Wednesday, April 25, 2018


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The Second Mrs Hockday, Susan Rivers, Algonquin Books, 2017, 254 pp

I admit sometimes I jump to conclusions. In this case, when one of my reading groups picked this novel, I wasn't paying much attention. I opened the book thinking it was one of those "wife books." Now, along with the adage not to judge a book by its cover comes a new one: don't judge a book by its title.

The Second Mrs Hockaday was a great read as well as a great discussion provoker for a reading group. Placidia is only 16 years old when she meets Major Hockaday who has come to her father's South Carolina home to buy a horse. The next day she marries him. They had one of those love-at-first-sight connections on meeting. Placidia's mother died when she was an infant and while she adores her father she despises her stepmother and her half siblings. 

Major Hockaday has recently lost his wife but has an infant son as well as a 300 acre farm. After one day spent settling Placidia at the farm and one night consummating their marriage, he is suddenly called back to the front lines of the Civil War and leaves. It is 1863. The war is going badly for the Confederacy and Placidia will not see her Major again for two years. She is left to raise his son and manage his farm with only a few servants, slaves, and sharecroppers. 

The book opens with a letter from Placidia to her cousin Mildred. Now it is 1865 and the war has been lost. The Major has finally returned to find his wife in jail accused of murdering a child she had while he was away. The child could not have been his and due to undelivered letters between them over the past year, it comes as a great shock.

I don't always like a novel told in letters but the author makes it work seamlessly. The back story of this tragic couple is revealed through the letters and this creates a relentless suspense. What Placidia had to endure is shocking and heartbreaking. Most upsetting of all is that the Major believes the rumors and charges against his wife, although they do still love each other, but she is not talking.

The mystery of what happened to Placidia is gradually revealed and I could not stop reading, so great is the need to know created in the reader of this first novel. Susan Rivers is an award winning playwright and clearly a competent historian.

I like war novels that show the impact on individuals and society as the war is fought. I remember the huge impression Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain had on me. At the time I thought it was the best Civil War novel I had ever read. The Second Mrs Hockaday is the second best one.

(The Second Mrs Hockaday is available in various formats by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

Monday, April 23, 2018


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Candy, Terry Southern, G P Putnam's Sons, 1964, 224 pp
Coming in at #2 on the 1964 bestseller list is what I found to be a quite silly book, intended to be a satire on American mores, mostly sex. I am a tough customer when it comes to satire and though I got a few laughs from Candy, I was glad it was short and soon over.
Candy is an ingenue who likes sex but has to pretend she does it to satisfy the "great need" of the men involved. Not that funny, is it? She has one adventure after another, just innocently finding herself with odd characters, always surprised to find herself so aroused.
Playboy Magazine listed the book in 2006 as one of the "25 Sexiest Novels Ever Written." So that tells you a lot. There are some fellows on Goodreads who confess they read it for a certain purpose as teenagers.

Terry Southern co-wrote the book in collaboration with his buddy Mason Hoffenberg for a flat fee from Olympia Press, Paris, France, in 1958. Olympia was known in those days as the "dirty book publisher." The novel was banned in the United States until 1964. Southern went on to work on screenplays for Dr Strangelove, Casino Royale, Barbarello, and Easy Rider, among others. What a guy.

Not recommended, even for teenage boys in 2018, unless you are taking a class in how not to write satire. The book does speak volumes about where America was at in the mid 60s when it came to sex.

Friday, April 20, 2018


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The Stone Sky, J K Jemisin, Orbit, 2017, 398 pp
In the final volume of Jemisin's Broken Earth trilogy, the story of the Stillness, all the threads are tied from the far past to a possible better future for Earth and mankind. The plot is as complex as in the earlier two books but all the confusions I found in there begin to make sense.
I don't intend to go into the plot because I could not do so without big spoilers. Many mysteries become clear, the adventure level remains as high as it ever was, and the multiple identities of certain characters and their relationships take on some semblance of making sense. Somehow the suspense is held to almost the very last page.

This is one of the best fantasy/sci fi series I have read. It made me ponder many aspects of life while learning plenty of science. The heroines are like none I have met before. I don't think these books could have been written by anyone else besides a female person of color who is also a genius. I cannot wait to see what N K Jemisin does next.
(The Stone Sky is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

Wednesday, April 18, 2018


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The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, John le Carre, Coward-McCann Inc, 1963, 256 pp
The #1 bestseller in 1964 was this now famous spy story. With just his third novel, John le Carre hit the bestseller list right at the top. I have read eight of his novels, all out of order, but I read this one first back in 1993. By then I was familiar with Ken Follett's spy thrillers, however le Carre was clearly on a whole other level. Now that I am reading them in order I finally get the whole George Smiley thing.
The spy in this one is Alec Leamus, head of the Berlin Station. The Berlin Wall has just been erected and Leamus has lost his last agent while trying to get him out of East Berlin. His career as a spy has tanked and a desk job is not his cup of tea.

He agrees to a last assignment, pretending to go over to the Communists as a double agent. But George Smiley has sent him as bait to trap an actual double agent, Mundt, who is at that time the deputy director of the East German Intelligence Service.

If Leamus pulls it off, he can "come in from the cold" with a cushy pension. As usual in a le Carre story, no one is exactly who he or she seems to be. There is no happy ending. In fact, it is the deep sadness and despair that I love in these books. Not because sadness and despair are good things but because the author does it so well.

(The Spy Who Came in From the Cold is available in paperback on the shelves at Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

Tuesday, April 17, 2018


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Endangered Species, Nevada Barr, G P Putnam's Sons, 1997, 306 pp
This is Nevada Barr's fifth mystery set in United States National Parks and it is her best one yet. I am reading these books in order of publication as a tribute to our endangered parks.
Park ranger Anna Pigeon has been sent for a 21 day assignment on fire detail to Cumberland Island Seashore off the coast of Georgia. She is bored, the bugs are biting and she is counting the days. The most excitement so far is the arrival of the endangered loggerhead turtles, come to lay their eggs in the sand.

Until a plane crashes in the palmetto stands near the wilderness section of the island. Though Anna and the crew quickly extinguish the resulting fire, both the pilot and his passenger are dead. All the usual experts arrive to investigate but naturally Anna gets involved. Within a day or two she has uncovered enough suspicious details to make a long list of suspects in what amounts to murder accomplished by tampering with the plane. 

The wife of the passenger who is within a week of delivering her first baby, the biologist protecting the turtles who appears to be addicted to cocaine, the pilot with a history of wild antics, are only three of quite a few more.

As Anna doggedly works to sort out the clues while sticking with her new sobriety, her boyfriend Stanton, the FBI guy from the last two books, is helping Anna's sister Molly in New York. Molly has received a couple death threats. She and Stanton are also checking each other out with regards to Anna's intentions towards the agent. Stanton finds himself highly attracted to Molly.

Anna does solve the mystery for which she gets little credit though at least she emerges from her escapades alive. I have a feeling she will be looking for a new boyfriend in the next book.

I say it is Nevada Barr's best yet in the series because of the intricate plotting, some of her most unique characters, and the steady suspense of the story. The turtles are pretty cool too.

(Endangered Species is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

Sunday, April 15, 2018


In March I finished my reading list for 1963. These lists are the backbone of My Big Fat Reading Project. I had read some of the books in earlier times and did not chose to reread all of those but the total number of books read for 1963 is 57. I managed to complete the reading in one year. 

This time I put together some stats just out of interest. I don't claim that these numbers mean anything more than to show the range of certain categories in my choice of books to read, except for the Bestsellers. Those ten books reflect the book buying activity of American readers according to Publisher's Weekly, the organization that compiled bestseller lists from 1912-1999. 

Books written by women: 4 out of 10 bestsellers; 2 out of 6 award winning books, 16 out of 37 books chosen by me. Totals: 22 out of 57.
Speculative fiction: 9
Books written for children or young adults: 4
Books written by people of color: 2 in the main list, 2 in the research list
Translated literature: 4 (Countries of origin: France, Norway, Hungary and Peru)

A majority of these titles are reviewed here on the blog. If you search for reviews and don't find one for a particular title it means I read the book before 2005 when I began the blog.

I publish the list here as part of my own record keeping and because some of you who follow the blog have requested that I do so. If there are any great books published in 1963 that I missed please do let me know.



1.    The Shoes of the Fisherman, Morris L West
2.    The Group, Mary McCarthy
3.    Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters, and Seymour, J D Salinger
4.    Caravans, James A Michener
5.    Elizabeth Appleton, John O’Hara
6.    Grandmother and the Priests, Taylor Caldwell
7.    City of Night, John Rechy
8.    The Glass-Blowers, Daphne du Maurier
9.    The Sand Pebbles, Richard McKenna
10.                  The Battle of the Villa Fiorita, Rumer Godden


1.    PULITZER: The Reivers, Faulkner
2.    NEWBERY: A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle
3.     CALDECOTT: The Snowy Day, Ezra Jack Keats
4.    NBA: Morte D’Urban, J F Powers
5.    HUGO: The Man in the High Castle, Philip K Dick
6.    EDGAR: Death and the Joyful Woman, Ellis Peters
7.    All the Colors of Darkness, Lloyd C Biggle
8.    The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath
9.    The Benefactor, Susan Sontag
10.                  A Captive in the Land, James A Aldridge
11.                  Cat’s Cradle, Kurt Vonnegut
12.                  Children of Capricorn, William Abrahams
13.                  The Colors of Space, Marion Zimmer Bradley
14.                  The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan
15.                  The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin
16.                  The Force of Circumstance, Simone de Beauvoir
17.                  The Game-Players of Titan, Philip K Dick
18.                  The Girls of Slender Means, Muriel Spark
19.                  Glide Path, Arthur C Clarke
20.                  Glory Road, Robert A Heinlein
21.                  The Ice Palace, Tarjei Vesaas
22.                  Joy in the Morning, Betty Smith 
23.                  Leaving Cheyenne, Larry McMurtry
24.                  A Mind to Murder, P D James
25.                  The Moon by Night, Madeleine L’Engle
26.                  Mr Stone and the Knights Companion, V S Naipaul
27.                  Occasion For Loving, Nadine Gordimer
28.                  On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Ian Fleming
29.                  Orphans of the Sky, Robert A Heinlein
30.                  Podkayne of Mars, Robert A Heinlein
31.                  The Presidential Papers, Norman Mailer
32.                  Run River, Joan Didion
33.                  Sabaria, Gustav Rab
34.                  The Scent of Water, Elizabeth Goudge
35.                  Shoo Fly Girl, Lois Lenski
36.                  A Singular Man, J P Donleavy
37.                  Sister of the Bride, Beverly Cleary
38.                  The Tenants of Moonbloom, Edward Lewis Wallant
39.                  The Time of the Hero, Mario Vargas Llosa
40.                  The Unicorn, Iris Murdoch
41.                  V, Thomas Pynchon
42.                  Witch World, Andre Norton


Path to Power, LBJ #1, Robert A Caro
Means of Ascent, LBJ #2, Robert A Caro
Master of the Senate, LBJ #3, Robert A Caro
The Rebellious Life of  Mrs Rosa Parks, Jeanne Theoharis
The Warmth of Other Suns, Isabel Wilkerson

Saturday, April 14, 2018


Orphans of the Sky, Robert A Heinlein, G P Putnam's Sons, 1963, 187 pp
I can hardly stand it that the last book I read from my 1963 list was by Heinlein, but it just worked out that way. Finishing the reading list for a year of My Big Fat Reading Project is such a milestone, such an accomplishment for me. Heinlein does not fit the solemnity of the moment but there you have it.
At least Orphans of the Sky was one of his good space yarns. A huge spaceship became lost between earth and its far away destination. It has been drifting for generations and the current inhabitants have never been anywhere else. They haven't even looked outside. The ship is their entire world while Earth and the ship's mission is just a myth to these people.

You can see why that is a brilliant concept for a plot and how he could work in all kinds of ideas about society, religion and government. It is thought provoking and entertaining because a couple people figure out how to restart the ship on its intended path.

I read three books by Heinlein for 1963. Two of them, Glory Road and this one, were great. Podkayne of Mars was the loser. 

So thanks Bob for the good times. I will see you again in 1964, a year when you only published one book; a year when Philip K Dick published six! I will be careful not to end that list with a PKD book.