Friday, December 1, 2023

Six Degrees of Separation: From Kitchen Confidential to City Under One Roof


The Six Degrees of Separation meme is hosted by Kate at booksaremyfavoriteandbest. The idea behind the meme is to start with a book and use common points between two books to end up with links to six books, forming a chain. The common points may be obvious, like a word in the title or a shared theme, or more personal. Every month Kate provides the title of a book as the starting point.

The starting book this month is Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain.  I was given a copy of this book years ago, the original version, and I kept it on my shelf for a long time, but never read it. I don't know why. The subtitle of this book is "Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly" and from what I have read about, that is a good description of the contents.

1st degree:

Another book by Anthony Bourdain is Gone Bamboo (1997), and I still have a copy of that, unread. This is the description at Goodreads: "Henry and his wife, Frances, live an idyllic life as two of the Caribbean's most charming ex-pats (and professional assassins). But when Donnie, a powerful capo, is relocated to the island the scene is set for an Elmore Leonard-style mix of low life and high comedy." Based on that description, I think I should bump it up on my TBR list.

2nd degree:

Using assassins as my next connection, I chose Killers of a Certain Age (2022) by Deanna Raybourn, a story about four older women who have worked for years as assassins. The organization that hired and trained them is called the Museum, and now the Museum has turned against them and ordered their deaths. I read this novel and liked it a lot. The older women protagonists were a plus. It is not exactly spy fiction, but it reads much like a spy thriller, so it was perfect for me.

3rd degree:

Hit Man (1998) by Lawrence Block is not a novel but a series of connected stories about an assassin named Keller. He lives in an apartment in New York City and leads a normal life, except that the way he supports himself is by killing people. The stories take the reader on the road with Keller to his assignments, but they do not focus very much on the actual act itself. The stories are still more about Keller, the people he runs into, and his experiences. This was a confusing book for me because it has a very likable and interesting protagonist who performs acts that are not nice at all. 

4th degree:

Olive Kitteridge (2008) by Elizabeth Strout is another collection of connected short stories. The 13 short stories are set in a small town in Maine. Olive is mentioned or has a minor role in each story but only a few stories focus on her, her family, and her life specifically. Some of the stories have themes related to old age, life after losing a spouse, and suicide. Many of the stories are depressing and I had to read the book at a rate of about a story a day.

5th degree:

My next book is also set in a fictional small town in MaineUnder the Dome (2009) by Stephen King is set in Chester's Mill. One day the town is separated from the rest of the world by a force field, shaped like a dome. How the town deals with this isolation is very interesting, and since this is a Stephen King book, the story is very tense. The book is over 1000 pages long, and normally that would be a deal breaker for me, but I don't recall that the length bothered me with this one.

6th degree:

My next link is to a novel set in an isolated small town in Alaska. This time the isolation is imposed by natural forces, a major storm that closes the tunnel that provides the only access to the city. I just read City Under One Roof (2023) by Iris Yamashita in November and I enjoyed it very much. The book follows three characters: Amy Lin, a teenage girl who lives with her mother; Cara Kennedy, a detective who has come to the city to investigate some body parts found on a beach, and Lonnie Mercer, an eccentric loner who has a pet moose. The 205 residents in Point Mettier all live in one high-rise building, called the Davidson Condos.

My Six Degrees took me from a nonfiction account of culinary exploits to books about assassins, and ended in an isolated town in Alaska. Have you read any of the books in my chain and what did you think of them? 

If you did this month's Six Degrees, where did your list take you?

The next Six Degrees will be on January 6, 2024 and the starting book will be Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, a novel by Gabrielle Zevin.

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 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 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.