Monday, February 28, 2022

Back to the Classics Challenge 2022

I am joining the Back to the Classics Challenge for 2022. The challenge is hosted by Books and Chocolate and is in its 9th 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 1972 for this challenge. The deadline to sign up for the challenge is April 1, 2022. More detailed rules can be found here

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. 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.

Here are the categories for 2022 (followed  by my choice where I have one): 

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

Dracula – Bram Stoker (1897) 

2. A 20th century classic. Any book first published from 1900 to 1972. All books must have been published at least 50 years ago; the only exceptions are books which were written by 1972 and posthumously published.

Daphne du Maurier – Rebecca (1938)

3. A classic by a woman author.

Edna Ferber – Giant (1952)

Edna Ferber – Show Boat (1926)

4. A classic in translation.  Any book first published in a language that is not your primary language. You may read it in translation or in its original language, if you prefer. 

Leo Tolstoy – Anna Karenina (1878)

5. A classic by BIPOC author. Any book published by a non-white author.

Chinua Achebe – Things Fall Apart (1958)

6. Mystery/Detective/Crime classic. It can be fiction or non-fiction (true crime). 

James Cain – The Postman Always Rings Twice (1934)

7. A classic short story collection. Any single volume that contains at least six short stories. The book can have a single author or can be an anthology of multiple authors. 

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – Adventures of Sherlock Holmes  (1892)

8. Pre-1800 classic. Anything written before 1800. Plays and epic poems, such as the Odyssey, are acceptable in this category. 

William Shakespeare – Much Ado About Nothing (1598)

9. A nonfiction classic. Travel, memoirs, and biographies are great choices for this category.

10. Classic that's been on your TBR list the longest. Find the classic book that's been hanging around unread the longest, and finally cross it off your list!  

Jane Austen – Sense and Sensibility (1811)

11. Classic set in a place you'd like to visit. Can be real or imaginary -- Paris, Tokyo, the moon, Middle Earth, etc. It can be someplace you've never been, or someplace you'd like to visit again.

12. Wild card classic. Any classic book you like, any category, as long as it's at least 50 years old! 

Saturday, February 26, 2022

Ten Years of Blogging

On February 25th, 2012, I wrote my first blog post. My goals for blogging were to keep track of what I was reading, review the books I read, and take part in reading challenges. At the time I never imagined all the additional benefits that would  come from blogging.

What do I like best about blogging?

  • The community of book bloggers. It is wonderful to be able to learn from others who share my love for books and reading. 
  • The process of writing down and organizing my thoughts about the books I read. 
  • Reminders of authors I need to check out or get reacquainted with.
  • Discovering new authors. I thought I knew a lot about older mystery novels (pre-1960's) before I started blogging, but there are always more authors to learn about. Plus the fact that more vintage mysteries and authors are being reprinted now than ever before, so they are more available than ever.

What is new in my blogging?

When I started blogging, I read mystery novels almost exclusively. I still love mysteries, and I give a high priority to vintage mysteries, but I now read a good number of books from other genres. More science fiction and fantasy (heavier on the science fiction). More contemporary general fiction and historical novels.

I joined the Classics Club in late 2018, and have been working on reading books from my Classics List. I am not reading in that area as much I had hoped, but I keep working at it. 

Another new joy in my blogging life is reading more short stories and sharing my thoughts about those on the blog. 

In closing I will feature a few books. All of these books have skulls or skeletons on the cover:

Ray Bradbury's One More for the Road is a book of short stories. Frankly, I bought this book for the cover (over 15 years ago). The stories in this book  are mostly from his later years, based on reviews I read. I will be checking them out later in the year.

Aaron Elkin's Skeleton Dance is the 10th book in the Gideon Oliver (forensic anthropologist) series. I have only read the first two book's in this series, although I have read several of Elkin's standalone novels and loved them. I have copies of many books in the series, mostly because I just love the skeletons on the covers.

The third book, Johannes Cabal the Necromancer by Jonathan L. Howard, is my husband's book, but I have always loved the cover illustration. I am thinking I may try reading this one, although it is far outside of my usual reading. It has a carnival setting, which could be fun.

Sunday, February 20, 2022

Convenience Store Woman: Sayaka Murata

Convenience Store Woman is an interesting story about a woman who does not fit in. The novel is short, about 160 pages, and very strange, but I loved it. 

The main character Keiko is a 36-year-old woman who has been a part-time convenience store worker in Tokyo for 18 years. She finds fulfillment and meaning in this job. Yet her family, friends, even coworkers expect her to do more with her life and be more normal. 

As a child, Keiko tended to deal with situations that she did not like by using violence to stop a person doing something. And she did not understand why her solutions were not acceptable. Her mother told her she could not do things like that, and she realized that she had to change, but she never really understood why.

By the time she was an adult, she had figured out ways to fit in, to behave more like others. She finds that the job of working at a convenience store part time fit her perfectly. She designs her whole life around doing her job and would even work more hours if she could. She has learned how to dress and behave in ways that make her more acceptable to others, but she doesn't want to change, to get a better job, or find a man and have children.  

After 18 years in the same job, Keiko begins getting increased pressure to make some changes in her life, and she allows her life to be disrupted. 

My thoughts: 

The story is narrated by Keiko, so, aside from conversations she has with others, the reader gets the story solely from her point of view. I found that way of telling the story to be very effective. I could feel both her pain and her joys as the story progresses. Anyone whose life has aspects that don't fit the traditional mold can sympathize with how others want you to fit that mold in order to make themselves more comfortable.

The story also provides an interesting perspective on life in Japan. It was a thought-provoking read and had a great ending. 

I read this book for the Japanese Literature Challenge


Publisher:   Grove Press, 2018 (orig. pub. 2016 as Konbini ningen)
Translated from the Japanese by Ginny Tapley Takemori 
Length:       163 pages
Format:       Hardcover
Setting:       Tokyo, Japan
Genre:        Fiction
Source:       Purchased in 2021.

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

In a Lonely Place: Dorothy B. Hughes

I enjoy reading post-war mystery novels, especially those written during those years. This novel by Dorothy B. Hughes was published in 1947 but has a very different style and atmosphere than other novels that I have read from that time. In a Lonely Place is a noir classic, a portrait of a serial killer, written before this type of novel was so prevalent as it is now. The story is told from Dix Steele's point of view, but the killings are not described in the book except by the police after examining the scene of the crime. 

As the book opens, the reader gets a picture of Dix Steele. He was a pilot in World War II, and he misses flying, although he is very cynical about the war. He is standing on a piece of land overlooking the beach and enjoying the feeling it gives him.

It was good standing there on the promontory overlooking the evening sea, the fog lifting itself like gauzy veils to touch his face. There was something in it akin to flying; the sense of being lifted high above crawling earth, of being a part of the wildness of air. Something too of being closed within an unknown and strange world of mist and cloud and wind. He'd liked flying at night; he'd missed it after the war had crashed to a finish and dribbled to an end. It wasn't the same flying a little private crate. He'd tried it; it was like returning to the stone ax after precision tools. He had found nothing yet to take the place of flying wild.

While he is out, he looks up an old pilot friend from the war, Brub Nicolai, who lives nearby. Dix has been in Los Angeles for seven months but only now calls to let him know he is in town. On the spur of the moment, he decides to visit Brub and the wife he married when he got back from the war. He discovers that Brub is a police detective and seems to be displeased with that information, although he keeps this from Brub. Only later do we learn that Dix is the serial killer attacking the young women in the area... and Brub is on the case.

The book was adapted to film by Nicholas Ray; the stars are Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Graham. The film is quite a bit different from the novel but is still very good viewing. 

I admire and enjoy Hughes' writing. She is very good with both characters and setting. I have read two other books by this author. The Davidian Report, also published as The Body on the Bench, is a Cold War spy novel, although it doesn't fit that mold perfectly. The descriptions in that book of Hollywood Boulevard are fantastic.  Ride the Pink Horse is set in Santa Fe, New Mexico during the week-long Fiesta celebration and again, the descriptions of the setting and the people are great. All of these books are on the darker side.

This novel was published in the Library of America volume titled Women Crime Writers: Four Suspense Novels of the 1940s. I read this book a year ago, in January 2021. 


Publisher:  Library of America, 2015 (Orig. pub. 1947)
Length:  184 pages
Format:  Hardcover Collection
Setting:  Los Angeles, California 
Genre:   Mystery / Noir
Source:  I purchased my copy

Friday, February 11, 2022

Nemesis: Jo Nesbø

Harry Hole is the protagonist in a series of crime fiction novels by Norwegian author Jo Nesbø. Harry is a police detective working in Oslo. He has many of the typical problems of policemen in crime fiction. He struggles with alcohol, smoking, and depression. He is talented but has difficulty taking orders and dealing with co-workers. 

My first introduction to Nesbø was The Redbreast. I read that book in 2012 when I first started blogging. It was the third book in the series, but at the time it was the only one that had been translated to English. There were two storylines, and one was set during World War II. I was charmed by the dual timelines and learned a lot about Norway during World War II from that book. 

Nemesis is the fourth novel in the series. There are two cases that are the focus of this novel. Harry joins a team investigating a series of bank robberies because in one of the robberies, a bank teller was killed by the robber. At about the same time, an old friend and lover of Harry dies, and the death is determined to be suicide. Unfortunately, Harry was with this woman the night she died. He had too much to drink, doesn't know when he left, and woke up the next day with no memories of the previous night. He does not believe it was suicide, but he also fears he would be a suspect if it is murder. 

Unfortunately, I did not enjoy reading this novel, even though I recognize the high level of Nesbø's writing.  

The Good Points:

Nesbø tells a good story and the pacing is good. 

The main character is likable (some would say charismatic). The secondary characters are interesting, believable and well developed. I really liked a new police woman introduced in this book, Beate Lonn. 

I liked the varied settings. Although I cannot say I learned much about Norway, Harry goes to Egypt to follow up on one case and to Brazil with Beate following a clue for the other case. 

The Bad Points:

The plot is overcomplicated to begin with, but at the end there are entirely too many twists and turns when you think everything is already resolved.

My main objection is that I am tired of damaged alcoholic policemen who ignore the rules and get away with it over and over.

In conclusion:

I got far enough into the book that I wanted to see it through and find how the solutions for both cases were handled. My objections are personal preferences, and I can see why so many people are fans of this series. Of the reviews I have read, some had the same complaints as mine, but the majority were overwhelmingly positive. 

This is my first book for the European Reading Challenge.


Publisher:  Harper, 2009 (orig. pub. as Sorgenfri in 2002)
Length:  474 pages
Format:  Trade Paperback
Series:  Harry Hole #2
Setting:  Oslo, Norway, with trips to Egypt and Brazil
Genre:   Police Procedural, Thriller
Translated:  From the Norwegian by Don Bartlett
Source:  Purchased in 2012.

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Short Story Wednesday: Short Story Books from My Husband's Shelves

Today I feature three books of short stories that I plan to be reading from in the next few months. All of them are from my husband's shelves, and he has not read them yet either. 

Night and Fear: A Centenary Collection of Stories by Cornell Woolrich

This collection of 14 previously uncollected stories was published in 2004. The reviews at both Publisher's Weekly and Kirkus said these are not his best stories, but there were good reviews at Goodreads, so I am sure the stories will be worth my time. Edited and with an Introduction by Francis M. Nevins.

Killer, Come Back to Me: The Crime Stories of Ray Bradbury

As noted in the subtitle, this book collects crime stories by Ray Bradbury. Bradbury wrote three crime novels in 1985, 1990, and 2002, but most of his short stories were in other genres. About half of the stories in this book are from the 1940s, and the others are from later decades. This book has a very nice cover and includes illustrations preceding some of the stories. 

There is an introduction by Jonathan R. Eller. At the end, there is an essay by Ray Bradbury that was intended to be an introduction to A Memory of Murder, a collection of crime stories published in 1984. This seems appropriate since a good number of stories that were in A Memory of Murder are in this book. 

Speculative Los Angeles

Edited by Denise Hamilton

Fourteen speculative short stories set in neighborhoods around Los Angeles. The stories are divided into four sections: "Changelings, Ghosts, and Parallel Worlds," "Steampunks, Alchemists, and Memory Artists," "A Tear in the Fabric of Reality" and "Cops and Robots in the Future Ruins of LA." Denise Hamilton was also the editor for Los Angeles Noir and Los Angeles Noir Volume 2: The Classics published by Akashic.

This is reportedly the first book in a new series of speculative fiction anthologies from Akashic Books.

Sunday, February 6, 2022

Reading Summary for January 2022


This month I read a strange (for me) assortment of books. A total of six books, and only two of them were crime fiction. The crime fiction novels and short stories I read were all published before 1960, although the stories by Georges Simenon were collected in book format years later.

Nonfiction, Books about Books

More Book Lust (2005) by Nancy Pearl

This book is part of Nancy Pearl's Book Lust series, which includes Book Lust, More Book Lust and Book Lust to Go. I have read all three of these more than once, and I believe this was my third time to read More Book Lust. The book is divided into various topics. Many of the topics include mystery and crime fiction suggestions, which I appreciate.

General Fiction

The Dining Car (2016) by Eric Peterson

This book follows three people who travel around the country on a train, in a luxurious private railroad car. Horace Button is a food writer and social critic who writes for Sunshine Trails, a magazine that he and a friend founded many years before. He eats and drinks a lot, and smokes cigars, and is often very obnoxious and opinionated. Jack Marshall is a former football star who was seriously injured in a motorcycle accident, and needs a job badly. Horace hires him as the bartender for the railroad car. Wanda is the chef, with her own set of problems and prejudices. They have just settled into their new working arrangements when two events threaten their way of life. First, a group of people try to take over the magazine and ease Horace out. Then, Horace's sister, a famous Senator, is killed by terrorists. I enjoyed reading this book. Not a mystery, and I can't remember why I was interested in it, other than it is set on a train, and about a man travelling around in a vintage private railroad car. 

Olive Kitteridge (2008) by Elizabeth Strout

This book is a novel told in short stories. Olive Kitteridge is the focus for many of the stories, but the stories are told from varying viewpoints. Most of the book is about Olive's later years, after she and her husband retire, but the stories look back to her earlier years also. My review here.

Fantasy, Time Travel

Before the Coffee Gets Cold (2015) by Toshikazu Kawaguchi

This book is about a tiny café in Tokyo where visitors are able to travel back in time for a short time, under specific conditions. I loved this book, but I like time travel stories of any type. My review here.

Crime Fiction

Last Seen Wearing (1952) by Hillary Waugh

This book is one of the first true police procedurals, and in the last two decades, I have considered police procedural novels my favorite subgenre of crime fiction. I was happy to see it reprinted as a part of the Library of Congress Crime Classics series. The introduction by Leslie Klinger is very good, with an excellent overview of the first police procedurals. There is also an "About the Author" section that is very useful and a list of recommended further reading related to this book. Full review soon.

Maigret's Christmas (1976) by Georges Simenon

Translated from the French by Jean Stewart

In the last year I have started reading novels and stories by Georges Simenon again. This one was a great addition to my shelves. Some of the stories have a Christmas theme, others are not related to Christmas at all. All of the stories in this book were originally published between 1947 and 1951.

In November, December and January, I talked about some of the stories from Maigret's Christmas: 

The title short story, "Maigret's Christmas."

Another Christmas story, "Seven Small Crosses in a Notebook."

The remaining short stories in the book, including "The Man in the Street."

My husband took both of the photos in this post on the grounds of Stow House in Santa Barbara County. Click on the images for best viewing quality.

Thursday, February 3, 2022

2022 European Reading Challenge

In the 2022 European Reading Challenge hosted by Rose City Reader, participants tour Europe through books. The books can be read anytime between January 1, 2022 to December 31, 2022.

The idea is to read books by European authors or books set in European countries (no matter where the author comes from). The books can be anything – novels, short stories, memoirs, travel guides, cookbooks, biography, poetry, or any other genre. Each book must be by a different author and set in a different country. A book must be reviewed in order to count towards the goal. 

More detailed rules and sign ups are here.


Last year, I listed some books I could read (from my own shelves) for the challenge. Of the nine books I listed, I only read one of those, although I did meet my basic goal of reading and reviewing five books for the challenge. Here are the books remaining from that list. 

SwitzerlandThe Pledge by Friedrich Dürrenmatt

Spain:  Tattoo by Manuel Vazquez Montalban

Norway:  Nemesis by Jo Nesbo  (started reading 01/15/2022)

Greece:  Assassins of Athens by Jeffrey Siger

Iceland:  Blackout by Ragnar Jónasson

Russia:  The Big Red Train Ride by Eric Newby OR

              Murder on the Trans-Siberian Express by Stuart Kaminsky

Turkey:  Belshazzar's Daughter by Barbara Nadel

If you have enjoyed books, fiction or nonfiction, for European countries, I would love suggestions. I lean more toward fiction, but am open to other ideas.

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Short Story Wednesday: Cat Pictures Please and Other Stories by Naomi Kritzer

Today I am featuring a collection of short stories written by Naomi Kritzer. Most of the stories were published in various science fiction or fantasy magazines between 2000 and 2015. Two of the stories were first published in this book, which was released in 2017. 

My husband and I had both read short stories by this author previously. We liked the stories so much we purchased this  book.

I read "So Much Cooking," originally published in Clarkesworld in November 2015. I covered it in this Short Story Wednesday post in April 2021.

The story is written as a series of blog posts, beginning with hints of an outbreak of bird flu. The blog focuses on food and cooking. That is a great way to illustrate the differences that a catastrophe (like a pandemic) can make in your life. The setting is in Minneapolis. That story is also in this book.

My husband read "Little Free Library," which was first published by Tor in 2020. He read it on his Kindle. 

When Meigan moves to St. Paul, she purchases a Little Free Library kit and decorates it herself. Once she stocks it with books, she develops an unusual relationship with one of the visitors to her Little Free Library. You can read it here.

Yesterday, I read two stories from Cat Pictures Please and Other Stories.

The title story, "Cat Pictures Please," won the Hugo Award and the Locus Award for Best Short Story in 2016. It is about an AI whose greatest desire is cat pictures. The AI, who narrates the story, also has a strong urge to help people but no real connection to achieve this with. This AI wants to find a way to have cat pictures and help people. I loved the story. 

Originally published in Clarkesworld in January 2015. The story is available to be read online here.

The second story I read was "What Happened at Blessing Creek." It is a fantasy story set in the western US when settlers were moving out west and taking over Indian land. A group of people from Ohio are going out west on a wagon train. Their leader is a magician who claims to be able to protect them from the dragons, who are allied with the Indians. This is a very interesting, thought-provoking story. The author includes a note in the book on how she came to write the story. 

Originally appeared in Intergalactic Medicine Show in August 2011. The story can be read online here.

Table of Contents:

"Cat Pictures Please" 

"Ace of Spades"

"The Golem"


"In The Witch's Garden"

"What Happened at Blessing Creek"




"The Good Son"

"Scrap Dragon"

"Comrade Grandmother"

"Isabella’s Garden"


"Honest Man"

"The Wall" 

"So Much Cooking"