Sunday, May 31, 2020

Bookshelf Traveling For Insane Times No. 11

I am participating in the Bookshelf Traveling For Insane Times meme, hosted by Judith at Reader in the Wilderness.

This week I am looking at a section of (mostly) unread books from the built-in bookshelf. I will focus on a few of them that are first in series for authors that I have never read. If you click on the image of the shelf, you will be able to read more of the titles.

Case for Three Detectives (1936) by Leo Bruce is the first book in the Sergeant Beef series. On my shelf since 2012. 

Of the four books I am featuring, this is the one I know the most about. The book is a parody of the Golden Age mystery, and the three detectives in the title are versions of Hercule Poirot, Peter Wimsey, and Father Brown. I have probably avoided reading this because in the past I haven't enjoyed mystery mixed with comedy, but my tastes are changing and I should give it a try.

Check out the review at crossexamingcrime.

Death Angels is the first of a series of police procedurals by Åke Edwardson, featuring Chief Inspector Erik Winter. On my shelf since 2013.

Published in 1997, the setting is Sweden. I bought this book when I was acquiring a lot of Scandinavian mysteries, and I don't know why I let it sit so long.

See the review at Internation Noir Fiction.

A Carrion Death (2008) by Michael Stanley introduces Assistant Superintendent David Bengu of the Botswana Police Department. On my shelf since 2009.

He is known as Kubu due to his size, comparing him to a hippopotamus. Michael Stanley is a pseudonym used by South Africans Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip. I haven't read many mysteries set in Africa. 

This has been reviewed at MURDER by TYPE.

Wife of the Gods (2009) by Kwei Quartey is the first book in a series set in Ghana. On my shelf since 2011. 

As with A Carrion Death, I think I would enjoy reading this book to get more familiar with different parts of Africa. This series currently has five books and the author has started a new series starring a female private detective, Emma Djan. The first book in that series is The Missing American.

From the Publisher's Weekly review:
The murder of a young med student brings Det. Insp. Darko Dawson from his police department in Ghana’s capital, Accra, to the small town of Ketanu, where some dark secrets of his own lie buried.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Fearless Jones: Walter Mosley

The star of this book (and the narrator) is Paris Minton, but there would not be much of a story without his friend Fearless Jones. They are a case of opposites attracting; Paris is the brains and Fearless is the brawn (and in some cases, the conscience). The story takes place in Watts in 1954.

Description from the back of my book:
Bookshop owner Paris Minton is minding his own business when a brief encounter with a beautiful stranger gets him beaten, shot at, robbed, and then burned out of the store and home. Paris needs help but his secret weapon–brave, reckless WWII hero Fearless Jones–is in jail. Vowing to dish out some heavy justice, Paris plots to get Jones back on the street. But when these two men come together, they'll find themselves trapped in a bewildering vortex of sex, money, and murder–and a dicey endgame that's littered with dangerous players...
I love Paris Minton. I admire him because he has worked hard (and creatively) to own a bookstore and support himself, but I love him because he loves books.
Business [in the bookstore] wasn't brisk, but it paid the rent and utilities. And all day long I could do the thing I loved best–reading. I read Up from Slavery, Tom Sawyer Abroad, Journey to the Center of the Earth, Mein Kampf, and dozens of other titles in the first few months. Whole days I spent in my reclining swivel chair, turning pages and drinking Royal Crown colas.
Fearless Jones, his friend, is very big, a brawny guy, with anger management problems.
Fearless Jones. Tall and slender, darker than most Negroes in the American melting pot, he was stronger than tempered steel and an army-trained killing machine.
... and ...
Fearless was the kind of person who attracted trouble. He didn't know how to look away or back down. He couldn't even spell the word compromise. Whenever he called me, I didn't know if we were going to get drunk at a party or get jumped down some dark alley. 
In Fearless Jones, Paris Minton's life is disrupted by a beautiful woman in trouble. As a result of getting involved with her, his book store is burned down. Paris doesn't want to go looking for trouble, but he does want his store back. He needs Fearless Jones, so he gets him out of jail. There are a lot of characters, mostly bad guys. There is a crooked cop and there are good cops, but mostly it is up to Paris and Fearless to take care of themselves.

In my review of A Red Death, the second book in the Easy Rawlins series, I noted that I found the book dark, gritty, and violent, to an extent that it lessened my enjoyment of the book. This book also has those elements. But with all the crime and violence, I still enjoyed reading about Paris and Fearless. I think it is their friendship and loyalty to each other that I like.

As in A Red Death, there is an emphasis on the sympathy of blacks with Jewish people and vice versa, since both have suffered from prejudice and suppression. This book is set in 1954, so the effects and events of World War II are still on people's minds.

When I was about halfway through this book, I was thinking that I preferred the Easy Rawlings series more (I have only read two of those).  Then when I finished Fearless Jones, I decided I liked this one better. I guess that both series have their strong points and it is good that they are different.

I don't want to go too overboard in praising this book, because I think the plot is too fragmented. Like real life. The type of plot that has no happy ending. But I was focused on characters, not plot, and all I wanted was for Paris to get his book store back so it all worked for me.


Publisher:   Vision, 2002 (orig. pub. 2001)
Length:       337 pages
Format:      Paperback
Series:       Fearless Jones #1
Setting:      Los Angeles, CA
Genre:       Historical fiction / Mystery
Source:      On my TBR pile since 2013.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Venture Forth: 2020 Summer Reading Program

I am joining in on the Venture Forth 2020 Summer Reading Program described by Carl Anderson at Stainless Steel Droppings.

From Carl's post:
Do you recall Summer Reading programs that were assigned by your school for the Summer break, or were hosted by your local public library? Are these something in which you participated?
Memories of my past, related largely to books and reading, have been triggered during this time of physical distancing as I have communicated via technology with friends. Those memories are influencing my reading of late and even the music I have been listening to.
--- --- ---
So I created my own Summer Reading program: Venture Forth. The name is a play on the idea that we are being allowed to venture forth into certain businesses and venues once again, and that reading always allows everyone to Venture Forth on an adventure.
This isn’t a challenge or event like I’ve hosted in the past. It is simply something that I want to do and want to share with you. If you desire to recapture a bit of that childhood summer experience, please feel free to be a part of this, and feel free to use the gif.
There are no rules. No number of books to read. No prizes outside of the great pleasure of reading.
Carl listed about 20 prompts that fit his situation. I have borrowed some of his and created my own.

My prompts:

book with a Michael Whelan cover 
       [Dragonsdawn (1988) by Anne McCaffrey]
       [Dragonflight (1968) by Anne McCaffrey]

spy fiction written by a woman  [At Risk (2004) by Stella Rimington]

spy fiction written by a man  [The Last Tourist (2020) by Olen Steinhauer]

2020 book purchase

nonfiction book

novel that is part of a series

novel that I have read before

book recommended by another blogger

graphic novel

recommendation from my husband

historical fiction novel

science fiction novel  [The Consuming Fire (2018) by John Scalzi]

book set in Canada   [A Trick of the Light (2011) by Louise Penny]

book written by a Canadian author

book published in the 1940s

book published in the 1950s

NEW prompt added June 5th:
     Clarkesworld Anthology

The prompt for a "book with a Michael Whelan cover" was on Carl's list and I assumed I would switch that to an illustrator that I am more familiar with. But I was curious about Whelan so I looked him up. Amazingly I actually found a book I had with a cover by Michael Whelan. It is Foundation (Book One) by Isaac Asimov and it is on my Classics List. So I will be reading that for sure.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Bookshelf Traveling for Insane Times No. 10

I am participating in the Bookshelf Traveling For Insane Times meme, hosted by Judith at Reader in the Wilderness

Today for my bookshelf traveling I am repurposing material from an earlier blog post. The post focused on one of my favorite publishers of mystery fiction, Soho. And specifically the books published by Soho that are on my shelves (and mostly unread). This photo of books on my shelves was taken four years ago, and at that time I had read none of the novels. Since then I have read only two of the books, Death of a Red Heroine by Qiu Xiaolong and Frozen Assets by Quentin Bates.

If you click on the image of the shelf, you will be able to read more of the titles.

The picture above features several authors I am looking forward to reading, either for the first time or to continue a series. Soho Crime specializes in crime fiction with an international setting. 

  • Quentin Bates' Officer Gunnhildur Mystery series is set in Iceland.
  • Magdalen Nabb's Marshal Guarnaccia series is set in Italy.
  • Leighton Gage's Chief Inspector Mario Silva series is set in Brazil.
  • Rebecca Pawel's Tejada series is set in Spain in the years before World War I.
  • Peter Lovesey's Peter Diamond series is set in England.
  • Colin Cotterill's Dr. Siri Paiboun series is set in Laos.
  • Grace Brophy's two books about Commissario Cenni are set in Italy.
  • Martin Limón's George Sueño and Ernie Bascom series is set in Korea in the 1970's
  • T. Frank Muir's DCI Andy Gilchrist series is set in Ireland.
  • Graeme Kent's Sister Conchita and Sergeant Kella mystery series is set in the Solomon Islands.
  • David Downing's John Russell series is set in Germany in the late 1930s and the 1940s.
  • Qiu Xiaolong's Inspector Chen Cao series is set in China.

Of all these series published by Soho, Graeme Kent's Sister Conchita and Sergeant Kella mystery series is set in the most exotic location: the Solomon Islands. I know little about that area. I was motivated to buy this book both for the cover featuring skulls and the unusual location. And it doesn't hurt that it features a nun, Sister Conchita.

From the summary at Goodreads:

It's not easy being Ben Kella. As a sergeant in the Solomon Islands Police Force, as well as an aofia, a hereditary spiritual peacekeeper of the Lau people, he is viewed with distrust by both the indigenous islanders and the British colonial authorities. In the past few days he has been cursed by a magic man, stumbled across evidence of a cargo cult uprising, and failed to find an American anthropologist who had been scouring the mountains for a priceless pornographic icon. Then, at a mission station, Kella discovers an independent and rebellious young American nun, Sister Conchita, secretly trying to bury a skeleton.

The first book in Downing's John Russell World War II spy thriller series was Zoo Station. Each book in the series has the name of a train station in Berlin as its title. Silesian Station is the second novel in the series.

Summary at Soho Press website:

Summer, 1939. British journalist John Russell has just been granted American citizenship in exchange for agreeing to work for American intelligence when his girlfriend Effi is arrested by the Gestapo. Russell hoped his new nationality would let him safely stay in Berlin with Effi and his son, but now he’s being blackmailed. To free Effi, he must agree to work for the Nazis. They know he has Soviet connections and want him to pass on false intelligencee. Russell consents but secretly offers his services to the Soviets instead.

There is a review of Silesian Station at Eurocrime along with a review of One Man's Flag from Downing's Jack McColl series. 

I read the first two books in Martin Limón's George Sueño and Ernie Bascom series, Jade Lady Burning and Slicky Boys, and I liked them a lot. My review of Slicky Boys is here.

The books in this series can be described as hard-boiled police procedural thrillers. The two heroes, Corporal George Sueño and Sergeant Ernie Bascom of the US Army, are Criminal Investigation Division agents in Seoul, Korea in the 1970s. Limón gives us a look at Korea, its culture, and its people at that time.

From the back of the book:

Retired Army officer Herman Burkowicz has quite a lucrative setup smuggling rare Korean artifacts. But then his nine-year-old foster daughter, Mi-ja, is abducted, and her kidnappers demand a ransom Burkowicz doesn’t have: a priceless jade skull from the age of Genghis Khan. Sueño and Bascom—more accustomed to chasing felons and black marketeers in the back alleys of Itaewon than ancient treasures—go in over their heads as they agree to search for the skull...

I am throwing in an extra here, because this book was on a shelf I featured in an earlier Bookshelf Traveling post...

Kittyhawk Down is the second novel in Garry Disher's Inspector Hal Challis series. I did read the first one, and enjoyed it. Maxine at Petrona said that Kittyhawk Down "is even better than the first, Dragon Man, and that’s saying something."

From the back of the book:

A missing two-year-old girl, and the body of an unidentified drowning victim have brought Homicide Squad Inspector Hal Challis, of the Peninsula Police Force, to Bushrangers Bay at the Australian seaside not far from Melbourne.

Friday, May 22, 2020

The Master and Margarita: Mikhail Bulgakov

Katrina (at Pining for the West) and I read this book at the same time. We both had it on our Classics lists and she asked if I wanted to read it now with her. That was a really good thing because without that motivation I don't know when I would have read it or if I would have persevered to read it all.

I always prefer to read a book knowing as little as possible about it. Sometimes that is not possible but with this book I only had a basic overview of the book. It was written in the 1930's and finished shortly before the author died in 1940, at the age of 49. The author's writings were often rejected and he wanted to leave Russia so that he could write. He knew he could not publish this book while he was alive; otherwise he would "disappear." The novel was finally published in Russia in 1966.

I did not read the foreword or the introduction, and for the first two hundred pages I skipped the notes at the end, because I usually find that notes impede the flow of reading or tell too much. However, in this case I should have read all of those. I just did not understand enough about the issues that were at the center of the novel or Bulgakov's writing to understand what I was reading or its intent.

At this point, I will share a summary from Penguin Random House.
When the devil arrives in 1930s Moscow, consorting with a retinue of odd associates—including a talking black cat, an assassin, and a beautiful naked witch—his antics wreak havoc among the literary elite of the world capital of atheism. Meanwhile, the Master, author of an unpublished novel about Jesus and Pontius Pilate, languishes in despair in a psychiatric hospital, while his devoted lover, Margarita, decides to sell her soul to save him. As Bulgakov’s dazzlingly exuberant narrative weaves back and forth between Moscow and ancient Jerusalem, studded with scenes ranging from a giddy Satanic ball to the murder of Judas in Gethsemane, Margarita’s enduring love for the Master joins the strands of plot across space and time.

This is a very weird book. It made little sense to me. At times it is very funny, but in a sad way. Things happen to people and they make no sense. People lose their apartments or jobs for fabricated reasons. And yet life goes on. I realize that this is a satire on conditions in Russia at the time it was written, but I did not have enough context to understand it.

Some of my confusion was due to the names being hard to follow. Some names were similar. Sometimes a person would be identified by his last name, other times by the first and second. Some important characters were identified by different names in different parts of the book. And I did not realize it would read like a fantasy, thus I was not prepared for the tone. For instance, the cat does not only talk, it walks upright its back feet and is the size of a human being.

Some of the writing was very entertaining and most of the time I did not care whether the book made sense or not but there was a large portion, from about page 50 - 200, where I was so confused it was hopeless. It seemed incoherent to me.

The book is in two parts. Book Two begins with Margarita trying to find the Master. Although that half is very fantastical, also, I found it more coherent and less confusing.

Margarita loves the Master and wants to leave her rich husband. She is willing to give up her privileged and easy life. But she cannot find him. The devil, often referred to as Woland in the edition I read, offers to grant her a wish ... and weird things happen. She gets two wishes because her first wish is selfless... to save her maid, Natasha.

Four chapters of the Master's book on Jesus and Pontius Pilate is included in The Master and Margarita. Those four chapters were my favorite part. The writing style in those chapters was entirely different. The chapters are interspersed throughout the book, two in Book One, two in Book Two.

I fear that my review is incoherent and doesn't tell you much about how I liked the book. I liked parts of it, I will reread it again, and maybe one day I will understand it more.

The translation I read was by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. The very enthusiastic Foreword was by Boris Fishman and the Introduction was by Richard Pevear.

My husband took the photo of the cover above and it shows the many, many sticky tabs I used trying to keep track of the story.

I highly recommend Katrina's review of The Master and Margarita. Her summary and thoughts on the book are excellent.


Publisher: Penguin Classics, 2016 (orig. pub. 1966)
Length:  396 pages
Format:  Trade paperback
Setting:  Moscow, Russia
Genre:   Classic Fiction (Fantasy, Magical Realism)
Source:  On my TBR since 2017.
Translated from the Russian by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky

Monday, May 18, 2020

Top Ten Reasons Why I Love Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe Series

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl.

The topic this week is: Reasons Why I Love [insert your favorite book title, genre, author, etc. here]. I have never done a Top Ten Tuesday post. Until now.

So here are my reasons why I love the Nero Wolfe series. First a brief overview of the series.

Rex Stout wrote 33 novels and 41 novellas about the private detective Nero Wolfe and his assistant, Archie Goodwin. The series began in 1934, with Fer-de-lance, and the last book in the series, A Family Affair, was published in 1975, shortly before Stout's death.

1. The main characters:
Nero Wolfe is a lover of orchids and fine food, who supports himself as a private detective, charging exorbitant fees. Archie Goodwin, the narrator of the stories, is both his assistant and a private investigator, and he does most of the legwork. The series combines a genius armchair detective with a hard-boiled detective, and you get the best of both worlds. They complement each other. They disagree on a lot. But both of them look out for each other and will go to great lengths to help when the other is in trouble.

2. The "family" that lives at the brownstone:
I always enjoy the mysteries, but I read the books more to enter into the Wolfe household for a day or two. Wolfe is in his fifties; Archie is in his early thirties. Archie is Wolfe's employee, but he is also his own man. Throughout the series, the same group of characters inhabit the brownstone on West Thirty-fifth Street: Wolfe and Archie; Fritz, the cook; and Theodore Horstmann, the orchid expert (Wolfe has plant rooms on the top floor of the brownstone). All of them depend on Wolfe's talents as a detective to support the household. Archie is often the one who has to goad Wolfe into taking on a case.

3. Fred Durkin, Saul Panzer, Orrie Cather:
The team of freelance operatives that Wolfe uses when needed can be considered part of Wolfe's extended family. They each have their strengths and idiosyncrasies.

Archie describes them in Might as Well Be Dead:
Fred Durkin, big and burly and bald, knows exactly what he can expect of his brains and what he can’t, which is more than you can say for a lot of people with a bigger supply. Orrie Cather is smart, both in action and in appearance. As for Saul Panzer, I thoroughly approve of his preference for free-lancing, since if he decided he wanted my job he would get it–or anybody else’s.
4. Recurring characters I love:
Lily Rowan, Archie's friend and lover. They share a love of dancing. Lily is first introduced in Some Buried Caesar.

Inspector Cramer, in charge of the New York City homicide department, who alternately despises and admires and respects Wolfe.

Sergeant Purley Stebbins, Cramer's assistant. He is a good cop, tough and dedicated, and although they give each other a hard time, he and Archie also have a mutual respect.

Except for Wolfe and Archie, none of the characters mentioned in this post are in every book. Lily Rowan shows up much less than I remembered, but she is a special character for me. She has a long-term relationship with Archie with no strings attached, as Lily is a very independent and wealthy woman.

5. Archie's narration of each case:
Archie's first-person narration is what makes the series, in my opinion. He is a fantastic character. He gives his opinions, of Wolfe, of the victims and suspects and miscellaneous characters and he is very entertaining.

6. Wolfe's quirks and obsessions:
Wolfe is very interested in food and cooking. The tidbits about cooking in these stories are fascinating. He is attached to his orchids and will not miss his morning and afternoon sessions tending to them. He is a stickler for correct word usage, and often uses words the reader is not familiar with. He is very literate and frequently cites authors and books.

Nero Wolfe is well known for his extreme distaste for leaving his home. He is also afraid of riding in cars (or any other mode of transportation, actually). He doesn't trust any driver other than Archie, and he sits in the back seat and hangs on for dear life even when Archie is driving.

7. The main and recurring characters stay the same age throughout the series.
Over the forty plus years this series was published, the protagonists and other characters did not age at all, but they were always placed within the context of the time that the book was written.

8. Fer-de-lance does not read like the first book in a series.
From the beginning, Rex Stout had the relationships of Wolfe and Archie developed and recurring characters established. That is one reason that the series does not need to be read in order. The first time I read the books, I read them as I found them (at the library or loaned from my grandmother). Years later I took the time to read them in order, finding a few I had missed or did not own.

9. I love to reread the books. 
Like many fans of this series, I have reread all the books multiple times, and in most cases when I read them now, I know who the perpetrator is.  Thus I am not reading the books for the resolution of a crime but to enjoy the time with my favorite characters.

10. The TV Adaptations:
I enjoy the TV adaptations. Nero Wolfe and Archie have been portrayed in  films, but I have not seen any of those.  (See Wikipedia for a list of other adaptations.)

I have three favorite TV adaptations.

The most recent adaptation (2000-2001) starring Timothy Hutton and Maury Chaykin is fantastic. The episodes were set primarily in the 1940s–1950s and had wonderful production values.

In 1981, there was a TV series with William Conrad and Lee Horsley. It only lasted 14 episodes. I especially liked Lee Horsley as Archie.

The Italian Nero Wolfe series (2012), starring Francesco Pannofino as Nero Wolfe and Pietro Sermonti as Archie Goodwin, has eight feature-length episodes and each is based on a book in the series. I have only watched two episodes (one was Fer-de-lance), but I enjoyed both of them and look forward to watching the others. The episodes I have watched took more liberties with the story, and had a lighter tone.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

The Provincial Lady books

Between 1930 and 1940, E.M. Delafield published four books about the Provincial Lady, all written in diary format, and I have now read three of them.

The Diary of a Provincial Lady was the first book, a satirical and humorous look at the life of a married woman with two children (and a cook, a French governess/nanny, and a maid or two), living in an English village, and dealing with money problems and the foibles of others.

This was followed by The Provincial Lady in London, published in 1932. This book continues the story after the Provincial Lady publishes her diary. It is successful and she has received enough money for this effort to improve the family's financial status. She endeavors to find a flat in London to take more time to write. The tone is light, humorous and fun. The original title was The Provincial Lady Goes Further, and I think that title is much better. There is a good bit of time spent on the logistics for finding a flat in London, and setting up the flat, but much else is covered, including a holiday trip and a trip to Belgium for a Literary Conference.

I enjoyed both of these books, but I did have some quibbles. I was bothered by the fact that the main character was complaining so much (about lack of money and time, mainly) when she had a maid and a cook and a governess for her daughter. Her son was away at school most of the time. But I kept reminding myself that this is a picture of life as it was for a middle-class woman at this time and place, and I should not be judgmental. I am not sure why that particular aspect was an irritation.

In all of the books, I loved the author's queries and memorandums. Such as...
December 20th. Rose takes me to see St. John Ervine's play, and am much amused. Overhear one lady in stalls ask another: Why don't you write a play, dear? Well, says the friend, it's so difficult, what with one thing and another, to find time. Am staggered.
(Query: Could I write a play myself? Could we all write plays, if only we had the time? Reflect that St. J. E. lives in the same county as myself, but feel that this does not constitute sound excuse for writing to ask him how he finds the time to write plays.)
There are also characters that I love throughout the series. One is "our Vicar's Wife", who visits often and carries on a conversation long after she should be leaving, but is such a dear person.
Our Vicar's wife calls for me at seven o'clock, and we go to a neighbouring Women's Institute at which I have, rather rashly, promised to speak.
[The Vicar's wife takes her home...]
I beg our Vicar's wife to come in; she says, No, No, it is far too late, really, and comes. Robert [her husband] and Helen Wills [the cat] both asleep in the drawing-room. Our Vicar's wife says she must not stay a moment, and we talk about Countrywomen, Stanley Baldwin, Hotels at Madeira (where none of us have ever been), and other unrelated topics. Ethel brings in cocoa, but can tell from the way she puts down the tray that she thinks it an unreasonable requirement, and will quite likely give notice to-morrow.
At eleven our Vicar's wife says that she does hope the lights of the two-seater are still in order, and gets as far as the hall-door. There we talk about forthcoming village concert, parrot-disease, and the Bishop of the diocese.
Her car refuses to start, and Robert and I push it down the drive. After a good deal of jerking and grinding, engine starts, the hand of our Vicar's wife waves at us through the hole in the talc, and car disappears down the lane.

Moving on to the third book...
The Provincial Lady in America, published in 1934. The Provincial Lady's American publishers want her to come to America to tour for her books and lecture at various events. This is a major undertaking but she makes plans so that she can do the trip while her children are at school, from October to early December. She visits many cities: New York, Chicago, Cleveland, Buffalo, Boston, Washington and Philadelphia in the US and Toronto in Canada. I loved that she was determined to visit Alcott House in Concord, Massachusetts and enjoyed a special tour for her benefit. The day before she is taken to see her first American football game at Harvard stadium.

So far this is my favorite of the books. Not as funny, but more interesting, with her reactions to the cities, conditions in America, and the people she meets. In the earlier books, Robert seems to be a stick and a stuffed shirt and very non-communicative. But I got a much better impression of him in this book. The vicar's wife shows up even in The Provincial Lady in America, in Robert's letters from home.

In spite of my initial reservations, I have enjoyed continuing with these books and I will be reading the fourth book, The Provincial Lady in Wartime, soon. It was published in 1940 and describes her experiences at the beginning of World War II.

I have been reading my husband's editions of the Provincial Lady books. They are lovely Academy Chicago editions, published in the 1980s. The first two books had illustrations by Arthur Watts. The third one was illustrated by Margaret Freeman.

Resources for Diary of a Provincial Lady ...
Jilly Cooper's comments at The Guardian
Constance's review at Staircase Wit
Clothes are much discussed in Provincial Lady books, as noted at Clothes in Books

Cath at Read-warbler reviews The Provincial Lady Goes Further.
Katrina's review of The Provincial Lady Goes to America at Pining for the West.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Bookshelf Traveling For Insane Times No. 9

I am participating in the Bookshelf Traveling For Insane Times meme, hosted by Judith at Reader in the Wilderness. Again I am looking at one of the shelves containing my books, in this case mostly mysteries. If you click on the image of the shelf, you will be able to read more of the titles.

Near the top of the stacked books, there is Chasing the Devil's Tail by David Fulmer, first published in 2001.

Why do I have this book? My husband bought it at the Planned Parenthood sale, over ten years ago at least. He passed it on to me to read and it is still sitting on the shelf.

Setting and characters:
1907, in the Storyville district of New Orleans, an area where prostitution was tolerated and kept under control. This is at the beginning of the jazz age, and real-life characters are included, such as Jelly Roll Morton and Buddy Bolden. Creole detective Valentin St. Cyr is the protagonist, working for Tom Anderson, a political boss.

I don't know much about this book. It is the beginning of a seven book series, and it has gotten good reviews. If anyone knows more, let me know.

Right below that is Nemesis by Jo Nesbo, originally published in Norwegian in 2002, translated to English in 2008.

Setting and characters:
Oslo, Norway. Harry Hole is the main character, a police detective. He has many of the typical problems of policemen in contemporary mysteries; he struggles with alcohol and smoking, depression, and has difficulty taking orders and dealing with co-workers.

It has been eight years since I read The Redbreast by Jo Nesbo. The Redbreast was the third book in the series and I have not read books 1 and 2, which have now been translated into English. I still plan to move on to Nemesis and hope I remember enough to enjoy the book (or that it works well as a standalone).

I hope to read this book this year for the European Reading Challenge.

Towards the left of the photo is The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi, the first book in a science fiction trilogy, published in 2017, about an empire of worlds connected by travel via The Flow.

From the book description on the hardcover dust jacket...
Our universe is ruled by physics and faster than light travel is not possible—until the discovery of The Flow, an extra-dimensional field we can access at certain points in space-time that transport us to other worlds, around other stars. 
Humanity flows away from Earth, into space, and in time forgets our home world and creates a new empire, the Interdependency, whose ethos requires that no one human outpost can survive without the others. It’s a hedge against interstellar war—and a system of control for the rulers of the empire.
This book is first in a trilogy, and Richard Robinson at Tip the Wink has read all of the books. See his posts here and here.

I am currently reading this book, just started it today.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter: Sharyn McCrumb

This is the second book in Sharyn McCrumb's Appalachian Ballad series. Both this story and the first one in the series feature Sheriff Spencer Arrowood of Wake County, Tennessee, but he doesn't do a lot of investigating. I think it is typical of the series that he does not play a major role in the stories.

In this book, the story centers around the wife of the church pastor, Laura Bruce, of the small town of Dark Hollow. Her husband is serving as an Army chaplain in the Middle East, ministering to troops left behind after the Gulf War. Laura is in her late thirties, only married to her husband for one year, and pregnant. And she is unprepared for the additional responsibilities she is expected to take on in the church with her husband gone.
"It was only later that she realized that marriage to Will entailed greater than ordinary obligations: He came with the spiritual baggage of two hundred souls of Shiloh Baptist Church. She told herself that she would begin by going through the motions as pastor's wife, hoping that the emotions would eventually follow. So far, they had not."
One night Sheriff Arrowood calls Laura, requesting that she come to the home of a family that attends the church. It is the site of a multiple homicide. The parents and one child have been murdered by the oldest son, who then killed himself, and only the two teenage children, Maggie and Mark Underhill, have survived. They were at the high school practicing for a play and came home to find the rest of the family dead. Laura is called in to provide support since her husband is not available.

It is hard to describe the dynamics going on in this story. Laura agrees to be the surviving teenager's guardian for a few months until Mark turns 18, so that they can finish the school year and live in their house. The evidence supports the belief that the oldest son was the killer, but the children left behind are acting strangely. They are old enough to take care of themselves, but they could benefit from some occasional checking in. For a while the sheriff and Laura both lose touch with them. The situation grows tense and suspenseful.

Environmental issues in the area are addressed. A subplot focuses on an older man who finds that he is dying of cancer. He traces his illness to to the pollution of the Little Dove River, caused by a paper mill in North Carolina.

Laura also visits with a older woman, Nora Bonesteel, who is reputed to have "the sight" and often knows about occurrences before they happen. This character does provide a good view of the community and the history of the area, and the supernatural element does not overshadow the plot.

This novel is an excellent depiction of the Appalachian area in eastern Tennessee. The story is dark and unsettling. Sharyn McCrumb's writing is beautiful. I don't know if I was more in tune with McCrumb's style of writing now or if the story improved over the first in the series, but I did like this one much better than If Ever I Return, Pretty Peggy-O.


Publisher:  Onyx, 1993. Orig. pub. 1992.
Length:      381 pages
Format:      Paperback
Series:       Appalachian Ballad series, #2
Setting:      Tennessee
Genre:       Mystery
Source:     On my TBR piles since 2015. 

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Bookshelf Traveling For Insane Times No. 8

Judith at Reader in the Wilderness hosts this meme: Bookshelf Traveling For Insane Times. The idea is to look through a bookshelf or a bookcase or stacks of books and share some thoughts on the books. And of course you can be inventive and talk about books in any context.

The two shelves I am featuring today are from my husband's mystery book shelves. The three authors featured on the shelves are Earl Derr Biggers, William Marshall, and Bill Pronzini.

Let's start with Bill Pronzini:

Pronzini is a very prolific author but today I am focusing on his Nameless Detective series, which now consists of over 40 books. The first book was published in 1971 and the last one in 2017. The series is set in San Francisco and the Bay Area. My husband has read all of the books except the last book in the series, Endgame.

I was the one who introduced my husband to the Nameless Detective series, but I am not close to finishing all the books in the series. I have not read any of the books in the photo above, and have read only one book in the series since I have been blogging: Boobytrap. I hope to continue reading the series soon.

The second shelf has books from both Earl Derr Biggers and William Marshall. I covered Earl Derr Biggers in an earlier Bookshelf Traveling post so I will move on to William Marshall, who is primarily known for his Yellowthread Street series.

Marshals' series is about a group of quirky detectives who work out of the Yellowthread Street Precinct in the Hong Bay district of Hong Kong. The first book in the series was published in 1975; the last one in 1998. Thus it covers roughly the last twenty two years of the British administration of Hong Kong. This series can be described as zany and humorous. Although Hong Bay is a fictional section of Hong Kong, the books do give the reader a sense of Hong Kong of that time. My husband is a big fan of the series and appreciates them for the setting, the eccentric characters, and occasional elements of the fantastical.

I have read and reviewed one book in the Yellowthread Street series: Skulduggery.

Friday, May 8, 2020

And Then There Were None: Agatha Christie

Eight guests are invited to a mansion on an isolated island off the coast of England. As they journey to their destination, they muse about the letters they received and their expectations for their visit to the island. When they arrive on the island, the only two people at the house are Mr. and Mrs. Rogers, the butler and the cook. They have been notified that Mr. Owen, the owner, will be arriving later. They soon realize that they have been tricked and the owner will not be showing up.

A recording is played after dinner on the first night they arrive. The recording accuses each of the guests of a crime. Soon the people on the island begin to die, one by one. Each death is shocking. As the group gets smaller and smaller, the tension ratchets up.

The story pulled me in very quickly. I knew the general setup but had not watched any film adaptations, and was wondering how it all ends. Could it live up to the acclaim it has always gotten? It did for me. The writing is very suspenseful. I could not help trying to figure out not only who was the killer but how it was all managed. I did at one time suspect the actual culprit but Christie is very competent at making you second guess your deductions.

Also the characterizations are very good and slowly revealed. With so many characters there could not be a lot of depth, but still we are provided with backgrounds and sometimes surprised by the behavior of the characters.

In his review in 1001 Midnights (1986), Bill Pronzini says:
"Perhaps the most famous of all Dame Agatha's novels, this is both a masterful cat-and-mouse thriller and a baffling exercise for armchair sleuths—a genuine tour de force. And like all of her best work, it has inspired countless variations—the ultimate compliment for any crime novel and crime-novel writer."

This was my book for the Classic Club Spin #23. I am glad I finally read it.


Publisher:  Harper, 2011 (orig. pub. 1939)
Length:      300 pages
Format:      paperback
Setting:      UK
Genre:       Mystery
Source:      On my TBR pile since 2013.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

What did I read in April 2020?

Did the first full month of the stay at home orders affect my reading? I think my reading was about the same but reviewing has been much harder. The concentration it requires is often just not there.

Although my main goal this month was to read what I wanted to, I did manage to read some books for challenges: two historical fiction books, a book for the European Challenge, a book for a USA state that I had not covered previously, and seven books from my TBR piles.

And here are the books I read in April, by category.

Mystery reference

Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang (2017) by Mike Ripley

The author describes his book as "a reader's history of one specific category, or genre, of popular fiction—the thriller—over a particular period when British writers dominated the best seller lists at home and abroad." The book covers only British thrillers published between 1953 and 1975. This includes both adventure thrillers and spy thrillers. Of course, I am most interested in the spy thrillers but I enjoyed learning more about the authors of adventure novels also. With a very nice foreword by Lee Child.

Cross-genre Fiction (Mystery & Fantasy)

Westside (2019) by W. M. Akers
This book is a  mashup of several genres: historical fiction, mystery, alternate history, private detective novel, and urban fantasy. Set in an alternative version of New York in the 1920's. My review here.

Historical Fiction

The Light Years (1990) by Elizabeth Jane Howard
The Cazalet Chronicles is a series of five books that follow the members of one family from 1937 just prior to World War II through 1957. The first book, The Light Years, covers 1937 - 1938. There is large cast; the parents plus four children (three brothers, one unmarried sister) and the grandchildren, who range from 5 or 6 to teenage. Plus other relations, and servants. This is a lovely book, although not upbeat, with the threat of war coming on.

General Fiction 

The Provincial Lady in London (1932) by E.M. Delafield
This continues the story, written in diary form, of a married woman with two children (and a cook, a French governess/nanny, and a maid or two), living in an English village in the early 1930s. The Provincial Lady is now a published author and has received enough money for this effort to improve the family's financial status. She endeavors to find a flat in London to take more time to write. The tone is light and humorous and fun.

Crime Fiction

Boundary Waters (1999) by William Kent Krueger
This is the 2nd book in the Cork O'Connor series. Set in the Quetico-Superior Wilderness on the Canadian/American border. My review here.
The Brutal Telling (2009) and
Bury Your Dead (2010) by Louise Penny
I read these two books as a pair, based on Bill's recommendation at Mysteries and More from Saskatchewan. My review here.

The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter (1992)
by Sharyn McCrumb
This is the 2nd book in Sharyn McCrumb's Appalachian Ballad series. I enjoyed it but I found it to be different from most mysteries I have read. It is a dark story and has been described as gothic. Both this story and the first one in the series featured Sheriff Spencer Arrowood, but he doesn't do a lot of investigating, and the story centers around the wife of the church pastor, Laura Bruce, whose husband is serving as a chaplain in the Gulf War. She volunteers to be the guardian for two teenagers whose entire family was murdered. Set in Tennessee.

The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920)
by Agatha Christie
Agatha Christie's first mystery novel and the first in the Hercule Poirot series. My review here.

A Colder War (2014) by Charles Cumming
Cumming is a Scottish author, and his character in this series, Thomas Kell, is an MI6 agent who is on extended leave with pay until an incident still under investigation is resolved. In this 2nd book in the series, he is given a special assignment by the MI6 Chief, to investigate the death, probably accidental, of a high-ranked agent in Turkey. 

Instruments of Darkness (2009) by Imogen Robertson
This was a very enjoyable historical mystery. It was set in Sussex, England in 1780, a period I haven't read about before. The main characters are the mistress of a country manor in Sussex and an anatomist, Gabriel Crowther, an introvert who just wants to study dead bodies. Harriet Westerman discovers a dead man on the grounds of her estate, and pulls Crowther into an investigation of the crime. It is the first in the series and I will be moving on to the second book in the series.