Sunday, December 31, 2023

My Year in Books: 2023

I saw this meme at BookerTalk this morning and on a whim I decided to try it. The rules are: use only the titles of books I read in 2023 and try not to repeat any titles.

I had never been successful at it in the past, but here it is ...

In high school I was: The Optimist's Daughter (Eudora Welty)

People might be surprised by: Today a Woman Went Mad in the Supermarket (Hilma Wolitzer)

I will never be: Something Wicked (Elizabeth Ferrars)

My fantasy job is:  Miss Marple (Agatha Christie)

At the end of a long day I need: Books for Living (Will Schwalbe)

I hate being: The Doomsday Carrier (Victor Canning)

I wish I had: Vera Wong's Unsolicited Advice for Murderers (Jesse Q. Sutanto)

My family reunions are: City Under One Roof (Iris Yamashita)

At a party you’d find me with: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows)

I’ve never been to: 84, Charing Cross Road (Helene Hanff)

A happy day includes: Book Lust (Nancy Pearl)

Motto I live by: Sworn to Silence (Linda Castillo)

On my bucket list is: Bullet Train (Kotaro Isaka)

In my next life, I want to have: The Paris Diversion (Chris Pavone)

Also see this meme at 746Books and AnnaBookBel

Annabel has done this meme for many years, starting in 2009!

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

Short Story Wednesday: More Christmas Stories

I have now read 17 of the 26 stories in Murder for Christmas, edited by Thomas Godfrey. I did not read all of those this month; some of them I had read previously in other anthologies.

These are the last four stories I read in this book.

"Back for Christmas" by John Collier 

This is a short but effective story with a very clever ending. Dr. Carpenter and his wife are going to America for a lecture tour. Mrs. Carpenter has told all her friends that they will be back in England for Christmas, but he has other plans.  This story was broadcast on television in 1956 as part of the first season of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

"A Christmas Tragedy" by Baroness Orczy 

This is the first piece of writing by Orczy that I have read. This short story tells how Lady Molly solves the mystery of murder of Major Ceely on Christmas Eve. She and her maid Mary were staying at Major Ceely's home, Clevere Hall, when the murder occurs. The introduction to the story by Thomas Godfrey indicates that there are a series of Lady Molly of Scotland Yard stories; the stories are told by Mary, her faithful maid. Twelve stories in the series were published in Lady Molly of Scotland Yard in 1910.

"Dancing Dan's Christmas" by Damon Runyon

This story was a lot of fun and had a great ending, but as usual when I am reading Damon Runyon's prose, I was confused by the street talk and many quirky characters. The story was originally published in Collier's Magazine in 1932.

"Christmas Party" by Rex Stout

I have read all of the mystery fiction by Rex Stout, multiple times, and this story was no exception. But it has been nine years since I read it last, and I have always enjoyed it. "Christmas Party" features Nero Wolfe and his assistant, Archie and is one of four stories in And Four to Go by Rex Stout. The story is 70 pages long, so it is really a novella.

The story starts with Archie refusing to accompany Wolfe to a meeting with a well-known horticulturalist because he already has plans to attend a Christmas party at a ex-client's business. I reviewed "Christmas Party" in 2014 in this blog post

If you are interested in a list of all the stories in Murder for Christmas, check out George Kelley's review at his blog

I do have a bonus Christmas story, from the Guardian. My husband sent me a link to the story and I read it immediately. It was just the right length.

"Yankee Swap" by Jonathan Escoffery

This story is set during the Christmas season, on a snowy day in Boston. The main character, Nathan, occasionally drives his car for a rideshare company, and on this day he does it because he needs extra money to fund his airplane flight to South Florida to visit his family for Christmas. The person who called the car for a ride is his ex-fiancee’s husband. Nathan is curious about this man, the man he blames for blowing up his world nearly three years earlier. I loved the way the story is told, how more about each of the characters is revealed during the ride. A very nice story, and a good story to read any time of the year.

The link to this story is here.

Sunday, December 24, 2023

Winter Solstice: Rosamunde Pilcher

This book is way outside of my normal reading, and over 500 pages long, but I fell in love with it from the beginning and was immediately immersed in the story. It is the epitome of a comfort read... at least for me. And it was set at winter solstice and has a focus on Christmas, a big plus.

We meet Elfrida Phipps, formerly an actress on the London stage, at age 62. Two years previously she retired, moved to Dipton in Hampshire, England and bought a small cottage. Elfrida soon encounters Gloria and Oscar Blundell and their 12-year-old daughter Francesca and they all quickly become good friends. Oscar is 67 and much older than Gloria. 

Elfrida goes off for an extended visit with a cousin and his much younger wife and their young children. When she gets back from her month's visit, she finds that Oscar's wife and child were killed in an automobile accident, and that Oscar has no place to live, unless he goes to an old folks' home nearby. She offers to help get him moved and settled in Creagan, Scotland where he owns half of an Estate House which used to belong to his grandmother.

Shortly thereafter they are joined at the Estate House by three other people who need a place to stay at Christmas: Carrie, a young woman related to Elfrida; Lucy, her 14-year-old niece; and Sam, a businessman who is in the area to help rebuild a company that had fallen on hard times.

My Thoughts:

  • The characters are all interesting. I got to know the main characters and care for them, but all of the peripheral characters had back stories. I will admit that the main characters are almost too good to be true, but that did not bother me enough to spoil my overall enjoyment of the story. (A good number of reviewers don't agree with my assessment of those characters.)
  • Pilcher's writing style appealed to me. Each chapter is titled with the name of one of the five main characters and looks at the story from their point of view. She reveals the details of the issues that they are dealing with gradually throughout the book. The depictions of the Scottish countryside and the weather in November and December in this part of Scotland were wonderful.
  • There are many mentions of books: reading them, buying them, books in homes, bookshops. I love that in a novel.
  • The ending was exactly what I wanted it to be, and when I finished it, I was sorry that it was over. 

This was Rosemary Pilcher's last novel, and I don't know how it compares to her earlier books, but I will be looking for another one to read someday.


Publisher:   Thomas Dunne Books, 2015 (orig. pub. 2000)
Length:       520 pages
Format:      Trade paperback
Setting:       Mostly Scotland.
Genre:        Fiction
Source:      I purchased this book in October 2023.

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Books Read in November 2023

November was a very nice reading month. Two science fiction novels! Three novellas! A children's book set at Christmas! Two books from my Classics List! My total for the month was nine books, but that was mostly because I read three very short books and finished a book I had been reading over the last few months.

Nonfiction / Books about Books

Book Lust
(2003) by Nancy Pearl

This is at least my third read of this book since it first came out. The subtitle is "Recommended Reading for Every Mood, Moment, and Reason." Nancy Pearl was a librarian for many years and obviously has read a lot of books, and books from practically every genre. This book is filled with recommendations. I reread it because my tastes have changed over time and I always see some books that are new to me in it on each read. This time I was looking specifically for books about countries all over the world, or books using those countries as a setting. Since the book was published in 2003 it is not up to date, but I have always read more older books than current books so that does not matter to me.

Fiction / Children's 

The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street  (2018) by Karina Yan Glaser

This is a middle grade children's book set at Christmas, and a very lovely read. It is the first in a series of seven books about the family. See my review.

Fiction / Horror

Dracula (1897) by Bram Stoker

Many people, including my husband, have told me that Dracula is a very good read, and they were all right. The story is told through letters and diary entries and I enjoyed that format. It was much more accessible than I expected, although parts of it were challenging to read. This book is on my Classics List and I am glad that I finally read it. 

Science Fiction

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet (2014) by Becky Chambers

This book is an excellent space opera, the first book in a three book series called Wayfarers. See my review.

Rogue Protocol (2018) by Martha Wells

The protagonist and narrator of Rogue Protocol is a security robot that has both human and robotic parts. This third entry in the Murderbot Diaries series is a novella, as are most of the books in the series. My review of the first book, All Systems Red, is here. I would not start with Rogue Protocol because there is so little backstory for what has gone before. I have enjoyed all of the books so far and the fourth book is already on my shelves waiting to be read.

Crime Fiction

The Postman Always Rings Twice (1934) by James M. Cain

Cain's first novel is a noir mystery and very brief, only 120 pages long. This was another book from my Classics List. See my review.

Where There's Love, There's Hate (1946) by Adolfo Bioy Casares and Silvina Ocampo

Translated by Suzanne Jill Levine and Jessica Ernst Powell

This was a lovely short read at 128 pages. It may turn out to be one of my top ten books of the year. The introduction by Suzanne Jill Levine describes this book as a "tongue-in-cheek mystery somewhere between detective spoof and romantic satire." See my review.

Favor (1988) by Parnell Hall

Stanley Hastings is a licensed private detective in Manhattan, but his job is to pursue leads for an ambulance chaser lawyer. In this 3rd novel in the series. Stanley does some investigating in Atlantic City, to help out a policeman friend of his. See my review.

City Under One Roof (2023) by Iris Yamashita

This debut novel is set in an isolated small town in Alaska, Point Mettier. The isolation is imposed by natural forces, a major storm that closes the tunnel that provides the only access to the city. All 205 residents in the town live in one high-rise building. The story follows three characters: Amy Lin, a teenage girl who lives with her mother; Cara Kennedy, a detective who has come to the city to investigate some body parts found on a beach; and Lonnie Mercer, an eccentric loner who has a pet moose. All the main characters were interesting and most of the secondary characters are suspicious. Just about everyone has secrets they are hiding. A second book is scheduled to come out in February 2024, and I will be reading it at some point.

The photos at the top and bottom of this post were taken when we were walking to the Monarch Butterfly Grove in Goleta. It wasn't the time of year for the butterflies to be there, but it was a great walk and our first visit to the area in years.

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

Saturday, December 16, 2023

Where There's Love, There's Hate: Casares and Ocampo

I did not formally take part in Novellas in November, but I did read three novellas in November. This was one of them at 128 pages. 

Dr. Humberto Huberman is visiting the seaside at Bosque del Mar, Argentina. He is staying at a hotel owned by relatives. It is a small hotel and not many guests; they get to know each other. On the first evening after his arrival, one of the guests dies, by poison. Dr. Huberman appoints himself the investigator, but of course the real policemen arrive soon enough.

The introduction describes this book as a "tongue-in-cheek mystery somewhere between detective spoof and romantic satire." It is a light-hearted story that does not take things too seriously. Dr. Huberman tells the story in first person narration so the reader only gets the story from his perspective. As noted, he considers himself to be the investigator (or at least a valued assistant to the police), but really no one seems to be very good at finding the culprit. The characters were all fun and sometimes not what they seemed. What I really loved was all the asides about books and writing and even book translations (one of the female characters translated and edited detective novels). The ending surprised me.

The authors, Adolfo Bioy Casares and Silvina Ocampo, were Argentine writers, married to each other, who originally published this book in 1946. The book was translated into English in 2013 by Suzanne Jill Levine and Jessica Ernst Powell. Levine also wrote the Introduction.

This book could fit the Beach square in the Wanderlust Bingo Challenge I am undertaking. 


Publisher:  Melville House, 2013 (orig. publ. 1946)
Length:      128 pages
Format:      Trade paperback
Setting:       Argentina
Genre:        Mystery
Source:       On my TBR since 2014.

Friday, December 15, 2023

The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street: Karina Yan Glaser

The Vanderbeekers live in Harlem, in an apartment that takes up two floors of an old brownstone. There are five Vanderbeeker children; the youngest child is almost five and the oldest two girls are twins, 12 years old. Mr. and Mrs. Vanderbeeker struggle to make ends meet.

Eleven days before the end of the year, the Vanderbeekers are notified that the lease on their apartment will not be renewed; they have to be out by the end of the year. Thus packing and looking for a new place has to be done at the same time as Christmas preparations and celebrations. There is no explanation from their landlord, Mr. Beiderman, as to why they have to leave, although they have had a strained relationship with him for years. When the children learn that they have to move, they are all very upset. They love their neighborhood and their home. The children come up with a plan to convince Mr. Beiderman to let them stay.

I decided to read this book after seeing Cath's review at Read-warbler last December. It is a middle grade children's book set at Christmas, and a very lovely read. I was mainly attracted to the setting; it did not hurt that the family lived in two floors of a brownstone building. And that the book had illustrations, including a map of the neighborhood. 

I loved the characterizations of the children especially; in a family of five children, each had a distinct personality. The ages were 4 and three quarters, 7, 9, and 12 year old twins. My favorite character was Oliver: the middle child, the only boy, and the avid reader in the family.

This is the first in a series of seven books about the family. I don't know how realistic this is or if that matters for children's fiction, but I was caught up in the story and was emotionally invested in the ending, so it worked well for me.

This is a great read for Christmastime. And, because the book is aimed at children, it was a fast and easy read, even at over 300 pages.


Publisher:  Clarion Books, 2018 (orig. pub. 2017)
Length:      311 pages
Format:      Trade paper
Series:       The Vanderbeekers #1
Setting:      Harlem, New York City, New York.
Genre:       Children's book
Source:      Purchased in 2023.

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Short Story Wednesday: Christmas Mysteries

Today I am featuring two Christmas mysteries:

"A Christmas Tragedy" by Agatha Christie was first published in January 1930 in The Story-Teller magazine (UK) under the title The Hat and the Alibi. In 1932, it was published as the tenth story in the The Thirteen Problems

The stories in The Thirteen Problems all feature a group of people who meet and discuss unsolved mysteries. Each week, one person in the group tells a story from their own experience, and then the others try to figure out the real solution. Miss Marple always does very well in coming up with solutions, of course.

In this case, several people are at a dinner party hosted by Colonel Arthur Bantry and his wife Dolly. Sir Henry Clithering, the former head of Scotland Yard, insists that Miss Marple tell a story; she modestly protests because she doesn't think she has the expertise. However, she relents and tells the story of a death that occurred when she was visiting a spa.

Miss Marple meets other guests staying at the Kestron Spa Hydro. Almost as soon as she meets Jack and Gladys Sanders, she senses that Jack wants to get rid of his wife. However, when his wife is murdered a few days later, Jack has an airtight alibi.

This really isn't much of a Christmas story; the only real connection is that the people are visiting the spa just before Christmas and go out shopping for Christmas presents. However it is a good mystery, whether it is Christmassy or not.

"Christmas is for Cops" by Edward D. Hoch is a Captain Leopold story. Captain Leopold, the head of the Violent Crimes Squad of a police department in a fictional city in Connecticut and I talked about Leopold's Way, a collection of the early Leopold stories in a previous post.

This story begins on the day before the annual department Christmas Party. Captain Leopold is following up on an accusation against Sergeant Tommy Gibson regarding his accepting money to overlook crimes. Gibson admits to the crime but insists that another detective in the department was working with him. He refuses to identify the other man but he promises Leopold that he will bring him the evidence within 24 hours.

The next day, Gibson has not brought in the evidence by the end of the day. Leopold discovers that Lieutenant Fletcher has sent Gibson to the Christmas Party to help set up the tree at the party. After Leopold arrives at the party, Gibson's body is discovered in the Men's Room. At that point they know the other culprit is at the party and try to figure out who it is. 

This story gives us a picture of Leopold as a loner with no family ties:

The party would really commence around five, when the men on the day shift arrived at Eagles Hall, and it continued until well past midnight, enabling the evening men to join in after their tours of duty.

Then there would be a buffet supper, and lots of beer, and even some group singing around the big Christmas tree. Without the family attachments of Fletcher and the other men, Leopold tended to look forward to the party. In many years it was the main event of his otherwise lonely holiday season.

It also features lots of policemen in the department, with returning secondary characters and some new characters. Fletcher works with Leopold on many of his cases.

This story was more Christmassy plus a good example of a Captain Leopold  mystery. 

Friday, December 8, 2023

Favor: Parnell Hall

This is the 3rd novel in the Stanley Hastings series by Parnell Hall.  When I was looking for a lighter book to read following a heavier read (Dracula), my husband suggested I read a book from this series.

Stanley Hastings is a licensed private detective in Manhattan, but he has no office nor does he plan to do any detecting. What he does is pursue leads for an ambulance chaser lawyer. So when Sergeant MacAullif of the New York Police Department wants to hire Stanley to look into his son-in-law, Stanley refuses. MacAullif doesn't give up because he is really worried about his daughter. Stanley ends up agreeing to do some investigating as a favor to MacAullif and takes leave from his regular job to pursue leads in Atlantic City. Stanley's wife supports him in this decision.

My thoughts:

  • These mysteries are not exactly cozies, but they are light in tone and told in a humorous way. They are often about serious subjects: prostitution, drug dealing, blackmail.
  • Favor was published in 1988, thus the protagonist does not have the advantages of current investigators. And that is exactly what I like about books written in the 1980s and 1990s. No cell phones and no internet to look things up instantaneously.
  • This is a fast-paced story, which I enjoy, but it is Stanley's character I keep coming back for. The story is told in first person, which I like. Stanley has a lot of good luck, but he also has a lot more skill than he realizes. He is a dedicated family man, with a wife and a young son. His relationship with his wife is a strong point in the series, although she does not show up much in this story. She is always supportive and has more faith in Stanley than he does in himself.

My husband is a huge fan of this series and has read 12 of the books at this point. Here is Glen's review of Favor at Goodreads:

Stanley Hastings is a lowly-paid leg man for an ambulance chasing lawyer, a wannabe sort of private eye and writer, a self-deprecating and loving family man. In this, the third of Parnell Hall's series, we find Stanley off to Atlantic City to do a quick favor for someone who's not really even a friend. Before too long, he finds himself charged with grand larceny (the way he tries to get out of that is elegant) and in the frame for two murders. The characters are all sharply drawn, the pace is swift, the plot is complex in a good way, and there is a light tone throughout. There are nearly 20 in the series and I can't wait to get to the next one.


Publisher:  Donald I. Fine, 1988.
Length:      249 pages
Format:      Hardcover
Series:       Stanley Hastings, #3
Setting:      Manhattan and Atlantic City, New York
Genre:        Mystery
Source:      Borrowed from my husband.

Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Short Story Wednesday: Murder for Christmas, edited by Thomas Godfrey

This is the book that I will be reading Christmas short stories from this year...

The book was edited by Thomas Godfrey, with illustrations and cartoons by Gahan Wilson included. Godfrey provides an introduction for each story.

Two paragraphs from the dust jacket:

It has been said that Christmas brings out the best in everyone, and this has been especially true of mystery writers who seem to have been inspired to their best work by the holiday season.

So come to a unique yuletide celebration and rub elbows with such greats as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Dame Agatha Christie, Rex Stout, and Ellery Queen, while Georges Simenon and Dame Ngaio Marsh drop a few hot coals into your stocking. Masters of suspense John Collier and Stanley Ellin will be on hand with a few terrifying tales to send shivers up your spine. Thomas Hardy, Charles Dickens, and Baroness Orczy also will be present with some surprise contributions. There will be a few laughs, too, with Damon Runyon, Wyndham Lewis, and Woody Allen, as well as visits with old and new masters of the genre such as Margery Allingham, Dorothy L. Sayers, G.K. Chesterton, Edward D. Hoch, and H.R.F. Keating. John Dickson Carr will favor us with a locked room story, while O. Henry contributes some Christmas criminality from the Old West. We'll even go Christmas shopping with Robert Louis Stevenson.

George Kelley reviewed Murder for Christmas at his blog. He lists all the stories in his post.

Sunday, December 3, 2023

The Postman Always Rings Twice: James M. Cain

This was the book that came up for me in the latest Classics Club Spin. The book is a classic noir mystery and very brief, only 120 pages long. James M. Cain is a well known author of noir fiction; this was his first novel.


An attractive young woman with an older husband she is sick of meets a young handsome tramp. Cora and Nick Papadakis own and operate a small diner in rural California, not far from Los Angeles. Frank Chambers, the drifter, has just arrived in the area and does some odd jobs for Nick. Frank wants Cora to leave her husband behind and drift around the country with him. But Cora wants a more stable life with money and a place to live, and thus they begin plotting to kill her husband. 

My thoughts:

  • This book was a challenging read for me. The story is very dark and gritty and those elements went beyond the point that I could enjoy the story, especially the first 90 pages. I would have given up on the book except that it was on my classic list, and it was very short. Almost any book that short deserves to be read all the way through, although I am sure that there are exceptions.
  • The story is told in first person narrative by Frank Chambers. Normally I like that point of view, but with this book it brought me closer to the distasteful story, so did not work well for me.
  • Almost all of the characters were unlikeable, and I could not care about them. However, the development of the characters was very good. The lawyer, Mr. Katz, was a very interesting character.
  • I acknowledge that the author was a very talented writer and kept the reader involved in the story. The pacing was good. He accomplished what he was aiming for, and many readers have enjoyed the book since it was published. 
  • I was glad I finished the book. The last 30 pages was the best part and pulled the book together without going for an unrealistic "happy" ending. I recommend reading this book if you are interested in trying the classics in the noir genre. 

I did question why the book was titled "The Postman Always Rings Twice"? I could remember no reference to a postman, but thought I had just missed it. Later I read that the title did not refer to anything in the book. I have read several explanations for why Cain used that title, although I don't know how valid they are. 

I read and enjoyed two other books by this author: Double Indemnity and Mildred Pierce.


Publisher:   Vintage, 1989 (orig. pub. 1934)
Length:       120 pages
Format:       Trade paperback
Setting:       USA; Southern California
Genre:        Noir mystery
Source:       On my TBR since 2015.

Friday, December 1, 2023

Six Degrees of Separation: From Kitchen Confidential to City Under One Roof


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 Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain.  I was given a copy of this book years ago, the original version, and I kept it on my shelf for a long time, but never read it. I don't know why. The subtitle of this book is "Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly" and from what I have read about, that is a good description of the contents.

1st degree:

Another book by Anthony Bourdain is Gone Bamboo (1997), and I still have a copy of that, unread. This is the description at Goodreads: "Henry and his wife, Frances, live an idyllic life as two of the Caribbean's most charming ex-pats (and professional assassins). But when Donnie, a powerful capo, is relocated to the island the scene is set for an Elmore Leonard-style mix of low life and high comedy." Based on that description, I think I should bump it up on my TBR list.

2nd degree:

Using assassins as my next connection, I chose Killers of a Certain Age (2022) by Deanna Raybourn, a story about four older women who have worked for years as assassins. The organization that hired and trained them is called the Museum, and now the Museum has turned against them and ordered their deaths. I read this novel and liked it a lot. The older women protagonists were a plus. It is not exactly spy fiction, but it reads much like a spy thriller, so it was perfect for me.

3rd degree:

Hit Man (1998) by Lawrence Block is not a novel but a series of connected stories about an assassin named Keller. He lives in an apartment in New York City and leads a normal life, except that the way he supports himself is by killing people. The stories take the reader on the road with Keller to his assignments, but they do not focus very much on the actual act itself. The stories are still more about Keller, the people he runs into, and his experiences. This was a confusing book for me because it has a very likable and interesting protagonist who performs acts that are not nice at all. 

4th degree:

Olive Kitteridge (2008) by Elizabeth Strout is another collection of connected short stories. The 13 short stories are set in a small town in Maine. Olive is mentioned or has a minor role in each story but only a few stories focus on her, her family, and her life specifically. Some of the stories have themes related to old age, life after losing a spouse, and suicide. Many of the stories are depressing and I had to read the book at a rate of about a story a day.

5th degree:

My next book is also set in a fictional small town in MaineUnder the Dome (2009) by Stephen King is set in Chester's Mill. One day the town is separated from the rest of the world by a force field, shaped like a dome. How the town deals with this isolation is very interesting, and since this is a Stephen King book, the story is very tense. The book is over 1000 pages long, and normally that would be a deal breaker for me, but I don't recall that the length bothered me with this one.

6th degree:

My next link is to a novel set in an isolated small town in Alaska. This time the isolation is imposed by natural forces, a major storm that closes the tunnel that provides the only access to the city. I just read City Under One Roof (2023) by Iris Yamashita in November and I enjoyed it very much. The book follows three characters: Amy Lin, a teenage girl who lives with her mother; Cara Kennedy, a detective who has come to the city to investigate some body parts found on a beach, and Lonnie Mercer, an eccentric loner who has a pet moose. The 205 residents in Point Mettier all live in one high-rise building, called the Davidson Condos.

My Six Degrees took me from a nonfiction account of culinary exploits to books about assassins, and ended in an isolated town in Alaska. Have you read any of the books in my chain and what did you think of them? 

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

The next Six Degrees will be on January 6, 2024 and the starting book will be Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, a novel by Gabrielle Zevin.

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Short Story Wednesday: "Three Times Loser" by Michael Gilbert

Todd Mason at Sweet Freedom sent me several links to archive versions of old mystery magazines in comments on my last Short Story Wednesday post. One of those links was to some Ellery Queen magazines at I looked at a few of the issues, and picked a short story by Michael Gilbert to read from this issue:

Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, Vol. 29, No. 5, MAY, 1957.

"Three Times Loser" by Michael Gilbert

This is a somewhat humorous, somewhat sad story of a young boy who gets in trouble several times as he grows older. Each time he is looking for recognition of some sort.

Tom Carney was born into a large family which lived in "a depressed part of Swansea" in the 1930s. For the most part they were a happy family. The parents and older children had jobs, but the youngest two children were still living at home and going to school. Tom, the youngest, was unhappy because he wanted to be taken seriously. His first "prank" was quite serious and dangerous, although he may have been, at age six, too young to realize this. Tom spends a lot of time and effort preparing for his exploit, but he doesn't succeed, even with his sister Dilys's help. Tom is dismayed because his father laughs at him when he fails. Over the years, he plots more harmful behaviors towards others.

This is a far as I want to go in a description of the story because it is very short. Michael Gilbert tells a good story and tells it in a light-hearted way, so the reader doesn't know what to expect. The ending is definitely troubling and unsettling.

From what I can tell, the story was first published in The Evening Standard, Sept 15 1954 as "Twm Carney."

I chose this story to read because I had enjoyed Michael Gilbert's short stories about two spies, Mr. Calder and Mr. Behrens. I have also read five of his novels and plan to read more.

I used this link to access the story online. Per Wikipedia, the story was published (as "Twm Carney") in a collection titled Even Murderers Take Holidays and Other Mysteries, in 2007, which appears to be scarce and very expensive. 

Monday, November 27, 2023

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet: Becky Chambers


I was influenced to buy this book after reading a review at Cath's blog, Read-Warbler. I am so glad I did.

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet is a space opera. To get away from an unhappy event in her past, Rosemary Harper (not her real name) joins the small crew of a ship that creates tunnels through space for faster travel. She is the clerk, taking care of ordering and forms and such. Some of the crew is human and others are various types of aliens.

The captain of the ship, Ashby, has contracted with the Galactic Commons to create a tunnel to allow travel to a planet belonging to the Toremi Ka, an alien species new to membership in the GC. The Toremi Ka are kind of scary and not much is known about them, so the reasons for the new alliance are questionable. But the job provides a good payday for Ashby and his crew.

My Thoughts:

I liked the various aliens and their different gifts, needs and culture. The author did a great job with differentiating between the characters. 

All the characters are nice, almost too nice. Only Corbin, the algae specialist, is obnoxious, and even he has morals. He is more on the focused, self-centered side and finds it hard to compromise. Many of the characters are quirky and everyone has to learn to accept the quirks on a long journey in a small ship. It reminds me of the characters on various Star Trek TV shows.

This article at describes Becky Chambers books as sort of feel-good, comfort reads. There is tension and conflict but the basic theme seems to be that being kind, thoughtful, and accepting of other beings is important.

The book is over 400 pages long, which is sometimes a challenge for me, but this time I was sad when I finished reading the book because I enjoyed the world it created so much. This is the first book in the Wayfarers series by Becky Chambers, and I already have the 2nd book, and two other books not in the series. I think I could reread this one again when I have finished the rest of the author's books.


Publisher:  Harper Voyager, 2016 (orig. pub. 2014)
Length:      438 pages
Format:     Trade paperback
Series:      Wayfarers, #1
Setting:     Space
Genre:      Science Fiction
Source:     I purchased this book in 2022.

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Short Story Wednesday: Leopold's Way


Leopold's Way is a collection of short stories by Edward D. Hoch (1930-2008). Hoch wrote over 900 short stories. Starting in 1962, he had a short story published in every issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery magazine for 34 years. Over the years, he had many series characters in his short stories. I am a newbie to the Hoch's stories. I have purchased several collections of Hoch's stories, but have only sampled stories from a few of them.

This short story collection, originally published in 1985, contains stories featuring Captain Leopold, the head of the Violent Crimes Squad of a police department in a fictional city in Connecticut. The book has an excellent introduction by Francis M. Nevins, which gives an overview of many of the series characters that Hoch created, and goes into more detail about Captain Leopold and the stories featuring that character. By the end of 1984, when the introduction was written, Hoch had published 72 stories about Captain Leopold. Now I believe that the total is over 100 stories.

Recently I read the first five stories in the collection. They were all good but I did have my favorites. A few of the stories had ambiguous endings, leaving the reader to decide how the situation was resolved. I usually like that kind of ending fine and they worked for me here.

The stories:

A ten-year-old boy is found dead in "Circus." He was walking to the circus from his home, which was nearby. The solution to this one was unexpected and sad.

"Death in the Harbor" starts with the death of a man who was alone on his yacht. At first the police assume it was suicide, but later there are more deaths in the harbor. Captain Leopold starts an investigation into skindivers in the area. This one also had an unexpected ending, at least for me. 

"A Place for Bleeding" is a murder / kidnapping story. I thought the resolution for that one was pretty obvious, but still a good story.

In "Reunion," Captain Leopold is visited by Harry Tolliver, a man who went to high school with Leopold and graduated the same year. Twenty five years later, Harry wants to plan a reunion, and asks Leopold for assistance. All he has to do is locate thirteen people from the yearbook and contact them. Leopold is reluctant but agrees to help. Later Harry will regret getting Leopold involved, when the death of one of the students from their graduation class comes up again.

In "The House by the Ferris," a woman is accused of killing a man who owns an amusement park. The wife of the dead man says that Stella Gaze is a witch who foretold the death of her husband and his three other business partners. Stella Gaze is an old woman who lived in a house on the property to be developed for the amusement park, and the park was built up around her house when she refused to sell the house. This is probably the most creepy of the five stories.

The last two stories are my favorites in this group. I hope to be reading more of these stories soon, because there is a Christmas story later in the book.

Other resources: 

George Kelly's review, including a list of the stories.

A list of Hoch's series detectives and short stories in collections, as of July 2018, at Mysteries, Short and Sweet.

Mike Grost's page on Edward D. Hoch.

Saturday, November 11, 2023

Wanderlust Bingo Challenge

I am joining in on the Wanderlust Bingo challenge that is hosted at FictionFan's Book Reviews. It was initially announced in January 2023. I have been planning to join this all year and just now have decided to start working on it in earnest. The goal is to read about countries from all over the world, in either nonfiction or fiction books. 

The card includes various areas in the world, plus topics such as Beach, Village, River, Island. FictionFan gives her home country of Scotland a square of its own.

The Bingo card is below:

Any type of book will count – crime, fiction, science fiction, non-fiction. However, two requirements are (1) that a country can be used only once and (2) a book can only fill one box.

You might notice that the card notes the years of the challenge in 2023 and 2024. Since I am starting at the end of the year, I will probably run over into 2025 but that is fine.

There is one book I read in April 2023 that I intend to include in this challenge: The Blind Man of Seville by Robert Wilson. Other than that I will probably use books I read in the future from this date on. 

You can check out FictionFan's post for this challenge and her latest update is here

Thursday, November 9, 2023

Books Read in September and October


I am late in reporting on my reading for the previous two months. I read 7 books in September and 6 books in October. Most of the books were crime fiction, but I did read one nonfiction book and three non-genre fiction books. All in all it was two months of good reading. 


Something Wholesale (1962) by Eric Newby

This is a memoir by Eric Newby, a renowned British travel writer. It is mostly about the years he was working in the family garment business. I plan to read more books by this author. My review here.

General Fiction

The People on Platform 5 (2022) by Clare Pooley

I first saw this book at Cath's Read-warbler blog. Her review was posted in early September and I had read this by September 17th, so I must have purchased it almost immediately. This book is contemporary fiction about a group of people who commute to work by train at the same time every day. They never talk to each other, until one day there is an event that brings them together, eventually. The central character is Iona Iverson, 57 years old, working for a magazine as an advice columnist. She is treated abysmally at work, although at one time her writing for the magazine was in different areas and in very much demand. The remaining characters were of various ages, including a teenager in school and adults of various ages in different work environments. I loved this book. Each person has their talents that they end up sharing  with others, and each has a problem that needs to be solved. Some of the results were predictable, but not all. The US title of this book is Iona Iverson's Rules for Commuting.

Today a Woman Went Mad in the Supermarket: Stories (2020) by Hilma Wolitzer

This short story collection contains 13 stories by Hilma Wolitzer. 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. My review here.

I Capture the Castle (1948) by Dodie Smith

Rose (20), Cassandra (17), and Thomas Mortmain (15) live with their father and stepmother in a decrepit old house that is attached to an equally decrepit castle. The setting is the English countryside in the 1930s. This book is beloved by many and has many good points but I did not enjoy reading it. My review here.

Crime Fiction

The Eighth Detective (2020) by Alex  Pavesi

This is a mystery with an unusual structure. Grant McAllister, a professor of mathematics, wrote a mathematical theory of the structure of mystery stories and published a book in the late 1930s with seven short stories to illustrate his theory. He then moved to a remote island and retired. Thirty years later a company wants to republish the book of short stories and sends an editor to review the stories with him. This book includes the text of all seven stories, so it is almost like reading a short story book. See my review.

Death in the Fifth Position (1952) by Edgar Box

From 1952-1954, Gore Vidal wrote three mystery novels as Edgar Box. They all featured public relations specialist Peter Sargeant. This first book in the series is set in the world of ballet in New York. I liked the characters, the picture of a ballet production, and the time setting. I also read the third book in the series, Death Likes it Hot.

Generation Loss (2007) by Elizabeth Hand 

This is the first of four books in the Cass Neary series. The main character is a photographer who was famous for one book she published in the 1970s, but she has gone downhill since, and has mostly spent her time working in a bookstore, not pursuing her photography. An old friend offers her the opportunity to interview her idol, Aphrodite Kamestos, who now lives on a secluded island in Maine. The setting is fantastic, dark and cold and threatening. My review here.

Messenger of Truth (2006) by Jacqueline Winspear

This is a series that many readers love but I did not get past the third book. After 11 years I tried the fourth book; I liked it better than the first three books but still did not like it that much. I didn't connect with any of the characters, but I do like the picture of life in the UK in 1931. I am not giving up and I have several more books in the series that I got at the book sale in September.

Greenwood (2019) by Michael Christie

This is a multigenerational family story with a focus on nature and ecology, especially trees. The author is Canadian and the story is set in various parts of Canada. It starts in a dystopian future in 2038 but soon travels back to follow the previous generations of the Greenwood family. This book was nominated for Best Novel by the Crime Writers of Canada in 2020, and it won, but I have yet to figure out why it was considered crime fiction. There are crimes that take place, and mysteries that run through the story, but it is not like any other crime fiction I have read. It is a great read in any case. My review here.

Gambit (1962) by Rex Stout

Rex Stout is my favorite author, so of course I loved this book. I had not read it in years because I can remember the ending. The Nero Wolfe series is fun to read because Wolfe has so many quirks. He hates to leave his home, thus he needs Archie Goodwin to do the legwork for him. He loves spending time caring for his orchids and eating good food. However, this book has one of the most straightforward plots of the 33 novels that Rex Stout wrote. Less of the quirks are evident or emphasized. My review is here.

Something Wicked (1983) by E.X. Ferrars

This is the first in the Andrew Basnett series.  This book is set around Christmas although the Christmas setting is not a focal point. Andrew Basnett is a retired botanist, widowed, in his mid-seventies. He is living in his nephew's house while his nephew is away; all the neighbors in the surrounding area are strange, and many of them are unlikeable. I have liked everything I have read by Ferrars, including this book. However, I would not start here if you have never read anything by this author. She is known as Elizabeth Ferrars in the UK. 

Vera Wong's Unsolicited Advice for Murderers (2023) by Jesse Q. Sutanto

Vera Wong is sixty years old, widowed, and lives alone above her tea shop in San Francisco. One morning when she goes downstairs to start on her walk, there is a dead body of a man on the floor of her tea shop, a man she does not recognize. See my review.

The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle (2018) by Stuart Turton

This book is a roller coaster ride that takes the reader to a world that doesn't make sense. The author describes it as a "time travelling, body hopping murder mystery novel."  A man wakes up with amnesia, and when he finds a decrepit old country house nearby, complete with butler and guests, he is told that he is Sebastian Bell, a doctor. Later in the day, he wakes up in another body and realizes that this is not just a case of amnesia. Along the way he finds out that he has a mission to find out who is going to kill Evelyn Hardcastle, and only by doing this can he be returned to his previous life, which he has no memory of. The entire story was very confusing but I enjoyed it. I was disappointed in the ending. It wasn't that it wasn't a satisfying solution, but there was not enough explanation of the machinations of body hopping. The journey was wonderful, but the destination was not, at least for me.

The photos in this post are of some flowers we planted together in a pot in early summer. The one below is a geranium (or pelargonium) but the plant at the top I can't identify. The geraniums in the pot are still blooming beautifully, in the back, even with no sun. The other plants don't last so long.

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