Sunday, July 21, 2024

My Result for the Classics Club Spin #38

 

The  result of the Classics Club Spin was announced today, and the number was 17, so I will be reading My Ántonia by Willa Cather sometime in August.



This is the summary from my edition:

Ántonia Shimerda is the daughter of Bohemian immigrants struggling with the oceanic loneliness of life on the Nebraska prairie. Through the eyes of Jim Burden, her tutor and disappointed admirer, we follow Ántonia from farm to town as she survives hardships both natural and human, from hardscrabble poverty to a failed romance–and not only survives, but triumphs.


I am looking forward to reading this book. It will be the first one I have read by Willa Cather, and I have heard many good things about her writing.


Thursday, July 18, 2024

Classics Club Spin #38, July 2024


The latest Classics Club Spin has been announced. To join in, I have chosen twenty books from my classics list. On Sunday, 21st July, 2024, the Classics Club will post a number from 1 through 20. The goal is to read whatever book falls under that number on this Spin List by Sunday, 22nd September, 2024.


So, here is my list of 20 books for the spin...


  1. Edna Ferber – Show Boat (1926)
  2. Patricia Highsmith – The Talented Mr.Ripley (1955)
  3. Shirley Jackson – We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962)
  4. Madeleine L'Engle – A Wrinkle in Time (1962)
  5. William Shakespeare – Much Ado About Nothing (1598)
  6. Mary Shelley – Frankenstein (1818)
  7. John Steinbeck – Cannery Row (1945)
  8. William Thackeray – Vanity Fair (1848)
  9. Oscar Wilde – The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890)
  10. Virginia Woolf – Flush (1933)
  11. Chinua Achebe – Things Fall Apart (1958)
  12. Roald Dahl – Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1964)
  13. Charlotte Brontë – Jane Eyre (1847) 
  14. Anne Brontë – Agnes Grey (1847)
  15. Albert Camus – The Stranger (1942)
  16. Lewis Carroll – Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865)
  17. Willa Cather – My Ántonia (1918)
  18. Kenneth Grahame – The Wind in the Willows (1908)
  19. Graham Greene – Our Man in Havana (1958)
  20. Ray Bradbury – Fahrenheit 451 (1953)


This is almost exactly the same list as I used last time, so no surprises here. Are there any of these you especially liked... or disliked?


Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Short Story Wednesday – Valentino: Film Detective


This week I read three stories from Valentino: Film Detective by Loren D. Estleman, published by Crippen & Landru in 2011. The collection contains 14 short stories, all starring Valentino. He is no relation to the actor, Rudolph Valentino, but he does look like him and is constantly getting comments noting that resemblance. All of the stories in this book were originally published in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine between 1998 and 2010.

On Estleman's website, Valentino is described as "a film detective for UCLA who inadvertently becomes an amateur sleuth." 

The first story I read, "Dark Lady Down," was a bit of a disappointment. It was one of the shorter stories, and it is solved too quickly. But the next two stories in the book were very good so I have high expectations for the rest of the stories.

In "The Frankenstein Footage" Valentino gets a call from an old friend, Craig Hunter, who is in San Diego. He assumes he is asking for money as usual and hangs up on him. The next morning two homicide detectives from San Diego come to see him. Craig Hunter was murdered the previous night, beaten to death. He answers their questions. After they leave he does some investigating on his own. 

In "Director's Cut" Valentino is trying to complete the Film Preservation Department's collection of Justin Ring's films. He is seeking a copy of the director's student film. The director insists that he burned every print and the negative years before. Months later Justin Ring's motor craft is lost at sea. Eight years later Ring's nephew shows up with a copy. This one got a bit confusing for me but it was interesting and entertaining.

The stories are told with humor, and Estleman reveals his love of movies and deep knowledge of film history. 


Loren D. Estleman is a very prolific and well-known author who has been publishing novels since 1976. He has published seven mystery novels starring Valentino since 2008. He is also the author of the Amos Walker series, the Peter Macklin series, and many standalone novels, including many Western novels. He lives in Michigan. 


Monday, July 15, 2024

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry: Gabrielle Zevin

 

As the story opens, A.J. Fikry is a widower. His wife died 21 months earlier and left him to run their book store on Alice Island, Massachusetts. The book store is not doing well. And then his prized possession, a very valuable copy of Tamerlane, is stolen. Shortly after that, a small child, two-year-old Maya, is left in A.J.'s store, and that event changes his life forever.

Now this sounds like it could be a very smaltzy novel (and maybe for some readers it is) but because it is set in a book store and because the author is Gabrielle Zevin, I decided to give it a chance. I had not even read a book by Zevin at that time, so I don't know why that influenced my decision.


I loved this book. It is a book about books; the protagonist is the owner and manager of a book shop. There are many mentions of books of all types. The characters also talk about the types of books they like and why. 

A.J. is very prejudiced in his likes and dislikes at the beginning of the book, and in some cases will not purchase books for his book store unless he likes them. 

He is exceptionally rude to the new sales representative from Knightley Press, Amelia Loman. He gives her a long list of types of books he does not like. She tells him...

"Do you want my opinion?"

"Not particularly," he says. "What are you, twenty-five?"

"Mr. Fikry, this is a lovely store, but if you continue in this this this"—as a child, she stuttered and it occasionally returns when she is upset; she clears her throat—"this backward way of thinking, there won't be an Island Books before too long."


Each chapter begins with a review or description of a short story, sort of like diary entries, with notes. I loved that element of the book. The first chapter begins with a mini-review of "Lamb to the Slaughter" by Roald Dahl. There were 13 chapters, thus 13 stories. I have only read three of the stories, and most of the others I would like to read someday.


It turns out that I enjoyed the book just as much for the development of the relationships in the book and the look at a community on a small island. A.J. Fikry is the focal point of the story, but other characters and their relationships are also important, and more and more about these characters is revealed as the story continues.

There is a lovely scene when A.J. meets Officer Lambiase after the death of A.J.'s wife. A.J. tells Lambiase that they are characters in a novel:

My wife and I,” A.J. replied without thinking.  “Oh, Christ, I just did that stupid thing where the character forgets that the spouse has died and he accidentally uses ‘we’.  That’s such a cliché.  Officer” – he paused to read the cop’s badge – “Lambiase, you and I are characters in a bad novel.  Do you know that?  How the heck did we end up here?  You’re probably thinking to yourself, Poor bastard, and tonight you’ll hug your kids extra tight because that’s what characters in these kinds of novels do. ”

They begin to discuss books they have read and Lambiase reads mostly crime fiction and especially likes Jeffrey Deaver's Lincoln Rhyme series. Over time, Lambiase and A.J. get to know each other better, discuss books they like, and Lambiase begins to enjoy different types of books and other genres. 


This book has humor and some mystery and a bit of romance, and I am very glad I read it.


-----------------------------

Publisher:  Abacus Books, 2015 (orig. publ. 2014)
Length:      306 pages
Format:      Trade paperback
Setting:      USA, Massachusetts
Genre:        Fiction, Books about Books
Source:      I purchased my copy in December 2023.


Thursday, July 11, 2024

18th Annual Canadian Reading Challenge

 

The Canadian Book Challenge was started in 2007 by John Mutford at the Book Mine Set blog (no longer available?). Now the challenge is hosted by Shonna at Canadian Bookworm. Between 2012, when I started blogging, and 2022, I participated in five Canadian Reading Challenges; now I am back for my sixth attempt.

The goal is to read and review 13 or more Canadian books in a one year span: from Canada Day, July 1st, 2024, to Canada Day eve, June 30th, 2025. Reviews posted online are required. (That is the hard part for me.)


What constitutes a Canadian book?

For this challenge, Canadian books are books written by Canadian authors (by birth or immigration) or about Canadians. The books can include any genre or form (picture books, poetry, novels, non-fiction, plays, anthologies, graphic novels, cookbooks, etc).

See the signup post for more information. 


What will I read?

I am currently reading a book for this challenge, A Cast of Falcons by Steve Burrows. Steve Burrows is a Canadian author but the books are set in the UK. 


Other books I plan to read are:

  • Kelley Armstrong – The Poisoner's Ring: A Rip Through Time Novel
  • Anthony Bidulka – Flight of Aquavit
  • Gail Bowen – Verdict in Blood
  • Louise Penny  –  A Great Reckoning
  • Alexandra Pratt – Lost Lands, Forgotten Stories
  • Robin Spano – Dead Politician Society
  • Michael van Rooy – An Ordinary Decent Criminal
  • L. R. Wright – Fall From Grace 
  • Iona Whishaw – Death In A Darkening Mist


Other Canadian authors I have on my shelves (or on the Kindle) are:

  • Vicky Delany
  • J. Robert Janes
  • Maureen Jennings
  • Dietrich Kalteis
  • Thomas King
  • Emily St. John Mandel
  • Margaret Millar
  • Anna Porter
  • Sam Wiebe
  • Eric Wright


Friday, July 5, 2024

Books Read in May 2024

 


I read more books than I expected to in May, a total of nine books. Those books included a graphic novel, a book on my classics club list, a science fiction book, and a time travel book.

Graphic novel

The Book Tour (2019) by Andi Watson

This is a graphic novel with a Kafkaesque storyline. A man goes on a book tour with a suitcase of his books. The suitcase is stolen, so he has no books to sell or sign. He goes to book signing after book signing where no one turns up to see him. A confusing story, but I liked it, both the story and the art.


Fiction

The Lincoln Highway (2021) by Amor Towles

I started this book in April and it took me 10 days to read it. It was the only book on my list that I did not enjoy reading. It is about three young men, all 18 years old, traveling across the United States. The main character, Emmett, has a younger brother, Billy, who is traveling with them. Emmett's plan is to drive from his childhood home in Nebraska to Texas, but the trip eventually leads them in a different direction. All of that sounds good but I did not really grow to like any of the main characters. Yet I found the ending to be satisfying.


The Warden (1859) by Anthony Trollope

I read this for the last Classics Club spin, and I was happy to finally read something by Trollope. This one is the first book in the Chronicles of Barsetshire, and I will be reading more in that series. See my review here.


Science Fiction

The Kaiju Preservation Society (2022) by John Scalzi

This is simply a very fun and funny science fiction novel. The following quote is from the author's notes at the end of the book: “KPS is not, and I say this with absolutely no slight intended, a brooding symphony of a novel. It’s a pop song. It’s meant to be light and catchy, with three minutes of hooks and choruses for you to sing along with, and then you’re done and you go on with your day, hopefully with a smile on your face. I had fun writing this, and I needed to have fun writing this. We all need a pop song from time to time, particularly after a stretch of darkness.”


Time Travel 

A Rip Through Time (2022) by Kelley Armstrong

This novels spans many genres: crime fiction, historical fiction, and time travel. It is part of a trilogy and I will be reading the next two books. See my review here


Crime Fiction

What Was Lost (2007) by Catherine O'Flynn

A young girl, ten years old, lives with her grandmother; her goal is to be a detective, and run her own detective agency. She has few friends, hates school, and entertains herself with investigating cases that she has made up. The remaining portions of the book take place in 2004 and 2005, 20 years later, and focus on Kurt, a security guard in the Green Oaks Mall, and Lisa, an employee at a large record store in the mall. My review here.


Newcomer (2001) by Keigo Higashino

Translated by Giles Murray

This Japanese mystery seems at first to be a straightforward police procedural, but the structure of the story is unusual. The case involves the death of a woman who has recently moved to the Nihonbashi area of Tokyo. Each chapter features a location (usually a shop) at which Kaga interviews various prospective witnesses or suspects, and each chapter reads almost like a self-contained short story. See my review here.


Corpse in a Gilded Cage (1984) by Robert Barnard

When the eleventh Earl of Ellesmere dies, Perce Spender, a working-class Londoner, inherits the title and the estate. He is a simple man with simple tastes and doesn't want to live in the huge family estate; he plans to sell everything, but it isn't that simple. His three children and their hangers-on come to stay at the estate for his 60th birthday party. Perce Spender is just about the only likable character in the book. I always enjoy books by Robert Barnard. This one is very, very funny, even with all the unsympathetic characters.


Salt Lane (2018) by William Shaw

I was very glad I read SALT LANE by William Shaw. I had been put off by DS Alexandra Cupidi in THE BIRDWATCHER, but in this start to a new series starring Cupidi, she is a more appealing character. It isn't that there a complete reversal of her behavior but that we get to see more of her background and her family and why she came to work in a small seaside town in Kent. One of the aspects of this book that I especially love is that Cupidi's teenage daughter Zoë is a serious birdwatcher and there are scenes describing birds and bird enthusiasts. And the setting is wonderful.



Currently reading and what's next?


I am reading A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers. It is in the science fiction genre, the second book in the Wayfarers series. I am loving it.

After having two cataract surgeries in June, I am much behind in my blogging, and I am trying to catch up. I hope to review a few of the books I read in June and put up a summary post for that month and then get back on track to some extent by the end of July. 





 

The photos at the top and bottom of this post were taken in late May at the I Madonnari Italian Street Painting Festival. It was held at Mission Santa Barbara over the Memorial Day weekend, on May 25-27, 2024. Click on the images for best viewing quality.




Tuesday, July 2, 2024

Short Story Wednesday: the Juliet stories by Alice Munro



Recently I read three short stories from Runaway by Alice Munro. All of these stories are about the same woman, Juliet. Together they total about 110 pages, about the length of a novella. 


The first story, "Chance," takes place in 1965, and tells about how Juliet first meets Eric, the man she later moves in with. Juliet had been teaching in a girls school; Eric fishes for prawns and lives in a cabin in Whale Bay, north of Vancouver.   

In the second story, "Soon," set in 1969, Juliet takes her 13-month-old daughter Penelope to visit her parents in the small town she grew up in. Juliet and Eric are still together but have not married, and this embarrasses her parents. Although Juliet's family has never been affiliated with any religion, a minister visits her mother and lectures Juliet about not raising her daughter with any religious beliefs. 

The third story, "Silence,"  takes place about 20 years later. Juliet now has a job interviewing people on television. Eric died years before while he was out fishing during bad weather. Juliet is taking a ferry ride from Buckley Bay to Denman Island, to see Penelope at a spiritual retreat. She has not seen or heard from her daughter for six months. Penelope invited her to the island but when Juliet arrives, she is not there and no one can tell her where to find her. The issue of the lack of spiritual training comes up again in this story.


I liked all of these stories, but I did find Juliet to be an enigma. She seemed to keep her emotions under the surface, and worried a lot about how people viewed her. As is often true, other readers interpreted these stories differently.

I recommend reading these stories all at the same time (or close together). I read the first story, "Chance," two or three weeks earlier than the other stories. While writing this post I went back and reread "Chance" online. I had not remembered that one of the characters, Christa, had featured prominently in the first and last story. Each one of the stories are fine alone, but as a whole they are more meaningful. I am sure I will reread them again later.


"Chance," "Soon" and "Silence" were first published in The New Yorker in 2004.

The three Juliet stories have been made into a movie directed by Pedro Almodovar, titled Julieta



Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Short Story Wednesday: Crime Hits Home, Part 2

 

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

The theme for the stories in this book is home and the crimes that endanger it. The definition of home has been interpreted in different ways in the various stories in this book.


In 2023, I reported on the first three stories in the book. See my comments on those stories here

This week I have read four more stories in the book:


"Banana Island" by Susan Breen

In terms of pure enjoyment, this was my favorite story. Marly Bingham owns a small house in Long Island City (three bedrooms, 1.5 baths, Standing Room Only kitchen). For this house she has been offered two million dollars. She doesn't want to sell, although she could use the money. Many of her relatives live in the same area and she wants to stay where she has family. But the really interesting part is that Marly works for the IRS; her job is to talk on the phone to scammers who try to convince lonely, needy people into giving away all their money. While Marly is taking up the scammer's time, they are not bothering other people. The scammer she is currently working on is very persistent. The story was very unusual, entertaining, and  I loved the resolution. 


"Calling Mr. Smith" by Ellen Hart

This is another unusual story. It takes place in October 1987, in Hollywood, Minnesota. The theme is "you can't go home again." 

Astrid Ahlness is returning to her home town and the house she grew up in to celebrate her mother's 75th birthday. Astrid and her mother have never gotten along. Her older brother, Ivor, has always been the favored one who can do no wrong. Now that they are older and have families, Astrid and Ivor get along fairly well. Astrid desperately wants to inherit her half of the house when her mother dies, but Ivor wants to buy it from their mother for his summer home. There is a lot of plot and backstory packed into this 23-page story. Overall it was sad and depressing but well-written.


"Stalking Adolf" by Renee James

This story centers on a transgender woman. She lives with her 16-year-old daughter, who resents the fact that her father chose to become a woman. The woman, who narrates the story, is being stalked by a man who threatens her life and her daughter's. One night he invades their home, and she has to decide how to handle the situation. An interesting story, but the resolution made me uncomfortable.


"Playing for Keeps" by S.J. Rozan

The last story in the book is very brief and takes place in the US following World War II. The main character is a Jewish girl who was in a Polish prison camp during the war. Her mother's cousin brought her and her younger brother to live in a small town in Ohio following the war. The children in the neighborhood taunt her and bully her brother into giving up his marbles. She is determined to win them back. An excellent story and very moving.


Other resources:



Sunday, June 9, 2024

A Rip Through Time: Kelley Armstrong

 


This is the first book in a time travel trilogy by Kelley Armstrong. The main character in this book is a female police detective, Mallory Atkinson, from Vancouver, British Columbia, who is visiting Edinburgh in 2019 because her grandmother is very ill.  While out jogging in the evening, she tries to help a young woman in the streets who is being attacked; at that point she is transported to another time, which she later finds out is Edinburgh in 1869. For the rest of the story, Mallory's focus is on trying to figure out what happened and how she can return to her own time. 

Soon she learns that her consciousness is in the body of a very attractive young house maid who works in a house owned by a young doctor, Dr. Gray, and his sister, Isla. This is what she sees when she looks in the mirror:

"The girl—young woman, I should say—is no more than twenty. Honey-blond hair that curls to midback. Bright blue eyes. Average height with curves not quite contained by the corset over my chest. Not me."

There are a lot of convenient coincidences. A policewoman from 2019 transported back to Edinburgh 150 years earlier is very lucky to end up in a situation that she did. The owner of the house she is working in is an undertaker who has gone to medical school, and his major interest is investigating deaths (cause of death, etc.). He has a friend in the police who can give him access to bodies for research in some cases. His sister runs the house; she is a chemist who cannot work in her chosen field because she is a woman. All of this gives her opportunities and access that she would not have had in other households. However, I easily accepted these coincidences because the story was so interesting and fun.


My thoughts:

  • Mallory tells the story in first person present tense narration. I usually like stories narrated by the main character and it works well here. I usually don't like the use of present tense in fiction, but I am getting used to it.
  • The characters are very well done, and the women in the book are strong characters, not afraid to assert themselves. Mallory has to be careful with her behavior because she knows that no one will believe that she is actually from 150 years in the future. She must act subservient like a maid would, and do all the work a maid does, after she recovers from the attack.
  • I like time travel books a lot, and this one was a good read and educational. I learned a lot about Edinburgh and Scotland in 1869. 
  • As far as I could tell, the author did a good job with the setting and atmosphere in Edinburgh in 1869. On her website, Armstrong has notes for the sources she used in research for this novel.


Armstrong is a Canadian author, and I am always looking for Canadian authors to read. Since this story is set in Edinburgh, we don't get a Canadian setting, but I have read two books from another one of her series, the Rockton series, set in the Yukon territory in Canada.

I read this book on my Kindle; it was the third eBook I read this year. I have the 2nd book in this series as an eBook also and I would like to read it by the end of the year. 


 -----------------------------

Publisher:   Minotaur Books, 2022
Length:       352 pages
Format:      eBook
Series:        A Rip Through Time #1
Setting:      Edinburgh, Scotland
Genre:       Time Travel
Source:      Kindle Unlimited.


Thursday, June 6, 2024

What Was Lost: Catherine O'Flynn

 


A young girl, Kate, ten years old, lives with her grandmother; her goal is to be a detective, and run her own detective agency. She has few friends, hates school, and entertains herself with investigating cases that she has made up. She spends a lot of time at a huge mall nearby watching others and pretending she is a detective. One day she disappears and most of the story focuses on how this event affects other people in her neighborhood, over the following years.

The first section focuses on Kate, up to the point where she goes to take an exam for placement in a school that her grandmother plans for her to attend. The remaining portions of the book take place in 2004 and 2005, 20 years later, and focus on Kurt, a security guard in the Green Oaks Mall, and Lisa, an employee at a large record store in the mall. 

Lisa's connection to Kate is clear; her older brother was Kate's friend and was the last person seen with her before she disappeared. He was blamed for her disappearance. Kurt's connection is not revealed until much later in the book.

Most of the book takes place in a very large mall in Birmingham, England. Although the focus is mostly on the three main characters, other topics are covered in interesting ways: consumerism, how the development of malls affected other businesses in the area, and  relationships in families and dysfunctional families.


My thoughts...

This book has elements of crime fiction but is far from a traditional mystery novel. I liked it a lot, even though I wondered where it was going at times. The story held my interest throughout. I liked the focus on a few characters and the characterization was excellent.

I loved the ending. I would not call it a twist ending, but it was not what I expected. Open issues from the first third of the book are tied up satisfactorily.


I first learned of this book many years ago at Margot Kinberg's blog.

Other good reviews are at 746books and Clothes in Books.



 -----------------------------

Publisher:  Henry Holt and Co., 2008. Orig. pub. 2007.
Length:      240 pages
Format:     Trade Paperback
Setting:     UK
Genre:      Mystery
Source:     I purchased my copy. 


Tuesday, June 4, 2024

Short Story Wednesday: Nearly Nero, Part 2

 

In April, I read the first four stories in Nearly Nero by Loren D. Estleman. See my comments on those stories here. This week I finished reading the remaining six stories in the book. 

The subtitle for this book is "The Adventures of Claudius Lyon, the Man Who Would Be Wolfe." Between 2008 and 2016, Estleman wrote nine short stories about Claudius Lyon, a man who is obsessed with emulating Nero Wolfe in all ways, and his assistant, Arnie Woodbine. Six of these stories were published in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. One was published by the Mysterious Press, one by the Mysterious Bookshop, and one was published by Crippen & Landru.  The last story in the book ("Wolfe Whistle") was written for publication in this book. 


The last six stories are: 

“Wolfe Trap” 

“Wolfe in Chic Clothing” 

“Wolfe in the Manger” 

“Wolfe and Warp” 

“Peter and the Wolfe” 

“Wolfe Whistle” 


Two of those stories were set at Christmas, "Wolfe Trap" and "Wolfe in the Manger." Those were my favorite stories in the book.

In "Wolfe Trap," Captain Stoddard of the Brooklyn Bunco Squad asks for Lyon's help because his niece has been accused of theft. She works at a successful bookstore and was the only person around when $200 went missing at a Christmas party. Otto Penzler is a character and the crime took place at his book store.


I found that the later stories in the collection were more imaginative, developed some of the characters to a greater extent, and had more interesting puzzles. It is also much clearer in those stories that Claudius Lyon is intelligent and a good solver of puzzles. He may be a nut case who wants to  model his whole existence around another person's life, but he is clever at the right time and place. 


The book also includes:

  • An excellent introduction by the author, discussing Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe mysteries and Estleman's decision to write a humorous version of Wolfe and Goodwin in these stories.
  • The introduction that Estleman wrote for the 1992 Bantam paperback edition of Fer-de-Lance.
  • A Recommended Reading section.


Also see this review at George Kelley's blog



Friday, May 31, 2024

Six Degrees of Separation: From Butter to Tales from the Café

 

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 Butter: A Novel of Food and Murder by Asako Yuzuki. Just based on the subtitle, I want to read it. It is described at Amazon as: "A highly fresh and original novel following a journalist in contemporary Japan as she investigates a serial killer convicted of luring wealthy men in with her cooking classes only to seduce, murder, and rob them, and a gripping exploration of misogyny, obsession, and the pleasures and pressures of food." That sounds pretty interesting.


1st degree:

Another Japanese mystery that focuses on a serial killer is The Tokyo Zodiac Murders by Sōji Shimada. I have not read that one but my husband has, and I may read his copy someday. That book has also been described as a locked-room mystery.


2nd degree:

My next link is to a book by Japanese author Keigo Higashino. Malice features one of Higashino's series characters, Detective Kyoichiro Kaga. A best-selling novelist is found murdered in his locked office, inside his locked house. However, in this book the focus is less on solving the locked-room problem than on the relationships between the dead man and the suspects, and the motive behind the killing. 


3rd degree:

I recently read Newcomer, another mystery by Higashino which also featured police detective Kyoichiro Kaga. This one has a very different structure and mood. A woman who has recently moved to the Nihonbashi area of Tokyo has been murdered in her apartment, and it appears that she knew her murderer. Each chapter features a location at which Kaga interviews various witnesses or suspects who can give him information leading to the solution of a crime in the neighborhood. Information is doled out bit by bit as a picture of the murder and the circumstances surrounding it are revealed. 


4th degree:

For my fourth book I will stay with Japan and Japanese authors, but move to another genre. The Cat Who Saved Books by Sōsuke Natsukawa is a fantasy about a cat and a boy who is left alone after his grandfather dies. This is another one my husband has read, and I will read it soonish, since it is a book about books.


5th degree:

The previous book leads me to another Japanese novel about a cat, The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa. The cat and a man take a journey together. That is all I know about the story and all I want to know before I read it. 


6th degree:

Next I am featuring a book about travelling, but this time it is a book about time travel. Tales from the Café by Toshikazu Kawaguchi is about a café in Tokyo which has been serving a special coffee for more than one hundred years. Visitors to the café can also take advantage of a special service; they can travel back in time under specific conditions. This is the second in a series of books about time travel in a Japanese café; I read the first one and I enjoyed it very much. This one is on my list of 20 Books of Summer.



I did not travel very far in my Six Degrees for June. I stayed in Japan. But I did cover various genres. 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 July 6th, 2024 and the starting book will be Jenny Erpenbeck’s Kairos (translated by Michael Hoffman), which won the 2024 International Booker Prize.


Thursday, May 30, 2024

Newcomer: Keigo Higashino

 

I enjoy reading Japanese mysteries. My favorite Japanese author is Keigo Higashino, who has written two mystery series in addition to some standalone novels. This book is the second book featuring Detective Kyoichiro Kaga that has been translated to English.


Each of the books by Higashino that I have read is very different. He definitely does not follow a formula. In Malice, the first book in English to feature Detective Kaga, the story was more focused on characters and relationships. This book, Newcomer, seems at first to be a more straightforward police procedural. A woman who has recently moved to the Nihonbashi area of Tokyo has been murdered in her apartment, and it appears that she knew her murderer. Detective Kaga spends a lot of time visiting various locations, mostly small businesses, near her home to gather clues about her activities before she was murdered.

Each chapter features a location at which Kaga interviews various prospective witnesses or suspects, and each chapter reads almost like a self-contained short story. The reader doesn't know much about the murder and the victim until about a third of the way through the book. Information is doled out bit by bit as a picture of the murder and the circumstances surrounding it are revealed. For a while this method of introducing the crime and the characters related to it annoyed me a bit, and it seemed like a simplistic way of telling the story. But as the relationships between all these shops and people come together, the complexity of the story is revealed. 


I have enjoyed every mystery by Keigo Higashino that I have read. I was rereading my reviews of his books, and I realized that I have never given my husband credit for introducing me to this writer (and many other Japanese mystery authors). He has been appreciative of Japanese mysteries for years, and now I share his enthusiasm.



 -----------------------------

Publisher:   Minotaur Books, 2018 (orig. pub. 2001)
Translator:  Giles Murray
Length:       342 pages
Format:       Hardcover
Series:        Kyoichiro Kaga
Setting:       Tokyo, Japan
Genre:        Police Procedural
Source:       Borrowed from my husband.


Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Short Story Wednesday: Birds of America by Lorrie Moore

 


I have recently read several stories from Birds of America by Lorrie Moore. Initially I had a hard time getting into the stories in this book. Some of them were very difficult to read and relate to. I read the first five, was mostly confused, enjoyed a couple of them, then took a break.


When I came back to the book, I skipped two stories that had some relationship to Christmas ("Charades" and "Four Calling Birds, Three French Hens") and read the next two stories. I liked both of them. How did that happen? Did I just get used to her style? I think all of the stories I have read have elements of sadness and deal with relationships, but these two I really liked.


"Beautiful Grade" 

Bill is taking his 24-year-old girlfriend to a New Year's Eve party. Bill is about 50 and he is very conscious that his friends are talking about the age difference in his newish relationship. He is a college professor and she was his student when they first got together. Now that she is not his student he can be more open about it. 

This quote describes the people at the party: 

There is Albert, with his videos; Albert's old friend Brigitte, a Berlin-born political scientist; Stanley Mix, off every other semester to fly to Japan and study the zoological effects of radiation at Hiroshima and Nagasaki; Stanley's wife, Roberta, a travel agent and obsessive tabulator of Stanley's frequent flyer miles (Bill has often admired her posters: STEP BACK IN TIME, COME TO ARGENTINA says the one on her door); Lina, a pretty visiting Serb teaching in Slavic Studies; and Lina's doctor husband, Jack, a Texan who five years ago in Yugoslavia put Dallas dirt under the laboring Lina's hospital bed so that his son could be "born on Texan soil." ("But the boy is a total sairb" Lina says of her son, rolling her lovely r's. "Just don't tell Jack.")

The party is at Albert's; he has just successfully divorced his third wife. He serves a meal; they talk, and all the while Bill is thinking about these people, dinner parties from the past, his attraction to Lina, his insecurities. 

My favorite part: at midnight, they all have a spoonful of black-eyed peas as the first thing they eat on January 1st. This is a southern tradition to ensure good luck year. 


"What You Want to Do Fine"

This story had a lot of humor, and I enjoyed that. Two gay men set off on a road trip, from Indiana all the way to New Orleans. Their backgrounds are very different. Mack paints houses; Quilty is blind with a seeing eye dog and has a legal practice. On the trip they visit a lot of cemeteries and play Trivial Pursuit at the motel. They eat hush puppies and catfish when they get into the deep south. They argue about petty subjects and try to figure out if they should stay together. 

Favorite quote: "He may have been blind and a recovering drinker, but with the help of his secretary, Martha, he had worked up a decent legal practice and did not give his services away for free. Good barter, however, he liked. It made life easier for a blind man. He was, after all, a practical person. Beneath all his eccentricities, he possessed a streak of pragmatism so sharp and deep that others mistook it for sanity."



Saturday, May 25, 2024

The Warden: Anthony Trollope

 

I was excited when The Warden by Anthony Trollope was selected for my Classics Club Spin result. I had read nothing by Trollope and I was eager to try his writing. It took me a while to get used to the style but in the end it was a big success for me. 

This description of The Warden is from Goodreads:

The Warden centers on Mr. Harding, a clergyman of great personal integrity who is nevertheless in possession of an income from a charity far in excess of the sum devoted to the purposes of the foundation. On discovering this, young John Bold turns his reforming zeal to exposing what he regards as an abuse of privilege, despite the fact that he is in love with Mr. Harding's daughter Eleanor. It was a highly topical novel (a case regarding the misapplication of church funds was the scandalous subject of contemporary debate), but like other great Victorian novelists, Trollope uses the specific case to explore and illuminate the universal complexities of human motivation and social morality.


I had gotten the impression that Trollope's writing was humorous but I failed to see the humor in this story at first. It seemed that all would end very sadly. How could the Warden, Mr. Harding, end up happy or contented when, even if legal proceedings excused him from guilt, he still felt like he had done wrong, although unknowingly, and certainly could not  continue to take the money that was not rightfully his?

As the story continued, it lightened up and I became immersed in it and did enjoy the humor of the situation. I loved the friendship between the Bishop and the Warden. I loathed the Archbishop (the Bishop's son) but enjoyed his relationship with his wife (Mr. Harding's oldest daughter). And I was happy with the ending.

I was at a disadvantage when reading this story, not truly being familiar with or understanding the positions and rankings in the Church of England. And even when I found explanations applicable to the time in which the book was written, they offered many options for how a position could be interpreted and acquired. I am sure I missed a lot of the satire, based on what I read in the notes at the end of this book. But I was able to get the basic themes and ideas.

I have left out so much about this story and how it was written. But the main takeaway is that it was a good read overall and I will be following up by reading more of Trollope's books. I have a copy of Barchester Towers, the second book in the Chronicles of Barsetshire, and I hope to read it before the end of 2024. It is almost 500 pages long, though, and The Warden was under 300 pages. 


-----------------------------

Publisher:   Oxford University Press, 1998 (orig. pub. 1855)
Length:      284 pages
Format:      Trade paperback
Series:       Chronicles of Barsetshire #1
Setting:      UK
Genre:        Literary fiction
Source:      I purchased my copy at the Planned Parenthood book sale in 2022.


Saturday, May 18, 2024

It's Almost Time for 20 Books of Summer 2024

 



This is my ninth year of participating in the 20 Books of Summer reading challenge. The event is hosted by Cathy at 746 Books

The event is very flexible. You can go for 15 Books of Summer or 10 Books of Summer if 20 is more than you want to commit to. Check here for more about the challenge or to sign up.

This year, 20 Books of Summer starts June 1st and ends September 1st. One of the things I like about this challenge is that it goes for three months only. Some years I have read all 20 books from my list, sometimes not. 


Here are my 20 books...


The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame (1908)

The Madonna of the Sleeping Cars by Maurice Dekobra (1925)

The Lady in the Lake by Raymond Chandler (1943)













A Caribbean Mystery by Agatha Christie (1964)

War Game by Anthony Price (1976; 205 pages)

In the Midst of Death by Lawrence Block (1976; 185 pages) 

Birdcage by Victor Canning (1978; 233 pages)

Skeleton-In-Waiting by Peter Dickinson (1989; 154 pages)













The White Lioness by Henning Mankell (1993; 440 pages) 

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi (2003; 153 pages)

Dark Fire by C. J. Sansom (2004; 500 pages)

The Dead Fathers Club by Matt Haig (2006; 336 pages)













A Symphony of Echoes by Jodi Taylor (2013; 327 pages)

A Great Reckoning by Louise Penny (2016; 389 pages)

A Cast of Falcons by Steve Burrows (2016; 384 pages)

A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers (2016; 364 pages)













Tales from the Café by Toshikazu Kawaguchi (2017; 192 pages)

Redhead by the Side of the Road by Anne Tyler (2020; 178 pages)

Family Business by S. J. Rozan (2021; 288 pages)

The Lonely Hearts Book Club by Lucy Gilmore (2023; 352 pages)






Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Short Story Wednesday: "Runaway" by Alice Munro


Last night I spent the evening reading several short stories by Lorrie Moore. But this morning I heard that Alice Munro had died at 92, and I decided to read one of Munro's stories for my post this week instead. Luckily, I have several of her books of short stories, and the one I decided on was Runaway, published in 2004. I read the title story.

All of the stories in this collection are longer stories, usually between 35 to 45 pages in length.




In "Runaway," Carla and Clark run a stable for boarding horses; they also provide trail rides to campers nearby and riding lessons for children. They live in a mobile home on their land. One morning, Carla sees their nearest neighbor, Sylvia Jamieson, driving home from a trip to Greece. Carla is afraid of what will happen when Clark discovers that Sylvia is home. What happens after that is surprising and unexpected. The story is an interesting look at marriages and relationships.

I liked the story, but it was a little unsettling.


The next three stories in this book are about a single character, Juliet. I hope to read them soon.

I don't have a lot of experience with Alice Munro's stories, but overall, I have been impressed with those that I have read. She is a Canadian author, and the settings of her stories are usually in Canada, which is an added attraction for me. Last year I read a collection of her stories published in 2012, Dear Life. My comments on those stories are here and here




Sunday, May 12, 2024

Reading Summary for April 2024

 


I read six novels this month, and I was pleased with the variety. I am working on increasing the number of eBooks I read. This month I read one (the Bill Crider book) , and one of the books I am currently reading is also an eBook, so I have read a total of three this year, up from one in all of 2023.

I have been putting together a list for 20 Books of Summer at 746 Books, and I am looking forward to reading those books. 


General Fiction

The Jane Austen Book Club (2004) by Karen Joy Fowler

Five women and one man form a book club to discuss Jane Austen's novels, one per month. Their ages range from 30 to nearly 70. I liked this book a lot, but the narrative style was challenging. See my review.


Fiction, Western

The Sisters Brothers (2011) by Patrick deWitt

This novel is a western, a genre that I have little familiarity with. Eli and Charlie Sisters work for the Commodore. Their current assignment is to find Hermann Kermit Warm and kill him. Charlie is the older brother and runs the show. Eli narrates the story; he doesn't enjoy killing and would be just as happy to find another way to live, but he feels loyal to Charlie. The story is set in the West when it was lawless, and there are many interesting historical facts to be learned, but I didn't enjoy the story of a life of crime until it was close to over. It is well-written and Eli is a great character. I am glad I read it through to the end, but it just wasn't the book for me.


Science Fiction

The Humans (2013) by Matt Haig

This is a science fiction novel about an alien who comes to earth, and takes over the body of a mathematician, Andrew Martin. However, for me this was more like reading a philosophy book or a self help book. I loved it. See my review.



Crime Fiction

The Found Him Dead (1937) by Georgette Heyer

They Found Him Dead is a very bland title for an entertaining mystery novel set in a country house. Members of the Kane family are dying, and the police are not sure who is causing the deaths or why. See my review.


Winning Can Be Murder (1996) by Bill Crider

Sheriff Dan Rhodes of Blacklin County, Texas has fond memories of playing football for the local high school team in his youth. Like almost everyone else in Blacklin County, he is enthusiastic about the home football team's chances to go to the state finals this year. The football theme did not interest me as much as the earlier books I have read in this series, but a Dan Rhodes mystery by Bill Crider is always an entertaining and fun read, with lovable main characters and a lot of eccentric secondary characters. This is the 8th book in a 25 book series.


The Mistress of Alderley (2000) by Robert Barnard

A successful actress has been set up in a country house by her lover; he visits only on weekends and she thinks she has the perfect life. I love Barnard's style of writing; his books often have unusual or unexpected endings. This one was more straightforward as far as the mystery goes but the mystery had me interested from beginning to end. Another bonus for me was that the policemen in this book were Charlie Peace and his boss, Mike Oddie, from the author's Charlie Peace series. 


Just Finished


I finished reading The Warden by Anthony Trollope for the Classics Club Spin and I will be reviewing it soonish, so I won't say too much about it right now. It was the first book I have read by Trollope, and a very good read, once I got used to the style of writing.

Currently reading


I am reading A Rip Through Time by Kelley Armstrong on my Kindle Scribe, which I purchased in February. As you can probably tell from the title, it is a time travel book. With the purchase of the Scribe I got a three-month free trial of Kindle Unlimited. That gave me access to A Rip Through Time, and I wanted to take advantage of the subscription before it ran out. For the first few chapters, I was unsure how much I would enjoy this book, but I am about 50% through it right now and it is getting better and better.





The photos at the top and bottom of this post were taken in early May in our back yard.  We have been working on clearing out weeds in the back. There is still lots of work to be done but soon we will be able to buy some new plants for pots. 

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