Thursday, February 25, 2021

The Dancer at the Gai-Moulin: Georges Simenon

When I was younger I read a number of Maigret novels and also some standalone novels by Georges Simenon, but it has been many, many years. I have had several of his books on my TBR pile for years, and now I hope to get back to reading his books.

I chose The Dancer at the Gai-Moulin to start with because it is set in Belgium and I had been looking for a book for that country for the European Reading Challenge. The setting is Liège, Belgium, which was the author's home town. However, it may not have been the best one to read as my reintroduction to the Maigret series. Detective Chief Inspector Maigret does not show up in the first part of the book, and I don't think that is typical. 

As the story begins, two teenage boys are drinking at a nightclub, the Gai-Moulin. They are planning to steal some money from the cash register after the place closes. In the dark, they stumble over a body on the floor and leave quickly without completing their mission. They soon become entangled with the police, who are trying to figure out why the dead body was found in a park in a laundry basket.

At first I was having problems getting into the plot and figuring out who all the characters were and how they were related. It turned out that the police were as mystified as I was. Then the story got more interesting as the twists in the plot pulled me in. 

The book is bleak, although the mood and the pace does pick up toward the end. The writing is spare, and depends a good deal on dialogue. Reading this book has encouraged me to read more by Simenon. It turns out that four of the novels I have were published in the same year as this one, 1931. 


The following comments on books by Simenon are from an article titled "How Georges Simenon reinvented the detective novel with Maigret" at the Penguin website. The article is brief and interesting.

Though he also wrote more than 100 psychological novels he referred to as ‘romans durs’ (hard stories), Simenon is best known for his books featuring Detective Chief Inspector Jules Maigret, published between 1931 and 1973. Penguin has published new translations of all 75 Maigrets over the last six years, at a rate of one per month. (Previous translations were of mixed quality, sometimes even changing the endings.) 


Other reviews at:



-----------------------------

Publisher: Penguin Classics, 2014 (orig. pub. 1931)
Length: 153 pages
Format: Trade paperback
Setting:  Liège, Belgium
Genre:   Mystery, Police Procedural
Source:  Purchased in 2020.
Translated by Siân Reynolds



Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Short Story Wednesday: Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks

Last December I went to a mini book sale before Christmas and one of the books I found was a collection of short stories by Tom Hanks, Uncommon Type. Per the jacket copy: "The stories are linked by one thing: in each of them, a typewriter plays a part, sometimes minor, sometimes central."


I read the first five stories in the collection, but I will focus on the first one, "Three Exhausting Weeks."

In this story, Anna and the unnamed narrator start up a relationship. He is a pretty laid back guy, with no plans for the future but enough money to support himself, and she is a major Type A personality who never takes a moment to rest or relax. They have known each other since high school.

She wants to change his life, which drove me crazy immediately but did not bother him too much. So for three weeks she manages his life, orders him around, and changes his diet. 

This is definitely not a "they lived happily ever after" story, but there was no sad ending either. It was a lot of fun, if a bit unrealistic. 


The remaining four stories I read were all good also. A couple of them were more serious and sometimes sad. I will be finishing up the collection in the next few months.


These are the stories in the collection:

  • Three Exhausting Weeks
  • Christmas Eve 1953
  • A Junket in the City of Light
  • Our Town Today with Hank Fiset–An Elephant in the Pressroom
  • Welcome to Mars
  • A Month On Green Street
  • Alan Bean Plus Four
  • Our Town Today with Hank Fiset–At Loose in The Big Apple
  • Who’s Who?
  • A Special Weekend
  • These Are the Meditations of My Heart
  • Our Town Today with Hank Fiset–Back from Back in Time
  • The Past Is Important to Us
  • Stay with Us
  • Go See Costas
  • Our Town Today with Hank Fiset–Your Evangelista, Esperanza
  • Steve Wong Is Perfect



Friday, February 19, 2021

Mrs. McGinty's Dead: Agatha Christie

As the book opens, Poirot has just finished a meal at a lovely restaurant. He walks home, thinking about food he likes, meals he likes and meals he does not like. 

"Alas," murmured Poirot to his moustaches, "that one can only eat three times a day..."

For afternoon tea was a meal to which he had never become acclimatised. "If one partakes of the five o'clock, one does not," he explained, "approach the dinner with the proper quality of expectant gastric juices. And the dinner, let us remember, is the supreme meal of the day!"

Not for him, either, the mid-morning coffee. No, chocolate and croissants for breakfast, Déjeneur at twelvethirty if possible but certainly not later than one o'clock, and finally the climax: Le Diner!

These were the peak periods of Hercule Poirot's day. Always a man who had taken his stomach seriously, he was reaping his reward in old age. Eating was now not only a physical pleasure, it was also an intellectual research. 

When Poirot arrives home, George (his valet) tells him someone is waiting to see him.  George conveys through his tone of voice some characteristics of the person arriving.

As he opened the door with his latchkey and stepped into the square, white lobby, his manservant, George, stepped softly to meet him.

"Good evening, sir. There is a - gentleman waiting to see you."

He relieved Poirot deftly of his overcoat.

"Indeed?" Poirot was aware of that very slight pause before the word gentleman. As a social snob, George was an expert.

In this case it is Superintendent Spence. A few years earlier, Spence and Poirot had worked together on a case. The Superintendent explains the reason for his visit. He asks Poirot to investigate the case of a man who has been convicted of murder and will be hanged for the crime very soon. Spence was the one who supplied the evidence for the trial, but he doubts that the convicted man was guilty.

Thus Poirot is present and involved in the investigation from the beginning in this novel. 


MY THOUGHTS:

I enjoy reading about Hercule Poirot's quirks. Especially his extreme fastidiousness, as related to his dress and his surroundings. His horror of dirt and disorder.  This book is the perfect setting for displaying those eccentricities.

To investigate the crime, which took place in the village of Broadhinny, Poirot is required to stay in a very substandard country house that takes paying guests. The home is owned by Major Summerhayes and his wife Maureen. Maureen is a haphazard housekeeper, disorganized, and cannot cook well at all. This drives Poirot to distraction.

This was the second book that I had read that also featured Ariadne Oliver, the mystery author. She visits the town of Broadhinny at the same time Poirot is there, to work on a theatrical adaptation of one of her books with Robin Upward. He insists on the main character being young and athletic and having a sex interest, none of which suit the protagonist of Mrs. Oliver's books. And Mrs. Oliver is of course very willing to help Poirot out with his investigation.

All in all, this was a fun read. I find many of the Poirot novels humorous. With the presence of Ariadne Oliver and the unappealing living situation that Poirot has to deal with in this novel, there are many opportunities for humor here. 


We watched the Poirot adaptation with David Suchet recently. The plot and number of characters was pared down quite a bit, but the story was still entertaining. David Suchet was wonderful as usual, and Zoë Wanamaker is very good in the role of Ariadne Oliver.


 -----------------------------

Publisher:  Berkley Books, 2000. Orig. pub. 1952.
Length:     229 pages
Format:     Paperback
Series:      Hercule Poirot
Setting:     UK
Genre:      Mystery
Source:    Purchased in 2021.


Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Short Story Wednesday: Tales of the Black Widowers by Isaac Asimov


Today I am highlighting Tales of the Black Widowers by Isaac Asimov. There are six books of stories about the Black Widowers and this is the first, published in 1974. 

I have only read the first two stories in this book, and so far these two are less crime related, and more about morality or ethics. I enjoyed both of them. The Special Note and the Introduction by Asimov at the beginning of the book was very funny. Each story has an Afterword by Asimov explaining any changes to the story since original publication, and those are entertaining also.


This excerpt from an article by William I. Lengeman III, at Criminal Element gives an overview of how Asimov came up with the Black Widowers stories:

Asimov was a member of the Sherlock Holmes fan organization, the Baker Street Irregulars, and the Wolfe Pack, a fan group convened to sing the praises of Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe. But it’s his membership in another group, the Trap Door Spiders, that led to the creation of some of his most popular mystery stories. The Spiders, like their fictional counterparts, the Black Widowers, were an all-male group that convened regularly to eat, drink, discuss, debate and whatnot. Like Asimov, a number of the members of the Spiders were popular science fiction authors, including such notables as L. Sprague de Camp, Lin Carter and L. Ron Hubbard (in his pre-messianic incarnation).

The Black Widowers were six men from the upper strata of society. Much like the Spiders they would met every now and then for dinner—typically with a single guest on hand—and ended up solving some manner of puzzle presented to them by that guest. 

Here is a list of the stories in the book. When there are two titles for a  story, the first title is the one used in the book, the second is the one used when published in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine.

  • “The Acquisitive Chuckle” aka “The Chuckle”
  • “Ph as in Phony” aka “The Phony Ph.D.”
  • “Truth to Tell” aka “The Man Who Never Told a Lie”
  • “Go, Little Book!” aka “The Matchbook Collector”
  • “Early Sunday Morning” aka “The Biological Clock”
  • “The Obvious Factor”
  • “The Pointing Finger”
  • “Miss What?” aka “A Warning to Miss Earth?”
  • “The Lullaby of Broadway”
  • “Yankee Doodle Went To Town”
  • “The Curious Omission”
  • “Out of Sight” aka “The Six Suspects”


The remaining books are:

More Tales of the Black Widowers (1976)

Casebook of the Black Widowers (1980)

Banquets of the Black Widowers (1984)

Puzzles of the Black Widowers (1990)

The Return of the Black Widowers (2003)


Friday, February 12, 2021

Murder in the Place of Anubis: Lynda S. Robinson

This is the first book in a historical mystery series set in the ancient Egypt of the boy king Tutankhamun. The story begins with the discovery of the body of a murdered man in the sacred Place of Anubis, where the dead are embalmed and prepared for their journey to the afterlife. The dead man is Hormin, scribe of records and tithes in the office of the vizier. Hormin had many enemies, including members of his family. Due to the importance of the man and the desecration of a sacred place, the King requests that Lord Meren investigate and find the murderer.


The mystery part of the plot is fairly standard, but I found Lord Meren a believable investigator. He sends his adopted son Kysen to the village of the tombmakers to get more information; Kysen is very reluctant to go because his real father, who abused him and sold him into slavery, lives there with his other sons. 

I came to this book with little knowledge of ancient Egypt and the reign of Tutankhamun. My husband and I visited the “Treasures of Tutankhamun” exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1978, and we still have several books on Tutankhamun and the discovery of the tomb. This book added to my sense of what life may have been like back then, and emphasized the importance of religious beliefs and customs at that time.

One common complaint about historical fiction is that the author crams in too much information about life at the time in a way that it distracts from the story. This author did not do that at all. Many details are included (clothing, being dressed by servants, furniture, food) but they fit in with the story. 

For me, the draw of this book was the picture of life in ancient Egypt, plus I liked the main characters. Meren has his faults and a good bit of trauma in his early life, but he is a loving father (he also has three adult daughters) and grandfather. Based on reviews I have read, I think later books will be even more enjoyable (and I already have two of them). 


Also see:



 -----------------------------

Publisher:   Walker and Company, 1994
Length:      190 pages
Format:      Hardcover
Series:       Lord Meren #1
Setting:      Ancient Egypt
Genre:        Historical Mystery
Source:      This was originally my husband's book.


Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Short Story Wednesday: Detective Stories, chosen by Philip Pullman


This week I finished reading all of the short stories from Detective Stories: Chosen by Philip Pullman. I did not realize that I had already discussed three stories from this book here on the blog. I have found this book a treasure trove of stories by authors I had read or heard of but had not sampled their short stories. There were a few stories I did not care for at all but that is fairly common when reading short story anthologies. After all, each of us has different tastes in stories.

This book of short stories is aimed at introducing younger readers (9-11 years old) to mystery stories. Many of them are not detective stories, despite the title. I enjoyed many of the stories; most of them were originally written for adult readers. Some were published before 1960, and most of the rest were published between 1961-1980.


Of the final six stories in the book, this was my favorite:

"The Newdick Helicopter" by Leslie Charteris

This story stars the Saint, Simon Templar. It originally appeared in Empire News on October 15, 1933, as "The Inventions of Oscar Newdick." Later it was published in these collections: Boodle, Stories of the Saint; The Fantastic Saint; and The Saint Intervenes.

In this story, a con man has relieved the Saint's friend, Monty Hayward, of a good bit of money. After Monty complains to Simon Templar, and gives him the details, the Saint goes off to see what he can do about it. He cleverly solves the problem in a very intriguing way. 


Other stories from this book that have featured on the blog are:

"The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb" by Agatha Christie

"Butch Minds the Baby" by Damon Runyon

"The Cross of Lorraine" by Isaac Asimov



Friday, February 5, 2021

Six Degrees of Separation from Redhead at the Side of the Road to The Iron Gates

 

The Six Degrees of Separation meme is hosted by Kate at booksaremyfavoriteandbest. The idea behind the meme is to start with a book and use common points between two books to end up with links to six other books, forming a chain. Every month she provides the title of a book as the starting point.

This month the book is Redhead by the Side of the Road by Anne Tyler. This book was published in 2020 and I know nothing about it, so I am starting with the word "redhead" in the title for my first link.


Thus my first link in the chain is The Case of the Restless Redhead by Erle Stanley Gardner. In this book, Perry Mason helps out a young lawyer, Frank Neely, who is defending a redheaded waitress, Evelyn Bagby. She was arrested for theft while stranded in Corona, California, waiting for her car to be repaired. 


That book leads me to Beyond a Reasonable Doubt, another book about a lawyer. This book is an inverted mystery set in a small town in Kentucky. It was one of three mysteries written by C. W. Grafton, father of Sue Grafton.


And the next book in my chain is one of Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone mysteries... G is for Gumshoe. Kinsey lives in Santa Teresa, and the author chose that name for the city to honor Ross Macdonald, who used that city in some of his books also. In both cases, Santa Teresa is a fictionalized version of Santa Barbara, California.


The first book in Macdonald's Lew Archer series, The Moving Target, is set in Santa Teresa. 


I have only read the first four of the Lew Archer books so far, but I have become so enamored of Ross Macdonald's books that I recently read his biography, written by Tom Nolan. It was also especially interesting to me because Macdonald, whose real name was Ken Millar, lived in Santa Barbara with his wife Margaret Millar for several decades.


Margaret Millar is also an author of mystery novels, although her books were mostly psychological suspense. The final book in my chain, The Iron Gates, is set in Toronto, Canada.

So my chain takes me to California, with a detour to Kentucky, then back to California, and ends up in Canada.

Next month's Six Degrees will start with Phosphorescence by Julia Baird.

Thursday, February 4, 2021

The Queen's Gambit: Walter Tevis

I was motivated to read The Queen's Gambit because of the mini-series on Netflix. I finished reading it towards the end of December 2020 and I still haven't watched the TV series, but I am glad I read the book. It was very absorbing. 

The book is primarily about a young woman who aspires to be a chess champion, and the barriers she overcomes while making that journey. But it is about so many other things. We see the deprivations of the life of an orphan in an institution. Beth is orphaned at eight. The janitor at the orphanage teaches Beth to play chess and then is amazed at how quickly she picks it up and becomes a better player than he is. This is the first big change in Beth's life. 


At age twelve, Beth is adopted by a couple. This is the second big change, because Beth is treated better and has more opportunities. It is unclear why the couple adopts Beth. She refers to her mother as Mrs. Wheatley, but her new father ignores her. After leaving the institution, Beth has a hard time relating to anyone and doesn't fit in anywhere. 

Beth does continue to pursue opportunities to play and compete at chess. I don't know how much things have changed now, but at the time of this story nearly all chess champions were males, and females who tried to play were shunned or ignored. 

After Mr. Wheatley divorces his wife, Mrs. Wheatley discovers that Beth can make money at chess competitions. They become partners, with Mrs. Wheatley as her manager. That was an especially interesting part of the story.

The story deals with substance abuse. Beth becomes addicted to tranquilizers while at the orphanage, because that is how the orphanage controlled the children's behavior. Although she has to do without them for many years, she still turns to them when she begins to have problems in her life. 

This book is filled with chess terminology, and I know little about chess. I know the basic moves and the names of the pieces, but that is about it. It was a very fascinating book, nonetheless. The world of chess was interesting, and Beth's growth as a player and competitor was exciting. I liked the descriptions of how Beth plays chess in her head and can see many moves ahead. 

This is a dense book, full of substance, but not long at all. In addition to Beth, there are some great characters: Jolene, a friend at the orphanage; Mr. Shaibel, the janitor at the orphanage, who teaches Beth to play chess. I enjoyed all of it and found it well worth reading.

Thomas M. Disch describes The Queen's Gambit as "an inspirational novel for intellectuals." Now, I am not an intellectual, and I enjoyed this book. I may have missed a lot while reading it, but it was nevertheless a great experience. I found his review at Scraps from the Loft but it was first published in Twilight Zone Magazine, March/April 1984.

I did not discover this until after reading the book, but I found a very good article at Big Dave's Crossword Blog with good explanations of chess terms, with some depth but no intention to go into detail or teach one how to play chess. I never had a need for the explanations, but I was curious about some of the terminology while I was reading the book. It was fascinating that each tournament could have different rules. 


-----------------------------

Publisher:  Vintage Books, 2003 (orig. publ. 1983)
Length:      243 pages
Format:      Trade paperback
Setting:      USA
Genre:       General Fiction
Source:      I purchased my copy.




Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Short Story Wednesday: "A Nice Place to Stay" by Nedra Tyre



I read this story in Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives, an anthology edited by Sarah Weinman. In the introduction to this story, Sarah Weinman says...

"A Nice Place to Stay," first published in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine in 1970, is among Tyre's best and most anthologized works, and thus an excellent reintroduction to this unjustly neglected author.

This is the story of a woman who has always been the one to keep house and cook for others in the family. Initially she lives with her parents after her brothers get married and move out. When her father dies, her brothers get a small place for her and their mother to stay, and give them just enough money to get by on. She knows that her brothers will not be so good to her when her mother dies. And she does have to fend for herself at that point. 

She finds jobs as a carer for the sick or elderly, but only temporary, low paid work, since she has no training. The money she gets hardly keeps her alive. Things keep going from bad to worse. She turns to stealing, but only small things, old clothing that she can get a few pennies for. Just enough to buy new shoes when hers are no longer wearable. When one of the women she cares for, Mrs. Crowe, gives her a silver box for trinkets, Mrs. Crowe's relatives claim that she stole it. So she is arrested. And finally she finds in prison a place to stay, to have food and a bed. And even then, her new-found comfort is thwarted. 


This dark and chilling story shows the effects of severe poverty and how it can affect people, even those with the best intentions.

A few years ago, I read another story by Nedra Tyre, "Recipe for a Happy Marriage." It was collected in Murder on the Menu, edited by Carol-Lynn Rössel Waugh, Martin H. Greenberg, and Isaac Asimov. I discussed the story here.

Also see my earlier post on some stories from Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives.

Monday, February 1, 2021

January 2021 Reading Summary

January was a very good reading month. Out of the eight books I completed, all were fiction; two were historical fiction, and the rest were crime fiction. Six of the books were read at this time because I wanted to watch the film or TV adaptations. I read my first book for the Japanese Literature challenge. 

The settings were varied. One book was set in Japan, one in the US, two books set in Canada, one set in the Mediterranean and mostly at sea, and three books set in the UK. 

These are the books I read in January.


Historical Fiction


Black Robe
(1985) by Brian Moore

This book is set in the 1600s in what is now Canada. It was called New France at the time. Some members of the Algonkin tribe have contracted to take Father Laforgue and his companion Daniel (a younger French man) to another part of New France to work with a Huron tribe. The story is interesting but full of violence.  See my thoughts here.

Master and Commander (1970) by Patrick O'Brian

This is book 1 in the Aubrey & Maturin historical fiction series, following the adventures of Jack Aubrey of the Royal Navy and Stephen Maturin, physician. I enjoyed the story and I am eager to continue reading the series. See my thoughts here.


Crime Fiction

How the Light Gets In (2013) by Louise Penny

I read this book right after finishing The Beautiful Mystery, because the stories are linked, in a way. This book was a very good read, with a fast pace and thrilling action. My thoughts on both books are here.

The Hollow (1946) by Agatha Christie

This was another month when I read three books in the Hercule Poirot series. This one now ranks as one of my  favorite books in that series. See my thoughts here.

Taken at the Flood (1948) by Agatha Christie

The second Poirot book I read this month. Also written in the 1940s, this is an excellent post-war novel, with many of the characters suffering in some way from the effects of World War II. 

After the Funeral (1953) by Agatha Christie

I started out planning to read all the Poirot books in order of publication, but over time I ended up jumping around. I am getting close to the end of the Poirot books, I have only nine left in the series that I plan to read. This one was not a favorite, and I had some issues with the plot, but it was fun to read as always. We watched the adaptation starring David Suchet as Poirot only a couple of days after I read the book.


Under the Midnight Sun (1999) by Keigo Higashino

Translated by Alexander O. Smith with Joseph Reeder

I  read this book for the Japanese Literature Challenge. This book starts out as a police procedural, then turns into something else. Detective Sasagaki is investigating the death of a man in an empty building. After the investigation stalls, the story follows the main suspect's daughter, Yukiho, as she grows up, goes to university, and gets married. Also Ryo, the son of the murdered man. See my thoughts here.

In a Lonely Place (1947) by Dorothy B. Hughes

Another post-war mystery novel, but this one is noir, much different than the one by Agatha Christie. Dix Steele is in L.A., living off money from his grandfather for a year while he writes a book, staying in an old college friend's apartment while he is out of the country. There have been a spate of women who have died by strangling in the Santa Monica area recently, and Dix's ex-pilot buddy is a police detective investigating the cases. A beautifully written book which gets very creepy. This novel was published in the Library of America volume titled Women Crime Writers: Four Suspense Novels of the 1940s.



Friday, January 29, 2021

Master and Commander: Patrick O'Brian

 I never thought I would read this book, and I did not know much about the series. Then in December 2020, I saw this post at Nick Senger's blog, announcing a read-along for all the books in the Aubrey/Maturin nautical series, and I thought... why not?

Blurb from the book cover:

This, the first in the splendid series of Jack Aubrey novels, establishes the friendship between Captain Aubrey, R.N., and Stephen Maturin, ship's surgeon and intelligence agent, against a thrilling backdrop of the Napoleonic wars. Details of a life aboard a man-of-war in Nelson's navy are faultlessly rendered: the conversational idiom of the officers in the ward room and the men on the lower deck, the food, the floggings, the mysteries of the wind and the rigging, and the roar of broadsides as the great ships close in battle.

I started out reading this as a slow read, one chapter a week, planned to last about three months. I did not know how long I could keep that up, and at week four I broke down and finished the book in three days. It was a good read and full of interesting information.

What did I like? Reading about a period in history that is unfamiliar to me. Learning what it was like to live / work on a sloop in 1800. Picking up some nautical terms. Obviously I did not understand all of them just from reading this book, but that did not detract from the reading experience.

The characters are interesting. Jack Aubrey loves life at sea and all his energies are aimed at moving up in rank and commanding bigger and better ships. Stephen Maturin provides a different view of life at sea as a surgeon and a naturalist. Both men play the violin and they often play their instruments together. 

At one point I realized I was reading a book with only male characters. That is not absolutely true. There are a few peripheral female characters. But most of the story in this book takes place on the Sophie, and no women are allowed on the sloop, per the Captain's orders.

The story depends on a lot of nautical terms and they were a bit overwhelming at first. But the author makes an effort to explain some of the terms and Navy life via Stephen Maturin's character. The third chapter has a section where one of the men on the Sophie gives Stephen a tour of the brig, explains a lot of the terms, and gives details of the daily life of various people serving on the brig. Throughout the book Stephen is used as a character who knows little about nautical life and can ask for explanations, thus providing more background to the reader. 

"Brig", "ship", and "sloop" are examples of different terms for naval vessels which I initially found confusing. Early in the novel, Jack Aubrey is appointed as Commander of the Sophie, which is alternately referred to as brig and a sloop. A brig is a sailing vessel with two square-rigged masts. Per WikiPOBia, this is the definition of a sloop vs. a ship.

The term sloop in the Royal Navy described a ship based not on the rigging of the vessel nor on its size but rather by the rank of the officer who commanded her. When a vessel is commanded by a Commander, she is rated as a sloop. If the same vessel where commanded by a Captain she would be rated as a ship.

All in all, I enjoyed the story and I am eager to continue reading the series. 


Also see Katrina's review at Pining for the West.


 -----------------------------

Publisher:   W. W. Norton & Company, 1990 (orig. pub. 1970)
Length:       459 pages
Format:      Trade paperback
Series:       Aubrey-Maturin series #1
Setting:      The Mediterranean, and ports in Italy, France, Spain
Genre:        Historical fiction 
Source:      I purchased my copy, December 2020.

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

2021 Nonfiction Reader Challenge

I am joining the Nonfiction Reader Challenge for 2021. The challenge is hosted by Shelleyrae at Book'd Out. The aim of the Nonfiction Reader Challenge is to encourage you to make nonfiction part of your reading experience during the year. It runs for the entire year.


Guidelines:

Select, read and review a book from the categories listed below during the year for a total of up to 12 books. A book may be in print, electronic or audio format. 

The goal levels are:

  • Nonfiction Nipper : Read 3 books, from any category
  • Nonfiction Nibbler : Read 6 books, from any category
  • Nonfiction Know-It-All : Read 12 books, one for each category

Since there are specific categories to read from, I will aim at 6 books, Nonfiction Nibbler. I have added possible books for some topics. Over the year I do plan to read at least 12 nonfiction books and preferably more but all of them will not fit the categories for this challenge. 

CATEGORIES 

1. Biography -- The Sisters: The Saga of the Mitford Family by Mary S. Lovell

2. Travel -- The Big Red Train Ride by Eric Newby

3. Self-help -- Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up by Marie Kondō

4. Essay Collection -- Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman

5. Disease -- Influenza: The Hundred-Year Hunt to Cure the 1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic by Jeremy Brown

6. Oceanography

7. Hobbies

8. Indigenous Cultures

9. Food

10. Wartime Experiences -- D-Day Girls: The Spies Who Armed the Resistance, Sabotaged the Nazis, and Helped Win World War II by Sarah Rose

11. Inventions

12. Published in 2021


The sign-up post is HERE; it includes further explanation of rules for the challenge.


Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Short Story Wednesday: "Backward, Turn Backward" by Dorothy Salisbury Davis



In this story Sheriff Willets worries about how to handle the death of Matt Thompson. He was found dead in his kitchen, by his daughter Sue, who claims to have slept through the night and heard nothing. The death was brutal; Thompson was battered to death with a wrench. 

Phil Canby, 59 years old, had recently proposed to Sue. Sue is only 19 years old, and her father was determined that she would not marry Phil, who lived with his daughter, her husband, and their infant son on the same street, two houses away. The neighbor who lives between the two families has testified that the infant was crying all evening, and the implication is that Phil left the baby alone while he should have been babysitting, entered the Thompson's house and killed Sue's father. 

Sheriff Willets knows that the people of Pottersville have already decided that Phil is the murderer, but he doesn't want to arrest a man just because of the town's consensus. The other obvious suspect is Sue, but it is hard to believe she would kill her father. And the Sheriff knows that there is no real proof that either Sue or Phil committed the crime. As he reviews the case, he looks back to the past for answers. 

This was one of four stories that I read this week from Tales for a Stormy Night by Dorothy Salisbury Davis. All four stories were from 1952 or 1953, although the collection has stories written from the 1950s into the early 1980s. Based on the high quality of these four stories, I will continue to read from this collection in the next few months. The Introduction by the author was both interesting and informative, almost conversational in tone.

This story was adapted for TV for Alfred Hitchcock Presents in 1960. 


Sunday, January 24, 2021

Under the Midnight Sun: Keigo Higashino

This book starts out as a police procedural, then turns into something else. Detective Sasagaki is investigating the death of a man in an empty building. He starts with the victim's family, a wife and a son about 10 years old, and his place of business, a pawnshop. The investigation reveals that he visited a woman, Fumiyo Nishimoto, immediately before his death. She lived in another neighborhood with her preteen daugher, but had used the victim's pawn shop several times. The police suspect that Fumiyo was the killer, but she has a very good alibi. The case is dropped for lack of evidence although Sasagaki continues to look for more information related to the crime. 

After the investigation stalls, the story continues on following the main suspect's daughter, Yukiho, as she grows up, goes to university, and gets married. Also Ryo, the son of the murdered man. Each chapter depicts some event in their lives and/or the other people who work or go to school with them. I found out after I started the book that it was originally published as a serial in Japan from 1997 to 1999 and I can see how that would work well with this episodic structure. At times this was frustrating because I wasn't sure of the connections or what was going on. I think that was intentional. 

As the story gets closer to the end, Detective Sasagaki comes back into the story and we follow the events along with his investigation to see who was the killer and how that affected the people involved.


I enjoyed the book. Overall the story is very impressive. I had a hard time keeping up with all the characters though. Many reviewers noted that. My only real complaint was the length. I think some parts of the story could have been condensed.

As far as reading about life in another country, this novel conveyed very well life in Japan in the 1970s to the 1990s, with changing fads, various stages of education, office life, and characters at various economic levels.

The UK title is Journey Under the Midnight Sun. This is a standalone novel. I have read two other books by Keigo Higashino, The Devotion of Suspect X and Salvation of a Saint, both in the Detective Galileo series.

I read this book for the Japanese Literature Challenge



 -----------------------------

Publisher:   Minotaur Books, 2016 (orig. pub. 1999)
Translator:  Alexander O. Smith with Joseph Reeder
Length:       554 pages
Format:       Hardcover
Setting:       Japan
Genre:        Mystery
Source:       Borrowed from my husband.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Black Robe: Brian Moore

Description on the back of the book:

His name is Father Laforgue, a young Jesuit missionary come from Europe to the New World to bring the word of God to the heathen. He is given minimal aid by the governor of the vast territory that is proudly named New France but is in reality still ruled by the Huron, Iroquois, and Algonkin tribes who have roamed it since the dawn of time and whom the French call Savages. His mission is to reach and bring salvation to an isolated Huron tribe decimated by disease in the far north before incoming winter closes off his path to them. His guides are a group of Savages who mock his faith and their pledges even as they accept muskets as their payment.


Quote from the Author's Note preceding the text of Black Robe... 

In the early part of the seventeenth century the native people of Canada were not known to the French as “Indians,” but by the names of their tribal confederacies, and were referred to collectively as "Les Sauvages" (the Savages). The natives, for their part, spoke of the French as “Normans” and of the Jesuit fathers as “Blackrobes.” As for the obscene language used by the natives at that time it was a form of rough banter and was not intended to give offense.

Throughout the book this terminology is used, and there is much rude language used by the Algonkins and the Iriquois. Brian Moore's source data for this novel was Relations, letters from Jesuits in New France sent back to their superiors in France.

This book is set in the 1600s in what is now Canada. Some members of the Algonkin tribe have contracted (informally) with Champlain, the leader of the settlement, to deliver Father Laforgue and his companion Daniel (a younger man, also from France) to their destination. The guides and the two Frenchmen making this journey travel in two canoes that also contain supplies. The Algonkins travel in family groups, men with their wives and children of all ages.

Along the way they have many problems: bad weather, not enough food, the mutual distrust between the priest and the Algonkins, and much worse along the way. Daniel is in love with the daughter of one of the Algonkin leaders. Algonkin females in their teens are promiscuous, having sex with any males they desire, but when they marry, they are treated by their husbands as slaves. It appears in this group that the men value their wives, but they keep it to themselves.


This was a challenging read for me. Eventually some of the Algonkins and the two French men are captured by members of the Iriquois tribe. The violence and torture (and more) in this book was disturbing. But it is also a compelling story, thrilling and very well-written.

Moore does an amazing job of portraying the points of view and beliefs of the Savages and Father Laforgue without being judgmental of either one. They have different spiritual beliefs and the priest wants the Savages to be baptized to save their souls. I found myself more sympathetic to the beliefs of the Savages, at times. Clearly, religion, the differences in belief systems, and the clash of different cultures is a theme in this book. 


 -----------------------------

Publisher:  Plume Books, 1997 (orig. pub. 1985)
Length:      246 pages
Format:     Trade Paperback
Setting:      New France in North America, 1600s
Genre:       Historical Fiction
Source:      Purchased in November 2020.


Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2021

I am joining the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge for 2021. The challenge is hosted by a new host, Marg at The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader. It runs for the entire year.


To participate, you only have to follow the rules:

  • Add the link(s) of your review(s) including your name and book title to the Mister Linky we’ll be adding to our monthly post (please use the direct URL that will guide us directly to your review)
  • Any sub-genre of historical fiction is accepted (Historical Romance, Historical Mystery, Historical Fantasy, Young Adult, History/Non-Fiction, etc.)


The sign-up post is HERE on Adventures of an Intrepid Reader.

Participants can select from the following levels:

  • 20th Century Reader - 2 books
  • Victorian Reader - 5 books
  • Renaissance Reader - 10 books
  • Medieval - 15 books
  • Ancient History - 25 books
  • Prehistoric - 50+ books


Even though I had a hard time writing reviews for all the historical fiction I read last year, I am going to aim for The Renaissance Reader level at 10 books.

I have already read one book for this challenge, Black Robe by Brian Moore, and I am doing a slow read of Master and Commander by Patrick O'Brian.

Here are some possibilities from my TBR piles:

  • Mad About the Boy? by Delores Gordon-Smith
  • Murder in the Place of Anubis by Lynda S. Robinson
  • Goodnight Sweet Prince by David Dickinson
  • Elizabeth, Captive Princess by Margaret Irwin
  • The Mirror & The Light by Hilary Mantel
  • Gallows Court by Martin Edwards
  • Confusion by Elizabeth Jane Howard 
  • In Farleigh Field by Rhys Bowen
  • Poor Tom is Cold by Maureen Jennings
  • Beware This Boy by Maureen Jennings
  • The Ghost Rider by Ismail Kadare
  • Dark Fire by C.J. Sansom
  • The Meaning of Night by Michael Cox
  • A Decline in Prophets by Sulari Gentill
  • Then We Take Berlin by John Lawton


Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Short Story Wednesday: "The Cross of Lorraine" by Isaac Asimov


I have never read any of Isaac Asimov's stories in the Black Widowers series. Now I find out that they were collected in six books. The one I read recently was in Detective Stories, stories chosen by Philip Pullman. The story was first published in 1976 and was collected in Casebook of the Black Widowers.

"The Cross of Lorraine" is the type of story I did not think I would like, but in fact I enjoyed it very much. A group of middle-aged men gather monthly for dinner, and at that dinner they are presented with a puzzle to solve. I don't know how all the stories go, but in this one the puzzle pops up unexpectedly, it was not brought to them for a solution. 

The story begins with a magician joining the group as a guest, and the group questions him about his experiences in his job. This leads to a puzzle that he has not been able to solve on his on, try as he may. He is trying to find a woman that was traveling on a bus with him. They were traveling at night and she left the bus while he was asleep. The solution is clever and amusing, if a bit far-fetched. But I think it was the tone of the mystery I liked most, playful, light.

So I will be looking for a copy of one of the books of collected stories, hopefully the first one, Tales of the Black Widowers.



Saturday, January 16, 2021

Japanese Literature Challenge 14

Again I will be joining in on the Japanese Literature Challenge, hosted by Dolce Bellezza



The guidelines are simple:

  • The Challenge runs for thee months, from January 1, 2021 through March 31, 2021.
  • Read and review one or more books which have originally been written in Japanese.

There is a dedicated review site to link up reviews for the Japanese Literature Challenge 14.

Also, there will be a group read of Breasts and Eggs, by Mieko Kawakami, for those who wish to join in.


I am currently reading my first book for this challenge: Under the Midnight Sun by Keigo Higashino. This book is a standalone crime fiction novel, and it is a chunkster, at about 550 pages. 

I also plan to read Malice by the same author. That is the first book in the Police Detective Kaga series. This one is not such a long read, about half the length of Under the Midnight Sun. Both of these books belong to my husband.



Friday, January 15, 2021

The Chief Inspector Gamache series, books 8 and 9

The Beautiful Mystery is the eighth book in the Inspector Gamache series. Following that book is How the Light Gets In. The books have a connection, with a cliffhanger ending (of sorts) in The Beautiful Mystery leading to events which are resolved in the next book. Thus I am posting my thoughts on them together.


The Beautiful Mystery

I really can't do justice to a summary of the plot for this book so I will rely on the description at the author's website:

No outsiders are ever admitted to the monastery of Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups, hidden deep in the wilderness of Québec, where two dozen cloistered monks live in peace and prayer. They grow vegetables, they tend chickens, they make chocolate. And they sing. Ironically, for a community that has taken a vow of silence, the monks have become world-famous for their glorious voices, raised in ancient chants whose effect on both singer and listener is so profound it is known as “the beautiful mystery.”

But when the renowned choir director is murdered, the lock on the monastery’s massive wooden door is drawn back to admit Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and Jean-Guy Beauvoir of the Sûreté du Québec.

As usual this was a beautifully written story. I enjoyed the new setting. The stories set in Three Pines are charming and I love visiting the inhabitants of that small town, but I also enjoy exposure to other parts of Québec. It was interesting to get a look at the workings of a small monastery.

There is a second plot in The Beautiful Mystery. In past books there have been references to differences within the Sûreté du Québec. At the highest levels, there are people who resent Gamache. This situation comes to a head in this novel, but is not resolved.


How the Light Gets In

Had I realized that this book was set at Christmas, I might have tried to read both of these books before the end of the year. As it is, I started this book a couple of days before the end of the year, and it was the first book I finished in 2021. I read the books back to back because I saw that the cliffhanger ending in The Beautiful Mystery was going to bug me until I read the next book.

There is a mysterious death that is determined to be suicide at the beginning of the book. The incident keeps coming up until it is finally tied in to the rest of the plot towards the end of the book. Around the same time, Myrna, the owner of the bookshop in Three Pines, calls Inspector Gamache and asks him to check on a friend who lives in Montréal and was scheduled to visit Myrna for Christmas. When Gamache goes to her home, he finds the friend dead, murdered. He also discovers that she was one of a famous set of quintuplets who were born in Québec in the 1930s. She had used an assumed name to conceal her identity. 

But at the same time that Gamache is investigating that death, he is dealing with changes in his department. Many of his best detectives have transferred out of his department, some voluntarily, some forced to move by Gamache's superior officer. Only Inspector Isabelle Lacoste is still working with him. New officers have been transferred into Gamache's department.

This book was a very good read. It was overly long, but had a faster pace than The Beautiful Mystery, and kept me reading too late at night in order to finish the book. I will admit to having some reservations as to some plot choices in both The Beautiful Mystery and How the Light Gets In, but not enough to deter my enjoyment. 


These two books fit together very well, it was like reading one very, very long novel. And fortunately, I enjoy immersing myself in the Inspector Gamache books. But that only worked for me because I already had a copy on hand. I would have been quite unhappy to read The Beautiful Mystery when it first came out and then find out I had to wait a year to find out what was going on.


-----------------------------


Pub. data for The Beautiful Mystery

Publisher: Minotaur Books, 2013 (orig. publ. 2012)
Length: 373 pages
Format: Trade Paperback
Series: Inspecter Gamache, #8
Setting: Québec, Canada
Genre: Police Procedural
Source: Purchased in 2020.

Pub. data for How the Light Gets In

Publisher: Sphere, 2018 (orig. publ. 2013)
Length: 534 pages
Format: Trade Paperback
Series: Inspecter Gamache, #9
Setting: Québec, Canada (Three Pines, Montréal)
Genre: Police Procedural
Source: Purchased in 2020.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

THE TBR 21 IN '21 CHALLENGE

Rose City Reader is hosting a TBR Challenge. It is called the TBR 21 in '21 Challenge. The idea is to read 21 books from your TBR shelf in 2021. "TBR" counts as any book that was on your shelf prior to January 1, 2021. "Shelf" includes your ebook reader and audiobooks you own, but it doesn't include library books. 


The rules and sign up for the challenge are here. Rose City Reader's sign up post is here.

I love this idea -- I like picking a specific number of books and I like visuals. I went through my shelves pulling books for the challenge but I will have to put them all back because I don't have a shelf I can devote to this purpose. 

I was aiming at books on my TBR purchased prior to 2020. The only exception on my list is The Travelers by Chris Pavone, which I purchased in mid-2020. 

Here are the books I selected:








In case some of the titles are hard to read, here's a list:

  • Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
  • The Sirens Sang of Murder by Sarah Caudwell
  • Human Croquet by Kate Atkinson
  • The Small Boat of Great Sorrows by Dan Fesperman. Second book in a series of two books. Set in Bosnia, Germany, and Italy.
  • The Travelers by Chris Pavone
  • Murder in the Place of Anubis by Lynda S. Robinson
  • Vanish by Tess Gerritsen. Fifth book in the Jane Rizzoli and Maura Isles series. I read the fourth book in 2011 and I have had this one on my TBR since then.
  • Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama, The Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution by Diane McWhorter. This book was the 2002 Pulitzer Prize Winner in General Nonfiction.
  • Bangkok 8 by John Burdette
  • Goodnight Sweet Prince by David Dickinson
  • The End of Your Life Book Club by David Schwalbe
  • Case for Three Detectives by Leo Bruce
  • Don't Look Back by Karin Fossum
  • Wife of the Gods by Kwei Quartey
  • A Carrion Death by Michael Stanley
  • Village School by Miss Read
  • Death Has a Small Voice by Frances and Richard Lockridge
  • Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood by Mark Harris
  • Mad About the Boy? by Delores Gordon-Smith
  • Lincoln at the Bardo by George Saunders
  • Three Stations by Martin Cruz Smith. The seventh book in the Arkady Renko series. I read the sixth book in 2008 and I have had this one on my TBR since 2010.

If you have any thoughts on these books, please let me know.