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Audiobook (Fiction) Review – The Bette Davis Club

July 11th, 2018

The Bette Davis Club by Jane Lotter

Review by Mirah Welday (mwelday)

On a recent work trip, I listened to The Bette Davis Club by Jane Lotter.  Unbeknownst to me, Jane Lotter passed away in 2013. The forward by her daughter Tessa highlighted Lotter’s sense of humor and life as a writer. It was an unexpected and touching way for the book to begin.

Margo Just is a middle-aged woman who is in California for her niece’s wedding.  Dreading the day because of her very strained relationship with her half-sister Charlotte, Margo is drinking double martinis and hoping to get through the event unscathed.  When her niece Georgia disappears before the wedding, Margo is offered $50,000 by Charlotte to go after Georgia and bring her back, along with property that Georgia took without Charlotte’s permission.  Margo has no idea what this mysterious property is and doesn’t want to get involved but finds herself in need of the money and decides to accept the challenge.

Margo finds herself in her father’s classic red 1955 MG convertible with Georgia’s jilted fiancé Tully.  This is the start of a long car ride of awkward discussions, petty arguments, a search for clues of Georgia’s location, and a reality check on the state of her relationships and life.

I thought The Bette Davis Club was a funny and heartwarming novel.  Margo was self-deprecating and seemed like she was in denial but she was funny and charismatic.  Margo’s life had been punctuated by hurt and disappointment that colored her life choices but through the journey to find Georgia, Margo managed to find herself and come to grips with the losses she had endured.

I have since learned that Lotter wrote her own obituary and, after reading it, I wish I would have had a chance to know her in life.  Funny and witty with a great grasp of just the right words to use, Lotter was a humorist of the highest order and I highly recommend her novel.

 

 

 

 

Mystery Monday – Appleby on Ararat

July 9th, 2018

Appleby on Ararat by Michael Innes 

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

 

In this 1941 mystery, series hero John Appleby is returning to London from The Sunburnt Country (i.e. Australia) by ocean liner with a zany bunch of passengers. After the liner is torpedoed, the plucky band washes up on a deserted island in the South Pacific which turns out to be not so deserted. One of the passengers is murdered, making the island into a classic locked room. With a few silly elements, the story is more adventure a la John Buchan than a restful whodunit. 

Another attraction is among the cast is an archetypal  Australian woman, the intrepid and fearless prototype and paragon, that Innes used in other novels like The Man from the Sea (Innes taught EngLit in the U of Adelaide, in the 1930s and 1940s). 

This one is fun. It isn’t too wordy or frighteningly erudite so it does not feel too long, as ones set in country houses (Death by Water) and colleges (Seven Suspects) sometimes do.

Independence Day

July 4th, 2018

 

 

 

 

In Congress, July 4, 1776.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America, When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

 

Historical Fiction Review – The Courtier’s Secret

July 3rd, 2018

The Courtier’s Secret by Donna Russo Morin

Review by Mirah Welday (mwelday)

The Courtier’s Secret was my first official novel of summer.  I found it to be the perfect action adventure/love story to read by the pool (or on my pool float) while sipping a cool beverage. I was transported from sunny Florida to France in the 1600s.

Louis XIV is reigning over a court of opulence and deception.  Many courtiers love the grandeur that is Versailles, while others feel suffocated by the pressure of performing every day to the whims of the King.  Jeanne du Bois is newly returned to court and under the oppressive thumb of her abusive father, Gaston.  His only use for his daughter is to marry her off to a gentleman of the court who can improve her family’s standing before the King.

Jeanne is not the pliable daughter Gaston desires. Jeanne doesn’t want to be a pawn in his schemes and even through fierce, violent arguments and beatings, Jeanne will not bow to her father’s will. Her uncle secretly gives her fencing lessons and Jeanne feels most free when she is using a sword, independent and strong. Jeanne rebels against being the submissive and accommodating courtier that she is expected to be.

One day at the end of her secret lessons, Jeanne and her uncle jump into the fray to assist the Musketeers in an unexpected breach at the castle.  This one act takes Jeanne on an adventure with the Musketeers and she becomes a part of their efforts to foil a plot to assassinate the Queen.  In the process of building friendships with the Musketeers, Jeanne meets Henri who has his own family secrets that could change the course of Jeanne’s life and save the Queen.

I found The Courtier’s Secret to be very entertaining and would highly recommend it for those who enjoy historical fiction.  I thought the characters were varied and interesting, even if I found some of them to be despicable. I think the key for reading this book is to remember it is historical fiction and was meant to be entertaining, not a history lesson.  In the Acknowledgements, the author lists other books and resources for readers who want to learn about the time period.

 

 

 

Thriller Thursday – The Spies of the Balkans

June 28th, 2018

Spies of the Balkans by Alan Furst

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

This spy novel is set in Greece in the perilous months running up to the Nazi invasion in April, 1941. The story stars Costa Zannis, a police detective who heads the office of sensitive cases. That is, with his brains and tact, he handles delicate crimes involving the rich, the famous, the dignified though you’d never know it by the way they act up. A ladies man, Costa has relationships with an old GF, a British spy, and the wife of ruthless tycoon. We readers need the romantic angle as a break from the tension of Nazi cruelty and our rueful previous knowledge that Greece is doomed to Nazi occupation.

Zannis becomes involved in three secret operations. He helps a society woman in Berlin smuggle out Jewish people who have to escape or be interned in concentration camps. The British notice that Zannis has experience with escape routes so they pressure him into going to Paris to smuggle an important scientist back to Greece. The British also back an operation in which Zannis is sent to Belgrade to assist in the (historically accurate) coup by a group of pro-Western Serb-nationalist Royal Yugoslav Air Force officers commanded by General Dušan Simović.

The settings all have evocative details of Salonika, Budapest, Berlin, and Paris. Furst is also effective at getting across the mundane details of ordinary people doing their best in trying circumstances – such as the fine scene of his family packing to flee and the reaction of their worried sheepdog Melissa. The irrepressible S. Kolb, British agent, shows up in this one playing the ghost in the machine that he did so well in Dark Voyage and The Foreign Correspondent.

I recommend Furst’s novels highly but don’t read them too close together, otherwise the formula is a little obvious.

 

 

 

Literary Fiction Review – The Possible World: A Novel

June 26th, 2018

The Possible World by Liese O’Halloran Schwarz

Review by Cheryl G. (Poncer)

 

Have you ever opened a book and fell right in? Fell hard from the 1st paragraph? Like in 7th grade when you had a huge crush on someone and just needed to be near them, learn all about them, hear and understand every word they said? Well, this is that book.

I read this book in a day and a half. I raced through the first 300 or so pages, then slowed to a crawl because I did not want it to end.

And If it is possible to have more than one favorite character in a book, then I have 4. Each character is diverse and individual, but come together to create a magical, heartwarmning, heartbreaking and beautiful story.

The past and the present come together flawlessly, and the future seems filled with hope.

Dr. Schwarz is an amazing storyteller. She weaves lives and times together into beautiful patterns.

Read this book and share the story with those you love.

 

 

 

Mystery Monday – Trouble in Triplicate

June 11th, 2018

Trouble in Triplicate by Rex Stout

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

 

This is a collection of three novellas that were first published in a weekly called The American Magazine: Before I Die (April 1947), Help Wanted, Male (August 1945) and Instead of Evidence (May 1946). I’ve thought for a long time that many of the novellas starring investigators Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin were perfect in their wit and force. The plot unfolds briskly with just the right amount of characterization, cutting but lively conversations, and Manhattan atmosphere.

The first one Before I Die is set during WWII. Because of food rationing, Wolfe is yearning for more animal protein in the form of meat so he cuts a deal with a black marketer. The gangster asks Wolfe to clear up family problems that border on absurdly implausible until we remember our own families probably look chaotic to outsiders. Not once but twice is Archie almost snuffed. A violent, funny story that alternates between making us readers tense and making us laugh.

At about 25,000 words the second one Help Wanted, Male is the longest of the trio here. It is also set during WWII. Archie is petitioning a general to assign him to combat service because he feels he is missing out on the signal event of his generation. Wolfe perceives a threat to his life so serious that he hires a double to distract a would-be killer. The upshot of that decision is hilarious. Sure, the plot is wildly implausible in this one, but it’s so much fun, who cares?

Instead of Evidence also starts with a victim trying to hire Wolfe to prevent more victimization. A successful manufacturer of novelties suspects his weird partner of plotting to kill him to take over the business. A murder in fact is committed: an exploding cigar takes out the victim in funny gruesome scene. A fine story, so giving more details would detract from the pleasure a reader would get on her own.

Stout valued clear thinking, justice, courageousness, and humor. He has Wolfe Wolfe crack wise about lawyers: “They are inveterate hedgers. They think everything has two sides, which is nonsense.” This is typical of Wolfe’s inflexible ethics which we simultaneously admire and know is nonsense. Hey, it’s only a story.