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Convenience Store Woman

by Sayaka Murata

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This is another book where the average Goodreads rating was relatively low (3.71 at the time of writing this review) but the book was a 5★ read for me.

This may be partly because I used to work in a supermarket (& sadly that wasn’t the nadir of my working life) We didn’t have inspirational chants or anything like that, but doing mundane tasks well was how I kept feeling of value in this world. To say I don’t miss it, is putting it mildly.

I think my enjoyment may have been enhanced by the translation by Ginny Tapley Takemori Generally any (originally) Japanese language books I have read have seemed detached & a bit stiff, so I thought that must be the writing style. But this book had a warm natural flow

This book is slyly amusing with a good underlying message. That would be we are all different & just because Keiko’s choices wouldn’t be yours that doesn’t make them wrong. That makes them right for her.

Recommended.

Lord Peter: The Complete Lord Peter Wimsey Stories

by Dorothy L. Sayers

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Overall, 4.5★

I’ve found most of Sayer’s work very hard to acquire second hand. This book & The Nine Tailors turned up at a book fair, so I snapped them up!

I’ve only read a little of James Sandoe’s introduction, as it moved into spoiler territory quite quickly for me – I haven’t read all of Sayer’s novels.

I’ve read the first four stories so far & enjoyed all of them, but I have decided just to write reviews for the ones that were 5★ or 4.5★ reads for me.

The Fascinating Problem of Uncle Meleager’s Will Meleager – what a name! This story was everything I hope for from a Sayer – engaging characters, witty dialogue & a baffling mystery. A bonus was the new fangled thing called a crossword! I’m going to have another attempt at solving it, later on. 5★ Such an outstanding story that I don’t know if any of the others will be able to top it!

The Vindictive Story of the Footsteps that Ran Can I say I’m really loving the titles? This was really ingenious & I loved the byplay between Wimsey & his butler, Bunter. 4.5★

The Bibulous Nature of a Matter of Taste This was funny & silly & I really enjoyed it. 5★

The Learned Adventure of the Dragon’s Head What a wonderful Boys Own Adventure! I can’t get over the witty charm of this one. 5★

The Incredible Elopement of Lord Peter Wimsey With strong echoes of Poe & Conan Doyle, this was melodramatic, OTT & I absolutely loved it. Took a writer of skill to pull this one off! 5★

In the Teeth of the Evidence Very witty title – & a very witty story. Dastardly dentistry. 5★

The Haunted Policeman This one didn’t make much sense to me – but it is so wonderfully witty at the start that I’m going to give it 4.5★ anyway!

Talboys What does this title mean? (seriously, someone please tell me!) More a study of family life (& very funny) & Sayers gets a couple of good shots in at an opiniated busybody. 5★

So there you have it. Sayers is my favourite Golden Age writer. La Christie has far more ingenious plots, but I think Sayers is a writer’s writer. If I could write a hundredth as well as her, I would be one happy woman.

I would love to give this collection 5★because some of it was sublime, but unfortunately (as is usual in short story collections) there was one real turkey in The Adventurous Exploit of the Cave of Ali Baba. No book that contains this ridiculousness can possibly get a 5★. Christie & Patricia Wentworth also didn’t do well with these secret society stories & I had to give this story 2★. It will indeed be a miracle if I can ever give a short story collection 5★ (unless it is written by Katherine Mansfield.)

The afterword by John Curran is illuminating. If I reread the whole collection, I will read it in tandem with this afterword.

But while I’m getting rid of most of my books, this one is a keeper which I’m sure I’ll read again & again.

2022 on Goodreads

by Me!

I got a very mild dose of COVID, but it left me a bit apathetic & I had been having a bit of trouble getting this list organised.

Graphs

I’m getting better but I still haven’t figured out how to name my graphs.

Graph 1 Shows I read a disappointingly low number of NZ books.
Graph 2 Shows I read far more books written by women than by men.
Graph 3 Shows my favourite reading century is the 20th (for some reason 19th century – the yellow one isn’t named. & there is an asterisk by 18th century as Lady Susan was written in the 18th century, but not published till the 19th)
Graph 4 shows I read mostly fiction. (Poetry is Poetry/short Stories)

I had two DNFS (more info below)
I read three books in translation & seven of the books I read were rereads.

I also gave two books that hadn’t read one stars due to author harassment. They have their own exclusive shelf, so they don’t count as read books.

GR’s Year in Review

My average rating 4.0. Happy with that. This was a good reading year for me, & I no longer waste time on (over) hyped books on Goodreads. Well, the occasional waste of time will slip through, but overall I’m happy that I have developed some discrimination.

Average Book Length 244 pages. Totally correct. I don’t read much non-fiction & I will always prefer my fiction to come in at 250-400 pages (short stories drag this average down) Saying that I’m going to reduce my reading challenge to 70 books this year as I do have a couple of longer books to read.

Speaking of Book Challenges – while I comfortably hit my GR challenge of 75, I missed by one of my Kiwi reading Challenge. I finished 11 but I had two DNFs – the only DNFs I had this year. One – Magnolia, 木蘭 I was enjoying the poems that I had read online , so shelled out for a kindle copy – which was formatted so badly to be unreadable. I couldn’t contact Ms Powles, so I tried her publicist who never answered. Looks like Ms Powles has finally removed the kindle from Amazon. Wise move.

So on to The Carol Awards!
Going from Bad to Good!

Worst Book Overall
Georgette Heyer is my favourite author & has written many of my favourite books, but she has also written some of the worst books I have ever read & The Great Roxhythe is one of the worst of these turkeys. This was the author’s least favourite of her own works. Sadly, she has written a couple that were even worse.

Worst Reread
See above. I reread this one because the first time I found it (unintentionally) very funny. The second read it is just bad. My only 1★ this year.

Worst International Fiction
Shadows in Bronze by Lindsey Davis. A lot of my friends like this author’s work but she is not for me.

Worst NZ Fiction
Bonkers by Michele Holman. Nothing like as bad as the above two, but Holman seems to always want a resolution for every character, no matter how minor, in her romances.

Worst NZ Nonfiction
The Great New Zealand Robbery: How gangsters pulled off our most audacious robbery by Scott Bainbridge
Turns out safecracking is very dull. Who knew? This one was a DNF

Worst International Nonfiction
Georgette Heyer’s Regency England I had read enough reviews to know this was going to be bad & inaccurate, but I interloaned it anyway. Saved only by Arthur Barbossa’s cover & b/w illustrations. (the reason I wanted to read it- I’m a massive Barbossa fan!)

On to the good stuff! I only read two cookbooks this year, but both are worthy winners.

Best International Cookbook
Japanese Home Cooking by Maori Murota. I have just taken this book out of the library again, but I get so much use from it, I’m tempted to buy my own copy.

Best NZ Cookbook
Hiakai: Modern Māori Cuisine by Monique Fiso Just beautiful & the illustrations are very helpful for keen foragers.

Overall Best Cookbook
Japanese Home Cooking because the recipes are both delicious & for the home cook. Hiakai: Modern Māori Cuisine is more a coffee table book.

Best International Non-Fiction
The Little School: Tales of Disappearance and Survival by Alicia Portnoy. Only a monster would not be moved by Portnoy’s tale about being lucky enough to be one of the (permanently) Disappeared Ones in Argentina.

Two Equal Runners Up
Medieval Underpants and Other Blunders: A Writer’s (and Editor’s) Guide to Keeping Historical Fiction Free of Common Anachronisms, Errors, and Myths by Suzanne Alleyn. All fledgling historical writers should read this!
Pandora’s Jar: Women in the Greek Myths by Natalie Haynes. A thoughtful, feminist perspective on the heroines of Greek Myths.

Best NZ Nonfiction
Dressed: Fashionable Dress in Aotearoa New Zealand 1840 to 1910 by Claire Regnault. Exquisite!

Runner Up
The Abundant Garden : A Practical Guide To Growing A Regenerative Home Garden by Niva & Yotan Kay. So helpful to the beginner gardener & Yotan (in real life) is so generous with his time & advice.

Honorable Mention
Impossible: My Story by Stan Walker. Flawed book, but Stan is a truly awesome human being, who has had to overcome so much!

Best Nonfiction Overall
Dressed: Fashionable Dress in Aotearoa New Zealand 1840 to 1910

Best Short Story
The Ransom of Red Chief my all time favourite short story

Best Fiction Reread
Devil’s Cub My favourite book of all time

Runner Up
The Foundling both by Georgette Heyer

Best International Fiction
Demelza by Winston Graham

Runner Up
Lady Susan by Jane Austen

Honorable Mention
Voices on the Wind by Evelyn Anthony. I own so many of Ms Anthony’s books – I’ll make it next year’s resolution to read more of them.

Best NZ Fiction
Before You Knew My Name by Jacqueline Bublitz – such an outstanding debut!

Runner Up
Whanau by Whiti Ihimaera

Best New-To-Me Author
Jacqueline Bublitz

Best Fiction & Best Book Overall
Of course it is Devil’s Cub It will be every year I reread this book! 
not set [edit]Jan 01, 2023editvi

Apex Magazine, Issue 121

by Jason Sizemore (Editor)

I’m just going to pick a few things out of this issue & I have started with a short story by one of my favourite short story authors, Alix E. Harrow

Mr Death
Vivid & thoughtful, I just chewed this story up! About a Reaper (an escort) for the dead, who finds one case too hard to handle. I had tears in my eyes (but also a smile on my face) at the end. This story helps prove to me that Ms Harrow is far better suited to the short story format. 5★

Love, That Hungry Thing
by Cassandra Khaw. Beautifully written & oddly touching. 5★

Gray Skies, Red Wings, Blue Lips, Black Hearts
by Merc Fenn Wolfmoor. My favourite of the three stories I have read so far – but I have already given the other two stories 5★ What’s a girl (ok ancient crone!) to do. Wolfmoor’s writing & breadth of imagination took me so deep into their world. Breathtaking 5★(plus)

All I Want for Christmas
by Charles Payseur Am I ever on a good run with this magazine! This is (as the magazine) says flash fiction, so very short – it took me a minute to read. Not a word was wasted. Will Robby get his Christmas wish? You decide! 5★

The Niddah
by Elana Gomel

The golden era of global health was shattered by COVID-19. There had been epidemics before, of course, but since they had all taken place in the Third World, they did not disturb the placid assumption of the developed countries that the Danse Macabre of ages past had been stopped for good.

I appreciated how topical this story is, but this was a strange one. Very imaginative though – I didn’t predict the twists & turns the plot took. 4.5★

The Ace of Knives
by Tonya Liburd

Canadian – yay! After a very ordinary beginning this became beautifully twisty. I’m surprised that in such a short short story how much I came to care for The Ace of Knives. 4.5★

Your Own Undoing
by P.H. Lee

But I do know this: You stopped and looked at him. Then he met your eyes and your whole body shuddered.

Beautifully written but very strange & masochistic. 3.5★

So I think this is as far as I will take reading this magazine. I’m not feeling a strong pull to the other titles. Unusually for me, I’m going to round up rather than down & make my rating 5★

I’m just going to pick a few things out of this issue & I have started with a short story by one of my favourite short story authors, Alix E. Harrow

Mr Death
Vivid & thoughtful, I just chewed this story up! About a Reaper (an escort) for the dead, who finds one case too hard to handle. I had tears in my eyes (but also a smile on my face) at the end. This story helps prove to me that Ms Harrow is far better suited to the short story format. 5★

Love, That Hungry Thing
by Cassandra Khaw. Beautifully written & oddly touching. 5★

Gray Skies, Red Wings, Blue Lips, Black Hearts
by Merc Fenn Wolfmoor. My favourite of the three stories I have read so far – but I have already given the other two stories 5★ What’s a girl (ok ancient crone!) to do. Wolfmoor’s writing & breadth of imagination took me so deep into their world. Breathtaking 5★(plus)

All I Want for Christmas
by Charles Payseur Am I ever on a good run with this magazine! This is (as the magazine) says flash fiction, so very short – it took me a minute to read. Not a word was wasted. Will Robby get his Christmas wish? You decide! 5★

The Niddah
by Elana Gomel

The golden era of global health was shattered by COVID-19. There had been epidemics before, of course, but since they had all taken place in the Third World, they did not disturb the placid assumption of the developed countries that the Danse Macabre of ages past had been stopped for good.

I appreciated how topical this story is, but this was a strange one. Very imaginative though – I didn’t predict the twists & turns the plot took. 4.5★

The Ace of Knives
by Tonya Liburd

Canadian – yay! After a very ordinary beginning this became beautifully twisty. I’m surprised that in such a short short story how much I came to care for The Ace of Knives. 4.5★

Your Own Undoing
by P.H. Lee

But I do know this: You stopped and looked at him. Then he met your eyes and your whole body shuddered.

Beautifully written but very strange & masochistic. 3.5★

So I think this is as far as I will take reading this magazine. I’m not feeling a strong pull to the other titles. Unusually for me, I’m going to round up rather than down & make my rating 5★

Assignment in Brittany

by Helen MacInnes

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Wow!

I’m going to give this book the full 5★, even though a couple of parts dragged for me.

Do you know when this book was first published?

1942.

When WW2 was still raging on. Ms MacInnes moved to the States in 1937 & communications (of course) aren’t immediate the way they are now. But I’m going to assume that Ms MacInnes had done her research – or even talked to people who had had first hand experience.

Martin Hearn was the body double of a badly injured (in Britain) Breton & is parachuted into Brittany to take his place in a village of people who knew the real Bertrand Corlay well. Martin is also fluent in French, but will he be able to deceive people who knew the real Corlay well – like his mother & his fiancée?

Like I said above, there were some slow patches, but both the beginning & the end were taut & exciting & I found the (view spoiler)

Be prepared for some chauvinism;

And yet it was difficult to restrain his own particular brand of humour when a young woman took herself so seriously: still more difficult when the young woman was so beautiful as this one.

Disappointing from a female author, but unfortunately so common in 2oth century fiction.

I still loved it.

Japanese Home Cooking

by Maori Murota

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This cookbook looks most promising. Most promising.

Last night I made a variation of the Vegan Ramen. I used chicken stock (because that is what I had) & only one kind of mushroom. The flavour was so good & intense that next time I will make an effort to get hold of dried shitake mushrooms to deepen the flavour further.

But I followed the recipe exactly for the Negiabura (Infused Oil) It was perfect. Very spicy & full of flavour. We have plenty left over, so we may buy tofu today & use it as a marinade.

And last night we had another superb meal inspired by this book! Soba Salad (pg 36)We had a few differences. A basic one is that we couldn’t get soba noodles in our little town. Or Jerusalaem artichokes. But I made the sauce exactly. The base ingredient was peanut butter & the depth of flavour was astounding! My husband has used the leftover sauce as a marinade for pork burgers tonight – & the aromas are making me drool!

Last night I made Mabo-Doufu (Tofu in a Spicy Sauce) Pg 360

It was spicy alright! It was right on the edge of what my husband could tolerate, so when I make it again I will halve the Szechuan peppers. Also my hand slipped when adding the mirin, so the balance was wrong. (my husband disagrees – other than the meal was too spicy he loved it) As a side note, the silken tofu was a revelation – far nicer than the grim blocks we usually buy that are inedible without a marinade. & it was my first time eating Shitake mushrooms. They had an interesting texture – slightly rubbery.

One of my sisters & her partner came for the weekend. They are near vegetarians, so this was the perfect cookbook to turn to.

I made Eggplant & Capsicum Spaghetti with Miso Paste Sauce Pg 114

This would have been beautiful but I cooked too much spaghetti, so it diluted the sauce! The next day, I made a second lot of sauce & it was way nicer.

This was accompanied by Avocado & Nori salad with Sesame Oil Pg 155

This is my new favourite avocado salad – nori & avocado complement each other perfectly! I loved it so much I made it again the next day. The only (accidental) improvement I made the first time was added the toasted sesame seeds to the salad rather than to the dressing – much easier!

& I have just finished making up a Japanese ingredients shopping list for the next time I am in a larger town!

I loved everything about this book. (ok, the cover I only liked. Other editions have a cover that appeals to me more.) But I loved the photos, the layout, the translation, &, above all, the recipes I tried. The biggest surprise is how much my husband has enjoyed the cuisine – once he got to try something other than sushi!(which he has always hated)

I’m taking it back to the library, but I will certainly be borrowing this book again many, many times!

My Sister the Serial Killer

by Oyinkan Braithwaite

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Mum, it talked! The doll talked!”
“She is not a doll, Korede. She is a baby, your baby sister. You’re a big sister now. And big sisters look after little sisters.”

This book just shows that as readers we are all different. It has a relatively low rating on Goodreads (3.70 at the time of writing) but I loved it.

I was originally attracted by the gorgeous cover art & the hilarious (to me) title.

The humour is very dark – I mean the (spoilt) sister is a serial killer but there are a lot of other themes too – blind loyalty, manipulation, love, making choices.

I loved the cultural touches as well as I have never been to Africa, let alone Nigeria. The author doesn’t spoon-feed her reader at all, so you may need Google. If you don’t like YA writing you may not like the writing style – the author uses the flat American style of YA writing – fortunately that is a style I love. (& yes, I know the writer isn’t American!)

The ending is abrupt but I found it gave me a lot to think about.

Recommended.

Love in a Cold Climate

by Nancy Mitford

Rating: 4 out of 5.

“Oh what a pity it happens to be Davey’s day for getting drunk. I long to tell him, he will be so much interested.”

This was such a problematic read for me!

This should have been a 5★ read for me. The book was very well written, witty & with a far better storyline than The Pursuit of Love which I gave 4. 5★.

I know this was written as a satire but the part I can’t stomach is child molester Boy. He did get his comeuppance though, but it is almost treated as a minor annoyance! I was relieved to read some criticism of Boy near the end of the book It is never something I’m going to find funny. And this book, like The Pursuit of Love, treats death quite casually. Maybe that is to be expected in an author who lived through two world wars.

But I loved many of the characters (especially Cedric – so much fun!) & look forward to Don’t Tell Alfred, the final book in this trilogy.

Steampunk Fairy Tales

by Leslie Anderson, David T. Allan, David Lind & others

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Steampunk came back to my little town a few weekends ago!

I think something did happen last year, but we were away.

In any case, it is definitely back this year, but it wasn’t at pre-COVID levels of excitement. Whatever. I love Steampunk & I love dressing up!

The cover on this book is just stunning! (I can be seduced by a good cover)These stories are supposed to be based on traditional fairy tales from around the world.

Let’s go!

The Clockwork People by Angela Castillo
What a charming, old fashioned story beautifully told. I like the twist at the end. 5★

Perfection by Chris Champe
Mildly horrific, a little predictable. 3.5★

OK, this is ominous! I read the next two stories less than 24 hours ago & already can’t remember a thing about them! I’ll just reread enough to get the sense of them…

The Mech Oni and the Three Inch Tinkerer by Leslie and David T. Allen.
I’m not sure why I forgot this one so quickly, as it had an interesting (if kind of silly) premise. Well written. 3.5★

The Copper Eyes by Allison Latzko.
Out of the stories in this collection I have read so far, this one had the most Steampunk feel. Machinery! Diagrams! Goggles! But for all that, the writing was a bit pedestrian. 2.5★

Strawberry Sins by Heather White.
I liked this one! I was beguiled by Eliza too & there was a definite Steampunk feel. 4.5★

The Yellow Butterfly by Ashley Copeland
Japanese with a definite Steampunk feel. I couldn’t predict where this one was going. 5★

Aubrey in the World Above by Daniel Lind A strong steampunk feel & very obvious which fairy tale inspired it. 4★

The stories finish at around 83%. The authors list the stories that inspired them. I did guess correctly for two original stories. There were then author bios, extracts to other works & various links – none of which I bothered to read.

Here is a souvenir bookmark from my town’s festival.

& I loved this year’s festival & had such a good time!

The Little Blue Book for Authors: Essential Manners for the Modern Author

by Gisela Hausmann

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

I’ve had this on my Kindle for quite some time & remembered about it after witnessing an(other) author tantrum in the Librarians’ Group on Goodreads. (I’m a Goodreads Librarian) I was hoping this short book on Essential Manners might include on something about being, you know, a bit nicer to the volunteers that are trying to help you, but there was nothing. Maybe it’s in another Hauser book – she has written quite a few.

Anyway, this common sense volume had a lot of good advice, crisply written, including the most important of all;

Never badmouth a reviewer in public, including on social media platforms. If you must vent, rant to your best friend or spouse; in person not in public.

I think most authors have learnt this now.

Some authors aren’t so clear on;

You owe it to yourself to not not publish unedited work. As you read this sentence, you might think, “It’s none of her business, “I can’t afford an editor” or my beta readers will have to suffice.”

I’ve seen writers do all three of these.

The only thing I disagreed with Ms Hauser on was where she said not to activate links when emailing bloggers. I’d far rather have the hyperlinks as it saves me time -even if it’s only a couple of seconds.

Worth a read.