The Woman on the Island

by Ann Cleeves

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

No way is this short story 32 pages long!

That would be the length including the extract from The Rising Tide
So it was a good story, but the ending was on me before I was ready! This really isn’t a good marketing practice (I just rechecked on Amazon – different edition now, but there is no mention of this short story being bundled with a book extract.)

I disagree with reviewers who say you have to be familiar with the series to enjoy this short story, as it is dealing with some of Vera’s backstory – & her troubled relationship with her father. It is very well written & I was enjoying it right until the abrupt ending.

Damn.

Magnolia

by Nina Mingya Powles

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

The rising star of New Zealand poetry

I read Two Portraits of Home – [IMG_098] & [IMG_227] in the New Zealand Listener (Jan 23 2021) and I am intrigued. Very pretty use of words.

Let’s call it 4★ & see what the rest of the collection looks like.

Sonnet with particles of gold

Lovely – Powles works so effectively with colour & taste 4★

If anyone is interested, https://thespinoff.co.nz/tag/ockham-poetry-shortlist-2021 has one poem from each shortlisted entry to the Ockham’s.

I’m puzzled why Maggie Cheung’s Blue Cheongsam was chosen to represent Powles work. It is a fragment of prose. I normally hate fragments, but this one is pretty. Ok so 2.5★

Field Notes from a Downpour Pretty & yet profound. Loved this one! 5★

Girl Warrior, or; Watching Mulan (1998) in Chinese with English Subtitles. Outstanding! Captures the feeling of displacement one gets when not completely from the place where you are living. 5★

Breakfast in Shanghai sigh. Fragments. But lovely descriptions that make me feel like I’m in Powles world – in particular for a pink morning in late spring another sigh for the lower case titles though. 3🍑💫

Maps Another fragment of prose. 2.5★

The Great Wall, 2016 This may be a fragment but watching the author read it made a big difference for me. 3★
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J-d601HfAfE

I have been given some Amazon gift vouchers & this is one of the books I have purchased. I’m probably not going to review every poem the way I have above, but let’s see how I get on.

One thing I’m finding (& I don’t think it’s my kindle) is that the pages ‘stick’ a bit & are hard to turn. Haven’t had this with a kindle book before.

Edit; & I have thrown in the towel & returned the kindle edition to Amazon. There is a note on the Amazon page warning that this is a large file (for 81 pages!) & it has proved impossible to read, as it sticks & jumps pages. I can’t get hold of the author, but I have contacted her publicist to suggest this needs fixing.

Edit: Never did hear from the publicist.

Marking as a Can’t Finish for now.

Lady Susan

by Jane Austen

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Possible alternative titles…

Lady Fortune Hunter?

Mistress of Deceit?

Mommie Dearest?

This early work (written around 1794, but not published until 1871* well after JA’s death) was Jane as I had never seen her!

This is the first time an epistolary novel has truly worked for me and it works because all the characters are completely unguarded in their letters.

My dear Alicia, of what a mistake were you guilty in marrying a man of his age! Just old enough to be formal, ungovernable, and to have the gout; too old to be agreeable, too young to die.

I was really surprised by how ruthless Lady Susan was and I do have a sneaking admiration for her, although I pity her daughter and anyone else who gets in her way!

Facts are such horrid things!

Like that ever stopped Lady S!

Readable and great fun! Even if you don’t normally enjoy JA’s books you might like this one!

* I’m really surprised this was originally published in the Victorian era when this novel is so amoral!

The Children’s Book of Christmas Stories

Asa Don Dickinson & Ada M. Skinner

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Retro Reads Group on Goodreads read a selection of stories from this book.

We started with A Christmas Matinee by M.A.L. Lane.
So touching and with lots of good messages – not the least was that it feels good to do the right thing. I had tears in my eyes at the end! 5★

The Queerest Christmas by Grace Margaret Gallagher
I had tears in my eyes again. What was so lovely was that Betty didn’t realise she had done anything special. Heartwarming 4.5★

The Telltale Tile by Olive Thorne Miller.
I found the writing a little awkward in this story, but it was still a very sweet tale. 3.5★

Little Gretchen and the Wooden Shoe by Elizabeth Harrison More tears! But I liked that the outcome for Gretchen was realistic. & Gretchen was so sweet. 5★

The Philanthropist’s Christmas by James Weber Linn
I liked that the resolution had a little bit of the unexpected. (view spoiler) 4★

The Chimes I thought The Chimes was beautiful. Once again I cried. 4.5★

‘Tis the Season

by China Miéville

Rating: 4 out of 5.

 I was looking for a more modern Christmas story and knew I had this one on one of my to-read lists.

I liked it! I don’t read much dystopian fiction, so to me it was a fresh & funny take on the commercialisation of Christmas and a real contrast to the sweet, old fashioned values of Christmas Day in the Morning which I have also just read.

It also reminded me of some recent protests in my own country where sometimes I had trouble recognising ‘my’ Aotearoa.

Christmas Day in the Morning

by Pearl S. Buck

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This story is very short.

I read it here;

https://www.altogetherchristmas.com/stories/ChristmasDayInTheMorning.html

This site has some other Christmas goodies as well.

This story about a teen from a poor family wanting to show his father how much he loved him at Christmas time. It shows beautiful sentiments without being cloying.

My first read of anything by Pearl S. Buck and I really enjoyed it.

A RomaJuliette Christmas Special

by Chloe Gong

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

I have a few Christmas quickies!

The author does suggest on her website reading her debut novel These Violent Delights first, but I followed readers suggestions to reread Jane Eyre before I read Wide Sargasso Sea

 and I didn’t find it helped much with that chaotic book. &, when possible, I like to read things in chronological order.

I found this short prequel oddly flat & it didn’t make me want to know more about either character. The title made me think I would get a lot more Christmas than I did.

Little Free Library

by Naomi Kritzer

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Lovely, light short story on the joy of sharing the love of reading.

In the spirit of sharing the gift of reading, this short story is free here;

I would love to have my own Little Free Library but there are already three unofficial ones in my little town. I visit the best one often!

A Dead Djinn in Cairo

by P. Djèlí Clark

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

I’ve had to think hard about my rating for this novella, as the story did show some fantastic creativity and I loved some of the descriptive passages & I found the end very exciting.

It’s just that I wasn’t totally engaged at the start – in fact, I was more than a little confused! This could say more about me as a reader than Clark as a writer.

Anyway a 3.5★ from me means that i have enjoyed the story enough that I want to read more work by the author & I’m hoping to get to The Angel of Khan el-Khalili very soon.

Country House Murders

by Thomas Godfrey (Editor)

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

I bought this book (in hard cover!) many years ago. I read The Usual Suspects, but couldn’t get into the authors that had fallen into obscurity. I’m now an enthusiastic Golden Age mystery reader, so I thought I’d give these stories another try.

The Adventure of Abbey Grange by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Not every story in this book is Golden Age – and what collection of mysteries would be complete without a Sherlock Holmes! This isn’t one of Doyle’s best, but it certainly gives some interesting insights into Holmes’ character and his relationship with the faithful Dr Watson! 3★

A Marriage Tragedy by Wilkie Collins. I tried (& failed) to read The Moonstone many years ago. Maybe I would be more open to it now. I was definitely intrigued enough to finish to find out what had happened to husband from Hell, James Smith. This is by far the longest selection in this book (most of the others are less than 20 pages) and it did drag in a couple of places and the ending was somewhat gloomy. 3.5★

Lord Chizelrigg’s Missing Fortune by Robert Barr. Entertaining but very improbable. Lord Valmont is like an early version of Hercule Poirot! 3★

The Fordwych Castle Mystery by Baroness Orczy. Looks like it wasn’t just the obscure writers I was disappointed by! Silly, improbable, melodramatic and didn’t make much sense. I was really disappointed as Lady Molly was one of the first female detectives. 2★

The Blue Scarab by R. Austin Freeman. Competent mystery with workmanlike writing. Similar in style to Conan Doyle, but less engaging. 3★

The Doom of the Darnaways by G.K. Chesterton. Now this was very engaging writing with a cleverly constructed mystery. The clues are there for you – you just need to know where to look! 4★

The Shadow on the Glass by Agatha Christie. I read this last year in The Mysterious Mr. Quin I thought this was one of the slighter stories in that collection. I still think that 3★

The Queen’s Square by Dorothy L. Sayers. This was just too short to carry all the ideas & potential this mystery had. Bit of a shame. 3.5 ★

Death on the Air by Ngaio Marsh. Dame Ngaio didn’t write many short stories & (if this is representative of her skill with them) that is a pity because this one is ingenious & puts her normal snobbishness (which normally drives me crazy!) to good use. Unusually for Marsh this one shows a contempt for young female servants – in this case, insensitive & heartless. Still 4★

The Same to Us by Margery Allingham. Witty & entertaining, with a sly dig at some racist assumptions. My favourite so far. 4.5★

The Hunt Ball by Freeman Wills Crofts. A very fine example of what Thomas Godfrey (the editor of this collection) calls an “inverted” mystery where the reader knows who commits the crime & waits for the story to play out. 4★

The Incautious Burglar by John Dickson Carr. A satisfying mystery even though there were very few suspects. 5★

The Long Shot by Nicholas Blake Well written, but a bit improbable. 4★

Jeeves and the Stolen Venus by P.G. Wodehouse Funny (Of course – it’s Wodehouse!) But I was confused. 3.5★

Death in the Sun by Michael Innes Just too improbable for me! 3★

An Unlocked Window by Ethel Lina White. Yes I did guess where it was going but the journey was wonderfully thrilling! 5★

The-Wood-For-The-Trees by Philip MacDonald. I have been looking for The Rasp for quite some time, as I know reviewers who really love it. This short story made me want to look even harder. I’m quite sure I’ve read it before, a few too many characters, & if I hadn’t read it before I did a very good job of guessing everything that was going to happen! 4.5★

The Man on the Roof by Christianna Brand. Not so this one, although I normally like Brand’s work. Occasionally witty, but a confused/confusing mish-mash. I’m wondering if I should read again, but provisionally 2.5★

The death of Amy Robsart by Cyril Hare. In case you are wondering if this Golden Age author wrote a historical murder mystery – he didn’t. Very entertaining murder mystery with a film setting. There is a plot hole but I enjoyed this very much. 4★

Fen Hall by Ruth Rendell. The first thing I have read by Rendell. Well written but another plot hole & this one isn’t a whodunnit! Still very well written & I now want to read some more Rendell. 3.5★

A very Desirable Residence by P.D. James Well written but improbable. I found the end quite satisfying though! 3.5★

The Worcestershire Enigma by James Miles. “Who?” You might well ask! I couldn’t find any other trace of this author who uses another author’s creations (Conan Doyle’s) & a real life person. (I won’t spoil this for you) very badly. It isn’t quite as bad as the Orczy one but I am still giving this 2★

So, as always with short story collections, a very mixed bag! I would still recommend reading if you want a ‘taster’ of some of the less well known writers. Most of them I want to read some of their full length books!

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