Monday, May 16, 2022

20 Books of Summer for 2022

 


This is my seventh year of participating in the 20 Books of Summer reading challenge. That is hard to believe. 

The event is very flexible. You can go for 15 Books of Summer or 10 Books of Summer if 20 is more than you want to commit to. Books can be substituted along the way. And that is fine. The event is hosted by Cathy at 746 Books

This event starts June 1st, 2022 and ends September 1st, 2022. Sometimes I read all twenty books, other years I have been less successful, but I never review them all. I have given up on that part of the goal. 

To be honest, coming up with the list is the best part. Here is my list.


Mysteries

Steve Burrows: A Pitying of Doves

Catherine Aird: Some Die Eloquent

Stuart Kaminsky: Murder on the Trans-Siberian Express (Europe / Russia)

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (short stories)

L. R. Wright: Fall From Grace 

Raymond Chandler: The Long Goodbye

Louise Penny: The Long Way Home

Luke McCallin: The Man From Berlin (Europe / Sarajevo, Yugoslavia, 1943)

Robin Spano: Dead Politician Society

Ted Woods: Dead in the Water    

Stef Penney: The Tenderness of Wolves


Science Fiction

John Scalzi: Head On 

Connie Willis: Fire Watch (short stories)

Martha Wells: Rogue Protocol


General Fiction 

Penelope Fitzgerald: The Bookshop

Gail Honeyman: Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine

George Saunders: Lincoln in the Bardo 

Harry Mulisch: The Assault (Europe/ The Netherlands)

Adrienne Chinn: The English Wife 

Leo Tolstoy: Anna Karenina 



Friday, May 13, 2022

Rebecca: Daphne du Maurier #DDMreadingweek

I read Rebecca in April for my Classics Club list and for the Back to the Classics Challenge and it was a great read. I wasn't sure how to classify this book as to genre. It could be called a mystery, or romance, or romantic suspense, or gothic mystery. Although I think many people consider this a romance, especially if they haven't read the book, at Goodreads the top genres it is categorized in by members are: Classics, Fiction, Mystery, and Gothic, with Romance a distant fifth. It is all of those things at times, and maybe that is why some readers don't care for it.

The heroine is very young (21), inexperienced, and naïve. She is alone in the world. As the novel begins she is in Monte Carlo working as a paid companion to Mrs. Van Hopper, an overbearing American woman. When Mrs. Van Hopper becomes very ill and cannot leave the hotel room for more than a week, Maxim de Winter invites Rebecca to go with him driving around the countryside, and after several days of this she gradually falls in love with him. She knows that he is a widower and that his wife died a year ago, but only because Mrs. Van Hopper had told her that. 

Mrs. Van Hopper decides to return to the US, and Maxim proposes to our heroine. Quite quickly, she become Mrs. Maxim de Winter and after a protracted honeymoon in Italy, they go to Maxim's home, Manderley. From the moment she arrives, she feels like she is in competition with the memory of Maxim's first wife, Rebecca.

We never learn the narrator's name. If she is referred to in the book she is called Mrs. de Winter or the current Mrs. de Winter. The first Mrs. de Winter is usually referred to as Rebecca. 


Quotes

There are some wonderful descriptive paragraphs, especially in the first chapter or two. The first line is very famous: 

I dreamt I went to Manderley again.

And later in the first chapter:

There was Manderley, our Manderley, secretive and silent as it had always been, the grey stone shining in the moonlight of my dream, the mullioned windows reflecting the green lawns and the terrace. Time could not wreck the perfect symmetry of those walls, nor the site itself, a jewel in the hollow of a hand. The terrace sloped to the lawns, and the lawns stretched to the sea, and turning I could see the sheet of silver placid under the moon, like a lake undisturbed by wind or storm. No waves would come to ruffle this dream water, and no bulk of cloud, wind-driven from the west, obscure the clarity of this pale sky. 


In Chapter 5, when the narrator is telling of the days in Monte Carlo:

I am glad it cannot happen twice, the fever of first love. For it is a fever, and a burden, too, whatever the poets may say. They are not brave, the days when we are twenty-one. They are full of little cowardices, little fears without foundation, and one is so easily bruised, so swiftly wounded, one falls to the first barbed word.


My thoughts

  • In addition to the main characters already noted, there are many interesting secondary characters. Some of them are: Mrs. Danvers, who adored Rebecca and intimidates the new Mrs. de Winter; Frank Crawley, the estate manager at Manderley, a kind and honorable man; and Beatrice Lacy, Maxim's sister, and her husband Giles. Also some of the servants at Manderley: Frith, the butler; Robert, a younger servant; and Clarice, the new Mrs. de Winter's maid.
  • I liked the structure of the book. At the beginning, the narrator is looking back on events earlier in her life, when she met Maxim de Winter, and their life at Manderley. At that point she is approaching middle age, and she and Maxim are traveling and staying in inexpensive hotels. We know that they have a life together and the story is about how they arrived at that point. 
  • I did not like it that we never learn the narrator's name, but it wasn't really a problem.
  • I wavered as to how much I liked the novel as I was reading it. I felt like I was reading the book for a second time, but it may just be that I remembered the story from watching the film adaptation (with Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine). Regardless, having some familiarity with parts of the story did affect my reading. I liked the writing throughout. I was tense while reading the middle section, filled with dread because I knew what was in store for Rebecca. Luckily, I had forgotten some aspects of the ending so that part was a surprise and I ended up loving the book. 


This edition includes excerpts from Daphne du Maurier's The Rebecca Notebook and Other Memories: an author's note, an essay on the real house which the fictional Manderley was based on, and du Maurier's original epilogue to the book.


This review was written for the Daphne du Maurier Reading Week hosted at Heavenali's blog. Check out other posts related to du Maurier's books there.



 -----------------------------

Publisher:  Harper, 2006 (orig. pub. 1938)
Length:      386 pages
Format:      Trade paperback
Setting:      UK, Monaco
Genre:       Fiction, Classic
Source:      On my TBR pile, purchased in 2020.


Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Short Story Wednesday: More Pirates in Space

This week I returned to stories from Cosmic Corsairs, edited by Hank Davis and Christopher Ruocchio. I have previous covered other stories in this anthology HERE and HERE. The stories in the book focus on space pirates, and were written between 1941 and 2020.

"They Never Come Back" by Fritz Lieber 

This story was first published in 1941 in the August issue of Future Fiction. It is described as a novella at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database; it is about 45 pages long in this anthology. This anthology, published in 2020, was the first to reprint this story.

I think that this is the first thing I have read by Fritz Lieber. I enjoyed the story very much. A bit old-fashioned I guess, but that is as it should be. Bart Harlan has recently heard that his former girlfriend was killed in the loss of a ship that was traveling the warp from Mars to Earth. Space warps are the method of travel in space in this story, and it sounded a perfectly good explanation to me. Regardless, a ship and its crew has never been recovered after losing contact with the warp, so there is no hope he will see her again. Except that he believes that there is a way to rescue the ship and he does his best to pursue that goal. The problem is that he is not an official navigator and no one will listen to him. So he gets a job on a beat up old spaceship that is going in the right direction, and later finds out he has gotten mixed up with ruthless pirates. The story was exciting and held my attention.


"Breaking News Regarding Space Pirates" by Brian Trent

Jolene Fort is a former space pirate, now retired. She was renowned for stealing valuable art objects. So when Bradley Winterfig's collection is vandalized and some very valuable pieces stolen, he has the Police Department of the space colony bring Jolene to his private vault for questioning. This is a clever locked room mystery, and Jolene Fort is a great character.

First published in 2016 in Galaxy's Edge, no. 23. It is ten pages long in the Cosmic Corsairs anthology.


"Teen Angel" by Robert Garcia y Robertson

Under normal circumstances, I would not seek out a story about a young girl turned into a sex slave, but this one turned to be well worth reading. The story was originally published in Asimov's Science Fiction, February 2006, and is identified as a novelette by the Internet Speculative Fiction Database. In this anthology the story is about 34 pages long. 

A young girl is taken by a slaver, who turns her into a remote controlled sex toy for his master. However, she retains her compassion and good nature through the years, and is intelligent enough to take advantage of the situation when she has the opportunity to escape. I did get immersed in the story of how she finds her way back home, and how life has changed when she returned. 



Rick Robinson at Tip the Wink introduced me to this book, and sent me his copy to read. Also see George Kelley's review of Cosmic Corsairs for comments on more of the stories and a list of the stories.

I have five stories and about 80 pages left to read in Cosmic Corsairs.



Sunday, May 8, 2022

Reading Summary for April 2022



I felt like my reading in April went very slowly, and that has continued into May. Towards the end of April, there were nine days that I did not finish a book at all which never happens to me. But I did read eight books in April. Two general fiction books, one fantasy, and five books in the crime fiction genre. All of them were good reads, and three of them I gave five stars, which for me just means that they were especially good reads. So, not a bad month at all.



And here is what I have read...


General Fiction

Rebecca (1938) by Daphne du Maurier

This is the most widely known novel written by Daphne de Maurier. It may not be the best; I haven't read any others. I read Rebecca for my Classics Club list and for the Back to the Classics Challenge and it was a great read. I can't decide if I had read it before, years ago. Maybe I had just watched the Hitchcock film. Either way, we will be watching the Hitchcock film again soon.




Because of Sam
(1954) by Molly Clavering

This book is part of the Furrowed Middlebrow collection from Dean Street Press, books by women writers of the early to mid-twentieth century. I had heard of the author, and purchased some her books for the Kindle, including Because of Sam, but I was motivated to read this book after I read Cath's review at Read-Warbler. I loved it, although it took me half the book to figure out where it was going, and even then I was only partly right. It is a lovely postwar story set in a village in Scotland. 



Fantasy

The Midnight Library (2020) by Matt Haig

After dying, Nora Seed wakes up in a library and the books on the shelves are all possible lives she could live. She is given the opportunity to try some of those lives and return to one of them if she chooses. The story is about regrets and opportunities. This was my first book by Matt Haig.  It did not live up to my expectations but I still enjoyed it a lot. I do look forward to reading Haig's other books on my shelves.



Crime Fiction

Go, Lovely Rose (1954) by Jean Potts

Rachel Buckmaster returns to her small midwestern hometown when her brother calls to tell her that the housekeeper who had lived with them for decades has died. When her death is declared murder rather than accidental, Rachel's brother is the main suspect. My review here.


Dog On It (2009) by Spencer Quinn

This was a book which went beyond my expectations. It is a mystery narrated by a dog, and I was a bit leery of that, although I knew that this is a series loved by many. Chet, the dog who narrates, flunked out of K-9 training, but still has the heart of a detective. His owner, private investigator Bernie Little, is not perfect but never gives up on the case. Together they are a great pair and I hope to read more of the books in the series. The setting seems to be Arizona, although I don't think that is really specified in this book.


Beast in View (1955) by Margaret Millar

Beast in View by Margaret Millar was my pick from the latest Classic Club Spin. Helen Clarvoe is a rich young woman who lives in a low quality hotel. She gets a threatening call from a woman from her past that she does not remember, and calls in her father's old investment counselor to help. This is a very brief book that could easily be read in one sitting or in one day. The book was published in 1955, and won the Edgar for Best Novel in 1956. My review here.


Bangkok 8 (2003) by John Burdett

This story is set in Thailand and the main character is a Thai policeman, Sonchai Jitpleecheep. His partner (and life-long friend) is killed on the job and Sonchai has vowed revenge. The story is told from Sonchai's point of view and I really like the voice it is told in. The story covers some challenging topics: transsexualism, prostitution, drugs and alcoholism. This book is #1 in a series I would like to continue reading.


Why Didn't They Ask Evans?
(1934) by Agatha Christie

This is lighter and breezier than most novels by Agatha Christie. The two main characters are Bobby Jones, the vicar's son, and Lady Frances Derwent (Frankie). They were friends in childhood but have drifted apart as they grew older. Bobby discovers a dead body which had fallen off of the cliffs of the Welsh seacoast, and Frankie is convinced it was murder. It was a very entertaining story, once I settled into the tone of the book, and I never had a clue who the murderer was. I read it at this time because we wanted to watch Hugh Laurie's adaptation, and we have now done that. I enjoyed it as much or more than the book.


Status of my challenges and other events:

  • I have read and reviewed four novels for the European Reading Challenge. That leaves only one more to complete my goal of five books, but I hope to read more novels set in European countries.
  • I have read at least six books that fit categories for the Book Bingo Challenge
  • Back to the Classics Challenge: I have read Rebecca by du Maurier, for the "20th century classic." I have read and reviewed Beast in View by Millar, which can be used either for a "classic by a woman author" or for the "Mystery/Detective/Crime classic."
  • The TBR Pile Challenge: Two books that I read this month were for this challenge, Dog On It by Spencer Quinn and Bangkok 8 by John Burdette. 
  • In March and April I read two books for the 1954 Club: Go, Lovely Rose by Jean Potts and Death Likes It Hot by Edgar Box (aka Gore Vidal).



The photo at the top of the post and the one immediately above are from a recent visit to our local plant nursery, the first one this year. My husband took photos of plants, pots, and garden decorations. Click on the images for best viewing quality.


Saturday, April 30, 2022

Beast in View: Margaret Millar

Beast in View by Margaret Millar was my pick from the latest Classic Club Spin. I have already read four books by Millar and enjoyed them all, to different degrees. I had avoided this one so far because I thought it would be too tense and scary (for me). It did not live up to my expectations, but it wasn't that tense and scary either. 

Helen Clarvoe is a rich young woman who inherited all of her father's money but lives in a low quality hotel. Her mother and brother live in the family home, but don't have enough money to maintain it. She gets a threatening call from a woman from her past that she does not remember, and calls in her father's old investment counselor to help. That is all the overview of the story that I want to share because I think it is best for new readers to read this story knowing very little about it.

Events get very weird after that and and the author kept me guessing throughout. I guessed what was going on very early in the book, but then was fooled by the author's clever writing into considering other options.

This is a very brief book. My edition was close to 250 pages, but most editions are around 170 pages. The action takes place over a short time, a few days. The story could easily be read in one sitting or in one day. I started it later in the evening and finished it the next morning, and I am a slow reader. The book was published in 1955, and won the Edgar for Best Novel in 1956.

Here is an excerpt from the first chapter, following the threatening phone call:

Miss Clarvoe hung up. She knew how to deal with June [telephone operator at the hotel] and others like her. One hung up. One severed connections.

What Miss Clarvoe did not realize was that she had severed too many connections in her life, she had hung up too often, too easily, on too many people. Now, at thirty, she was alone. The telephone no longer rang, and when someone knocked on her door, it was the waiter bringing up her dinner, or the woman from the beauty parlour to cut her hair, or the bellboy, with the morning paper. There was no longer anyone to hang up on except a switchboard operator who used to work in her father’s office, and a lunatic stranger with a crystal ball.

She had hung up on the stranger, yes, but not quickly enough. It was as if her loneliness had compelled her to listen; even words of evil were better than no words at all.

The entire first chapter is available online, at CrimeReads.


As I noted, I did not find the story that tense but it was very dark. Most of the characters were damaged in some way. Evelyn's mother's treatment of both of her children when they were young and in their adulthood was upsetting. She was not a major character but she had a prominent role. Attitudes toward homosexuality as depicted in this book were archaic, although those attitudes can be found now as well. (I am assuming that those attitudes are not the author's.) Although I did not enjoy reading Beast in View, I thought it was a worthwhile read and very well done. It just wasn't a pleasant read for me. 

I have read other books by Millar, and I liked all of them more than I did this one, even though this one won the Edgar for Best Novel. However, this is a book that I would recommend, for two reasons. First, many reviewers liked it much more than I did. Also, it is a groundbreaking novel, although the plot can be seen as stale and overused now; it is familiar because it as been copied so much. At the time it was very original.



 -----------------------------

Publisher:  International Polygonics, 1983 (orig. pub. 1955)
This edition includes a brief Introduction and Afterword by Margaret Millar, written in 1983.
Length:      247 pages
Format:      Paperback
Setting:      Los Angeles, California
Genre:       Mystery, Psychological Suspense
Source:      On my TBR piles since 2016.

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Short Story Wednesday: "Stranger Station" by Damon Knight

Last year I featured a book of mostly science fiction short stories, Bug-Eyed Monsters, edited by Bill Pronzini and Barry N. Malzberg. After all these months, I have finally read some stories from that book. That post shows the front and back covers of the book and lists all the stories in the book.


"Stranger Station" is the first story in the Bug-Eyed Monsters anthology. It was first published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, December 1956, but has been included in a good number of anthologies since then. I had never read it or any other story by Damon Knight, so I was happy to have this opportunity.

It is a first contact story, except that the story is set long after the first contact and this is more about the impact years after the initial meeting. The aliens were so massive and repulsive to humans that the contact has been sparse and only occasionally do the aliens visit a space station that is set aside especially to enable that visit. When one of the aliens comes, it is only for one purpose, to provide a substance for the humans which the humans have come to rely on. A lot of the background is left to the imagination, which was OK because I can make up my own story around the events. 

One human is selected to facilitate the exchange with the alien being. He is alone on Stranger Station until the alien arrives. He is supplied with a talking computer, an "alpha network" that can provide all his needs and that may be close to a sentient being. The human calls it "Aunt Jane" and they develop a bit of a relationship with each other. 

"Stranger Station" is a longish story (about 30 pages) and most of it consists of the  human, Sergeant Wesson, getting ready for his encounter with the alien and trying to find out more about the station. I enjoyed the story and will be looking for more to read by Damon Knight. I would also enjoy the same story with more length and explanation.


A side note: I was recently motivated to read this story and others in this book because Todd Mason had written a post at Sweet Freedom on short stories by Damon Knight in 1956 and "Stranger Station" was listed there. 


After reading "Stranger Station," I read four more stories in the anthology.

  • "Talent" (1960) by Robert Bloch
  • "The Other Kids" (1956) by Robert F. Young
  • "Puppet Show" (1962) by Fredric Brown
  • "The Faceless Thing" (1963) by Edward D. Hoch

Only one of those stories has an actual bug-eyed monster. The stories by Robert Bloch and Fredric Brown were my favorites. The other two had ambiguous endings, which usually don't bother me, but in these cases I wanted more than that.