Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Short Story Wednesday: An Elderly Lady Must Not Be Crossed by Helene Tursten

Two years ago I read and reviewed the first set of short stories featuring Maud, An Elderly Lady Is Up To No Good. I liked the stories very much, and looked forward to reading the next collection. Recently I read the first five stories in An Elderly Lady Must Not Be Crossed.

Maud is an 88-year-old Swedish woman with an ample income, a loner who is content with her life. But she has no second thoughts about eliminating anyone who gets in her way. In my review of the first book of short stories about Maud, I tried to avoid direct references to how Maud deals with the problems in her life. I think it is more fun to read that book not knowing much about the character. But most people know the premise when they read this second book, and I couldn't  avoid it when discussing this book.

When Maud is presented with a person who is causing problems in her life (or that of her family or friends), she looks for a way to fix that problem, by whatever means available. The solution doesn't always end in death, but she is fine if it does. She is very clever and usually the murder is not identified as such. But in the first story in this book she remembers the results of one of her exploits when she was interviewed by the police several times.

I am of two minds about the stories in this book (so far). I definitely enjoyed the first book. But for some reason I was less comfortable reading about Maud's exploits in the first five stories in this book. The stories were a bit depressing. 

On the other hand, I think the writing is very good and the character is interesting. I like the structure of the book. The short stories in this book all center around Maud's memories of earlier in her life as she flies on an airplane to South Africa, where she will join a tour that includes a safari.

I have not yet read the last story in this book, "The Elderly Lady Takes a Trip to Africa." It is not short at all, about 150 pages long, although admittedly the page size is small. So, closer to a novella than a short story. Once I finish that story I will decide whether to use this book for the European Reading Challenge, since about half the book is set in Sweden and the rest in Africa.

Both collections of short stories about Maud have some connection to Christmas, and this one has two recipes for gingerbread cookies, so you could save them for reading at Christmas (or even for a Christmas present) if you were so inclined.

These stories were written by Helene Tursten, the author of the Inspector Irene Huss series. The author is Swedish, and the stories were translated by Marlaine Delargy.

Monday, March 21, 2022

Reading Ireland: Watermelon by Marian Keyes

I was initially reluctant to read this book because it is described as chick lit. At the time I bought the book, in 2014, I mainly read mysteries. All kinds, all vintages, but mostly mysteries, and very little general fiction. I was curious because I had read a review of The Mystery of Mercy Close by Marian Keyes at Clothes in Books, but it was part of a series about a family of five girls, and I was interested in starting at the beginning. As you can see, it took me eight years to get to this book. My reading tastes have changed a bit since, and I was not disappointed in this book at all. 

The main character is Claire and the book starts out thus:

February fifteenth is a very special day for me. It is the day I gave birth to my first child. It is also the day my husband left me. As he was present at the birth, I can only assume the two events weren't entirely unrelated.

Claire had no clue that her husband was unhappy with the marriage and was having an affair with a woman that they both know. Obviously, such an announcement right after the birth of a baby would be upending. Her reaction is to leave London, where she works and lives with her husband, and go to Dublin and stay with her parents for a few months. A very good decision, I think, a place where she will have support.

I don't exactly know how to describe this book. It is frenetic. Claire describes her ups and downs, her settling in with her parents and sisters and her child, and the new people she meets. It does cover topics that I normally would not be interested in. Shopping, for instance. Claire goes through despair and then anger at her husband and her predicament. And a lot of wine.

It was frustrating for me that neither Claire nor her husband made contact for several weeks after the baby's birth. Thus the reader does not know why the difficulties in the marriage occurred, and that was a mystery to me. How they could not address support issues and how to deal with their joint properties seemed very strange. But everyone is different.

I love the Walsh family, especially Claire's parents. Her parents were wonderful, supportive people and had all the normal reactions to the situation. Her two youngest sisters still lived at home, and had very unique and irritating personalities, but were also supportive in different ways.

I read this for Reading Ireland month at 746 Books, and I think it was a very good choice for that event. I enjoyed reading Watermelon; it was a good change from my normal reading. It was too long for my tastes (over 400 pages) and I was not thrilled with the sex scenes, but both of those are minor quibbles. I do want to read more books in this series about the Walsh family, especially the mystery novel, which features the youngest daughter.


Publisher:   Perennial, 2006. Orig. pub. 1995.
Length:      417 pages
Format:      Trade Paperback
Series:       Walsh Family, #1
Setting:      Dublin, Ireland
Genre:       Fiction
Source:      On my TBR since 2014.

Thursday, March 17, 2022

Classics Club Spin #29

The latest Classics Club Spin has been announced. I have chosen twenty books from my classics list. I have added and deleted a few from my last list because I want to read some books for the Back to the Classics Challenge.

On Sunday 20th March, 2022, the Classics Club will post a number from 1 through 20. The goal is to read whatever book falls under that number on my Spin List by 30th April, 2022.

So, here is my list of 20 books for the spin.

  1. Things Fall Apart (1958) by Chinua Achebe   [209 pages]
  2. The Talented Mr. Ripley (1955) by Patricia Highsmith
  3. Rebecca (1938) by Daphne du Maurier  [410 pages]
  4. The Sign of Four (1890) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle 
  5. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes  (1892) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  6. The Great Gatsby (1925) by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  7. The Quiet American (1958) by Graham Greene   [180 pages]
  8. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (1940) by Carson McCullers
  9. The Wind in the Willows (1908) by Kenneth Grahame 
  10. A Wrinkle in Time (1962) by Madeleine L'Engle
  11. Beast In View (1955) by Margaret Millar
  12. Anna Karenina (1878) by Leo Tolstoy  [over 800 pages]
  13. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1964) by Roald Dahl
  14. My Ántonia (1918) by Willa Cather
  15. Goodbye to Berlin (1939) by Christopher Isherwood
  16. Dracula (1897) by Bram Stoker    [420 pages]
  17. Fahrenheit 451 (1953) by Ray Bradbury
  18. The Postman Always Rings Twice (1934) by James Cain
  19. Sense and Sensibility (1811) by Jane Austen
  20. We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962) by Shirley Jackson

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Short Story Wednesday: Stories from Rumpole of the Bailey by John Mortimer

John Mortimer wrote a long series of novels and short story collections about Horace Rumpole, barrister at law. As I understand it, the TV series Rumpole of the Bailey came before the short stories and novels. I have seen some episodes of the TV series, although I barely remember them.

The First Rumpole Omnibus contains:

  • Rumpole of the Bailey (6 short stories)
  • The Trials of Rumpole (6 short stories)
  • Rumpole's Return (a novel)

A few weeks ago I read the first story in Rumpole of the Bailey, "Rumpole and the Younger Generation." It is a longer short story at 40 pages, and introduces Rumpole, his wife Hilda and his son Nick. It also introduces us to his place of work and the Old Bailey. Although I enjoyed the story, it was a bit sad toward the end, and I wasn't sure whether I would continue reading the stories or not. (I don't reject sad stories usually, but for some reason it did not put me in the mood for continuing.)

On Monday night I decided to try the second story in the book, "Rumpole and the Alternative Society." It features a "hippie" group living at a place they call Nirvana, located in a resort town called Coldsands. A young female resident of the commune has been arrested for possession of a large amount of cannabis and Rumpole is sent to the resort city to defend her. His expenses are paid for by the Legal Aid Fund of Great Britain. And he enjoys a trip away from home. He will be staying with old friends he knew when he was in the RAF, an ex-pilot and his wife.

This paragraph is part of his description of the train trip to Coldsands.

So I was, as you can imagine, in a good mood as we rattled past Reading and cows began to be visible, standing in fields, chewing the cud, as though there were no law courts or judges in the world. You very rarely see a cow down the Bailey, which is one of the reasons I enjoy an occasional case on circuit. Circuit takes you away from Chambers, away from the benevolent despotism of Albert the clerk, above all, away from the constant surveillance of She Who Must Be Obeyed (Mrs Hilda Rumpole). I began to look forward to a good, old-fashioned railway lunch. I thought of a touch of Brown Windsor soup, rapidly followed by steamed cod, castle pudding, mouse-trap, cream crackers and celery, all to be washed down with a vintage bottle of Chateau Great Western as we charged past Didcot.

Rumpole, unfortunately, does not get his good, old-fashioned railway lunch.

One thing that is quite clear after reading these stories is that Rumpole loves his work. I enjoy the first person narration and the humor. So I will continue reading the stories, although at this point I only plan to read the stories in the first book, Rumpole of the Bailey.

Friday, March 11, 2022

Reading Summary for February 2022

This is my idea of a good mix of reading for the month. A majority of the books were mysteries. One nonfiction book and two general fiction books. The only improvement would have been if I had read at least one vintage mystery. 


Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama: The Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution (2001) by Diane McWhorter

This book won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize in General Nonfiction. From the Pulitzer site:

"A major work of history, investigative journalism that breaks new ground, and personal memoir, Carry Me Home is a dramatic account of the civil rights era's climactic battle in Birmingham, as the movement led by Martin Luther King, Jr., brought down the institutions of segregation."

I started reading this book one year ago, took about a long break in the middle, and took about a month to finish the last 300 pages (of 600). 

General Fiction

Convenience Store Woman (2016) by Sayaka Murata

Translated from the Japanese by Ginny Tapley Takemori 

This is an interesting story about a woman who does not fit in. Keiko is a 36-year-old woman who has been a part-time convenience store worker in Tokyo for 18 years. The novel is short, about 160 pages, and very strange, but I loved it.  Reviewed here.

Strange Weather in Tokyo (2001) by Hiromi Kawakami

Translated from the Japanese by Allison Markin Powell 

Another book set in Tokyo. The style of this book was unusual. It seemed to be made up of vignettes of the friendship between a woman and a male teacher who had been her teacher in school. Then it pulls together and has more focus, and I liked the ending a lot. Reviewed here.

Crime Fiction

Nemesis (2002) by Jo Nesbø

Translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett

Nemesis is the fourth novel in the Harry Hole series, which is mostly set in Norway. I did not enjoy reading this novel, but I recognize the high level of Nesbø's writing. Reviewed here.

Dressed for Death (1994) by Donna Leon

This is the third book in the Commissario Brunetti series, set in Italy; it has been over ten years since I read the first two  books in the series. Brunetti has to go to Mestre to handle a case because the Commissarios there are all unavailable. The dead body of a man, badly beaten, is found near a slaughterhouse; the face is so mutilated that identification of the body is difficult. I liked this book and I am glad I got back to reading this series.

The Thursday Murder Club (2020) by Richard Osman

A quartet of men and women in their seventies or eighties form a club called the Thursday Murder Club. They start out investigating cold cases, whose case files they inherited from a former member who had access to police files. Then they have the opportunity to investigate a real crime, when a part owner of their retirement complex is killed. I found a lot to like about this book and plan to read the second book in the series as soon as possible.

One Corpse Too Many (1979) by Ellis Peters

The best thing about the books in the Chronicles of Brother Cadfael series is the setting. I learn so much about the times reading these books. Per Goodreads, the books in the series are "set between about 1135 and about 1145, during 'The Anarchy', the destructive contest for the crown of England between King Stephen and Empress Maud." This is the third book in the series and I have many more left to read.

The Postscript Murders (2020) by Elly Griffiths

This novel features Harbinder Kaur, who was also a character in an earlier book by Griffiths (The Stranger Diaries). Harbinder is a closeted gay Sikh Detective Sergeant in the police in Shoreham, West Sussex. She is the principle investigator into the death of an elderly woman, Peggy Smith, in a apartment complex for senior citizens, although initially she is not convinced it was murder. Peggy's carer, Natalka, is the one who is convinced that Peggy's death was murder, and she and two of her friends who knew Peggy also investigate. I liked this book very much, although it is quite different from The Stranger Diaries

Status of my challenges:

  • I have read three novels for the European Reading Challenge, but only reviewed one of them so far.
  • I have read and reviewed three novels for the Japanese Literary Challenge. That challenge will end on March 31, 2022. 
  • I have read at least two books that fit categories for the Bingo Challenge. I will go into more detail on that when I have more read for that challenge.
  • Back to the Classics Challenge: Nothing so far.
  • The TBR Pile Challenge at Roof Beam Reader: Nothing so far.
  • I recently joined the Mount TBR Challenge, run by Bev Hankins, via Goodreads. So far this year I have read 13 books from my TBR for that challenge.
  • Reading Ireland is going on for the month of March at 746 Books, and I have read one book for that event. I hope to read another this month.

The photo at the top of the post shows a gorgeous cactus in front of a business in downtown Santa Barbara. The photo immediately above is of a stonework fence in the Mission Canyon area near the Santa Barbara Mission. My husband took both photos. Click on the images for best viewing quality.

Monday, March 7, 2022

Strange Weather in Tokyo: Hiromi Kawakami

In Strange Weather in Tokyo, Tsukiko Omachi runs into her high school Japanese teacher at a bar in Tokyo. She is 37, he is much older, around 70. He recognizes her, but she cannot remember his name, so she calls him "Sensei." They continue to see each other often at the bar and she always calls him Sensei, even after she knows his name and they are friends. For about the first half of the book, at least, I wasn't sure where the story was going. It seemed to be just a series of vignettes of their meetings over the next few years. 

Both Tsukiko and Sensei are loners. They don't see other people. Tsukiko has an office job, Sensei is retired. But as strange as their new friendship is, they clearly enjoy their time together. The relationship develops over time. At some point, there is a disagreement, and the two still go to their usual bar but don't speak at all. Eventually Tsukiko realizes how much she misses spending time with Sensei. Yet both of them seem to be afraid of taking the relationship any further. 

My thoughts: 

This book had some similarities to Convenience Store Woman. The story is narrated by Tsukiko. There are many conversations between her and Sensei, so we see the story of their relationship and learn bits about their background from her point of view and their talks. This story also provides an interesting perspective on life in Japan. I enjoyed reading about the bars that they frequented and other activities they shared. Both of them ate out for dinner frequently at bars in the evening. 

There is an interesting trip to a market place that sells foods at individual stalls plus other goods.

Stalls started to appear here and there on the street. There were stalls that only sold tabi boots. Stalls that sold collapsible umbrellas. Stalls for secondhand clothing. Stalls that sold used books mixed with new books.


After we passed a corner stall selling odds and ends, more and more of the stalls had grocery items for sale. Stalls selling only beans. Stalls with all different kinds of shellfish. There was a stall that had crates full of little shrimp or crabs.


The grocery stalls thinned and gave way to stalls selling larger items. Household appliances. Computers. Telephones. There were mini refrigerators lined up in different colors. An LP was playing on an old record player.  I could hear the low timbre of a violin. The music had an old-fashioned, simple charm. Sensei stood, listening intently, until the end of the piece.

Much of the book centers around the times that Tsukiko and Sensei eat a meal together. So there is a lot of discussion of Japanese foods. I was not familiar with much of the food, but it all sounded delicious, and I wished I could be there and they could tell me all about the food. 

Strange Weather in Tokyo gave me a lot to think about after the story was over. I loved the writing. It was simple, just telling what the two did together, how the relationship, whatever it is, progresses. The story was told in under 200 pages, and was a good length, not overdone. For me, the ending was unbearably sad, but in some ways it was a happy ending. 

This was my third book for the Japanese Literature Challenge 15.


Publisher:   Counterpoint, 2017 (orig. pub. 2001)
Translated from the Japanese by Allison Markin Powell 
Length:       192 pages
Format:       eBook
Setting:       Tokyo, Japan
Genre:        Fiction
Source:       Purchased in 2021.

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Short Story Wednesday: Reader, I Buried Them and other stories by Peter Lovesey


I was interested in this book from the first time I heard of it, and then I saw it featured at Rick Robinson's blog, Tip the Wink. Rick kindly offered to send me his copy and now I have read ten stories in the book. Only eight stories left to read.

This is such a great cover: the cat, the books stacked up, the skull on the window ledge, the old-fashioned lamp and the teacup on the desk. 

These are the stories I have read:

“And the Band Played On” 

This story particularly resonated with me. The Strawberry Blonde with James Cagney, Rita Hayworth, and Olivia de Havilland is a favorite film in our household; the song "The Band Played On" is featured in that film. The lyrics begin with "Casey would waltz with a strawberry blonde and the band played on." In this story, the narrator's grandfather has moved in with his family and constantly sings this song. We learn that the grandfather was in prison for murder, which initially gives the narrator nightmares. The story is told effectively and has a very nice ending.

“Sweet and Low” 

In this story, all the bee hives have been stolen from a farm. The background information about bees and bee hives was as interesting to me as the solving of the mystery. 

“Lady Luck” 

A burglar wins a vacation to Marrakesh. He thinks he is very lucky but it turns out to be the opposite for him.

“Reader, I Buried Them” 

I liked this story the best (so far), maybe because I always like a story set in a monastery. I like to read about the way the monasteries are run and how the members of  the community relate to each other. When the Father Superior plans to relocate the group to a new, smaller location, Brother Jeffrey (who is the narrator of this  story) is very upset to leave his beautiful wild flower garden that he maintains. Shortly after that the Father Superior dies of stomach problems. Is it food poisoning or a virus? As with most of these stories, there is an unexpected twist ending. I liked the way it was handled.

“Angela’s Alterations” 

This is a very clever story about a newly married couple having problems with the husband's teenage son and the woman who helps them solve this problem. Or so it seems. This one is a bit different; the resolution is more complicated and interesting. More of the story is hidden from the reader, and the ending is sort of open, so the reader has to decide exactly what happened.

“The Bitter Truth”

A darker story about a man writing an obituary for a well-known toxicologist. Very good.


A clever story. A moderately successful novelist is hired to ghostwrite a story for a young female celebrity with a very rich husband. The ending took me by surprise.

"The Homicidal Hat"

This story was about a hat contest at the Malice Domestic conference. Cuthbert Murphy plans a very creative and complex hat for his wife Adelina. Another clever story with a twist. And lots of mystery titles and authors were mentioned.

"Oracle of the Dead"

Set on the Greek island of Corfu. A couple encounter problems on their honeymoon. I liked this story the least, so far.


Formidophobia: the fear of scarecrows. Tells the story of a man who has had a fear of scarecrows since he was eight years old. He thinks he knows what happened to cause his fear, but only later in life does he learn the full truth. 

Peter Lovesey has written a very good Foreward for this book. One of the stories included is Lovesey's first published short story, "The Bathtub" (1973), which was noticed by Ruth Rendell at that time. Three of the stories were first published in this book (2022).  The rest of the stories are mostly from 2008 - 2017, published in mystery magazines or anthologies. There is also a checklist of Lovesey's novels, anthologies, and short stories.