pamelad reads 100

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pamelad reads 100

Redigerat: jan 1, 4:55 pm

Welcome. I'm Pam from Melbourne, a city of 5 million people in Victoria, Australia. Over the pandemic we spent a lot of time in lockdown, so I've read even more than usual. This year my plan is to get out more and read less.

In 2022 I recorded 140 books on my 100 Books Challenge thread, but I actually read 394. I've acquired an addiction to escapist historical romance fiction, which I've recorded elsewhere. I like a happy ending!

This year I'm aiming for fewer, better books and more variety.

Best Reads of 2022

Happening by Annie Ernaux
The Years by Annie Ernaux
Happiness, as Such by Natalia Ginzburg
Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan
The Mating season by P G Wodehouse
Silence by Shusaku Endo
Four Gardens by Margery Sharp
Nervous Condtions by Tsitsi Dangaremba
Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh
The Crime of Father Amaro by Jose Maria Eca de Queiros
The Waiting Years by Fumiko Enchi
Black and Blue by Veronica Gorrie
Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
A Young Doctor's Notebook by Mikhail Bulgakov
The House of Ulloa by Emilia Pardo Bazan

dec 31, 2022, 6:05 am


dec 31, 2022, 6:49 am

Thanks for setting this up.

dec 31, 2022, 6:24 pm

1. French for Cats by Henry Beard

This is an illustrated French phrasebook for cats. Short and very funny. I found it in the Open Library.

jan 1, 12:36 pm

>10 pamelad: nice undemanding start to your literary year, Pam;)

jan 1, 4:21 pm

2. The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle

When Professor Challenger reports that dinosaurs have been discovered in a remote part of South American, the scientific world scoffs, so he recruits three volunteers for an expedition to investigate his claims. They are Doctor Summerlee, a scientific rival, Lord John Roxton, a famous adventurer, and the narrator, a reporter and sportsman. After enormous difficulty and danger, they reach a plateau inhabited by dinosaurs.

A very entertaining read with tongue in cheek humour and larger than life characters.

>11 john257hopper: Another undemanding one!

jan 2, 6:00 am

>12 pamelad: Many years since I read this, but it's good fun. If you fancy trying any of the other Challenger stories, I recommend the short story The Poison Belt.

Redigerat: jan 3, 4:11 pm

3. Cold Enough for Snow by Jessica Au is the inaugural winner of the Novel Prize.

The Novel Prize offers $10,000 to the winner, and simultaneous publication in the UK and Ireland by the London-based Fitzcarraldo Editions, in Australia and New Zealand by Sydney publisher Giramondo, and in North America by New York’s New Directions. The prize rewards novels which explore and expand the possibilities of the form, and are innovative and imaginative in style.

A young woman and her mother meet in Tokyo to travel together around Japan. The daughter wants to know her mother more deeply and tries to force her to reveal her inner self, but she cannot see the woman in front of her. The mother was born in Hong Kong and emigrated to the unnamed country, almost certainly Australia, where the narrator and her sister were born, so English is their shared language. The father is never mentioned.

The most striking feature of Au's novella is the careful detail of the narrator's observations, which trigger reflections on her past. Her language serves her purpose, to record her observations and endeavour to extract their meaning but is occasionally clumsy. Not clumsy enough to put me off the book, which I recommend.

jan 2, 7:27 pm

4. The Red Lacquer Case by Patricia Wentworth

First published in 1924, this is a very silly book. There's a secret formula for a gas that could destroy civilisation, a cluster of Russian spies, and an ex-fiance with whom the scatty heroine is still in love. Sally and Bill broke up because of Sally's involvement in Women's Suffrage. It's been seven years and a World War since they've seen one another, and they're more reasonable people now. Sally hadn't seen any of her old suffragette cronies until she ran into an old friend, Etta Shaw, who is now involved with a World Peace Movement. Etta's naiveté has led to her involvement with a Russian spy who is determined to get the secret formula.

The book is interesting for Wentworth's take on the political movements of the time. She appears to have no sympathy for the Peace Movement or for Women's Suffrage, and the characters who involve themselves are childish, stupid and self-deceiving!

jan 3, 10:00 am

>1 pamelad: Best wishes for another great year of reading. 140 seems like a pretty healthy total reading for a year in itself, but 394 is extraordinary (around thirteen books every twelve days!).

Redigerat: jan 3, 10:58 am

I managed 103 in the end, with two current reads stretching into 2023. I managed 140 one year around a decade ago (2013 I think off the top of my head), I must have read more shorter books that year.

Hope you'll join the challenge as usual too, Ian :)

jan 3, 4:02 pm

394?!?!?! I only managed 60, you are amazing.

Looking forward to following your reading! I see The Years is on your best-of list; I read it last year also and loved it.

jan 3, 4:20 pm

>16 Eyejaybee: I haven't had the patience for long books and have read an awful lot of rubbish. This year I plan to read some of the longer, worthier books that are accumulating in the tbr pile. The Novel of Ferrara and The Books of Jacob are at the top of my list but, as you can see, I started the year with French for Cats!

I hope to read more of your thoughtful reviews in 2023.

jan 3, 4:41 pm

>17 john257hopper: Having to go to work takes up a lot of good reading time, and you're reading books that require concentration. Congratulations on 103 good books in 2022 and happy reading in 2023.

>18 jfetting: I was surprised to like The Years so much. The idea of it didn't seem promising at all, but it was engaging from the beginning.

jan 4, 8:29 am

>20 pamelad: Thanks Pam :)

jan 5, 3:36 pm

5. The Holiday Murders by Robert Gott

It's Christmas 1943 and Inspector Titus Lambert, of the recently established homicide branch, has been called to a murder scene in East Melbourne. There are two bodies, father and son, one an apparent suicide and the other a victim of torture. The bodies had been discovered by the third member of the family, a young woman who is being comforted by a friend.

Almost from the beginning we're aware of who the murderer is, a psychopath who wants to establish an Australian National Socialist Party and take over the country. He infiltrates a group of wealthy Nazi-sympathisers who have no idea who they are dealing with.

The central characters are Lambert and his two subordinates, the inexperienced Sergeant Joe Sable and the highly capable Constable Helen Lord.

What I liked

The Melbourne setting. Joe Sable actually lives in a street where I once lived, and the action of the book takes place in parts of Melbourne that are very familiar to me: Carlton, Brunswick, East Melbourne, the CBD, down to the names of actual streets. People are reading Truth, a scandal sheet that was still around when I was a child, and skating at the Glaciarium, which my mother told me about. The history of the times, with John Dedman's austerity measures, American servicemen, rationing, Archbishop Mannix - things my parents used to talk about.

What I didn't like

Psychopaths and torture. Revolting.

This is the first book in a series of two. The next is The Port Fairy Murders, but I'll have to check whether it's psychopath-free.

jan 7, 3:17 am

6. Odd Man Out: James Mason by Sheridan Morley

This short biography was a Dean Street Press freebie. The author was a large, loud, extroverted man. He finds James Mason, who apparently was the opposite, incomprehensible. Morley interviewed many people, most of whom told him that Mason was quiet, gentlemanly, reserved, and an excellent actor. The exception was his ex-wife Pamela, who had nothing good to say.

This is an insubstantial biography.

jan 7, 8:46 pm

>1 pamelad: thanks for setting up the group this year!


jan 8, 3:21 am

>24 fuzzi: No worries. Now that I'm a group administrator I have enormous power, but I promise to use it for good.

7. The Port Fairy Murders by Robert Gott

These days Port Fairy is a prosperous, picturesque little town past the end of the great Ocean Road. I stayed there a few days last year for my birthday. But in 1944 it was full of murderers and psychopaths, including George Starling who survived the previous book and is out to seek revenge on Detective Joe Sable. Fortunately, there are no descriptions of torture this time, although there are a few too many violent murders. Sergeant Joe Sable and Constable Helen Lord are sent to Port Fairy to help the local police, who have no experience with murder investigations.

I was interested in the antagonism and mistrust between the Catholics and Protestants of Port Fairy. I knew from my parents that Protestants wouldn't employ Catholics and that's why there were so many Catholics in the Public Service, so it was fascinating to read about how that prejudice affected people's lives in a little country town. Both of Gott's books have been very good on historical detail.

The plot was a bit messy and, as I mentioned, too many people died, but it held my attention. I was quite worried about Joe Sable.

Redigerat: jan 8, 11:59 pm

8. The Chalk Pit by Elly Griffiths

I discovered the Ruth Galloway series last year and read the first eight, far too many because by the end I was dead sick of the relationship between Nelson and Ruth. I don't want them to get together, not that it's my choice. I'd read the eighth book, The Woman in Blue because I wanted to find out the father of Michelle's baby and was very annoyed to be strung along. In this ninth book Michelle has just told Nelson that she's pregnant, so I'm quite confused about the timeline and wondering how many years this pregnancy is going to last.

Back to the plot. While checking a potential building excavation, a surveyor discovers some bones in a limestone tunnel and Ruth is called in. The bones prove to be fairly recent, much to the architect's distress, because a murder investigation could interfere with his plans for building a spectacular underground restaurant. The bones are just one thread of a plot that involves murdered homeless people, missing women, and a secret society.

Despite my annoyance with the Michelle's interminable pregnancy and the dismal illicit romance between Nelson and Ruth, I enjoyed The Chalk Pit. I'm tempted to go straight onto the next book, but what if Michelle is still pregnant at the end of it?

Redigerat: jan 10, 3:59 pm

9. Just Murdered by Katherine Kovacic

Kovacic has written a series featuring an art dealer who solves crimes, so when I saw her name on NetGalley I requested the book. Just Murdered isn't a Kovacic original. It's based on a script by Deb Cox for the first episode of the television series, Ms Fisher's Modern Murder Mysteries, which is a spin-off from Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, the television series based on Kerry Greenwood's Phryne Fisher novels.

Just Murdered is set in Melbourne in 1963. Peregrine Fisher, the long-lost niece of Phryne Fisher, has led an unsettled life with her mother, who moved from town to town as debts caught up with her. Since her mother died, Peregrine has been living in a caravan in a Queensland country town, working as a hairdresser, but she's just lost her job, so when she receives a letter from The Adventuresses' Club of the Antipodes asking her to attend a meeting about an inheritance, she sets off to hitch-hike to Melbourne. At the Adventuresses' Club Peregrine finds that the aunt she'd never heard of has left everything to Peregrine.

The Adventuresses are a group of unusually accomplished women, so Peregrine has no qualifications for membership. When her house is burgled, Peregrine decides to prove herself by taking over her aunt's role as a detective. Her investigation leads her to Blair's Emporium (for Melbourne locals, this is very much like Myer's), a fashion parade, a murder investigation and a corrupt policeman. The plot is utterly unrealistic, but the descriptions of sixties Melbourne are entertaining. Kovacic lovingly describes the clothes, the decor, and the roles of working women, and it's these details that make the book interesting.

Thank you to NetGalley for this ARC.

Redigerat: jan 13, 1:06 am

10. Thalia by Frances Faviell

Rachel, an eighteen-year-old art student, has been banished to the Breton seaside of Dinard because her portrait of the vicar, a friend of her aunt, turned out to be a nasty caricature. Rachel, instead of apologising, has dug in her heels on the grounds of artistic integrity and refused to apologise, so instead of accompanying her aunt on a much-desired trip to Egypt, she's spending a year as an unpaid companion to Cynthia, a beautiful woman whose husband is a soldier in India. Cynthia has two children, the beautiful and spoilt little boy, Claude, on whom she dotes and Thalia, a difficult fifteen-year-old girl. The passive and lovely Cynthia relies far too much on Rachel, and Thalia becomes obsessively and jealously attached. When Rachel falls in love with Armand, son of a wealthy local farmer, her unworldliness and immaturity precipitate a disaster.

Pros: Rachel is a fully-realised character; the descriptions of Dinard and its surroundings; the local people; the way of life of the British and American expatriates.

Cons: Melodrama! Impending doom! Cynthia, Thalia and Claude behave so very badly.

Overall, the pros outweighed the cons and I enjoyed this slice of expatriate life in 1936 Breton.

Redigerat: jan 19, 4:22 am

11. The Stone Circle by Elly Griffiths

Ruth has been excavating another henge on the Saltmarsh and has found two sets of bones, both of murdered adolescent girls, one dead for centuries and the other for decades. Meanwhile, Nelson has been receiving anonymous letters similar to those he received years ago, when he and Ruth found another murdered girl buried in the Saltmarsh. Are the letters linked to the discovery of the skeletons? The newer skeleton is identified as a girl who had gone missing from as street party on the day of marriage between Charles and Diana.

Michelle has had the baby. Nelson still hasn't told his daughters about Kate, his daughter with Ruth. The "romance" between Nelson and Ruth drags on.

I enjoyed The Stone Circle because I like the secondary characters and their sardonic humour. I'm still fed up with Ruth and Nelson.

12. The Lantern Men by Elly Griffiths

Two years on and Ruth has a new job at Cambridge University, where Frank, her American history-professor friend also works. They've moved in together, and Frank certainly pulls his weight with the domestic duties. He's a lovely man, and Ruth's trying to move on, but he's not Nelson. When Ivor March, who has been convicted of killing two women, tells Nelson that he will reveal where two other victims are buried only if Ruth excavates the graves, Ruth is drawn back to New Norfolk and Nelson. The two victims were beautiful women, both of whom had a connection with Ivor Marsh, as did the two women whose bodies haven't been found. But three of Marsh's female friends refuse to believe that he is a murderer and are campaigning for the case to be reopened. When another tall, blonde young woman who also knew Ivor, is murdered, even those who were convinced of Marsh's guilt have doubts.

The lantern men belong to legend: if they hear people on the marsh at night, they guide them to their deaths. There are rumours that a modern-day lantern man is responsible for the killings.

Once again, I enjoyed the book, liked the secondary characters and the humour and was engaged by the mystery and investigation. Still fed up with R and N. Michelle deserves better!

jan 22, 5:32 pm

The Northminster Mysteries by Harriet Smart

This boxed set contains The Butchered Man, The Dead Songbird and The Shadowcutter, three mysteries set in Northminster, an English cathedral city, in the 1840s. Major Vernon is establishing a police force and has employed Felix Carswell as the police surgeon. Carswell is the illegitimate son of Lord Rothborough, a devoted parent who has always taken an interest in his son's life.

13. In The Butchered Man, Vernon and Carsell investigate the death of an ambitious clergyman whose mutilated body has been found on a building site.

14. The Dead Songbird is a beautiful young man, found dead in the cathedral. He is one of two leading tenors in the cathedral choir.

15. The Shadowcutter cuts silhouettes from paper and has been employed by Lord Rothborough to provide entertainment for his daughter's birthday. There are too many sub-plots, which meander all over the place, but I still enjoyed the book.

I enjoyed all three books because I liked Smart's writing style, was engaged with the characters and interested in the historical development of the police force. Carswell and Vernon are flawed characters who make mistakes, especially with women.

I'd written a more detailed review, but it disappeared, much to my frustration.

This was a Kindle freebie. It's no longer free but is available on Kindle Unlimited.

jan 23, 8:55 am

>30 pamelad: Sounds up my street, Pam. And similar to Karen Charlton's books about Stephen Lavender.

jan 24, 4:02 pm

>31 john257hopper: I think you'd like them. I've just finished the sixth book in the series.

jan 24, 5:28 pm

The Northminster Mysteries Box Set 2 by Harriet Smart

16. The Hanging Cage

Two suicides, and the discovery of human bones in a culvert, lead Carswell and Vernon to a depraved murderer.

17. The Ghosts of Ardenthwaite

Information from a high-class prostitute reveals the truth behind a turf war amongst violent criminals. The plot thread about the ghosts, which have a rational explanation, is irrelevant to the main plot, but introduces Carswell to the young woman he marries.

18. The Echo at Rooke Court

A fire, a missing woman, floods, a badly-run fever clinic, a group of Anglo-Catholics who are plotting to reunite the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church, two murders, one of them historical. Many, many plot threads. Vernon's job is at risk because he has bent more rules than his rigid boss can handle.

I've become quite attached to Felix Carswell, Major Vernon and Lord Rothborough. The plots are becoming less believable and more convoluted, and the books are getting longer, but there's plenty of interesting historical information about developments in medical science and criminology.

jan 28, 4:40 pm

The Northminster Mysteries Box Set 3 by Harriet Smart
19. The Fatal Engine, 20. The Witches of Pitfeldry, 21. Moonshine and Mercury
22. Tarleton's Coffer by Harriet Smart
23. Mummer's Night by Harriet Smart

I've read all the Nothminster mysteries now, 10 novels and a novella set in the early 1840s. They've all taken place over a couple of years so Felix Carswell, the police surgeon, is still only 26 and, while he's a dedicated doctor with many good qualities, as husband he's not doing well. He's avoiding his domestic problems by burying himself in work. Major Giles Vernon, by contrast, is happy with Emma Mansfield despite being short of cash. They've taken in the three children of Emma's half-sister.

Just as well there aren't any more, because the books are getting longer, and it really is time I read something else. I've enjoyed all of these historical mysteries and become attached to the characters. The whole series is available on KindleUnlimited.

Redigerat: jan 29, 7:04 am

>34 pamelad: I've just downloaded The Butchered Man the first of this series and will let you know what I think in due course.

You've really raced through these, haven't you?

jan 29, 4:06 pm

>35 john257hopper: I hope you like it.

It was the right series at the right moment, and saved having to think about what to read next!

jan 29, 4:53 pm

24. What Moves the Dead by T. Kingfisher is a spin-off from The Fall of the House of Usher. It's set the 1890s in Ruritania, which is across the border from Gallacia, the home of the narrator, Lieutenant Easton. The Gallacian language which is "worse than Finnish" has seven sets of pronouns. Very amusing! Easton has received an invitation from an old friend, Madeline Usher, who is very ill. She suffers from catalepsy, and worse, and appears close to death. Her brother Roderick is also very ill. The house itself, and the tarn at its foot, exude malevolence.

This entertaining novella doesn't take itself too seriously and I found it very amusing. It begins with a description of foul-smelling fungi, and fungi are indeed central to the plot.

The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe

I've read a couple of Poe's famous stories, The Purloined Letter and The Murders in the Rue Morgue, but not this one. I wasn't keen on Poe's writing, which is archaic and waffly, so much so that I had to keep re-reading sentences in order to make sense of them. This must be a Poe idiosyncrasy because I've read and enjoyed many other nineteenth century writers. Anyway, there's plenty of malevolence and understated horror, but in thirtyish pages there's not much space for plot.

jan 31, 5:45 pm

25. Murder on the Leviathan by Boris Akunin is an historical mystery, set in the late 19th century. It begins in Paris, with the discovery of 10 dead servants and their murdered employer, and the theft of a golden Indian statue. A gold badge clasped in the hand of the murdered employer leads the investigator, Gustave Gauche, to the first-class passengers on the maiden voyage of the Leviathan. Gauche identifies ten people, some of them suspects and some who could prove useful to his investigation.

This has many of the ingredients of a traditional mystery in the style of Agatha Christie: a collection of suspects on whom suspicion falls in turn; a twisty, artificial plot; at least one ruthless criminal; a denouement in which the investigator explains how he solved the crime. Fandorin, a young Russian diplomat with prematurely white hair, is a cypher who reveals little of himself. Perhaps we learn more about him as the series continues. There's a lot of racial stereotyping, particularly of the Japanese character, but it's so heavily ironic that it could be a comment on the farcical Asian characters in books like Sax Rohmer's Fu Man Chu.

Enjoyable enough, and I'll read more in the series if I can find free copies.

feb 2, 12:41 am

26. A Gentle Murderer by Dorothy Salisbury Davis was first published in 1951. It is a psychological study of a murderer, which starts in a New York Catholic church when a tormented man confesses to the young Father Duffy that he has murdered a woman with a hammer. Duffy cannot tell the police about the crime and doesn't know the murderer's name or where to find him, so his only recourse is to identify the murderer and persuade him to turn himself in. His starting point is the information revealed by the murderer's disjointed confessional ramblings.

Sergeant Goldsmith is carrying out a parallel search, starting with the acquaintances of the murder victim. We, the readers, know who the murderer is, are privy to his thoughts, and realise that a young woman and her mother are in danger. Will Duffy and Goldsmith be in time to prevent another murder?

The publishers have supplied numerous footnotes, starting with the very first line of the book, "Bless me father for I have sinned...." There is no need for a footnote to explain this, and the overuse of footnotes is a distraction throughout the book. They explain things most readers would already know, could pick up from the context, or don't need to know. Few are useful. There is a reading group guide at the end of the book, and I found some of the questions problematical because what you think will depend on your own religious beliefs, which might not be what you want in a book group discussion.

Overall, this is a suspense-filled, well-written, psychological crime novel.

Thanks to NetGalley and Poisoned Pen Press for this ARC.

feb 5, 4:04 pm

27. The Lifted Veil by George Eliot

The narrator, a sickly second son, can tell what what other people are thinking. It's hard to say more about this novella without giving too much away. I think there's a message about allowing other people's opinions to overly influence one's actions.

This was an interesting oddity.

feb 6, 2:54 pm

>40 pamelad: maybe I'll try that. I need some short classic reads to balance my longer reads.

feb 6, 6:06 pm

28. The Shivering Sands by Victoria Holt

The setting is historical, because people are getting around on horses and women are leading restricted lives, but it's hard to tell exactly when this gothic romantic suspense is set. Victorian? There are trains.

When Caroline Verlaine married Pietro, a musical genius, she gave up her ambition to be a concert pianist. Now that he is dead, she needs to find a way to support herself, so she has taken employment as a music teacher at Lovat Stacy, the house of the wealthy Sir William Stacy. Caroline's older sister, Roma, was carrying out an archaeological investigation on the grounds of Lovat Stacy and has vanished without trace, so Caroline is keeping her identity secret as she investigates her sister's disappearance.

Along with the ailing Sir William the inhabitants of Lovat Stacy include Emily, an heiress who has been married against her will to Napier, wayward son of Sir William; Allegra, the illegitimate daughter of Napier and a gypsy woman; the housekeeper, Mrs Lincroft and her daughter, Alice; Sylvia, the eccentric sister of Sir William. Emily, Allegra and Alice, along with Sophie from the vicarage, are Caroline's pupils. Napier, who shot his older brother Beau by accident, or perhaps deliberately, had been banished by Sir William to an Australian sheep station and has been allowed to return home only if he marries Emily, who is Sir William's ward. Is Napier a foul murderer who is plotting to murder his rich unwanted wife? Did he get rid of Roma? Caroline thinks not, but she isn't sure.

An entertaining read. It's not of the same calibre of Wuthering Heights or Rebecca, whose influences are obvious, but I enjoyed it.

Redigerat: feb 6, 6:11 pm

>40 pamelad: It's worth a try. If you're interested in short books that aren't classics, I've read a few good novellas recently: Small Things Like These, Foster, Cold Enough for Snow and What Moves the Dead.

feb 8, 3:24 am

29. Death of a Bookseller by Bernard Farmer

Bernard Farmer had worked as a policeman and was a dedicated book collector, and it is his inside knowledge of policing and the book trade that make his book, first published in 1956, so interesting. Sergeant Wigan guides a drunken bookseller, Michael Fisk, home safely, and they become friends. When Fisk is murdered, Wigan is seconded to the investigation. Wigan's superior arrests the quarrelsome bookrunner, Fred Hampton, but Wigan doesn't believe that Hampton is guilty, even when he's convicted and sentenced to hang. Wigan carries out his own investigation with the help of two bookrunners who doubt Hampton's guilt. Bookrunning is a cutthroat trade so there are plenty of other suspects, but can Wigan find the real culprit before Hampton's sentence is carried out?

The middle of the book gets bogged down with too many bookrunners, a surprising proportion of whom are potentially murderous psychopaths. Some people will stop at nothing for a rare first edition.

I enjoyed the book for the authentic book trade details and the realistic depiction of policing. The prose style was pedestrian, and there were too many suspects, but overall this was an entertaining crime novel.

Thanks to NetGalley and Poisoned Pen Press for this British Library Crime Classic ARC.

Redigerat: feb 14, 6:25 pm

30. The Dolls at Heron's Reach by Harriet Smart

I've read all the Victorian Northminster mysteries, so gave this 1930's Northminster Mystery a try. As in the Victorian series there's a young forensic surgeon who is linked to but not quite part of the aristocracy, and a fatherly police chief. The bodies of a young man and his wife have been found posed in a tableau. The dead man is an old school friend of a photographer who is well-known for his artistic erotic images and for affairs with beautiful women. The plot involves erotic/pornographic films, magazines and old photos, the judgement of pornographic or obscene depending on whether the character is a working-class puritan or a upper-class sophisticate. It's all a bit confused, and too long. I missed Vernon and Carswell.

31. A Killer in the Crystal Palace by Deb Marlowe

The Crystal Palace was the site of The Great Exhibition of 1851, where innovative industrial products from all over the world were displayed. The heroine, Kara Levett, and hero, Niall Kier, meet for the first time in the office of an Exhibition panellist, who has the power to approve their selection as exhibitors. Kara makes automatons and Niall forges things from iron. When a man is murdered with the arm from one of Kara's automatons and she is accused of the murder, she and Niall team up to find the real culprit. The plot involves a one-armed man, a maker of artificial limbs, industrial espionage, treacherous foreigners, a hideous birthmark, secret passages, and more. There are many characters and places that have nothing to do with the plot but slow the pace and add to the confusion. The characters speak contemporary American English.

The setting and the historical background were interesting, but otherwise I found the book dull. It is the first in a planned series, and the author has tried to introduce too many characters and insert too many incidents that are meant to describe Kara's background and character but would be better left to another book or removed altogether.

Thanks to NetGalley and Dragonblade Publishing for this ARC.

feb 15, 6:49 pm

32. Maestro by Peter Goldsworthy

I've read four of Goldsworthy's books, which are all good, and all different. Maestro, his first book, begins in 1967 when Paul, the fifteen-year-old narrator, arrives in Darwin from Adelaide. Darwin, with its tropical climate, multicultural population, and position on the frontier between Australia and Asia, is a shock to Paul and his parents. Paul is a talented pianist, and his father has found him a teacher, the elderly, eccentric Austrian Herr Eduard Keller, once a famous concert pianist. Initially Paul is far too self-absorbed and immature to appreciate Herr Keller, the maestro, but over the years he begins to understand.

This is a story of a boy growing up, and a man who can never forgive himself.

Redigerat: feb 21, 4:49 pm

Just saw your message about changing headings. I'd like for that to happen if possible. Not sure where to post this, hope it's alright. Janice

feb 21, 6:38 pm

>47 jbegab: Hi Janice. I thought that group administrators could edit thread headings, but they can't.

Instead, you could start a new thread with the heading you want, then I could copy the books over from your old thread. The old thread can't be deleted, but if it's not used it will move down the list. You could post a message saying you have a new thread.

Redigerat: feb 21, 9:02 pm

>47 jbegab: >48 pamelad: I’ve found a thread that says I can change the thread heading so I’ve asked how. Fingers crossed.

feb 21, 10:28 pm

>49 pamelad: Thank you.

feb 21, 11:17 pm

feb 22, 4:19 pm

>51 pamelad: Thank you

feb 26, 1:26 am

33. Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

I very much enjoyed this odd little novella. Keiko Furukura has always been odd. She doesn't know how to behave like other people and if she were to follow her instincts, someone might easily be dead. Not that she is violent or malicious, it's just that what seems to her to be the quickest way to solve a problem might involve grievous bodily harm. So When Keiko finds a job as a part-time worker in a convenience store, it's perfect fit: so regimented that she knows exactly what to do. She's safe and happy there, even though her family and her younger sister's friends are horrified that she's spent 16 years in a dead-end job and has never had a boyfriend. They'd rather she live a normal life with lots of problems and unhappiness than be happy in the unusual life that suits her. When Keiko meets another misfit, she invites him to move into her flat because she thinks a pretend boyfriend will make her sister happy.

This is a sad and funny book with a message about the way we treat people who don't fit in.

feb 26, 1:27 am

34. The Bullet that Missed by Richard Osman

The third book in the Thursday Murder Club series. I put it aside after a few pages because I didn't feel like its jaunty artificiality but picked it up a few days later and enjoyed it. The group is investigating the death of a young TV journalist whose car went over a cliff, presumably with her in it. She had been investigating a fraud and had managed to identify the perpetrator and trace the proceeds. Chris the detective is still happy with the mother of his partner Donna; Donna and Bogdan are going well, and so are Ron and Pauline. The plot involves a KGB Colonel, a Swedish man mountain who launders illegal profits through cryptocurrency, a couple of TV stars, and a Chief Constable who writes crime novels and self-publishes them for the Kindle.

Osman is getting a bit sentimental now, but I enjoyed the book. Light and cheery.

feb 26, 4:02 pm

35. Working with People I Want to Punch in the Throat by Jen Mann

You'd think that, now that I'm retired, I'd be able to avoid office politics, but I'm a volunteer with a community organisation and live in a complex of town houses managed by an owners' corporation. Lately I've been bombarded, so I was drawn to this BookBub bargain. I was expecting categories of workplace monsters illustrated by amusing anecdotes, and the short glossary at the beginning of the book made me smile, but after a couple of pages the book launches into memoir. It's a history, amusing in parts, of the author's working life.

The author has a blog, People I Want to Punch in the Throat, which would have put me off buying the book if I'd known.

mar 1, 5:25 pm

36. Scenes of Clerical Life by George Eliot

Three novellas. The first, The Sad Fortunes of the Rev. Amos Barton, concerns a man who has risen above his station in life to become a curate. He earns only 80 pounds a year, not nearly enough to support his wife and six children, so is both poverty-stricken and in debt. As a curate he's unsatisfactory, ill-prepared, confusing and dull, and because of his poverty his parishioners hold him in contempt. Although this novella provided a well-rounded picture of village life and politics, I struggled to finish it because it was so depressing, and because Eliot's sardonic humour did not appeal to me.

Mr Gilfil's Love Story

Mr Gilfil is an elderly vicar, a kind enough and well-respected despite having rough manners and keeping company below his station. The village knows him as a bachelor, but once he was very much in love with his wife Tina, who died too young. This is another tragedy, but Eliot is sympathetic to Tina and Gilfil so, although this is sad, it's not as depressing as the first novella.

Janet's Repentance

Janet Dempster is the wife of a shonky, violent, alcoholic lawyer. She also drinks, to deaden her misery. Her husband is carrying out a vendetta against a new curate, Mr Tryan, who is far too evangelical for his liking, and the Anglicans in the town have taken sides. They're for tradition as represented by the old curate, Mr Crewe, or for the evangelical Mr Tryan. The book (at over 200 pages it's the longest of the three sections) begins in a tavern, where Dempster is holding forth, and introduces the ignorance, prejudice and malice of Dempster and his supporters.

Janet, as Dempster's wife, automatically belongs with the anti-Tryans, but then she meets him.

I found Janet's Repentance interesting for its character studies, the church and village politics, and what it was like for Janet, as a victim of domestic violence.

Scenes of Clerical life was heavy-going because Eliot has a gigantic vocabulary and is given to lengthy philosophical asides which required a great deal of concentration on my part. But it's definitely worth reading.

mar 9, 4:33 pm

37. Captain Blood by Rafael Sabatini

Peter Blood, an ex-soldier has returned to his profession of doctor and settled in an English village. He is called in to treat a wounded friend who has been injured in the Duke of Monmouth's rebellion against the wicked King James, discovered by the king's soldiers, and arrested for treason. Blood is sentenced to hang, but at the last minute is sent to the Caribbean as a slave, where he is purchased by the vicious Colonel Bishop.

A wonderful adventure story with a brave and handsome hero. Blood becomes a pirate on the Spanish Main: the most honorable, gentlemanly, successful pirate ever!

mar 9, 11:52 pm

38. Too Many Men by Lily Brett

Ruth Rothwax is, like the author, the child of holocaust survivors, brought up in Melbourne and now living in New York. Ruth's parents, who were in Auschwitz, don't talk about the past. Her mother, Rooshka, used to wake screaming in the night. Ruth knows that their all her parents' relatives were killed, but she knows nothing else about them, not even their names. She tries to fill in the gaps with the tiny bits of information that her parents occasionally allow to escape and has made many trips to Poland to visit the places where they once lived. Ruth's has persuaded her widowed father, Edek, to spend time in Poland with her and although he'd prefer not to see Poland again, he wants to make his much-loved daughter happy.

Ruth hates Polish people and embarrasses Edek with her anger and rudeness, while Edek, who is a lovely man, enjoys being with his daughter, eating the Polish food that he has missed, driving around in Mercedes taxis, and speaking Polish. He provides the light relief in this very confronting book. Anti-Semitism is still rife in the Poland of this novel, with anti-Jewish slogans painted on walls and Poles who argue that Jews were responsible for the holocaust, or that they weren't killed at all and escaped to Russia. The locals profit from Jewish culture: they sell statues of stereotypically wicked Jews in the markets and souvenir shops; they run Jewish restaurants and Jewish cabarets where the only Jews are the customers; they run tours to Auschwitz-Birkenau, which has become a theme park for the Steven Spielberg film, Schindler's List.

The trip is a success in that Edek tells Ruth a lot more about his and Rooshka's lives: their happy middle-class family lives before the war; their ambitions; life in the ghetto; the concentration camp; the displaced persons camp. This was a hard book to read. Towards the end there's a shocking quote from the diary of General Patton. Patton had treated displaced persons as though they were prisoners.

"I think the great American general enjoyed the extra difficulties he created," Ruth said. "He wrote in his diary that others 'believe that the Displaced Person is a human being, which he is not, and this applies particularly to the Jews, who are lower than animals.'"

A very worthwhile read. An essential piece of history.

mar 10, 9:48 am

>57 pamelad: loved that one, AND the movie.

mar 11, 4:26 pm

>59 fuzzi: Errol Flynn was excellent. Rafael Sabatini's books have been on my radar for years. I've read two now (Scaramouche is the other) and enjoyed them both. The Sea-Hawk could be next, both book and film.

mar 12, 7:30 pm

Eighty-Nine Perfect Minutes is a Guardian article that bemoans the increasing length of books and films and contains critics' recommendations for some shorter works: a few to avoid and plenty worth a look.

I can recommend The Palm Beach Story, Rashomon, High Noon and Duck Soup. The only other one I've seen is Punch Drunk Love, which put me off Adam Sandler forever.

I've read six of the fifteen recommended short books and would recommend five of them (not Nightwood which I think is a modernist mess but which many people admire), so the other nine could be well worth a look. The five I've read and enjoyed are: Wide Sargasso Sea, Small Things Like These, Wittgenstein's Nephew, A Month in the Country and W, or the Memory of Childhood.

mar 13, 9:52 am

>61 pamelad: Interesting, thanks. I share the frustration with the notion that a book or film has to be long to be worthy.

mar 14, 4:45 am

39. Death of an Author by E C R Lorac

The highly renowned, best-selling crime writer, Vivian Lestrange, is a recluse. He deals with the world through his secretary, Eleanor Clarke and his housekeeper, Mrs Fife, and even his publisher, Andrew Marriott, has never met him. When another of Marriott's best-selling authors, Michael Ashe, asks to meet Lestrange, a dinner is organised and Ashe is very surprised by the Lestrange who turns up. There's an entertaining discussion about female writers, which is marginally connected to the plot but obviously of great interest to Lorac. In 1935 when this book was written, most people thought that a book by a woman writer would be instantly identifiable because women rarely left the domestic sphere, so they didn't know anything about the world. Lorac's mouthpiece disagrees!

Soon after the dinner, Lestrange and Fife disappear from an immaculately clean house with a bullet hole in the front window. The police, Inspector Bond and Chief Inspector Warner, believe that a murder has been committed. Their initial investigation reveals that Lestrange and Ashe have no history. They appeared from nowhere three or four years ago. Are they criminals? Are they connected? Who is Mrs Fife and where does she live? Why does Eleanor Clarke have no friends or family? Is she Lestrange? Then a body turns up. Whose body?

There's a lot of talking in Death of an Author. Bond and Warner, in particular, have lengthy conversations about possible scenarios, with numerous permutations and combinations of victim, murderer, accomplice and innocent bystander.

An entertaining Golden Age Mystery.

mar 14, 4:51 am

>62 john257hopper: I haven't read the last book in C J Sansom's Matthew Shardlake series, even though I've enjoyed all the others, because it's almost 900 pages long. Same with Robert Galbraith's Cormoran Strike series. Troubled Blood is over 1000 pages!

mar 14, 7:15 am

I enjoyed the Shardlake series (though it took 2 or 3 books to warm to him as a character) but I agree the last couple were unnecessarily long, especially Tombland.

mar 16, 5:00 pm

40. Things Could Be Worse by Lily Brett

After reading Too Many Men I looked for another book by Lily Brett and decided on this one. It's her first, a collection of short stories set in Melbourne and ranging from the fifties to the eighties. The central character is Lola Bensky, the daughter of Holocaust survivors Renia and Josl who, with none of their biological families remaining, have created a new family with people whose experiences in the war mirrored their own. Brett's stories are affectionate and funny, but the Holocaust is always just beneath the surface. I loved reading about Melbourne in the fifties and sixties.


mar 17, 2:40 am

41. The Sea-Hawk by Rafael Sabatini

Sir Oliver Tresillian is a Cornish gentleman in love with his beautiful young neighbour, Rosamund Godolphin. They plan to marry despite Rosamund's brother's and ex-guardian's dislike of Oliver, but Rosamund's brother is killed and Oliver, who is innocent, is betrayed by his half-brother and disbelieved by Rosamund. He is kidnapped, to be sold as a slave.

I won't say any more because I don't want to spoil the story. I enjoyed The Sea-Hawk but it's talkier than Captain Blood, which is my favourite Sabatini so far, and the plot doesn't hang together as well. Still worth a read, though.

When things are getting you down, be grateful you're not a galley slave!

Redigerat: mar 20, 5:07 pm

42. The Woman in the Library by Sulari Gentill

The book begins with an email from an aspiring writer, Leo, to the Australian author Hannah Tigone, who is writing a mystery novel set in Boston. Leo is providing an American perspective. In the first chapter Hannah is in Boston on a writing fellowship, sharing a table with four strangers in the Boston Public Library. She is making notes on her companions as potential characters in her book when a scream from the next room jolts the four strangers into conversation, and they introduce themselves.

The beginning of the book, Leo's email and the first chapter, is confusing and rather dull, so I nearly gave up. The second chapter is from Hannah's book, which starts with four people in the Boston Public Library who hear a scream. The writer is now called Freddie Kincaid, and her three companions have the same names as the people in chapter one. So, there are three threads: the emails from Leo, commenting on the chapters Hannah has sent him for review; Hannah Tigone's thread; Freddie Kincaid's thread. It still sounds confusing, but it's easy enough to follow. A bit too meta for me, because I'd rather lose myself in the story than be drawn back into the artificiality of the writing process, but a quick and entertaining read.

Redigerat: mar 21, 12:32 pm

>62 john257hopper: agreed. I prefer quality over quantity. Middlemarch comes to mind as a book that is both.

>67 pamelad: I skipped this review as I am hoping to read it in the future.

mar 21, 4:49 pm

>69 fuzzi: The Rafael Sabatini books have been sitting on my Kindle for years. I should have read them sooner. Enjoy The Sea-Hawk!

Middlemarch is my favourite of George Eliot's books.

mar 23, 8:32 am

>70 pamelad: agreed on Middlemarch, though to be fair I've only read that and Silas Marner (read that one twice, high praise!).

mar 23, 9:37 am

I couldn't get on with Middlemarch but I will try it again someday.

mar 23, 9:50 am

>72 john257hopper: it took me almost a month to read it, but it was because there was so much to read and for me to savor.

mar 25, 6:28 pm

43. Blindness by Jose Saramago

The first man to go blind is stopped in his car at the traffic lights, the cars behind him beeping impatiently. A taxi driver, who appears to be a Good Samaritan, takes the blind man home and, soon after, loses his sight as well. As blindness spreads rapidly through the population, the authorities take steps to control the epidemic, beginning with the forcible incarceration of the blind and their contacts. They're locked in a disused mental asylum, left to their own devices, and guarded by armed soldiers who are so fearful that they shoot on sight.

The central characters, who acquired their blindness from the first man, share the same ward. They are his wife, the taxi driver who escorted him home, the ophthalmologist who treated him and the people who were in the ophthalmologist's waiting room - an old man with an eye patch, a young woman who sleeps with men in a semi-professional way, and a small boy with a squint. The doctor's wife faked her blindness so that she could accompany her husband, so she looks after the group and is a witness to the terrors that ensue as blindness spreads though the population and society descends into chaos.

A very worthwhile, thought-provoking read, which I recommend highly. Jose Saramago won a Nobel Prize.

Redigerat: mar 28, 4:20 pm

44. The Last Remains by Elly Griffiths

Published this year, this is the most recent book in the Ruth Galloway series, set in 2021. In England the Covid lockdowns are over, but isolation rules are still in force and the King's Lynn police station is short-staffed.

A builder who is demolishing part of the basement of an old shop comes across a skeleton, so Ruth is called in. A metal plate in an ankle enables the police to identify the victim, who went missing twenty years ago. I thought The Last Remains was tired, too same-same. Another missing girl. Another charismatic university lecturer.

I skipped The Locked Room and The Night Hawks so missed a few steps in the Ruth/Nelson romance, which is not a problem because I'm sick of the pair of them. Now that I know what happens I can go back and read the books later.

Despite the evidence of this less than stellar review I quite enjoyed The Last Remains, but I think the series should have ended a few books ago.

mar 30, 3:58 pm

45. Girl on a Wire by Libby Phelps

The author was brought up in the Westboro Baptist Church to believe that homosexuality is evil and that America is going to hell for condoning it. They're the nutters who cruelly picket funerals and "dance little jigs" at disasters like 9/11. This pedestrian little memoir describes what it was like to grow up in the church, what drove the author to leave, and her life after.

It was a Kindle bargain and I thought it was by another Westboro escapee I'd read about, who had come across as a deeper thinker than Libby. It was interesting to read about the people in the Westboro church and their reasons for their actions, and it's a quick read.

mar 31, 4:38 pm

46. Commandments Six and Eight by E Aceituna Griffin

A Golden Age crime novel, first published in 1936. The young Oxford don, Ben Latham, is walking home from his London club when he finds a front door key on the pavement. Naturally he tried the front doors of the nearby houses until he finds the right one, and naturally he goes inside! His uncharacteristic impulse involves him in mystery and romance, as his chivalrous instincts urge him to protect the naive Gerda, who is straight from an Austrian convent, from the suspicious machinations of a German baron and baroness. Ariadne Page, a beautiful and notorious bright young thing, and an equally gorgeous young man, Mark Harmon, live with the German couple, who have a hold over them.

There's theft and murder, as you can tell from the title. The book is quite readable, but the plot is silly and relies too much on coincidence, while the characters don't really come to life except for Ben's aunt, who very conveniently lives close to the country house rented by the suspect baron and his companions.

apr 1, 4:11 am

>77 pamelad: sounds good fun!

Redigerat: apr 2, 7:05 pm

47. Exiles by Jane Harper is the fourth Aaron Falk book. He's in the wine country of South Australia, staying at the Raco family vineyard. Falk is the godfather to the son of his colleague Greg Raco, the local policeman who was introduced in The Dry and who, with his wife Rita, is now Falk's close friend. The baby's baptism was postponed for a year because of the disappearance of Kim, the ex-partner of Greg's brother Charlie Raco, and mother to Greg's teenaged daughter Zara. Falk is drawn into the investigation of both Kim's disappearance and another older crime, the hit-run death of a local accountant, father to a friend of Zara and husband of a woman Falk is keen on.

Exiles was slow and dull. It's longer than it needs to be because of the sloppy writing.

apr 2, 5:29 pm

>78 john257hopper: I don't know that it was meant to be funny, but the silliness certainly raised a smile, or at least a smirk. We live in more cynical times. The hero comes across Gerda for the first time as she sits in the garden dressed in traditional Austrian costume, surrounded by flowers with the sun shining on her plaits, and I was instantly transported to Sound of Music.

I've started Juggernaut by Alice Campbell, a 1926 mystery that is looking promising.

Redigerat: apr 4, 6:13 pm

48. Juggernaut by Alice Campbell

Esther Rowe is a Canadian nurse. She accompanied a patient to Cannes, and wants to stay there longer, so she takes a job with the intimidating Doctor Gregory Sartorius, whose life is dedicated to scientific research. Sartorius takes patients only to earn money for his research. He has already discovered an antidote to tetanus and is working on one for typhoid, which is rife in Cannes. This really takes you back to the book's publication date of 1928 - before vaccination, before antibiotics, a water supply that couldn't be trusted. Sartorius gives up his practice when he is hired as a private physician to a rich, elderly man, Sir Charles Clifford, who is suffering from typhoid. Esther accepts the position as Clifford's day nurse, and becomes suspicious of Clifford's much younger wife, who is having an affair with an impecunious younger man.

Juggernaut was interesting for its picture of the times, rather than for its characters and plot. It's highly melodramatic, and both Sartorius and Lady Clifford are stock villains. Lady Clifford has the hands of a cocotte, with short fat fingers!

apr 6, 5:32 pm

49. Last year I had a binge on John Pickett regency mysteries by Sheri Cobb South and bought two box sets, John Pickett Mysteries 1-5 and John Pickett Mysteries 6-10. I stopped after number 7 and have now resumed with number 8, Peril by Post which, like the other seven, is a pleasant, undemanding read.

apr 7, 6:49 am

>82 pamelad: I've bitten and have just downloaded the first book in this series!

apr 9, 4:27 am

>83 john257hopper: I hope you like it. I've just finished books 9 and 10, which were light and entertaining. Nothing profound!

John Pickett Mysteries 6-10 by Sheri Cobb South

50 & 51 Into Thin Eire and Brother, Can You Spare a Crime. I'm now looking for another historical mystery series. The Northminster Mysteries is my favourite series of those I've read recently.

apr 10, 6:23 pm

52. Trespasses by Louise Kennedy is set in Northern Ireland in the seventies, during The Troubles. twenty-four-year-old Cushla Lavery teaches grade 3 at a Catholic primary school and works evening shifts at the family pub run by her brother, Eamonn. The Lavery's live in a small town outside Belfast, a mixed area, and the clients of the pub include both Catholics and Protestants. One of them is Michael Agnew, a married barrister in his fifties, a Protestant who defends young Catholic men, some of them innocent of the crimes they're accused of, arrested for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. He and Cushla begin an affair, which is doomed from the beginning and puts Cushla, her family and Micheal Agnew at risk. I thought the romance was the weakest part of the book, though effective as a plot device. The rest of the book is excellent and describes life in Northern Ireland from the inside.

Cushla becomes enmeshed in the problems of the McGeown family, who are tormented because Mrs McGeown is Protestant and her husband Catholic. Davy, the youngest child, is in Cushla's class, ignored by the other students and victimised by both the priest, Father Slattery and the school principal. Cushla's attempts to help make the McGeown's situation a great deal worse.

A very worthwhile read. Highly recommended.

apr 10, 6:42 pm

53. Furious Old Women by Leo Bruce

Carolus Deene, history teacher and amateur sleuth, has been called in the investigate the death of a fanatically religious old women, loathed by everyone who knew her. As a supporter of the evangelical extreme of the Church of England, she was at war with a woman at the Catholic extreme, who was determined to introduce "popish practices" to the Anglican services. The vicar attempts to steer a path between the demands of his two most enthusiastic parishioners. There are some very amusing minor characters, particularly the vicar and the local police constable.

A light-hearted, humorous mystery. I enjoyed it.

apr 12, 5:25 am

54. Death Can Be Habit-Forming by Sheri Cobb South is the most recent John Pickett mystery.

Pickett has left the Bow Street Runners and is working as a clerk. He advertised himself as a private detective but received no responses and is unwilling to lead a life of leisure on his wife's money. When a client turns up, Pickett takes on the job, extricating a young woman from an institution for opium addicts, and persuades his wife to sign him in as a patient.

I've read too many of these so it's just as well there are no more. (Just one novella.)

apr 12, 5:58 am

Pleased to see you're over half way to the goal, only just over a quarter of the way through the year, Pam. :)

apr 12, 6:31 pm

55. The Widow Ching - Pirate by Jorge Luis Borges

This Penguin Mini Modern Classic contains five short stories. Three, including the title story, are about infamous historical figures. Tion, Uqbar, Orbis, Tertius and Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote are among Borges most famous writings.

I have neither the turn of mind nor the erudition to appreciate these stories, which have left me puzzled and confused. But Borges has been on my list of writers I ought to read for a long time, so I'm glad I tried.

>88 john257hopper: Thanks John! I've done a lot of easy reading and have been too impatient for long books.

apr 13, 5:34 pm

56. The Governesses by Anne Serre

Three young governesses are employed by Mr and Mrs Austeur to look after their four little boys. In their yellow dresses they lean up against the gate of the walled garden, as crowds of men gather in the road. When strangers find their way into the garden, the governesses use them to satisfy their sexual needs leaving them drained and deflated on the lawn. An old man watches through a telescope. The four little boys become a crowd, with the oldest of them yearning after the governesses, who romp naked in the woods.

This is a very weird little book and I liked it a lot. It reminds me a little of Barbara Comyns with a bit of Leonora Carrington.

Redigerat: apr 13, 6:06 pm

57. The Missing Girl by Shirley Jackson

A Penguin Mini Modern Classic consisting of three short stories, The Missing Girl, Journey with a Lady and Nightmare. The first is the longest and most unsettling, though everything Jackson wrote is unsettling, a critical comment on a repressive, hypocritical fifties society.

I'm clearing the backlog of unread books from my Kindle, so have decided to burn through some short ones.

apr 18, 1:10 am

58. Murder at the Pageant by Victor L. Whitechurch

Far too many people to keep track of are participating in a private entertainment, dressed in Elizabethan costumes. A man is killed, and some pearls are stolen. The police and an ex-member of the secret service investigate. Nothing special.

First published in 1930 and re-published by Black Heath Classic Crime.

apr 18, 1:24 am

59. Death in the Middle Watch by Leo Bruce

The owner of Sunshine Cruises has been receiving anonymous letters threatening a death on a cruise, so he has hired Carolus Deene to prevent the crime. In lieu of payment, Deene has brought along his headmaster, Mr Gorringer (who is quite unnecessary) and his housekeeper, Mrs Stick (good for comic relief) accompanied by her husband. On the same cruise a year ago, a man died and was buried at sea, and this year his wife, newly married to a man she met on last year's cruise, is again on board. Deen's presence does not prevent two more murders.

I like Leo Bruce's sense of humour, so found Death in the Middle Watch very amusing.

apr 23, 6:37 pm

60. Other Houses by Paddy O'Reilly

It's taken me a while to finish this because I had so much sympathy for the main characters, Lily and Janks, that I really wanted things to work out for them, so I had to keep putting the book down because I was so worried for them.

Lily has an adolescent daughter, Jewel, who already has a criminal record and clearly has a death wish, because she's just been arrested for train surfing. Lily wants to give Jewel a new start, to move away from the rough Melbourne suburb where they've always lived to the more salubrious inner north. She's helped by Janks, who used to be addicted to heroin but has been off it for years. Lily has no control over Jewel, but Janks does, and they're a family now. Lily works as a cleaner, hence the book's title, while Janks works in a factory. There's never enough money, so when Jewel wants to go on a school trip to Greece, there's no way in the world that Janks and Lily can pay for it.

Other Houses is leavened by Lily's humour and her down-to-earth perspective on her life and the lives of the people whose houses she cleans. The Janks and Lily chapters alternate, and it's the Janks chapters I couldn't bear to read, though I kept hoping he'd get out of the trap he'd made for himself.

The places in Other Houses are very familiar to me, which always adds a lot to my enjoyment of a book. I live in the inner north, which was not nearly as salubrious when I first moved here, and taught for a while in Broadmeadows, where Lily comes from. I'm not too comfortable with equating Broadmeadows and the criminal underworld, because the majority of the people there don't deserve the stigma, but for a Melbournian Broadie is shorthand for disadvantage and crime.

apr 23, 7:03 pm

61. The Trolley Problem by Thomas Cathcart

Five people are on a tramline in the path of a runaway trolly, unable to get clear. One person is stuck on a branch line. You can pull a lever to divert the trolley to the branch line, killing one person instead of five. What would you do?

Cathcart analyses this philosophical problem from many perspectives. The woman who pulled the lever has been charged with manslaughter in the court of public opinion, and Cathcart presents both the prosecution and the defence by referring to philosophers, religious teachings and psychology. He delves into the problems with using analogies. This short book was an interesting exercise in clear thinking, though a little repetitive.

Redigerat: apr 30, 6:04 am

62. The Day of the Owl by Leonardo Sciascia

In a small Sicilian town a man is shot and killed as he runs for the Palermo bus, but not one of the fifty passengers sees a thing. The captain of the Carabinieri, a mainlander from Palma, painstakingly puts together a case against three men, all members of the mafia. In 1961 when the book was first published, the right-wing politicians in Government denied the mafia's existence, despite the Socialists and the Communists raising mafia crimes in parliament and the Fascists blaming the mafia resurgence on government incompetencet. This is the first Italian mafia novel, a piece of history. It is only 120 pages long and in a coda the author explains why.

"Excuse the length of this letter," wrote a Frenchman ..........."but I have had no time to make it shorter." The author took a year to shorten The Day of the Owl, not for literary reasons but for self-defence, to avoid charges of slander and libel. I was unable to write it with that complete freedom to which every writer is entitled


maj 1, 5:50 pm

63. A Swim in a Pond in the Rain by George Saunders

Years ago I picked up a remaindered copy of Pastoralia, which introduced me to Saunders' short stories, and since then I've sought them out. They're funny and strange, and I like his humanitarian outlook on life. Lincoln in the Bardo is probably his best-known book because it won the Booker, but I prefer his short stories. A Swim in the Pond in the Rain is drawn from the classes Saunders delivers to aspiring writers. He analyses seven stories by the writers Chekov, Tolstoy, Turgenev and Gogol and gets a lot more out of them than I ever could (not surprisingly). The book really made me stop and think about what separates a good story (or book) from a great one. The reasons are in the back of your mind as you read (I know when a writer makes the banal choice and I'm disappointed) but he's crystallised them, expanded them and explained them. It would be a real privilege to be in Saunders' writing class.

Redigerat: maj 8, 12:17 am

64. The Twilight World by Werner Herzog

For twenty-nine years after the end of WWII Hiroo Onoda defended Luban, an island in the Philippines. The Japanese troops had left, and Onoda had been ordered to defend the island until he was relieved. That is exactly what he did.

Herzog has used Onoda's experiences to trigger his own philosophical reflections. I've never been keen on fictionalised reconstructions of the lives of real people because of their mixture of fact and fantasy and the impossibility of knowing where the real person ends and the author begins. This book was even iffier, because Onoda has written his own account, unacknowledged by Herzog. I found Herzog's book interesting because of the real person it was based on but would have been better off reading Hiroo Onoda's original, No Surrender: My Thirty-year War, which I've put on my wish list.

Through him the jungle is to become more than a jungle, a landscape with a deadly nimbus of sudden demise. Despite its unEnglishness I can understand what this sentence means, unlike this selection which, after the first sentence, makes almost no sense: Recollections, or maybe dreams, of the ensuing days are foggy, have taken on a life of their own. Scraps of things, subject to alteration and rearrangement, hard to grasp and lacking a scheme, like a tourbillion of dried leaves that nevertheless indicates where it has come from and where it is going.

Wikipedia tells me that a tourbillon (not a tourbillion) is, in horology, an addition to the mechanics of a watch escapement to increase accuracy. But perhaps the author means a ceiling fan? Tourbillion is the brand name for a range of extra-large ceiling fans, which would make more sense in that sentence fragment but strikes me as insanely obscure. Or are ceiling fans called tourbillions in other countries, like Hoover for vacuum cleaner or Kleenex for tissue?

I don't know whether this pompous murkiness is due to Herzog or his translator, Michael Hofmann, who usually does better. Perhaps it's a synergistic interaction.

Redigerat: maj 9, 7:24 am

65. Plots and Prayers by Niki Savva is the third book in the Road to Ruin trilogy, which traces the downfall of the Australian Liberal Party. For those outside Australia, the Liberal Party isn't liberal in the sense of the US Democrats, or of the UK Liberal Party: It's conservative and is moving further and further to the right. I enjoyed the first book, The Road to Ruin, very much because I had been so pleased to see the homophobic, climate-denying Tony Abbot replaced by the urbane, progressive (for a Liberal) Malcolm Turnbull. I enjoyed the third book, Bulldozed, even more because it's about the defeat of Scott Morrison's Coalition Government by the Labor Party, led by Anthony Albanese. Morrison must come close to being Australia's worst ever prime minister, described by some political commentators as a "once in a lifetime gift to the Labor Party".

The middle book, Plots and Prayers describes the political coup that destroyed Turnbull and replaced him with Morrison. I didn't read the book when it was first published because although Turnbull was fiscally conservative he was socially liberal - centre-right rather than far-right - so his replacement by Scott Morrison was a Very Bad Thing. But when I saw the book on BookBub, I had to buy it.

Niki Savva has excellent political contacts and interviewed many Liberal Party politicians who spoke to her honestly about the coup against Turnbull. It would have been better to read the book closer to the events it describes, because I found it hard to keep track of all the players, but it was fascinating all the same, in an awful way.

maj 9, 5:25 pm

66. Why Translation Matters by Edith Grossman

Grossman is a respected translator from Spanish into English, including works by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Mario Vargas Llosa. Why Translation Matters is a collection of three lectures Grossman gave to Yale University. She talks about the way she translates, the importance of reading books in translation, and the need for better recognition of the work of translators. One small point: Grossman is incensed by British publishers changing her American terminology into British. I am extremely irritated by British English being changed into American when the book is set in Britain, about British people, and by a British author, but the books being translated aren't American or British, so there's no right or wrong form of English to use. If American terminology jars British readers why not replace it, and vice versa?

i read the first two essays with interest, but the third is about translating poetry and I'd need a lot more technical knowledge to understand it. All the same, I'm counting the book as read! It's available from the Open Library.

maj 10, 11:02 am

What irritates me the most is a story by a British author set in Britain, and published originally in Britain, using US English.

maj 12, 6:38 pm

>101 john257hopper: Yes, the Englishness is an integral part of the book. Perhaps some American publishers are underestimating their readers.

Similarly, in a crime novel by the Australian writer Candice Fox there was a crocodile as big as a limousine, and a diner in the middle of the tropical rainforest (I don't remember whether rainforest was translated to jungle). How big is a limousine? Is a diner a cafe?

maj 22, 3:31 pm

67. Transgender Body Politics by Heather Brunskell-Evans

Brunskell-Evans is an academic, a philosopher and a female-rights campaigner. She's a gender-critical feminist, not a tolerant live-and-let-live one like J K Rowling, but more extreme in that she denies the existence of trans men and women. She does, however, make some very, well-researched points about the erosion of women's rights and the lack of scientific evidence for many of the claims of the trans lobby. From my own perspective, the debate these days seems to be focused on the extremes and it's getting worse. On one hand, legislators in the US are passing laws that victimise trans men and women, while on the other, women can lose their jobs for stating that there are two biological sexes, because that's defined as transphobic.

I've mentioned before that I have many qualms about self-identification of gender: the elderly lady I met at the gym who no longer went to the one near her home because she couldn't cope with naked, male-bodied people in the change room; the students at the disadvantaged school where a friend teaches, kids with many, many problems who've been diagnosed as trans and led to believe that identifying as a different gender will fix everything. The same friend told me about a youngish, male teacher who'd just been away on a school camp: he spoke of his female students as "menstruators". He had no idea how misogynistic this was, but thought he was being inclusive, and none of his colleagues can risk saying anything!

Overall, I thought Brunskell-Evans views were too extreme, but that she made many valid points.

maj 22, 4:04 pm

68. Death of a Commuter by Leo Bruce

Carolus Deene, the wealthy, urbane history master and amateur detective, has been persuaded by his man-of-all-work, Stick, to investigate the death of Felix Parador. It has been ruled as suicide but Stick, who used to work for Parador, is convinced that the man would not have killed himself. Parador used to travel to London every weekday, in the same seat in the same first-class carriage, with the same companions. On the day after his death, a man dressed in black took Parador's seat, and announced that Parador would not be coming.

There are many potential suspects, so many that it was hard to keep track, but Leo Bruce is always entertaining. I like his sardonic humour, and although this isn't his best book it's an enjoyable read.

maj 23, 7:13 am

>104 pamelad: I like the sound of this one. I haven't come across Leo Bruce's books before but will look out for them now.

maj 27, 3:49 pm

>105 Eyejaybee: Leo Bruce has been a good find. His characters are amusing exaggerations of people with quirks you would recognise, and his humour is dry. In the book below the running joke is about people who can't stop talking.

69. Death at St Asprey's School by Leo Bruce

Carolus Deene, history master and amateur sleuth, has been asked by Mr Gorringer, his pompous headmaster, to investigate some nasty incidents at a preparatory school, St Asprey's, run by Goringer's friend Sconer and Sconer's battleaxe of a wife. Coline Sime, an assistant master, is immobilised with a broken leg due to falling down a steep, winding staircase in a church tower, so Deene takes his place.

Another entertaining mystery. The prep school boys are very amusing.

The Carolus Deene series is available on Kobo Plus. At the moment they're my fallback reads when I'm looking for something light and amusing, and I'll be sad to reach the end. The consolation is that Sergeant Beef is waiting.

Redigerat: maj 28, 2:10 pm

>106 pamelad:. Another one that sounds very tempting. I have always loved novels set in schools.

Redigerat: maj 30, 5:51 pm

70. Cafe Scheherazade by Arnold Zable

For five centuries the city of Vilna, part of Poland between the wars and now Vilnius in Lithuania, was a centre of Jewish culture. In 1939 of the total population of 200,000 over 60,000 were Jews, and their numbers were augmented by more than 10,000 Jews escaping German-occupied Poland for Soviet-occupied Vilna. Some of these new arrivals were members of the Polish Bund, a Jewish Socialist Party which operated as an underground anti-Nazi organisation. The survivors whose stories Zable tells were all living in Vilna in 1939.

Cafe Scheherezade was opened in Acland Street St Kilda in 1958 by Avram and Masha Zeleznikov. Acland Street is a piece of Eastern Europe transplanted to a raffish inner Melbourne suburb by the sea, and Zable's book has a real sense of place. For fifty years the Scheherazade was a meeting place and a haven for Jewish refugees from Eastern Europe, and in the 1990s Arnold Zable, a journalist, interviewed the elderly proprietors and their customers for an article he was writing. Drawn in by their stories and wanting to capture them before it was too late, Zable spend many evenings in the Scheherazade, listening and recording. His book is based on fact, but it is classified as fiction because he has amalgamated characters, changed their names, and fleshed out some of their stories with his own research.

The stories are harrowing. The Germans occupied Vilna in 1941 and killed thousands of Jews. They moved the rest to two Ghettos, one for workers and the other for women, children, the ill and the elderly. In 1941 the second ghetto was liquidated. 40,000 Jews were killed in Vilna. The story tellers in Cafe Scheherazade were witnesses. One escaped the ghetto and became a partisan. Another was imprisoned before the German invasion and sent to Siberia. Some escaped through Japan, with the help of two brave diplomats, Japanese Chiune Sugihara and Dutch Jan Zwartendijk. Others escaped to the Soviet Union where they were trapped.

A very worthwhile read. I recommend it.

jun 3, 9:19 pm

>108 pamelad: definitely intrigued by your review!

jun 5, 3:23 pm

>109 fuzzi: It's definitely worth reading. It goes back further than WWII because the parents of one of the men in Scheherezade were revolutionaries who pre-dated the Bolsheviks. There's a lot of historical detail for a short book, fitted into a gripping story.

71. A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh

A tatty Penguin paperback with brown pages and a $1 recommended price (30p or 6/- in the United Kingdom) is sitting on my shelves and I find that I initially gave the book 5 stars. Not this time though. I was taken aback by the racism, and by the nastiness of most of the characters. It's still funny in parts, but I can't say I enjoyed it.

I re-read Decline and Fall recently and enjoyed it again, so from my perspective some of Waugh's books have held up better than others. The racism in Scoop shocked me even in my oblivious youth so I certainly won't re-read that one, but perhaps The Sword of Honour trilogy is worth another try. I began Brideshead Revisited a while ago, having enjoyed both the book and the TV series, but it had lost its appeal.

jun 5, 3:47 pm

72. The Postscript Murders by Elly Griffiths is the second book in the Harbinder Kaur series.

Peggy Smith was ninety, an alert old lady who entertained herself by watching people in the esplanade outside her window and recording their movements in a notebook. When Natalka, Peggy's Ukrainian carer, finds Peggy dead in her chair, she is suspicious. Natalka recruits Benjamin the owner of a beachside coffee shack, and Edwin, a friend of Peggy's, to help her investigate. Peggy was a great fan of detective fiction and Natalka's investigations lead her to a community of crime-writers.

Harbinder Kaur, a detective with the local Shoreham police force, is sceptical when Natalka reports Peggy's death as suspicious, but becomes involved when Natalka, Benjamin and Edwin are menaced by a gunman in Peggy's flat.

I enjoyed the book because I liked the characters but wasn't impressed by the plot.

jun 10, 5:07 pm

73. Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan

I read this novella last year and liked it, so recommended it to our book group. It was a perfect book group read: informative, thought-provoking, uplifting, beautifully written and short. Because it's so short we could actually remember details, and everyone had a lot to say. We were all quite shocked that, as late as 1985, the Catholic church still had such power in Ireland.

I've updated its rating from 4.5 stars to 5.

Redigerat: jun 28, 6:01 pm

74. Within the Walls by Giorgio Bassani is the first of the six books that make up The Novel of Ferrara. It is a collection of five short stories, which are observations of Jewish lives and Italian politics, mainly during the thirties and forties. Most of the protagonists are weak, vicious, corrupt or doomed, and the stories are clearly close to fact, so this is heavy going. I plan to read a book a month.

A review:

jul 11, 6:49 pm

75. The Gold-Rimmed Spectacles by Giorgio Bassani is the second book in The Novel of Ferrara.

Dr Fadigati is the new doctor in Ferrara. At first, his is the most popular practice, and he is well-respected. The townspeople are vaguely aware that the doctor is gay, but apart from a few snide remarks, no one makes a fuss. The narrator is a university student, the elder son in a well-off, well-assimilated Jewish family that has been part of Ferrara for generations. However, it is only ninety years since Ferrara's Jews have been free to live outside the town's medieval ghetto, and decades of tolerance are being undermined by Mussolini's pact with Hitler. Old prejudices reveal themselves and the narrator becomes increasingly distanced from his old friends, while his parents refuse to see the townspeople's self-interested anti-Semitism and the increasing danger. As anti-Jewish prejudice increases, so does the prejudice against the homosexual doctor.

Highly recommended.

Redigerat: jul 13, 1:49 am

76. The Year My Family Unravelled by Cynthia Dearborn

I read this because it's about dementia, and someone I know well is experiencing something related, so I was looking for some insight. I didn't get it, because the problems of the author's father are very different, but I found the book interesting all the same. Dearborn is an academic, originally from Seattle but now settled in Sydney with her Australian wife. Her father Russell was still in Seattle, married to his second wife Beth and becoming a danger to her, himself and, potentially, anyone who knocked on the front door. Beth and Russell were living in a decrepit non-functional house, not paying their bills, and ignoring both Russell's dementia and Beth's ill health. Cynthia's goal is to move her father and step-mother into assisted living, but it turns out to be an almost impossible task. She is a very good daughter, especially when her family history seeps out and you realise just how disastrous her parents were. Her mother lurks in the background, an angry woman who hasn't spoken to her daughter in over twenty years, since Cyntha told her she was gay.

I was very engaged by this well-written memoir, even though I was expecting something completely different.

The book is here,, but there is no touchstone.

jul 21, 5:03 pm

77. The Wounded Oak by Harriet Smart

This is the eleventh book in the Northminster Mysteries series, which features Felix Carswell, a surgeon, and Major Vernon, the man originally responsible for setting up the Northminster police force. I'm very attached to the flawed but honourable pair and was pleased to find this latest addition to the series. They're on holiday in Swalecliffe, a newly-developed seaside town where Vernon has come to recover from pneumonia. I won's say too much because that would give away the plots of the earlier books. Carswell is the illegitimate son of Lord Rothborough who has always taken an interest in his only son and is prone to interfering. There are rather too many characters and plot threads, one of which involves Carswell's mother and another his ex-mistress. All the threads come together at the end, but it's quite a stretch. The book is too long and would have been better with fewer plot strands and complications, but I enjoyed it and am eagerly awaiting the next.

78. The Benevolent Society of Ill-Mannered Ladies by Alison Goodman

I've had this book on hold for months, and there are many people still waiting, so despite losing interest and being tempted to put it aside, I've persevered and finished it. It's a Regency mystery featuring spinster sisters, Augusta and Julia. They're non-identical twins, now forty-two, facing a dull and useless future which is made even worse by their nasty younger brother who has inherited their father's earldom and become betrothed to a young woman as horrible as he is. Augusta and Julia become caught up in a desperate plan to free a friend's god-daughter. The young woman is being held prisoner by her evil husband, who wants her dead. On their way to the rescue, Augusta and Julia run across Evan, a disgraced former-heir-to-a-marquisate who has a price on his head, who will be hanged if he is caught buy the Bow street runner, Kent. It looks as though Kent and Evan could be characters in the next book in the series.

The book was a disappointment: preachy and humourless. The title suggested otherwise.

jul 23, 5:40 pm

79. The Zone: A Prison Camp Guard's Story by Sergei Dovlatov

I read The Zone for the Club Read tribute to RebeccaNYC

Instead of the usual disclaimer, Dovlatov wrote:

The names, events, and dates given here are all real. I invented only those details that were not essential.

Therefore, any resemblance between the characters in this book and living people is intentional and malicious. And all the fictionalizing was unexpected and accidental.

In the sixties Dovlatov had dropped out of university and been drafted into the Soviet Internal Troops to work as a prison guard in high security camps. Unlike the camps for political prisoners that Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote about, these camps are for criminals. They are so isolated and remote that the guards, as well as the criminals, are effectively serving a sentence. Distinctions between guards and prisoners break down.

The book is a series of first-person narrations by various guards, who appear in each other's stories from different perspectives. What they all have in common is a bleak and sardonic humour. Interspersed with the guard's narrations are letters written by the author to his New York publisher. The book is coming along in fits and starts as random sections are smuggled out from the USSR. The author's works have never been published there and have circulated in samizdat. Parts have been lost, and the author discusses with the publisher how he will manage the gaps. He talks about what he will include and what he will leave out, and his writing philosophy.

It took me a while to get into The Zone, but once I did I found it well worth the trouble. It's Dovlatov's world view that makes it fascinating.

jul 27, 3:51 pm

80. A Man in the Zoo by David Garnett

Garnett won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Lady into Fox which is a strange little book, as is A Man in the Zoo which continues the animal theme. A young man and his fiancee have an argument at the zoo, which ends with her telling him he belongs in a cage, so he takes her up on it and offers himself as an exhibit. He's allocated a well-appointed cage in the ape exhibit, next to the orang-outans. I was entertained by this novella, but I think I missed the point. Although it's light and humorous on the surface, the underlying tone is resigned and bleak.

aug 3, 2:43 am

81. The Garden of the Finzi-Continis by Giorgio Bassani is the third book in The Novel of Ferrara, an elegy for the Jewish community of Ferrara. Bassani saved his parents and sister from the invading Germans, but the rest of his family died in the Holocaust, as did the rest of the Jewish community. We're told at the beginning of this semi-autobiographical novel that the Finzi-Continis died in a concentration camp in 1943.

The narrator is unnamed, so for convenience I'll call him Giorgio His family is integrated into the fabric of Ferrara; they observe Jewish rituals but see themselves as Italians as well. By contrast, the extremely wealthy Finzi-Continis hold themselves aloof from both the Jewish community and the wider Ferrarese community. Micol and Alberto Finzi-Contini, both of a similar age to Giorgio, are educated by tutors in their huge, opulent mansion outside Ferrara, which is surrounded by many acres of walled garden. Micol and Giorgio first meet at the wall, when they about ten years old. She invites him in, but he dithers too long and it's ten years before they meet again, brought together by Mussolini's racial laws of 1939. Jews have been banned from the tennis club, so Micol and Alberto invite the Jewish ex-members and their friends to play on their home court. Every afternoon for the summer, the young people play tennis, and a close friendship develops between Giogio and Micol. Outside the garden Anti-Semitism spreads and the danger for Jews increases, but the people behind the wall ignore reality. It's not just them: the Jews of Ferrara refuse to believe that their Italian friends will turn on them.

There is such a feeling of temporariness. Giorgio, Alberto and another man have academic conversations about films and literature. Alberto takes great pride in his possessions. Giorgio fancies himself in love with Micol. To the reader it all seems so pointless, because we know what's going to happen.

There was too much academic chit-chat for my liking and the translation is a bit clumsy, but I found The Garden of the Finzi-Continis well worth reading. Bassani was there.

aug 3, 4:44 am

>119 pamelad: I find depictions like these interesting, as they show the rich cultural life in Jewish communities before the war, which gets across the point that they were real people in real, complex communities, and not just simply representatives of a race nearly exterminated by the Nazis.

aug 5, 4:36 pm

82. Death with a Blue Ribbon by Leo Bruce

Carolus Deene has been asked to investigate a protection racket. Criminals have threatened a restaurant proprietor. a very nasty piece of work, that unles he pays up the reputation of his famous French restaurant will be destroyed. He's expecting a visit from a famous food critic, also a nasty piece of work, so he calls in Carolus Deene. There's not a lot to this short book, but I enjoyed the humour, as usual.

83. Behind the Door by Giorgio Bassani

The fourth book in The Novel of Ferrara describes a year in the life of the narrator. He is in the fifth year of secondary school and feeling isolated because his closest friend has to repeat the previous year and has moved to a school in Padua. Two classes have been combined, 5A and 5B, with a minority from the narrator's 5B, none of whom are friends. The top student is Carlo Cattolica, whom the narrator both admires and dislikes. A new boy, Luciano Pulga, arrives and attaches himself to the narrator.

I read this novella without knowing where it was going but was interested all the same. It's only in the last sentence that everything becomes clear. Unfortunately, the translator had the bad taste to use a contemporary cliche, which is a disservice to Bassani.

aug 5, 4:53 pm

>120 john257hopper: Yes, and the Jewish community in Ferrara was far from homogenous, with Jews of different racial backgrounds e.g. Ashkenazi and Sephardic, atttending different synagogues and with divisions based on wealth, social class and political leanings.

aug 6, 5:30 pm

84. A Useful Woman by Darcie Wilde

Rosalind Thorne is hanging onto her position on the fringes of society by the skin of her teeth. Her father, a baronet, ran away leaving enormous debts and evidence of forgery, a hanging offence. Rosalind makes herself useful to the women of the ton, and has the support of her godmother, Lady Blanchard who is a patroness of Almack's so she is still invited everywhere. When the body of a young man is discovered in the ballroom of Almack's, Rosalind's access to the ton is a big help to the investigator from Bow Street, the charming and handsome Adam Harkness. Adam isn't the only romantic interest: Rosalind's ex-fiance, who is now a duke, is still in love with her despite having deserted her when her father's scandal destroyed her prospects.

I enjoyed A Useful Woman despite a few drawbacks. The author gets the titles wrong, which is unforgiveable in a Regency mystery. She calls a Countess "Your Grace" and a Duke "Lord Whatever." Here is a useful guide to Speaking to and of Titled Persons Another drawback is the plot, which relies on some very unlikely behaviour. But this is a promising start to a new series, adn I have already started another. Not the second, which I have put on hold, or the third, which I started and was instantly annoyed by, but the fourth, A Lady Compromised, which is going along nicely.

aug 7, 5:35 pm

85. A Lady Compromised by Darcie Wilde

Rosalind is staying at the Devon the Duke's country seat in order to help Devon's young cousin Lucy prepare for her wedding, and so that she and Devon can get to know one another again and decide whether they want to marry. Rosalind is drawn into investigating the suspicious death of the brother of one of Lucy's friends. By raking up the mystery Rosalind is putting herself at risk of being ostracised by the local ladies, which would make her position as Devon's duchess difficult, affecting for Devon as well as herself so he is not happy. The dead man is Colonel William Corbyn, brother of Helen, Lucy's friend, and Marius, who is in charge of draining the local marshes and building a canal. Many locals have invested heavily in the drainage works, and some would be ruined if the project, instigated by Devon, were to fail.

An entertaining read with lots of plot twists. The author seems to have a handle on people's titles now.

aug 9, 5:19 pm

86. Die All, Die Merrily by Leo Bruce

Bruce wrote classic, fair-play detective novels enlivened by sardonic humour. His Tales of the Pan Cosmos series features the wealthy amateur detective Carolus Deene, senior history master at a minor public school. Some of the recurring characters are the pompous headmaster, Mr. Gorringer; the loquacious housekeeper Mrs Stick, an accomplished cook who murders the French language; the silent Stick, gardener, handyman and husband of Mrs. Stick, who speaks for him; Deene's least favourite student, the precocious Priggley, who involves himself in Deene's investigations.

Mr Gorringer has asked for Deene's help in the case of an apparent suicide. The victim, Richard Hoysden, is the nephew of Lady Drumbone, a politician unaligned with any party, and beloved by the press for her willingness to embrace ludicrous causes, gleefully described by Bruce.

The Carolus Deene books aren't at all realistic. They're short, humourous and entertaining.

aug 11, 4:57 pm

87. Down with the Royals by Joan Smith

I've been reading The Springs of Affection by Maeve Brennan and have put it aside again because it's so very sad. While looking for a palate-cleanser of light-hearted Regency rubbish on KoboPlus, I came across Down with the Royals by Joan Smith. Not the Regency Romance Joan Smith, but a writer whose best-known book is Misogynies. Down with the Royals is only 86 pages long, and the title appealed, so I read it. It's outdated, having been published in 2015, but still interesting because one of the things it's looking at is undue influence by the Royal family, particularly by the then Prince Charles. It's a myth that the royals don't meddle in politics.

This is preaching to the converted. I liked it.

aug 13, 6:26 pm

88. The Springs of Affection by Maeve Brennan

This collection of short stories has three parts. The first seven stories are snippets of the writer's childhood in Ranelagh Crescent, Dublin, livelier and more cheerful than the stories that follow. The children are the bright spots in Brennan's stories: bright, hopeful and enthusiastic. The next group of stories focuses on the Deardons, Hubert and Rose. Rose hasn't been happy since her father died just before she turned ten. It's as though her character disappeared, and all that remained were obedience and uncertainty. She and Hubert seem to go out of their way to make each other miserable, and the only light in Rose's life is her son, Jimmy, who eventually leaves to escape Rose's suffocating affection. This section was so sad and bleak that I could barely keep reading: a testament to Brennan's writing. The last group of stories also concerns a disappointed married couple, Delia and Martin Bagot. They have never recovered from the death of their first child, their only son who died three days after birth, and the distance has grown so wide that Martin barely sees his wife and daughters. His wife's efforts to restore some closeness make him angry. Like Hubert Deardon, Martin Bagot feels contempt for his wife, thinks she is devoid of character and is ashamed of her. Like Deardon, Bagot believes he deserved better. Delia isn't as badly off as Rose, though, because her daughters love her.

The title story is the last one in the collection, and the longest. Martin and Delia are dead, and Martin's twin sister, Min, is remembering the day of their wedding. She's a bitter, snobbish old woman who never forgave Martin for deserting the family and marrying Delia.

I found this book heart-rending. It presents a bleak picture of marriage, and the lives of women, in pre-WWII Ireland.

Redigerat: aug 19, 4:42 pm

89. The Herring-Seller's Apprentice by L. C. Tyler

A short, British crime novel with two narrators. The first narrator, Ethelred, is a hack writer who makes a modest living writing crime, historical and romance novels. The second is his agent, Elsie, a small round aggressive woman with a taste for chocolate. Ethelred's ex-wife has disappeared, leaving a suicide note in a rented car. Everyone in this sardonically humorous mystery is a caricature, and not a lot happens, so it's just as well it was short.

aug 21, 4:25 pm

90. Laughing Gas by P. G. Wodehouse

I'm pleased to have found a Wodehouse I hadn't read, even though it's not really top-drawer. Laughing Gas is set in Hollywood, where Reggie Havershot, the new Earl of Havershot, has gone to fulfil his duties as the head of the family by salvaging his dipsomaniac cousin, Eggy. A toothache sees him in the dentist's chair, under laughing gas, at the same time as the child star Joey Cooley. While they are unconscious their wandering identities are exchanged, and they wake up in the wrong bodies. Comical misunderstandings ensue.

aug 28, 5:25 pm

91. Mission to Tashkent by F M Bailey

In 1919, at the beginning of the Russian Revolution, Colonel Bailey was posted to Turkestan, which had been taken over by the Bolsheviks. His job was to gauge the intentions of the new government towards Afghanistan: he was the last of the larger-than-life spies in the Great Game. Bailey was an adventurer, a naturalist, a game-hunter, soldier and spy. He spent much of his time undercover in Tashkent, in hiding from the brutal, lawless Bolshevik authorities. Thousands of people were summarily executed, some shot by drunken jail guards for entertainment. This reads like a Boys' Own Adventure, except that there are far too many characters to follow. I became quite lost and wished that I'd made a list of the main players. Bailey covers the ground at top speed, so there is little time for the details that would help distinguish one person from another. But the most important people stood out, particularly Manditch, who helped Bailey escape Tashkent; Tredwell the US consul; and the intrepid governess Miss Houston, whose assistance was indispensable.

This was a fascinating read, and despite its drawbacks I recommend it. It's available on Faded Page, which has a Send to Kindle option.

aug 30, 5:06 pm

92. The Maintenance of Headway by Magnus Mills

I thought I'd read this so was very pleased to find that I hadn't. Mills writes short, funny, deadpan books, often about working class people. This one is about London bus drivers, a group Mills knows a lot about, because he is one. If you've ever left home for the bus stop and sped up to a jog on seeing the bus in the distance, five minutes early, only to have it speed past you as it races to beat you to the stop, this book will explain all. It made me laugh.

Warning! I borrowed this book from the Open Library, and the copy I read finished mid-sentence. I wondered briefly whether this was an artistic choice, decided that would be most unlikely, and fortunately was able to borrow another copy. The 14-day loan is missing the last few pages.

sep 3, 5:49 pm

93. Cocktail Time by P. G. Wodehouse

Lord Ickenham, otherwise known as Uncle Fred, is on the loose in London while his wife is away. His nephew, Pongo Twistleton, has become sadly sedate and responsible since his marriage, so Uncle Fred is in search of excitement. An anecdote about a small boy whose aim with a sling shot and a walnut is unerring, inspires Uncle Fred to aim a walnut at a top hat worn by his old school friend Beefy Barnstaple. An unlikely and amusing series of events ensues.

I hadn't read this Wodehouse before, so was very pleased to find it.

Redigerat: sep 4, 5:11 am

>132 pamelad: I love most of Wodehouse's novels, and remember coming upon this one by chance, having previously been unaware of its existence, and especially enjoying it.

>131 pamelad: I have only read one book by Magnus Mills , which is odd in itself because I did enjoy that one - The Restraint of Beasts. I remember being initially taken aback because when the blurb on the back of the book referred to fencers, I had initially assumed that it meant swordsmen, rather than people erecting fences!

sep 7, 2:29 am

>133 Eyejaybee: I'm amused by your fencing confusion and glad you liked The Restraint of Beasts despite it. Another of Magnus Mills' books I can recommend highly is Three to See the King.

94. Brotherhood by Mohamed Mbougar Sarr

The book begins with the execution of two young lovers whose affair is a sin against the fundamentalist morality of the Brotherhood, which has taken over the town of Kalep, along with much of the north of the country. The inhabitants are cowed, and the hospitals are full of people whose limbs have been chopped off in accordance with Sharia law. Seven citizens are driven to resist, so they meet in secret to publish a journal.

This was a difficult read, not just for the brutality, but because the book had little structure, there was a good deal of repetitive philosophising, and the writing was dull. I can't tell whether the banal prose style was the author's, the translator's or a combination of the two. The characters didn't come alive, possibly because their function was to deliver the author's thoughts.

The writer is from Senegal, but the country and the city are imaginary.

sep 18, 6:07 pm

95. I, Robot by Isaac Asimov

I rarely read science fiction, but I enjoyed this classic. It's a collection of linked short stories about robots, beginning with a basic, child-minding robot and ending with a world run by robots. Robots are more ethical than most human beings because they are governed by the three laws of robotics: a robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm; a robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law; a robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

96. God Forgets About the Poor by Peter Polites

This is the fictionalised story of Polites' mother, from her birth in a poor, Greek mountain village during WWII, as a young woman in Athens, and as the mother of two children in the western suburbs of Sydney, married to a violent man. Polites translates the characters' Greek names into English: the mother is Honoured; the sister is Resurrection; the son is All Holy. This is an affectionate portrayal of a loving, domineering woman, with her faults and her strengths. It's also an interesting look into Sydney's Greek community, and the strong ties that first-generation Greek immigrants have with their homelands.

I enjoyed this book and would recommend it. There is the occasional grammatical error, which I put down to English teaching in Australian schools in the seventies, when grammar wasn't seen as important and people couldn't hear themselves think because of the open classrooms.

sep 19, 6:05 pm

97. The Novel of Ferrara: The Heron by Giorgio Bassani

The Novel of Fera is a collection of six books in which the narrator looks back on Jewish life in Ferrara before and during WWII. This book, the fifth, differs from the previous four in that it is recounted in the first person by a named narrator, and is set outside Ferrara. The middle-aged Edgardo Limentani is a disappointed man. His wife, a Catholic peasant whom he feels is beneath him, is having an affair with her accountant. She is the nominal owner of Limentani's properties, an arrangement put in place at the outbreak of WWII. Limentani has a young daughter, but he is alienated from her and isn't sure whether he really is her father.

The story takes place over one day. Limentani has arranged a day's duck shooting in a swamp outside Ferrara, near a village where his cousin, once his closest friend, lives. He hasn't seen his cousin since before the war. The day starts badly, with Limentani being delayed by a conversation with his wife. As the day goes on, his own lethargy and apathy delay him further. He focuses on his misery, his bodily functions, and his disgust for himself, his surroundings and the people he meets. When he eventually meets his guide, hours late, and the shooting begins, the death of a heron brings him a revelation.

The Heron was so very depressing. Limentani is an unsympathetic character, but Bassani makes his misery real and the clumsy translation can't quite dull the intensity. I so wish that a better writer had translated this book.

sep 20, 5:57 pm

98. A Month in the Country by J. L. Carr

This is a re-read because our book club is going to discuss it.

The narrator, Birkin, has been employed to restore a mural in a country church. It was painted in the middle-ages and has been covered in plaster for centuries. The austere vicar would rather the mural stayed hidden but has no choice, so he has to put up with Birkin, who is camping in the bell-chamber. The vicar also has to put up with Moon, who has been employed to find a grave and is camping nearby.

Both Birkin and Moon fought in WWI, which has just ended. Birkin is still suffering from shell-shock and has been deserted by his wife. Over the course of the month, he is adopted by the local chapel-going families, falls in love with the vicar's beautiful young wife, and begins to recover. He is writing the book as a much older man, looking back on an idyllic time.

A strongly felt, elegiac, poetic little book.

Redigerat: sep 24, 5:36 am

99. Simon the Coldheart by Georgette Heyer

I was expecting a romance and there is one, but it's a small part of the book, which is mainly about a medieval man-mountain clanking around in gold armour and leading his men into battles. Simon is beloved by his mentor, his men, his friends, his numerous pages, his squires, King Henry, everyone he comes across really, except Margaret, Countess of Belyen, which is not surprising because this is the 100-years war and Simon demands that the French Margaret declare loyalty to English King Henry.

At fourteen, Simon, who is the bastard son of Malvallet, demands to be taken on as squire by Malvallet's enemy, Fulk of Montlice, not because he has anything for or against his neglectful parent but because he wants to succeed by his own merits.

This is an early Georgette Heyer, 1925, and not one of her best. She didn't want it to be re-published. It's not bad, but there isn't a lot of character development and apart from being the manliest man who ever donned a suit of armour, there isn't much to Simon.

Redigerat: sep 25, 12:38 am

100. The Devil Loves Me by Margaret Millar

Dr Paul Prye, psychiatrist and amateur detective, is waiting at the altar for his bride, Nora, when there is a scream from outside the church. One of the bridesmaids has collapsed, and Prye realises that she has been poisoned. The bridesmaid recovers, but by the end of the book three people are dead. This is a character-driven crime novel, and with Prye being a psychologist there is a lot of character analysis going on. The members of the wedding party are staying at Nora's mother's house and it becomes clear to Prye and the official detective, Inspector Sands, that one of them is a murderer.

I guessed the murderer, but that didn't detract from my enjoyment.

That's 100!

sep 25, 3:19 am

>139 pamelad: Congratulations on bringing up your century, with still more than a quarter of the year to go.

sep 25, 5:23 am

Yes congratulations from me too, Pam. I'm on 72 so far, slightly behind schedule as I don't think I'll complete three more books this month.

sep 25, 4:46 pm

Thank you, James and John.

101. The Smell of Hay by Giorgio Bassani from The Novel of Ferrara

This is a collection of short stories and other snippets. The racial laws of 1938 have separated Bruno Lattes, a minor character from The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, from the Catholic girl he loved, and he tries to renew their friendship. Orthodox, Eastern European Jews flee to Ferrara. The narrator meets some of the privileged young men from his youth: they had such plans, but they stayed in Ferrara living the lives they swore they would escape. Behind every story is the fate of the Jews of Ferrara. In 1942-1943, all the remaining Jews in Ferrara, over a hundred, were sent to Germany and only one survived.

sep 25, 5:23 pm

Well done Pam!!

sep 25, 5:29 pm

Thank you, Bryan!

Redigerat: sep 26, 1:38 am

102. Melbourne and Mars: My Mysterious Life on Two Planets by Joseph Fraser

Fraser emigrated to Australia from Lancashire and was dying of consumption in Melbourne when he wrote this political science fiction novel. It was first published in 1889 and has been reissued in collaboration between Melbourne University and Grattan Street Press in the Colonial Australian Popular Fiction series. There's an interesting introduction by an academic who did a PhD on the history of popular phrenology in Australia and New Zealand, which is relevant because Fraser was a phrenologist. He believed the now soundly debunked premise that people's characters can be determined from the shapes of their heads.

This started off well, with the class struggle in the northern mill towns as wealthy mill-owners reduced weavers' wages, leaving them close to starvation. The main character, Adam Jacobs, is the son of a law-abiding weaver who is caught up in a riot, unfairly found guilty and sentenced to transportation. Adam's mother follows her husband to New South Wales, taking the children. At the start of the book, Adam Jacobs is a 45-year-old merchant in Melbourne, married with children. But he has another life as a little boy on Mars, which he is recording in a diary. The Martial (Fraser's term) Adam Jacobs is called Charles Frankston, and in the diary he grows from a toddler to a successful young man.

Mars is colder than Earth, with less atmosphere and less water, so the Martials are physically adapted to life there. They're a much older and more developed society than that of Earth, so there is no crime, no sickness, and no belligerence. Pathogenic organisms have been eliminated, as have dangerous animals. Mars is run on principles of altruistic socialism. Much of the book describes Martial life in enormous detail. It is Fraser's ideal society, based on science. rationality, equality and religion. It does not appeal to me at all and I found it dull reading, except for scientific bits that appealed e.g. Fraser seems to predict the Haber Process, which converts atmospheric nitrogen into nitrogen compounds, and he is concerned about the exhaustion of fossil fuels. On Mars there are unlimited supplies of electricity from the centre of the planet. He's very much down on Malthus and leaves it to the Martials to limit population size by what appears to be intuition, altruism and cooperation.

I'd recommend the book as an historical oddity, but not as a work of literature. It's far too didactic.

sep 28, 4:42 pm

103. The Listening Walls by Margaret Millar

Another good one from Margaret Millar. A woman dies in Mexico City and another woman goes missing. The brother of the missing woman is convinced that her husband has done away with her. Lots of twists and turns.

okt 2, 8:02 pm

104. Flowers for the Judge by Margery Allingham

The seventh Albert Campion book is set in a family publishing firm. One of the partners is found dead and another partner, who is in love with the dead partners' wife, is tried for the murder. Campion is looking for the real murderer.

I don't remember reading this before, but am pretty sure I have. It's not one of the bleak Campions, which is a relief. I enjoyed it.

okt 3, 4:55 pm

105. From this Dark Stairway by Mignon G. Eberhart

This was the only Sarah Keate novel I hadn't read. It's not published as an ebook, the paperback costs $A37.40, and it's not available from the Open Library. But I found it in the Internet Archive! I'd thought that all the books in the Internet Archive were able to be borrowed from the Open Library, but they're not.

Sarah Keate is a middle-aged nurse with a practical outlook and a sardonic sense of humour. She has been caught up in a few murder investigations while working with private patients (people wealthy enough to employ a private nurse tend to have lots of greedy relatives with questionable ethics), but now she is on night duty in a hospital, managing the private wards. The man for whom the hospital is named, Peter Malory, is a patient on the edge of death with a heart condition, waiting for surgery. The surgeon is Malory's sworn enemy, and on a slide into alcoholism, but he is the only man capable of performing the operation. Also resident in the hospital are the surgeon's wife who was injured in a car crash that was due to her own recklessness, and Malory's spoiled, hysterical daughter who has a serious case of sunburn.

There's a heatwave in the city of B____ and Eberhart creates the atmosphere brilliantly. You can feel the oppressive heat and sympathise with the tired nurses and fractious patients. The crime itself centres on a secret formula so the plot is artificial and silly, but there are lots of suspects, plenty of twists and turns, and a feeling of menace. And there's Sarah Keate, who is far and away Eberhart's most successful character.

From this Dark Stairway was first published in 1931.

okt 4, 6:12 pm

106. Vanish in an Instant by Margaret Millar

The third Margaret Millar I've read in the last two weeks is not up to the standard of the other two. The writing is tired in comparison, the main characters are unsympathetic, and there's an abrupt and unnecessary romance. You need to be able to care what happens to people, and I didn't. That said, the book held my attention and I whipped through it.

Redigerat: okt 18, 2:23 am

107. The Tree of Man by Patrick White

This year is the fiftieth anniversary of Patrick White's Nobel Prize, so I have re-read The Tree of Man which I first read in the seventies when White, until then barely known in his own country, came to our awareness.

At beginning of the 20th Century Stan Parker's father leaves him a remote bush block. Stan clears the trees by hand and builds his own house, then marries a young woman from the nearest town. Amy is an orphan, overworked and underfed by her aunt and uncle. She and Stan work hard to establish their small farm and look toward the future. At first theirs is the only house in the area, but others move in and establish small farms. By the end of the book the ramshackle farms are gone, replaced by neat brick houses on suburban blocks, and the once-remote, nameless place is an outer-suburb of Sydney. We see Stan and Amy grow together, then apart, and finally settle together into an undemanding affection. Once they tried to know one another, but they realised they never could. White depicts Amy as growing increasingly coarse and superficial as Stan becomes more spiritual. She resents his separateness.

I very much enjoyed the first section of the book, where the Parkers faced the future with optimism. As their lives narrowed, gloom and misery descended. Their two children, Ray and Thelma, were a great disappointment and both Stan and Amy were oddly detached parents, giving me the impression that the children were more vehicles for carrying White's philosophy than actual people. Both Ray and Amy moved to the city where their sad and pointless lives contrasted with their parents' hard work and simplicity.

White's idiosyncratic prose brings the bush to life, and his descriptions of a flood and a bushfire are just as real. The fifty or so years and nearly 500 pages of The Tree of Man are well worth the effort.

I read Voss in 2021 and noticed some similarities: the contrast between the corruption of the city and the spirituality of the country; the almost-biblical language; the man who searches for enlightenment; the venal characters on whom White focuses his loathing. That's the hardest thing about reading Patrick White: so many people disgust him.

okt 18, 5:11 pm

108. Past Mischief by Victoria Clayton

Miranda's philandering husband, Jack, has been found shot dead and no one can understand how it could have happened, but we won't worry too much about that because the important thing is that he's out of the way and Miranda can move on with her life. She has three children and a beautiful old house in a village by the sea, not too far from London. The thoughtless, selfish Jack, who cashed in his insurance to buy an Aston Martin, has left his family short of money, so Miranda decides to take in paying guests (she's short of money in that upper-middle class way, where it's a bit of a pinch to pay the servants and the private school fees). The book was written in the nineties but set in 1974, so Miranda and her friends have read The Female Eunuch and are questioning why they have put up with such sub-standard men, but gently, because it's a cosy domestic novel with a bit of humour, a bit of romance, and happy endings all round. The number of happy endings is ridiculous as Miranda and most of her friends end up with exactly what they want. it's very tidy!

okt 19, 4:42 pm

109. The English Air by D. E. Stevenson

I'm always interested to read books that were written during WWII because you get the authentic point of view of people who were actually living through it. This one was first published in 1940. The story begins in 1938 when Franz von Heiden arrives to stay with his mother's cousins, Sophia Braithwaite and her daughter, Wynne. His father, a high-ranking Nazi, wants Franz to gather information about English state of mind, and Franz, as a loyal German, is eager to assist. But he finds that his pre-conceptions about the English are quite wrong, makes many friends, and falls in love the English way of life. (It does seem idyllic. These people are upper-middle class and don't need to work!) When war is declared Franz is horrified by what he sees as Hitler's betrayal, because he has been brought up to see Hitler as a god-like figure.

There are two romances, but they're not really necessary. I was interested to read about the positive response to the Munich Agreement, which in hindsight was seen as a betrayal.

okt 20, 5:14 am

>152 pamelad: sounds interesting - as you say, we must always remember those living in the 1930s and early 40s didn't have the hindsight we have.

okt 30, 2:08 am

110. Death Comes to the Rectory by Catherine Lloyd is the eighth, and currently the last, Kurland St Mary Mystery. I've read them all and preferred the earlier books. This one is lifeless. I didn't really care who murdered whom.

>153 john257hopper: If we'd been living then, we probably would have felt the same: avoid war at all costs. I don't read contemporary fiction that romanticises WWII.

nov 2, 5:11 pm

111. Babel, Or, The Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators' Revolution by R. F. Kuang is a work of speculative, historical fiction set in England in the early years of Victoria's reign.

In Canton a small boy and his mother are dying of cholera when an Englishman arrives and saves the boy, leaving his mother to die. The boy is taken to England where he becomes Robin Swift and is subjected to an intensive education in languages: Latin, Greek, English, and his own Cantonese. His fate is to become a translator in Babel, an institution that is part of Oxford University.

England is at the peak of its imperial power, exploiting the underpaid and overworked labourers in its colonies to feed its industries' needs for raw materials. British workers and their families have been left to starve as mechanisation eliminates their jobs. This is where the speculative element appears: the efficency of England's industrial processes is enhanced by the magic of silver bars that carry words or phrases in two or more languages. There can never be a direct translation from one language to another. Some of the meaning is always lost. The words on the bars are related in meaning, but there are differences, and it is in these differences that magic arises. The work of the Oxford translators is to come up with pairs or chains of words and phrases that will enhance particular functions. The bars can make trains run faster, protect buildings from collapsing, make mill machinery run so efficiently that far fewer labourers are needed, even manage the flow of waste though he sewerage system.

Once Babel could draw its translators from European countries, but as continental travel increases languages mingle and distinctions are lost, so Babel needs new languages. In Robin's first year cohort at Oxford are Ramy, an Indian Muslim, Victoire, who was born in Haiti, and Letty, the only white English student. Initially Robin, Ramy and Victoire believe that they are extraordinarily privileged to be Oxford students and are grateful to the people they see as their benefactors, but as time goes on they become aware of that they are exploited and held in contempt and that their privilege is at the expense of their native countries.

In order to enjoy this book you would have to be interested in linguistics, because there is a lot of quite academic discussion of word etymologies. I found these bits fascinating. The book covers some big topics including colonialism, racism, the exploitation of the poor by the rich, economics, trade unions, and political corruption. And, as the title indicates, the role of violence in achieving political ends.

A thought-provoking read. I enjoyed it despite the magical elements and managed for the most part to glide past characters who behaved and spoke more like contemporary Americans than people living in Victorian Britain. Recommended.

Redigerat: nov 4, 4:53 pm

112. The Mother-in-Law by Sally Hepworth

Sally Hepworth was recommended to me as a Liane Moriarty read-alike, so I read this bargain buy that's been waiting on my Kobo. It held my attention but isn't in the same class. No humour, none of that sense of recognition you get with Moriarty's characters.

Lucy's mother-in-law has been found dead in suspicious circumstances. The story switches back and forth between the past and the present, and between the points of view of the Lucy and her mother-in-law, Diana. The other characters are Ollie, who is married to Lucy; Ollie's sister Nettie, who is desperate for a child and has had many miscarriages, and her husband Patrick; Diana's husband Tom; and in the background, Eamon, who is Ollie's shonky business partner. Tom and Diana are wealthy, but Diana believes that it would be a mistake to give Nettie and Ollie any money, no matter what financial straits they are in because it's character-building to be independent. Diana is hard on her children, but generous to the charity she runs, helping pregnant refugees.

Pros: not too long; set in Melbourne; held my attention.
Cons: humourless; flat characters; heavy-handed message; partly translated into American.

nov 4, 7:55 pm

113. River Lodge by Elizabeth Cadell

A light, humorous romance, first published in 1948. I didn't much like it, mainly because Roger, one of the main characters, was such a bad-tempered man. Not amused. I pitied his wife, Ruth. Roger inherited a big house from his rich uncle, but he doesn't have the money for its upkeep so he turns it into a guesthouse. The first guests are friends and family members: a rich aunt; Goosy, a friend from Roger's army days, who is accompanied by a silent man who makes a lot of money drawing mermaids; Roger's brother Paul, almost as irascible as Roger, an actor who has thrown in a good part after an argument with the producer, Martin, and can't find another; Felicity, with whom Paul is still in love, even though she is now associated with Martin; Nan Hellier, sister of Felicity, a careless, irresponsible mother of twins; Brenda, older cousin of Roger, who helps run the guesthouse; Ruth's elderly aunt, who keeps getting lost, and her worried husband.

The plot is: will Paul and Felicity get back together?

An easy read, but I didn't like the book much. My sympathy for characters who haven't inherited enough money that they don't have to work is absolutely zero and my sympathy for the angry men even less. I didn't think the resolution was a happy one and would have advised Felicity and Ruth to escape.

Redigerat: nov 6, 2:55 pm

114. Three Fires by Denise Mina

I'd heard the name Savaranola, but knew nothing about him. Nor did I know where the Tom Wolfe got his title for The Bonfire of the Vanities, so this was an educational read, as well as being entertaining and short. Mina is an omniscient narrator writing about fifteenth century people and events from a twenty-first century perspective. I enjoyed it.

nov 15, 3:14 pm

115. Augustus by John Williams

First published in 1973, this is the life of the Roman emperor, in epistolary form. The entries hop about in time and from person to person, giving a multi-layered picture of people and events. Because I knew nothing to start with, Williams' interpretation didn't upset any preconceptions, but I imagine that his fictional Augustus shares some of William's own qualities and is a kinder man than the ruthless emperor.

Williams also wrote Stoner, another worthwhile book, and quite different from Augustus.

nov 17, 3:18 pm

116. Midnight House by Ethel Lina White

I like vintage British crime novels, and Ethel Lina White has written some good ones. Not this one, unfortunately. It's a failed Gothic, with a big cast of unappealing characters that includes the dim-witted heroine who spends most of the book being scared out of her wits. No wonder. Thick fog, three dead women, two of them found in the same back lane. Don't go out there!

The house next door has been boarded up for 12 years and is about to be opened up, for reasons not entirely clear. Two men, the local doctor and a handsome, sporty type, are frightened that the re-opening will reveal secrets that would destroy their lives. They are both courting the sister of the heroine's employer, a twenty-nine-year-old golfer with a private income. The heroine's employer is a widower with two children. She is only nineteen and has been employed as their governess, but the children run rings around her. The widower had a nervous breakdown in India, so there's an outside chance that he's the murderer.

This was a real plod, but I kept going hoping it would improve. Perhaps the next one will be better? They See in Darkness is, like Midnight House, available on KoboPlus, so I'll give it a try.

Redigerat: nov 23, 3:00 pm

117. The Godmother by Hannelore Cayre

In this sardonically funny novella, a middle-aged translator uses the information she picks up from doing Arabic translations for the drug squad to set up a big dealer. She needs the money to pay for her mother's aged care. In the writer's France the middle-classes are beggared by the costs of providing for their elderly parents, so dishonesty is the only option.

It won the International CWA Dagger and is available in Kindle Unlimited.

If I'd wanted the touchstone to point to The Fairy Godmother I would have said so!

Redigerat: nov 27, 3:39 pm

118. The Readers' Room by Antoine Laurain

It's not often that an unsolicited manuscript turns out to be worth publishing, and even rarer that it's as good as The Sugar Flowers. But the book's author, Camille Desencres, can't be contacted, which is a huge problem for Violaine Lepage, the woman in charge of the reading room, not only because the book is on the shortlist for the Prix Goncourt, but because real-life murders are replicating the plot of the book.

I was drawn in from the first page, when Marcel Proust appeared, folllowed by Georges Perec, Michel Houellebecq and Virginia Woolf and became immersed in the world of French publishing.

A nice, short entertaining read and, even better, it's available in Kobo Plus.

Redigerat: dec 2, 3:43 pm

119. The Red Notebook by Antoine Laurain

Laurent, divorced book seller, finds a handbag that has been abandoned by a mugger. He reads the red note book he finds inside it in an attempt to find the name of the bag's owner. He finds only her first name, Laure, but feels he knows her.

This is light, happy and short. I found the notebook entries rather too twee, a bit like the pina colada song, but enjoyed the book all the same.

dec 6, 5:47 pm

120. Hotel Splendide by Ludwig Bemelmans

A fictionalised memoir of Bemelman's career as an assistant banquet manager in the Hotel Splendide, written as short anecdotes. Witty and charming. I enjoyed it.

First published in 1921, and covering the years leading up to and just after the Great Depression.

It's free in KoboPlus.

dec 8, 3:57 pm

121. Deadly Engagement by Lucinda Brant

This is a cross between historical romance and historical crime. It's set in Georgian England, mainly in a country house where members of the ton and hangers-on are celebrating the betrothal of Emily, illegitimate grand-daughter of a duchess, with an Earl, the erratic, evil brother of the main character, Alec Halsey. Alec, a diplomat, is investigating the death of a friend, killed in shady duel with the earl. The purported reason for the duel makes no sense. It looks like murder.

This is the first book in the Alec Halsey series. I liked the writing and some of the characters, including Alec and his love interest, but it's all a bit too sordid and there are too many villains.

I've read some of Lucinda Brant's romances and have found the same pros and cons. I hadn't realised that the author is Australian, and that explains why I like the writing. Americanisms in an English setting are jarring to me, but Australianisms normally glide by. Is "put the hard word on" an Australianism? It's used when the butler lays down the law to the staff.

The whole series is free on Kindle Unlimited and so are a lot of Brant's Georgian romances.