August 22nd, 2016
In this noir thriller from 1950, the Syndicate sends its rep Harry Blue to sunny San Diego to organize the local vice barons. Taking exception to outsiders bringing competition and Eastern ways, the barons greet Harry with shotgun blasts. With the shot-up gangster in hospital, the city cops persuade PI Max Thursday to impersonate the gangster and collect information on the merchants of vice in order to break up their rings of iniquity.
In his travels, Max deals with a diplomatic spiritualist faker, a one-armed WWII veteran gone bad, a Basque thug, and two female troublemakers. Max undergoes both distress and violence.
I know, like time travel stories, impersonation stories cross the border Into Lame Land in terms of plausibility. Plus, the prose in this novel, though always lucid, often feels grey and flat. Making up for these downsides, the action and incidents provide surprise and interest. The rapid pace and jumpy tone will appeal to fans of the noir genre.
Wade Miller was the brand name for the writing team Robert Wade and Bill Miller. They teamed up to write about 30 hard-boiled and adventures stories. They are best known for A Touch of Evil (a great noir movie by Orson Welles) and the wonderfully titled Kitten with a Whip (later made into a movie with Ann Margaret and John Forsythe).
August 11th, 2016
Review by Mirah Welday (mwelday)
Many years ago I read Where the Heart Is and I really enjoyed it. When I saw Made in the U.S.A. on the shelf, I decided to give it a chance and, once again, Billie Letts didn’t let me down.
Told with the same straight-forward voice as Where the Heart Is, Made in the U.S.A. introduces us to Lutie and Fate McFee. Children of a ne’er-do-well father who has left them with his girlfriend in Spearfish, South Dakota while he goes to Las Vegas to make his fortune, Lutie and Fate are used to a life with difficulties. They soon find themselves struggling to take care of themselves in a world where they are at a serious disadvantage with limited resources and support.
When hope is lost and times beyond desperate, enter in a helping hand and support system that seems to be too fantastic and heaven-sent to be real. A stranger with a way to help and a possible family where Ludie and Fate can finally find a place to belong. But this stranger has issues of his own that the children don’t understand.
There were some very difficult passages in Made in the U.S.A.; passages that were painful and heartbreaking to read. Children who have been hurt and traumatized due to the actions of those who were meant to protect them leaves them in situations that are precarious, dangerous, and demoralizing. Made in the U.S.A. is a story about being more than the tragedy of our circumstances. Heartfelt and powerful, Letts provides a commentary of hope and faith during the darkest of times.
August 8th, 2016
A long-forgotten actress is found dead in a family’s garden. The sudden death is officially ruled natural causes, but a small town police chief and a psychiatric social worker feel reservations. The alert reader, thanks to Millar’s skill in inducing misgivings, feels that something is not quite right. Anyway, our qualms focus on the odd personalities and behaviors of the family in whose garden the remains were found. As the pair ask around discreetly they meet a range of other odd people.
Millar is enjoyable to read because her writing – especially the dialogue — is beautiful. Her carefully plotted stories have lots of incidents and surprises. Millar draws characters sharply. She gives nods to social issues and problems in abnormal psychology, such as the psychopathic personality. But she’s skilled at ordinary everyday zaniness too:
. . . Mrs. Cushman, who had arrived late and taken a seat in the back row, assumed she had somehow come to the wrong funeral and she immediately rustled out again to look for the right one.
Malgradi could stand the agony no longer. He slipped out into the corridor. Here he met Mrs. Cushman who had been wandering in and out of rooms finding out a good deal about the embalming business. The experience had unnerved her and left her quite unprepared to cope with this sudden meeting.
‘Eeeee,’ Mrs. Cushman said, and made a frantic beeline for the nearest door, which happened to be that of the chapel. So she didn’t miss Rose’s funeral after all.
In the early 1940s she wrote Craig Rice-type comic mysteries. But by the early 1950s, her humor became less clowning and more witty, coming out of genuine characters and outlandish situations. So, the analogy would be Craig Rice is to The Lucy Show as Margaret Millar is to The Dick Van Dyke Show (I know – I date myself with these references).
Readers that enjoy Patricia Highsmith and Dorothy B. Hughes should try novels by Margaret Millar.
August 3rd, 2016
Review by Mirah Welday (mwelday)
I feel like I have been blessed by the book gods lately. I have been getting my hands on some really great reads! The Soldier’s Wife was another to add to my list of 5 star books. And I read it in just one day.
I seem to have an affinity for historical fiction set during World War II. I am not sure what the attraction is but I imagine it is the pockets of hope and light that emerged during such a dark time. I like to read about the triumphs in spite of the evil that was attempting to control the world.
The Soldier’s Wife takes us to the island of Guernsey. The Germans are advancing ever closer to their oasis untouched by the war. Even though some of their men have left to fight, ladies are still meeting for tea, food is still available, and home gardens are for flowers, not food. However, Guernsey would soon find itself occupied by German forces and bring with them a life that was nothing like the locals had experienced before. Friendships are tested and the bonds of what hold us together as a human race are frayed but then sewn together again.
The Soldier’s Wife was thought-provoking and sentimental. Leroy lets the reader see the impact of war through the eyes of three generations of women in one household. The brutality of war and its impact on their minds and hearts effects them all differently, thus causing tension and even distrust within their household. But, in the end, Leroy reminds us that in spite of the forces around us, we are all more alike than we are different.
August 1st, 2016
The British mystery writer Patricia Moyes created Detective Chief Superintendent Henry Tibbet and his Emmy. Her 19 mysteries appeared between 1959 and 1993.
Johnny Under Ground is based on Moyes’ WWII Royal Air Force experience where she served as a radar operator and flight officer. Set in 1966, the opening takes Emmy to a reunion of officers served at an airbase in England during the war. Scandal around the sudden demise of a long-dead colleague re-surfaces. When one of the reunited officers ends up murdered, Emmy becomes a prime suspect. All the old comrades in arms, who may or may not have something sinister to hide, turn on Emmy to protect themselves. One thing about these old-timey English mystery writers – they sometimes had a stoical view of the roads to hell people take with their eyes wide open. Kind of grim, but kind of real.
In fact, though, the appeal of Moyes’ Henry and Emmy series offers various attractions. For one, the characters are very English. As an example of the deep English respect for privacy, Emmy realizes that she didn’t even know the name of the boy she loved because everybody during the war used nicknames or last names. For another, their marriage represents a stability in personal relationships that readers like to see. Of course, Henry’s job reassures us that most murders won’t going running around doing in folks like us.
Finally, this mystery lays down smart clues to follow for readers that like puzzles but also turns out as novel of manners with a genuine literary sensibility a la the work of Margery Allingham.
July 29th, 2016
If someone handed you a $5 bill, would you put it in a pocket and never spend it? We hope not! Yet, some of you are doing the equivalent of that right now, and you may not even know it.
Our Invite Friends program allows you to earn actual cash money for referrals. No joke! Moolah. Green. Bank. Dough. Cabbage. Bread. (OK, now we’re getting hungry.)
Some members who have referred friends after the start of the program in November 2015 have become eligible to claim a cash reward, but haven’t done that yet! Are you one of those members?
You can check by going to the Invite Friends page, linked from the bottom of any page on the site, or click here: Check my Referrals
Scroll down on that page to see your list of referred accounts and if there is a Claim Your Reward button there, click it! Then choose a check mailed to your home, or PBS Money. That’s all you have to do. Could NOT be easier.
And if you don’t yet have cash to claim, it’s easy to get that started. You can Learn More About Inviting Friends in the Help Center. For you, it means a Cha-Ching! of always-welcome cash. For your referred friend, it means a discount on Annual Membership and entry into a world of online bookswapping. For the club, it means more members and more books to be shared with all of us. It’s win-win-win!
July 21st, 2016
Review by Mirah Welday (mwelday)
It has been a very long time since I picked up a book and couldn’t put it down. When I started Mambo in Chinatown I thought I would just read for a few hours one morning and then get on with the rest of my day. But that was not to be. I couldn’t stop myself from turning the pages and I finished it in one day…less than 9 hours from when I started!
For me, Kwok found just the right balance with this book. She was able to address serious issues without being preachy or overly sentimental. She was also able to cover a variety of topics without the plot seeming thin. There were moments of intense emotion but also moments of lightheartedness that made me smile.
Charlie is a beautifully created, sympathetic character and I wanted to know how her story would develop and how she would change. I felt emotions on her behalf; I was at different times hopeful, frustrated, excited and disappointed. I really wanted her to succeed and find her true place. Wanting to know what would happen for Charlie is what kept me reading all day.
Kwok’s Mambo in Chinatown is a touching book about really getting to know yourself without being dependent on other people to tell you what to believe or do. I definitely recommend it and know I now need to add Kwok’s debut novel Girl in Translation to my reading list.