Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Short Story Wednesday: Hilma Wolitzer

Yesterday I finished reading all thirteen stories in Today a Woman Went Mad in the Supermarket by Hilma Wolitzer. I have read only a few short story collections by a single author, and this one is my favorite so far. 

The title story was published in 1966. It is about a woman having a breakdown in the grocery story with her two small children. It shows the reactions and actions of the people in the store, and is very affecting.

Eight of the stories in the book are vignettes of events in the life of a couple, Howard and Paulie (Paulette), starting with a story about the birth of their first child. Some of these are funny, some are sad, and all are told from the point of view of the wife. 

Several of the stories at the end of the book are sad, very sad, but still very good reads. "Mother" is set in earlier times, starting in the years following the Great War. A woman who never expected to marry and had given up on having a child delivers a premature baby at a time when that situation was much more difficult to handle. 

Most of the stories in this book were published in various magazines in the 1970s, and they reflect the time when they were written. 

The very last story, "The Great Escape," was written in 2020 and brings Howard and Paulie into the time of Covid. It is both an uplifting story and devastating. 

Check out this review by Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise. Kerrie lists all the stories and includes the date that each was published. In the book, the date is included at the end of each story, but I had not noticed that the order of the stories in the book is a different order than publication date.

Also see Patti's review at Patricia Abbott (pattinase), which inspired me to read this book.


Publisher:   Bloomsbury Publishing, 2020 
Length:      179 pages
Format:      Hardcover
Setting:      USA
Genre:       Short Story collection
Source:      I purchased my copy.

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

A Fire Story: Brian Fies

From the dust jacket on my edition:

Early in the morning on Monday, October 9, 2017, wildfires burned through Northern California, resulting in 44 fatalities. In addition, 8,900 structures, including more than 6,200 homes, were destroyed. One of those homes belonged to author and illustrator Brian Fies’ and his family.  In the days that followed, Fies hastily pulled together a firsthand account of his experience in a twenty-page online comic entitled A Fire Story, that went viral.

The version of A Fire Story that was published online was a short webcomic (which is included at the end of the book). In 2019, Brian Fies published this expanded version of the story, adding more of his and his family's experiences following the fire, and a few sections on other people who lost homes due to the fire and their experiences.

Brian Fies' book does a very good job of conveying the stress that the victims of the fires had to deal with, and the unimaginable sadness of losing not just your home but everything in it. In some fires, the people in the paths of the fire have enough warning to gather some important possessions, but that was not the case here. 

I found it interesting that Brian Fies and his wife Karen went directly to her work place when they left their home and got safely out of the path of the fire. That made sense because she was the Director of Sonoma County Human Services and part of the County Emergency Response Team. And it had a backup generator, telephones, and internet. She ended up working there on coordinating emergency resources for the next 16 hours. 

My favorite parts were the wonderful, detailed sections telling the stories of other people who lost homes due to the fire and their varied experiences of finding a place to stay afterward and replacing their homes. There was Michael W. Harkins, a journalist and media consultant, who actually stayed and tried to save his house, unsuccessfully. And Dorothy Hughes, a senior who lived in a mobile home park. Her home was one of 44 in the park that survived the fire but she was never able to move back in. 

There is a very good review of the book at the Los Angeles Times. I am including a few paragraphs because I am not sure if the article can be read without a subscription.

Rooted in Fies’ webcomic, the book-length graphic account details life during and after the second-most destructive wildfire in California history. Now refined and enriched with more color and detail, opening pages depict their house’s silhouetted exterior and adjacent shrubbery, rimmed in carrot orange against an ash- and beige-streaked horizon. Karen smells smoke and from their bedroom window monitors a glowing sky that Brian attributes to “just the Calistoga fire.”

“I’m sure everything’s fine,” he assures his wife. “We haven’t gotten any phone alerts!”

Seventy mph winds that night ushered the fire that began near Tubbs Lane toward the Fieses’ front door, which was north of Santa Rosa. For the couple and thousands of other Californians, nothing would ever be the same again. Following a tense sequence that has the cartoonist and his wife springing from bed and frantically hauling belongings out to their driveway and the palpable heartbreak that materializes later when Fies scouts out their rubble-strewn streets, “A Fire Story” shares lesser-broadcast hardships as well as how quickly wildfire victims are expected to process a frenzied cycle of emotions.

Although my husband and I have been affected by wildfires in our area for many years, we have never been anywhere close to the type of devastation depicted in this book. In 1990, we had to evacuate due to the Painted Cave fire, which came down from the Santa Ynez mountains, jumped the freeway, and burned some homes close to where we lived. We were scared and for a short time I was separated from my husband and son when they had difficulty accessing any routes to our home. But we were only away from our home for one night after evacuating. We were very lucky. And that was before wildfires in Southern California became so prevalent and so damaging.


Publisher:   Harry N. Abrams, 2019.
Length:       154 pages
Format:      Hardcover
Genre:       Graphic nonfiction
Source:      On my TBR for four years.

Saturday, September 9, 2023

The Mulberry Bush: Charles McCarry

Back in 2009, I discovered the spy fiction of Charles McCarry. He wrote a series about Paul Christopher, an intelligence agent for the CIA. I read all of the books in that series, plus a couple of political thrillers that feature other members of the Christopher family.  I was very impressed with McCarry's writing. Those nine books were written between 1971 and 2007. 

More recently McCarry published two standalone books in the spy fiction genre, The Shanghai Factor in 2013 and The Mulberry Bush in 2015. Today I am discussing The Mulberry Bush, which I read in early August.

This story is about a man whose main focus is getting revenge for his father, a spy for the CIA whose career ended in disgrace and led to him becoming homeless. The son succeeds in getting a job with the CIA and fortunately does so well that he is given an important position and assignment at Headquarters. He makes connections and builds relationships with agents in South America and Russia. Via this route he meets Luz, the daughter of a famous Argentinean revolutionary. She also has a hatred for the CIA, and they become allies in a plan to cause the downfall of that agency and its leaders.

Now all of this sounds really over-the-top, unreal and straining disbelief, but it all worked for me. It is a real roller coaster of a story, confusing, but most spy fiction is. A lot of characters, no one you can trust, also true of most spy fiction. 

As usual, I found McCarry's writing to be fantastic. I was immersed in the story and did not want to put the book down. The main character, the spy seeking revenge, is never named and he tells the story. I like stories with first person narration. You only know the story from one point of view, everyone else is a question mark. I was always focused on the main character's goal and wondering what his plan was to achieve it. 

This is not a perfect book. I sometimes complain about books with many unlikeable characters; this book is full of them, and I can name only one or two that I liked. I don't think that spoils a book necessarily. I did not particularly like the main character, but I sympathized with his goal to avenge his father. There were some fascinating characters that he meets along the way,  and maybe that is what saved the book.

Both The Shanghai Factor and The Mulberry Bush focus a lot on sex and relationships that were primarily about sex. I don't remember this being the case in the earlier books. Sex and relationships were there, but just not so prominent. Part of the problem with this is that the depictions of female characters are lacking.  Luz doesn't get enough to do to make any impact and she just seems to be an avenue to achieving the son's revenge.

So, to summarize. This was a book I liked very much; if you like spy fiction, it is highly recommended. However, if you want to try reading Charles McCarry for the first time. I would start with the Paul Christopher series. I don't know if it matters if you read them in order; I did. 


Publisher:  Mysterious Press, 2015.
Length:      308 pages
Format:     Hardcover
Setting:     US; South America; Middle East
Genre:      Spy fiction
Source:     I purchased my copy. 

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Short Story Wednesday: More Miss Marple Stories

Miss Marple: The Complete Short Stories is comprised of 20 short stories. The first thirteen short stories were published in book form in The Thirteen Problems in 1932 (aka The Tuesday Club Murders). The others were published in three other collections of Christie's stories, mixed in with stories from other sleuths. 

Description from the back cover of my paperback edition:

This collection gathers together every short story featuring one of Agatha Christie’s most famous creations: Miss Marple. Described by her friend Dolly Bantry as “the typical old maid of fiction,” Miss Marple has lived almost her entire life in the sleepy hamlet of St. Mary Mead. Yet, by observing village life she has gained an unparalleled insight into human nature—and used it to devastating effect. As her friend Sir Henry Clithering, the ex-Commissioner of Scotland Yard, has been heard to say: “She’s just the finest detective God ever made”—and many Agatha Christie fans would agree.

In June of this year I read four short stories from Miss Marple: The Complete Short Stories (reviewed here). I thought I would finish reading the other 16 stories during the summer months, but alas, that did not happen. 

Miss Marple's unusual gift that aids her sleuthing is that she remembers people she had known, mostly from St. Mary's Mead where she lives, and compares their behavior and foibles to the people in the case at hand. She is an elderly sleuth and has had many years and many experiences to draw from.

This week I read four more stories from the book. Here are my thoughts on those stories:

"Motive v. Opportunity"

This was the fifth story from The Thirteen Problems. The premise of the stories in this collection is that a group of people meet to discuss unsolved mysteries. Initially they plan to meet every Tuesday, so they call themselves the Tuesday Night Club. 

This puzzling case was brought to the group by Mr. Petherick, the lawyer. An American medium has charmed an older man, Simon Clode, and taken over his home. Previously Mr. Clode had planned to divide his estate between his two nieces and a nephew, but in the end changes his mind. Yet then the new will is replaced by a blank  sheet of paper. Very strange, complicated, but still fun to read.

"The Thumb Mark of St Peter"

Another story from The Thirteen Problems. Miss Marple tells this story to Raymond West, her nephew, and Joyce. Miss Marple's niece's husband died, and everyone where she lived thought the niece had murdered him. There is no evidence one way or the other but she is shunned by all her neighbors. Another very complicated one, but I was glad that Miss Marple cleared her niece of any suspicion.

"Miss Marple Tells a Story"

The next story I read was from a different collection, The Regatta Mystery and Other Stories. In this story, Miss Marple is telling her nephew Raymond and Joan about a case she solved in the past. Mr. Petherick, the lawyer, brought the problem to Miss Marple, hoping she can clear his client of murder; he is suspected of killing his wife. As usual, the client doubts Miss Marple's abilities, but she proves her worth and clears him. A very clever story.

"Strange Jest"

This story is from Three Blind Mice and Other Stories. Janet Heilen, a beautiful actress who knows Miss Marple and believes in her crime solving skills, invites her to a party so she can help her friends solve a mystery. Charmian and Edward have inherited their great-great-uncle's estate, but they cannot find the money that he was hinting about having hidden away somewhere. Miss Marple saves the day.

Sunday, September 3, 2023

84, Charing Cross Road: Helene Hanff

This book is a very short compilation of letters that tell the story of a friendship between Helen Hanff in New York and Frank Doel in London. In October 1949, Helene Hanff wrote a letter to Marks & Co. in London (a bookseller) requesting clean used copies of some books she could not find in New York. One of the staff, Frank Doel, replied to her and sent her copies of two books that she had requested. Over the next 20 years, Helene and Frank corresponded. In 1970, Helene published a book of selected letters from their correspondence. 

The letters are real but they read like fiction. The book is entertaining; Helene's letters are very funny. One of the most charming aspects of the letters is the contrast between Helene's brash, chatty letters and Frank's serious, businesslike letters. Especially at the beginning.

The correspondence started at a time following World War II when some foods were still rationed in the UK. Helene would mail packages to the bookstore with meat and eggs and other items that the staff would share. Along the way, some other staff members at the book store also wrote letters to Helene, thanking her for the gift boxes and letting her know when Frank was out of the office and unable to respond. 

My thoughts:

This was a wonderful book. I was surprised at how funny it was and I was moved by Helene's profound love of books. She read almost exclusively nonfiction, and she was looking for many books that I knew very little about. 

Many people know and love this book, but since I did not read this book until I was over 70, I am sure that there are a few people out there who have not read it. If you are one of those, I recommend it highly. It is very short. My copy was 97 pages and many of the pages were only about 1/3 or 1/2 filled with text. I read it in an hour and I don't read fast. 

Interesting fact: 

Helene Hanff wrote for the TV series, The Adventures of Ellery Queen, in the early 1950s. 


Publisher:  Penguin Books, 1990 (orig. pub. 1970). 
Length:     97 pages
Format:     Trade Paper
Genre:      Nonfiction, Letters
Source:    Purchased in December 2021.

Friday, September 1, 2023

Six Degrees of Separation: From Wifedom to Hebrides

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 Wifedom by Anna Funder. This book was just published recently in the US. It is about Eileen O’Shaughnessy's marriage to George Orwell and the subtitle is "Mrs. Orwell's Invisible Life". I have not read this book but I think it would be an interesting read.

My first link is The Autopsy of a Boring Wife by Marie-Renée Lavoie (translation from French to English by Arielle Aaronson). The story is about a woman whose marriage of 25 years falls apart after her husband announces he is leaving her for a younger woman. The author is Canadian and the story is set in Quebec. I haven't read this yet but I have a copy and plan to read it in the next year.

For the second link I will continue with another novel about the failure of a marriage, Ex-Wife by Ursula Parrott. This book was published anonymously in 1929. The setting is New York City during the Jazz Age, and it explores the social mores of the time. My husband commented that the plot line sounded like the 1930 film The Divorcee, and indeed, that movie was based on Ex-Wife, although the story in the film is simplified and tamer. This is another book that I have not read but plan to read.

My third link is a novel I have read, and fairly recently, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Published in 1925 and set in 1922, it is also about the Jazz Age. A lot of the story takes place on Long Island, in the mansions of the rich.

My fourth link is to another book I read set on Long Island, Death Likes it Hot by Gore Vidal. Published in 1954, this is one of three mysteries Vidal wrote under the name Edgar Box. Amateur sleuth Peter Cutler Sargeant II has his own public relations agency in New York City. In this book he has been invited to spend a weekend in the Hamptons by a society woman who wants to discuss a possible job.

I am continuing with another island setting for book #5, And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie, published in 1939. This is one of Christie's standalone mysteries. Eight guests are invited to a mansion on an isolated island off the coast of England. As they journey to their destination, they muse about the letters they received and their expectations for their visit to the island. When they arrive on the island, the only two people at the house are Mr. and Mrs. Rogers, the butler and the cook. They have been notified that Mr. Owen, the owner, will be arriving later. They soon realize that they have been tricked and the owner will not be showing up.

Staying with the island theme, the last book in my chain is Hebrides by Peter May. My husband is reading that book right now.  Peter May discusses the geological history of the Outer Hebrides, the history of the people on those islands, and his own personal history with the islands. Initially he came to the Outer Hebrides to work on a TV drama. Later he came back to the islands to use the area as locations for his trilogy: The Blackhouse, The Lewis Man and The Chessmen. The photographs that illustrate the book were taken by David Wilson.

My Six Degrees took me from wives and ex-wives to islands in the US and the UK. Have you read any of these books? 

If you did this month's Six Degrees, where did your list take you?

The next Six Degrees will be on October 7th, 2023, and the starting book will be I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith.

Sunday, August 27, 2023

Operation Mincemeat: Ben Macintyre

The subtitle of this book is: "How a Dead Man and a Bizarre Plan Fooled the Nazis and Assured an Allied Victory."

Summary from the dust jacket of the book:

In 1943, from a windowless London basement office, two intelligence officers conceived a plan that was both simple and complicated—Operation Mincemeat. The purpose? To deceive the Nazis into thinking the Allies were planning to attack Europe by way of Greece or Sardinia, rather than Sicily, as the Nazis had assumed and the Allies ultimately chose. 

Charles Cholmondeley of MI5 and the British naval intelligence officer Ewen Montagu could not have been more different. Cholmondeley was a dreamer seeking adventure. Montagu was an aristocratic, detail-oriented barrister. But together they were the perfect team and created an ingenious plan: Get a corpse, equip it with secret (but false and misleading) papers concerning the invasion, then drop it off the coast of Spain where German spies would, they hoped, take the bait. The idea was approved by British intelligence officials, including Ian Fleming (creator of James Bond). Winston Churchill believed it might ring true to the Axis and help bring victory to the Allies.

This book brought to my attention an aspect of espionage that I had not previously thought much about. It describes the efforts of intelligence agents to disseminate false information to the enemy in order to mislead them. The overall plan to deceive the Germans was named Operation Barclay, and included providing false information about troop movements in the Balkan area to the enemy.

The story of the development of the plan for Operation Mincemeat and then the carrying out of it (including finding a body to use that would fit their needs, dressing it, and creating fake documents to convey the information) was extremely interesting. Most of the book was about this effort.

But just as exciting and absorbing were the chapters on the effort to get the body delivered to the right place on the coast of Spain and the follow-up chapters at the end on how the attack on Sicily was planned and carried out, and various military men who participated. 

Ben Macintyre is a respected author of this type of nonfiction. It seems that he mostly specializes in espionage-related topics. His writing is very good. If there were any chapters that were difficult for me, they were towards the beginning when there are many people and situations described, plus the layers of bureaucracy to get agreement on the plan. Once I got settled in and the focus was on the main players in the carrying out of the plot, every chapter was a delight to read.

My husband read this book in 2013, and enjoyed it as much as I did. This is his review at Goodreads:

This history of a World War II hoax is so full of memorable characters (I find the absolutely fearless and charmed Lieutenant Bill Jewell of the British submarine HMS Seraph to be at the top of a very high memorable list) and fascinating detail that it reads like a first rate thriller. Operation Mincemeat was an elaborate British plan designed to convince German forces that an expected invasion of Sicily was actually going to take place elsewhere. In hindsight, it is amazing the plan succeeded, given all the details that needed to be accepted (or overlooked) by the Germans. A history that is not at all dry, this book is highly recommended.


Publisher:   Harmony Books, 2010
Length:       324 pages
Format:      Hardcover
Genre:       History, nonfiction
Source:      Borrowed from my husband.

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Short Story Wednesday: Crime Hits Home


Crime Hits Home is an anthology from Mystery Writers of America, edited by S. J. Rozan. The book was published in April 2022 and all of the stories in the book were first published in this book.

The theme for the stories in this book is home and the crimes that endanger it. The definition of home can be expanded to be a group of people that you feel comfortable with, a team, an ethnic group.

I read the first three stories in the book. 

"Grand Garden" by Naomi Hirahara

I found this to be an incredibly sad story in so many ways. The setting is a beautiful garden in Pasadena in the early 1900's; a young Japanese-American boy lives in a Japanese-style house on the grounds of the garden. The child is ashamed of his home and knows the white boys in his school will look down on him if they find out where he lives. One day a schoolmate visits the garden with his brothers and bullies his way into the house. He insists on playing with a samurai sword, and the result is tragedy. 

"The World's Oldest Living Detective" by David Bart

This is my favorite story of the three I have read. It has an elderly sleuth and a cat named Ripley. The protagonist is a retired private detective living in a retirement home. 

Four mysteries are resolved in the 22 pages of this short story, but the best one is a case from the detective's past, where he had to work for a sleazy Senator who wanted him to retrieve a videotape from his ex-girlfriend. 

"Little House in the Big Woods" by Sara Paretsky

Paretsky tells the complicated story of Ana, a college student who is under the influence of a female priest, Reverend Olive Kanba, who supports social justice missions to Nicaragua. She meets Lance, another student working with the priest, and they end up renovating a small building in the woods that is used by the group for overnight get-togethers. This building, which is special to Ana, is central to the story. Thirty years later, Ana looks back on those times, and a traumatic event which resulted in the disappearance of both Lance and Olive. An interesting story with a lot of revelations at the end. Very satisfying.

All of these stories were excellent and each very different. If the rest of the stories in the book are of the same quality, I have a lot of good reading ahead of me.

Also see a review by Sam Sattler at Book Chase. He discusses four different stories from this book.

The anthology features these authors:

  • Naomi Hirahara
  • David Bart
  • Sara Paretsky
  • Susan Breen
  • Gary Phillips
  • Neil S. Plakcy
  • Renee James
  • Connie Johnson Hambley
  • Gabino Iglesias
  • A.P. Jamison
  • Walter Mosley
  • Tori Eldridge
  • Ellen Hart
  • G. Miki Hayden
  • Jonathan Santlofer
  • Jonathan Stone
  • Ovidia Yu
  • Bonnie Hearn Hill
  • Steve Liskow
  • S.J. Rozan

Saturday, August 19, 2023

Books Read in July 2023

I had a good reading month in July. No complaints at all. I noticed that I read no vintage mysteries at all, this month or in June. I guess that is because I chose only one of those for my 20 Books of Summer list, and mostly I have been sticking to that list.

And now to the seven books I read:


The Book of Forgotten Authors (2017) by Christopher Fowler

This is a reread. I read this book first in October 2020, and read it again this year for the Bookish Books Reading Challenge, hosted by Susan  at Bloggin' About Books. Christopher Fowler was interested in finding out about forgotten authors, and wrote a column on that subject in a British newspaper for many years before this book was published. Fowler's essays are entertaining and opinionated, and this is a book well worth reading. 

Jane Austen Cover to Cover: 200 Years of Classic Book Covers (2014) by Margaret C. Sullivan

This book compiles two hundred years of book covers for Austin's six novels and her other writings. It cannot cover every edition ever published but with over 200 images it is very impressive. The book also includes historical commentary and Austen trivia. I also read this book for the Bookish Books Reading Challenge.

Historical Fiction

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (2009) by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

This epistolary novel set in London and on Guernsey in 1946 depicts the German occupation of Guernsey during World War II from the eyes of the residents. This was another book I read for the Bookish Books Reading Challenge. My review is here.

Science Fiction / Alternate History

SS-GB (1979) by Len Deighton

SS-GB is an alternate history in which England has been invaded by Germany. Len Deighton is one of my favorite authors and I was not disappointed in this book. My review is here.

Crime Fiction

The Nature of the Beast (2016) by Louise Penny

This book is the 11th in the Armand Gamache series by Louise Penny, and is set in Three Pines, Quebec in Canada. I like these books no matter where they are set, but when they are in Three Pines, it means that some of my favorite characters will feature: Ruth, Clara, Olivier and Gabriel, and Myrna at the bookstore. My review is here.

Disco for the Departed (2007) Colin Cotterill

This is the 3rd book in the Dr. Siri Paiboun series. This series is especially interesting because of the setting: Laos, in 1977, when the Communists are in power. My review is here.

Murder Most Fowl (1994) by Bill Crider 

This is the seventh book in Bill Crider's longest running series, the Sheriff Dan Rhodes series. This one provides a picture of rural Texas in the 1990's. The series has 25 books total and the last book was published in 2019. My review is here.

Garden Plants in August 

The photos at the top of this post are of Tibouchina heteromalla (Silver leafed Princess Flower) plants in our front flower beds. We just started seeing purple blooms on the plants in the last week. The foliage is also lovely, all year round. 

The top photo immediately above is the red lantana that is planted beside the Princess Flower. Those plant started blooming in late July which seems awfully late to me. 

Directly above is a volunteer strawberry plant that somehow grew in a pot of our succulents out front.

Photos taken and processed by my husband. Click on the images for the best viewing quality.

Sunday, August 13, 2023

Murder Most Fowl: Bill Crider

Dan Rhodes is the sheriff of Blacklin County, Texas; he only has a small crew to work with, himself and his deputy and a couple of people in the office. In this story, he is chasing down stolen emus, while looking for the person who murdered Elijah "Lije" Ward, who has recently had to give up his hardware store due to the competition from Walmart. Along the way, the sheriff discovers that the murder victim had recently gotten involved with cockfighting, which is illegal but a way to make money. 

My thoughts:

Crider's mysteries starring Dan Rhodes are always an entertaining read, and this one seems to be a good picture of Texas in the 1990's. Sometimes they are described as almost cozy, with a good bit of humor, but this one has a dark side too. Later there is a second death, and it is clear that someone in the community is responsible. 

Murder Most Fowl was published in 1994 and I think raising emus was pretty new in the US back then. I did not even know that emu farming existed. And I learned more about cockfighting in this book than I wanted to know.

I always enjoy the recurring secondary characters. Hack Jensen, the dispatcher, and Lawton, the jailer are older men, well past retirement age, who work for next to nothing, and love their jobs. They provide some of the humor. Hack is always pushing for new technical gadgets for the sheriff. Ruth Grady is the only deputy, and I would not mind seeing more of her in the books. Rhodes' wife, Ivy, has to put up with a lot, with the amount of time he has to put into his job plus worrying about his safety. Speedo, the dog, was orphaned in Shotgun Saturday Night, the second book in the series, and Rhodes took him in. He is still around, of course.

Bill Crider often included references to his favorite foods and other things he liked (old paperback mysteries and vintage films) in his Dan Rhodes books. The sheriff's favorite soda is Dr. Pepper but Ivy has put a stop to his eating the high sugar and high fat foods he loves. Rhodes does admit that he fits into his clothes better now, but he still occasionally sneaks in a favorite lunch or snack while working. In this book he is watching old Randolph Scott westerns with Ivy (my husband and I have a few of those on disc that we haven't watched yet). And Rhodes discusses Ed McBain and his various pseudonyms with his friend Clyde Ballinger, the funeral director.

This is the seventh book in Bill Crider's longest running series; there are a total of 25 books; the final book was published in 2019. I want to read the whole series in order, but at this point I have a good number of the later books in the series and will have to locate more of the earlier ones.


Publisher:   St. Martin's Press, 1994
Length:      200 pages
Format:      Hardcover
Series:       Sheriff Dan Rhodes, #7
Setting:      Texas
Genre:        Police Procedural
Source:      I purchased my copy.
Dust jacket painting by Lars Hokanson.

Tuesday, August 8, 2023

Short Story Wednesday: "The Castle of Rose Tellin" by Kate DiCamillo

I found this story by Kate DiCamillo while looking around on the Harper's Magazine site, inspired by Todd Mason's post at Sweet Freedom last week. I was allowed to read the story but could read nothing else, so I guess one free article is allowed per month. It was published in Harper's Magazine, July 2023. (I have now subscribed to Harper's Magazine.)

"The Castle of Rose Tellin"

Pen remembers an event from her childhood, when she and her brother Thomas go with their parents to Sanibel for a vacation at the beach. The year is 1968; her father is a famous judge, but he is also an abusive father. The family has come to Sanibel because her father needs to relax. Pen is six years old; her brother Thomas is three years older and goes out of his way to irritate his father. Which leads to some unhappy events.

It was a very good story. Uncomfortable, sad, and compelling. 

This is the first piece I have read by Kate DiCamillo.  Most of her writing is for children and she has won two Newbery Medals, in 2004 and 2014. I am assuming this story is aimed at adults. Her first published story for adults, “On a Winter’s Night”, appeared in the December 2022 issue of Harper’s Magazine.

Friday, August 4, 2023

Six Degrees of Separation: from Romantic Comedy to The Beast Must Die


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 Curtis Sittenfeld's Romantic Comedy. I have not read that book or any of the books by that author, although I am curious about her writing.

For my first link, I will start with a romance novel ...

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier is a romance, but definitely not a comedy. I like romance in a book, but usually not if that is the only focus. This one is also a mystery and a classic.

I like it when a book features a romance but the romance is secondary to the main plot, as in...

The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman, the second book in the Thursday Murder Club series. In this book the mystery plot is primary but a secondary plot is DCI Chris Hudson's developing relationship with his PC's mother, Patrice. 

Elizabeth, one of the four main characters in The Man Who Died Twice, was formerly an MI5 agent, and in this book she is helping her ex-husband Douglas, who is still working for MI5. This leads me to my next link, also featuring an MI5 agent...

The Last Defector by Tony Cape features Derek Smailes, an MI5 agent sent to London to work at the UN. The plan is for him to aid in a plot to convince a Soviet (also working at the UN) to defect and provide information on disarmament plans in Russia. 

This leads to another book I read featuring a defector...

Catch a Falling Spy (apa Twinkle, Twinkle Little Spy) is one of seven novels featuring an unnamed British spy. The agent is tasked with evaluating a Russian defector, Professor Bekuv. This novel felt like a world tour. It starts out in the Algerian Sahara Desert and returns to that spot for the denouement.  In between they visit the US, France, and Ireland.

My fifth link also features an unnamed spy, this time working for the CIA ...

The Mulberry Bush by Charles McCarry is about a man whose main focus is getting revenge for his father, a spy for the CIA whose career ended in disgrace. Now the son has succeeded in getting a job with the CIA and is bent on avenging the wrong that Headquarters did to his father. I am currently reading this book and have only about 100 pages left.

I did not realize how many books I have read that have revenge as the prime motivation.

The Beast Must Die by Nicholas Blake is a classic mystery novel, part of the Nigel Strangeways series. Nicholas Blake was the pseudonym use by Cecil Day-Lewis, who was an Anglo-Irish poet and the Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom from 1968 until his death in 1972. In this book, a father seeks revenge for the death of his son, who was killed in a hit-and-run accident. Nigel Strangeways does not show up until midway into the book.

My Six Degrees takes me from a romance set on a fictional late night comedy sketch show set in the US to a classic mystery novel set in Gloucestershire. Along the way I discussed several novels in the spy fiction genre.

If you are participating in the Six Degrees meme this month, where did your links take you? If not, have you read these books? 

The next Six Degrees will be on September 2, 2023, and the starting book will be Wifedom by Anna Funder.

Monday, July 31, 2023

The Nature of the Beast: Louise Penny

This book is the 11th in the Armand Gamache series by Louise Penny, and is set in Three Pines, Quebec in Canada. I like these books no matter where they are set, but when they are in Three Pines, it means that some of my favorite characters will feature: Ruth, Clara, Olivier and Gabriel, and Myrna at the bookstore.

Description from the edition I read:

Hardly a day goes by when nine-year-old Laurent Lepage doesn't cry wolf. His tales are so extraordinary no one can possibly believe him–including Armand and Reine-Marie Gamache, who now live in the little Quebec village of Three Pines. 

But when the boy disappears, the villagers are faced with the possibility that one of his tall tales might have been true. And so begins a frantic search for the boy and the truth.

In this case, Laurent Lepage says that he has found a huge gun hidden deep in the woods around Three Pines. As usual everyone dismisses this as a fantasy and a way to get attention, but in actuality he did find a very unusual weapon there. After the discovery of the artifact, agents from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) have a role, although they seem more like librarians than agents at times.  

Some Random Thoughts:

I always have some quibbles with a book from Louise Penny. Sometimes I find that the mystery plots are unnecessarily complex and/or the investigation is drawn out too long. But, no matter what quibbles I have, I enjoy the characters and the writing. I am hooked after reading a few chapters. This book was more thrillerish than usual, but that did not bother me. I like the variety in her books. Penny is very good at creating characters I want to read about, and she has some new ones in this book that are very interesting.

Armand Gamache's role in this book is unusual. Now retired in Three Pines, he is available to his former colleagues, Isabelle Lacoste and Jean Guy Beauvoir, during the investigation but he is not in charge. 

What is the theme of this book? It certainly seemed to have one. Good vs. evil? Right vs Wrong? War is bad, or the weapons of war are bad? Censorship? I am still not sure what she was aiming at in this book, but she often presents some thought-provoking issues in her books.

This was the ninth book I read for the 20 Books of Summer Challenge

Publisher:   Minotaur Books, 2016 (orig. publ. 2015)
Length:       374 pages
Format:      Trade paper
Series:        Inspector Gamache, #11
Setting:      Three Pines, Quebec,  Canada
Genre:        Police Procedural
Source:      I purchased this book.

Friday, July 28, 2023

Disco for the Departed: Colin Cotterill

This is the third book in the Dr. Siri Paiboun series and now there are 15 books total. This was my tenth book read for the 20 Books of Summer Challenge

This series is especially interesting because of the setting: Laos, in 1977, when the Communists are in power. Siri, in his seventies, has been named the national coroner of Laos. He has a small staff to help him in his work, Nurse Dtui and Mr. Geong. 

In Disco for the Departed, the Pathet Lao are signing a treaty with the Vietnamese. Siri and Dtui travel to a city far from their hospital in Vientiane to investigate a corpse, which was found embedded in concrete, with one arm sticking out of the concrete. On this trip, Dtui has the opportunity to do some real nursing in a very overcrowded, understaffed hospital and gets an offer of marriage.

Geung is left behind at the hospital in Ventiane. The official in charge, Judge Haeng, decides that Geung should be transported 200 miles away for other work. Geung doesn't understand why he has been relocated, he just knows he promised to take care of the morgue while the others are away. He manages to get separated from the soldiers who are transporting him and starts walking home, a seemingly impossible task. 

My thoughts:

Colin Cotterill writes with skill and humor. The subjects are serious but never dark and depressing. The characters are very well written. In this book I found the investigaton of the death less interesting, too complex, but in the end it had a very satisfying and surprising resolution. The plot includes many historical and cultural details about Laos and the surrounding areas.

I especially enjoyed the portion of the story where Geung attempts to return to the hospital in Ventiane. I was rooting for him to have a successful journey. Even though his mental abilities were limited, he found ways to use his talents to proceed in the right direction towards home.  

There are supernatural aspects to the story. From the beginning of the series, Siri has been able to communicate with the dead. In the previous story, he found out that he was a host to an ancient Hmong shaman. Normally I would find this offputting, but those elements do not take over the story. 

It had been 6 or 7 years since I read the 2nd book in the series but the author made it easy to pick up on where the characters were in their lives. I think this book would work as a standalone, but starting at the beginning would be even better. I hope I can read the books in this series more consistently in the future.

Colin Cotterill has a very amusing website.


Publisher:   Soho Crime, 2007 (orig. publ. 2006)
Length:       248 pages
Format:      Trade paperback
Series:        Dr. Siri Paiboun
Setting:       Laos
Genre:        Historical Mystery
Source:      On my TBR since 2014.

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Short Story Wednesday: Science Fiction Stories from 1990

These were not the short stories I was planning to read this week. But then my next door neighbor had a yard sale and I bought four anthologies from the Year's Best Science Fiction series, edited by Gardner Dozois. The one I decided to start reading was The Year's Best Science Fiction: Eighth Annual Collection.

I only read the first three stories, but that still totaled nearly 100 pages. The first story was a novella at about 53 pages and the other two were novelettes. I found all of them challenging and a bit overwhelming in one way or another. 

"Mr. Boy" by James Patrick Kelly

I had not heard of James Patrick Kelly before reading this novella about a 25-year-old man whose growth has been stunted by genetic manipulations, so that he remains in the body of 12-year-old boy. His mother purchased this modification for him, and the story is at least partly about the misuse of wealth. In this society these types of body modifications are not unusual and are carried to many extremes. I found the first half very weird but the second half was much better. The story was told in first person narrative by Mr. Boy.

In 1994, Kelly published a novel, Wildlife, that was a fix-up of this story and at least one other story featuring some of the same characters. I would be willing to give it a try someday.

"The Shobies' Story" by Ursula K. Le Guin

This story is set in a universe in which the ability to travel to another destination can be done instantaneously.  A group of people have volunteered to be the first humans to try this type of travel and see what effects it has on them, mentally and physically. The crew come from various planets and have various skills; some children are included. They first gather for a bonding experience before the flight.

The story is a part of the Hainish Cycle by Le Guin, but I have not read any of her science fiction writing, so I had no experience with that.  

I had an exceptionally hard time with this story and I had to read it twice to get any grip on it at all. I liked the first half but it went downhill in the second half. 

"The Caress" by Greg Egan

Another author I had not heard of previously. In the introduction to this story, Egan is described as a "hot new Australian writer."

This one is closer to my usual reading, sort of a police procedural set in the future. The protagonist is a policeman but he is enhanced. Policemen are trained from an early age, given drugs to prime their ability to deal with crime (while on the job), and their bodies are enhanced for strength and agility. The crime that is discovered is very strange. A woman of about 50 is found dead, her throat slit, in the living room of her house. In the basement downstairs, the policeman finds a chimera, a leopard's body with a woman's head. The chimera is in a coma. The dead woman turns out to be a scientist who created the chimera.

This was a strange story, very complex, with a lot of scientific explanations. But it was also very interesting, and I liked that it was told in first person, by the policeman.

There are two stories by Greg Egan in this anthology.

So I have 22 more stories and about 515 more pages to read in this collection. There are two more novellas in the anthology; one of them is "The Hemingway Hoax" by Joe Haldeman, about 80 pages long, which won both a Hugo Award and a Nebula Award for Best Novella in 1991.

A bonus: The painting on the cover is Sentinels by Michael Whelan.