20 Books of Summer 2020 – No. 5

What I started the night of the Reverse Readathon was Lincoln in the Bardo. A strange combination of the historic death of 11 year old Willy Lincoln and the Tibetan Book of the Dead – The Bardo Thodol. The book is supposed to be read to guide the consciousness of the recently deceased between incarnations. Oddly enough I read it many years ago, but don’t remember a darned thing about it, nor why I read it.

The book is entirely composed of quotes from various sources on the Lincolns, Willie’s death, and life in the White House, and the dialogue of various souls who are in possibly the strangest afterlife ever imagined. We are introduced to the two main entities, Bevins and Vollman, who reveal their pasts and their current situation. They believe they are not dead, but sick. Their bodies are in ‘sick boxes’ and they must go back to them every night. Each being has some obsession, some problem, some wish that ties them to their life in the previous place. Their particular issue affects what they do in this afterlife. Looking for love, waiting for their children to visit, everyone has their own thing. Into this weird world, arrives Willie Lincoln, dead at age 11 in 1862. Vollman and Bevins urge him not to stay. Children usually move on. Presumably they don’t have enough baggage to linger there, but Willie is not your ordinary kid. He thinks for himself and he thinks he should wait for his parents.

I don’t think I can do justice to the strangeness of this world into the borders of which Lincoln steps. It is very well written. It draws a remarkable picture of a bizarre and disturbing afterlife, remarkable characters revealed as flawed human beings and how they wound up where they are. A remarkable book well worth your time.

Reverse readathon 2020

Many people have heard of and participated in Dewey’s 24 Hour Readathon in April and October, but far fewer know about/participate in the relatively new Reverse Readathon. It starts 12 hours earlier, so if you usually start at 8 AM Eastern Time, you’ll start at 8 PM Friday night. It’s much more casual, not all the hoopla, prizes, contests, etc. Snacks and books for as much of the 24 hours as you can. They don’t care if that’s one hour or 24. The point is that everyone enjoy a day with as much reading as you can put into it and those people who usually start in the morning, start at night and vice versa. I wish there was one in the Winter, too.

I don’t know how much I’ll be able to read as there are things going on, but I will try to do more than usual, which shouldn’t be hard as so many days go by without any reading in them. I’ll be back. It starts in 1:42 from … now!

Opening Survey!

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today?

Maryland, U.S.A.

2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?

Stack? Ha! Decided to start Lincoln in the Bardo.

3) Which snack are you most looking forward to?

Tough question. Pistachios? Mint chocolate? Cookies? I’ve already had Americone Dream ice cream. That’s pretty good right there?

4) Tell us a little something about yourself!

I want to do too many things so reading sometimes gets lost in the shuffle.

5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to?

Oh, probably nothing. Not read enough. Wish I’d read more. Yeah, Probably that.


  1. How would you assess your reading overall? Better than usual. Only managed a few hours, but that’s more I think than I have the past few times. If only I can finish a few serious projects, then maybe I can get back to reading more.
  2. Did you have a strategy, and if so, did you stick to it? Um, no.
  3. What was your favorite snack? Garlic parmeson Kettle crisps.
  4. Wanna volunteer for our next event? Stay tuned for the recap post! Sorry, I can’t even read for the day, let alone volunteer.

Book 4 – 20 Books of Summer

You’ll probably think from this burst of posts that I’m a lot closer to the 20 book goal than I am. I am about here, as a matter of sad, sad fact. Four books done. Why yes, it is August. The odds of me finishing 16 books this month are astronomical. But I’ll do what I can. There is at least the reverse readathon tomorrow.

So, book four was The Golden Box by Frances Crane, second in the Pat and Jean Abbott series which I’m reading somewhat out of order. Jean is still Jean Holly and she and her cat Toby are visiting her sick aunt in her home town in Illinois which she hasn’t been in since she left 8 years ago when her parents died. She barely arrives when the horrible old rich woman who runs the town dies under mysterious circumstances followed quickly by the apparent suicide of a young maid. Jean’s boyfriend Patrick Abbott arrives for a flying visit on his way to Washington – America is just about to get into World War II – but gets involved with the mystery. In both this one and the third one, they are not married yet, not even engaged in this one and Jean is a bit young and somewhat annoying about Patrick. I’m supposed to believe she isn’t sure of him, but it’s a little hard to believe that. She gets mad at him over stupid things. Another thing that’s a bit tough in these is while not a lot of racism, they just can’t help it. Some peoples’ attitudes in 1941 were, well, racist. Still are today, of course, but it’s a hazard of reading old books.

The young maid who probably didn’t hang herself was African American and may have been killed to stop her from talking about the death of her employer, the scroogey rich old lady. She was one of the first to see the body and spoke of a golden box in the dead woman’s hand. A box which has disappeared. It is an entertaining story with a creepy bird watcher, the dead woman’s three daughters each with their own personality, and the mysterious Annie who was a sort of governess to the girls and stayed on afterward. Annie was an orphan who has no second name and may or may not be keeping one of the daughters in a drugged stupor.

I enjoy these books, I like Pat and sometimes I like Jean. I enjoy these mysteries although I think the mysterious title box in this one is kind of lame, the story is interesting and entertaining and I look forward to reading more Abbott mysteries.

20 Books of summer – book 3

Undecided which book to read next I got a random number of the internet which led me to The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. You would never know from this blog that I’m a Neal Stephenson fan. Going back to Snow Crash which was a bit outside my usual sort of read, but it was really good, so I found and read more of him. Now and then he writes with someone else. D.O.D.O. is one of these. He wrote it with a woman named Nicole Galland. I’ve never read anything else by her. But I wasn’t wowed by DODO, so I doubt I will. Not sure who to blame for the okayness. It starts off pretty well, with a young polyglot meeting a military guy and signing on for some project she knows nothing about mainly because it gets her away from her icky boss and this guy is pretty cute. At first she’s just translating old documents that reveal that magic used to exist and that a few centuries prior it became rarer and rarer until it stopped altogether at the moment someone took a photograph of an eclipse in 1853 (or something like that.)

And I’m not really buying this, but all right, go on. They figure out there might be a way to create a small environment in which magic could work. A sort of small clean room in which one witch could work some magic. Only they need a witch. Apparently it’s hereditary so they think maybe they can find the great great granddaughter of a witch when one turns up. She has been waiting for them for 150 years or so having slowed her aging. She is very cranky from having waited so long, which you would be. They’ve also fortunately found a professor who had been working on this special space in which magic can be done. God knows why he was working on this. I can’t remember why, but he’s very excited to be able to work on it again. All of these nice people are blithely working on this project for the good of their country with a rather naive seeming belief that whatever they’re doing is good. Okay, say that it is. They’ve decided to time travel. The witch can send a person back in time. As to what else the witch could do, no one ever seems bothered to find out. They decide to go back and violate what is it — the first commandment? Don’t fuck around with history.

As I write about it, I’m a lot more unsatisfied with the whole thing than I realized. It’s entertaining in parts. It has some good characters. If you had told me there was a Neal Stephenson book partly set in Shakespearean times, I would have thought ‘yeah, baby!’, but I would have been wrong. Our narrator at that point is Grainne, an Irish lady of the evening who is really a witch working for Grace O’Malley, a real figure of history barely touched on, merely the recipient of Grainne’s letters filling in gaps in plot for us in a most annoying style.

Oh, I’ve griped enough. It’s super long and I could gripe a lot more. I’m probably taking it too seriously. After all, their rivals in this business are a banking family named Fugger, pronounced Fucker in Germany where they are from. Hilarious.

Sorry I’m so crabby. Lower your expectations and you’ll probably enjoy it and wonder what the heck I’m on about.

20 Books of 2020 – Book 2

Okay, it’s been a sad long while since I last wrote, but at least I didn’t just finish book 2. I finished it some time in June, but haven’t gotten around to writing about it which I don’t really have an explanation for. The second book was A Hoarse, Half-Human Cheer by X.J. Kennedy. I’ve been meaning to read it for years. Usually a poet, he’s also written books for children both poetry and prose, but this is his only novel for adults. I wasn’t too sure I would like it as the blurb compares it to Elmore Leonard and Janet Evanovich who I’m sure are good writers, but just not my kind of thing. However, I enjoyed it. The main character Moon, is a young man in New Jersey just after World War II. He’s 17 so he didn’t fight in the war, so he’s one of the few people to go to St. Cassian of Imola who hasn’t. The previously very small Catholic college has almost overnight become huge, packed with thousands of vets getting an education on the G.I. Bill. The administration is also packed with people who are corruptly dealing in war surplus or turning a blind eye to it. Moon makes friends with the guys in his tent – there was no time to build dorms; Father Knox, the basketball coach; and his gorgeous and very available biology professor, Aisling Vastasi. The school was so desperate for professors they even hired a woman. Vastasi is not her real name. She is pretending to be married to a mobster named Vastasi, though she feels no great loyalty to him.

I really enjoyed this book. Good characters and an interesting situation – a tiny college trying to become a large university instantly, the mob and some other shady characters causing trouble. There’s some violence, but not too much. Definitely more comic than tragic, I wish it weren’t his only novel.

20 Books of 2020 – Book one

Two days ago I finished The Problem of the Green Capsule a couple days ago. Embarrassingly, this not-at-all-lengthy mystery by John Dickson Carr took me nine days. I kept falling asleep having read no more than ten pages. This was not the fault of the book. I was just tired. The book is probably my favorite Carr for plot. There’s a mansion with an odd family. The wealthy Marcus Chesney, his niece, her fiance, his brother, an old friend, an assistant, living in the small town of Sodbury Cross where a terrible poisoning took place months earlier. Children poisoned with chocolate creams and many people in the town believe it was done by the niece was responsible and in age-old small town fashion harrass her. Marcus Chesney believes, not without reason, that eyewitnesses always get it wrong. So he sets up a little experiment to prove it. He puts on a little show with the niece and their friend the psychologist and the fiance filming the whole thing. Chesney hopes to prove to them all what inaccurate witnesses they are, but he also proves there’s an extremely clever murderer on the loose. It is not a locked room, but it may as well be. It is impossible for any of the witnesses to say what really happened, despite seeing the murderer do the job right in from of them.

I enjoyed this one and did not feel like he cheated in the solution as I have with others I’ve read. The solution is clever and yet I felt as though I should have thought of it. I don’t think I have anything very much to say about it.

I am also thinking in addition to starting early, I will finish late. You see, in America, summer unofficially goes from Memorial Day (last Monday in May) to Labor Day (first Monday in September.) And this year, Memorial Day was the 25th, as early as it can be, and Labor Day is on the 7th, as late as it can be. The longest summer and we’re all hunkering down inside so as not to catch coronavirus. Plus if it takes me over a week to read a book that size, it’s going to take me a year and 3 months to read the rest.

20 Books of Summer 2020

It’s that time again and Cathy of 746Books is once more hosting the 20 Books of Summer Challenge which is great.   I love this challenge even though I usually fall far short of my goals.  I’ve been thinking about what to read this summer, but so far have made no decisions.  Except I do plan to try for 20, rather than the far more sensible 15 or 10 or 5…

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I’ll be figuring this out and post my list here when I do.

May 29 – Well, that took a while. I didn’t think it would be that hard, but I do have a problem deciding sometimes, of the thousands of books I’d like to read, which do I want to read most? I’ve only decided on 17, but that leaves some wiggle room so I’m not going to spend more time trying to figure out the last three. I have been meaning to read some of these for years. It would be quite a triumph to finish even these 17, my reading has been so non-existent. The other thing is, I’m cheating and starting today. Why spend the weekend reading things that don’t count to start on Monday? I’m working on Monday. (And I know I’m fortunate to be doing so.)

So, I started just after midnight last night, meaning today with The Problem of the Green Capsule by John Dickson Carr. A book I read the first few pages of some time ago. Not sure when. But I thought it would be a good one to begin with. Relatively easy and hopefully engaging.

So here’s the list:

  1. The Problem of the Green Capsule
  2. Labyrinth of the Spirits by Carlos Ruiz Zafon – I’ve loved the other three of his in this group. Not sure why I’m taking so long with this one.
  3. The Golden Box – second in the Jean and Pat Abbott mysteries. I started it once and misplaced it. I’ve enjoyed two out of three that I’ve read.
  4. At Lady Molly’s – fourth in the Dance to the Music of Time
  5. The Black Gloves – second or third Gwyneth and Constance Little books. I enjoyed the Grey Mist Murders. Humorous mysteries are fun.
  6. A Hoarse Half-Human Cheer – has been on a previous 20 Books list I believe.
  7. Weekend at Thrackley – I liked another Alan Melville book
  8. The Hare with the Amber Eyes – been on my list forever. Something about a banking family and netsuke.
  9. The Love-Charm of Bombs – ditto. 4 or 5 British writers during the Blitz
  10. Love Lies Bleeding – I think this is the next Gervase Fen.
  11. Lincoln in the Bardo – it’s been so long for some of these I don’t remember why. Lincoln’s son and the Tibetan Book of the Dead. I believe it’s a bit weird?
  12. Greenmantle – a John Buchan book. Sequel to The 39 Steps, I think.
  13. The Baker Street Irregulars -Anthony Boucher
  14. The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. – you wouldn’t know it from reading this blog, but I am a Neal Stephenson fan behind in my work
  15. Murder on Wheels – second Hildegarde Withers
  16. The Loser – Thomas Bernhard was in a list of the best short novels according to some site
  17. The Bat – Mary Roberts Rinehart: I saw the old Vincent Price movie not too long ago, so I thought, why not read the book?
  18. The Sealed Message – Fergus Hume: I added this accidentally on my Kindle and then thought, well, why not?

But something is wrong because I added 4 and am still at 18, so I must have forgotten 3. One was Gawain and the Green Knight, which I’m not sure about. But there are two others. I’ll have to find the list.

Thanks, Cathy, for hosting! I hope you, dear reader, will join us in this challenge! It’s very flexible, read as many or as few as fits your schedule. Make a list. Then abandon it, or switch a few out. It officially starts Monday so you have time to figure out what you’d like to have read by September 1!

The Case of the Black Twenty-Two

Brian Flynn’s second Anthony Bathurst mystery is a lot like his first.  A decent mystery brought down a little by Bathurst being a bit annoying and Flynn’s fondness for exclamation marks.   Bathurst thinks himself the greatest thing since sliced bread and almost everyone in the book thinks so, too, even though this is only his second mystery.  The inspector from Scotland Yard does not arrest him for withholding evidence.  Everyone falls in with his plans without knowing a thing about them.  They do what he says and are handsomely rewarded in the end with the mystery solved and the criminal(s) ready for the clink.

However, the mystery itself isn’t bad.   First off there’s a young lawyer who’s engaged to look at some items a millionaire wants to buy in a sale.  These items once belonged to Mary, Queen of Scots, a particular interest of said millionaire.  On his way to see the items on display at the auction house, the lawyer, Daventry, stops for a spot of lunch.  There an incident at a nearby table makes him think a couple is interested in Mary’s former belongings, too.   He goes to see them and a good thing, too, because they are stolen that night and a night watchman is killed.   Meanwhile, at the millionaire’s not at all humble abode, the millionaire gets his head bashed in.   Coincidence?  Connection?  What has all this got to do with Mary, Queen of Scots and what does ‘the black twenty-two’ even mean?   All these questions are answered in time by the man of the hour, Anthony Bathurst.

I am glad that Brian Flynn’s works are being resuscitated.   Dozens of new mysteries from the Golden Age are nothing to sneeze at and Flynn’s writing isn’t bad.   I just wished I liked it a bit better.  It and Bathurst.  He’s got the ego of Poirot without the experience, nor with Christie’s tendency to poke fun at the Belgian detective.  The man wraps everyone around his little finger and his plan at the end for exposing the criminals is pretty much absurd.  There is no way I can figure out that the solution should have been clear to the armchair detective following along.  I prefer stories where you can, at least theoretically, figure it out.  I will probably keep reading nonetheless.  There aren’t too many Golden Age mysteries to go through that I will turn up my nose at these.

Dewey’s 24 Hour Readathon 2020

Good morning, afternoon or evening! n433333333333 <– message from my cat.

First thing we do, we answer the survey!

Opening Survey!

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today?bgvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvv-p

Also known as Maryland
2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?

See, okay, I’m not quite ready.   I didn’t get a stack together and I can’t decide what to read, but ,mmmmmmk, I will in the next 14 minutes.
3) Which snack are you most looking forward to?   Peanut butter and chocolate coated popcorn.
4) Tell us a little something about yourself!

I never know what to say for things like this.
5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to?

Already done!  I’m up and filling out the survey before 8:00!  But what to read?  Finish the current thing or something all new for the readathon?  9 minutes to decide!


Mid-Way and a bit!

So, what did I decide?  I started a new book, the second Anthony Bathurst mystery – The Case of the Black Twenty-Two.  A lawyer named Peter Delantry is asked to look at some items about to go on sale at auction which belonged to Mary, Queen of Scots.   A millionaire has asked his firm to buy these items.   It is an unusual request for this firm and a series of unusual events occurs including a robbery and two murders.   Enter that paragon of masculine virtues, Anthony Bathurst.

I’m afraid I haven’t gotten very far.   I have had calls from old friends, did some gardening and had to run to a restaurant for carryout and then, er, I may or may not have fallen asleep while reading.   I will keep on though and sad to say the little I’ve read today is more than I’ve managed the past couple times.   Or maybe happy to say I’ve improved.   I never do make it the full 24 hours, but I will do what I can…  line by line… page by page… book by book!


Closing Survey

  1. How would you assess your reading overall?  Not great.   I really need to get into practice for October
  2. Did you have a strategy, and if so, did you stick to it?  erm, not really, and yet no.    All I meant to do was read as much as I could, and I didn’t.
  3. What was your favorite snack?  Peanut butter and chocolate popcorn
  4. Wanna volunteer for our next event? Stay tuned for the recap post!

I had a good day, talking with old friends, doing a bit of gardening and reading not much, but more than I have for a while, so maybe it’s the start of a new reading run.

World Book Day, Dewey’s, etc.

I hope you all are staying safe and well during this unbelievable pandemic.   And while coronavirus is probably uppermost on most peoples’ minds, I would like to remind us of a couple good things going on.   Today, the 23rd of April is World Book Day and if you hurry, at least in America, you can get a free Kindle book from Amazon from a group they’re offering.   I guess I’m too late for most of the world, but I don’t know if they were doing that everywhere or not.   They should, it being World Book Day, but who knows?

Next is Dewey’s 24 Hour Readathon, which I have signed up for.   This Saturday, the 25th, we can spend the day reading with people around the world and while that may not be so different this year than how a lot of us have spent the last month or two, it is for a happier reason, more companionable, and hopefully, you can eat plenty of snacks.   Snacks are an important part of the day.   From 8 AM Eastern US time (it starts at the same time around the world and goes 24 hours), you read and snack and chat over social media about your reading, your snacking, and the mini-challenges.   Do as much or as little as you like.   Read 24 hours or 24 minutes.   Eat 24 snacks.   Read physical books, ebooks, or listen to audiobooks.   Join us!   Read!  Eat!   Chat!  You’ll probably be home anyway!


I have actually read a little since I last posted.  I read a Patricia Wentworth – The Clock Strikes Twelve.  Enjoyed it.    A very wealthy man who told his family at dinner on New Year’s Eve that one of them had betrayed him and that he would wait in his study until midnight for a confession.   Shortly after midnight, he’s dead.   The police don’t think he fell.   The whole family is under suspicion.  Miss Silver comes along after a while to solve the murder, solve romantic problems, and make all right with the world again.   It’s a nice read.

So, join me on Saturday, reading as much as we can!   Maybe I’ll even read two books this month!


Idle thoughts on books and movies. Some new, but mostly old.

Phinnea's Book Blog List

Idle thoughts on books and movies. Some new, but mostly old.