Author Rating: C/B

The Cat Who Could Read Backwards (read 8/1/2013) Recommended

Surprisingly well written, delightful and engaging light entertainment. First published in 1966, this is the first novel in Lilian Jackson Braun’s “The Cat Who…” series, featuring James Mackintosh Qwilleran (Qwill), a former crime reporter who, as the story opens, is hired to write about the art scene for an unnamed city’s newspaper, and introducing Kao K’o-Kung (Koko for short), the cat in the title. Although never formally stated in her books, the geographical settings in the series are thought to be modeled after Bad Axe, Michigan, where Braun lived until the mid-1980s.

UPDATE:  While the first book was a pleasure to read, those that followed … not so much.  Braun was unable or unwilling to continue Qwill as she had begun, and the books that followed hang on nothing but the thin thread of novelty.

The rest of The Cat Who novels are as follows:

Ate Danish Modern (1967)
Turned On and Off (1968)
Saw Red (1986)
Played Brahms (1987)
Played Post Office (1988)
Knew Shakespeare (1988)
Sniffed Glue (1988)
Went Underground (1989)
Talked to Ghosts (1990)
Lived High (1990)
Knew a Cardinal (1991)
Moved a Mountain (1991)
Wasn’t There (1992)
Went Into the Closet (1993)
Came to Breakfast (1994)
Blew the Whistle (1995)
Said Cheese (1996)
Tailed a Thief (1997)
Sang for the Birds (1998)
Saw Stars (1999)
Robbed a Bank (2000)
Smelled a Rat (2001)
Went Up the Creek (2002)
Brought Down the House (2003)
Talked Turkey (2004)
Went Bananas (2005)
Dropped a Bombshell (2006)
Had 60 Whiskers (2007)

Braun also had published three collections of short stories:

The Cat Who Had 14 Tales (1988)
The Private Life of the Cat Who… (2003)
Short and Tall Tales (2003)

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Author Rating: Not Yet Read

Charlie Pierce introduces an author new to us — Charles Portis, author of five novels:

  • 1966:  Norwood
  • 1968:  True Grit
  • 1979: The Dog of the South
  • 1985: Masters of Atlantis
  • 1991: Gringos

Additionally, a number of Portis’ essays and short fiction pieces have been published in one volume titled Escape Velocity: A Charles Portis Miscellany.

You can read Portis’s The Forgotten River, one of the essays in Escape Velocity, here.

Author Rating: A

Bonecrack (read 3/20/2013) Recommended

What a wonderful quick read! Originally published in 1971, this terrific short novel of mystery and suspense has held up well. Before trying his hand at novel-writing, Dick Francis had a career as a jockey and he brings that inside knowledge to bear without becoming bogged down in the minutiae of the sport. The only disappointment comes from not wanting the story to an end.

Author Rating: C

1876 (read 3/24/2013) Not recommended

“Gore Vidal is a great writer.” You’ve heard that, right? If the rest of his works are of this caliber, he’s highly overrated. I threw it down after getting 1/3 of the way through. Nothing happens! A guy and his widowed daughter get off a boat in New York, they stay in a fancy hotel while he looks for work as a writer. Time goes by and he gets jobs, but we never see anything happen. Every other sentence is “I’m just like Rip Van Winkle, oh, I shouldn’t say that, it’s boring.” I was hoping to learn something about American history while being entertained but I was neither entertained nor enlightened.

Author Rating: C

Where I’m Calling From (read 4/14/2013) Meh

I wanted to like this, I really did. I was supposed to like this, I really was. While I found the writing engaging, the stories left me feeling that I neither liked nor cared about any of the characters.

Author Rating: A

Billy Budd, Foretopman (read 1981 and again 3/26/2013) Recommended

I’m not sure that what I read back in 1981 was the same as the version I have sort of read today. Included in a paperback copy of Six Great Modern Short Novels, published originally in 1954, is what is described as “the definitive transcription of F. Barron Freeman published by the Harvard University Press, corrected in accordance with the Corrigenda later issued with that volume.” The writing is extraordinarily obtuse and difficult to get through but, in hindsight, delivers a boatload of information. I will confess though, I didn’t have the patience to read the entire thing. Are other published versions of Billy Budd “cleaned up” to make them more readable? I don’t know, but if you have an interest in language and/or sociology, you can’t go wrong with this “definitive transcription.”

Moby-Dick; or, The Whale (read 1981) Recommended

About a man and a whale.

Author Rating: A

Noon Wine (read 3/26/2013) Recommended

This is a wonderful short novel about life. Mr. Thompson is a not very successful dairy farmer in south Texas, barely eking out a living for his wife and three young sons. Just about every job needing to be done on the farm is beneath him, and the farm is decaying more and more until Mr. Helton, a Scandinavian from North Dakota, turns up looking for work. Initially unsettling to the family because he hardly says a word, Mr. Helton doesn’t have Thompson’s prejudice against doing any job that needs doing and turns the farm around. After nine years of quiet steady living, Mr. Helton’s past shows up.

Ship of Fools (read 1981)

Katherine Anne Porter has a wonderful ability to bring characters to life. This, her masterpiece, brings forth a boatload.