Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Short Story Wednesday: "Fire Watch" by Connie Willis


My short story for this week is the title story from Fire Watch by Connie Willis. 

I have read (and reviewed) all of the four novels in the Oxford Time Travel series: Doomsday Book (1992), To Say Nothing of the Dog (1995), Blackout (2010), and All Clear (2010). Those books are set sometime around 2050, when time travel is possible and used by academics to study the past. "Fire Watch" is a novelette that preceded those books; it is set in the same time and its main character, Bartholomew, is a historian sent back to London in 1940, during the Blitz.   

Bartholomew has been training for years to go back to the time of St. Paul, the apostle, and due to some confusion, is assigned instead to go to St. Paul's Cathedral during the Blitz. He will volunteer for fire watching on the dome of St. Paul's Cathedral. The trip will be considered his practicum, and he has two days to learn about London during the Blitz before he leaves. That is not enough time to prepare so he supplements his research by using memory-assistance drugs to put information into his long-term memory, for access when needed. He is extremely unhappy about the change in plans and doesn't even get a clear understanding of his goal for this "mission."


The story is written in diary format with an entry for many of the days in the three month period that he is in London in 1940. This works well because the reader is as much in the dark as Bartholomew. A minor drawback is that the time travel mechanism is not described at all, although the story makes it clear that Bartholomew travels back in time and that he is a part of a group that does this regularly. That did not bother me but might be a problem for readers not familiar with the series.

I enjoyed reading this story tremendously. I like reading about the Blitz and I think the depiction of that time and how it affected people was very well done. This story made me want to go back and reread all the books in the series, even though each book is at least 500 pages long.

"Fire Watch" was first published in Asimov’s Science Fiction (Feb 1982), and was later reprinted in this collection in 1985 and in many anthologies. It won the 1982 Nebula and the 1983 Hugo Award for Best Novelette. It is available to read online here


Thursday, August 11, 2022

Books Read in July 2022

 



I read thirteen books in July, many more than any other month this year. Some of them were short books. Also, a couple of books I had read parts of earlier in the year. But there were some longer books too.  So I was surprised by how many books I read.


Nonfiction

My Bookstore: Writers Celebrate Their Favorite Places to Browse, Read, and Shop (2012) by Ronald Rice (Editor), Leif Parsons (Illustrator)

In this book about independent bookstores throughout the US, 84 authors have written essays about one bookstore that has been special for them. In some cases the reader learns more about the author also. Some were more interesting than others but any reader (at least in the US) would have some favorites. 


Snippets of Serbia (2015) by Emma Fick 

At Goodreads: "This is Emma Fick's illustrated journey through the weird, the fun and the unique adventures to be experienced across this small Balkan country." Her illustrations are lovely and personal. Some pages have a good bit of text, others just have titles, so it is a very quick read. She records various memories and experiences that she had on two visits to Serbia. Lots of pictures of food. 


General Fiction 

The Bookshop (1978) by Penelope Fitzgerald 

Having never read anything by this author, I had no idea what to expect from this book. The cover led me to think this was a light-hearted book about a bookshop, and it wasn't that at all. I did give it a high rating, because I liked the writing and I think the author was expressing exactly what she wanted to, and did it well, but in the end it was too depressing for me. I do want to read more by this author.


How the Penguins Saved Veronica (2020) by Hazel Prior 

The original title of this book was Away with the Penguins. I learned about this book from a booktube reviewer, Bookworm Adventure Girl, and I learned about the booktuber from Cath at Read-Warbler (see her review). The two main characters are a curmudgeonly old woman (Veronica, 86 years old) and her grandson Patrick, who she found only late in life. Veronica and Patrick both have poor social skills (that is putting it mildly), and they don't get along initially. Veronica takes a trip to Antarctica to spend time at a research station for penguins. I loved the book, every bit of it. 



Fiction / Classic

The Great Gatsby (1925) by F. Scott Fitzgerald

This was the book I read for the latest Classic Club Spin. The story is told beautifully, and the buildup to the conclusion is done well, but I was disappointed in the book. My review here.


Historical Fiction

The English Wife (2020) by Adrienne Chinn

This was the second book I read for the Canadian Reading Challenge. The story covers three time periods: during World War II, in the UK and in Newfoundland; 2001, at the time of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, when many planes coming into New York were rerouted to Newfoundland; and ten years later in the town of Tippy's Tickle, Newfoundland. It was a very good read and I liked the ending. This book was recommended by Constance at Staircase Wit (review here), and she generously sent me her copy to read.


Crime Fiction

Murder on the Trans-Siberian Express (2001) by Stuart Kaminsky

This book is part of a series by Stuart M. Kaminsky, set in Russia under Communist rule (to begin with) and later in Russia, following the breakup of the USSR. I started reading the series in 2005 and now only have two books left to read. My review here.


In the Market for Murder (2015) by T. E. Kinsey

The premise of this series of mysteries, set in the early 1900's, is that Lady Hardcastle and her maid solve mysteries while living in the English countryside. The key is that the lady and her maid are more friends than employer and employee. I was ready for a cheerful, upbeat read and this was perfect. This is the second book in the series, and I am now reading the third, Death Around the Bend.

 


Box 88 (2020) by Charles Cumming

Charles Cumming is my latest favorite spy fiction author. (I have a lot of them.) Box 88 is a new series featuring Lachlan Kite, an agent for a covert spy agency. Kite is abducted, possibly by terrorists, after leaving the funeral of an old friend from boarding school. It turns out that the abduction is related to an event in the late 1980s when Lachlan was just out of boarding school, visiting his friend in France. At that time Lachlan began spying for the Box 88 group, and there are flashbacks to his introduction to the craft of spying. I loved this book.



Dead in the Water (1983) by Ted Wood

This was the second book I read for the Canadian Reading Challenge. My review here.


An Elderly Lady Must not be Crossed (2020) by Helene Tursten 

This is a book of five short stories and one novella by the author of the Inspector Irene Huss series. Helene Tursten is Swedish, and the stories were translated by Marlaine Delargy. I reviewed the first five stories here and the novella, "An Elderly Lady Takes a Trip to Africa", here.


Vengeance
(1999) by Stuart Kaminsky

Stuart Kaminsky is one of my favorite authors, due to his Inspector Rostnikov series set in Russia (see above). I had never tried his Lew Fonesca series set in Sarasota, Florida. Fonesca is not legally a private detective; he works as a process server. But in this book he takes on two cases: a runaway teenage daughter and a missing wife. I loved the book, and it is a plus that the writing style is entirely different from the Inspector Rostnikov series. There are five more in the series and I will be getting to the next one soon.



The Man from Berlin
(2013) Luke McCallin

A historical mystery, set during World War II, in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia. The protagonist is Gregor Reinhardt, a German officer in counter-intelligence, stationed in Sarajevo during German occupation. Sarajevo is now the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which shares a border with Serbia. Serbians are mentioned a lot in the book, so it was interesting to be reading it at the same time as Snippets of Serbia.


Currently reading

Death Around the Bend by T.E. Kinsey

Fifth Business by Robertson Davies

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle




The photos at the top and bottom of this post are of Tibouchina heteromalla (Silver leafed Princess Flower) plants in our front flower beds. We have lovely flowers and foliage on these two plants this year. Photos taken and processed by my husband. Click on the images for the best viewing quality.


Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Short Story Wednesday: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Part 1



The first book of Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes short stories, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, is on my Classics Club List and on my 20 Books of Summer list. So, earlier this week I dipped into it for the first time.

I don't have much experience with the Sherlock Holmes books. I have only read the first novel. I did enjoy reading A Study in Scarlet, but it was not at all what I expected. I have read at least three of the short stories in anthologies over the years and liked two out of three of those. 


The edition I have, shown above, combines The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes in one book. It has an Introduction by John Berendt, and notes by James Danly.

Most of the stories in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes are close to the same length, about 20 pages each. The first three stories seemed lighter, flimsier to me. Not at all what I expected. These three stories are:

"A Scandal in Bohemia"

"The Red-Headed League"

"A Case of Identity"


The first story, "A Scandal in Bohemia," is the only story that Irene Adler appears in, which makes it a special story. And it is very interesting. I was just expecting more.

The solutions to the next two stories seemed obvious to me and others have said the same, so I have to note that it is enjoyable just to read the dialogue between Holmes and Dr. Watson, the description of the proposed case, the meeting of the client, and the narration by Watson. 

My least favorite story was "A Case of Identity". Holmes is very patronizing to his young female client and I could find no excuse for that.


My favorite story in this book so far is "The Boscombe Valley Mystery." This is a story with the mystery, complexity, and depth I was expecting. 

In this story, Sherlock Holmes asks Watson to join him on a trip to Boscombe Valley to investigate a murder. Watson's wife thinks he needs a break from his medical practice and encourages him to go. Charles McCarthy has been murdered on his farm, in a secluded area, and his son James has been accused of the murder. A young woman has asked Lestrade of Scotland Yard to look into the case, because she thinks the son is innocent. Lestrade then invites Holmes to assist him. The culprit is fairly obvious in this story also, but it was fun to read about the investigation and how it all worked out.


I have eight more stories to read in this book. I will report back on my thoughts on those stories once I have read more of them.


Friday, August 5, 2022

Six Degrees of Separation: From Ruth Ozeki to Louise Penny

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 is The Book of Form and Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki. I know nothing about this book so I am using just a few sentences from the Goodreads summary to describe it:

After the tragic death of his beloved musician father, fourteen-year-old Benny Oh begins to hear voices. The voices belong to the things in his house – a sneaker, a broken Christmas ornament, a piece of wilted lettuce. Although Benny doesn't understand what these things are saying, he can sense their emotional tone; some are pleasant, a gentle hum or coo, but others are snide, angry and full of pain. When his mother, Annabelle, develops a hoarding problem, the voices grow more clamorous.

This time I am using a simple approach, linking from a word in the current title to a word in the next title. 


Using "Emptiness" in the starting title, my first link is to An Empty Death by Laura Wilson. That book is the second in a historical mystery series set from the early 1940s into the late 1950s, a period I enjoy reading about. The novel provides a vivid picture of the wartime years in Great Britain, and how the war affected family life in particular. Set in 1944 after several years at war, it also focuses on the deprivation that was experienced during those years.


From An Empty Death, I move on to A Small Death in Lisbon by Robert Wilson. This book has two story lines, one set in the 1940's in Germany and Portugal, the other set in the late 1990's in Lisbon. The later time line features a police detective whose investigation of a teenage girl's murder links back to the experiences of a Berlin factory owner forced into Hitler's SS in 1941. The story is suspenseful and compelling, the characters have depth, but there was too much violence and sex for me. This book won the CWA Gold Dagger in 1999.


From A Small Death in Lisbon, I next link to The Lisbon Crossing by Tom Gabbay. Comparing the two books, this story is much lighter and very picturesque. Jack Teller is a US citizen visiting Lisbon with international film star Lili Sterne in 1940, to help her locate a childhood friend, Eva Lange. This is the 2nd in the Jack Teller series and each book is set in a different city and time period. 


The Lisbon Crossing leads me to The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths. That book takes me out of the World War II period to a more contemporary mystery. This is the first book in the Dr Ruth Galloway Mysteries. The main character is a forensic archeologist who often ends up working with the police when there are questions about skeletal remains. There are 15 books in the series but I have only read the first four. 


My next link is A Beautiful Place to Die (2008) by Malla Nunn, a story set in 1950s apartheid South Africa. This is the only one of the six linked books that I have not read.  And it has been on my TBR pile for five years now! 

Description at the publisher's site:

In a morally complex tale rich with authenticity, Nunn takes readers to Jacob's Rest, a tiny town on the border between South Africa and Mozambique. It is 1952, and new apartheid laws have recently gone into effect, dividing a nation into black and white while supposedly healing the political rifts between the Afrikaners and the English. Tensions simmer as the fault line between the oppressed and the oppressors cuts deeper, but it's not until an Afrikaner police officer is found dead that emotions more dangerous than anyone thought possible boil to the surface...


A Beautiful Place to Die leads me to my last link, The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny. This is the eighth book in the Chief Inspector Gamache series, set in a secluded monastery. I enjoyed the new setting. The stories set in Three Pines are charming, but I also enjoy exposure to other parts of Québec. It was interesting to get a look at the workings of a small monastery. (I am currently reading the tenth book in the series, The Long Way Home.)


All of my links are crime fiction stories, and all are set outside of the USA. Settings are in the UK, Portugal, Germany, South Africa, and Canada. 

If you are participating in the Six Degrees meme, where did your links take you? If not, have you read these books? Any comments on The Book of Form and Emptiness or A Beautiful Place to Die, which I have not read yet?


Next month (September 3, 2022), Six Degrees of Separation will begin with the book you ended with this month. (So, for me it will be The Beautiful Mystery.) For those who did not participate this month, start with the last book you read.


Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Dead in the Water: Ted Wood

Reid Bennett is not just the Chief of Police in Murphy's Harbour, a small resort town in Muskoka, Ontario. He is the ONLY policeman in town. There is a man in the office who answers the phones, but he is not a qualified to do police work. 

Bennett ended up in Murphy's Harbour because he was hounded out of his previous job in the Toronto police due to his handling of an attempted rape. As he puts it: "Nothing violent happens here." But when a corpse is found floating in the lake, Bennett's job gets very complicated and it turns out that the small town is not the haven that he thought it would be.

This is a very different police procedural. The case becomes very complicated, and the minuscule police presence in Murphy's Harbour is not meant to handle cases like this. It requires ingenuity for Reid to deal with the workload and the pursuit of the criminals basically alone. He does have his faithful dog Sam, a smart, always loyal German shepherd, by his side.



What did I like?

  • The story is told in first person narration by Bennett, and I liked the character and the narration.
  • Sam the dog is a fantastic character.
  • The Canadian setting, in a small town on the water, and a mix of characters, locals and tourists.
  • The story is not predictable, and moves at a fast pace, with plenty of surprises, especially at the end.


Dead in the Water, published in 1983, is the first book in a ten book crime fiction series starring Reid Bennett. It is a very short novel at 142 pages. The story may have a bit too much violence for me, but I will see how future books pan out.

Check out other more detailed reviews at Kevin's Corner and Paul Bishop's blog


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Publisher:   Open Road Media, 2014 (orig. publ. 1983)
Length:       142 pages
Format:      Trade Paperback
Series:        Reid Bennett, #1
Setting:      Canada
Genre:        Police Procedural
Source:      On my TBR pile since 2020.


Friday, July 22, 2022

The Great Gatsby: F. Scott Fitzgerald

In this book Nick Carraway describes his experiences over a summer that he spends on Long Island, getting reacquainted with his friends Tom and Daisy Buchanan and going to parties at Jay Gatsby's mansion. Daisy is Nick's cousin (once removed) and her husband Tom is obscenely rich.


Nick lives in a small house that he rents, squeezed in between mansions on either side of him. Gatsby lives in the mansion to one side of his house. Gatsby seems to throw a huge party every weekend at his mansion, and eventually he invites Nick to come to a party. Most people just show up at the party, but Nick gets a special invitation. It turns out that Gatsby invited Nick because of his connection to Daisy. Gatsby and Daisy were once in love and planning to get married, and he wants to renew his acquaintance.

That is all I want to say about the plot. However, it is hard to say much about what I liked and did not like without revealing too much of the story.


Here Nick describes his first visit to Tom and Daisy Buchanan's mansion:

And so it happened that on a warm windy evening I drove over to East Egg to see two old friends whom I scarcely knew at all.

Their house was even more elaborate than I expected, a cheerful red and white Georgian Colonial mansion overlooking the bay. The lawn started at the beach and ran toward the front door for a quarter of a mile, jumping over sun-dials and brick walks and burning gardens—finally when it reached the house drifting up the side in bright vines as though from the momentum of its run. The front was broken by a line of French windows, glowing now with reflected gold, and wide open to the warm windy afternoon, and Tom Buchanan in riding clothes was standing with his legs apart on the front porch. 

He had changed since his New Haven years. Now he was a sturdy, straw-haired man of thirty with a rather hard mouth and a supercilious manner. Two shining, arrogant eyes had established dominance over his face and gave him the appearance of always leaning aggressively forward. Not even the effeminate swank of his riding clothes could hide the enormous power of that body—he seemed to fill those glistening boots until he strained the top lacing and you could see a great pack of muscle shifting when his shoulder moved under his thin coat. It was a body capable of enormous leverage—a cruel body. 

His speaking voice, a gruff husky tenor, added to the impression of fractiousness he conveyed. There was a touch of paternal contempt in it, even toward people he liked—and there were men at New Haven who had hated his guts.


I was surprised that the story actually spends more time with Tom and Daisy Buchanan than with Gatsby. Tom is an obnoxious man, and I was especially bothered by the fact that the Buchanan's seem to treat their very young daughter more as an object to be paraded around than a real live person with needs. On the surface, Daisy seems to be caught in a life she did not really want.

The story is told beautifully, and the buildup to the conclusion is done well, but I was left feeling empty and uninterested. There were too many people I did not care about, people who cared only for things and money and appearances. So I was disappointed in the book. It may be due to my prevailing mood at the moment, in which I want to read more upbeat stories with happier endings. 


I think if I read this again, knowing the full story, I would enjoy it more. I could enjoy the beautiful writing. This time through I was focused on the characters (who were mostly superficial, with decadent lives) and where they were going, and I did not like where the story took me.


Other reviews: At Reading Matters (Kathy's Corner) and Fiction Fan's Book Reviews.


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Publisher:  Oldcastle Books, 2020 (orig. publ. 1925).
Length:      180 pages
Format:      Trade paperback
Setting:      New York
Genre:       Fiction, Classic
Source:      I purchased my copy.