Saturday, June 29, 2019

Station Eleven: Emily St. John Mandel

This book got a lot of hype when it first came out, but I did not pay much attention. I prefer to wait and see before trying newer books, whether they have been hyped or not. If my husband had not bought a copy, I might still be waiting to read it.

From the synopsis at the author's website:
One snowy night a famous Hollywood actor slumps over and dies onstage during a production of King Lear. Hours later, the world as we know it begins to dissolve. Moving back and forth in time—from the actor's early days as a film star to fifteen years in the future, when a theater troupe known as The Travelling Symphony roams the wasteland of what remains—this suspenseful, elegiac, spellbinding novel charts the strange twists of fate that connect five people: the actor, the man who tried to save him, the actor's first wife, his oldest friend, and a young actress with the Traveling Symphony, caught in the crosshairs of a dangerous self-proclaimed prophet.

The apocalyptic event in this story is the Georgia Flu, so named because it started in the Republic of Georgia. The famous Hollywood actor is Arthur Leander, feeling his age and about to divorce his third wife. Although he dies at about the same time the apocalyptic event starts to affect Canada and the United States, much of the story follows his life and the people who were important to him. Another focus is the Travelling Symphony, how they function, and how they have survived. One character in that group is Kirsten, a young actress who had a small part in the play Arthur was performing in at the time of his death.

Station Eleven is a post-apocalyptic story, and I do like that sub-genre. But the book has many other characteristics I like. The state of the world without the internet, travel by automobile or airplane, electricity, and many other things we take for granted is an important factor in this book. But it is the story of the interconnections of people and how they adapt to changes in their lives that makes it special.

What did I like?

  • The story was unified by two strands, Arthur's story and the Travelling Symphony. I loved the way the story moved about in time, how the relationships are interwoven and how the characters connect in the end.
  • I liked the author's style; I had a hard time putting this book down. I read it in two days, which was pretty fast for me, especially this month. 
  • I liked the contrast between the older people who have memories of life before the flu and the young people who had no memories of the different ways of living.
  • This is not a long book (333 pages) and it follows quite a few characters but there are several characters that we get to know quite well. Arthur and Kirsten are pivotal characters. Others are Javeen Chaudhury, an EMT in training; Clark, Arthur's best friend since college; Miranda, Arthur's first wife.

See other reviews ...


Publisher:   Alfred A. Knopf, 2014
Length:       333 pages
Format:      Hardcover
Settings:     Starts out in Toronto, where Arthur is performing in a play. 
                   Some scenes are in Hollywood. 
                   The Travelling Symphony travels along Michigan's northern coast.
Genre:        Post-apocalyptic fiction
Source:       My husband passed this book on to me.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Monkey Justice and Other Stories: Patricia Abbott

This is another wonderful book of short stories by Patricia Abbott. The 23 stories in this book were published earlier under a similar title but only in e-book format. This is a reissue, making the book available in trade paperback and e-book.

Many of the stories in this book fit within the crime fiction genre and most of them look on the darker side of life. Often misfits or small-time criminals are central to the story. But some of the stories have a humorous side too.

Here are brief descriptions of my favorites in the collection:

  • In “Georgie," Rufe and his friend take care of a problem for Rufe's mother. Lucky for Rufe, Georgie is very resourceful although he is fourteen and still in grade school in a "special" class.
  • The title story, “Monkey Justice," is about a man who gets two women pregnant; they both deliver their babies on the same day in the same hospital. No crime in that story, but an unusual premise.
  • “On Paladin Road” is a haunting story about the  ravages of old age. Two men have lived in the same subdivision for years. Donald is 85, Martin is 65. They have an ongoing disagreement about some borrowed tools.
  • "What Happened Next" is a sad story about a mother coming to visit her grown son; she has not seen him since he was five. 
  • “The Tortoise and the Tortoise” is a fantastic story about a man in a nursing home who has been very popular, but gets pushed out of the top spot when a new male resident arrives. 
  • “Girl Of My Dreams” is about a very bad boss getting his just desserts. 
  • “Raising the Dead” is a short story featuring Violet,  a photographer, and Bill Fontenel, her boyfriend, characters in Abbott's second novel, Shot in Detroit. I enjoyed that brief look at those two characters again.

There are many more great stories in this book and I will be revisiting them all.

I highly recommend this book and others by Patricia Abbott. She has written two novels, Concrete Angel and Shot in Detroit, and a book of short stories, I Bring Sorrow.

Also see these reviews...
at Crime Time
at Kevin's Corner

And an interview at In Reference to Murder.


Publisher:   Down & Out Books, 2019
Length:      247 pages
Format:      Trade paperback
Setting:      Varied
Genre:       Short stories
Source:      I purchased my copy.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Cards on the Table: Agatha Christie

Cards on the Table is the 15th Hercule Poirot book and it is another novel in that series with a unique approach. A strange and somewhat disconcerting man, Mr. Shaitana, has invited Hercule Poirot to dinner. When he arrives, he learns that three other sleuths have been invited: Colonel Race, Superintendent Battle and Ariadne Oliver. (Mrs. Oliver is actually a mystery writer, but in this case she tries her hand at detecting.)  After dinner, two foursomes play bridge. At one table are the sleuths, the remaining four guests play at the other table. During the bridge game, Mr. Shaitana is killed. The four sleuths take it upon themselves to solve the crime.

I had been looking forward to reading this book for a while, and it was an engaging and pleasurable read. Again in this novel Poirot emphasizes psychological analysis in searching for the murderer. As the sleuths investigate, we learn more about the suspects, their backgrounds, and their connection to Mr. Shaitana. I had no clue who did it, and Christie did a super job of misleading me, misdirecting my attention.

It was an added bonus to have Superintendent Battle, Ariadne Oliver, and Colonel Race working together with Poirot. I have enjoyed both Battle and Race in previous books. This was the first appearance of Mrs. Oliver in the series, and the first book I have read with her in it, so I enjoyed meeting her.

Even though I know nothing about bridge, I enjoyed that element of the story. I can see how familiarity with bridge could help solve the crime in this situation. There was a drawing depicting each suspect's score card.

I highly recommend this book; Christie's writing always entertains me. I have said this before, but it bears repeating: In the first few novels I read featuring Poirot, I found Poirot to be smug and irritating. After reading more books in the series, I now find him charming, and am glad I have many more to read in this series.


Publisher:  Berkley Books, 1984. Orig. pub. 1936.
Length:     226 pages
Format:     Paperback
Series:      Hercule Poirot, #15
Setting:     UK
Genre:      Mystery
Source:    Purchased at the Planned Parenthood book sale, Sept. 2007.

Monday, June 17, 2019

The Wolves of Winter: Tyrell Johnson

The Wolves of Winter is an apocalyptic novel, and the Canadian setting made it the perfect choice for me. The story has a relatively small number of characters. A family group has moved from Alaska further north into the Canadian Yukon to live after nuclear war and a deadly flu have killed a large portion of the population on earth. Other than one other man who settled near them, they haven't encountered any other humans for years, and then they meet a lone male traveler and a small group of traders.

The family consists of Gwendolyn (or Lynn, as she prefers to be called), her mother and brother, her uncle  and a young man whose father died. Lynn was 16 when they left Alaska, but had been taught hunting and wilderness skills by her father when she was younger. The story starts seven years later. The group survives by hunting and planting what crops will survive. It is a very basic existence, and mostly very cold.

None of the main characters are perfect, they all have their flaws. The most well defined character is Lynn, who tells the story, but we get to know most of the family group pretty well, understanding their motivations. By no means is this a crime story, but there are evil, manipulative characters and it has thrillerish elements. Also there is the element of mystery–pieces of Lynn's background that have been kept from her. So the story was just my type of reading.

The pacing of the story kept me interested, and I enjoyed the descriptions of what the people had to do to survive in that environment. The first quarter of the book is more about setting the background of the story, how the wars and the disease started. I loved Lynn's lists of what was different, what she missed, what she did not miss. The remainder of the book is about learning more about the world outside of the family's small settlement, and is full of action.

Some reviewers compared this novel to YA novels. I don't read many YA novels so can't speak to that, but it did not seem to be aimed at a younger audience to me. And if it was, I still enjoyed it. This is Tyrell Johnson's debut novel. I am hoping the author has another book coming out soon.

Part I of the book begins with this Walt Whitman quote.
"I have heard what the talkers were talking,
the talk of the beginning and the end,
But I do not talk of the beginning or the end.
There was never any more inception than there is now,
Nor any more youth or age than there is now,
And will never be any more perfection than there is now,
Nor any more heaven or hell than there is now."
I found this book via Judith's blog, Reader in the Wilderness. Her review is here.


Publisher:   Scribner, 2018.
Length:      310 pages
Format:      Trade paperback
Setting:      Canadian Yukon
Genre:        Science Fiction, Post-apocalyptic
Source:      I purchased my copy.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

The Dusty Bookcase: Brian Busby

The Dusty Bookcase is a literary exploration of Canadian books, especially those that have been forgotten, neglected, or suppressed. As the author, Brian Busby, tells us in his introduction:
We should read the forgotten because previous generations knew them well. My father read the works of Ralph Connor, as did his. Reading Connor myself has brought me a better understanding of the times these men experienced.
We should be curious about the ignored because recognition is so often a crapshoot; too much depends on publisher, press, and good fortune. 
We should read the suppressed for the very reason that there are those who would deny us the right.
Brian Busby blogs on this same topic at The Dusty Bookcase, and the book gathers information from his posts over the years. I read this book straight through, over a few weeks, and I will dip into it again and again.

The books starts with a section on several books by Grant Allen, a Canadian author of both nonfiction books and novels written from the 1970s until his death in 1899. Allen was a friend of Arthur Conan Doyle, who finished his last book, Hilda Wade. A new author to me and one I will try out.

The last book covered in The Dusty Bookcase is I Lost It All in Montreal by Donna Steinburg, my favorite title in the book.

In between, he covers books by the Millars – Kenneth Millar, also known as Ross Macdonald, and Margaret Millar. Also several pulp novels, including some written by Brian Moore, a well-known author I don't know much about. And I will be seeking out books of his to read.

Here are the titles of some of the chapters:

  • Dicks & Drugs
  • Erotica, Porn, Perversion, & Ribaldry
  • Pop & Pulp
  • Romance
  • True Crime
  • War
  • The Writing Life

Lots of variety, and a lots of information to ponder.  Outside of the section on the Millars, Pop & Pulp was my favorite group of articles.

Busby discusses these books in a very personal way, and each article is readable and interesting. Some of them are hilarious. I love the premise of this book, and I highly recommend it as an informative and entertaining read.


Publisher:   Bibioasis, 2017
Length:       364 pages
Format:      Trade Paperback
Genre:        Reference, Books about books
Source:       I purchased this book.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Reading Summary for May 2019

As I look at the books I read in May, I am surprised to find that out of ten books, only four of them were crime fiction novels. Another one was mystery reference, and most of the stories in Patti Abbott's Monkey Justice fall in the realm of crime fiction and noir.

In addition to books related to crime fiction, I read one non-fiction book about books provided to US soldiers during World War II, a wonderful book about Canadian books by Brian Busby, and two post-apocalyptic novels.

It was a very good month of reading.

Mystery reference

Euro Noir: The Pocket Essential Guide to European Crime Fiction, Film & TV (2014)
by Barry Forshaw
The book covers crime fiction books written by European authors, set in their own countries (in most cases). Most of the coverage is for current fiction. There are two longer chapters on Italy and France. Other countries included are Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal, Greece, the Netherlands, Poland, and Romania. Although Scandinavian crime fiction has been covered in depth in two other books by the author, there is a chapter on those countries regarding more recent fiction from that area. Films and TV for each area are also noted. No book of this type will satisfy every reader, but since I enjoy reading any kind of book on mystery reference, it suited me.

Nonfiction / History

When Books Went to War (2014) by Molly Guptill Manning
This book is perfect for someone like me who likes to read about World War II and likes to read about books. The emphasis was on the process of getting the books to the soldiers and about the positive effect the books had on the soldiers, but there were interesting facts about many of the books also. I was very surprised at the types of books that got a lot of attention from the soldiers.

Nonfiction / Books about Books

The Dusty Bookcase: A Journey Through Canada's Forgotten, Neglected, and Suppressed Writing (2017) by Brian Busby
The subtitle gives a pretty good summary of this book. Brian Busby blogs on this same topic at The Dusty Bookcase, and the book gathers information from his posts over the years. I read this book straight through, over a few weeks, and I will dip into it again and again. Full of interesting tidbits and in-depth information, and very entertaining.

Post-apocalyptic Fiction

On the Beach (1957) by Nevil Shute
A post-apocalyptic novel that I enjoyed immensely. Also adapted in a film starring Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Fred Astaire, and Anthony Perkins. See my thoughts here.

The Wolves of Winter (2018) by Tyrell Johnson
I found this book via Judith's blog, Reader in the Wilderness. I do like post-apocalyptic novels, and the setting was intriguing... the Canadian Yukon. The story focuses on a family group that has been in the Yukon for seven years. The protagonist and narrator is a young woman who was 16 when they moved up to that area. This was the author's debut novel, and I liked it a lot. I would definitely try another book by this author.

Crime Fiction

Spook Street (2017) by Mick Herron
This is the fourth book in the Slough House series about spies who have been demoted due to some disgrace or screw up in their jobs. I loved this book and I will be reading the next in the series, London Rules, sometime in June.

The Iron Gates (1945) by Margaret Millar
Margaret Millar's novels focus on the psychological aspects of crime, and have interesting but strange characters. This one is set in Toronto and features Inspector Sands. See my thoughts here.

A Private Venus (1966) by Giorgio Scerbanenco
This is such an interesting story but hard to describe. The protagonist is a medical doctor, Duca Lamberti, who was imprisoned for several years, and can no longer practice medicine. His first job after release from prison is to guard the son of a wealthy man and cure him of his disease, alcoholism. He soon discovers that his drinking problem is caused by a traumatic event in his recent past; Lamberti begins to look into that problem.

The Dogs of Riga (1992) by Henning Mankell
I read the first book in the Kurt Wallander series in 2011. I hope it doesn't take me another 8 years to get to the third book, The White Lioness. In this book, Wallander goes to Latvia to follow up on an investigation that started in Sweden, when two dead Latvian men washed up on the shore in a raft. I enjoyed the story and I liked reading about Sweden and Latvia in 1991.

Monkey Justice (2019) by Patricia Abbott
Monkey Justice was published earlier (2011) in e-book format by Snubnose Press. Now Down and Out Press has published the stories again in a new e-book and in trade paperback.  The book has 23 of Abbott's earlier stories; many fit within the crime fiction genre and most of them are on the dark side. I am glad to see more of Abbott's stories available in book form (again).

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Save the Last Dance for Me: Ed Gorman

Years ago, in 2006, I read the first three books in this series and now I have returned to it with book #4, Save the Last Dance for Me.

My favorite part of these books is the historical setting in the 1950s and 1960s. The first book, The Day the Music Died, is set in 1958, and starts the day before Buddy Holly was killed in a plane crash. This book is set in the summer of 1960, when John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon are running for President.

Sam McCain is a young and not very successful lawyer in Black River Falls, Iowa. In need of money, he often works as an investigator for District Judge Esme Anne Whitney, who is rich and influential in their community. As the book begins, McCain is attending a religious service with the local newspaper reporter, Kiley  Burke.

Here is a sample of the narration that sets up the story...
I guess I should do a little scene-setting here.
The date is August 19, 1960. The town is Black River Falls, Iowa, pop. 20,300. The pretty, red-haired young woman I'm with is Kylie Burke, ace reporter for The Black River Falls Clarion. Only reporter, actually. She isn't writing the story—her boss is doing that—but she thought it’d look good on her resume (in case the New York Times calls someday) to say she did background on a group of Ozark folks who moved here after getting kicked out of every state contiguous to ours. Seems these folk incorporate rattlesnakes in their services and that is a violation of the law. And after all the rain we had this past spring, there are plenty of timber rattlers to be had in the woods.
Kylie’s a bit uneasy about visiting these folks, as am I, so we’re here together.
My name is Sam McCain. I’m the youngest and poorest attorney in town. I’m also an investigator for Judge Esme Anne Whitney, the handsome, middle-aged woman who presides over district court. At the age of twenty-four, I earn more from Judge Whitney than I do from my law practice. I’m here tonight because I was summoned by Reverend John Muldaur, the hill-country man who procures the rattlers and oversees the services.
Very shortly there is a death. Judge Whitney is concerned about the crime being solved quickly because Richard Milhous Nixon is going to visit the town and she will be hosting an event in his honor. She doesn't want him thinking that the town is full of "a bunch of rubes."

I love the first person narration by Sam McCain. He has his problems, he is far from perfect, but he has integrity and cares about people. Sam is unlucky in love, and there is a good bit of focus on this. I also like the portrayal of Judge Whitney, who is domineering and determined to get her way in everything. There are many other outstanding characters throughout the book.

Also see:

Matt Paust's review at Crime Time

Tom Nolan's review at January Magazine


Publisher:  Worldwide, 2003 (orig. pub. 2002).
Length:    252 pages
Format:    Paperback
Series:     Sam McCain #4
Setting:    Iowa
Genre:     Mystery
Source:   I bought my copy.