it had not been so long (in various editions, 600-700 pages).  Finally I overcame my prejudice when Judith at Reading in the Wilderness blogged about how much she enjoyed it.

As noted above, the story is told from various points of view, and that includes some incidents described in diary entries. I liked that approach. William Hartright starts out the tale and is one of the major players, but at times he is only on the fringes of the story.

My favorite character was Count Fosco, an Italian man with a mysterious past, and a close associate of Laura Fairlie's fiancé. Marian Halcombe is a very strong character, determined and loyal. I really hated Laura's uncle, Frederick Fairlie, who lived in his own private world and cared only for his own wants and needs. The author was successful at evoking strong reactions to the characters and their actions.

I liked the edition that I read, published by The Modern Library. There was an introduction by Anne Perry, which I read after I finished the book. The notes by Chris Willis were very useful to me.


 -----------------------------

Publisher:   Modern Library, 2002 (orig. pub. 1859)
Length:      643 pages
Format:      Trade Paperback
Setting:      England
Genre:       Classic Mystery; Sensation novel
Source:      I purchased my copy.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

The Manual of Detection: Jedediah Berry

My son bought this book at the book sale last year. We both read it recently, and we both enjoyed it. But it is very hard to describe. It is very, very odd.

Charles Unwin works in a large organization, each department having one function (detecting, clerking, watching, archives, etc.). Unwin is a clerk to a detective, Travis Sivart, that he has never met. He reads the detective's reports on cases, researches them, and edits them before filing them away. Two of the well-known cases are titled "The Oldest Murdered Man" and "The Man Who Stole November Twelfth." One day, out of the blue, Unwin is promoted and he discovers that Sivart is missing. He begins pursuing the case of the missing detective, and finds out more about the huge detective agency he works for than he ever wanted to know.


In many ways this book was perfect for me. It mixes both mystery and fantasy, the story is dark but with a good bit of humor, and I liked the ending. I also liked the plethora of female characters. Some were evil, some were good, and some were a mix, and I never was sure which was which and what their motivations were. At times it seemed like an espionage story, where you never know who to trust.

There were a few detractions. At times I was frustrated with this book, at times I had trouble keeping track of the characters, and most if the time I had no idea where the book was going, but at all times I enjoyed reading it. So it was a winner for me.

Other resources:


 -----------------------------

Publisher:  Penguin Books, 2010 (orig. pub. 2009). 
Length:     278 pages
Format:     Trade Paperback
Setting:     An unnamed city
Genre:      Mystery / Fantasy
Source:     Borrowed from my son.



Monday, November 4, 2019

What did I read in October 2019?


Another good month for reading. Mostly crime fiction, but I also read some non-fiction and a classic novella. And eight of the books were from my TBR piles, so that is good too.

Mystery Reference

American Noir: The Pocket Essential Guide to US Crime Fiction, Film & TV (2017)
by Barry Forshaw
I have read several mystery reference books by Barry Forshaw in the last few months, and this is my least favorite. There are some decent overviews of some very well-known authors, and the TV and movie coverage is good, but the other books he authored provided better coverage for specific geographical locations (the UK and Scandinavia) or types of mysteries (historical). Most of his mystery reference books, including this one, focus on contemporary, living crime writers.

Nonfiction / Self-help

The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning (2017) by Margareta Magnusson
The subtitle of this book is: How to Free Yourself and your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter. The book is full of humor and useful hints on how to cut down on possessions. I enjoyed it, and it is brief and not cutesy.

Fiction

Breakfast at Tiffany's (1958) by Truman Capote
Read for the Back to the Classics challenge and for the Classics Club Spin #21. See my thoughts here.

Crime Fiction

Dissolution (2003) by C.J. Sansom
I don't usually read historical mysteries just to learn about the time period. But in this case I could, the time period in this book is so interesting and I know so little about it. King Henry VIII is in power and is working to eliminate Roman Catholic monasteries in England. Matthew Shardlake, an attorney who works for Thomas Cromwell, is sent to look into, and resolve, a murder at a monastery in Scarnsea. Luckily the writing is very good, the characters are engaging, and the merging of historical facts and characters blends well into the story, so this is a good read all around.

Killer's Choice (1957) Ed McBain
I finally got back to reading the 87th Precinct series after four years. This is the 5th in the series. See my thoughts here.

Wicked Uncle (1947) by Patricia Wentworth
#12 in the Miss Silver series, also published as Spotlight. Many of the novels in this series feature a romance, to some extent. This one is heavy on the romantic aspect, and Miss Silver shows up only briefly toward the beginning and then comes in to help with the solution to the crime towards the end of the story. Actually I  liked these aspects of the story, but somehow this one did not impress me as much at the two previous Miss Silver books I had read. The post-war setting was very good, though.

Killed in the Ratings (1978) by William L. DeAndrea
This is an author I have been planning to read for years, and I finally did it. I have several of his books, from different series. Killed in the Ratings was DeAndrea's first novel, and he won the Edgar for Best First Novel. The novel's protagonist is Matt Cobb, who works in the TV industry as a troubleshooter. I will be reading more books by this author.

Bitter Recoil (1992) by Steven F. Havill
I read my first book in Steven F. Havill's 24-book series about Undersheriff Bill Gastner in September. I loved it so I promptly found a copy of this second book in the series, and I enjoyed it just as much. So now I am looking for book #3. This is definitely a series I recommend. 


Charlie M (1977) by Brian Freemantle
This is the first book in the Charlie Muffin espionage series, and I have been wanting to read it for years. It did not disappoint, and I already have the 2nd one so I will continue the series. 
The Hypnotist (2009) by Lars Kepler
#1 in the Joona Linna police procedural series. This book has many elements I don't care for: tons of violence and gore, much above the level I find acceptable; very long, 503 pages; characters behaving in ways I don't understand. But I did enjoy reading the book, and that is what counts. I will read another from this series when I happen upon a copy. Translated from the Swedish by Ann Long.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Some Favorite Authors from the Book Sale

Between September 20 - 28th of this year, we attended the Planned Parenthood book sale four times. I always get too many books, and you would think I would slow down. Not this year. Again I bought an insane amount of books, but I am happy with all that I bought.

Today I am featuring some books by forgotten authors that I found at the book sale.

I have become enamored with Anthony Price's David Audley espionage series and have had difficulties finding decent copies at a reasonable price. On the very last day of the sale I found five paperbacks by Anthony Price. What a treasure trove!

The  books in the series (19 in all) were written during the Cold War and are about an intelligence organization functioning at that time. A New Kind of War (1987) takes the reader back to a younger David Audley in Greece in 1945.

The other four books in this series that I bought are:
October Men (1973)
Our Man in Camelot (1975)
Sion Crossing (1984)
Here Be Monsters (1985)




Blood and Judgment (1959) by Michael Gilbert is the first novel featuring Patrick Petrella. He was also in a good number of short stories and one other novel. I have been looking for this novel for a while, so it was another wonderful find.

I have only read 4 novels by Michael Gilbert, but I liked them all. Plus one book of short stories about Calder and Behrens, British counter-intelligence agents (Game Without Rules). So I am thinking I will like the Patrick Petrella series also.

Other books by Michael Gilbert that I found:
Be Shot for Sixpence (1956)
After the Fine Weather (1963)
Flashpoint (1974)
The Killing of Katie Steelstock (1980)

And a short story collection:
Mr. Calder and Mr. Behrens (1982)







Hugh Pentecost was a pseudonym used by Judson Philips. Philips wrote many, many mystery novels, including standalone books and series about John Jericho, Uncle George Crowder, Luke Bradley, Pierre Chambrun, Julian Quist, Grant Simon, Dr. John Smith, and Peter Styles. But it is only his Pierre Chambrun series that I have read. Twenty two books were published between 1962 and 1988, although I am sure I did not read all of them. Chambrun is a hotel manager and I think it was that setting that was so fascinating when I read them years ago.

This year at the book sale I found Death after Breakfast (1978), Murder in High Places (1983), and Nightmare Time (1986) by Pentecost.


Another favorite author is Victor Canning, I discovered his books, especially the Birdcage series, at Existential Ennui. (Nick Jones also introduced me to Anthony Powell's series.) I found this lovely paperback copy of The Mask of Memory (1974), which is the next book in the series that I have been waiting to read.



Sunday, October 27, 2019

Breakfast at Tiffany's: Truman Capote

The story takes place over a year or two in New York, during World War II. A young man, an aspring writer, is the narrator.

The first paragraph of the book:
I am always drawn back to places where I have lived, the houses and their neighborhoods. For instance, there is a brownstone in the East Seventies where, during the early years of the war, I had my first New York apartment. It was one room crowded with attic furniture, a sofa and fat chairs upholstered in that itchy, particular red velvet that one associates with hot days on a train. The walls were stucco, and a color rather like tobacco-spit. Everywhere, in the bathroom too, there were prints of Roman ruins freckled brown with age. The single window looked out on a fire escape. Even so, my spirits heightened whenever I felt in my pocket the key to this apartment; with all its gloom, it still was a place of my own, the first, and my books were there, and jars of pencils to sharpen, everything I needed, so I felt, to become the writer I wanted to be.
This young man soon meets Holly Golightly, a free spirit, who has had a hard life (and she is only eighteen). She also lives in the brownstone, in a larger apartment; she has no job and spends most of her time socializing with wealthy people (mostly men) who give her money and presents. During the time the young writer and Holly are living in the brownstone, she  gradually reveals more about her past and herself. She always calls him "Fred" after her brother who is stationed overseas during the war.


I have seen the movie with Audrey Hepburn and to me it was depressing. I also found the story it is based on to be very sad. The portrait of Holly Golightly is even darker. But regardless of the mood it put me in, reading this book was a good experience. Truman Capote's writing is beautiful. The story is very well told, although I can hardly think of a character that I really liked.

Do I recommend this book? Yes, because it is worth reading Capote's writing. And it is short, just a novella. This edition also contains three stories: 'House of Flowers', 'A Diamond Guitar' and 'A Christmas Memory'. Which I have not read yet but plan to.

Here are some other opinions:



 -----------------------------

Publisher:   Vintage International, 2012 (orig. pub. 1958)
Length:       84 pages
Format:      Trade paperback
Setting:      New York City
Genre:       Fiction
Source:      I purchased my copy.



Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Paper Son: S. J. Rozan

The Lydia Chin / Bill Smith mystery series is one my favorite contemporary mystery series; the 11th book in the series was published in 2011.  After eight long years, another book has been published. I had no idea she was even working on it and as soon as I saw it, I purchased it and read it.

Paper Son is one of the best in the series. This book earned a starred review at Publishers' Weekly and I was glad to read the praise for the book and the author there and at Kirkus Reviews.


Summary from S.J. Rozan's website:
The Most Southern Place on Earth: that’s what they call the Mississippi Delta. It’s not a place Lydia Chin, an American-born Chinese private detective from Chinatown, NYC, ever thought she’d have reason to go. But when her mother tells her a cousin Lydia didn’t know she had is in jail in Clarksdale, Mississippi—and that Lydia has to rush down south and get him out—Lydia finds herself rolling down Highway 61 with Bill Smith, her partner, behind the wheel.
Other than being set in Mississippi, which is very different from New York, the big surprises here are that Lydia's mom, who has always disliked Lydia's profession, has requested that Lydia go help out a cousin in Mississippi, and that she insists that Bill Smith go along to help. She has also resisted Lydia's partnership with Bill for years.

The strongest point in previous books in the series is the characters. Lydia and Bill each have their own opinions and strengths. Each book also features other characters, such as Lydia's mom, that stand out and are interesting. The setting is often New York City's Chinatown, where Lydia lives and works. And, in addition, the mystery element is handled well.

Another joy in this book was reading about Lydia in a new environment and one I am pretty familiar with. I grew up in Alabama and I had relatives in the small town of Batesville, Mississippi. I visited them often in my childhood, and my husband and I made a special trip to Mississippi to visit them right before we got married.

This is a pretty good look at the South, without being over the top, not that I have spent a lot of time there in the last few years. Bill lets his southern roots show in this story, and I know exactly how that is. As soon as you are back in the South, a good bit of your Southern accent comes back. Lydia's reaction to sweet tea was humorous; the relative she and Bill stay with has a pitcher available at all times. I personally was never a fan of sweet tea and did not even have any until I was in college, but it is clearly popular throughout the South.

I would like to share this quote from The Irresponsible Reader:
Rozan’s at her strongest when in addition to the mystery, she’s using the circumstances around it to have Lydia and/or Bill explore another culture/sub-culture. She’s displayed this strength when helping her readers understand the Jewish refugees in the 1930’s who fled to Shanghai (The Shanghai Moon), Hong Kong (in Reflecting the Sky), Small Town High School Football (Winter and Night), the Contemporary Chinese Art scene (Ghost Hero), and so on. Here we get a Yankee perspective on Mississippi black/white relations (and a glance or two at how it differs from neighboring states), as well as a fascinating look at the Chinese in the Mississippi Delta in the late Nineteenth Century (which left me almost as shocked as Lydia). You give us that kind of history and commentary while delivering a solid mystery? It’s hard to ask for more.
If you are already a fan of this series, I highly recommend this book. If you haven't tried the others, I would read a couple of the earliest books in the series first, just to get a feel for Lydia and Bill's relationship in the early books. There is a definite progression of the partnership and their relationship in the series but each book can stand alone.


-----------------------------

Publisher:  Pegasus Books, 2011.
Length:      312 pages
Format:      Hardcover
Series:       Lydia Chin / Bill Smith, #12
Setting:      Mississippi
Genre:       Mystery
Source:      I purchased my copy.


Sunday, October 20, 2019

Annual Book Sale: My Son's Books


At the Planned Parenthood book sale that we attend every year, my son usually concentrates on the science fiction and fantasy books, plus graphic novels. He often finds books for me, by authors I especially like, such as Terry Pratchett and John Scalzi.

Here I am featuring eight of the books he bought for himself this year, and you will notice that a number of them are cross-genre, with a mystery element.

To see a larger view of the covers, click on the images.



A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab is the first book in the Shades of Magic series. The story is set in four parallel worlds with four parallel Londons. Only some magicians can travel back and forth between the worlds. Sounds like an interesting premise. My son is reading this book now and liking it.

Charles de Lint is an author I have heard of but know little about. Per Fantastic Fiction, he is a full-time writer and musician who makes his home in Ottawa, Canada. He has written more than seventy adult, young adult, and children’s books, and I believe that he primarily writes in the fantasy genre. Widdershins is the 11th book in the Newford series.



The Kirkus review says of Westside: "Akers’ debut novel is an addictively readable fusion of mystery, dark fantasy, alternate history, and existential horror." It is set in an alternate 1920s Manhattan. 

The Diviners is the first in a young adult fantasy series by Libba Bray. The setting sounds very interesting: 1920s New York City. It is also nearly 600 pages, which is not unusual for fantasy books.



Tor.com describes Fortune's Pawn as an "action-packed space romance" in this excellent overview. It is the first part of a series by Rachel Bach.

No Dominion by Charlie Huston is the 2nd book in the Joe Pitt series, set in New York City. Joe Pitt is a private investigator and vampire. There are five books in the series. 



Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations is an anthology of short stories featuring paranormal mysteries. I am always willing to try out some short stories, so I will probably borrow this one sometime.

Hard Magic by Larry Correia is another alternate history set in the 1920s and 1930s. Jake Sullivan is a private detective with magical abilities. There are two more books in the Grimnoir Chronicles Series and some short stories.



Saturday, October 19, 2019

Annual Book Sale: My Husband's Books

September 20th was the first day of the Planned Parenthood book sale that we attend every year. We go multiple times, and I always get too many books. My husband and son are more restrained. But we look forward to it each year and we always find unexpected treasures.

In this post I am highlighting some of my husband's purchases at the book sale. He looks for books in many genres: photography, history, social histories, mysteries, science fiction, and more. These are some of the mysteries and social histories that he found.

To see a larger view of the covers, click on the images.


My husband found seven mysteries in British Library Crime Classics editions.  The four pictured here are Death on the Riviera, The Cheltenham Square Murder, and The Lake District Murder by John Bude  and Murder in Piccadilly  by Charles Kingston.

John Bude wrote thirty crime novels between 1935 and his death in 1957. He worked in the theatre as a producer and director. Six of his books have been reissued by the British Library, and my husband found copies of all of them. There is a very good overview of John Bude's mysteries at Promoting Crime Fiction.

At the New York Journal of Books, D. R. Meredith describes Murder in Piccadilly as "a humorous mystery that will entertain the modern reader as much as it did at the time of its original publication in 1936." See full review here.


The DKA Files series by Joe Gores features a group of investigators who work for Daniel Kearny Associates, a firm specializing in repossessions of vehicles whose owners have defaulted on their loan payments. The setting is in and around San Francisco. These two books, 32 Cadillacs and Contract Null and Void, are the 4th and 5th books in the series. I have read the first novel in the series, Dead Skip, and enjoyed it very much.


And we conclude with two social histories. I think both will be very interesting.

  • An Elegant Madness: High Society in Regency England by Venetia Murray covers upper-class life during the years 1780-1830. 
  • The English Country House Party by Phyllida Barstow English gives an account of country house entertaining, from the death of Prince Albert in 1861 to the outbreak of World War I.


Wednesday, October 16, 2019

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn: Betty Smith

For years, I mistakenly thought that this was children's book, and I was not interested in reading it. When I researched the book and its history recently, I realized it was much more than that, but still wasn't sure I wanted to invest the time in it. In the end, I was glad that I did.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a story of poverty in the Williamsburg slums of Brooklyn. The focus is on Francie Nolan, the daughter of a waiter / singer who has a problem with alcohol and his wife who cleans the building they live in to pay the rent. Francie is very close to her father, but her mother favors her younger brother Neeley. Life was very hard for their family, often not having enough food, worrying about not having enough money for the basics and having to move to cheaper apartments as the father is able to bring in less money.


Although I found this a very hard book to read, I do recommend it to anyone who has not read it. While reading When Books Went to War by Molly Guptill Manning, I was surprised to learn of this book's huge popularity when distributed as an Armed Services Edition. I now understand why. It is a compelling read and the characters are fully fleshed out and realistic.  My focus in this post is on the parents and the two children, but the extended family and many people in the neighborhood are featured also.

Although I have stressed the negatives of the life the Nolan's led, there are uplifting moments. Francie's unquenchable thirst for reading and knowledge is inspiring, and she never gives up on getting more education. I did not enjoy reading about poverty and hunger, but the way this story was told, focusing on the love that was part of this family, reminded me that not having love in childhood could be worse than not having food.

The inequities of gender are also addressed, although at many times the women in this story were stronger than the men. Yet, there was the prevalent idea that it is important for men to get an education but not women.

I did watch the film after reading the book. It was pretty faithful to the novel and a very moving story. James Dunn won the Best Supporting Actor for his role as Johnny, Franny's father. Peggy Ann Garner as Francie, Dorothy McGuire as Katie Nolan, Joan Blondell as Katie's sister Sissy and Lloyd  Nolan as Officer McShane were also very effective in their roles.

See these reviews:



 -----------------------------

Publisher:   Harper, 2002 (orig. pub. 1943)
Length:       493 pages
Format:      Hardcover
Setting:      Brooklyn, New York
Genre:       Fiction
Source:      I purchased my copy.


Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Killer's Choice: Ed McBain

As the story opens, a liquor store has been robbed. The saleswoman, Annie Boone, is dead of four bullet wounds, and a lot of damage was done to the store, including most of the merchandise. The store owner is moaning about the damage and the loss of most of his stock, and seems to care little about his employee's death. As the detectives of the 87th Precinct investigate this crime, they meet many people who know Annie but each has a different picture of her. The homicide victim is just as much a mystery as who killed her.


One difference between the 87th Precinct books and other police procedural mysteries I have read is that we see and follow several of the detectives working cases, often in pairs. In many other series, the focus is on one policeman or two partners. True, in this series Steve Carella is a central character, but at least at this point in the series, everyone plays their part and we follow extraneous events in each of their lives.

In this book, the 87th Precinct loses one policeman to a freakish incident, he just sort of wanders onto the site of a robbery at the wrong time. Also a new detective, Cotton Hawes, is added to the precinct; he has a bit of trouble fitting in because he comes from a precinct set in a nicer section of the city, which had fewer homicides to deal with. Also featured in Killer's Choice are Meyer Meyer and Bert Kling.

The lovely descriptive passages that seemed to be missing in book 4, The Con Man, are back again in this book. Ed McBain also tells the story well through dialog. The policemen are believable characters, with flaws and individual personalities.

I am reading this series in order from the beginning, and this is the fifth book that I have read. The series started in 1956, and this book came out in 1957. The early books in the series are short, quick reads. (McBain says he wrote those in a month.) There were over 50 books in the series and some of the later books are quite long. I started late with this series but it is nice to know I have many more to read. It will be interesting to see how the series and the policemen change as the series evolves.

See these reviews by:



 -----------------------------

Publisher:   Permabooks, 1962 (orig. pub. 1957)
Length:       147 pages
Format:      Paperback
Series:       87th Precinct, #5
Setting:      Isola, fictional city loosely based on New York City
Genre:        Police procedural
Source:      I purchased my copy.



Sunday, October 6, 2019

My Reading in September 2019


When I review this month's reading, I can see that I have been moving away from vintage mystery novels and reading more contemporary fiction. That is neither good nor bad but I don't know why it is happening.

Of the ten books I read, seven were crime fiction although one was a mystery / fantasy blend. Of the crime fiction books, only one was written before 1990--Margery Allingham's More Work for the Undertaker, from 1948.

My first foray into Georgette Heyer's historical romance fiction (Frederica) was a success. That one was published in 1965. Reading Neil Gaiman's Coraline was not quite as successful for me, but that is because I don't like dark, creepy stories.

I started two series by "new to me" authors. I read Heartshot by Steven F. Havill and Snowblind by Ragnar Jónasson. I was very happy with both of those and will continue reading the series.

Overall, a very good month of reading. Here are the books I read...

Mystery reference

Brit Noir: The Pocket Essential Guide to the Crime Fiction, Film & TV of the British Isles
(2016) by Barry Forshaw
This book covers crime fiction authors from the UK. It is divided into geographic regions within the UK. There is also a section on UK authors whose books are set outside the UK. I do enjoy reading about crime fiction authors and their books, and each mystery reference book has its high and low points. This one is not perfect but is a good overview.

Historical Fiction / Romance

Frederica (1965) by Georgette Heyer
This is my first Regency romance. It has been many years since I have read a book in the romance genre, but so many people enjoy Heyer's romances that I had to give them a try. And I was glad I did. Frederica was an engaging book, and I learned a lot about Regency England. I have more of Heyer's Regency romances on my wishlist and will definitely be trying more.

Fantasy / Horror

Coraline (2002) by Neil Gaiman
This is a very dark and strange story of a young girl who goes through a door in her house into an alternate version of her house and her parents. Beautifully written and very creepy. Definitely a good read to get into the mood for Halloween. It isn't the type of story I enjoy very much, too creepy for me, but I am glad I experienced it.

Crime Fiction

Paper Son (2019) by S.J. Rozan
I wish I could convey to you how excited I was to find out that S.J. Rozan had written another book in the Lydia Chin / Bill Smith mystery series. That is one my favorite contemporary mystery series and the last book was in 2011. The surprise here is that Lydia and Bill are both in Mississippi helping one of her cousins who is in serious trouble. And Lydia had not even known she had relatives in Mississippi. If you are already a fan of this series, I highly recommend this book. If you haven't tried the others, I would read a couple of the earliest books in the series first.  I will be reviewing it, sooner or later, in more detail.

Heartshot (1991) by Steven F. Havill
The first book in a  24-book series set in a fictional county in New Mexico. It features Undersheriff Bill Gastner and Detective Estelle Reyes. I enjoyed this book a lot and will be reading more. My review here.

Joe Country (2019) by Mick Herron
The 6th book in Herron's Slough House series about spies who have been demoted due to some disgrace or screw up in their jobs, and are now working under Jackson Lamb. Amazingly, this is one series I have kept current with. I love the writing, the characters, and the plots get better and better.  

More Work for the Undertaker (1948) by Margery Allingham
The 13th book in the Albert Campion series. I am rereading the series in order because I enjoy Allingham's writing so much. Not my favorite book in the series, but many readers like it a lot. My review here.

The Manual of Detection (2009) by Jedediah Berry
My son bought this book at the book sale last year. We both read it recently, and we both enjoyed it. But it is very hard to describe. It mixes both mystery and fantasy, and I did find it more confusing than most books with that blend. The story is dark but with a good bit of humor, and I liked the ending.
Snowblind (2010) by Ragnar Jónasson
Snowblind is the first book in the Dark Iceland series. The setting is the northernmost town in Iceland, Siglufjörður, close to the Arctic Circle. I have read other mysteries set in Iceland but this part of Iceland is new to me. I liked it, I will be continuing the series. See my review.

A Foreign Country (2012) by Charles Cumming
This was my 2nd spy fiction read of the month. I really like spy fiction, and this book worked really well for me. This is Cumming's first book in the Thomas Kell series. Kell has been tossed out of MI6 but is called back to run a secret investigation. Very complex, lots of surprises, and believable characters. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Heartshot: Steven F. Havill

Heartshot is the first book in a  24-book series by Steven F. Havill. The series is set in a fictional county in New Mexico. Although this book was published in 1991, the series was entirely new to me, and I was so pleased with my reading experience I wanted to share it.

Summary from my trade paperback edition published by Poisoned Pen Press:
Posadas County, New Mexico has very few mean streets and no city-slick cop shop. But it has an earnest, elected Sheriff and his aging Undersheriff, William C. Gastner. Pushing sixty, widower Bill has no other life than in law enforcement–and doesn't want one, even if he's being nudged gently toward retirement. Then a car full of teens, running from a stop by Deputy Torrez, goes air­borne into a rocky outcrop, killing all five kids and revealing a package of cocaine under the seat. Has someone brought big-time crime to the county? Bill is now dealing with grieving par­ents–one of whom starts packing a gun...
What did I like so much about this book? I think the most important thing for me was the main character, Undersheriff Bill Gastner. Overweight and unhealthy, he is dedicated to his job but works too hard. With a new Sheriff taking over, Gastner worries about being pushed out of his job. And he is cranky and curmudgeonly. The story is told from Gastner's point of view, in first person, and that approach works very well in this case.

Another great character is Detective Estelle Reyes, younger, but just as intelligent and determined as Gastner. I like the way the relationships develop between the inexperienced Sheriff, Undersheriff Gastner and Detective Reyes.

The story is compelling. The deaths of five teenagers is devastating to the community, and the investigation leads to further deaths. My interest never lagged. Towards the end the story becomes somewhat thrillerish, but still convincing. I was certainly caught up in the story and holding my breath until the end.

I loved this book. I already have the 2nd book in the series, Bitter Recoil, and I will be reading it soon. The series is in print, having been reissued by Poisoned Pen Press. I was introduced to this series by Richard Robinson at Tip the Wink, and I am very grateful he told me about it.



 -----------------------------

Publisher:  Poisoned Pen Press, 2007. (orig. publ. 1991)
Length:  217 pages
Format:  Trade Paperback
Series:   Posadas County Mysteries
Setting:  New Mexico
Genre:   Mystery, Police Procedural

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Cold Comfort Farm: Stella Gibbons

I have heard so much about Cold Comfort Farm over the years. I had to try it, but I was hesitant. The book is described as a parody of rural novels written in the early 1900s. Not being familiar with those novels, I wasn't sure how much it would mean to me. The title of the book conjured up something quite different. So I was surprised to find that I loved it, from the first page.

The book opens after Flora Poste's parents have died:
The education bestowed on Flora Poste by her parents had been expensive, athletic and prolonged: and when they died within a few weeks of one another during the annual epidemic of the influenza or Spanish Plague which occurred in her twentieth year, she was discovered to possess every art and grace save that of earning her own living.
Her father had always been spoken of as a wealthy man, but on his death his executors were disconcerted to find him a poor one. After death duties had been paid and the demands of creditors satisfied, his child was left with an income of one hundred pounds a year, and no property.
Thus, after writing to various relatives, Flora Poste decides to move in with her country relatives, the Starkadders of Cold Comfort Farm.


In various reviews and articles, Flora Poste has been compared to Jane Austen's Emma Woodhouse. That never occurred to me because the two stories are so different, but it is a valid comparison, because Flora wants to set everything right and fix everyone's lives. Or at least everyone living at Cold Comfort Farm. And at the Starkadder's farm, everyone does need at least a little help.

I was dubious of her attitude of taking over initially. Who was she to think she knew what was right for everyone? But as she worked her magic gradually with each person, and helped them find their way, I began to enjoy it.

There are so many interesting and entertaining characters that I cannot include them all. Flora is at the top of the list, of course. Then there is Judith Starkadder, the matriarch, who only cares for her son Seth. Seth, in turn, is handsome and sexy but all he is really interested in is the movies at the local theater. Amos, the father, preaches at the Church of the Quivering Brethren and hates being tied to the farm. Reuben, the other son, is the only one who really cares about the farm. None of them are happy. And that just scratches the surface.

This is not a book that is meant to be taken seriously, and I found it a lot of fun. But there are readers who don't find it funny or enjoyable, and I would hesitate to recommend to everyone. I do think it is a book worth trying, and I am sure I will be reading it again.


Some other posts to check out:


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Publisher:  Penguin Books, 2006 (orig. pub. 1932). 
Length:     233 pages
Format:     Trade Paperback
Setting:     UK
Genre:      Fiction
Source:    I purchased this book.
Introduction by Lynne Truss.
Cover by Roz Chast.


Sunday, September 22, 2019

Snowblind: Ragnar Jonasson

Snowblind is the first book in the Dark Iceland series, written by Ragnar Jónasson. The setting is the northernmost town in Iceland, Siglufjörður, close to the Arctic Circle. I have read other mysteries set in Iceland but those have been set in or around Reykavik, and I like this different setting. The town is small and can only be accessed via a tunnel, thus it is often isolated when the weather is bad.

This is the summary on the back of my edition:
Where: An isolated fishing village in the fjords of northern Iceland, where no one locks their doors.
Who: Ari Thór is a rookie policeman on his first posting, far from his girlfriend in Reykjavik.
What: A young woman is found lying half naked in the snow, bleeding and unconscious, and a highly esteemed, elderly writer falls to his death. Ari is dragged straight into the heart of a community where he can trust no one, and secrets and lies are a way of life.

As the novel opens, Ari Thór Arason is attending police college and lives with his girlfriend, Kristin, who is studying to be a doctor. He soon gets a call offering him a job in Siglufjörður, and he decides to take it without consulting Kristin. She is upset with him, and he leaves for his new job with a good bit of resentment between the two of them.

When Ari Thór arrives at his new job, he is disappointed to find the that the town is so quiet and crime free. As his new boss, Tomas, says, "nothing ever happens here." Ari Thór feels claustrophobic and threatened in his new environment and he is very much an outsider there.

Even when a well-known, elderly author dies by falling down the stairs at the local theater, and Ari Thór suspects that it may not be an accident, Tómas downplays the incident and doesn't want to stir up any trouble.

Then a young woman is found lying in the snow near to her home, bleeding and near death. Her husband is immediately suspected, but the police have to look into other possibilities, and as the investigation continues, many secrets are exposed.

My first reaction to the story was that the police were much less focused on the solution to the crime than I would expect, possibly due to not having had to deal with such a serious crime in the past. I also noticed that many of the characters were troubled about tragic events in their past. Ari Thor had lost both parents at a young age and felt that there is little justice in life. Several other characters had lost one of their parents at a young age or someone similarly close and had suffered trauma from those losses. This type of loss is not unusual, it just seemed very prominent in this small set of characters.

But as I got involved in the story, I found it to be a rewarding read. Many of the characters are experiencing change in their lives and adjusting. The crime highlights those situations. And the way the investigation plays out is realistic.

I also liked the way the story goes back and forth in time, letting the reader know that a serious crime has occurred, and going back in time to reveal more about the characters and explore events leading up to the crime. I thought that was handled very cleverly. I mention it specifically because some readers don't care for that style.

My only problem with this series is that it was published out of order in the US. Per the author's website:
Original publication order of the series in Iceland:
Fölsk nóta (2009)*
Snjóblinda (Snowblind) - 2010
Myrknætti (Blackout) - 2011
Rof (Rupture) - 2012
Andköf (Whiteout) - 2013
Náttblinda (Nightblind) - 2014
* Not set in Siglufjordur, but the first novel featuring Ari Thór Arason, as a young theology student looking for his missing father.

Some other reviews to check out...




 -----------------------------

Publisher:   Minotaur Books, 2017 (orig. pub. 2010)
Length:      302 pages
Format:      Trade Paperback
Series:       Dark Iceland Series #1
Setting:      Iceland
Genre:       Police procedural
Source:     I purchased this book.