Sunday, November 27, 2022

The Maid: Nita Prose


Excerpts from the dust jacket of my copy:

Molly Gray is not like everyone else. She struggles with social skills and misreads the intentions of others. Her gran used to interpret the world for her, codifying it into simple rules that Molly could live by.

Since Gran died a few months ago, twenty-five-year-old Molly has been navigating life’s complexities all by herself. No matter—she throws herself with gusto into her work as a hotel maid. 


But Molly’s orderly life is upended the day she enters the suite of the infamous and wealthy Charles Black, only to find it in a state of disarray and Mr. Black himself dead in his bed. 


Molly Gray tells the story from her point of view. We can tell from her narration that she doesn't see life like the average person. She loves her work. Because she lacks in social skills and misinterprets some actions of those she works with, she is sometimes shunned or ridiculed. Others see her basic kindness and like working with her. And some people she knows use her. It took a while for me to pick up on these things, because Molly is pretty optimistic about life and sees the best in most people. She knows that not everyone accepts her as she is, but she has learned to live with it.

It gradually becomes apparent that many things Molly has done to "help" people have gotten her involved in some illegal activities, which complicates the situation when Charles Black is killed and Molly seems to be involved. She had become friends with his much younger wife, and often spent time talking to her, which also implicates her.

My Thoughts

I liked the setting in a hotel, and I had been wanting to read more books with protagonists that did not fit in, like Convenience Store Woman and Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. All three books are very different, and the protagonists are too, and I liked all three of them.

Another fun element of the novel was that Molly and her grandmother watched Columbo (TV series with Peter Falk) together and had watched the episodes over and over. Thus Molly compares this case and what is happening to her with various Columbo episodes. That resonated for me because I am a big fan of that show too.

The book was very suspenseful, even though the plot is basically uncomplicated. I liked the ending; I found it satisfying. However there are a lot of readers who have had the opposite reaction, so I hesitate to recommend it.

Nita Prose is a Canadian author. Although the setting of this book is not clear, I am assuming it is set in a large hotel in a large city in Canada. 

Please see Constance's review of The Maid at Staircase Wit.


Publisher:  Ballantine Books, 2022.
Length:     304 pages
Format:     Hardcover
Setting:     Canada
Genre:      Mystery
Source:    I purchased this book.

Friday, November 25, 2022

Nine Perfect Strangers: Liane Moriarty


Nine Perfect Strangers was the first book I read in November. I was very surprised at how much I liked it. I am still confused as to how to categorize it. I had initially assumed it was a mystery, and there definitely is a mystery, but not in the same way as most crime fiction I read. At Goodreads it has been classified as a suspense thriller or as contemporary fiction or even as chick lit (which I don't see at all). 

In this book nine people visit a very expensive health spa for a 10-day stay. Many of them seem to just be looking for rest and relaxation from their normal lives, or a chance to lose some pounds and eat better, but the reality is that their problems are much deeper. They have been warned that the 10 days will be free from electronic devices of any kind and alcohol and drugs of any kind. But still they go into the spa taking their hidden caches of sugar and alcohol and are reluctant to let go of their phones and laptops. 

The characters are revealed gradually. They are not in reality nine "perfect" strangers because two of the clients are a married couple and there is also a family of three with a 20-year-old daughter. My interpretation was that the "stranger" part was true because even within these family relationships they were withholding the truth about themselves (which is pretty normal), or refusing to see the truth of their relationships. It was a very interesting group.

I like the way the characters were presented and their issues gradually revealed. I could not tell what was going on for at least 3/4 of the book, yet was entranced with the story, not exasperated. Frances, a middle aged woman who was once a very successful author of romance novels, is given the most attention. She has recently had a new book rejected by her publisher and also been the victim of a very demoralizing scam. There is also a lot of focus on the young couple, Ben and Jessica, and the family group, Napoleon and Heather and their daughter, Zoe. 

And then there is Masha, the owner of the spa. She is actually on the weird end of the scale and it is difficult to know what her agenda is. Over time, the reader gets to know more about her background, too.

I found most of the characters interesting and none of them were extremely irritating or unlikeable. Some of the characters seem to be very superficial and then their strengths and gifts are exposed later. My expectations of the characters were challenged along the way. 

It is obvious that my focus was on the characters and that drove my enjoyment of the story. I kept expecting something "thrilling" to happen, and the story builds up to that event very slowly. The story was mostly light, not overly serious, and was told with humor.

Liane Moriarty is an Australian author, and her books are very popular. The setting is in Australia, but almost all of the story is set in the spa in a remote part of the country, so I did not get a real sense of Australia from reading the book.

I have read no other books by this author but I would not mind trying others she wrote, except Big Little Lies, which might be too dark for me.

I recently watched the first episode of the adaptation of this book, with Nicole Kidman and Melissa McCarthy. Even though I can see that some of the story, and the characters, have changed, I plan to watch more episodes.


Publisher:  Flatiron Books, 2018.
Length:      450 pages
Format:      Hardcover
Setting:      Australia
Genre:        Thriller
Source:      I purchased my copy in 1922.

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Short Story Wednesday: "I Was Too Ignorant" by Rosamond Oppersdorff

This story is quite short, only 10 pages long, but to me it felt much longer.

It is about a woman who is working in a military hospital on a base in Brittany during World War II. She has no nursing training at all. She is stuck at the camp because her husband was there and now she cannot leave. Wanting to help, she volunteers to work in the hospital, doing whatever is needed. The hospital wing she is assigned to has 250 beds, cared for by four nurses, plus her, doing the best they can. 

The action in this story takes place between the Battle of Flanders and the Battle of France. Following the Battle of Flanders the hospital is filled with very badly wounded soldiers. 

The woman narrates the story, relating the jobs she is given to do, her fear of doing the wrong thing, the condition of the men who have been hospitalized. 

The story is very moving and very sad. 

"I Was Too Ignorant" was published in Wave Me Goodbye: Stories of the Second World War, edited by Anne Boston. 

The book has an excellent introduction, explaining how the stories were chosen. The authors are all women and the stories took place between 1939 and 1949; all but one story was written at that time. The stories are mostly home front stories (per the introduction). The collection was first put together and published in 1988; the introduction was written by the editor for this new printing.

From the "Notes on the Authors" in Wave Me Goodbye:

Rosamond Oppersdorf, American by birth, lived most of her life in Paris until the outbreak of the war. Her husband was Polish, and after leaving France in 1940 she worked in a Polish Military hospital in Scotland. "I Was Too Ignorant" was published in New Writing and Daylight, edited by John Lehmann, in 1942.

I have read only two additional stories in this book. Both are brief but very good. "When the Waters Came" by Rosamond Lehmann is about 6 pages long, takes place during the "phoney war," and isn't really much about the war at all. "Gas Masks" by Jan Struther is only 3 pages long, and is a Mrs. Miniver story.

I saw a review of this book recently at Katrina's Pining for the West blog, and bought a copy shortly after that. Check out her review.

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Short Story Wednesday: "Lamb to the Slaughter" by Roald Dahl


This short story review is adapted from one of my previous posts. I found it in a collection of mystery stories with the theme of food and eating. At the time, I had no idea how well known it is, although I had heard of the title (and the author, of course). 

"Lamb to the Slaughter"

Mary Maloney waits eagerly for her husband, a policeman, to come home from work; it is their regular night to go out for dinner. She is six months pregnant, and is portrayed as a loving wife. When her husband arrives, he is short with her, and decides to break some bad news to her; that he will be leaving her but she will be taken care of. She finds it difficult to believe or to react to; on automatic, she goes into the kitchen to prepare supper.

This story was chilling and dark but not depressing. It was a great read and it was not what I expected, even knowing a bit about it going in.

I found "Lamb to the Slaughter" in Murder on the Menu, but it has been reprinted in many collections. It is available online here or here.

While looking into the story I saw some comparisons to another story by this author, "The Landlady," which won the 1960 Edgar for Best Short Story. I read it and it is just as chilling as "Lamb to the Slaughter." In 1954, Dahl won the Best Short Story Edgar for "Someone Like You."

This story was adapted for television more than once. This post at The mOvie blog talks about the Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode (starring Barbara Bel Geddes) and includes screenshots.

Also see Prashant's review at Chess, Comics, Crosswords, Books, Music, Cinema.

Monday, November 14, 2022

What I Read in October 2022


I had another good month of reading in October. Half of the eight books I read were crime fiction; the rest were other types of fiction and one mystery reference book. 

Although the majority of the books I read in October were published after 1999, I did read a classic novel published in 1811, a vintage mystery from 1938, and a children's book from the 1960s. 

Mystery Reference

Talking about Detective Fiction (2009) by P. D. James

This is a relatively short book about British detective fiction written by P. D. James at the request of the Bodleian Library. My review here.

Fiction, Classic

Sense and Sensibility (1811) by Jane Austen

This was the last full-length novel that I had left to read by this author. I am a big Jane Austen fan but this one appealed to me less than the others. See my review.

Fiction, Short Stories

The Souvenir Museum (2021) by Elizabeth McCracken

I had very mixed reactions to the stories in this book. Some were fantastic, some were blah. But I would definitely try more stories by McCracken. My thoughts here.

Fantasy, Children's

The Ghost of Opalina (1967) by Peggy Bacon

This was a book I read for the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril event, recommended by Constance at Staircase Wit. It 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. It was great fun to read. My review here.

Crime Fiction

The Man Who Died Twice (2021) by Richard Osman

This book is the second in the Thursday Murder Club series by Richard Osman. In that series, the sleuths are four men and women in their late seventies who live at an upscale retirement complex. I have now read all three books in the series and I loved them all. See my review.

The Listening House (1938) by Mabel Seeley

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 Halloween, 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. This book exceeded my expectations. See my full review.

State of the Onion (2008) by Julie Hyzy

This is the first book in a cozy mystery series about White House Assistant Chef Olivia Paras. She gets involved with some intrigue related to a possible threat on the President's life. When she isn't busy sleuthing, she is vying for the Executive Chef position, which will be available when her boss retires. Some recipes are included. I enjoyed the book and plan to continue reading the series. 

The Gray Man (2014) by Mark Greaney

This is the first book in a series. Court Gentry is an assassin, known as the "Gray Man," who works for a contractor who vets his assignments. That type of thriller is not my favorite but I have heard good comments on this series. The Gray Man is a fast-paced story. Like the last espionage series I started, I was initially put off by the first few chapters, but got involved in the story and could not stop reading. This is not strictly a spy thriller, but a lot of the characters were former CIA employees, so it felt like one. It left me wanting to know what happens next with Court Gentry, so I am sure I will try the next book in the series to see how it holds up.

Currently reading

I am now reading A Pocket Full of Rye in this lovely new edition. Although I read Why Didn't They Ask Evans? earlier this year, I haven't read a Poirot mystery for over a year and it has been since 2018 that I read a Miss Marple book. So I am glad to get back to that series.

The photos at the top and bottom of this post were from one of our walks around Santa Barbara and Goleta. They were taken while walking on the breakwater at the Santa Barbara Harbor. My husband took the photos. Click on the images for the best viewing quality.

Friday, November 11, 2022

Talking about Detective Fiction: P. D. James

P. D. James (1920-2014) is best known for her series of novels about Adam Dalgleish, initially a Detective Chief Inspector, later a Commander, in the Metropolitan Police Service at New Scotland Yard in London. I have read all 14 novels in that series, and some of them twice. 

In 2006, the Bodleian Library requested that P.D. James write a book on British detective fiction in aid of the library. This book was the result of that endeavor. The book was only 198 pages long, thus there are many authors of detective fiction that are not included, but I found it an informative and enjoyable read.

Although the book centers on British novelists, James includes a chapter on the hard-boiled school of American detective fiction. The focus in that chapter is on Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, but she closes the chapter with her thoughts on Ross Macdonald and Sara Paretsky. 

This is followed by a chapter titled "Four Formidable Women," which compares and contrasts the works of Agatha Christie, Margery Allingham, Ngaio Marsh, and Dorothy Sayers. I enjoyed her insights regarding those authors.

Another chapter I especially liked was "Telling the Story: Setting, Viewpoint, People." She talks about the technical aspects of writing, including references to the works of other authors and how she approaches writing mysteries.

I have only covered the high points from my perspective. There are chapters on other topics: Arthur Conan Doyle and G. K. Chesterton and Golden Age mysteries, for example.

Overall, I was very pleased with this book and sorry that I put off reading it for so long. 


Publisher: Vintage Books, 2011 (orig. pub. 2009)
Length: 198 pages
Format: Trade Paperback
Genre:  Nonfiction, Mystery Reference
Source: On my TBR since 2017.

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

Short Story Wednesday: Dear Life by Alice Munro

The stories in this book are my first experience with reading Alice Munro. The first story I read in this collection was "Train." It was not the first story in the book, the title just caught my attention. It was the longest story in this collection, about 40 pages. 

Not quite sure why she chose that title. The story begins and ends on a train, but most of the story is in between the train rides. The story held my interest but when I got to the end, I was not sure what the point was. I ended up reading it two more times.

"Train" is the story of a man's life after his return to Canada following World War II, covering about the next 20 years of his life.  The next stop on the train is his home town but he obviously doesn't want to go there because he jumps off the train and walks the other direction towards a nearby town. He is offered a meal by a woman living alone on a farm that has seen better days. She doesn't even have a car but gets around with a horse and buggy. He ends up staying with her for several years and fixing up the place and taking odd jobs in town when available. Eventually he does move on to another area, lucks into a new job, and with each move we learn a little more about him. Some reviewers found this story to be sad but I did not have that reaction.

After reading "Train," I began reading from the beginning of the book. The next two stories I read, "To Reach Japan" and "Amundsen," also feature train journeys. I wonder if this is a common theme in Munro's stories. "Amundsen" was also set in a TB Sanatorium, which was very interesting. Most (all?) of the stories that I read so far are set in the 1950s.

Two stories ("Pride" and "Corrie") have characters with physical disabilities and the story illustrates ways they cope with the world. "Corrie," about a woman who is lame due to having polio, was very interesting, and was probably my second favorite in the book. I happened upon a very interesting post about the fact that this story has three different endings in various places they were published (first in the New Yorker, later in The PEN/O. Henry Awards anthology and then in Dear Life). The three different endings for "Corrie" are discussed at this post on the Reading the Short Story blog.

I have now read 8 stories out of the 14 in the book. Some of the stories were more appealing than others, but every one of them was a worthwhile read. My comments on the stories in the book are related to those 8 stories.

In general, the stories sometimes seemed fairly bland and flat on a first read, but as I got used to the stories, I acclimated to Munro's style. Some of them have ambiguous or disappointing endings, but I liked reading them anyway. They all have interesting, if very different, characters and the main characters are usually very well developed. The people are often misfits, not fitting into "normal" society. Often the stories are about relationships.

A small thing, but I like that Munro mentions the town of Kitchener in several stories. It made the setting of the stories in small-town Canada feel real to me.  I know nothing about Kitchener but it is the town that Margaret Millar was born and raised in. Her husband, Ken Millar (AKA Ross Macdonald) was also raised there although he was born in the US.

That is enough for now. The stories I read are:

  • "To Reach Japan"
  • "Amundsen"
  • "Leaving Maverley"
  • "Gravel"
  • "Haven"
  • "Pride"
  • "Corrie" 
  • "Train "

Friday, November 4, 2022

Six Degrees of Separation: From The Naked Chef to Sense and Sensibility

The Six Degrees of Separation meme is hosted by Kate at booksaremyfavoriteandbest. The idea behind the meme is to start with a book and use common points between two books to end up with links to six books, forming a chain. The common points may be obvious, like a word in the title or a shared theme, or more personal. Every month Kate provides the title of a book as the starting point.

The starting book this month is a cookbook – The Naked Chef by Jamie Oliver. This was the first cookbook by Jamie Oliver and I honestly don't remember why he (or his TV show) was called The Naked Chef. 

First Degree of Separation: 

My first link takes me from the Naked Chef to a White House Chef, in State of the Onion, a cozy mystery by Julie Hyzy. The main character is White House Assistant Chef Olivia Paras. She gets involved with some intrigue related to a possible threat on the President's life. When she isn't busy sleuthing, she is vying for the Executive Chef position, which will be available when her boss retires. Some recipes are included. After being on my TBR shelf for years, I finally read this book in October.

Second Degree of Separation: 

My second link is to The President Vanishes by Rex Stout, published in 1934. This is a mystery novel about the mysterious disappearance of the President of the United States, who was in the middle of a political crisis over his handling of the foreign situation in Europe. The disappearance seems to be a kidnapping, but no ransom is demanded. I read this years ago, and I did like it at that time. I am biased; I haven't read any of Rex Stout's mysteries that I did not like.


Third Degree of Separation:

In the third link I am sticking with presidents of the US, but this one is real. Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders is about US President Abraham Lincoln and the death of his young son, Willie. The book is a blend of fantasy and historical fiction, and full of supernatural elements. The story is set in 1862 in the first year of the Civil War in the US. President Lincoln's eleven-year-old son, Willie, has died and Lincoln visits his body at the crypt several times. I liked reading the book, but much of it mystified me.

Fourth Degree of Separation:

My fourth link is to another real United States President. In Jack 1939, a novel by Francine Mathews, John F. Kennedy is a spy. 

From the book's dust jacket: "It’s the spring of 1939, and the prospect of war in Europe looms large. The United States has no intelligence service. In Washington, D.C., President Franklin Roosevelt may run for an unprecedented third term and needs someone he can trust to find out what the Nazis are up to. His choice: John F. Kennedy. "

Fifth Degree of Separation:

Francine Mathews also writes as Stephanie Barron. Jane and The Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor is the first novel in the Jane Austen Mystery series. In that series, Jane Austen was an amateur sleuth. I read it around the time it was first published, 1996. I did read the second in the series and lately have been thinking about reading another in the series. Has anyone else read this series and do I need to read it in order?

Sixth Degree of Separation:

For my last link I move from a mystery series starring Jane Austen to one of Jane Austen's novels, Sense and Sensibility, another book I read in October of this year. This is the story of two sisters, once living in luxury, who now have very little prospects of marrying well. Elinor, the eldest, is sensible and concerned about propriety. Marianne, 16, is the opposite. This is not my favorite book by Jane Austen, but still I found it to be a very worthwhile read. My review is here.

My chain took me from a cook to books about presidents (fictional and nonfictional) and then to Jane Austen. Have you read any of these books, and what did you think of them?

Next month (December 3, 2022), the first book in the chain will be The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey.