Saturday, September 30, 2023

My Husband's Books from the 2023 Book Sale

Below are a few of the books that my husband found at the annual Planned Parenthood Book Sale this year.  The sale lasts about 10 days; the first few days and the last few days are the busiest; we went five times this year. Mainly, he focuses on photography, architecture, and performing arts; books about history; then fiction, including mysteries and science fiction.

Under the Greenwood Tree (1872) by Thomas Hardy

My husband's comments on this book:

I recently read A Month in the Country and liked it for its quiet tone and nostalgic mood. 

The introduction to the edition I read mentioned Thomas Hardy's short novel Under the Greenwood Tree as very similar in tone and mood so I made a point of looking for the Hardy work at the book sale. 

And I was very happy to find it.

The Whalebone Theatre (2022) by Joanna Quinn

Summary on the book cover:

One blustery night in 1928, a whale washes up on the shores of the English Channel. By law, it belongs to the King, but twelve-year-old orphan Cristabel Seagrave has other plans. She and the rest of the household—her sister, Flossie; her brother, Digby, long-awaited heir to Chilcombe manor; Maudie Kitcat, kitchen maid; Taras, visiting artist—build a theatre from the beast’s skeletal rib cage. Within the Whalebone Theatre, Cristabel can escape her feckless stepparents and brisk governesses, and her imagination comes to life.

As Cristabel grows into a headstrong young woman, World War II rears its head. She and Digby become British secret agents on separate missions in Nazi-occupied France—a more dangerous kind of playacting, it turns out, and one that threatens to tear the family apart.

Ten Years in the Tub (2013) by Nick Hornby

Back in 2003, Nick Hornby started writing a monthly column for The Believer, "Stuff I’ve Been Reading.” Ten Years in the Tub includes all of the columns Hornby had written through June 2013. Each month he lists the books he bought, the books he read, and talks about the books he read and other miscellaneous topics. I read some of the earlier columns years ago, and enjoyed them.

Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy (2015) by Karen Abbott

The subtitle of this book is: "Four Women Undercover in the Civil War."

This is a nonfiction book about four women who were spies during the Civil War. Two of them worked for the Confederate side, two worked for the Union. 

The following details are from the publisher's website:

After shooting a Union soldier in her front hall with a pocket pistol, Belle Boyd became a courier and spy for the Confederate army, using her charms to seduce men on both sides. Emma Edmonds cut off her hair and assumed the identity of a man to enlist as a Union private, witnessing the bloodiest battles of the Civil War. The beautiful widow, Rose O’Neale Greenhow, engaged in affairs with powerful Northern politicians to gather intelligence for the Confederacy, and used her young daughter to send information to Southern generals. Elizabeth Van Lew, a wealthy Richmond abolitionist, hid behind her proper Southern manners as she orchestrated a far-reaching espionage ring, right under the noses of suspicious rebel detectives.

Soldier, Sailor, Frogman, Spy, Airman, Gangster, Kill or Die (2019) by Giles Milton

The subtitle of this book is: "How the Allies Won on D-Day." My husband just started reading this book yesterday. If he likes it, I will be reading it too. 

Book details from the publisher's website:

A ground-breaking account of the first 24 hours of the D-Day invasion told by a symphony of incredible accounts of unknown and unheralded members of the Allied – and Axis – forces.


Giles Milton’s bold new history narrates the events of June 6th, 1944 through the tales of survivors from all sides: the teenage Allied conscript, the crack German defender, the French resistance fighter. From the military architects at Supreme Headquarters to the young schoolboy in the Wehrmacht’s bunkers, Soldier, Sailor, Frogman, Spy, Airman, Gangster, Kill or Die lays bare the absolute terror of those trapped in the front line of Operation Overlord. It also gives voice to those who have hitherto remained unheard – the French butcher’s daughter, the Panzer Commander’s wife, the chauffeur to the General Staff.

Atlantic (2010) by Simon Winchester

The subtitle of this book is: "Great Sea Battles, Heroic Discoveries, Titanic Storms and a Vast Ocean of a Million Stories." 

From the description on the book dust jacket:

Atlantic is a biography of a tremendous space that has been central to the ambitions of explorers, scientists, and warriors, and continues profoundly to affect our character, attitudes, and dreams.....

Spanning the ocean's story from its geological origins to the age of exploration, from World War II battles to today's struggles with pollution and overfishing, his narrative is epic, intimate, and awe inspiring.....

Atlantic is the summation of Winchester's years of research and travel—from the rocky outcrops of the Faroes to the effervescent ports of Argentina and Brazil to the slave castles of West Africa and the seaside villages of Ireland. More than a mere history, this is an unforgettable journey of unprecedented scope by one of the most gifted writers in the English language.

Have you had any experience with these books or these authors? We would love to hear about it, if you have.

Thursday, September 28, 2023

My Son's Books from the 2023 Book Sale


The books showcased in this post are a selection from my son's purchases at the book sale. He reads mostly fantasy, science fiction, and nonfiction. 

The Planned Parenthood Book Sale ran from September 15th through September 24th, over two weekends. We visited five times. My son usually selects books that look appealing and sound interesting, often by authors new to him. 

Winning Mars (2010) by Jason Stoddard

Jere Gutierrez is the head of a television network, Neteno, that specializes in reality shows. Unfortunately, the network is failing. Evan McMaster comes to Jere with an idea for saving the network: they will create a new reality show and take it to Mars. All they need is funding.

This book was reviewed at by Michael M Jones.

At the Table of Wolves (2017) by Kay Kenyon

This is the first book in the Dark Talents series, which now totals three books.

Description at the publisher's website:

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy meets Agent Carter meets X-Men in this classic British espionage story where a young woman must go undercover and use her superpowers to discover a secret Nazi plot and stop an invasion of England.

In 1936, there are paranormal abilities that have slowly seeped into the world, brought to the surface by the suffering of the Great War. The research to weaponize these abilities in England has lagged behind Germany, but now it’s underway at an ultra-secret site called Monkton Hall.

Night of the Living Trekkies (2010) by Kevin David Anderson and Sam Stall

This story is set at a Star Trek convention, and features a zombie takeover. From reviews I have read, it satisfies both Zombie fans and Star Trek fans.

We have been watching a lot of Star Trek lately (Voyager, Strange New Worlds, Discovery), so I think I will be reading this one also. Publisher's Weekly gave it a starred review when it came out, and Charles Gramlich liked it, so I am even more convinced it will be a good read. See Gramlich's review at his blog, Razored Zen.

Butcher Bird (2007) by Richard Kadrey

Description from the back of the book:

Spyder Lee is a happy man. He lives in San Francisco and owns a tattoo shop. He has his favorite drinking buddy, Lulu Garou, and other friends all over town. One night a pissed-off demon tries to bite his head off and he's saved by a stranger—a small, blind woman with a sword as wicked as her smile. After that, Spyder’s life is turned upside down.

The demon infected Spyder with something awful—the truth. He can suddenly see the world as it really is: full of angels and demons and monsters and monster-hunters; a world full of black magic and mysteries. 

Ghosts of Gotham (2019) by Craig Schaefer

This book is described as an urban fantasy. The summary from the back of the book follows:

Irresistibly drawn to mysteries, if only to debunk them, reporter Lionel Page exposes supernatural frauds, swindlers, and charlatans. His latest case is an obsession—at least for an ancient and wealthy heiress: verify the authenticity of a lost Edgar Allan Poe manuscript circulating through New York City’s literary underworld. But the shrewd Regina Dunkle offers more than money. It’s a pact. Fulfill her request, and Lionel’s own notorious buried past, one he’s been running from since he was a child, will remain hidden.

The Four Fingers of Death (2010) by Rick Moody 

A science fiction novel from the author of The Ice Storm. Summary from the back of the book:

Montese Crandall is a downtrodden writer whose rare collection of baseball cards won't sustain him, financially or emotionally, through the grave illness of his wife. Luckily, he swindles himself a job churning out a novelization of the 2025 remake of a 1963 horror classic, "The Crawling Hand." Crandall tells therein of the United States, in a bid to regain global eminence, launching at last its doomed manned mission to the desolation of Mars. Three space pods with nine Americans on board travel three months, expecting to spend three years as the planet's first colonists. When a secret mission to retrieve a flesh-eating bacterium for use in bio-warfare is uncovered, mayhem ensues.

This sounds like a book within a book, with Montese Crandall's story the framing story, and the novelization of The Crawling Hand being the book within. But from descriptions and reviews it is hard to tell. It is over 700 pages long.

Have you had any experience with these books or these authors? We would love to hear about it, if you have.

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Short Story Wednesday: Book Sale purchases, 2023



The Planned Parenthood book sale ended on Sunday, and I bought a lot of short story books. Today I am featuring five of them. As I started working on this post, I realized that all of these books are by authors that I have never read before, in any format. 

Dressing Up for the Carnival (2000) by Carol Shields

The first book is stories by a Canadian author, Carol Shields. I am always on the lookout for new Canadian authors to read. 

The stories here are fairly short; there are 22 stories and the book is 210 pages long, so the average story is around 9 pages.

I also purchased The Republic of Love by this author at the book sale.

You Think It, I'll Say It (2018) by Curtis Sittenfeld

This was the first short story collection by Sittenfeld. 

From the description on the dust jacket flap: "Throughout the ten stories in You Think It, I’ll Say It, Sittenfeld upends assumptions about class, relationships, and gender roles in a nation that feels both adrift and viscerally divided." 

I also purchased American Wife and Sisterland by this author at the book sale this year.

Birds of America (1998) by Lorrie Moore

This was Lorrie Moore's third short story collection. Some of the reviews I read emphasized dark humor, and sad or depressing stories. So to balance that, I thought I would include this from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

“Bats, flamingos, crows, performing ducks and bird feeders crop up in every story, but the real subject is human nature and the myriad ways Moore’s characters flock together or fly apart in the face of change, stasis or grief. . . . Gorgeous. . . . Rarely has a writer achieved such consistency, humor and compassion.” 

Twelve stories in 291 pages, so each story averages about 25 pages. 

Island: The Complete Stories (2000) by Alistair MacLeod

This is another Canadian author. I don't know much about Alistair MacLeod, but I do know that his short stories are acclaimed by many. I believe all the short stories in this book are set on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia.

This post at Buried in Print talks about Alistair MacLeod's short stories, and I think that all of the short stories in this book are reviewed on that blog.

All Aunt Hagar's Children (2006) by Edward P. Jones

I was not aware of this author until I heard about his stories at one of the Short Story Wednesday posts at Patricia Abbott's blog

From the description on the dust jacket flap: "Returning to the city that inspired his first prizewinning book, Lost in the City, Jones has filled this new collection with people who call Washington, D.C., home. Yet it is not the city's power brokers that most concern him but rather its ordinary citizens. All Aunt Hagar's Children turns an unflinching eye to the men, women, and children caught between the old ways of the South and the temptations that await them further north, people who in Jones's masterful hands, emerge as fully human and morally complex, whether they are country folk used to getting up with the chickens or people with centuries of education behind them."

This is Jones's second collection of stories; it is the longest book on this list, at 399 pages.

Friday, September 22, 2023

Books Read in August 2023

I read nine books in August and completed all of the books on my 20 Books of Summer list. I did not review them all, but did better than usual in that area. I read four nonfiction books, although three of them were shorter books. All of the books I read in August were very good.

Graphic Nonfiction 

Number One is Walking: My Life in the Movies and Other Diversions (2022) 

by Steve Martin, Drawings by Harry Bliss

This is a short and entertaining graphic memoir, in which Steve Martin, star of many films and currently starring in the TV series Only Murders in the Building, tells selected stories about his career in the movies. That portion of the book is supplemented by cartoons drawn by Harry Bliss. This book was his second collaboration with Harry Bliss; the first was A Wealth of Pigeons: A Cartoon Collection.

A Fire Story (2019) by Brian Fies

Brian Flies tells the story of his and his wife's escape from the Tubbs fire that engulfed their home in Santa Rosa, and their experiences following the fire, with all their possessions gone. My review here.

Nonfiction / Letters 

84, Charing Cross Road (1970) by Helene Hanff

I loved reading this very brief book of letters between Helene Hanff in New York City and Frank Doel in London, starting in October 1949. My review here.

Nonfiction / History

Operation Mincemeat: How a Dead Man and a Bizarre Plan Fooled the Nazis and Assured an Allied Victory (2010) 

by Ben Macintyre

This is an extremely well-written history telling the story of Operation Mincemeat, a plan to deceive the Germans related to the next target that the Allies planned to attack. Sicily was the most obvious target, but intelligence agents wanted to convince the enemy that the attack would be on Greece or Sardinia. My review here.

Science Fiction

The Last Colony (2007) by John Scalzi

This book is the third in the Old Man's War series; the first two books are military science fiction, which I did not think I would like, but I did. This entry in the series was an interesting combination of a story about the colonization of a planet and the resulting effort to protect the planet from a group that wants to annihilate it. I rated The Last Colony higher than the other two, but I read the first two books ten years ago. Maybe I am a more generous grader of books now (which I would just as soon not do anyway), or maybe I liked the emphasis on people and relationships in this one.

Crime Fiction

The Mulberry Bush (2015) by Charles McCarry

This is the last novel that Charles McCarry published before his death in 2019. It is a standalone spy story 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. My review here.

Sleep and His Brother (1971) by Peter Dickinson

This is the fourth in a series about Jimmy Pibble. In the first two books, he was a Scotland Yard detective; now he has been forced into retirement. His wife is a volunteer for a charitable institution and asks him to look into a problem they are having. There are vague supernatural elements, which is not surprising since Dickenson was a well-known author of fantasy books. The book is very short, around 200 pages, but very dense, not an easy read at all. I loved the story and the writing.

The Doomsday Carrier (1976) by Victor Canning

This was another short book, under 200 pages, and the fourth book in a loose series called the Birdcage books. They all revolve around a covert security group in the UK, a branch of the Ministry of Defense. A chimpanzee has escaped from the facility where it had been infected with plague bacillus, with the goal of creating an infectious carrier of the disease after a three week incubation period. The story follows the chimpanzee as it continues to elude capture, and two people who hope to catch it and return it to the facility before it becomes contagious. Concerns are addressed about the ethics of doing this kind of research and the dishonesty of government officials in trying to keep the truth from the public.

A Man's Head (1931) by Georges Simenon

There are 75 novels featuring Inspector Maigret, and each of those that I have read is different. Maigret often behaves strangely, at least for a policeman of his rank. In this case, Maigret arranges the escape of a condemned murderer from prison. The man, Joseph Heurtin, was convicted of having killed a rich American woman and her French maid. Maigret is sure that Huertin could not have done the crime, even though the proof of his guilt is strong. He plans to have the man followed once he escapes, and see if he will lead the police to the real culprit. Maigret gets very personally involved in this one. An alternate title for this book is A Battle of Nerves, which is definitely an accurate description. The Maigret novels are always good reads, brief, and usually with some humor.

Currently reading

For my Classics List, I am reading I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith; I have read about half the book. This book is the starting book for Six Degrees of Separation in October, and is on my Classics List. 

The annual Planned Parenthood Book Sale started on September 15th. We have been to the book sale several times since it started, and will go again on Sunday, the last day of the sale. I have bought way too many books, so maybe I won't find too many more to buy.

The photos at the top of this post are of the Silver-leafed Princess Flower plants in our front flower beds. Last month's photos showed the first purple blooms on the plants. The photos in this post show the plant in full bloom. 

The photo immediately above is a flower on our Butterfly bush. The plant has done very well and gotten taller than we expected.

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

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.