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.


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. 


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


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.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Short Story Wednesday: Stories from Home Schooling by Carol Windley

I honestly don't know how I happened upon this book, except that I always have an eye open for books by Canadian authors. This one seemed especially appealing because the stories are all set in the Pacific Northwest, and many of them are set primarily on Vancouver Island.

The first three stories in the book focus on some upheaval or major change in the characters' lives. These events are seen mainly from one character's point of view, although multiple characters may be affected. At the center of each story is children and their families.

I was rooting for that central point of view character in each story, which was always one of the children, but sometimes there was no real resolution. That is realistic, but I found it somewhat unsatisfactory. Yet, I kept thinking about all three stories after I had finished them. They stuck in my mind. The writing was very good. I would have read the stories just for the author's way with words. 

My favorite of these three stories is "Family in Black." 

It is a familiar story of a family split by divorce and children adapting to two households. The point of view character is Nadia, a teenager as the story begins, out of high school by the time it ends. Her mother leaves her father for a wealthy logging contractor. Everyone in both families has to change and adapt, but this story focuses on Nadia's relationships with her mother's new family, including the new husband's daughter who is about the same age as Nadia. There is also a theme of environmental issues and climate change.

There is a great quote in the story, from a bookstore owner:

He'd always had a fondness for books, he said; the way their spines lined up on a shelf; the prickly sense of expectation and dread in just taking one down and opening it.

I did have one quibble with "Family in Black." The novel, Rebecca, comes up, and the ending is revealed, in detail. I have read the book, years and years ago, and seen the movie, but still that bothered me. 

I also read:

"What Saffi Knows"

A woman remembers events in her childhood related to the disappearance of a child. Very affecting.

"Home Schooling"

A couple runs a private school, but the school is shut down due the accidental drowning of a 10-year-old student. With no students at the school, the school reverts to a farm and the couple continue to home school their teenage daughters. A complex story, and one with a nebulous ending.

I will continue reading the remaining five stories in the next couple of months.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Cloak and Dagger Reading Challenge 2021

This year I will be joining in on the Cloak and Dagger Reading Challenge, hosted by Carol's Notebook. The Challenge will run from Jan. 1st to Dec. 31st. (Sign up ends March 15th)

The goal is to read and review any book that is from the mystery/suspense/thriller/crime genres. Any sub-genres are welcome as long as they incorporate one of these genres.

More detailed rules can be found here

The levels are:

  • 5-15 books – Amateur sleuth
  • 16-25 books – Detective
  • 26-35 books – Inspector
  • 36-55 – Special agent 
  • 56+ books – Sherlock Holmes

I will be aiming at the Special Agent level, 36 - 55 books. I usually read more mysteries than that in a year, but I don't review them all.

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Back to the Classics Challenge 2021

I am joining the Back to the Classics Challenge for 2021. The challenge is hosted by Books and Chocolate and is in its 8th year.

The challenge consists of twelve prompts for classic books. All books must have been written at least 50 years ago to qualify; therefore, books must have been published no later than 1971 for this challenge. More detailed rules can be found here. Ideally I would read one for each prompt for a total of 12, but as long as I read at least 6 books for this challenge, I will be happy.

I have listed possibilities for books I may read but I am not committed to those choices. In some cases there are many possibilities on my Classics Club List to fulfill the category description.

1. A 19th century classic: any book first published from 1800 to 1899

H. G. Wells – The Invisible Man (1897)

2. A 20th century classic: any book first published from 1900 to 1971. 

(so many to choose from)

3. A classic by a woman author.

Madeleine L'Engle – A Wrinkle in Time (1962)

4. A classic in translation, meaning any book first published in a language that is not your primary language. 

Leo Tolstoy – Anna Karenina (1878)

5. A classic by BIPOC author; that is, a non-white author.

Zora Neale Hurston – Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937)

6. A classic by a new-to-you author, i.e., an author whose work you have never read.

Bram Stoker – Dracula (1897)

7. New-to-you classic by a favorite author -- a new book by an author whose works you have already read. 

Margaret Millar – Beast In View (1955)

8. A classic about an animal, or with an animal in the title. 

Virginia Woolf – Flush: A Biography (1933)

9. A children's classic. 

Roald Dahl – Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1964)

10. A humorous or satirical classic.

Leo Bruce – A Case for Three Detectives (1936)

11. A travel or adventure classic (fiction or non-fiction). It can be a travelogue or a classic in which the main character travels or has an adventure. 

Laurence Sterne – A Sentimental Journey (1768)

12. A classic play. Plays will only count in this category.

William Shakespeare – Much Ado About Nothing (1598)

Thursday, January 7, 2021

The Hollow: Agatha Christie

As I read more of the Poirot books, I find more to add to my favorite Christie novels. This one may be in my top ten, if I ever try to list them.

Sir Henry Angkatell and his wife Lucy have invited several people to their home, The Hollow, for the weekend. Dr. John Christow and his wife Gerda. Henrietta Savernake, the sculptress. David Angkatell, a young member of the family. Midge Hardcastle, who works in a dress shop in London, and is getting a brief vacation.

Then Edward Angkatell invites himself, and Lucy, the hostess, is concerned that the balance of the group will be ruined by his presence. Except for John and Gerda , these people are all related, distant cousins in some cases.

There are so many interesting characters in this story. They are mostly likable, but while reading the book I was never sure of them. Are they manipulative? Are they evil? How much of themselves are they revealing to others? The point of view changes often, revealing more of John, Gerda, Henrietta and Midge. And the servants play an important role, which I like in a country house mystery.

Some mystery readers prefer the murder to take place early in the story. I usually prefer some build up of the plot, some introduction to the characters and the relationships. In this book, the murder occurs at page 83 (out of 230 pages) before the murder takes place. Poirot shows up for the first time shortly after that. 

Even after the murder, there is not a lot of Poirot or his detection in this book. I thought the plot worked well and I enjoyed it, nevertheless. Early on, I guessed who the murderer was. As usual when that happens, Christie led me away and convinced me that there were other more viable suspects. 

The evening after I finished reading the book, we watched the TV adaptation starring David Suchet. I have enjoyed all of the Poirot TV episodes that I have seen so far, but this adaptation adhered more closely to the novel than most I have seen. There were a few changes, and one character entirely omitted, but no major changes. I especially liked Edward Fox as Gudgeon, Sarah Miles as Lucy Angkatell and Megan Dodds as Henrietta Savernake.

See reviews at Clothes in Books, Dead Yesterday, Pretty Sinister Books, The Art of Words, and Peggy's Porch.


Publisher: Berkley Books, 1984. Orig. pub. 1946.
Length: 231 pages
Format: Paperback
Series: Hercule Poirot, #25
Setting: UK
Genre: Mystery
Source: Purchased at the Planned Parenthood book sale, Sept. 2007.

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Short Story Wednesday: Two Stories from OxCrimes


I have had OxCrimes, edited by Mark Ellingham and Peter Florence, for several years and previously had only read six stories from that anthology. This week I read two more stories and both were very good. 

First is "The Sin of Dreams" by Walter Mosley. This is a cross-genre story, a combination of science fiction and crime fiction, although heavier on the science fiction side. As the story begins, a hip hop promoter who runs a biological research company is trying to convince a very young expert in bio-storage technology, Carly Mathews, to join a company that plans to transfer one's memories along with the soul from one body to another. The intent is to provide a way to move the soul of a dying human to a new body. Carly doesn't believe that this is possible, but she is lured into the proposition because the work would be so challenging and she would gain from it whether it is successful or not. Mosley writes so well that I was pulled in from the beginning. It was a very interesting story with a weird ending.

This story was first published in OxCrimes in 2014, but was also published in the recent collection of Mosley's short stories, The Awkward Black Man, released in September 2020.

The second story I read was "Underneath the Mistletoe Last Night" by Mark Billingham. It featured his series character, Detective Inspector Tom Thorne, and it almost made me want to try that series. I read the story now because it is still close to the holidays. The ending was kind of obvious but I liked the story anyway. It is not your usual uplifting or festive Christmas tale.

All of the stories I have read in this anthology have been excellent. I am sure I will continue and read all the stories in the book (eventually).

Saturday, January 2, 2021

2020 Overview and Reading in December

I don't keep statistics as I go along during the year (although I may do that in 2021) but I was curious about my reading this year, so I looked at my counts for various genres. This year I read 113 books. I usually aim at 84 books in a year, which would be seven books a month. In 2019 I read 120 books, but that was an unusually high number for me.

My reading has always been focused on mystery novels, at least in my adult life. This year I read 75 mystery novels. That group includes any historical mysteries and spy fiction I read. Of that total, 25 were published before 1960, 24 were published between 1960 and 1999, and 26 were published after 1999. That seems like a good mix.

Other fiction reading was divided thus:

  • Science fiction: 5
  • Classics: 4
  • General fiction: 4
  • Historical fiction: 7

I read more short stories than usual this year, and ended up completing 6 books of short stories. I joined in on Short Story Wednesday at Patricia Abbott (pattinase) and sampled short stories from several anthologies. 

That leaves 18 non-fiction books, which includes 7 mystery reference books. 

And now, on to books read in December 2020... 

General Fiction

Little Women (1868) Louisa May Alcott

I think I read this book when I was younger but maybe I just remember what I saw in film adaptations. The story was somewhat familiar to me but my memories were garbled so that there were enough surprises to entertain me. See my review here.

The Queen's Gambit (1983) by Walter Tevis

I was motivated to read this book because of the new mini-series on Netflix. I still haven't watched the TV series, but I am very glad I read the book. Beth Harmon is an orphan who discovers she has a gift for playing chess, and becomes obsessed with it. The relationships in this book are fascinating.

Crime Fiction

The Absent One (2008) by Jussi Adler-Olsen, Translated by K. E. Semmel

#2 in the Department Q series. Set in Copenhagen, Denmark. See my review here.

Murder in Retrospect (1942) by Agatha Christie

Poirot is hired to investigate a murder that took place in the past. Carla Lemarchant's mother Caroline Crale was hanged for the murder of her husband. Sixteen years later, Carla wants Poirot to prove that Caroline did not commit the murder. This is one of my favorite Agatha Christie books of the ones I have read so far. This title was published as Five Little Pigs in the UK. 

Hickory Dickory Dock (1955) by Agatha Christie

Miss Lemon, Hercule Poirot's secretary, is obviously worried and he insists she tell him what it is. Her sister is the warden at a youth hostel. There has been a series of thefts and vandalism there. Poirot volunteers to investigate this issue. And then there is a death.

Sad Cypress (1940) by Agatha Christie

At the beginning of this novel, Elinor Carlisle is on trial, accused of the murder of Mary Gerrard by poison. The prosecutor alleges that she is the only person with a motive for this murder. Her engagement to Roddy Wellman had ended because he had fallen for Mary Gerard, the daughter of the lodge keeper at the aunt's estate. Poirot is hired by the aunt's doctor to look for evidence that Elinor did not commit the crime.

This month, I read three books in the Hercule Poirot series, and in October and November I read two each month. It is an interesting experience to read so many of the Poirot books so close together.

The Word is Murder (2018) by Anthony Horowitz

As soon as I started reading this book, I knew that I was going to love it. The premise is that the narrator is a writer who plans to write a true crime novel about a consulting detective who is investigating a murder. The narrator's name is Anthony Horowitz. It is very well done, and I am looking forward to reading the next one, The Sentence is Death.

Crimson Snow: Winter Mysteries (2016) edited by Martin Edwards 

This is an anthology of vintage crime stories set around Christmas time. I wrote two posts about stories in this anthology, here and here.

The Beautiful Mystery (2012) by Louise Penny

#8 in the Chief Inspector Gamache series. This one is set in a monastery and eventually addresses some difficulties that Gamache has been having with his superiors in the Surete. 

What I will be doing in January:

I have signed up for one challenge already and I have about nine more I plan to sign up for. I don't think any of them will be a big strain and I will be using them as guidelines for my reading over the year, not something to stress about. 

In January I plan to read a book for the Japanese Literature Challenge at Dolce Bellezza.  Also Master and Commander by Patrick O'Brian, Black Robe by Brian Moore, and at least a couple of books in the Hercule Poirot series. The Master and Commander read is intended to be a slow read (one chapter a week for about three months) for Nick Senger's Aubrey/Maturin Chapter-a-Week Read-along, but I may decide I want to read it faster than that.