Sunday, October 30, 2022

The Man Who Died Twice: Richard Osman


This book is the second in a relatively recent mystery series by Richard Osman. The first book in the series was The Thursday Murder Club, and I loved it. In that book, a quartet of men and women in their seventies or eighties have formed a club, expressly for the purpose of reviewing and 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 current crime, when a part owner of their retirement complex is killed.

In this book, the four amateur sleuths are still working together and still reviewing cold cases. The four main characters are: Elizabeth, the leader, ex-MI5 operative; Joyce, a retired nurse; Ibrahim, a psychiatrist, mostly retired; and Ron, a former left-wing union leader. All of them are very clever and contribute in their own way. In the first story they worked with two police officers, DCI Chris Hudson and PC Donna de Freitas, and in this book we learn even more about Chris and Donna's backgrounds too.  

Out of the blue they get pulled into a new case. Elizabeth gets a message from someone in her past, and that leads to a very unusual adventure for all of them. I liked that this one connects to Elizabeth's job in MI5 and borders on being an espionage story, but there are also brushes with drug dealers, mob bosses, etc.

My Thoughts:

It was a joy to get back to these characters again. The book was a page turner and yet I did not want it to end. All of the various story lines do get a bit complex, but this time I had an easier time following them. And with this series, I enjoy the writing and the characters so much that I just go with the flow. 

The story is told mostly in present tense, third person, from various viewpoints. I had no problem with that. Joyce's chapters are written as diary entries, which serve to follow up on various actions the group takes without dragging the scenes out. Her commentary is often wry and revealing. There is a lot of quiet humor throughout the book.

For me, the age of the main characters is very appealing. The issues of old age are front and center, from the aches and pains of aging to the death of spouses or friends or living with spouses with dementia. On the positive side, their age and appearance gives them an opportunity to blend in, be unobtrusive, and get things done when they are working on a case.

This was a fun and engaging read, and now I am eager to get to the third book, The Bullet That Missed.


Publisher:    Pamela Dorman Books, 2021
Length:        368 pages
Format:        Hardcover
Setting:        UK
Series:         Thursday Murder Club  #2
Genre:         Mystery
Source:        I purchased this book in 2022.

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Short Story Wednesday: The Ghost of Opalina by Peggy Bacon

This was another book I read for the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril event. The Ghost of Opalina is a children's fantasy, made up of a series of linked stories that Opalina, the ghost cat, tells to the children of the house that she has lived in for all of her nine lives. None of these stories are scary, and Opalina never behaves maliciously. She does protect those she cares about.

The book begins with a family, Mr. and Mrs. Finley and their three children, moving to a house in the country with lots of land, gardens, barns and such. They arrive in the summer, and the children have all their days free to explore. Their parents have set up a play room for them in a section of the house that has no electricity. One evening they stay in the room until after dusk, and when it gets dark in the room they see a glowing form in an old stuffed chair in the room. This is Opalina, a beautiful white cat, who announces to them that she is a ghost and can only be seen at night. They beg her to tell them about the various families that have lived in the house since she was there.

The unique aspect of this children's book is that the stories give the reader a picture of the house and the way people lived over two centuries, from 1750 up to 1966, the year the Finley family moved in. The first story is First Life, 1750: "The Mice, the Mouser and the Mean Young Man." The last story is Ninth Life, 1966: "Trick or Treat." The book was published in 1967. Most of the stories are from 20 to 40 pages in length.

This was a fun and entertaining read, although certainly aimed at children. I see it as a perfect book for reading aloud to children of any age. I was particularly drawn to the book because it is illustrated by the author. And a book featuring a cat is always of interest. 

Many reviewers at Goodreads mention that they loved this book as a child and were thrilled to find an affordable copy. For many years this book was only available for high prices online.

I first heard of this book at Staircase Wit. Constance's post also has more information about the author and illustrator, Peggy Bacon.

Sunday, October 23, 2022

The Listening House: Mabel Seeley

Published in 1938, The Listening House is a suspenseful and sometimes creepy mystery with a boarding house setting. The boarders (and the landlady) are all strange, sometimes sinister, types. The story is perfect for this time of year.

Gwynne Dacres is a 26-year-old divorcee who loses her job as a copywriter. It is hard to find a job, and she needs to find a place to live that she can afford. She discovers an advertisement for two rooms (one of them a kitchen) available for a reasonable price at a boarding house. When she checks the place out, she is put off by the dark, smelly, gloomy hallway that leads to the rooms. But the rooms are very nice, even including her own private lavatory. So she moves in quickly.

Very shortly after Gwynne moves in, she discovers the body of a man near the boarding house. The initial investigation focuses on the residents of the house, but there is no evidence that the death of the man was connected to any of them.

Interest in that event dies down, but Gwynne is bothered by sounds in the night. There is a break in and the police come back to investigate. And finally one of the people living in the house is found dead, after being missing for days. People want to move out, but the police won't let them.

The story is told by Gwynne Dacres. These are the opening paragraphs.

I am not sure, myself, that I should open the door of Mrs. Garr's house and let you in. I'm not at all sure that the truth about what happened there is tellable. People keep saying to me that the rumors going around are simply ghoulish, and ought to be laid to rest. But I've heard those rumors, some of them at least, and they're not a bit more nightmarish than the truth. Finally, of course, I gave in to pressure.

"Okay, I'll do it," I said.

Because, after all, I'm the one that not only knows almost everything that went on in Mrs. Garr's house in April, May, and June of this year, but also why a lot of it went on. And, unless Hodge Kistler wrote it, no one else could get the ending anywhere near right.

Since agreeing, I have made seventeen entirely separate and different beginnings.

I have begun with the cat's swift sneak and hunch under the bookcase of that dark hall. I have begun with my first sight of Hodge Kistler chinning himself on the bar. I have begun with those terrifying hands reaching for my throat. I have begun with the opening of a door that led to an unimaginable hell.

I picked this book to read in October for the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril event because the description sounded like it would be sufficiently suspenseful and scary for this time of year, and still within the limits I will read. I am partial to a boarding house setting, and I loved such things as the list of characters at the beginning of the book and the detailed plans of the house, including the basement and the first and second floor.

Some parts of the story are fast moving. At other times the pace slows as the police review the possible suspects... over and over. But either way, I enjoyed it, because Gwynne was such an entertaining narrator.

Along the way, two men compete for Gwynne's attentions: the police detective (Lieutenant Strom) and another lodger, a newspaperman, Hodge Kistler. And she doesn't seem aware of it.

I won't say much more except that I loved the ending. 

Also see the reviews at The Passing Tramp, Beneath the Stains of Time, and crossexaminingcrime


Publisher:   Berkley Prime Crime, 2021. Orig. pub. 1938.
Length:      349 pages
Format:      Trade Paperback
Setting:      US
Genre:       Mystery
Source:      I purchased this book.

Friday, October 21, 2022

Sense and Sensibility: Jane Austen

As Sense and Sensibility begins, Mr. Dashwood of Norland Park has passed away. He and his wife, Mrs. Dashwood, and three daughters, Elinor, Marianne, and Margaret had lived in a large country estate in Sussex. Now his oldest child, John Dashwood, is the owner of their ancestral home.  John's father had exacted a promise from him to provide for Mrs. Dashwood and her daughters, but John does not follow through on this. His wife does not want to share her home with them, so they have to move out to a much smaller cottage in Devonshire. Here they live near to a distant cousin, Sir John Middleton, who invites them to dinners and parties and provides some social life.

Before leaving Sussex, Elinor (the eldest daughter) has formed a friendship with Edward Ferrars, her sister-in-law's brother. Unfortunately Fanny, the sister-in-law, disapproves, and is determined that Edward will make a better match than Elinor. 

After moving to Devonshire,  Marianne meets a very personable young man, John Willoughby. They have shared interests and quickly become enchanted with each other. Sir John Middleton speaks well of Willoughby's background and his expectations of a future inheritance. But not too long after that he leaves the area with little explanation. Marianne refuses to believe that she has been abandoned.

The story centers around the romantic tribulations of Elinor and Marianne. Elinor is 19 years old, full of sense, and cares much more for propriety and good manners than Marianne. Marianne is only 16, so it is not so strange that she seems to go her own way, not sticking to conventional ways and often being rude and thoughtless with people she does not care for. The younger sister, Margaret, is 13 years old and hardly comes into the story. Their mother, Mrs. Dashwood, is not much involved either, although she is often talked about or written to by Elinor. 

Elinor hides her own feelings and is too ready to consider only Marianne's needs and ignore her own pain and grief when she is snubbed by the man she had considered to be a friend and possible suitor. Marianne on the other hand is more than willing to let the world know how unhappy she is when she is ignored by Willoughby.

This was the last remaining Jane Austen novel for me, and it is the only one that I have not truly liked. Some of that may be due to my mood at the time of reading it. I did not hate it and it covers the interesting topic of the plight of people who feel pressure to marry for money, not love, but I did not have the urge to hurry to get back to reading it or finish it that I usually do. 

For me, Sense and Sensibility did not have the humor of the other novels, and I did not care for any of the characters one way or the other. I could not work up an interest in the main characters, Elinor and Marianne, and we spend almost all of our time with them. I sympathized with their plight, but I got tired of hearing about it. Marianne was a real brat at times, thoughtless and needlessly rude to people. Her youth could excuse this to some extent. Even characters who could be considered villains to some extent were tame villains.

In some of Jane Austen's novels, it is pretty obvious that the romances will work out by the end, but this one was pretty unpredictable, and trying to guess the resolution was a plus. I did like the ending. In general, Sense and Sensibility gets very high ratings from most readers, so I still recommend this novel if you are interested in classic novels and/or romances.


Publisher:   Borders Classics, 2006 (orig. pub. 1811)
Length:      297 pages
Format:      Trade paperback
Setting:      UK
Genre:        Literary fiction
Source:      I purchased my copy.

Saturday, October 15, 2022

My Reading in September 2022

I had a nice month of reading in September. Only fiction and mostly crime fiction. I did read one cross-genre book, the first one on my list below.

I noted that most of the books I read were published after 1999; the same thing happened last month. I seem to be tending in that direction lately. Not sure why.

And these are the books I read:

Science Fiction / Mystery

Head On (2018) by John Scalzi

This book qualifies as both science fiction and mystery and in this case the mystery actually supersedes the science fiction, in my opinion. It is the second book in a two-book series set in the near future. The story begins about 20 years after the world-wide epidemic of a virus which causes Lock In syndrome. Technological breakthroughs have been developed to the point where the victims of the disease can use a robotic device to move around, talk, and function in society while their bodies are lying in a bed elsewhere. See my thoughts on the book here.

Crime Fiction

The Tenderness of Wolves (2006) by Stef Penney

I read this for my Canadian Reading Challenge. Set in 1867, primarily in a small settlement in the Northern Territory. There are treks into even more remote areas to search for a murderer. This is a historical mystery, but the crime and the investigation are not primary to the story.  The focus is even more on the setting, the prominence of the Hudson Bay Company, and the treatment of Native American trappers. There are a lot of characters to keep up with. I loved it and the ending worked well for me.

Crazybone (2000) by Bill Pronzini

I have been reading the Nameless Detective series by Pronzini since the mid-1970s. I introduced my husband to them in the early 80s after we got married, and he became a bigger fan than I am. He has read all 41 books in the series. I have only read the books up to and including Crazybone, and I still have 15 books left to read. They are short and quick reads; serious stories and sometimes dark. There is humor along the way and the main character ages and develops. Getting back to reading this series seems like meeting an old friend that I haven't seen for years.

The Sanctuary Sparrow (1983) by Ellis Peters

This is the fourth Brother Cadfael book that I have read, but it is the seventh book in the series. The setting for the books in the series is between 1135 and 1145 in England and Wales, primarily. Brother Cadfael takes care of the plants for the monastery and is an herbalist. If this book is typical of the series, it seems like they can be read in any order. However, I plan to get back to reading them in order when possible.  

A Killer in King's Cove (2016) by Iona Whishaw

This is a historical mystery set in British Columbia, Canada right after World War II. The heroine, Lane Winslow, has just moved to Canada from the UK, following World War II, and lives in a small town in a home she purchased. After Lane has settled down in King's Cove, a stranger is found dead in the creek that feeds water to her property. Eventually the death is determined to be murder and Lane Winslow appears to have a connection to this man. Another book which was read for the Canadian Reading Challenge. See my review here.

Spycatcher (2011) by Matthew Dunn

I purchased this book at the book sale in September, knowing nothing about it other than it was the first book in an espionage series. It was a fast-paced, action packed story, one you can imagine being turned into a film. A bit too much like the James Bond movies for me, but in the end I enjoyed it and plan to give the second book in the series a try. My main complaint was that the first two or three chapters introducing the protagonist and his handlers were awkward and unconvincing. But I am a sucker for any type of spy fiction, and the rest of the book was much better and held my interest. I have purchased the second book in the series.

Currently reading

Last night, I finished reading The Listening House by Mabel Seeley, a mystery published in 1938, set in a boarding house, one of my favorite settings in fiction, along with hotels and trains. I chose to read it in October because the eerie atmosphere would fit the mood of the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril event. I haven't picked my next read yet.

I am still reading Anna Karenina, and I doubt I will finish that book before the end of October. 

We have started walking in various areas around Santa Barbara a few days a week. This week we went to Stow House, a historic site in Goleta. My husband took the photos at the top and bottom of this post on our walk. Click on the images for the best viewing quality.

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Short Story Wednesday: Sue Grafton and Alexander McCall Smith


Three weeks ago my Short Story Wednesday post featured two anthologies and one collection of short stories that I had purchased at the Planned Parenthood Book Sale in September. My SSW post last week was also about a book I had purchased at the sale, Elizabeth McCracken's short story collection, The Souvenir Museum.

So I might as well continue on that theme this week, with two more collections that I found at the sale. I have not started reading either one of these books, but I am sure I will get to them before the end of the year.

Kinsey and Me: Stories by Sue Grafton

Sue Grafton was well known for her Kinsey Millhone series, featuring a private detective based in Santa Teresa, California (a thinly disguised Santa Barbara). Starting shortly after the first book was published (1982), I read the first 5 or 6 books in the series. In 2016, I read the 7th book, G is for Gumshoe. I read that book mainly for the setting, both in place and time. I enjoyed the book but I am not in a rush to read more in the series. 

Description of Kinsey and Me at Goodreads:

A collection of stories that reveal Kinsey's originsand Grafton's past. The nine stories that open the book show how fully formed Kinsey was from the beginning. The thirteen stories in the second part, written in the decade following her mother's death, feature Kit Blue, a younger version of Grafton herself, and reflect her troubled family life and the author's journey from anger to understanding and forgiveness.

Tiny Tales: Stories of Romance, Ambition, Kindness, and Happiness by Alexander McCall Smith

Alexander McCall Smith is also  a well-known author of mysteries, and he has multiple series. I read the first book in the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency Series but stopped there. I have never tried any of his other writing. I did find another one of his books at the book sale that I want to try: 44 Scotland Street

I was attracted to Tiny Tales because the short stories are accompanied by illustrations by Iain McIntosh. The format of the book is small, and the stories appear to all be very short, each under 10 pages.

Description of Tiny Tales, from the dust jacket flap:

In Tiny Tales, Alexander McCall Smith explores romance, ambition, kindness, and happiness in thirty short stories accompanied by thirty witty cartoons designed by Iain McIntosh, McCall Smith's longtime creative collaborator. Here we meet the first Australian pope, who hopes to finally find some peace and quiet back home in Perth; a psychotherapist turned motorcycle racetrack manager; and an aspiring opera singer who gets her unlikely break onstage. And, of course, we spend time in McCall Smith's beloved Scotland, where we are introduced to progressive Vikings, a group of housemates with complex romantic entanglements, and a couple of globe-trotting dentists. 

These tales and illustrations depict the full scope of human experience and reveal the rich tapestry of lifepainted in miniature.

Monday, October 10, 2022

Head On: John Scalzi

This is the second book in a two book cross-genre series with elements of both science fiction and mystery genres. The first book, Lock In (2014), was a science fiction thriller set in the near future. The story begins about 20 years after the world-wide epidemic of a virus which causes Lock In syndrome. Technological breakthroughs have been developed to the point where the victims of the disease can use a robotic device to move around, talk, and function in society while their bodies are lying in a bed elsewhere. 

The main character of the series is Chris Shane. The virus is called Haden’s Syndrome, so the people who have it are referred to as Hadens. The robot body they used to interact in is called a "threep". Chris is from a rich family, with a trust fund, and has multiple threeps. Most people with Haden's Syndrome cannot afford that. 

Head On continues the story of Chris Shane, who developed the syndrome at a very young age, and has never known a different way of life. In this story, Chris is an FBI agent, partnered with Leslie Vann, who is not a Haden. They have been assigned to investigate the death of a male Haden who was killed while playing a professional sport called Hilketa (sounds like a combination of football and soccer, with swords, hammers, and other weapons). The cause of death is unclear. 

The cool part is that Chris is not defined as male or female in the book. I knew that but I had forgotten by the time I read this second book. When I was reading both the first and second books I always thought of the character as a woman. Many other reviewers had viewed Chris as a male character. The story is told in Chris's voice. I think it was amazing that Scalzi was able to write a book without indicating the sex of the character, but telling it from the point of view of that character does help.

I enjoyed this book as much or more than the first book in the series. The first book was strong on the world building of a culture which has adapted to a significant portion of its population having a debilitating disease and given them a way to continue participating meaningfully in society. It also focuses more on how this had affected the main character's family and how families adapt to having a family member with the syndrome. Head On concentrated more on the crime, and the aspects which would make the death of a Haden more difficult to investigate. 

In a sense, this second book stands alone. I read it six years after reading the first book and I settled into it immediately. There was just enough background included to get back into the near future world and I suspect it would also be easy to read for a reader entirely new to the series. 

I think every book that John Scalzi has written, and certainly the ones I have read, have elements that comment on problems in society. He does this in such a way that this commentary does not interfere with the telling of the story or the enjoyment of the story. 

I loved reading Head On. It was a great mystery, although on the thrillerish side, and John Scalzi tells a story well. Now I want to go back and read Lock In again. I just have to dig it out a box somewhere.


Publisher:    Tor Books, 2018
Length:        335 pages
Format:        Hardcover
Setting:        USA
Series:         Lock In #2
Genre:         Sci fi thriller
Source:        I purchased this book.

Saturday, October 8, 2022

My Husband's Books from the 2022 Book Sale


In September we went to the annual Planned Parenthood Book Sale.  The sale lasts about 10 days, and we visited the sale on five of those days. This is my third post on books we bought at this year's book sale.

These are a few of the books my husband found at the sale. Mainly, he focuses on photography, architecture, and performing arts; books about history; then fiction (including mysteries and science fiction). 

The Herring in the Library by L.C. Tyler

This is the 3rd book in the Ethelred and Elsie Mystery series. Ethelred Tressider is a mediocre mystery writer and Elsie Thirkettle is his literary agent. It seems to be a humorous, cozy mystery series. Neither my husband nor I have read any books in the series so he gets to give it a try first. Has anyone read any in the series? Does reading in order matter?

The Twelve Lives of Alfred Hitchcock: An Anatomy of the Master of Suspense by Edward White

From the description on the dust jacket flap:

In The Twelve Lives of Alfred Hitchcock, Edward White explores the Hitchcock phenomenon—what defines it, how it was invented, what it reveals about the man at its core, and how its legacy continues to shape our cultural world.

The book’s twelve chapters illuminate different aspects of Hitchcock’s life and work: “The Boy Who Couldn’t Grow Up”; “The Murderer”; “The Auteur”; “The Womanizer”; “The Fat Man”; “The Dandy”; “The Family Man”; “The Voyeur”; “The Entertainer”; “The Pioneer”; “The Londoner”; “The Man of God.” Each of these angles reveals something fundamental about the man he was and the mythological creature he has become, presenting not just the life Hitchcock lived but also the various versions of himself that he projected, and those projected on his behalf.

My husband started reading this book shortly after he purchased it and has now finished it.

Stately Passions: The Scandals of Britain's Great Houses by Jamie Douglas-Home

From the description at Goodreads:

This historical exploration details some of the most notorious scandals to have engulfed the British royal family and aristocracy, capturing not only the events and their era but also the essence of some of the world's greatest and most beautiful private dwellings. From the Hampton Court of Henry VIII to the modern scandals that saw the present Lord Brocket jailed, center stage is given to the British stately homes that have played witness to centuries of aristocratic indiscretion. Whether examining the "Profumo Affair," the call-girl scandal at Cliveden, the affairs of the lesbian Vita Sackville-West and her bisexual husband at Sissinghurst Castle, or the goings-on at Fort Belvedere, the Surrey hideaway where the Prince of Wales conducted his affair with the American divorcee Wallis Simpson, this account provides a fascinating insight into the lives, loves—and morals, dubious though they may be—of some notorious denizens of the aristocratic world.

Metropolis by Philip Kerr

This is the last book in the Bernie Gunther series. Before World War II, Bernie was a policeman in Berlin; then he worked some as a private detective. He served in the military in both World War I and World War II. The first four novels are set  between 1936 and 1949; the fifth book is set in Argentina in 1950. The sixth book, If The Dead Rise Not, takes Bernie back to 1934 Berlin, when the city was chosen as the site for the 1936 Olympics; later, the novel hops to Cuba in 1954. That is as far as I have gotten in the series. 

Metropolis takes Bernie back to Berlin in 1928, the last days of the Weimar Republic shortly before Hitler came to power.

From the description on the dust jacket flap:

Metropolis, completed just before Philip Kerr’s untimely death, is the capstone of a fourteen-book journey through the life of Kerr’s signature character, Bernhard Gunther, a sardonic and wisecracking homicide detective caught up in an increasingly Nazified Berlin police department. In many ways, it is Bernie’s origin story and, as Kerr’s last novel, it is also, alas, his end. 


London 1945: Life in the Debris of War by Maureen Waller

From the description at Goodreads:

A new social history of London, during a crucial year in the city's history, from the acclaimed writer of 1700: Scenes from London Life. London at the outset of war in 1939 was the greatest city in the world, the heart of the British Empire. The defiant capital had always been Hitler's prime target and 1945, the last year of the war, saw the final phase of the battle of London. The Civil Defence could not have succeeded without the spirit, courage, resilience and co-operation of the people. London 1945 describes how a great city coped in crisis, how morale was sustained, shelter provided, food and clothing rationed, and work and entertainment carried on. Then, as the joy of VE Day and VJ Day passed into memory, Londoners faced severe shortages and all the problems of post-war adjustment. Women lost the independence the war had lent them, husbands and wives had to learn to live together again, and children had a lot of catching up to do. The year of victory, 1945, represents an important chapter in London's—and Britain's—long history.

Three Science Fiction Novellas by J.-H. Rosny aîné; 

Translated and Introduced by Daniele Chatelain and George Edgar Slusser

From the description on the dust jacket flap:

Along with Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, J.-H. Rosny aîné was a founding father of science fiction. He was the first writer to conceive, and attempt to narrate, the workings of aliens and alternate life forms. His fascination with evolutionary scenarios, and long historical vistas, from first man to last man, are important precursors to the myriad cosmic epics of modern science fiction. Until now, his work has been virtually unknown and unavailable in the English-speaking world, but it is crucial for our understanding of the genre. Three wonderfully imaginative novellas are included in this volume. "The Xipehuz" is a prehistoric tale in which the human species battles strange geometric alien life forms. "Another World" is the story of a mysterious being who does not live in the same acoustic and temporal world as humans. "The Death of the Earth" is a scientifically uncompromising Last Man story. The book includes an insightful critical introduction that places Rosny's work within the context of evolutionary biology.

Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded: August 27, 1883 by Simon Winchester

From the description on the dust jacket flap:

The bestselling author of The Professor and the Madman and The Map That Changed the World examines the enduring and world-changing effects of the catastrophic eruption off the coast of Java of the earth's most dangerous volcano—Krakatoa.

The legendary annihilation in 1883 of the volcano-island of Krakatoa—the name has since become a byword for a cataclysmic disaster—was followed by an immense tsunami that killed nearly forty thousand people. Beyond the purely physical horrors of an event that has only very recently been properly understood, the eruption changed the world in more ways than could possibly be imagined. Dust swirled round the planet for years, causing temperatures to plummet and sunsets to turn vivid with lurid and unsettling displays of light. The effects of the immense waves were felt as far away as France. Barometers in Bogotá and Washington, D.C., went haywire. Bodies were washed up in Zanzibar. The sound of the island's destruction was heard in Australia and India and on islands thousands of miles away. 

Cath read and enjoyed this book. She reviewed it at her blog, Read-Warbler

Shakespeare: The Illustrated and Updated Edition by Bill Bryson

From the description at Goodreads:

Shakespeare: The Illustrated Edition is an exquisitely illustrated, updated edition of Bill Bryson’s bestselling biography of William Shakespeare that takes the reader on an enthralling tour through Elizabethan England and the eccentricities of Shakespearean scholarship. With more than 100 color and black-and-white illustrations throughout, and updated to include recent discoveries, Shakespeare: The Illustrated Edition evokes the superstitions, academic discoveries, and myths surrounding the life of one of the greatest poets, and makes sense of the man behind the masterpieces.

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Short Story Wednesday: The Souvenir Museum by Elizabeth McCracken

I had very mixed reactions to the stories in this book. The book has twelve stories by Elizabeth McCracken. I loved the first two stories in the book, but of the remaining ten stories I only really liked one of them. 

Even the nine stories I was less impressed with were well written and held my interest, until the end when they seem to just fizzle out for me. It was not that any of the stories were bad, although I would describe several of them as weird or very strange, but when you have just read two superb stories that thrill you, the lesser stories seem more disappointing.

This was my first time reading anything by Elizabeth McCracken. Even with my unenthusiastic reaction to the majority of the stories, I am eager to try more of her short story books and one of her novels. Any suggestions?

These are my top three stories in the book.

"The Irish Wedding"

This was the first story in the book. Sadie has come with Jack to Ireland for his sister's wedding. Jack and Sadie are not married. They live in Boston, Massachusetts but Jack's family is English. And the groom is Dutch. This is the first time Sadie has met anyone in the family. It is a funny and charming story, told beautifully. (This is Jack and Sadie story #1. See notes on that below.)


This was the second story in the book. An older man and his son take a trip together. One stop is an island where puffins live. It is about old age, being left alone after the death of a spouse, and a father / son relationship. It was a beautiful story in any case, but a bonus for me was the birding connection, and descriptions of birds. The perfect story for me. Definitely on the sad side though.

"Robinson Crusoe at the Waterpark"

This was a story about a toddler and his two fathers. The couple are a youngish man and a much older man. They are not married because the old man has resisted that idea. This was a very rewarding read, but no way could I summarize the story well.

The Jack and Sadie stories

There was a series of four linked stories in the book about Jack and Sadie. They were not together in the book and there was no introduction to point this connection out. I did not realize until I had read the last story in the book that four of the stories were about the same two characters, at different stages in their relationship. That shows how little I pay attention to character names in short stories. I read all the stories in three days; otherwise I probably would not have ever made the connections between the stories. 

The four linked stories worked better for me once I read them as a set. 

The four stories about Jack and Sadie are:

"The Irish Wedding"; "The Get-Go"; "Two Sad Clowns"; and "Nothing, Darling, Only Darling, Darling".

When I reread another story titled "A Splinter" I realized it is also about Jack when he ran away from home at 16, but at the time his name was Lennie (Leonard Valert). He ran away with a ventriloquist named Lottie and she gave him the name Jack. 

So that was a very interesting element of the book and improved my opinion overall.

Monday, October 3, 2022

A Killer in King's Cove: Iona Whishaw


A Killer in King's Cove is a historical mystery set in British Columbia, Canada right after World War II. The heroine, Lane Winslow, has just moved to Canada from the UK, following World War II, and lives in a small town of mostly older people. The only younger people in the area are a couple from New York who have recently moved there with their two young children. After Lane has settled down in King's Cove, a stranger is found dead in the creek that feeds water to her property. Eventually the death is determined to be murder and Lane Winslow appears to have a connection to this man.

In addition to a historical mystery, the story had elements of espionage and romance mixed in. The espionage comes into it because Lane was a courier who took messages into France during War War II. The anxiety and stress of that assignment and the loss of a lover during the war motivated her to move to Canada in an effort to forget about the war. The romance is very low key, and doesn't get in the way of the mystery plot.

Lane has purchased a home with some land and has ambitions to be a writer; she concentrates on poetry during this book. Although the small town she lives in is somewhat isolated, and provides a limited number of suspects, I did get all the characters confused. Most of the townspeople had been in the town since before World War I and some of the men had gone overseas and fought in the war. Others did not return. For once, a character list at the front of the book would have been useful, although usually I don't find those very helpful.

I like that the main character is a strong woman who will stand up for herself. The two policemen who investigate the crime are from a nearby town, Nelson. Inspector Darling and Constable Ames have a great relationship and I especially enjoyed the parts of the story where they were featured.

The setting in British Columbia was also a plus, and this book illustrated the ways that Canada was affected by both World War I and World War II. 

A Killer in King's Cove was the first in a series. There are now nine books in the series and another book due in 2023, so it seems to be going well. I am interested in where the next book will take Lane Winslow.

About the author, from her website:

Iona Whishaw was born in Kimberley BC, but grew up in a number of different places, including a small community on Kootenay Lake, as well as Mexico and Central America, and the US because of her father’s geological work. She took a degree in history and education from Antioch College, and subsequent degrees in Writing at UBC and pedagogy at Simon Fraser University.  

She is married, has one son and two grandsons, and lives in Vancouver with her artist husband, Terry Miller.

See also these reviews at Staircase Wit and Mysteries and More from Saskatchewan.


Publisher:   Torchwood Books, 2016
Length:      432 pages
Format:      Trade Paper
Series:       Lane Winslow #1
Setting:      British Columbia, Canada
Genre:       Historical Mystery
Source:     Purchased in 2020.

Saturday, October 1, 2022

My Son's Books from the 2022 Book Sale


For the next couple of book sale posts, be prepared for more variety than usual. My son reads mostly fantasy, science fiction, and nonfiction. My husband reads all types of fiction, but leans toward nonfiction.

The Planned Parenthood Book Sale ran from September 16th through September 25th, over two weekends. We visited five times. 

This post showcases some of the books that my son found at the book sale, and there are a lot of gorgeous covers here.

Zero World by Jason M. Hough  (578 pages)

From the book description at Goodreads:

Technologically enhanced superspy Peter Caswell has been dispatched on a top-secret assignment unlike any he’s ever faced. A spaceship that vanished years ago has been found, along with the bodies of its murdered crew—save one. Peter’s mission is to find the missing crew member, who fled through what appears to be a tear in the fabric of space. Beyond this mysterious doorway lies an even more confounding reality: a world that seems to be Earth’s twin.

I like stories that merge spying and science fiction, and a parallel Earth could be interesting.

The Merciful Crow by Margaret Owens (369 pages)

This is a YA Fantasy with a gorgeous cover. I liked the description and I love the cover, and there is a cat named Barf.

From the cover of the book:

Fie abides by one rule: look after your own. Her Crow caste of undertakers and mercy-killers takes more abuse than coin, but when they’re called to collect royal dead, she’s hoping they’ll find the payout of a lifetime.

When Crown Prince Jasimir turns out to have faked his death, Fie’s ready to cut her losses—and perhaps his throat. But he offers a wager that she can’t refuse: protect him from a ruthless queen, and he’ll protect the Crows when he reigns.


Variable Star by Robert A. Heinlein and Spider Robinson (300 pages)

This is a 2006 science fiction novel by American author Spider Robinson, based on a novel outline by the late Robert A. Heinlein. 

From the back of the book:

When Joel Johnston asks Jinny Hamilton to marry him, he believes he is entering an ordinary union. Then she reveals that she is the granddaughter of the wealthiest man in the solar system, and any man who marries her will be groomed for a place in the vast Conrad empire and sire a dynasty to carry on the family business....

Daunted by the prospect of such a future, Joel flees—and awakens on a colony ship heading out into space, torn between regret over his rash decision and his determination to forget Jinny and make a life for himself among the stars.

Artful by Peter David (276 pages)

This fantasy novel tells the further adventures of Jack Dawkins, the Artful Dodger, from Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist. It is a few years later in his life, and in this version there are vampires and a plot to overthrow the British monarchy. 

Another book with a very impressive cover.

The Space Between Worlds by Macaiah Johnson (320 pages)

From the summary at Goodreads:

Multiverse travel is finally possible, but there’s just one catch: No one can visit a world where their counterpart is still alive. Enter Cara, whose parallel selves happen to be exceptionally good at dying—from disease, turf wars, or vendettas they couldn’t outrun. Cara’s life has been cut short on 372 worlds in total.

On this Earth, however, Cara has survived. Identified as an outlier and therefore a perfect candidate for multiverse travel, Cara is plucked from the dirt of the wastelands. Now she has a nice apartment on the lower levels of the wealthy and walled-off Wiley City. 


Chronicles of the Black Company by Glen Cook (700 pages)

This omnibus edition comprises The Black Company, Shadows Linger, and The White Rose―the first three novels in Glen Cook's Black Company fantasy series.

I have read the first novel in this series (my review here). It combines elements of epic fantasy and dark fantasy as it follows the story of an elite mercenary unit that serve the Lady, ruler of the Northern Empire. Now I can read the second novel in this edition.

Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente (420 pages)

From the summary at Goodreads:

Severin Unck's father is a famous director of Gothic romances in an alternate 1946 in which talking movies are still a daring innovation due to the patent-hoarding Edison family. Rebelling against her father's films of passion, intrigue, and spirits from beyond, Severin starts making documentaries, traveling through space and investigating the levitator cults of Neptune and the lawless saloons of Mars. For this is not our solar system, but one drawn from classic science fiction in which all the planets are inhabited and we travel through space on beautiful rockets. Severin is a realist in a fantastic universe.

Told using techniques from reality TV, classic film, gossip magazines, and meta-fictional narrative, Radiance is a solar system-spanning story of love, exploration, family, loss, quantum physics, and silent film.

The Changewinds by Jack L. Chalker  (820 pages)

My son introduced me to Jack Chalker's books in 2005, and I read several of the books in the Well of Souls series.

This book is an omnibus edition of the three books in the Changewinds series, including When the Changewinds Blow (1987), Riders of the Winds (1988) and War of the Maelstrom (1988). From what I can glean from descriptions, I think the stories are a blend of science fiction and fantasy.

Are you familiar with any of these books or authors?