20 Books of Summer


Cathy at 746 Books is doing this challenge for the 5th time.   She says she doesn’t have the best record with it.   But she doesn’t have the worst, either!   That honor might go to me, but I’m not sure.   The point though is to have fun and inspire yourself to read more.   If I read 20 books this summer, I will more than double my reading this year.   Likely?   No.   But unlike past years, I figure I may as well fail at the hard thing as try to make it doable and still fail by going for 15, or 10, or 5…   I am also terrible at sticking to lists.   So bad, I usually don’t even make a list, because what’s the point?   But I made a list.   Don’t know if I’ll read a single thing on it.   June 1 is days away!    If we could start today, I’d be practically guaranteed to at least start one on my list.  But no, I’ll stick to the rules, at least for now.   Below is my list as of today, but we all know what a creature of whimsy I can be.   Plus four of them I would have to buy and I might not.   Maybe I’ll resist.   More likely, I’ll buy them and some others and read still others.   Anyhoo, here goes nothin’.


Fog of Doubt – Christianna Brand – JJ’s doing this one chapter-by-chapter in July, which sounded like fun

Less – Andrew Sean Greer – A comic novel won the Pulitzer Prize.  I think this doesn’t happen often

The Golden Child – Penelope Fitzgerald – Bought for the 1977 club, but not read.   Her first novel written for her ill husband, part mystery, part comedy of manners, part satire of the Tutankhamun Exhibit

The Key to Rebecca – Ken Follett – I like spy books, provided they’re not too grim and this title has long appealed to me.

Fire in the Thatch – E.C.R. Lorac – I really need to write down which blog(s) I read about what on, because I know I’ve read about her on at least one.   Always searching for new Golden Age or Golden Age style mysteries.

Lonelyheart 4112 – Colin Watson – The 4th Flaxborough novel.   Someday I hope to find the second which I bought some time ago and put… somewhere

Welcome to Night Vale – Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor – recommended as a podcast I never listened to, I thought perhaps I’d enjoy it as a book. Compared to both Stephen King and Twin Peaks, I’m hoping it’s more Peaks than King.

The Last Equation of Isaac Severy – Nova Jacobs – Just the description of this as hugely entertaining, a literary mystery about a bookseller whose grandfather leaves her a dangerous equation to track down and protect got me to purchase it.

Forgotten Fatherland – Ben Macintyre – the subtitle : The True Story of Nietzsche’s Sister and Her Lost Aryan Colony, the sale price and the author who wrote the Kim Philby book I read, all combined forces to sell me on this

The Yellow Room – Mary Roberts Rinehart – I enjoyed The Man in Lower Ten so I thought I’d try another of hers


Under the Volcano – Malcolm Lowry – a book enjoyed by my father and which bemused a colleague.   I thought I had read this once, but I’m not positive.   I don’t remember anything so let’s see if I’m more like my father or my friend.

The Shadow Land – Elizabeth Kostova – By the author of The Historian, which I really enjoyed, a young American woman goes to Sofia, Bulgaria and somehow winds up with an urnful of someone’s ashes.   I never got through The Swan Thieves, so I hope I like this.

The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. – Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland – You would never know it from this blog, but I love Neal Stephenson.   And I haven’t read him in too long.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry – Gabrielle Zevin – Another bookstore mystery, a stolen collection of Poe poems, and a mysterious package.  It sounded up my alley.

Book Scavenger – Jennifer Chambliss Bertman- A kids’ book about a young girl who moves to San Francisco only to find out her literary idol Garrison Griswold has been attacked.  A mysterious book may be a clue to his new game.  I still enjoy books written for children now and then.

I am the Messenger – Markus Zusak – Another kids’ book.   An underage cabdriver without much of a life stops a bank robbery and then becomes a messenger, um, somehow.   “Helping and hurting?” I must have read a better description before buying it.

The Unpurchased Four

The Red Widow Murders – Carter Dickson – https://ahsweetmysteryblog.wordpress.com/2018/05/20/g-a-d-zooks-a-special-announcement/?wref=pil

Lincoln in the Bardo – George Saunders – This book has just followed me around everywhere.   Lincoln’s son Willie dies and finds himself in a weird afterlife in which ghosts struggle over Willie’s soul?   It got a lot of good reviews.

The love-charm of Bombs – Lara Feigel – Been meaning to read this for years.  Literary life during the Blitz – five writers Elizabeth Bowen, Graham Greene, Rose Macaulay, Hilde Spiel, and Henry Green. “Feigel brilliantly and beautifully interweaves the letters, diaries, journalism and fiction of her writers with official records to chart the history of a burning world, experienced through the eyes of extraordinary individuals.”

The Mitford Murders – I’ve been waiting for this for some time.  Golden Age style mystery based on a real crime and the real Mitford sisters and their (I presume fictional) nursemaid and chaperone, Louisa.   Florence Nightingale Shore, goddaughter of the famous nurse, is killed on a train and Louisa and 16 year old Nancy solve it.  Could be lots of fun.   Or tremendously annoying.   But no!   That’s not the right attitude.   It will be fun!


So, join in!   Read 20 Books or 10 or 7 1/2!  Click on the pic at the top to visit Cathy’s site and sign up!     Hmm, only 6 mysteries, 2 of which I don’t own.   That could be a problem.   Oh, well, never stuck to a list in my life, why start now?

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

This is a reread.   I was trying to remember how far in to the Harry Potter hullaballoo it was until I picked up the book and I have no idea.   Did I find out fairly early or had 3 books been published before I knew?   No idea.   It’s a pity I stopped keeping track.   This is really just a placeholder to say I read it.   I spent much of yesterday doing that.   Still as enjoyable as ever, I doubt I have anything to say that hasn’t been said.   I’d forgotten a lot since it’s been at least 15 years since I read it.   I know this because the one record I do have is of buying Order of the Phoenix in 2003.   I want to put it on record that I’ve always hated most of the artwork, but I rather like this:


Cut Throat

I was inspired to read Cut Throat by Christopher Bush by a couple of recent reviews:  JJ was not keen on it – https://theinvisibleevent.com/2018/05/10/385/  Tomcat –  http://moonlight-detective.blogspot.co.uk/2017/09/timing-is-everything.html – enjoyed it a lot more.   So, I thought I’d see what I thought about it.

Christopher Bush wrote like Christie from the 20s and on until the late 60s.   He had enough of a following that he was able to publish for decades, but then was pretty much completely forgotten.   I had never heard of him and was hoping I would enjoy him enough to want to read the entire oeuvre, which would keep me busy for years.   I found Bush’s style a little difficult to adjust to, but after a few pages that eased up.  There’s rather too much about British politics at the time, which is irrelevant.   It was thanks to Tomcat’s review I learned that ‘dumping’ referred to exporting goods at lower prices than selling them domestically.   This was a problem at the time and apparently something that Sir William Griffiths, newspaper magnate, was concerned about.   We don’t know if that’s true as we never see him alive.   He shows up in a hamper at the Albert Hall with his throat cut.   Fortunately for Lord Zyon, another news magnate, he had the hamper brought to his house so the big reveal did not take place in front of many people in a public venue, but at his house with Ludovic Travers, roaming economist and amateur detective, on hand.    There is humor in the book, but I could have used some more.   There wind up being four suspects, which is really not enough, especially as motives are few and far between.   You might think a rich, cheap, newspaper magnate would have more enemies, but apparently not.   Maybe it would be enough if they all had strong motives.  The first half goes along fairly well with cars being discovered at the bottom of cliffs and burnt out in fields, but that all gets cleared up quickly and leaves not a lot.   Three people have ridiculously precise timelines for their evenings which don’t match.   Travers and the police go over this six ways from Sunday apparently ruling out suspects by simply finding them credible.   I don’t recall, though I might have slept through it, any evidence actually exonerating them.

cutthroat How Travers figures out what the guilty person did and how they did it is simultaneously very clever and absolutely stultifying.   I only had a few pages to go and yet, at what should be the most exciting part of the book, could not keep my eyes open.  I’m not sure if there’s a way to use this clever device, but somehow make the reveal more interesting, or if the nature of the device will always make it seem like a dull lecture in a class you don’t enjoy.  I will probably give Bush another shot as I think I bought another one by him, but maybe not for a while.

The most exciting thing is that both this book and Hopjoy was here feature a stolen pig.   Is that not the best Follow the Clues clue ever?  I will probably never top it.  It also fits Author I’ve Never Tried Before on Just the Facts.

The Aleppo Codex

The Aleppo Codex: In Pursuit of One of the World’s Most Coveted, Sacred, and Mysterious Books by Matti Friedman caught my eye because of the words in the subtitle.   I like mysteries and investigations and books.   The book in question was designed to be the most perfect copy of the Hebrew Bible written for scholars to study and learn from.  It’s a thousand years old, Maimonides used it in Egypt in the 12th century, then it was taken to Aleppo when things went bad in Egypt and stayed there safely for 600 years.   It was called The Crown of Aleppo and was hardly ever seen, never photographed (this drives me nuts.   Photograph it!  Let everyone see a copy.   Argh!   But no, they didn’t.)  Then Israel became a country and riots supposedly destroyed the Crown.   But later it emerges that no, some of it was saved and taken to Israel where everyone kept real quiet about it and made shifty eyes.   Matti Friedman got more and more interested in the recent history of the Crown the more people tried to give him the brush-off. 


He may not have found everything out, but he found a lot and it’s a fascinating story, both the ancient history of how it came to be and the modern story of what befell it since 1947.   Friedman’s an excellent writer, discussing clearly and with just the right level of detail the entire history of the book, as much as could be known, a history which illustrates the highest and lowest elements of human character.   A book carefully prepared, beautifully written with the highest ideals of sharing this most perfect text with the world and carefully kept safe for centuries despite war, poverty and anti-Semitism and who knows what other challenges only to be nearly destroyed in the 20th century by the worst of mankind’s characteristics:  greed, violence, greed, indifference, selfishness, prejudice, oh, and did I mention greed?   If ancient texts and the loss or preservation of them interests you, you’ll enjoy this book.

Bout of Books 22

So, I don’t know how to link to a tweet.   So, I’m putting my BoB progress in a blog post.   I am reading the Aleppo Codex and read about 50 pages yesterday.   I might finish it tonight, in which case I will blog about it soon.

Day 1 – 50 pages The Aleppo Codex

Day 2 – Tuesday the 15th –  If I’d realized how close I was to the end, I probably would’ve kept reading the Aleppo Codex.  My next post will be about that.  I ended up reading very little.  I started Christopher Bush’s Cut Throat because JJ hated it and TomCat didn’t, but I barely got through the intro which discusses Bush’s life.  He was apparently quite well known and successful and then quickly forgotten when he stopped publishing in 1968.   This could be very good — he has 63 books being reprinted, or it could be I side with JJ.   The first few pages aren’t boding real well, but I will give it more time.

Day 3 – 5/16 – Read a bit of Cut Throat.   Really not making much progress, but think I am past the initial dislike of the first few pages.  The style takes a bit of getting used to.   Christie, I think, was wise to ignore politics for the most part.   Unless it’s something huge, like World War II, most people won’t know what it means after a few years.   Here’s hoping they won’t matter too much in the plot, though it seems right now like it’s a political motive.

BoB 22 and Hopjoy was Here

I’m signing up for Bout of Books 22.   This runs from May 14 – 20.  I tend to do badly on these.   Too much time, I think.  I lose focus.   I was going to sign up via Twitter, but I don’t know what my status means, so I’m going with what I know.   I will probably update at the time on twitter though, which you can see at PhinneaR, if you’re so inclined.


It helps with one’s total books read to read short ones.   Hopjoy was Here by Colin Watson is that, but I enjoyed every minute of it.   Back in the 70s, some of Watson’s books were filmed as a series called Murder Most English.   I know I saw it, but probably not for a couple years after that, or maybe more.   PBS tended to get things after a while, but I’ve not been able to figure out how long.  Could have been the 80s.    At any rate, long enough ago I didn’t remember what happened.   They take place in the small, English town of Flaxborough and environs with a nosy neighbor sending an anonymous letter.   The letter brings the police calling to the quiet house on Beatrice Avenue which two men shared as housemates, not lovers.   Something nasty has gotten into the drains by being dissolved in the bath in sulphuric acid.   Quite a grim and disgusting operation.  But which of them is it?   Neither Hopjoy, a cavalier, ladies’ man and spy, nor the tobacconist Periam, quiet, mama’s boy, has been seen for about a week.   Either one could have melted the other, but which and why?  Or was it some enemy of Hopjoy’s from his not-very-secret government work?   Inspector Purbright is joined by two agents presumably from one of the MIs.   They are investigating Hopjoy’s disappearance as a result of his work, but Purbright is not convinced.

hopjoywashereThey each run their own investigations in parallel.  While there are a limited number of scenarios here, Watson lead me up the garden path and I did not see through it.  I remember enjoying Coffin, Scarcely Used also, so I foresee more Flaxborough mysteries in my future.

As for Following the Clues, I have to go with Watson the author has the same name as Watson, Holmes’ assistant in Hound.   If I could count Our Man in Havana, I would’ve used spies filing false reports, which is a much more interesting clue.   And for Just the Facts, I’ll go with Book Made Into TV/Film/Play.

Our Man in Havana

Three nights ago, I finished Our Man in Havana, Graham Greene’s political satire on the spy business.  Once again, satire is not very funny, in fact it gets somewhat grim as the ‘other side’ starts taking out real people assumed to be agents. [Also, twice used is a word  we don’t use any more, the first time in the first sentence and it’s rather like a slap in the face.   It doesn’t seem to be used for a good reason.] Wormold, almost no one calls him Jim, is a vacuum cleaner salesman in Cuba in (I think) 1958.   He is British, but was married to a Cuban who left him with a willful, Catholic daughter named Milly, who has him wrapped around her finger.   Owing to this, Wormold feels constantly worried about money, money for Milly’s schooling, for her entertainment, for every whim she has, pretty much.   So, when a fellow country man recruits him to join the secret service and supply them with info on Cuba, Wormold accepts.   The recruitment meeting which Hawthorne insists must take place in the bathroom is quite funny, though the rest of the book, I didn’t find so.   Now, I have to find the movie again and see if I still find that funny.


Wormold has no more idea how to find out secret information than most of us would.   It did make me wonder how the heck I would go about it if I were in that situation.   Wormold is more a quiet, keep himself to himself, follow his simple routine kind of guy and not a player on the international stage, but he realizes he has to supply something for the money he’s being paid, so he invents things.   He invents recruits, he invents mysterious military construction, and his bosses back home lap it up.   Soon he has real staff on top of his imaginary agents and it all balloons out of control as the mysterious other side ransacks apartments and shoots at people.   This is the side of the whole book which I found unsatisfying.  {Kind of spoilery up ahead.] How did they come to know?  Was Hasselbacher working for them?   It seemed like he was forced to, rather than that he volunteered, so how did anyone know to force him?   Segura?   He seems to know everything, but I’m really not sure how he would find this out.   The policeman who comes into the bathroom?   I don’t know.   Wormold is dumb enough to tell Hasselbacher.  So I guess it had to be him, but it’s all rather unsatisfying.   Maybe I just wanted a good spy story.   I do wonder what MI6 was mad about when Greene published.   But if Hasselbacher didn’t volunteer that information it should have stayed under wraps.  Maybe I missed something.  [End spoilery part.]

If this qualified for the Follow the Clues challenge, I would put down that in both it and Hound of the Baskervilles a beloved pet dies, but I don’t think it counts for that.  It is however a 20th Century Classic.   So, I’m counting it for that.

Would I recommend it?   Yes, I think so.   Although I think my favorite is probably The Ministry of Fear.  That, too, has seemingly absurd things becoming true, some of Greene’s humor, but you get a much better idea of who the enemy is.