Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Some Favorite Authors from the Book Sale

Between September 20 - 28th of this year, we attended the Planned Parenthood book sale four times. I always get too many books, and you would think I would slow down. Not this year. Again I bought an insane amount of books, but I am happy with all that I bought.

Today I am featuring some books by forgotten authors that I found at the book sale.

I have become enamored with Anthony Price's David Audley espionage series and have had difficulties finding decent copies at a reasonable price. On the very last day of the sale I found five paperbacks by Anthony Price. What a treasure trove!

The  books in the series (19 in all) were written during the Cold War and are about an intelligence organization functioning at that time. A New Kind of War (1987) takes the reader back to a younger David Audley in Greece in 1945.

The other four books in this series that I bought are:
October Men (1973)
Our Man in Camelot (1975)
Sion Crossing (1984)
Here Be Monsters (1985)

Blood and Judgment (1959) by Michael Gilbert is the first novel featuring Patrick Petrella. He was also in a good number of short stories and one other novel. I have been looking for this novel for a while, so it was another wonderful find.

I have only read 4 novels by Michael Gilbert, but I liked them all. Plus one book of short stories about Calder and Behrens, British counter-intelligence agents (Game Without Rules). So I am thinking I will like the Patrick Petrella series also.

Other books by Michael Gilbert that I found:
Be Shot for Sixpence (1956)
After the Fine Weather (1963)
Flashpoint (1974)
The Killing of Katie Steelstock (1980)

And a short story collection:
Mr. Calder and Mr. Behrens (1982)

Hugh Pentecost was a pseudonym used by Judson Philips. Philips wrote many, many mystery novels, including standalone books and series about John Jericho, Uncle George Crowder, Luke Bradley, Pierre Chambrun, Julian Quist, Grant Simon, Dr. John Smith, and Peter Styles. But it is only his Pierre Chambrun series that I have read. Twenty two books were published between 1962 and 1988, although I am sure I did not read all of them. Chambrun is a hotel manager and I think it was that setting that was so fascinating when I read them years ago.

This year at the book sale I found Death after Breakfast (1978), Murder in High Places (1983), and Nightmare Time (1986) by Pentecost.

Another favorite author is Victor Canning, I discovered his books, especially the Birdcage series, at Existential Ennui. (Nick Jones also introduced me to Anthony Price's series.) I found this lovely paperback copy of The Mask of Memory (1974), which is the next book in the series that I have been waiting to read.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Breakfast at Tiffany's: Truman Capote

The story takes place over a year or two in New York, during World War II. A young man, an aspring writer, is the narrator.

The first paragraph of the book:
I am always drawn back to places where I have lived, the houses and their neighborhoods. For instance, there is a brownstone in the East Seventies where, during the early years of the war, I had my first New York apartment. It was one room crowded with attic furniture, a sofa and fat chairs upholstered in that itchy, particular red velvet that one associates with hot days on a train. The walls were stucco, and a color rather like tobacco-spit. Everywhere, in the bathroom too, there were prints of Roman ruins freckled brown with age. The single window looked out on a fire escape. Even so, my spirits heightened whenever I felt in my pocket the key to this apartment; with all its gloom, it still was a place of my own, the first, and my books were there, and jars of pencils to sharpen, everything I needed, so I felt, to become the writer I wanted to be.
This young man soon meets Holly Golightly, a free spirit, who has had a hard life (and she is only eighteen). She also lives in the brownstone, in a larger apartment; she has no job and spends most of her time socializing with wealthy people (mostly men) who give her money and presents. During the time the young writer and Holly are living in the brownstone, she  gradually reveals more about her past and herself. She always calls him "Fred" after her brother who is stationed overseas during the war.

I have seen the movie with Audrey Hepburn and to me it was depressing. I also found the story it is based on to be very sad. The portrait of Holly Golightly is even darker. But regardless of the mood it put me in, reading this book was a good experience. Truman Capote's writing is beautiful. The story is very well told, although I can hardly think of a character that I really liked.

Do I recommend this book? Yes, because it is worth reading Capote's writing. And it is short, just a novella. This edition also contains three stories: 'House of Flowers', 'A Diamond Guitar' and 'A Christmas Memory'. Which I have not read yet but plan to.

Here are some other opinions:


Publisher:   Vintage International, 2012 (orig. pub. 1958)
Length:       84 pages
Format:      Trade paperback
Setting:      New York City
Genre:       Fiction
Source:      I purchased my copy.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Paper Son: S. J. Rozan

The Lydia Chin / Bill Smith mystery series is one my favorite contemporary mystery series; the 11th book in the series was published in 2011.  After eight long years, another book has been published. I had no idea she was even working on it and as soon as I saw it, I purchased it and read it.

Paper Son is one of the best in the series. This book earned a starred review at Publishers' Weekly and I was glad to read the praise for the book and the author there and at Kirkus Reviews.

Summary from S.J. Rozan's website:
The Most Southern Place on Earth: that’s what they call the Mississippi Delta. It’s not a place Lydia Chin, an American-born Chinese private detective from Chinatown, NYC, ever thought she’d have reason to go. But when her mother tells her a cousin Lydia didn’t know she had is in jail in Clarksdale, Mississippi—and that Lydia has to rush down south and get him out—Lydia finds herself rolling down Highway 61 with Bill Smith, her partner, behind the wheel.
Other than being set in Mississippi, which is very different from New York, the big surprises here are that Lydia's mom, who has always disliked Lydia's profession, has requested that Lydia go help out a cousin in Mississippi, and that she insists that Bill Smith go along to help. She has also resisted Lydia's partnership with Bill for years.

The strongest point in previous books in the series is the characters. Lydia and Bill each have their own opinions and strengths. Each book also features other characters, such as Lydia's mom, that stand out and are interesting. The setting is often New York City's Chinatown, where Lydia lives and works. And, in addition, the mystery element is handled well.

Another joy in this book was reading about Lydia in a new environment and one I am pretty familiar with. I grew up in Alabama and I had relatives in the small town of Batesville, Mississippi. I visited them often in my childhood, and my husband and I made a special trip to Mississippi to visit them right before we got married.

This is a pretty good look at the South, without being over the top, not that I have spent a lot of time there in the last few years. Bill lets his southern roots show in this story, and I know exactly how that is. As soon as you are back in the South, a good bit of your Southern accent comes back. Lydia's reaction to sweet tea was humorous; the relative she and Bill stay with has a pitcher available at all times. I personally was never a fan of sweet tea and did not even have any until I was in college, but it is clearly popular throughout the South.

I would like to share this quote from The Irresponsible Reader:
Rozan’s at her strongest when in addition to the mystery, she’s using the circumstances around it to have Lydia and/or Bill explore another culture/sub-culture. She’s displayed this strength when helping her readers understand the Jewish refugees in the 1930’s who fled to Shanghai (The Shanghai Moon), Hong Kong (in Reflecting the Sky), Small Town High School Football (Winter and Night), the Contemporary Chinese Art scene (Ghost Hero), and so on. Here we get a Yankee perspective on Mississippi black/white relations (and a glance or two at how it differs from neighboring states), as well as a fascinating look at the Chinese in the Mississippi Delta in the late Nineteenth Century (which left me almost as shocked as Lydia). You give us that kind of history and commentary while delivering a solid mystery? It’s hard to ask for more.
If you are already a fan of this series, I highly recommend this book. If you haven't tried the others, I would read a couple of the earliest books in the series first, just to get a feel for Lydia and Bill's relationship in the early books. There is a definite progression of the partnership and their relationship in the series but each book can stand alone.


Publisher:  Pegasus Books, 2019.
Length:      312 pages
Format:      Hardcover
Series:       Lydia Chin / Bill Smith, #12
Setting:      Mississippi
Genre:       Mystery
Source:      I purchased my copy.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Annual Book Sale: My Son's Books

At the Planned Parenthood book sale that we attend every year, my son usually concentrates on the science fiction and fantasy books, plus graphic novels. He often finds books for me, by authors I especially like, such as Terry Pratchett and John Scalzi.

Here I am featuring eight of the books he bought for himself this year, and you will notice that a number of them are cross-genre, with a mystery element.

To see a larger view of the covers, click on the images.

A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab is the first book in the Shades of Magic series. The story is set in four parallel worlds with four parallel Londons. Only some magicians can travel back and forth between the worlds. Sounds like an interesting premise. My son is reading this book now and liking it.

Charles de Lint is an author I have heard of but know little about. Per Fantastic Fiction, he is a full-time writer and musician who makes his home in Ottawa, Canada. He has written more than seventy adult, young adult, and children’s books, and I believe that he primarily writes in the fantasy genre. Widdershins is the 11th book in the Newford series.

The Kirkus review says of Westside: "Akers’ debut novel is an addictively readable fusion of mystery, dark fantasy, alternate history, and existential horror." It is set in an alternate 1920s Manhattan. 

The Diviners is the first in a young adult fantasy series by Libba Bray. The setting sounds very interesting: 1920s New York City. It is also nearly 600 pages, which is not unusual for fantasy books. describes Fortune's Pawn as an "action-packed space romance" in this excellent overview. It is the first part of a series by Rachel Bach.

No Dominion by Charlie Huston is the 2nd book in the Joe Pitt series, set in New York City. Joe Pitt is a private investigator and vampire. There are five books in the series. 

Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations is an anthology of short stories featuring paranormal mysteries. I am always willing to try out some short stories, so I will probably borrow this one sometime.

Hard Magic by Larry Correia is another alternate history set in the 1920s and 1930s. Jake Sullivan is a private detective with magical abilities. There are two more books in the Grimnoir Chronicles Series and some short stories.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Annual Book Sale: My Husband's Books

September 20th was the first day of the Planned Parenthood book sale that we attend every year. We go multiple times, and I always get too many books. My husband and son are more restrained. But we look forward to it each year and we always find unexpected treasures.

In this post I am highlighting some of my husband's purchases at the book sale. He looks for books in many genres: photography, history, social histories, mysteries, science fiction, and more. These are some of the mysteries and social histories that he found.

To see a larger view of the covers, click on the images.

My husband found seven mysteries in British Library Crime Classics editions.  The four pictured here are Death on the Riviera, The Cheltenham Square Murder, and The Lake District Murder by John Bude  and Murder in Piccadilly  by Charles Kingston.

John Bude wrote thirty crime novels between 1935 and his death in 1957. He worked in the theatre as a producer and director. Six of his books have been reissued by the British Library, and my husband found copies of all of them. There is a very good overview of John Bude's mysteries at Promoting Crime Fiction.

At the New York Journal of Books, D. R. Meredith describes Murder in Piccadilly as "a humorous mystery that will entertain the modern reader as much as it did at the time of its original publication in 1936." See full review here.

The DKA Files series by Joe Gores features a group of investigators who work for Daniel Kearny Associates, a firm specializing in repossessions of vehicles whose owners have defaulted on their loan payments. The setting is in and around San Francisco. These two books, 32 Cadillacs and Contract Null and Void, are the 4th and 5th books in the series. I have read the first novel in the series, Dead Skip, and enjoyed it very much.

And we conclude with two social histories. I think both will be very interesting.

  • An Elegant Madness: High Society in Regency England by Venetia Murray covers upper-class life during the years 1780-1830. 
  • The English Country House Party by Phyllida Barstow English gives an account of country house entertaining, from the death of Prince Albert in 1861 to the outbreak of World War I.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn: Betty Smith

For years, I mistakenly thought that this was children's book, and I was not interested in reading it. When I researched the book and its history recently, I realized it was much more than that, but still wasn't sure I wanted to invest the time in it. In the end, I was glad that I did.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a story of poverty in the Williamsburg slums of Brooklyn. The focus is on Francie Nolan, the daughter of a waiter / singer who has a problem with alcohol and his wife who cleans the building they live in to pay the rent. Francie is very close to her father, but her mother favors her younger brother Neeley. Life was very hard for their family, often not having enough food, worrying about not having enough money for the basics and having to move to cheaper apartments as the father is able to bring in less money.

Although I found this a very hard book to read, I do recommend it to anyone who has not read it. While reading When Books Went to War by Molly Guptill Manning, I was surprised to learn of this book's huge popularity when distributed as an Armed Services Edition. I now understand why. It is a compelling read and the characters are fully fleshed out and realistic.  My focus in this post is on the parents and the two children, but the extended family and many people in the neighborhood are featured also.

Although I have stressed the negatives of the life the Nolan's led, there are uplifting moments. Francie's unquenchable thirst for reading and knowledge is inspiring, and she never gives up on getting more education. I did not enjoy reading about poverty and hunger, but the way this story was told, focusing on the love that was part of this family, reminded me that not having love in childhood could be worse than not having food.

The inequities of gender are also addressed, although at many times the women in this story were stronger than the men. Yet, there was the prevalent idea that it is important for men to get an education but not women.

I did watch the film after reading the book. It was pretty faithful to the novel and a very moving story. James Dunn won the Best Supporting Actor for his role as Johnny, Franny's father. Peggy Ann Garner as Francie, Dorothy McGuire as Katie Nolan, Joan Blondell as Katie's sister Sissy and Lloyd  Nolan as Officer McShane were also very effective in their roles.

See these reviews:


Publisher:   Harper, 2002 (orig. pub. 1943)
Length:       493 pages
Format:      Hardcover
Setting:      Brooklyn, New York
Genre:       Fiction
Source:      I purchased my copy.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Killer's Choice: Ed McBain

As the story opens, a liquor store has been robbed. The saleswoman, Annie Boone, is dead of four bullet wounds, and a lot of damage was done to the store, including most of the merchandise. The store owner is moaning about the damage and the loss of most of his stock, and seems to care little about his employee's death. As the detectives of the 87th Precinct investigate this crime, they meet many people who know Annie but each has a different picture of her. The homicide victim is just as much a mystery as who killed her.

One difference between the 87th Precinct books and other police procedural mysteries I have read is that we see and follow several of the detectives working cases, often in pairs. In many other series, the focus is on one policeman or two partners. True, in this series Steve Carella is a central character, but at least at this point in the series, everyone plays their part and we follow extraneous events in each of their lives.

In this book, the 87th Precinct loses one policeman to a freakish incident, he just sort of wanders onto the site of a robbery at the wrong time. Also a new detective, Cotton Hawes, is added to the precinct; he has a bit of trouble fitting in because he comes from a precinct set in a nicer section of the city, which had fewer homicides to deal with. Also featured in Killer's Choice are Meyer Meyer and Bert Kling.

The lovely descriptive passages that seemed to be missing in book 4, The Con Man, are back again in this book. Ed McBain also tells the story well through dialog. The policemen are believable characters, with flaws and individual personalities.

I am reading this series in order from the beginning, and this is the fifth book that I have read. The series started in 1956, and this book came out in 1957. The early books in the series are short, quick reads. (McBain says he wrote those in a month.) There were over 50 books in the series and some of the later books are quite long. I started late with this series but it is nice to know I have many more to read. It will be interesting to see how the series and the policemen change as the series evolves.

See these reviews by:


Publisher:   Permabooks, 1962 (orig. pub. 1957)
Length:       147 pages
Format:      Paperback
Series:       87th Precinct, #5
Setting:      Isola, fictional city loosely based on New York City
Genre:        Police procedural
Source:      I purchased my copy.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

My Reading in September 2019

When I review this month's reading, I can see that I have been moving away from vintage mystery novels and reading more contemporary fiction. That is neither good nor bad but I don't know why it is happening.

Of the ten books I read, seven were crime fiction although one was a mystery / fantasy blend. Of the crime fiction books, only one was written before 1990--Margery Allingham's More Work for the Undertaker, from 1948.

My first foray into Georgette Heyer's historical romance fiction (Frederica) was a success. That one was published in 1965. Reading Neil Gaiman's Coraline was not quite as successful for me, but that is because I don't like dark, creepy stories.

I started two series by "new to me" authors. I read Heartshot by Steven F. Havill and Snowblind by Ragnar Jónasson. I was very happy with both of those and will continue reading the series.

Overall, a very good month of reading. Here are the books I read...

Mystery reference

Brit Noir: The Pocket Essential Guide to the Crime Fiction, Film & TV of the British Isles
(2016) by Barry Forshaw
This book covers crime fiction authors from the UK. It is divided into geographic regions within the UK. There is also a section on UK authors whose books are set outside the UK. I do enjoy reading about crime fiction authors and their books, and each mystery reference book has its high and low points. This one is not perfect but is a good overview.

Historical Fiction / Romance

Frederica (1965) by Georgette Heyer
This is my first Regency romance. It has been many years since I have read a book in the romance genre, but so many people enjoy Heyer's romances that I had to give them a try. And I was glad I did. Frederica was an engaging book, and I learned a lot about Regency England. I have more of Heyer's Regency romances on my wishlist and will definitely be trying more.

Fantasy / Horror

Coraline (2002) by Neil Gaiman
This is a very dark and strange story of a young girl who goes through a door in her house into an alternate version of her house and her parents. Beautifully written and very creepy. Definitely a good read to get into the mood for Halloween. It isn't the type of story I enjoy very much, too creepy for me, but I am glad I experienced it.

Crime Fiction

Paper Son (2019) by S.J. Rozan
I wish I could convey to you how excited I was to find out that S.J. Rozan had written another book in the Lydia Chin / Bill Smith mystery series. That is one my favorite contemporary mystery series and the last book was in 2011. The surprise here is that Lydia and Bill are both in Mississippi helping one of her cousins who is in serious trouble. And Lydia had not even known she had relatives in Mississippi. If you are already a fan of this series, I highly recommend this book. If you haven't tried the others, I would read a couple of the earliest books in the series first.  I will be reviewing it, sooner or later, in more detail.

Heartshot (1991) by Steven F. Havill
The first book in a  24-book series set in a fictional county in New Mexico. It features Undersheriff Bill Gastner and Detective Estelle Reyes. I enjoyed this book a lot and will be reading more. My review here.

Joe Country (2019) by Mick Herron
The 6th book in Herron's Slough House series about spies who have been demoted due to some disgrace or screw up in their jobs, and are now working under Jackson Lamb. Amazingly, this is one series I have kept current with. I love the writing, the characters, and the plots get better and better.  

More Work for the Undertaker (1948) by Margery Allingham
The 13th book in the Albert Campion series. I am rereading the series in order because I enjoy Allingham's writing so much. Not my favorite book in the series, but many readers like it a lot. My review here.

The Manual of Detection (2009) by Jedediah Berry
My son bought this book at the book sale last year. We both read it recently, and we both enjoyed it. But it is very hard to describe. It mixes both mystery and fantasy, and I did find it more confusing than most books with that blend. The story is dark but with a good bit of humor, and I liked the ending.
Snowblind (2010) by Ragnar Jónasson
Snowblind is the first book in the Dark Iceland series. The setting is the northernmost town in Iceland, Siglufjörður, close to the Arctic Circle. I have read other mysteries set in Iceland but this part of Iceland is new to me. I liked it, I will be continuing the series. See my review.

A Foreign Country (2012) by Charles Cumming
This was my 2nd spy fiction read of the month. I really like spy fiction, and this book worked really well for me. This is Cumming's first book in the Thomas Kell series. Kell has been tossed out of MI6 but is called back to run a secret investigation. Very complex, lots of surprises, and believable characters. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Heartshot: Steven F. Havill

Heartshot is the first book in a  24-book series by Steven F. Havill. The series is set in a fictional county in New Mexico. Although this book was published in 1991, the series was entirely new to me, and I was so pleased with my reading experience I wanted to share it.

Summary from my trade paperback edition published by Poisoned Pen Press:
Posadas County, New Mexico has very few mean streets and no city-slick cop shop. But it has an earnest, elected Sheriff and his aging Undersheriff, William C. Gastner. Pushing sixty, widower Bill has no other life than in law enforcement–and doesn't want one, even if he's being nudged gently toward retirement. Then a car full of teens, running from a stop by Deputy Torrez, goes air­borne into a rocky outcrop, killing all five kids and revealing a package of cocaine under the seat. Has someone brought big-time crime to the county? Bill is now dealing with grieving par­ents–one of whom starts packing a gun...
What did I like so much about this book? I think the most important thing for me was the main character, Undersheriff Bill Gastner. Overweight and unhealthy, he is dedicated to his job but works too hard. With a new Sheriff taking over, Gastner worries about being pushed out of his job. And he is cranky and curmudgeonly. The story is told from Gastner's point of view, in first person, and that approach works very well in this case.

Another great character is Detective Estelle Reyes, younger, but just as intelligent and determined as Gastner. I like the way the relationships develop between the inexperienced Sheriff, Undersheriff Gastner and Detective Reyes.

The story is compelling. The deaths of five teenagers is devastating to the community, and the investigation leads to further deaths. My interest never lagged. Towards the end the story becomes somewhat thrillerish, but still convincing. I was certainly caught up in the story and holding my breath until the end.

I loved this book. I already have the 2nd book in the series, Bitter Recoil, and I will be reading it soon. The series is in print, having been reissued by Poisoned Pen Press. I was introduced to this series by Richard Robinson at Tip the Wink, and I am very grateful he told me about it.


Publisher:  Poisoned Pen Press, 2007. (orig. publ. 1991)
Length:  217 pages
Format:  Trade Paperback
Series:   Posadas County Mysteries
Setting:  New Mexico
Genre:   Mystery, Police Procedural