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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.

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.

The Passionate Witch

by Thorne Smith

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Anyone coming to this book because it was the inspiration for the film I Married a Witch, which in turn inspired a favourite programme of my childhood, Bewitched

expecting the sexist but silly fun of the above (as a child I could never understand what Samantha saw in Darrin – what a drip!) will be disappointed. Thorne Smith died aged only 42 before this book was completed and he was a pretty far gone alcoholic by then. Goodness knows what hallucinations he was having while experiencing the d.t.s!

I would be prepared to bet the first 50 pages were all Smith, as I had a few chuckles at the early adventures of the stuffed shirt businessman and tee-totaller T. Wallace Wooly. That changed on page 51 where Wooly was cruel to a horse. I’m just never going to find cruelty to animals funny.

Maybe Smith had sketched out some rough ideas that Norman Matson (the author who completed this book) followed because there was the occasional funny line & I found some of witch Jennifer’s pranks hilarious, especially when Wooly could read people’s thoughts! These parts were inspired!

I enjoyed the b/w illustrations by Herbert Roese.

The example I’ve selected is from Chapter X, the wonderfully named They Let Anyone Live in Miami.

Indeed.