Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Rules of Civility: Amor Towles

I found Amor Towles' Rules of Civility to be an excellent book. It was one of those that took me at least a quarter of the book to settle into and enjoy, and then, as I got close to finishing, I didn't want it to end.

The book starts with a Preface set in New York City in 1966. Katey, who narrates the story, tells of an art exhibition she attended with her husband Val.

On the night of October 4th, 1966, Val and I, both in late middle age, attended the opening of Many Are Called at the Museum of Modern Art—the first exhibit of the portraits taken by Walker Evans in the 1930s on the New York subway with a hidden camera.

At that exhibit, Katey sees two photos of Tinker Grey, a man she knew well when she was in her twenties. One was taken in 1938 and he is well-dressed in expensive clothing; the other photo was from 1939 and his clothes are worn and threadbare. 

The story then jumps back to New Year's Eve in New York City in 1937, when Katey and her roommate Eve met Tinker at a jazz bar. Very quickly the three become friends, even though Katey and Eve are living in a boarding house and have low paying jobs and Tinker is a part of New York society. There is a big turning point when the three of them are in a serious automobile accident and only Eve has significant injuries.

From that point, the story mostly focuses on what happens to Katey in the next year. She is ambitious and resourceful; she works toward having a more rewarding job while still mingling in New York society. There are some wonderful minor characters: Wallace Wolcott, Tinker Grey's wealthy friend, who teaches Katey how to shoot and ends up going to Spain to fight in the Civil War; Anne Grandyn, an older woman (also wealthy of course) who encourages Katey to do bigger things with her life.

The book is divided into four sections, one for each season of the year. At the end of each section, there are a few pages told from Tinker Grey's point of view. There are also many changes in his life in 1938. At the end  of the book there is an Epilogue that ties together with the Preface. 

My thoughts:

I think a lot of what I liked in this book is due to Amor Towles' gift of storytelling. I also enjoyed A Gentleman in Moscow by the same author. It was set in Moscow starting in 1922 and continuing through the next three decades, and had a more unrealistic, fantastical feel, but I loved reading that one too.

Katey is a reader. I always love a book where reading plays a part. She reads and rereads Dickens. Her reading keeps her grounded. At one point she starts reading Agatha Christie's mysteries and has interesting comments on them. 

Photographs also play a role in the story. There are the subway photos at the beginning, photos along the walls at various homes, school photos.

Appearances can be very deceiving in this book. There are many surprises in store as the book progresses. 


Publisher:  Sceptre, 2012 (Orig. pub. 2011)
Length:     335 pages
Format:    Trade paperback
Setting:     New York City
Genre:      Historical Fiction
Source:     Purchased in 2020.

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Short Story Wednesday: American Christmas Stories from the Library of America


Today I am featuring an anthology of Christmas short stories from The Library of America Collection. American Christmas Stories was edited by Connie Willis, and she has provided the introduction. There are 59 stories included.

From the dust jacket of this book:

Library of America and acclaimed author Connie Willis invite you to unwrap this diverse collection of fifty-nine enchanting and uniquely American stories about Christmas, literary gems that will delight and surprise.

Ranging from the advent of the American tradition of holiday storytelling in the wake of the Civil War to today, this is the best and widest-ranging anthology of American Christmas stories ever assembled. Ghost stories and crime stories, science fiction, fantasy, westerns, humor, and horror; tales of Christmas morning, trees, gifts, wise men, and family dinners everywhere from New York to Texas to outer space: this anthology is an epiphany, revealing the ways Christmas has evolved over time—and how the spirit of the holiday has remained the same.

I have only read one of the stories in this book so far. It is a story by Pete Hamill, titled "The Christmas Kid." Written in 1979, it is about a Jewish boy from Poland who has come to New York City to live with his uncle, following the end of World War II. He is an orphan and lost his parents to the holocaust. The story is told from the point of view of another boy in the neighborhood. It was a very moving story. I seem to be reading more sentimental stories this December.

This was the first thing I have read by Pete Hamill. If anyone has read books or stories by Hamill, I would love to hear what you think. 

Monday, December 20, 2021

The Last Noel: Michael Malone

This is a Christmas story, as the title indicates, with a serious topic.

Following is the description from the back of the book:

The Last Noel captures the exuberance and poignance of a lasting friendship between a man and a woman from very different backgrounds. Noni Tilden and Kaye King grow up and grow close as their lives come dramatically together through four decades of tumultuous change in a small southern town.

The story begins in 1963 when Kaye first meets Noni on the eve of their seventh birthdays. On that Christmas Eve, Kaye climbs through her bedroom window to invite her to come sledding with him in a rare southern snowfall. 

The story takes place in the small town of Moors, North Carolina. Noni (real name Noelle) is the daughter of the Tilden family, a rich and privileged family that has lived in the area for many years.  Kaye is the grandson of the Tilden's black maid, who has worked for the Tildens for years. Kaye and Noni's relationship is viewed through twelve Christmases, starting in 1963 and ending in 2003. 

The two main characters are both flawed, but very sympathetic. Many secondary characters are also memorable. My favorite is Kaye's grandfather (by marriage), Tatlock, a very vocal, colorful character who later in life starts painting and gains fame for his paintings.

I don't often read books set in the South, but this one covered from 1963 through the 1990s and handled racism and politics of that time pretty well. I enjoyed it because it is well-written and touches on events that happened in my own lifetime; it covers the Viet Nam war, politics, civil rights, the moon landing, and the music over the decades. 

The description at the publisher's website emphasizes the romance in this book, which there is little of. The description on the back of my book focuses on the lifelong friendship between the two main characters.

I have read two of Michael Malone's mysteries and some of his short stories. The crime fiction stories are darker. My review of Time's Witness is here and reviews of short stories from Red Clay, Blue Cadillac: Stories of Twelve Southern Women are here and here. This book was very different; it was a much more sentimental story.


Publisher:  Sourcebooks, 2002.
Length:     292 pages
Format:    Trade paperback
Setting:     North Carolina
Genre:      Historical Fiction
Source:     Purchased in 2005.

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Short Story Wednesday: More Stories from Maigret's Christmas by Georges Simenon

Two weeks ago, I covered the title story in Maigret's Christmas: Nine Stories. "Maigret's Christmas" is  a long short story at 60 pages in my edition.  

Since then I have read three more stories in the book: 

  • "Seven Small Crosses in a Notebook"
  • "Maigret and the Surly Inspector"
  • "The Evidence of the Altar Boy"

"Seven Small Crosses in a Notebook" is a Christmas story but does not include Maigret. It is another long short story, around 60 pages.

The character at the center of this story is Lecoeur, a policeman who works in a big room where all emergency calls for the city of Paris are tracked. This is the only police work he has done and he enjoys it. Lecoeur is working the night shift on Christmas Eve, and has even volunteered to cover the next shift for another police, since he has no wife or children.

On this night, one of the cases gets personal for Lecoeur. First an emergency call reports the death of a woman that he knows, but not well. Then he puts some clues together and realizes that his young nephew is breaking the glass at various emergency call boxes but leaving no message. He isn't sure what that means but he lets Superintendent Saillard know that he may have useful information.  

The story was well written and exciting.  

The other two stories are 30 pages each. Both include Maigret but are not Christmas stories. They are good stories but don't have the punch of that first one. They both reveal aspects of the relationship of Inspector Maigret and his wife, and are more humorous. 

Now I only have four more stories to read in the anthology.

Saturday, December 11, 2021

The Moviegoer: Walker Percy


The Moviegoer was my pick for the Classics Club spin, and I am glad I finally read something by Walker Percy. 

Binx Bolling is from a wealthy family, is a veteran of the Korean War, lives in New Orleans, Louisiana, and has been set up in a stock broker office by relatives. Although Binx has plenty of acquaintances, old school friends, and relatives, he seems to be lonely and looking for answers to what life is all about. One Goodreads reviewer described this book as "existentialism Southern style" and I think that is very apt. Binx likes to go to movies and he sometimes carries on conversations in his head with favorite actors. 

He is thirty or thereabouts and his aunt is pushing him to do something more important with his life. She wants him to go to medical school and she will pay the bills for his education. Not a bad idea but I hate to see people trying to run other people's lives.

Binx has the habit of hiring a secretary, always young and appealing, and he courts her gradually. Usually the secretary want the relationship to get serious, and he doesn't, so she leaves and he moves on to another secretary. But his real love is his cousin Kate. She also is searching for something, depressed after the loss of a lover in a car crash years before. 

The first five paragraphs in the book are perfect, but that is too much too share. Here are the first two paragraphs.

This morning I got a note from my aunt asking me to come to lunch. Since I go there every Sunday for dinner and today is Wednesday, it can only mean one thing: she wants to have one of her serious talks.  It will be extremely grave, either a piece of bad news about her stepdaughter Kate or else a serious talk about me, about the future and what I ought to do.  It is enough to scare the wits out of anyone, yet I confess I do not find the prospect altogether unpleasant.

I remember when my older brother Scott died of pneumonia. I was eight years old. My aunt had charge of me and she took me for a walk behind the hospital. It was an interesting street. On one side were the power plant and blowers and incinerator of the hospital, all humming and blowing out a hot meaty smell. On the other side was a row of Negro houses. Children and old folks and dogs sat on the porches watching us. I noticed with pleasure that Aunt Emily seemed to have all the time in the world and was willing to talk about anything I wanted to talk about. Something extraordinary had happened all right. We walked slowly in step. “Jack,” she said, squeezing me tight and smiling at the Negro shacks, “you and I have always been good buddies, haven’t we?” “Yes ma’am.” My heart gave a big pump and the back of my neck prickled like a dog’s. “I’ve got bad news for you, son.” She squeezed me tighter than ever. “Scotty is dead. Now it’s all up to you. It’s going to be difficult for you but I know you’re going to act like a soldier.” This was true. I could easily act like a soldier. Was that all I had to do?

The first paragraph summarizes the story, and entices the read to learn more. The second paragraph gives a good picture of the American South in the 1960s.

My thoughts:

At first my reaction was, why read about rich people dealing with angst about life, when their life is so much better than that of most of the people around them? But I was drawn in and wanted to find out where Binx's life would go, and Kate's. They may be rich and want for little, but they are not happy.

The primary setting is New Orleans, which is a lovely city, but Binx talks a lot about other cities in nearby states that I am also familiar with. This is one of the few books I have read set in the South where I had some recognition of my own feelings and experiences. My family was at a much lower socioeconomic level than the characters in this book, though. 

I had expected more about movies based on the title. However that did not affect my enjoyment of the book. That element is just one way the reader learns about Binx and his meandering thoughts.

I don't know if the ending of the story was too easy and unrealistic, but I do know I liked it and it made me happy in the end. 


Publisher:  Avon Books, 1982. Orig. pub. 1961.
Length:     191 pages
Format:     Paperback
Setting:     New Orleans, Louisiana
Genre:      Fiction
Source:    My husband gave me his copy of this book years ago.

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Annual Book Sale 2021: My Husband's Books

In September we went to the annual Planned Parenthood Book Sale.  The sale lasts about 10 days, and we visited the sale on five of those days. 

These are a few of the books my husband found at the sale. In addition to fiction (including mysteries), he focuses on books about history (especially English history), photography, architecture, and performing arts. 

Talking Pictures: With the People Who Made Them (1994) edited by Sylvia Shorris and Marion Abbott Bundy; introduction by Robert B. Altman

Review from Publisher's Weekly:

Featuring the unvarnished recollections of producers, directors, scriptwriters, film editors, camera operators, technicians and others, these 38 interviews provide a marvelous behind-the-scenes look at the creative alchemy that fueled Hollywood's golden age. Among the interviewees are assistant director Arthur Jacobson (Miracle on 34th Street), visual effects specialist Linwood Gale Dunn (Citizen Kane), producer Jack Cummings (Kiss Me Kate), Edward Bernds, soundman for Frank Capra's movies, composer Jule Styne and lyricist Sammy Cahn. Cameraman George Folsey explains how he brought the softness of muted light to black-and-white cinematography starring Claudette Colbert, Clark Gable and Joan Crawford. Screenwriter John Bright recalls tailoring the scripts that made James Cagney a star. The reminiscences of all are spiced with shoptalk, juicy anecdotes and candid glimpses of moguls like Darryl Zanuck, Irving Thalberg, Louis B. Mayer, Harry Cohn and David Selznick–the legendary names are ever-present.

Charters & Caldicott (1985) by Stella Bingham

The first appearance of Charters and Caldicott was in Alfred Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes (1938). The characters were played by Naunton Wayne and Basil Radford. They were comic relief in that film, playing cricket enthusiasts who wanted to get home to England in time to see the results of a Test match. They were popular and appeared in three other films as the same characters. Later there was a 1985 BBC mystery series based on those characters. This novel is based on that series.

Looking for History in British Churches (1951) by M.D. Anderson

Description from the dust jacket of this edition:

English history from a new and fascinating angle—a book for all interested in religion, history, art and architecture...

For many years, the author's chief interest and delight have been the study of the visual records left in Britain's churches by invading races and social forces as a first-hand source of information on England's past. In this book, she shares her discoveries with her readers and reconstructs an enthralling and authentic picture of how men and women of an earlier day lived and worked and played.

The dust jacket of this book has a lovely illustration and there is a detailed map of the locations of churches on the endsheets (front and back).

Cat of Many Tails (1949) by Ellery Queen

Although I read a good many Ellery Queen mysteries when I was much younger, I haven't read any of them in decades so I don't know much about individual books. 

This is what I do know about Cat of Many Tails:

  • This is book 20 of 35 books featuring Ellery Queen as the sleuth. It is set in New York and features Inspector Queen, his father, which I consider a plus.
  • An early example of a serial killer novel, although not the first. 
  • Considered by many to be one of the best books in the Ellery Queen series. 

Lord Malquist and Mr. Moon (1966) by Tom Stoppard

From the back of the Grove Press paperback:

Tom Stoppard's first novel, originally published in 1966 just before the premiere of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, is an uproarious fantasy set in modern London. The cast includes a penniless, dandified Malquist with a liveried coach; Malquist's Boswellian biographer, Moon, who frantically scribbles as a bomb ticks in his pocket; a couple of cowboys, one being named Jasper Jones; a lion who's banned from the Ritz; an Irishman on a donkey claiming to be the Risen Christ; and three irresistible women.

I believe this is his only novel.

The Silent Gondoliers (1983) by William Goldman 

From the back of the Del Rey paperback:

Once upon a time, the gondoliers of Venice possessed the finest voices in all the world. But, alas, few remember those days—and fewer still were ever blessed to hear such glorious singing. No one since has discovered the secret behind the sudden silence of the golden-voiced gondoliers. No one, it seems, but S. Morgenstern. Now Morgenstern recounts the sad and noble story of the ambitions, frustrations, and eventual triumph of Luigi, the gondolier with the gooney smile.

There are lovely drawings by Paul Giovanopoulos sprinkled throughout. Cover art by Sergio Martinez.

I borrowed this from my husband and read it for Novellas in November. I enjoyed it, although I found the middle portion to have very slow pacing. 

Sunday, December 5, 2021

Reading Summary for November 2021

I read 15 books in November, which is a lot for me, but the only reason I read that many was because I read 14 novellas for the Novellas in November event. They ranged from 57 pages to 163 pages in length. The only longer novel I read was The Snack Thief by Andrea Camilleri, book 3 in the Inspector Montalbano series. 

One thing I enjoyed about concentrating on short novels this month is that I read from several genres. I also read five translated novellas, three by French authors and two by Italian authors and I enjoyed all of them.

So, here are the books I read...


Constructive Living (1984) by David K. Reynolds

This is a short nonfiction book (106 pages) that describes the author's approach to two Japanese psychotherapies, Morita therapy and Naikan therapy. I had read this years ago and found it interesting. The basic concepts were still interesting, but the sections on how they are used did not work so well for me this time.

General Fiction

The Sense of an Ending (2011) by Julian Barnes

Tony Webster, retired and in his later years, looks back on two of his relationships with women, one when he was a student at university, and the other with his wife, Margaret, who divorced him after twelve years of marriage. This 163 page book was one of my favorite reads in November. My review is here

Historical Fiction

Train Dreams (2002) by Denis Johnson 

This is a story about the life of a laborer in the American northwest from the early 1900s through the 1960s. Beautifully written, the 114-page book describes fragments of his life. Most of the time, he is living alone, a solitary life, and is struggling to support himself. The descriptions of small town and rural living were interesting. This book has been on my TBR pile for a while and I am glad I finally read it.

Tamburlaine Must Die (2004) by Louise Welsh 

The author imagines the last days of Christopher Marlowe, presenting him as a spy who is searching for the man who wants him dead. I am not sure if it was a positive or a negative that I knew so little about Marlowe going into this book. Regardless, now I am motivated to learn more about him. The book was very well written. This 140 page novella was Louise Welsh's debut book. 

Science Fiction

The Concrete Jungle (2004) by Charles Stross 

This book is part of the Laundry Files series and was written between the first and second book in that series. The series is about former tech support worker, Bob Howard, who becomes a field agent for the Laundry, a British agency that protects the world from supernatural phenomenon. I am new to this series but I read that the novella was a good place to start. The series is a real mishmash of genres, blending spy fiction with fantasy and horror, although it gets categorized mostly as science fiction. This story won the Hugo for Best Novella in 2005. I will be reading more in the series.

The Invisible Man (1987) by H.G. Wells

Most readers are familiar with The Invisible Man either via book or film, so I will just point you toward my review here.

Artificial Condition (2018) by Martha Wells

This is part of the Murderbot Diaries series; I reviewed the first one here. The protagonist is a security robot that has both human and robotic parts. It refers to itself as Murberbot (although it really does not have a sex, I see Murderbot as a he). He wants to investigate the incident, so comes up with a way to travel to the planet where it took place. Along the way, he acquires a new group of humans to assist, and realizes how important that type of interaction is, even though direct contact with humans scares him. I will be continuing with this series. I read the book on my Kindle, only the second e-book I read this year. Length was 149 pages. 


The Silent Gondoliers (1983) by William Goldman 

This novella was whimsical and fun. It is presented as having been written by S. Morgenstern, who was also the "author" of THE PRINCESS BRIDE, and the tone and writing style is very similar. It is a fable about Luigi, a talented gondolier who cannot sing. If I have any complaint, it is that the plot moves very slowly for most of the book. But the ending is wonderful and makes up for any issue I had with the preceding parts of the story. This book was 110 pages but that page count includes a number of full page illustrations.

Crime Fiction

Carte Blanche (1990) Carlo Lucarelli  

This 94-page novella was translated from Italian, the first in a trilogy. The setting is April 1945 in Italy. The story starts shortly before the end of World War II, in the final days of the Fascist regime in Italy. The protagonist is a policeman in the regular police, Commissario De Luca, who only recently transferred from another police group that worked under the direction of Mussolini. See my review here.

Montalbano's First Case (2008) by Andrea Camilleri

This short novel (97 pages) is a prequel to the Inspector Montalbano series. Montalbano gets his first assignment in Vigàta, after spending his time in an apprenticeship as a deputy inspector in Mascalippa. This was a lovely story, and it inspired me to return to the series, which I did before the end of November. See my review here.

Three to Kill (1976) by Jean-Patrick Manchette

A corporate salesman, Georges Gerfaut, married with two children, is attacked by two hit men on his way home, but they do not succeed in killing him. He goes into hiding and plots his revenge on the men and their boss. An unusual and dark story. I will be looking for more by this author. 132 pages in length. See my thoughts here.

The Front Seat Passenger (1997) by Pascal Garnier

After a man's wife dies in a car crash, he becomes obsessed with Martine, the widow of the man who died with his wife, and begins stalking her. Another strange story with a lot packed into 130 pages, and I enjoyed it very much. See my thoughts here.

Maigret in Retirement (1947) by Georges Simenon 

As the title implies, this is the story of a case that Maigret works on after his retirement. I enjoyed this picture of Maigret's relationship with his wife. This book was also published as Maigret Gets Angry. The story was about 105 pages in the edition I read. See my thoughts here.

Heartstones (1987) by Ruth Rendell 

I have read almost all of the Inspector Wexford books but I have had bad experiences reading Rendell's standalone books. Too tense for me. I was willing to try this one since it was so short, only 71 pages. It filled me with suspense and dread at times, but I enjoyed it. It is the story of a sixteen year old girl living with her father and her younger sister. She is telling the story, and we learn that she is obsessed with her father and is convinced that she will live with him all her life. The ending was a surprise, sort of, and very well done. The edition I read had a few very lovely illustrations. 

The Snack Thief (1996) by Andrea Camilleri

This was a wonderful book with a complicated plot. The primary case is the death of an elderly man who was stabbed in an elevator when leaving his home one morning. Montalbano is trying to avoid another case of a Tunisian seaman killed on an Italian fishing boat, but it keeps coming back to haunt him. Livia has a prominent role in this book. This is the third book in the Inspector Montalbano series. I was glad to get back to the series. 

The photo above is Rosie the cat. The photo at the top of the post shows succulents in pots in our back yard. Click on the images for best viewing quality.

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Short Story Wednesday: "Maigret's Christmas" by Georges Simenon

Short Story Wednesday is on the first day of December, so I am featuring a story by Georges Simenon with a Christmas theme.

On Christmas morning two women who live in Maigret's neighborhood come to Maigret's house to report an odd event. One woman is older, Mademoiselle Doncoeur, who does fine needlework; the other woman, Madame Martin, is younger, about 30. Madame Martin lives with her husband and his niece, who is recovering from an injury to her leg, and cannot get out of bed. The niece, about eight years old, has reported that Father Christmas visited her in the middle of the night and left a doll for her. She saw him looking for something under the floorboards of her room, and assumed he was trying to get to the room of a boy who lives in the apartment below. Mademoiselle Doncoeur had insisted that they tell Maigret about this, even though neither of them had met him before. Madame Martin was reluctant to report the incident to Maigret.

Thus starts Maigret's investigation of this case, done entirely from his home, with the help of men at the police station via phone calls. 

I have not read a lot of Maigret stories (full length or otherwise) recently, so I don't know much about Maigret's relationship with his wife. In both the stories I read recently, she features prominently, more so in this one. "Maigret's Christmas" is a lovely story. It ends on a sad note, but is not dark or depressing at all. I enjoyed getting to see more of Maigret's wife and their relationship in this story.

I read this story in Maigret's Christmas, a collection of stories by Georges Simenon. "Maigret's Christmas" is the first story in the book, and is lengthy for a short story, 60 pages in my edition. The story was first published in France in 1951. 

I have started the next story, which is also about 60 pages, "Seven Small Crosses in a Notebook". I have read two chapters out of five and will finish it soon. 

I have also read the last story in the book, "Maigret in Retirement", which was 105 pages long. I read that one about a week ago, and reviewed it here.

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Novellas in November: Three French Novellas

 In November I have read three translated novellas by French authors. All were very good reads. Two of the authors were new to me, Jean-Patrick Manchette and Pascal Garnier. I have read books by Georges Simenon before, but only one in recent years. 

Three to Kill by Jean-Patrick Manchette was a very strange tale. A corporate salesman, Georges Gerfaut, married with two children, is attacked by two hit men on his way home, but they do not succeed in killing him. He suspects that they want to kill him because he saw a car crash on the side of the road and they want to shut him up. He goes into hiding and plots his revenge on the men and their boss. This story, published in 1976, sounds simple but is actually very complex. 

After Gerfaut escapes from the two men, he ends up living with an old man named Ragusa who lives in the woods simply, in a Portuguese logging camp. Ragusa has some medical experience with the military and patches Gerfaut up. Gerfaut stays with him for a few months, building up his strength. When Ragusa dies of a bad cold, Gerfaut leaves to pursue his plan of taking revenge. 

I liked that this story was different and unexpected; I had no clue how it would end. Music and reading is mentioned a lot, which I always find a plus. A lot of plot was covered in its 132 pages.

The Front Seat Passenger by Pascal Garnier was another strange and different story. One night, after returning from a visit with his father, Fabien discovers that his wife has been killed in a car crash. She was the front seat passenger, in a car with a man, who also died in the crash. Fabien and his wife did not have a loving, happy marriage at the time of her death, but Fabien had no idea she was seeing someone else. He becomes obsessed with the wife of the man who died with his wife, and begins stalking her. The plot goes in directions I never expected. 

I cannot say much more about this one without revealing too much of the story. I liked it a lot and will find more by this author, who died in March 2010 at aged sixty. It was about 130 pages and published in 1997. 

Maigret in Retirement by George Simenon was also published as Maigret Gets Angry. Per Goodreads, it was first published in 1947, and was the 26th book out of 75 in the Maigret series. I came upon this story in Maigret's Christmas and it was about 105 pages in that edition, but it has been published separately. I enjoyed this one very much also. 

Two years after Maigret's retirement, a wealthy widow requests that Maigret come to her village to investigate the death of her granddaughter, which has been assumed to be suicide. Reluctantly, Maigret does this and discovers a dysfunctional family, full of people who dislike each other. His investigation reveals deeply buried secrets that the family has been hiding, and a family that seems to be bound together more by greed than love. 

The story is beautifully written, and the depiction of the French countryside is nicely done. And I love Maigret's relationship with his wife.

Three more novellas for the Novellas in November 2021 reading event. The host blogs are 746 Books and Bookish Beck.

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Novellas in November: The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells

This is a classic science fiction novella about a man who discovers how to turn himself invisible and decides to do it, thinking that his invisibility will give him an advantage over people. In reality, he discovers that it makes his life both uncomfortable and problematic.

It is difficult to describe my reaction to reading The Invisible Man. For one thing, I had seen the 1933 film adaptation at least once before, thus I had that story in my mind when reading the book. That film differs from the book significantly. Had I come to the book with no preconceived notions, that might have made a difference. Secondly, the story is very brief, about 155 pages in the edition I read. Thus I find it hard to tell about the story without revealing too much. 

Once I got about half way into the story, I realized that it was much simpler and more focused than the movie version. A stranger comes to the Coach and Horses in Iping and seeks a room and a sitting room where he can set up a lab to work in. He is bundled up in a strange way, only his nose can be seen, and he seems peculiar and cantankerous. As he has arrived in the winter when they have few guests, the husband and wife who run the place are glad of the money, until they find out how disruptive his presence can be. Even then, they put up with him for months because he continues to pay his bills. 

Eventually the stranger runs out of money and gets thrown out of his room. He resists, and in the course of an altercation he removes his clothes and they realize that he is invisible. They try to keep him there, but he escapes. And the reader begins to realize that the invisible man is not just a man in trouble, looking for a solution to his strange state, but that he has no concern for others, for their safety or their feelings. He is quite willing to endanger or harm people to get what he wants. 

The rest of the story is concerned with revealing how the invisible man got that way, how it has affected him, and his plans for his future. He serendipitously runs into an old friend from medical school and enlists his help.

Personally, I found this book to be a disappointment, but I cannot describe the things that led to that opinion without telling more than I want to reveal about the story. I was interested while reading it and I thought the writing was fine, but I wanted a more exciting or meaningful story, and it did not impress me in that way. The book is a classic and definitely worth reading but it was not a story I cared much for. However, I want to stress that many readers have enjoyed the story much more than I did.

The story is told in third person, and I think this reader might have had some sympathy for the main character it it had been in first person and told in a more personal way. 

I think this book is more about issues but somehow that did not work for me. Kate at crossexaminingcrime wrote an excellent in-depth review of the book, discussing the various ideas that can be found in this work. Please see her review.

A few days after I read the book we watched the 1933 film adaptation of The Invisible Man again. It was directed by James Whale, and Claude Rains made his American film debut as the invisible man. Gloria Stuart played the love interest, a role that does not exist in the book. I can understand why it was decided to provide more of a backstory for the invisible man in the film. The early part of the book is condensed quite a bit in the film, and that is also understandable. The filmmakers used groundbreaking special effects in making a story in which the main character is never seen. 

I read this for Classics Week in the Novellas in November 2021 reading event. The host blogs are 746 Books and Bookish Beck.


Publisher:   Race Point Publishing, 2017 (original pub. 1897)
Length:       155 pages
Format:       Hardcover
Settings:     UK
Genre:        Science fiction
Source:       Purchased in 2020.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Short Story Wednesday: Stories by Andrea Camilleri

As I mentioned in my last post, I have been reading short stories from Montalbano's First Case and Other Stories by Andrea Camilleri. The first story is Montalbano's First Case, actually a novella. There are twenty other short stories in the book. The book has an excellent Preface by Camilleri, where he discusses his writing and some of the short stories in this book. 

So far I have read 

  • "Fifty Pairs of Hobnailed Boots"
  • "Fellow Traveler"
  • "Dress Rehearsal"
  • "Amore"
  • "The Artist's Touch"

All of the short stories I read were good reads, and there was variety from story to story, but the last story I read, "The Artist's Touch," is my favorite so far.

It is a story of a meticulously planned suicide. Alberto Larussa, well known for artistic jewelry pieces that he created, had been confined to a wheelchair for the last three decades. He electrocuted himself while strapped into his wheelchair. Larussa was a friend of Montalbano's but Montalbano is not involved in the investigation to prove if it is suicide or not. He begins to believe that the suicide was staged but must make his inquiries outside of normal police channels. 

All of the stories in the book are translated from Italian by Stephen Sartarelli.

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Novellas in November: Montalbano's First Case by Andrea Camilleri

Andrea Camilleri’s very popular police procedural series about Inspector Salvo Montalbano is set in a fictional town on the Italian coast, called Vigàta. It consists of 28 novels, all of which were written in Italian and have been translated into English.

Montalbano's First Case is a prequel to the Inspector Montalbano series. In this short novel, Montalbano gets his first assignment in Vigàta, after spending his time in an apprenticeship as a deputy inspector in Mascalippa. 

The story begins with Montalbano's concerns about being stuck in Mascalippa for his new assignment. He just doesn't like the mountainous area he is living in. His boss realizes this and facilitates his assignment to Vigàta, which is a seaside town, the type of terrain that Montalbano wants to live in. Montalbano then goes in advance to check out the town in advance, not announcing himself as the new Chief Inspector. But the word gets around. He finds a good restaurant immediately.

The first case Montalbano takes on is not a murder case, but more of a case of attempted murder. He sees a very young girl hiding a gun in her handbag and takes her in for questioning. He follows up on what she was planning to do with the gun and her motivation. During the investigation, the reader learns more about Montalbano's views on crime and punishment.

I have only read the first two books in the series, but this one seemed to have a much slower pace than the full-length novels. But that was a good thing, I enjoyed it a lot. It also seemed less serious, with more humor. This novella was an introduction to some of Montalbano's quirks and characteristics, that might not be so obvious in the full length novels. I usually don't like prequels to mystery series but this one was very good. 

I read this novella in a book of short stories, titled Montalbano's First Case and Other Stories. I have now read a few of the shorter stories and I highly recommend that book. All of the stories in the book are translated by Stephen Sartarelli.

This is the third novella I have reviewed for the Novellas in November 2021 reading event. It fits in the "Literature in Translation" theme. The host blogs are 746 Books and Bookish Beck

Friday, November 19, 2021

Novellas in November: Carte Blanche by Carlo Lucarelli

Carte Blanche is a novella by Carlo Lucarelli, translated from Italian, the first in a trilogy. The setting is April 1945 in Italy. 

The story starts shortly before the end of World War II, in the final days of the Fascist regime in Italy. The protagonist is a policeman in the regular police, Commissario De Luca, who only recently transferred from another police group that worked under the direction of Mussolini. He just wants to solve crimes without having political interference, but that seems impossible in Italy during the war.

De Luca's first assignment in the regular police is to find who is responsible for the murder of a member of the Fascist party, Vittorio Rehinard. This investigation brings him into the world of the rich and privileged. After a day or two of investigation, De Luca begins to understand that no one in a position of power in the police or the government cares whether the killer is caught. He cares, though, and he continues to pursue the investigation.

From the description on the Europa edition that I read:

Carte Blanche, the first installment in Carlo Lucarelli's "De Luca Trilogy," is much more than a first-rate crime story. It is also an investigation into the workings of justice in a state that is crumbling under the weight of profound historic change.


My thoughts:

  • The Preface by the author is fantastic, explaining his inspiration for writing the story. He followed this story up with two more short novels featuring Comissario De Luca, The Damned Season and Via Delle Oche.
  • I nearly always enjoy crime fiction set around the time of World War II, but I have not read many books set in Italy during that time. Thus I learned about new aspects of World War II.
  • The story is fast-paced and never boring. The tension is maintained throughout. De Luca is  sometimes perplexed and concerned about his future and the future of the country, but he isn't going to give up on the investigation. 
  • At times I was a bit confused about the different factions in Italy, and the many characters and whose side they were on, but that was a minor distraction.

I read this for the "Literature in Translation" Week in the Novellas in November 2021 reading event. The event celebrates the short novel, or novella. The host blogs are 746 Books and Bookish Beck


Publisher:    Europa Editions, 2006 (orig. pub. 1990)
Translator:  Michael Reynolds
Length:       93 pages
Format:      Trade Paperback
Series:        De Luca Trilogy, #1
Setting:       Italy
Genre:        Police Procedural
Source:       Purchased at Planned Parenthood book sale, 2010.

Monday, November 15, 2021

Novellas in November: My Reading So Far


This month I have been participating in the Novellas in November 2021 reading event. The event celebrates the short novel, or novella. For this event the idea is to aim for 150 pages or under, with a firm upper limit of 200 pages.

The event started on November 1 and continues through November  28th. The host blogs are 746 Books and Bookish Beck. Each week has a theme but anyone who participates can read and review any type of novella at anytime in the month.

These are the themes:

  • 1–7 November: Contemporary fiction (1980 to present)
  • 8–14 November: Short nonfiction 
  • 15–21 November: Literature in translation 
  • 22–28 November: Short classics 

I have reviewed one novella so far: The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes.

These are the other novellas I have read in November 2021:

  • Carte Blanche by Carlo Lucarelli  (contemporary fiction, historical crime fiction, literature in translation, 94 pages)
  • Montalbano's First Case by Andrea Camilleri (contemporary fiction, crime fiction, literature in translation, 122 pages)
  • Constructive Living by David K. Reynolds (short nonfiction, 106 pages)
  • Train Dreams by Denis Johnson (contemporary fiction, 114 pages)
  • The Concrete Jungle by Charles Stross (contemporary fiction, science fiction, 57 pages)
  • Tamburlaine Must Die by Louise Welsh (contemporary fiction, historical crime fiction, 149 pages)
  • The Silent Gondoliers by William Goldman (contemporary fiction, 110 pages but there are a number of full page illustrations so not really that long)

I will be sharing my thoughts on all of these before the end of the month.

Friday, November 12, 2021

Novellas in November: The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

Tony Webster, retired and in his later years, looks back on two of his relationships with women, one when he was a student at university, and the other with his wife, Margaret, who divorced him after twelve years of marriage. 

At the beginning, Tony spends a good bit of time describing his high school relationship with three boys, and most especially Adrian.  As he moves on to college, he talks about growing up, sex and sexual relationships, and how different such things were in his youth in the sixties.

Veronica was his first serious girlfriend in college, and the relationship breaks up eventually. Later he finds out that Veronica and Adrian, his friend from high school, are lovers. He feels that he has been betrayed and writes a scathing letter to Adrian, who commits suicide a couple of years later. His ex-wife, Margaret, plays a supportive role. They are still friends, and they meet occasionally for dinner and discuss his life.

This is general fiction, not a mystery, but it has some elements of a mystery story. After Tony is retired, he receives a small bequest from Veronica's mother after her death, and one of the objects she has left him is Adrian's diary. He did not know this woman well, only met her once when he visited Veronica for a weekend. Why did she leave him money and the diary? Veronica comes back into his life at this point. She has possession of the diary and she will not release it. Why?

I like the gradual unraveling of the story, as Tony reveals the surprising and disturbing explanation of events that lead to the bequest. The story is narrated in first person by Tony, thus we don't always know how much is true or remembered through the filter of his character and hang-ups. I liked that the story kept me thinking after I had finished the book. Did I agree with the narrator's assessment of himself and the situation? 

It was an interesting, thought-provoking read. The themes I noted were regret and remorse, blame, and memory. How much we can trust our memories over time? Also, it is an excellent character study.

This month I am joining in the Novellas in November 2021 reading event. The event celebrates the short novel, or novella. The host blogs are 746 Books and Bookish Beck


Publisher:   Alfred A. Knopf, 2011
Length:       163 pages
Format:       Hardcover
Settings:     UK
Genre:        General fiction
Awards:      Booker Prize
Source:       Purchased at the Planned Parenthood Book Sale, 2021.

Monday, November 8, 2021

Annual Book Sale 2021: My Son's Books

For many, many years my family and I have been going to the annual Planned Parenthood Book Sale in September.  The sale lasts about 10 days, so two weekends, and we always go several times throughout the sale.

This year was special because the sale was canceled last year, as most other events of this type were. So we were especially looking forward to our visits to check the books out.

These are some of the books my son selected for himself. He usually concentrates on the science fiction and fantasy books, plus graphic novels. 

Celestial Matters by Richard Garfinkle

This book is described as a novel of alternate science.

Description from the book's dust jacket:
The ancient Greeks believed that the Earth was the center of the universe. The great astronomer Ptolemy mapped the solar system and stars, locating each heavenly body in a crystalline sphere, the spheres forming a concentric series that progressed in an orderly fashion outward from the earth. Celestial Matters is a startling novel of hard SF, set in an alternate, ptolemaic universe in which these beliefs are literal scientific fact.

Counting Heads by David Marusek

Description at the publishers' website:
Counting Heads is David Marusek's extraordinary launch as an SF novelist: The year is 2134, and the Information Age has given rise to the Boutique Economy in which mass production and mass consumption are rendered obsolete. Life extension therapies have increased the human lifespan by centuries. Loyal mentars (artificial intelligences) and robots do most of society's work. The Boutique Economy has made redundant ninety-nine percent of the world's fifteen billion human inhabitants. The world would be a much better place if they all simply went away.
Eleanor K. Starke, one of the world's leading citizens is assassinated, and her daughter, Ellen, is mortally wounded. Only Ellen, the heir to her mother's financial empire, is capable of saving Earth from complete domination plotted by the cynical, selfish, immortal rich, that is if she survives. Her cryonically frozen head is in the hands of her family's enemies. A ragtag ensemble of unlikely heroes join forces to rescue Ellen's head, all for their own purposes.

The Magicians by Lev Grossman

From the Publisher Description at
Quentin Coldwater is brilliant but miserable. A senior in high school, he's still secretly preoccupied with a series of fantasy novels he read as a child, set in a magical land called Fillory. Imagine his surprise when he finds himself unexpectedly admitted to a very secret, very exclusive college of magic in upstate New York, where he receives a thorough and rigorous education in the craft of modern sorcery.
He also discovers all the other things people learn in college: friendship, love, sex, booze, and boredom. Something is missing, though. Magic doesn't bring Quentin the happiness and adventure he dreamed it would.

The Burning Dark by Adam Christopher

From the description on the back of the book:
Back in the day, Captain Abraham Idaho Cleveland had led the Fleet into battle against an implacable machine intelligence capable of devouring entire worlds. But after saving a planet, and getting a bum robot knee in the process, he finds himself relegated to one of the most remote backwaters in Fleetspace to oversee the decommissioning of a semi-deserted space station well past its use-by date.
But all is not well aboard the U-Star Coast City. The station’s reclusive Commandant is nowhere to be seen, leaving Cleveland to deal with a hostile crew on his own. Persistent malfunctions plague the station’s systems while interference from a toxic purple star makes even ordinary communications problematic. ...

Sherlock Holmes vs. Cthulhu: The Adventure of the Deadly Dimensions by Lois H. Gresh

From the back of the trade paperback edition:
A series of grisly murders rocks London. At each location, only a jumble of bones remains of the deceased, along with a bizarre sphere covered in strange symbols. The son of the latest victim seeks the help of Sherlock Holmes and his former partner, Dr. John Watson. 
They discover the common thread tying together the murders. Bizarre geometries, based on ancient schematics, enable otherworldly creatures to enter our dimension, seeking to wreak havoc and destruction. 
The persons responsible are gaining so much power that even Holmes's greatest enemy fears them - to the point that he seeks an unholy alliance.

On Her Majesty's Occult Service by Charles Stross

This omnibus edition combines books 1 and 2 in the Laundry Files series by Charles Stross, plus a novella and a short story. 
Book 1: The Atrocity Archives
Book 1.5 (novella): The Concrete Jungle
Book 2: The Jennifer Morgue

This is the description at Goodreads of the Laundry Files series:
The multiple Hugo Award-winning Laundry Files series follows the exploits of a former tech support worker now-turned field agent, Bob Howard, at the Laundry, a top secret British intelligence agency dedicated to protecting the cosmos and the human race from nefarious supernatural phenomenon beyond spacetime. Starting off with The Atrocity Archives, witness Charles Stross infuse each genre-bending novel with a blend of dark fantasy, bureaucratic humor, and the pacing of a hardcore thriller. An innovative spin on H.P. Lovedcraft's "Cthulu Mythos," the Laundry Files is perfect for fans of weird fiction and bureaucratic humor with a technological twist

Neither my son nor I know much about these authors. If you have any experience with the books or authors, we would love to hear more about them.