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.

Saturday, July 22, 2023

SS-GB: Len Deighton

SS-GB is an alternate history in which England has been invaded by Germany. 

Summary from the flyleaf (dust jacket) of my edition:

1941, and England invaded – and defeated – by the Germans...

The King is a hostage in the tower, the Queen and Princesses have fled to Australia, Churchill has been executed by a firing squad, Englishmen are being deported to work in German factories and the dreaded SS is in charge of Scotland Yard. London is in shock. The very look of daily life is a walking nightmare of German uniforms, artifacts, regulations. There are collaborators. There are profiteers. But there are others working in hope, in secret, and desperate danger, against the invader. And still others are living strangely ambiguous lives – none more so than Detective Superintendent Douglas Archer ("Archer of the yard" as the press like to call him), trying to maintain a peculiarly, almost sacredly, British institution under a Nazi chief.

At the start of the story, Archer is working on what looks like a routine murder case, working under Gruppenführer Fritz Kellerman of the SS. However, that case leads him into encounters with people in the Resistance and he soon has a new assignment, working under an enemy of Kellerman's, Standartenführer Huth, also part of the SS, but under orders from Himmler. 

The people in the resistance who contact him want to rescue the King from the Tower of London and move him to the US. The powers in the US don't want the King to be in North America at all. And there are groups of Germans who are willing to help with any attempt to move the King out the UK. The plot has many twists and turns, and you never know who is trustworthy and who is not. 

My Thoughts:

I have mentioned often on this blog that Len Deighton is one of my favorite authors. I love his writing. This book is no exception. This book is more like his Nameless Spy series in that many of the characters remain a mystery to the reader (or at least to this one). In the Bernard Samson series of nine books you get to know the characters much more. 

Many of Deighton's novels are set in Germany, during the Cold War.  He has a great depth of knowledge of German history, including the years during World War II, so I trust his descriptions of the various German organizations, including the SS, the Gestapo, and the Wehrmacht (military). I find it really hard to keep up with all the military and other titles for the German characters, which is a problem I have with a lot of World War II novels. But that is not the author's fault.

This is a pretty depressing novel; it feels very real and scary. At about 3/4 of the way through I was sure that the story was not going to end well. I was only half right. The ending is ambiguous but hopeful. Nevertheless, I am so glad that I finally read this book, which has been on my TBR pile for 13 years.

We started watching the TV miniseries adaptation of this book (from 2017)  a couple of days after I finished reading the book. It was interesting to see this approach to the book. In the two episodes I have seen so far, it is pretty close to the book, and I like the actor playing Douglas Archer. 

Apparently there are many books depicting an alternate ending to World War II where the Nazis win the war. I have read The Man in the High Castle by Philip Dick, but I have not yet read Fatherland by Robert Harris. This Wikipeda article lists many such depictions in literature and film.

I liked this assessment from Mike Ripley's review at Shots Magazine:

Len Deighton’s SS-GB is a remarkable thriller, starting as a whodunit, morphing into a spy story and then a conspiracy thriller with global implications, but ultimately it is a novel about a decent man trying to do good job of upholding the law even as his world crumbles around him. 

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society: Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows


The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is an epistolary novel set in London and on Guernsey in 1946. Juliet Ashton, an author who lives in London, receives a letter from Dawsey Adams, a pig farmer who lives on Guernsey. Dawsey owns a copy of a book by Charles Lamb that Juliet once owned and wrote her name in. Dawsey asks her to recommend a bookshop in London which will sell him more books by Charles Lamb, as there are no bookshops on Guernsey after the war. He mentions the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society in his letter, and Juliet is intrigued by the Society and why it was formed. And thus a correspondence begins that eventually leads to many friendships.

This was the seventh book I read for the 20 Books of Summer challenge. In addition to being a historical fiction book about World War II, it is a book about books and celebrates reading. Thus it fits into the Bookish Books Reading Challenge. Many letters by the residents on Guernsey related their reading, what they read and why. 

My thoughts:

I enjoyed the story told through letters. In addition to Dawsey, Juliet writes to her editor, Sidney, and her best friend, Sophie, Sidney's younger sister who lives in Scotland. Once the correspondence with Dawsey Adams gets going, many other people on Guernsey start writing to Juliet, and she learns more about the book club and life on Guernsey during the war. I found reading about all of these people delightful, even the spiteful and entitled ones. 

Before reading this book, I was only vaguely aware of the German occupation of Guernsey during World War II, so I learned a lot from the book. Now I want to read some nonfiction on that subject. Any suggestions would be welcome.

I was appalled at the conditions on the island after the Germans took over. It wasn't just being under the rule of the Germans, but also the lack of food, which towards the end of the war affected the German soldiers also.

An incident that was especially distressing to read about was the evacuation of school children from the island. The parents had to decide whether it was better to have their children evacuated to some spot unknown in the UK or stay on Guernsey, and some parents did not hear from their evacuated children again until after the war.

Overall, I greatly enjoyed reading this book. The story about the war and the occupation was dark, but there were pleasant parts too, including the friendships on the island and how they supported each other. This book is not a mystery at all, but there are many small mysteries within the plot, and I enjoyed those. 


Publisher: Dial Press, 2009 (orig. publ. 2008)
Length:    291 pages
Format:    Trade paperback
Setting:    UK, London and Guernsey 
Genre:     Historical Fiction
Source:    Purchased at the Planned Parenthood Book Sale, 2018.

Friday, July 14, 2023

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter: Carson McCullers

When I first started reading this book, all I knew was that it was Carson McCullers' first book, that it was published in 1940 when she was 23, and that it was set in the Southern United States. I honestly think that it is best to go into this book with little knowledge, thus with no preconceptions. (So if you haven't read the book and plan to, you might want to skip this review.) But I did want to record my thoughts on the book. This is my book for the last Classic Club Spin and is also the fifth book I read for 20 Books of Summer.

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter is a novel set in a small town in Georgia during the Depression. It focuses on people who were very poor, having a hard time making ends meet, sometimes even without enough food for proper nourishment. The main characters are misfits or loners; people who don't fit in.

As the story starts, there are two deaf mutes in the town, John Singer and Spiros Antonapoulos. They are fast friends, and live together. After some time, Antonapoulos starts behaving irrationally and his cousin commits him to an asylum. Singer moves into a room in a boarding house. Whenever he can get away from his job, he takes a train to visit Antonapoulos at the asylum and takes food to him.

The boarding house that Singer lives in is run by the Kelly family. Mick Kelly is the fourth child of six in the Kelly family, 13 years old when the story begins. Her family is very poor and that only worsens throughout the book. She begins to visit Singer in his room. When she listens to his radio, she discovers that she loves music and wants to create it; she has neither the free time nor the money to learn how to do this. 

Biff Brannon is the owner of a small café. Singer eats dinner there every evening, the same dinner every night. Mick Kelly sometimes drops by to buy a small treat. As a business owner, Biff does not exactly fit the model of a misfit or loner, yet he also seeks out Singer as the one person he can talk to.

Jake Blount is a mechanic for a carnival, an alcoholic, a Marxist, and a trouble maker. One night Singer takes him home after he gets drunk at Biff's café, and Jake decides he is a friend. 

Dr. Benedict Mady Copeland is a Black physician who is estranged from his family. He wants to lead his people out of ignorance and improve their conditions, but he cannot even communicate with his own family. He also strikes up a relationship with Singer after he treats him courteously, the first white man to do so. 

John Singer is at the center of the story. We know little about him beyond his love for Antonapoulos. Yet one by one Mick, Biff, Jake, and Dr. Copeland come to him for support, even though Singer does not know what they want from him. They latch on to him as a savior or mentor.  They visit him in his boarding house room, and talk to him about their lives, their hopes, and their problems, and he just listens and nods.

This is just an  overview of the characters in the book. There is so much more to the story: other interesting characters and how they all interact; the interior lives of the main characters; the state of this part of the world at the time.

After I finished this book, I wasn't sure what I thought of it. It was a sad book, uncomfortable at times, but I was glad I had read the book. It is beautifully written and I was never bored. I liked reading about the unusual characters. The book and the characters stayed in my head long after I finished reading it.

The setting was intriguing because I was raised in Alabama. I don't remember that Georgia was specifically mentioned as the setting in the book, but I assume that there are pointers in the book to that. At first I thought the story might be set in Mississippi, because there is a Sardis Lake in Mississippi that I have been to; and there is mention of someone going to Biloxi, a coastal city in Mississippi. But there is also a Sardis Lake in Georgia. Regardless, this depiction of a small town in the southern US in the years before the US entered World War II was of great interest to me.


Publisher: Houghton Mifflin, 2000 (orig. publ. 1940)
Length:    359 pages
Format:    Trade paperback
Setting:    Georgia, USA, small town
Genre:     Fiction
Source:    Purchased at the Planned Parenthood Book Sale, 2019.

Tuesday, July 11, 2023

Short Story Wednesday: Playing Games ed. by Lawrence Block

Lawrence Block has edited a good number of short story anthologies. This is his most recent anthology, and the theme of this one is games. I read the first four stories and all of them I read were complex but not confusing, and very entertaining, each in their own way. 

Patricia Abbott's story, "Seek and You Shall Find," features the children's game of Hide and Seek. While shopping at a plant nursery, Kitty notices a man playing hide and seek with a young girl. To her, the behavior seems inappropriate. She thinks back to playing hide and seek in her family home, and the small hidden area in the closet that she had discovered. Later in the day, she sees the man and the girl at a resale shop; the girl is trying on a dress that the man buys for her. She thinks that the man may be preying on the girl, and informs the local police department of her concerns. Days later, the man confronts her and insists she has jumped to the wrong conclusion, but has she? The ending is left open, and I was fine with that.

"Game Over" by Charles Ardai involves video games and two teenage boys who play them whenever they have some quarters. A man working at the video store plots to steal the money from the video machines, and blame the theft on one of the boys. A sad story.

"King's Row" by S. A. Cosby uses the game of checkers. It is a short, bleak story about Maurice, an ex-con just released from prison for bank robbery. He goes looking for the only person who knows how to get access to the loot, Calvin Parrish, and finds him in a sanitarium. The two men play a game of checkers, while Maurice tries to convince Parrish to share the information with him. Along the way we learn more about Maurice, Parrish, and their families and fellow bank robbers. A very clever story.

Jeffery Deaver's “The Babysitter” involves Candyland (and other children's board games). This is the longest story in the book at 32 pages. There are four main characters: Kellie, a teenage babysitter; Rachel and Erik Winston who she babysits for; and a hit man, Michael. The story takes several twists and turns, and is told with humor.

This anthology has a total of 21 stories, so I have 17 more to read. If all of them are as good as these, I have a lot to look forward to. The Introduction by Lawrence Block was a pleasure to read. 

Two recent reviews of this anthology and some stories in the book are at Patricia Abbott's blog and George Kelley's blog. George's post includes the Table of Contents, if you would like to check out all the authors included.

Saturday, July 8, 2023

My reading in May and June 2023

In May and June, I read a total of 17 books. Two were nonfiction, and two were general fiction, both from my Classics Club list.

The other 13 books were crime fiction. Two of those were short story books that I was finishing up from previous months. 

In June I started on my 20 Books of Summer list and read 6 from that list. I have even posted my thoughts on four of those. 

So here are the books I read.

Nonfiction / Health

Hello, Sleep (2023) by Jade Wu

The focus of this book is insomnia. The subtitle is "The Science and Art of Overcoming Insomnia Without Medications." The book offers a self-guided program that helps change a person's sleeping patterns and behavior using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I). The book was extremely interesting to me and I learned a lot from it.

Nonfiction / Books about Books

Book Lust to Go (2010) by Nancy Pearl

My third read of this book, and I enjoyed it every time I read it. This time I read it specifically for the Bookish Books Reading Challenge and to look for some books for the Wanderlust Challenge at FictionFan's Book Reviews, which I am planning to start working on (after 20 Books of Summer).


The Optimist's Daughter (1972) by Eudora Welty

I read this book for the Classics Club Spin #33. The book is very short, 180 pages in the edition I read. It was published in 1972 and won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1973. Welty was a well-known author of Southern fiction but she only wrote five novels, between 1946 and 1972. See my thoughts here.

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (1940) by Carson McCullers

I read this book for the Classics Club Spin #34 and it is also on my 20 Books of Summer list. How lucky was that? I liked the book a lot, and will be reviewing it in July.

Crime Fiction

Murder by the Book: Mysteries for Bibliophiles (2021) ed. by Martin Edwards

Murder by the Book is a short story anthology edited by Martin Edwards. It is a part of the British Library Crime Classics series, published in the US by Poisoned Pen Press. I reviewed some of the stories in this book here and here.

Paper Chase (1989) by Bob Cook

This is a humorous book about four old spies who retired years ago, and only get together at the funerals of other old friends who were intelligence agents. They are forbidden to publish their memoirs, and they decide to deal with this by writing and publishing a fictional story based on their memoirs. I enjoyed the book, it was short and fun but serious enough. And I love the cover.

Slough House (2021) and

Bad Actors (2022) by Mick Herron

Books 7 and 8 in the Slow Horses series. Mick Herron is an author that has never disappointed me. The "slow horses" are MI5 agents who have been demoted due to some disgrace or screw up in their jobs, and are now working under Jackson Lamb. Amazingly, this is one series I have kept current with. I love the writing, the characters, and the plots get better and better.

Murder is Easy (1939) by Agatha Christie

This is one of Christie's standalone mysteries, published in 1939. It isn't one of her best, but most books by Christie are worth reading, and this one was fun and entertaining. Luke Fitzwilliam, a retired policeman, returns to England after several years in the East. He is on a train when he meets Miss Fullerton, an elderly woman on her way to Scotland Yard to report some murders in her village. Later, when he finds that Miss Fullerton was killed in a hit-and-run accident in London, and that the man that she thought was going to be the next murder victim had also died recently, he goes to her village to investigate. 

Killers of a Certain Age (2022) by Deanna Raybourn

This story is about four older women who have worked for years as assassins. The organization that hired and trained them is the Museum, and now the Museum has turned against them and ordered their deaths. At first I was reluctant to read this book because I have had problems with books centered around hitmen, but I had heard so much about this one, I had to try it. I loved this book, and I regret that I did not have time to review it. 

Dolphin Junction: Stories (2021) by Mick Herron

This collection was published in 2021 and features 11 short stories previously published between 2006 and 2019. There are four stories about the Oxford wife-and-husband detective team of Zoë Boehm and Joe Silvermann, characters from Herron's Oxford Investigations series, plus a story about Jackson Lamb, top agent in the Slow Horses series, which goes back to a time in the past when he had an assignment in Berlin. There are also six short stories with no connection to any of his novels. I reviewed some of the stories in this book here and here.

Clark and Division (2021) by Naomi Hirahama

This is the first book I have read that gave me any insight into the internment of Japanese Americans into "relocation camps" during World War II. In this novel, the Ito family are sent to Manzanar shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Later they are resettled in Chicago, far from their original home Southern California. The oldest daughter was sent to Chicago first, and when the rest of the family arrives, they find that she has committed suicide. This was a good read, and it inspires me to read more about the subject. The second book in this series, Evergreen, will be published on August 1, 2023. In that book, the Ito family has been allowed to return home to California.

The Mitford Murders (2017) by Jessica Fellowes

The first book in a series set among the Mitford family, in 1920.  My review here.

Mindful of Murder (2022) by Susan Juby

Helen Thorpe returns to the Yatra Institute, a spiritual retreat where she used to work, after the owner of the institute dies. The author is Canadian and the setting is one of British Columbia’s gulf islands. My review here.

Our Man in Camelot (1975) by Anthony Price

This is the 6th book in the David Audley series, a Cold War espionage series usually set in the UK. See my thoughts here.

A Dying Fall (2012) by Elly Griffiths

This was the fifth book in the popular Ruth Galloway series, which features a forensic archaeologist living in Norfolk in an isolated cottage on the saltmarsh. Since both this book and Our Man in Camelot centered around the Arthurian legend, I combined my reviews in one post.

Sworn to Silence (2009) by Linda Castillo

I had been putting off reading this 1st book in the Kate Burkholder series, another very popular mystery series, set in an Amish town in Ohio. Kate Burkholder is the police chief of the town. One of her deputies finds the body of a dead girl who has been raped and mutilated. I thought this book would have too much graphic violence and tension. It was not too tense (for me) and I loved the characters. The violence was a bit too much for me, but I will be reading more of this series. 


The images at the top and bottom of the post were taken in May, when we visited Alice Keck Park Memorial Garden, a small park in Santa Barbara. It covers only one city block, but has lots of paths to walk around on, and is a favorite for dog walkers. For three years when our son was very young, we lived across the street on Garden Street. It was the only time we have lived in the city rather than an unincorporated area.

My husband took the photos. Click on the images for the best viewing quality.

Monday, July 3, 2023

Two books for 20 Books of Summer — Anthony Price and Elly Griffiths

This month I read two books from my 20 Books of Summer list that had a major plot line centered around the King Arthur legend. I did not realize that when I put them on the list, and it was serendipitous that I decided to read them one after the other. 

The first book was Our Man in Camelot by Anthony Price. This is the 6th book in the David Audley series, a Cold War espionage series set in the UK (usually), often featuring some historical element in the plot. The series was written during the Cold War years; this one was published in 1975.

Audley, an agent in the Research and Development Section of the Britain's Intelligence Services, has taken an extended leave from his job—with his wife and young child—to finish a historical research project. CIA agents posing as husband and wife plan to dupe Audley into helping them find the location of Badon Hill, considered to have been the site of King Arthur's most important battle. You might ask why? Somehow it is connected to a US Air Force plane that vanished on a flight from its base in Britain. Since this is an espionage book, you never know exactly what anyone's goal is. 

Price's espionage books are slow and thoughtful and this one was very talky with little action, but it was a great read. 

The second book was A Dying Fall by Elly Griffiths.

This was the fifth book in the Ruth Galloway series, which features a forensics archaeologist living in Norfolk in an isolated cottage on the saltmarsh. 

From the flyleaf of the edition I read:

Ruth Galloway is shocked when she learns that her old university friend Dan Golding has died tragically in a house fire. But the death takes on a sinister cast when Ruth receives a letter from Dan written just before he died.

The letter tells of a great archaeological discovery, but Dan also says that he is scared for his life. Was Dan’s death linked to his find? The only clue is his mention of the Raven King, an ancient name for King Arthur.

Ruth travels with her young daughter Kate to Blackpool in Lancashire to take part in the assessment of the archeological dig and the bones found by her friend Dan. The investigation is exciting to Ruth, but it is hampered by academic intrigue and rivalries at Dan's college. Also, Kate's father is a policeman who is married with teenage children; he also ends up in Blackpool, where he grew up.

In the past I have had reservations about this series, but the characters and the stories are beginning to grow on me. In addition, the experience of reading about the research behind the Arthurian legend in Anthony Price's book enhanced my enjoyment of this book, which discussed some of the same documents and historians. 

These books were my third and fourth books read for 20 Books of Summer.

Saturday, July 1, 2023

Mindful of Murder: Susan Juby

 From the flyleaf of the book:

Meet Helen Thorpe. She’s smart, preternaturally calm, deeply insightful and a freshly trained butler. On the day she is supposed to start her career as an unusually equanimous domestic professional serving one of the wealthiest families in the world, she is called back to a spiritual retreat where she used to work, the Yatra Institute, on one of British Columbia’s gulf islands. The owner of the lodge, Helen’s former employer Edna, has died while on a three-month silent self-retreat, leaving Helen instructions to settle her affairs.

Per Edna's lawyers, Helen's role is to choose the next person to run the Yatra Institute. The candidates are four of Edna's relatives, two great-nephews and two great-nieces. Helen has been given criteria to judge them for this job, based on how they succeed in three courses at the institute: flower arranging, Devi dance, and meditation classes. Two of Helen's classmates in her butler training volunteer to join Helen at the Yatra Institute, to help her set up the courses and care for the four guests.

Three of the cousins that are being evaluated come from a privileged background, and resent being in the situation of being judged. The fourth cousin was discovered at the last minute by the lawyers and is unknown to the rest of the family. She is very unusual, but also likable, and more amenable to being tested. None of the relatives know how they will be judged or what they will get out of the "test" if they succeed.

Meanwhile, the police have determined that Edna committed suicide; Helen is surprised but she knows that this is a possible explanation. Later Helen receives new information, and begins to believe that Edna was murdered. This complicates her main mission, which is to complete the training and choose a person to take over the Institute. 


I like books by Canadian authors, and especially if the setting is in Canada. I discovered this book  at Bill Selnes' blog, Mysteries and More from Saskatchewan. The premise of the book appealed to me instantly. In addition to featuring men and women trained to be butlers, it also had a theme of mindfulness and presence in the moment.

This sounds like an unusual mystery and it is. I like mysteries with unique sleuths and a different approach. The Prologue describes Edna's death and the reader knows it is murder. However it takes others, including law enforcement officials, quite a while to figure this out. Helen has no experience at investigating a death, and doesn't really want to, but no one else is willing to do it. 

This is a light story, sort of a cozy, with a lovely setting. Some of the characters are charming and likable; others (most of Edna's relatives) are extremely unlikable, demanding and entitled. All of the characters, including the class instructors and others on the island, are interesting, each with their own approach to life. It was a lot of fun to read. The references to Buddhist beliefs and mindfulness in the story were an extra bonus for me.


Publisher:  HarperCollins, 2022.
Length:      448 pages
Format:      Trade Paper
Setting:      British Columbia, Canada
Genre:       Mystery
Source:      I purchased my copy.