Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Joining the Bookish Books Reading Challenge 2024


Susan at Bloggin' Bout Books is hosting the Bookish Books Reading challenge for the second year. The focus is on books about books...

Any book counts as long as one of its main themes is books (reading them, writing them, hoarding them, stealing them, eating them, burning them, decorating with them, organizing them, sniffing them, selling them, etc.). Any book that is essentially bookish in nature counts. All formats are acceptable. Since this challenge isn't about pages read, length doesn't matter either. Picture books are totally fine.

Reviews aren't required, but they're always welcome. There will be a monthly linky so participants can share books that they have read for the challenge. 

The challenge runs from January 1, 2024 to December 31, 2024. You can sign up any time during the year. See the sign-up post for full details and suggestions for books.

The levels are: 

  • Toe in the Door: 1-10 books read
  • Picking and Perusing: 11-20 books read
  • Lost in the Stacks: 21-30 books read
  • Living in the Library: 30+ books read

And I will be aiming at Toe in the Door. I read a decent number of bookish books for the challenge last year but did not post about them all.

Susan has created a Goodreads list of Bookish Books if you need inspiration. 

These are books I may read:

  • Ex Libris by Michiko Kakutani 
  • The Lonely Hearts Book Club by Lucy Gilmore
  • Found in a Bookshop by Stephanie Butland
  • The Pleasure of Reading edited by Antonia Fraser
  • Baking With Kafka by Tom Gauld
  • The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
  • The Cat Who Saved Books by Sōsuke Natsukawa
  • The Department of Rare Books and Special Collections by Eva Jurczyk 
  • Confessions of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell
  • I Will Judge You by Your Bookshelf by Grant Snider
  • Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew J. Sullivan

Bookish books I am currently reading:

  • The Book of Books (An Eclectic Collection of Reading Recommendations, Quirky Lists, and Fun Facts about Books) by Les Krantz and Tim Knight
  • More Book Lust by Nancy Pearl

Bookish book I have read recently:

  • Days at the Morisaki Bookshop by Satoshi Yagisawa

Monday, February 26, 2024

A Darkness Absolute: Kelley Armstrong


Description from the dust jacket:

When experienced homicide detective Casey Duncan first moved to the secret town of Rockton, she expected a safe haven for people like her, people running from their past misdeeds and past lives. She knew living in Rockton meant living off-the-grid completely: no cell phones, no Internet, no mail, very little electricity, and no way of getting in or out without the town council’s approval. What she didn’t expect is that Rockton comes with its own set of secrets and dangers.

Now, in A Darkness Absolute, Casey and her fellow Rockton sheriff’s deputy Will chase a cabin-fevered resident into the woods, where they are stranded in a blizzard. Taking shelter in a cave, they discover a former resident who’s been held captive for over a year.

Rockton is a small town in the Yukon wilderness, so isolated that most modern conveniences are lacking. A town council has to approve new inhabitants, and most of those applying for residence in Rockton have committed crimes or are hiding from something in their past. Admittance can be based on the individual's usefulness to the town or on a large monetary payment.

Sheriff Eric Dalton and Detective Casey Duncan are the main characters in this series. In this book, they are looking for a man who is capable of kidnapping a woman and keeping her imprisoned in demeaning circumstances for months. They don't know for sure whether the man would be from outside of Rockton, or an inhabitant. And the bad weather doesn't make the investigation and search any easier.

The aspects that drew me to the first book in the series were connected to the setting. I like to read books set in Canada and written by Canadian authors. A remote town isolated from the rest of the world in the Yukon was especially appealing. 

So what else did I like?

  • The author definitely keeps the story suspenseful and, in a town like Rockton, practically everyone is a suspect. 
  • I enjoyed the story overall, and the action never stops. Which is probably good, because it keeps the reader from wondering too much about any implausible actions or decisions, which show up in just about any thriller.
  • The character development is great. I like the main characters, and there are a lot of interesting recurring characters. Even in the case of characters I don't like, I think the characters are well developed.

This is the second book in the series, and it was just as appealing as the first, City of the Lost, which I read about 3 years ago. I will make an effort to read book 3 sooner. There are seven books in the series, published between 2016 and 2022. There is even a spinoff series that I will be interested in pursuing once I read the next five books in the series. 


Publisher:  Minotaur Books, 2017.
Length:      390 pages
Format:      Hardcover
Series:       Rockton, #2
Setting:      Yukon,  Canada
Genre:       Police Procedural
Source:      Purchased in 2020.

Saturday, February 17, 2024

Tokyo Express: Seicho Matsumoto


I am participating in the Japanese Literature Challenge 17 hosted by Dolce Bellezza. It runs from January through February, 2024. The goal is to read and review one or more books which were originally written in Japanese. There is a post at Dolce Bellezza for links to reviews.

Tokyo Express is my first book read for the challenge. It was Seichō Matsumoto's first novel, published in 1958.

In this novel, two detectives in different cities in Japan investigate the same crime and collaborate, sharing their thoughts and discoveries. A man and a woman are found dead on a beach in Kashii, and the police assume that it is a double suicide. Inspector Torigai in Kashii is first assigned to the case, and he has no reason to disagree with that determination, but he does notice some puzzling aspects and continues to have nagging questions. Later Inspector Mihara from Tokyo comes to discuss the case with Torigai. Torigai realizes that the aspect of the case that Mihara is looking into is connected to government corruption and fraud.  He thinks the deaths are related to a bribery scandal in the government.

The two detectives share their concerns and thoughts about the deaths. They form a bond because they are both sure that there is another answer to this case, that it is not suicide. It is pretty obvious close to the beginning who the guilty party is, but there is always a question, are they right or wrong, and can they prove it one way or the other? The alibis of their suspects depend on train schedules, so a good amount of time is spent on that aspect of the alleged crime. 

It is a short novel, 150 pages, and the first half seemed too slow and repetitive to me. The book was initially published as a serial in a magazine, and that could be the explanation for the repetition. However, the second half picked up and I was pleased with the ending. Plus, it is a good picture of Japan after World War II. 

This novel was first published in English translation as Points and Lines (translated by two different translators). I have a copy of that book (purchased back in 2016) but did not realize it until I had finished reading this edition of the book.

I have read one other mystery by Matsumoto, A Quiet Place, published in 1975. 


Publisher: Penguin, 2023 (orig. pub. 1958)
Length: 150 pages
Format: Trade paperback
Setting:  Japan
Genre:   Mystery, Police Procedural
Source:  Purchased in 2023
Translated by Jesse Kirkwood

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Short Story Wednesday: Books on the Kindle


Recently I have realized I have many short story anthologies and collections in ebook format on the Kindle, and I forget to read them. Today I am listing a few of them for my Short Story Wednesday post, with a bit of information about each.

100 Years of the Best American Short Stories, Lorrie Moore (Editor), Heidi Pitlor (Series Editor)

This one has been on the Kindle since August 2021. I don't know that I have even looked at it since then. That is a shame because many of the authors and short stories sound very interesting.

There is an introduction for the whole book, written by Lorrie Moore, and then an introduction for each decade, written by Heidi Pitlor. The years covered are 1915 - 2015. Each story also has a brief introduction about the author.

How to Fall: Stories by Edith Pearlman

Edith Pearlman is new to me. I first heard of her early in 2023 at one or more Short Story Wednesday posts. Patricia Abbott discusses "Elder Jinks" by Pearlman at her blog, Pattinase.

How to Fall was published in 2005 and includes 16 short stories. More than half of the stories are set in Godolphin, a fictional Boston suburb.

In addition to this book, I also have Honeydew, a collection of her stories published in 2015. Pearlman died at 86 on January 1, 2023.

Short Stories: Five Decades by Irwin Shaw

I hate to admit it but I know very little about Irwin Shaw. I recognize the titles of his novels but I don't think I ever read any of them.

This book contains 63 short stories published from the late 1930s through the 1970s. It is over 750 pages long. I am sure these stories will be interesting. If anyone has experience with reading Irwin Shaw's novels or short stories, please let me know what you think.

Buffet for Unwelcome Guests by Christianna Brand

Christianna Brand was the pseudonym of Mary Christianna Lewis. She published novels between 1941 and 1982 but she is best known for her Golden Age mysteries, several of them featuring Inspector Cockrill. I have read two of her Inspector Cockrill novels, and several of her short stories. 

This collection has an introduction, written by Robert E. Briney, which covers Brand's writing career and the short stories. There are 16 stories in the book; four of them are Inspector Cockrill stories.

I also have another collection of Christianna Brand stories on the Kindle, What Dread Hand? 

Tuesday, February 6, 2024

Short Story Wednesday: Wave Me Goodbye, Anne Boston, ed.


I read a few stories in this book in November 2022, and it took me over a year to return to it. Wave Me Goodbye is an anthology of stories about World War II; all the authors are women and most of the stories were published between 1939 and 1949; all but one story was written at that time. Many of the stories are about the home front, focusing on the lives of the people who did not go off to war, and in this case, mostly the experiences of the women left behind.

The collection was first put together and published in 1988. The "Introduction," written by the editor, Anne Boston, for this new printing, is excellent. There are two informational sections at the end. The "Notes on the Authors" section provides background information on each author, which was especially useful to me because I had not read anything by most of the authors. The "Acknowledgements" section provides information on when and where the stories were published.

Here are my thoughts on a few of the stories I read recently...

Kay Boyle's "Defeat" is about French soldiers returning to France after they have been defeated by the Germans. They are disappointed and disenchanted with the reception they get from the French citizens they encounter. This story was published in the May 17, 1941 issue of The New Yorker.

In "Goodbye My Love" by Mollie Panter-Downes, a married couple have a few days together before he has to leave for a posting during the war, destination unknown. Once he has gone, she finally settles into some acceptance of his absence. Then there is a brief reprieve; he won't be leaving for a week or more, and she will have to go through the agonizing buildup to his departure once again.

Two stories cover similar subjects: "Miss Anstruther's Letters" by Rose Macaulay and "Night in the Front Line" by Molly Lefebure. They deal with the devastation of the Blitz, the terror of waiting for the bombing to end, and the loss of a place to live and personal treasures.

In Olivia Manning’s "A Journey" a woman travels to Cluj to report on the Hungarian occupation of Transylvania, a region in Romania. When the reporter gets to Cluj, the city is in chaos, and it is hard to find a place to stay. She does her best to get the story she needs, then has a harrowing experience trying to get out of the city, as everyone else is also desperate to leave. 

Other stories I read were:

  • Anna Kavan's "Face of My People"
  • Barbara Pym's "Goodbye Balkan Capital"
  • Jean Rhys’s "I Spy a Stranger"

All of the stories I read were good, although many of them were sad or depressing. I have seventeen stories left to read. I like that most of the stories are between 10-15 pages long.

Other writers represented are Elizabeth Taylor, Sylvia Townsend Warner, Doris Lessing, Inez Holden, Beryl Bainbridge, Edna Ferber, Dorothy Parker, Elizabeth Bowen, Marjorie Sharp, Pat Frank, Diana Gardner, Malachi Whitaker, Ann Chadwick, A. L. Barker, Jean Stafford and Stevie Smith.

Sunday, February 4, 2024

Chilled to the Bone: Quentin Bates


Blurb on the inside flap of the dust jacket:

When Sergeant Gunnhildur Gísladóttir of the local police force is called in to investigate the death of a man found tied to a bed in one of Reykjavík's nicest hotels, she finds no sign of criminal activity but suspects there may be more to the case than meets the eye. Could the death of the shipowner be related to a local gangster's recent return to Iceland after many years abroad?

What begins as a straightforward case for Gunnhildur soon explodes into a dangerous investigation, involving a discreet bondage society that ruthless men will go to violent extremes to keep secret.

This is the third book in a police procedural series set in Iceland. The main character is a single mother, a policewoman working in the Serious Crime Unit in Reykjavík. I have found this to be a very enjoyable series, with a great main character, who has a realistic life outside of work.

Sergeant Gunnhildur, usually referred to as Gunna, has a teenage daughter living at home, but currently she has concerns about her older son, who works on a fishing boat. He has managed to get two girlfriends pregnant at the same time. Gunna's homelife is challenging at times but she doesn't let it prevent her from doing her job.

This story was fast paced and kept me interested. The story follows various secondary characters who are dealing with conflicts in their lives, and the reader knows that all of this is connected to the case Gunna is working on, but not how and why. It was hard to figure out what the crime is and which characters were good or bad. This sounds like a negative but I enjoyed the suspense.

An added bonus is the setting in Iceland; these books cover the years following the economic collapse of the banking system there. 

After I finished this book, I discovered I had no more books in the series. I have now purchased ebook editions of the 4th and 5th books in the series at a good price, so I will keep reading the series, soon I hope.


Publisher:   Soho Crime, 2013
Length:       315 pages
Format:       Hardcover
Series:        Officer Gunnhildur, #3
Setting:       Iceland
Genre:        Police Procedural
Source:       I purchased my copy in 2016.

Friday, February 2, 2024

Six Degrees of Separation: From The Optimist's Daughter to Wave Me Goodbye


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. Last month she did not supply a title and asked us to start with the last book on our previous Six Degrees post. So for me, the starting book will be The Optimist's Daughter by Eudora Welty.

The Optimist's Daughter was published in 1972 and won the 1973 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Laurel McKelva Hand is a widow, living and working in Chicago. Laurel returns to her hometown in Mississippi for her father's funeral. The story explores her relationship with her father, her mother who died when she was younger, and her new stepmother who is much younger than her father and has inherited the house that Laurel grew up in. It also focuses on her memories of losing her husband during World War II, not very long after they were married. There is a lot of depth to the novel, which is only 180 pages long.

1st degree:

I chose the first book in my chain, Kissing the Gunner's Daughter, because of the title, the mention of a daughter. It is a perfect link, because there are two daughters that figure in the story. This is the 15th book in the Ruth Rendell Inspector Wexford series. A family is attacked at dinner time and a famous author and her daughter and son-in-law are killed. Only the teenage granddaughter lives through the attack. And while Wexford is investigating this horrible crime, he is worried about his daughter Sheila, who is in a relationship he disapproves of. Kissing the Gunner's Daughter is a dark story of psychological suspense.

2nd degree:

My next book, Henrietta Who?, is also a police procedural mystery which features a daughter. Grace Jenkins has been killed in a hit and run accident. When her daughter is called home from college, Henrietta learns that she cannot be Grace's daughter because the woman has never had a child. This is not only the search for a murderer but also the story of a very young woman coming to terms with questions about her parents and her origins.

3rd degree:

My next book in the chain takes me to The Hollow by Agatha Christie, which features another character named Henrietta. This is the 25th book in the Hercule Poirot series although as I remember it, there is not much of Poirot in the book. The story is built around a country house weekend; the characters are interesting, somewhat quirky, and all seem to be hiding something. Henrietta Savernake is a successful sculptor who is in love with Dr. John Christow, who has a wife and children.

4th degree:

Gallows Court is the first book in a relatively new series by Martin Edwards featuring Rachel Savernake, the daughter of a hanging judge, and an amateur sleuth. The setting is London in the 1930s. I have not read this book but the series is doing well and I am eager to try it soon.

5th degree:

My next link is to Perfect Gallows by Peter Dickinson. This book is about a murder that occurs in 1944 in the UK, on an estate occupied by US forces preparing for the invasion of France. It is primarily set during World War II, with a framing story set in 1988. Peter Dickinson was a wonderful writer who has written many books in the mystery and fantasy genres.

6th degree:

Using World War II as a link, my next book is Wave Me Goodbye: Stories of the Second World War. The book is comprised of short stories that take place during the war or the years immediately afterward; the authors are all women and all but one story was written during that time. The stories are mostly home front stories. I have read only a few stories in that book so far.

My chain starts out in Mississippi in the US but moves to the UK after that. Was there any connection between the first book and the last? Only the tenuous connection to World War II because the death of Laurel's husband was connected to that conflict.

Have you read any of these books? And where did your list take you, if you participated in this month's Six Degrees meme?

The next Six Degrees will be on March 2, 2024, and the starting book will be Tom Lake by Ann Patchett.