PaperBackSwap Blog

Author Spotlight – Ken Follett

May 21st, 2015

Author Spotlight – Ken Follett

by Cheryl G. (Poncer)

One of the great things about being a member at PaperBackSwap is finding new authors to read and enjoy.  Just like not judging books by their cover, I relearn over and over again, not to judge authors by my limited experience with their books.

I thought Ken Follett only wrote books about WWII. Boy, was I wrong. A book that came highly recommended to me was The Pillars of the Earth. Matter of fact, a close friend who I have had the pleasure to get to know in real life gave me her own copy to read. Thanks, Lori!

The 983 pages seemed daunting at first, but after the first few pages I was hooked. Read it through in about a week’s time and am very glad I did. The research that went into this book is amazing, and the story winds its way through it seamlessly.

I have always marveled at the feat of church-building, even ones built in the modern age, but to follow along as a cathedral is being planned and built in the early 10th century is awe inspiring. And to follow the builder, the monks, the daily struggles of Ken Follett’s characters really put me in the medieval time. This book came highly recommended to me and now, I, too, highly recommend it.

The next Ken Follett book I read was The Man from St. Petersburg, set in England just before WWI. It follows the Walden family, Lord, Lady and daughter, through the lead-up to the war. And just like The Pillars of the Earth, I was hooked from the very beginning.

Ken Follett’s research in both books is impeccable, weaving his story lines through history, and though we know that what he writes did not necessarily happen, his novels are believable and very true-to-life. He achieves this by his careful construction of characters, surrounding them with accurate details of the eras in which he sets his stories. He says, ““I like to create imaginary characters and events around a real historical situation. I want readers to feel: OK, this probably didn’t happen, but it might have.”

Ken Follett is a prolific author. He has penned over 30 novels, and sold over 150 million copies of his books. 4 have made the NY Times best seller list. An author I avoided for far too long is one of my new favorites. Today I received A Place Called Freedom in the mail that I ordered from another member here at PaperBackSwap. Set in 1766, it too promises to be a compelling read.

There are currently over 700 copies of Ken Follett’s book available to order on PBS. And two more on their way to me, Night Over Water and Paper Money. I am hoping they will be just as absorbing as the first two books I have read.


What Ken Follett books have you read? Which would you recommend?



Mystery Monday – The French Key

May 18th, 2015


The French Key by Frank Gruber

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)


Frank Gruber was a professional writer that wrote for the pulps, radio, and movies. In two novels of his I’ve read, the mood is noir without violence, starring believable characters, and having an air of verisimilitude that will please those of us into 1930s and 1940s Americana.

In The French Key (1939), Johnny Fletcher and Sam Cragg’s ostensible job is selling a book on physical fitness. Johnny, the brains of the outfit, acts as the spieler and Sam, the brawn, exemplifies the benefits of fitness by breaking a chain wrapped around his chest. They experience financial ups and downs so they are not as scrupulous as they should be about saving and making money. Having decided to stiff the hotel for the tariff, they must get their luggage out of their room.

However, they discover the body of a man on the bed, clutching a gold coin in his cold hand. Fletcher, seizing the opportunity, grabs the coin and later is informed by a coin dealer that it is the most valuable US coin ever minted. Johnny, over Sam’s protests, decides to play private detective in order to clear them of suspicion of murder. Doing so, they are caught up in a gold hoarding scheme.

Like many pulp writers, Gruber held many jobs before he turned to writing: farm boy, soldier, bell-hop, ticket-taker at a theater, and writing hack. His descriptions of fifth-rate hotel rooms and sleazy rooming houses are totally convincing. The background touches give us a confident feeling that the author is writing about people, places, and things that he knows all too well. The antique slang and turns of phrase (“When are we going to put on the nose bag?” grouses a hungry Sam), the hustler’s grave chivalry toward the ladies, and careful naming of streets in New York City feel authentic. The characters are very old-school American – plain, warm, outgoing, confident, resourceful — to me.

Two anachronisms startled me. One character had a “Beatle haircut” – in February of 1964, TIME magazine referred to the hair of the Fab Four as “mushroom haircuts.” Two characters fought it out like “Sonny Liston and Cassius Clay” – February, 1964. Coincidence? I think not. But I have no explanation since the Capital pocket PB edition I read is from October, 1972 – the cover picture indeed looks very Seventies. Maybe Gruber himself updated it – he passed away in 1969, acknowledged as one of the “Kings of Pulp Fiction.”




Fiction Review – The Girl on the Train

May 13th, 2015

The Girl on the Train: A Novel by Paula Hawkins


Review by Mirah Welday (mwelday)


It seems everyone lately has been talking about The Girl on the Train.  I have Facebook friends who have been reading and posting about it.  I have friends who have been sending me messages telling me they think I need to read it. Then it was last month’s pick for my book club.  So I finally took the hint and read The Girl on the Train.  Pardon the pun but what a ride!

In some ways The Girl on the Train reminds me of the recent British hit TV show Broadchurch, so if you watch that show this book might peak your interest.  I don’t know whom to believe or what is really going on!  There are so many perspectives but each one seems to have a slightly different opinion of what is happening or slightly different recounting of past events but, at the same time, each account seems like it could be plausible.

The characters in The Girl on the Train are frustrating but hypnotic. Their tragic histories (and present lives) converge in a way that seems destined. I felt invested in figuring out the characters ulterior motives and what really happened on the night in question.  Hawkins has created a mystery that discloses its secrets in the perfect order while maintaining the reader’s interest in the bigger story.  And the creepy ‘guess who’s watching you when you think you’re just living your own life’ factor is definitely in the background the entire time.

Want a book that will keep you reading until late in the night because you need to know what happens next?  Pick up The Girl on the Train.



Historical Spy Novel Review – The Polish Officer

May 12th, 2015

The Polish Officer by Alan Furst

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)


This 1995 story was Furst’s third venture into the WWII historical novel with elements of spy and adventure tales. Furst emphasizes that his stories are fictional. But a reader can tell he’s done his research, reading deeply in the period’s newspapers, memoirs, and other novelists such as Gregor von Rezzori and Victor Serge (whose phrase “midnight in the century” is allusively used herein).

Furst contrasts effectively the beauty of the natural world with terrible things people do to each other. He is also brilliant at conveying the feeling of being trapped, by nosy neighbors, by hostile acquaintances and by aggressive militaries and secret police. In a sense, for all the attention to period detail and feelings, I don’t think there is much point to caviling about actual historical facts. Despite some slow spots that may drive a reader to contemplate bailing out, it’s easy enough to read and filled with enough changes of scene and incident to be worth persevering to the end. Furst, like Ross Macdonald, is a master at quickly sketching out characters.



Mystery Monday – Accounting for Murder

May 11th, 2015

Accounting for Murder by Emma Lathen


Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

Mary Jane Latsis and Martha Henissart, attorney-banker and economic analyst respectively, had to write under the pen name of Emma Lathen, lest their Wall Street superiors and colleagues take umbrage. Heaven knows they’d be put out, wondering if they were the models for delicate male egos and whiny baby boys that posture as formidable captains of industry. For instance, in this one, a composed secretary has learned to bring her boss, the president of a computer company, what he, an ex-quarterback for Harvard, craves most in times of stress: a glass of milk.

In this 1964 mystery, an accountant is found strangled with his own adding machine cord. He was an outside auditor that was hired by a bunch of disgruntled stockholders so there are plenty of suspects inside the company. Series hero John Putnam Thatcher, senior VP for Sloan Guaranty Trust, an investment banking concern, is dragged into the investigation because his bank is heavily and foolishly invested in the data processing company in question. As in comic mysteries generally, Thatcher, though canny and quick-thinking, finds himself haplessly caught in zany situations. I can’t assert that the humor is of the LOL – knee-slapping variety, but readers who savor James Thurber’s quiet satirical bomb-throwing will enjoy dry and wry Emma Lathen. In fact, in 1965 this novel was a runner-up for the Golden Dagger Award given by the Crime Writers Association, taking second to the still-readable The Far Side of the Dollar by John Macdonald.

Between 1962 and 1997 (when Latsis passed away), the duo wrote as many as 24 novels featuring Thatcher’s adventures. They are marked by highly literate writing, genial satire of Wall Street and the business world of Madmen, and concise plausible descriptions of how big business used to deal with government contracts, logistics, R&D, production in those bygone days when our financial titans actually focused on investing in making things instead of crashing the housing market.





Sci-Fi Saturday Review – Time and Again

May 9th, 2015

Time and Again by Jack Finney

Review by Dianne (gardngal)


If you live and work in NYC, or are very familiar with it, you could enjoy this book immensely.  In Time and Again,  Jack Finney provides detailed pictures and descriptions of a New York during the 1880′s. I loved the premise of the story. A man, Simon Morley, is sent back in time by scientists and the government in a highly classified experiment.  He is told only that they want to see if they can accomplish such an amazing fete, in order to observe the events of history.  They believe that history and the present exist simultaneously in the here and now.  They have warned him to be observant only.  He is told he must be extremely cautious in what he says and does, so that there will be no changes or consequences to the future. He then undergoes weeks of training in preparation.  However, they are unaware that he has a personal agenda as well. He plans on observing two men in order to solve the mystery of their interactions, based only on an ancient cryptic note he’s read in modern times.

The plot is somewhat thin, so the book is filled with a tourist’s eye view of New York in the 19th century.  It is a fascinating look at history, and the author took great pains to be completely accurate, even for very little known events woven into his story.  I would have personally enjoyed more of the mystery and less of the city.  But there is also romance when he meets and falls in love with a girl from “her” time.  Together they pursue her fiance, Jake, and his associate, barely escaping with their lives.

Eventually, the mystery is sorted out and solved.  Then Morley finally realizes the true meaning behind the experiments in which he has so willingly participated.  The time travel is the core of the story, and what Morley does in the end is fantastic.  Can’t wait to read the sequel to find out what he does next!




Mystery Monday – The Missing Man

May 4th, 2015

The Missing Man by Hillary Waugh


Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)


Critics credit Hillary Waugh as a pioneer in the mystery genre that is described as “police procedural set in a small town.” The series hero Police Chief Fred Fellows and his sidekick Detective Sergeant Sidney Wilks starred in nine novels, with the initial one, Last Seen Wearing, ending up on many lists of best mysteries of all time.

In The Missing Man (1964) Fellows and Wilks piece together clues to determine the identity of and find the killer of a young woman whose body was found on a Connecticut beach. They use good old-fashioned police work as they unleash operatives to do the tedious review of hundreds of documents and lists. They also use their experience, imagination, and reasoning to reach conclusions. Fellows is an every-man type of character, subject to slips and goofs but creative and compassionate to the victims’ families as well. Waugh himself grew up in small town Connecticut so the setting of Stockdale feels authentic. A Yale man, he gets in some digs at posing Yale men.

Waugh passed away in 1988 at the age of 88. His obituary in the New York Times ends with Waugh’s advice to mystery writers: “Authenticity is the key to good mystery writing. Not only must you be able to write well, but you must also possess the instincts of a good reporter who has witnessed firsthand the darker side of human nature.”