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.

Saturday, May 4, 2024

The Jane Austen Book Club: Karen Joy Taylor


I liked this book a lot when I was reading it, but now, less than a month later, I can't remember much about the book. What does that say? In some ways I see it as normal, the story of a book falls away after time, especially if you read a lot of fiction. Also, I think it would be good for a reread, and not remembering much is a plus. Today, while writing this review, I did reread one chapter and I enjoyed rereading it.

The six people in the book club are Jocelyn and Sylvia, both in their early 50s; Allegra, Sylvia's daughter, 30 years old; Prudie, a teacher, 28 years old; Bernadette, the oldest member at 67; and Grigg, the only male, in his forties. Jocelyn is the one who set up the book club and invited members. Everyone in the group knows the others except for Grigg, and the others wonder why Jocelyn included a male and where she met him.

The story covers March through August in one year, one book club meeting for each Austen book, and has an epilogue in November. All of the book club members are fans of Austen's books, except for Grigg who is reading them for the first time. 

My Thoughts...

Overall, I enjoyed this book very much; it was a good read, and kept me entertained. But I did have some very minor criticisms. One thing that sometimes took me out of the story was the narration, which seemed to be an amalgamation of the book club group. It wasn't entirely negative, just jolting at times. After finishing the book, I looked this up and it is described as first person plural point of view. The entire book was not in that point of view, only portions of each chapter.

The book was less about the Austen books than I would have liked, but I enjoyed the individual stories about the members of the book club. And it did make me want to reread the Austen novels. I last read Sense and Sensibility in 2022, and the other five novels in 2017.

I was surprised by the ratings for this book on Goodreads. There are nearly 70,000 ratings, and over 5,000 reviews. But there are more 3 star ratings than any other rating and a good number of 1 stars, 2 stars, and DNFs. My rating would be 4.5. I especially liked that the writing style was different and how the back stories were worked into the story gradually. 

The book has a short section at the back summarizing all the Jane Austen novel, plus several pages of quotations about Austen and her books from various sources. I found both of these useful and interesting.

I am eager to explore more books by this author. 


Publisher:  A Marian Wood Book, Putnam, 2004.
Length:      288 pages
Format:      Hardcover
Setting:      Davis, California
Genre:       Fiction
Source:      I purchased my copy in 2023.