Saturday, May 18, 2024

It's Almost Time for 20 Books of Summer 2024


This is my ninth year of participating in the 20 Books of Summer reading challenge. The event is hosted by Cathy at 746 Books

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. Check here for more about the challenge or to sign up.

This year, 20 Books of Summer starts June 1st and ends September 1st. One of the things I like about this challenge is that it goes for three months only. Some years I have read all 20 books from my list, sometimes not. 

Here are my 20 books...

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame (1908)

The Madonna of the Sleeping Cars by Maurice Dekobra (1925)

The Lady in the Lake by Raymond Chandler (1943)

A Caribbean Mystery by Agatha Christie (1964)

War Game by Anthony Price (1976; 205 pages)

In the Midst of Death by Lawrence Block (1976; 185 pages) 

Birdcage by Victor Canning (1978; 233 pages)

Skeleton-In-Waiting by Peter Dickinson (1989; 154 pages)

The White Lioness by Henning Mankell (1993; 440 pages) 

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi (2003; 153 pages)

Dark Fire by C. J. Sansom (2004; 500 pages)

The Dead Fathers Club by Matt Haig (2006; 336 pages)

A Symphony of Echoes by Jodi Taylor (2013; 327 pages)

A Great Reckoning by Louise Penny (2016; 389 pages)

A Cast of Falcons by Steve Burrows (2016; 384 pages)

A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers (2016; 364 pages)

Tales from the Café by Toshikazu Kawaguchi (2017; 192 pages)

Redhead by the Side of the Road by Anne Tyler (2020; 178 pages)

Family Business by S. J. Rozan (2021; 288 pages)

The Lonely Hearts Book Club by Lucy Gilmore (2023; 352 pages)

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Short Story Wednesday: "Runaway" by Alice Munro

Last night I spent the evening reading several short stories by Lorrie Moore. But this morning I heard that Alice Munro had died at 92, and I decided to read one of Munro's stories for my post this week instead. Luckily, I have several of her books of short stories, and the one I decided on was Runaway, published in 2004. I read the title story.

All of the stories in this collection are longer stories, usually between 35 to 45 pages in length.

In "Runaway," Carla and Clark run a stable for boarding horses; they also provide trail rides to campers nearby and riding lessons for children. They live in a mobile home on their land. One morning, Carla sees their nearest neighbor, Sylvia Jamieson, driving home from a trip to Greece. Carla is afraid of what will happen when Clark discovers that Sylvia is home. What happens after that is surprising and unexpected. The story is an interesting look at marriages and relationships.

I liked the story, but it was a little unsettling.

The next three stories in this book are about a single character, Juliet. I hope to read them soon.

I don't have a lot of experience with Alice Munro's stories, but overall, I have been impressed with those that I have read. She is a Canadian author, and the settings of her stories are usually in Canada, which is an added attraction for me. Last year I read a collection of her stories published in 2012, Dear Life. My comments on those stories are here and here

Sunday, May 12, 2024

Reading Summary for April 2024


I read six novels this month, and I was pleased with the variety. I am working on increasing the number of eBooks I read. This month I read one (the Bill Crider book) , and one of the books I am currently reading is also an eBook, so I have read a total of three this year, up from one in all of 2023.

I have been putting together a list for 20 Books of Summer at 746 Books, and I am looking forward to reading those books. 

General Fiction

The Jane Austen Book Club (2004) by Karen Joy Fowler

Five women and one man form a book club to discuss Jane Austen's novels, one per month. Their ages range from 30 to nearly 70. I liked this book a lot, but the narrative style was challenging. See my review.

Fiction, Western

The Sisters Brothers (2011) by Patrick deWitt

This novel is a western, a genre that I have little familiarity with. Eli and Charlie Sisters work for the Commodore. Their current assignment is to find Hermann Kermit Warm and kill him. Charlie is the older brother and runs the show. Eli narrates the story; he doesn't enjoy killing and would be just as happy to find another way to live, but he feels loyal to Charlie. The story is set in the West when it was lawless, and there are many interesting historical facts to be learned, but I didn't enjoy the story of a life of crime until it was close to over. It is well-written and Eli is a great character. I am glad I read it through to the end, but it just wasn't the book for me.

Science Fiction

The Humans (2013) by Matt Haig

This is a science fiction novel about an alien who comes to earth, and takes over the body of a mathematician, Andrew Martin. However, for me this was more like reading a philosophy book or a self help book. I loved it. See my review.

Crime Fiction

The Found Him Dead (1937) by Georgette Heyer

They Found Him Dead is a very bland title for an entertaining mystery novel set in a country house. Members of the Kane family are dying, and the police are not sure who is causing the deaths or why. See my review.

Winning Can Be Murder (1996) by Bill Crider

Sheriff Dan Rhodes of Blacklin County, Texas has fond memories of playing football for the local high school team in his youth. Like almost everyone else in Blacklin County, he is enthusiastic about the home football team's chances to go to the state finals this year. The football theme did not interest me as much as the earlier books I have read in this series, but a Dan Rhodes mystery by Bill Crider is always an entertaining and fun read, with lovable main characters and a lot of eccentric secondary characters. This is the 8th book in a 25 book series.

The Mistress of Alderley (2000) by Robert Barnard

A successful actress has been set up in a country house by her lover; he visits only on weekends and she thinks she has the perfect life. I love Barnard's style of writing; his books often have unusual or unexpected endings. This one was more straightforward as far as the mystery goes but the mystery had me interested from beginning to end. Another bonus for me was that the policemen in this book were Charlie Peace and his boss, Mike Oddie, from the author's Charlie Peace series. 

Just Finished

I finished reading The Warden by Anthony Trollope for the Classics Club Spin and I will be reviewing it soonish, so I won't say too much about it right now. It was the first book I have read by Trollope, and a very good read, once I got used to the style of writing.

Currently reading

I am reading A Rip Through Time by Kelley Armstrong on my Kindle Scribe, which I purchased in February. As you can probably tell from the title, it is a time travel book. With the purchase of the Scribe I got a three-month free trial of Kindle Unlimited. That gave me access to A Rip Through Time, and I wanted to take advantage of the subscription before it ran out. For the first few chapters, I was unsure how much I would enjoy this book, but I am about 50% through it right now and it is getting better and better.

The photos at the top and bottom of this post were taken in early May in our back yard.  We have been working on clearing out weeds in the back. There is still lots of work to be done but soon we will be able to buy some new plants for pots. 

The photos were taken and processed by my husband. Click on the images for the best viewing quality.

Saturday, May 4, 2024

The Jane Austen Book Club: Karen Joy Taylor


I liked this book a lot when I was reading it, but now, less than a month later, I can't remember much about the book. What does that say? In some ways I see it as normal, the story of a book falls away after time, especially if you read a lot of fiction. Also, I think it would be good for a reread, and not remembering much is a plus. Today, while writing this review, I did reread one chapter and I enjoyed rereading it.

The six people in the book club are Jocelyn and Sylvia, both in their early 50s; Allegra, Sylvia's daughter, 30 years old; Prudie, a teacher, 28 years old; Bernadette, the oldest member at 67; and Grigg, the only male, in his forties. Jocelyn is the one who set up the book club and invited members. Everyone in the group knows the others except for Grigg, and the others wonder why Jocelyn included a male and where she met him.

The story covers March through August in one year, one book club meeting for each Austen book, and has an epilogue in November. All of the book club members are fans of Austen's books, except for Grigg who is reading them for the first time. 

My Thoughts...

Overall, I enjoyed this book very much; it was a good read, and kept me entertained. But I did have some very minor criticisms. One thing that sometimes took me out of the story was the narration, which seemed to be an amalgamation of the book club group. It wasn't entirely negative, just jolting at times. After finishing the book, I looked this up and it is described as first person plural point of view. The entire book was not in that point of view, only portions of each chapter.

The book was less about the Austen books than I would have liked, but I enjoyed the individual stories about the members of the book club. And it did make me want to reread the Austen novels. I last read Sense and Sensibility in 2022, and the other five novels in 2017.

I was surprised by the ratings for this book on Goodreads. There are nearly 70,000 ratings, and over 5,000 reviews. But there are more 3 star ratings than any other rating and a good number of 1 stars, 2 stars, and DNFs. My rating would be 4.5. I especially liked that the writing style was different and how the back stories were worked into the story gradually. 

The book has a short section at the back summarizing all the Jane Austen novel, plus several pages of quotations about Austen and her books from various sources. I found both of these useful and interesting.

I am eager to explore more books by this author. 


Publisher:  A Marian Wood Book, Putnam, 2004.
Length:      288 pages
Format:      Hardcover
Setting:      Davis, California
Genre:       Fiction
Source:      I purchased my copy in 2023.

Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Short Story Wednesday: Nearly Nero by Loren D. Estleman

This week I am reading short stories from Nearly Nero by Loren D. Estleman. The subtitle for this book is "The Adventures of Claudius Lyon, the Man Who Would Be Wolfe." Between 2008 and 2016, Estleman wrote nine short stories about Claudius Lyon, a man who is obsessed with emulating Nero Wolfe in all ways, and his assistant, Arnie Woodbine. Most of these stories were published in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. One additional story ("Wolfe Whistle") was written for publication in this book. 

Just a few examples of how Lyons imitates Wolfe: 

  • He has a greenhouse on the roof of his abode, but he grows tomatoes, not orchids. He has no gardening skills at all. 
  • His butler/cook is not nearly as talented as Fritz, and cooks only kosher meals. 
  • He drinks cream sodas all day, rather than beer. 
  • His assistant, Arnie Woodbine, has been in prison and is a con man. He is not above doing something illegal. 

These are the stories I read:

"Who's Afraid of Nero Wolfe?"

"The Boy Who Cried Wolfe"

"Wolfe at the Door"

"Wolfe on the Roof"

The stories are an affectionate homage to the Nero Wolfe series and are intended to be humorous. Loren D. Estleman is a big fan of the series and wrote the introduction to the Bantam Crimeline edition of the first Nero Wolfe novel, Fer-de-Lance

I would not categorize these as serious mysteries, in the sense that there is a crime to be solved. They are puzzles, often based on word play, and usually silly. However, for the most part, they are fun to read and have very nice endings. 

The only real drawback to these stories that I can see is that I don't see how they would appeal to anyone who hasn't read at least a few Nero Wolfe novels.

Loren D. Estleman is a very prolific and well-known author who has been publishing novels since 1976. He is the author of the Amos Walker series, the Valentino series, the Peter Macklin series, and many standalone novels, including many Western novels. He lives in Michigan. 

Sunday, April 28, 2024

The Humans: Matt Haig


I enjoyed reading this book so much. It brightened my life, it improved my mood, it helped me to feel more love and acceptance for others. And it almost certainly will be one of my top ten books of 2024.

I am going to use a paragraph from the beginning of the novel to describe this book: 

This book, this actual book, is set right here, on Earth. It is about the meaning of life and nothing at all. It is about what it takes to kill somebody, and save them. It is about love and dead poets and wholenut peanut butter. It’s about matter and antimatter, everything and nothing, hope and hate. It’s about a forty-one-year-old female historian called Isobel and her fifteen-year-old son called Gulliver and the cleverest mathematician in the world. It is, in short, about how to become a human.

This book is a science fiction story, but for me, it felt like a book about how to live a better life, a sort of self help book. Or possibly a book about a philosophy of life. 

The protagonist of this book is an unnamed alien, a Vonnadorian. He has been sent to earth because an earthling, Andrew Martin, has discovered the solution to the Riemann hypothesis. The Vonnadorians have determined that this discovery will lead to technical development on earth that humans are not ready for and they want it stopped, no matter what it takes. 

The alien takes over Andrew's body. His mission is to kill anyone that knows about Andrew's work and is aware that he had successfully come up with a solution. That includes Andrew's wife and 16-year-old son. 

The only real science fiction elements in this book are that the alien has powers (for example, he is much stronger than normal humans and can heal humans and animals) and he gets communications from his superiors back on his own planet. Otherwise, the focus is on how he learns to fit into human society with no real instructions, so that he can accomplish his goal. He makes a lot of mistakes along the way.

The alien in Andrew's body starts to have misgivings about his mission. Initially he finds humans disgusting, but once he can stomach living with humans and interacting with them, he begins to like some of them. The family has a dog, and the dog knows that this being is no longer really Andrew, but the alien develops an affection for the dog and vice versa. As Andrew, he tries to interact with the teenage son, who despises his father. 

The alien reads a lot (starting with Cosmopolitan, which gives him some strange ideas) to try to learn about humans. The poet he especially likes is Emily Dickenson. He cannot stand human food, but he does like peanut butter sandwiches, and that is mainly what he subsists on. Since I also eat a lot of peanut butter, I considered this a plus.

The story is narrated by the alien and seems to be a book he is writing for Vonnadorians, to explain his actions after he arrived on earth. It is often humorous but sometimes dark.


Publisher:   Simon & Schuster, 2013
Length:       285 pages
Format:       Hardcover
Setting:       Earth, UK
Genre:        Science fiction
Source:       On my TBR since 2020.