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Fiction Review – Small Great Things

January 18th, 2017

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

Review by Mirah W. (mwelday)

I love Jodi Picoult’s novels because of her deft tackling of ethical and moral issues that face our society.  I have been a fan since I read The Pact many years ago.  When I saw that Jodi was going to be in Kansas City during her promotional tour of Small Great Things I immediately purchased tickets and it was a wonderful event!

According to Jodi, she started a book about race relations many years ago but set it aside when she felt it wasn’t her place to bring up the issue.  Given recent events in the US, she felt it was time to tackle a story about racism and our societal and learned attitudes about race.  Picoult described her in depth research, from meeting with former white supremacists, talking medical jargon with nurses, and meeting with a group of African American women to discuss Ruth’s voice and language.  One thing that cannot be denied through reading this novel is that Picoult did her absolute best to write with authenticity.

Small Great Things is the story of Ruth Jefferson, an African American labor and delivery nurse with over twenty years’ experience. During another regular day, conducting a regular check of a newborn in the ward, Ruth’s life is turned upside down.  She is told the parents, who are white supremacists, don’t want her treating their son.  When there are complications after a routine procedure and the baby dies, the parents accuse Ruth of killing their child. In the aftermath, Ruth questions the choices she has made throughout her life, how she has raised her son, and if her career will recover.

In true Picoult style of telling the story through various points of view, the author draws the reader into the gripping, misunderstood and complicated lives of all of the characters.   What do we each know about other races and what different roles does privilege play in society that we may have not even considered before?  What creates hate in our society? Picoult has given us a book that holds a mirror up to our faces and forces us to look honestly at ourselves, our words, and our actions.  Small Great Things earns 5 solid stars.

Mirah gets a book signed by Jodi Picoult

Mirah gets a book signed by Jodi Picoult

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Mystery Monday – Red Harvest

January 16th, 2017

Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

Personville, a city of forty-thousand in Montana, grew because a company developed mines. The mine owner had called in thugs to push back workers and their troublesome union organizing. The workers were duly crushed but the thugs didn’t leave since the pickings from vice rackets were so sweet. The town government was corrupted by the owner and the thugs. The mine owner gave his son a local newspaper to woo him back from Europe. Trouble was stirred when the son started a reform campaign and called in an operative from the Continental Detective Agency to provide facts to fuel the reform. The Continental Op(erative), who has no name, hits town and the son is shot dead in the street.

With his client dead, the Continental Op makes a deal with the mine owner to find the killer and by doing so shake up the bad guys that run the town. The Op does find the killer but the owner backs off reform. The Op does not let up. The Op employs deceit, brutality, and bad guys killing bad guys, among other low tactics, to clean the town up.

The Nobel Prize-winning author André Gide called the book “a remarkable achievement, the last word in atrocity, cynicism, and horror.” It is not for faint-hearted readers. After all, Hammett coined the phrase “blood simple” which inspired the Coen brothers call their first movies, an experiment in noir, Blood Simple. Also challenged will be readers that are wary of convoluted plots and large casts whose names have to be remembered.

Strangely, the book is not grim – its high spirits are irresistible.

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Author Interview with Nya Gregor Fleron

January 10th, 2017

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Author Interview with Nya Gregor Fleron by Vostromo

NYA GREGOR FLERON (it’s pronounced “knew ya”) was born and raised in Copenhagen. As if this wasn’t unfair enough in and of itself, she was also born with the cheekbones of not just a goddess but all possible goddesses because I, for one, don’t see how there’s enough calcium in the universe left to do… anything. I mean yeah she’s talented and friendly and cheerful and bright and wise but the point is, if you can’t find your letter opener, she’s the one to call.

Nya holds a Master’s in Creative Writing from City College NY, which just adds to the unfairness thing. Her novel Kali’s Gift was published in 2013 by Cheekbone Press (I’m kidding! … or am I?)

Nya has dedicated herself to exploring and experiencing the world with a confident curiosity and free self-reliance I wish I had. She has held a carousel of jobs ranging from amusement park ride operator to Program Associate at the Lawyers’ Committee on Nuclear Policy but her real purpose on this planet, besides Emergency Scalpel Replacement, is to show everybody else that the pursuit of happiness Out There is the one thing that will make you unhappy — a message sadly lost when daily concerns and shiny stuff misdirect us. I know Nya’s had her sad and difficult times like anyone, but I’m equally sure she’s learned to handle them better than many, because she’s mastered the art of smiling on the inside even when she can’t on the outside. You only have to spend five minutes under her blue-eyed gaze (see fairness, un-) to know that: to become aware that there is, after all, a calm warmth in the world you’ve sensed but couldn’t put a face to until now — and you won’t notice until much, much later that your expensive kitchen knives seem suddenly barely adequate.

Nya’s latest book, Staying Happy: Personal Happiness Through Movement and Love has just been published.

************

VOSTROMO: Welcome, Nya. You’ve spent much of your life traveling and experiencing different cultures, and reflecting on the way cultures are both shaped by, and shape, individuals. In Staying Happy you note a conscious decision to smile at people (When I come to new places in the world, I can get a sense of how open people are by seeing how many smile back) and I wonder: is it true that dental care in Malmö is significantly cheaper than in Copenhagen? Asking for a friend.

NYA GREGOR FLERON: Thanks, Greg. First can I say how extremely happy I am to be here. Thank you for your flattering introduction, I especially enjoy your fascination with my cheekbones. Regarding your specific question, I cannot say I know for sure. I try to stay away from dentists for the sake of my own happiness. My bet is, if the Swedish dollar is still lower than the Danish, that your friend could find some better deals in Sweden.

V: You’ve explored the cultural, interpersonal and spiritual connections people share through such disciplines as dance and yoga. Common to both is the notion of “losing one’s self” for a while through a focus on action over thought. I often act without thinking, and without going into detail (let’s just say I followed your advice in Chapter Eight and… hugged a tree like I… meant it…) would you happen to know any affordable defense attorneys in the Chicago area? Asking for a friend.

NGF: I am so glad to hear you are trying out some of my advice and getting out of your comfort zone. I am sorry if it got you, I mean your friend, into trouble, perhaps that is part of the experience you are co-creating? I am not familiar with lawyers in Chicago, but I do know a few here in New York I could hook you, I mean your friend, up with. Another great exercise I suggest is to share your story with a stranger. Sounds like a great opportunity for this. Let me know how it goes.

V: You were born in Copenhagen, Denmark, generally considered one of the world’s most beautiful and culturally interesting cities. Yet you’ve chosen to live in Brooklyn, NY. Our readers want to know: what’s wrong with you?

NGF: Ha ha. I totally understand your question: why would I leave El Dorado? The Danish translation of El Dorado is Smørhul — roughly translated it means “butter hole” which derives from the idea that the melted butter in the middle of the porridge is in the most peaceful and cozy spot. What better place for me to live in than New York to prove to the world that you can be happy anywhere? My happiness is my responsibility and I can make the best out of anywhere. On a more serious note, I actually find that New York brings out much more dynamic parts of myself that have helped me get over shyness and get out of my comfort zone: to become more alive. A life with little challenge and variety can result in sleepiness, and at least here in New York it is hard to fall asleep, so it suits my personality.

V: Laetitia Casta was chosen as the model for an update to “Marianne,” the symbol of the French Republic; rumor had it (incorrectly) that Annette Bening modeled for the revamped Columbia Pictures “Torch Lady” figurehead; am I correct in assuming that you are the model behind the Gillette Mach 3 Turbo Series razors?

NGF: Again I am flattered by your obsession with my cheekbones, ha-ha. I am vaguely familiar with Gillette’s different types of razors, am I correct in saying that Gillette Mach 3 is a razor for men? So… do you use one?

V: I’ll ask the questions, thank you very much. Many websites claim that, with sufficient determination, anyone can achieve Fleron-level sharpness, yet I remain skeptical. Thoughts? Can you describe your own cheekbone regimen?

NGF: Healthy diet, love, smiles, laughter and dance I am sure play into it. I also take a supplement, Chiamaka, which is supposed to hydrate your skin and hair. I also use various different skin products. But more importantly I think your admiration of my cheekbones plays a big part in their well-being.

V: Followup question: Have you ever cut yourself just washing your face?

NGF: No I cannot say I have, but I do have a tendency to be a little clumsy (perhaps due to too much excitement), so at times I accidentally poke my skin with my nails. Cute little crescent moons.

V: Lastly, Staying Happy ends with a quote from Carl Jung: There are as many nights as days, and the one is just as long as the other in the year’s course. Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word ‘happy’ would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness. Is this an adequate description of why you agreed to do this interview? Asking for a friend.

NGF: Yes, definitely. All the tears of laughter have been invaluable and the praise received and the brain-wracking to come up with some clever responses. How did I do?

V: I’ll ask the questions!

 

Nya Gregor Fleron has generously offered a brand-new copy of her book Staying Happy Personal Happiness Through Movement and Love to a PaperBackSwap member who comments here on the PaperBackSwap Blog. A winner will be chosen at random.

Thank you Vostromo and Nya Gregor Fleron!

 

 

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Mystery Monday – Trouble is My Business

January 9th, 2017

 

Trouble is My Business by Raymond Chandler 

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

 

There are various editions of this book. I read the Vintage Crime trade paperback ISBN 0394757645, published in July of 1988. The attraction of this edition is that it contains Chandler’s introduction in which he mulls over writing for the pulps and the place of crime fiction in popular literature.

It contains these short stories which were originally published in the late 1930s in pulp magazines like “Black Mask” or “Dime Detective.”

Killer in the Rain
The Man Who Liked Dogs
The Curtain
Try the Girl
Mandarin’s Jade
Bay City Blues
The Lady in the Lake
No Crime in the Mountains
Trouble Is My Business
Finger Man
Goldfish
Red Wind

 

The last four in the list are stories featuring, Phillip Marlowe who was Chandler’s series hero. The first couple of stories, Chandler recycled into sections of late Marlowe novels such as the immortal The Big Sleep.

Suffice to say, this is genuine classic fiction. Great mystery writers from Ross Macdonald to Loren D. Estleman were influenced and inspired by these stories to write hardboiled detective fiction.

My approach to short stories is to read one at a time and then go do something else to think about it. I think if a reader gulped down these stories one after in one setting, Chandler’s metaphors and dialogue (not to mention artifacts like smoking stands and Marmons) might seem corny.

I didn’t read Chandler for a long time because I thought his prose rather overwrought and prolix. Older and wiser now, I read these stories with much pleasure.

 

For more Chandler, see also my review of the late novel Playback .

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Mystery Monday Review – Over My Dead Body

January 2nd, 2017

Over My Dead Body by Rex Stout

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

Published in 1939 after being serialized in The American Magazine, this is the seventh of the series that starred rotund PI Nero Wolfe and his more active assistant and sidekick Archie Goodwin. Wolfe has enough eccentricities for three people: indolent, orchid-fancying, woman-hater in the old-fashioned manner. But he is as brilliant as Sherlock Holmes. Archie is the archetypal American: athletic, brash, wise-cracking, and a hit with the fair sex.

Nero Wolfe confronts consequences of his own decisions made the last days of the troubled Hapsburg empire and its unhappy seething possessions in Croatia, Bosnia, and Montenegro. That is, he adopted a baby girl, left her with people he trusted, but lost touch with her when they were killed for their revolutionary sympathies by the secret police.

The situation gives Archie a chance to tease Wolfe:

“I’m resigning as of this moment.”

“Resigning from what?”

“You. My job.”

“Rubbish.”

“No, boss, really. You told the G-man you have never married. Yet you have a daughter. Well,” I shrugged. “I’m not a prude, but there are limits —”

The daughter does not necessarily want contact with the famous rotund agoraphobic PI in Manhattan, but a spot of trouble brings her to Wolfe’s brownstone seeking help. Later two murders occur. They revolve around a fencing school where the daughter, her friend Carla, and the odd Miss Vorka work.

This mystery has the right amount of plot and character. Stout includes a number of scenes full of high-jinks. The reveal of logical and plausible. Unlike the other novels, Manhattan itself does not play a major role, but this is a quibble. Storm clouds of World War II hang over novel, reminding us that writers are canaries in the coal mine.

 

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Happy New Year of Reading!

January 1st, 2017

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By Mirah W. (mwelday)

I hope 2016 brought you many wonderful reading experiences and that you’re already gearing up for some great reading in 2017!

I read some really great books in 2016 and I’m already looking forward to another year of discovering new stories, characters, and authors.  Here are just a few of the books on my list for 2017:

 

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts 1 and 2
by JK Rowling, John Tiffany and Jack Thorne

2016 felt like the resurgence of Harry! I got this one for Christmas and I’m looking forward to reading it since it doesn’t look like I’ll make it to London to see the stage production!

 

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children
by Ransom Riggs

I’m a little late to the Miss Peregrine’s party. I should have read this book way before now!  It is on my bookshelf just waiting for me.

 

Ruthless: Scientology, My Son David Miscavige, and Me
by Ron Miscavige

I read Troublemaker and Beyond Belief in 2016, both autobiographies about escaping the clutches of Scientology. I find the topic fascinating and look forward to reading more.

Where the Dead Lie
by C. S. Harris

I love the Sebastian St. Cyr mystery series and the next installment comes out in April 2017. What will Sebastian and Hero get into next? I’m sure this book will be devoured quickly!

Big Little Lies
by Liane Moriarty

I love this author and have been making my way through her books. Big Little Lies has gotten a lot of recommendations from friends so I’m excited to get to it.

Petty: The Biography
by Warren Zanes

Tom Petty is one of my favorite musicians and I am really interested in reading this biography. I just hope I don’t learn anything that taints how I feel about Tom!

 

These are just a few of my picks for 2017.  What do you want to read in the coming year?  Share your picks in the comments and let’s share some ideas!

Happy New Year of Reading!

 

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Fiction Review – All the Little Liars

December 28th, 2016

All the Little Liars by Charlaine Harris

Review by Mirah W. (mwelday)

Aurora Teagarden is back! Charlaine Harris has returned to her series about the librarian and amateur sleuth after more than 10 years.  I was very excited to meet Charlaine during her promotional tour of All the Little Liars.  Listening to her describe her career as a writer and her writing process was so interesting.  Charlaine was very down to earth and approachable. I would describe her personality as Southern charm meets Southern sass.  I think Charlaine was absolutely delightful!

Mirah and Charlaine Harris

Mirah and Charlaine Harris

But back to the book….

Aurora (Roe) is now married, pregnant, and her brother Phillip is living with her and her husband Robin.  Roe and Phillip have developed a close relationship and he is excited about being an uncle soon.  In the days before the Christmas holiday, four teenagers go missing and Phillip is one of the missing.  It seems understandable that two of his friends are also among the missing, but why would an 11-year old be with them?  What was her connection to what was happening?  The cops are trying to find out what is going on but, in typical fashion, Roe is determined to get involved, as well.  In her own investigation she uncovers school bullying, gambling debts, and serious family dramas.

While I enjoyed All the Little Liars, it did not seem to be as tight in the delivery as the earlier books in the Aurora series; there were some consistency issues and it felt a little incomplete in regards to the mystery. I like the characters in the Aurora series and I’m glad Harris wrote this book as if the past years really had passed, trying to pick up where things left off would have felt awkward. Overall, this installment wasn’t quite as good as I had hoped after my long Aurora drought but I’m glad she’s back and I hope Charlaine writes more.   In the end, I give All the Little Liars 3.5 out of 5 stars for being enjoyable but not quite polished…but I give Charlaine 5 out of 5 stars for being a class act!

 

 

 

 

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