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Mystery Monday Review – And Be A Villian

August 31st, 2015

And Be A Villain by Rex Stout

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

 

Madeline Fraser, with her silver voice and charming manner, became a radio favorite in late 1940s Manhattan. On air one early April day, however, her guests toasted each other with a glass of Hi-Spot, “the soft drink you dream of.” Then, suddenly to everybody’s shock and horror, one of the guests gagged and keeled over dead. The smell of bitter almonds said “cyanide” to the doctors. And “murder” to Lt. Cramer of the Homicide Bureau.

But for a week the cops have gotten nowhere.

Private eye Nero Wolfe, whose curiosity in the case was piqued by the papers, decides to take the case. The more compelling reason, his assistant Archie Goodwin points out in his witty narration, lies in the grim necessity of paying Wolfe’s tax bill of $20,000 (in today’s money, about $197K) to the IRS.

While Wolfe tricks the Police Department into doing most of the legwork, he sends Archie out on assignments related to both the business side and detecting side of the agency. The slow progress of the case tries Archie’s patience. So he needles Wolfe in his subtle way.

“I have to talk with that girl. Go and bring her.” 
I had known it was coming. “Conscious?” I asked casually. 
“I said with her, not to her. She must be able to talk. You could revive her after you get her here. I should have sent you in the first place, knowing how you are with young women.” 
“Thank you very much. She’s not a young woman, she’s a minor. She wears socks.” 
“Archie.” 
“Yes, sir.” 
“Get her.” 

The young woman turns out to be a quintessential bobby-soxer, dazzled by celebrity and tossing out slang that the word-loving Stout obviously enjoys parodying. “Mellow greetings, yookie dookie!” All of the characters, in fact, are well drawn.

To my mind, the post-WWII Wolfe novels are among the best, neither too long nor too convoluted or far-fetched. Unlike the first half-dozen or so Wolfe novels, there are no slow spots. Mystery critics Barzun and Taylor selected this one as one of four best Wolfe novels.

 

 

 

 

 

Audiobook Review – The Summons

August 25th, 2015

The Summons by John Grisham

 

Review by Mirah Welday (mwelday)

I used to be an avid reader of John Grisham.  I read his first books and really enjoyed them but then I felt Grisham started to get repetitive and I stopped reading his new novels.  In reading recent reviews from other readers, I decided to order the audiobook of The Summons.    I’m glad I decided to give this one a chance.

The Summons is about brothers Ray and Forrest Atlee and their reactions to the death of their father Judge Atlee. Ray is a successful law professor and Forrest is an addict in and out of rehab.  Each son was pushed away by their father for different parental disappointments.  Each one forges a life on his own without a relationship with their father and converge on their family home in Clanton, Mississippi after they each receive a summons to appear before their dying father.

What develops after the summons is a tale of questions regarding what their father did in his years after leaving the bench as a judge.  Ray and Forrest deal with the death of their father in different ways and neither knows whether he can trust the other.

I enjoyed listening to this audiobook.  In addition to being curious about where the story would end, the narrator, Michael Beck, does a convincing job with the Southern accents and gives each character a unique sound.  He portrays feelings of confusion, anger, doubt and frustration for each character.  I’m glad I decided to give Grisham another chance with this novel; it made some long, dull rides more interesting.

 

 

Mystery Monday Review – A Stitch in Time

August 24th, 2015


A Stitch in Time
by Emma Lathen

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

 

Lathen’s smart stylish mysteries take aim at large institutions. She lampooned our diplomats in the State Department in Murder Against the Grain, racists on Wall Street in Death Shall Overcome, the auto industry in Murder Makes the Wheels Go Round, university professors and top administrators in Come to Dust. In this one, her target is the medical system, suburban hospitals, and the pharmaceutical industry. Sure, the book is dated – people smoke in hospitals, unreal – but commentary on why medications cost so much frickin’ money and how that presents a financial burden on working class people still rings true after all these years.

In this novel, shady medical practices are revealed during a law suit. The patient died on the operating table but the suit questions whether the cause of death was a bullet by his own hand or the seven hemostats left inside him after the round’s removal. Her portrait of the doctors, nurses, and staff circling the wagons to protect their jobs and the reputation of the hospital sears with serio-comic denunciation of cover-ups. So much for the Hippocratic oath in the aftermath of the murder of egocentric surgeon (is that redundant?).

This was this seventh of John Putnam Thatcher’s cases. Lathen’s construction of a puzzle is better in this outing than usual. There is a large number of suspects so the perp is not obvious. The best point is the interesting setting and witty prose.

 

 

 

 

 

Fiction Review – The Senator’s Wife

August 21st, 2015

The Senator’s Wife by Sue Miller

Review by Mirah Welday (mwelday)

The lives and relationships of women are front and center in The Senator’s Wife by Sue Miller.

Meri and Delia are new neighbors.  Meri is young and newly married.  Delia is older and, while married, has lived a life separate from her husband for many years because of his chronic infidelity.  Miller brings these two women together in a way that creates an almost reverential relationship that follows them through a year in their lives.

Miller seems to acknowledge that what society has determined women should or shouldn’t do doesn’t always fit easily into real lives. If a woman has a cheating husband, everyone looking at their relationship knows what her response should be.  She should stay, she should leave, she should get her revenge, or she should take him for everything he is worth….everyone has the answer.

I admit I had a hard time relating to the main characters Meri and Delia. They made decisions I don’t think I would have made in their situations but I don’t know that for sure.  I think Meri wanted to learn how to be a good wife from Delia.  Delia wanted to live her own life and never asked to be Meri’s role model. I was caught up in their lives and relationships but I was found myself asking ‘what?’ and ‘why?’ too often throughout the book.  The ending made me feel disappointment in both of them; yet, it was an appropriate, almost inevitable ending.

Even with my inability to really connect with either character, I still think the book was worth reading.  Miller uses her novel’s structure and character development to tell a complete story and one that the reader could believe would truly happen.

 

 

PBS Book Review Contest!

August 18th, 2015

brc pen med

We have something fun to announce…the debut of our Book Review Contest on our Facebook page!

Share your book reviews with others, win Wish List books – what could be better? Here’s how it works:

1)  Write a book review on PaperBackSwap.
2)  Share it on your Facebook timeline and tag the PaperBackSwap Facebook page
3)  You are automatically entered into the contest!

Each week, we will pick finalists from the entries. Then our members will vote on the best review and the winner will get a new book from his/her Wish List (see rules for details).

Check the FAQs for all the details,  and then take a look at your BIR List or Transaction Archive or Bookshelf for inspiration, and get reviewing!  We hope you decide to contribute – book reviews really make a positive difference in the club!

Happy reading (and reviewing),

Richard and
The PaperBackSwap Team

 

 

Mystery Monday Review – Falling Star

August 17th, 2015

Falling Star by Patricia Moyes

 

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

The death of a famous actor on the set for a movie looks like an accident. The death of the continuity girl looks like suicide. But motivated by the complaints of the cunning Mr. Arbuthnot, the girl’s mother, the series hero, Chief Inspector Henry Tibbett, investigates and becomes convinced that these two deaths are in fact suspicious.

Patricia Moyes wrote 19 mysteries featuring Tibbett and his wife Emmy. Critics and readers often opine that this mystery is not her best. For instance, with the pool of suspects so small, it’s fairly easy to spot the perp.

I think, however, it has its strong points. Moyes had worked as a PA to actor/director Peter Ustinov, so she knows about the production and business of movie making. Her knowledge and experience strengthen the authenticity of the novel. The motive and the method of murder are pure golden age, so implausible and silly that I wonder if Moyes was parodying traditional whodunnits.

The characterization is quite witty. Usually Moyes uses third-person narration, but here she uses first-person. And what a narrator. A child of the land-owning class, he is priggish, smarmy, blustery, pompous, and thick-headed. The series hero is his likeable self, if a little boyish and bland. Also, his helpmeet wife appears only in cameo. The walk-on characters, such as Mrs. Arbuthnot, are hoots, like eccentrics in Henry Cecil’s novels.

From 1964, this was the #4 of 17 Tibbett novels. Readers who like late career Agatha Christie would enjoy this one.

 

 

Children’s Historical Fiction Review – Blackwater Ben

August 13th, 2015

Backwater Ben by William Dorbin

 

Review by Vicky T. (VickyJo)

 

About twenty years ago, when I was working in a public library back in Michigan, a mother and daughter came in and began looking for books to check out.  The daughter was probably in second grade, and she chose some “easy readers” that she could read herself.  But she was also gazing at some of the other, harder to read books.  Peter Pan caught her eye, and she pulled it off the shelf and took it to her mother.  Her mother’s response was, “Oh no!  You know how to read now, so you get books that you can read yourself.”  The daughter was disappointed and I was secretly horrified.

Reading aloud to your children, even after they themselves know how to read, is a wonderful way for the two of you (or three or four of you!) to bond!  Reading aloud is also a great way of introducing more difficult books to younger readers.  Unfamiliar words and situations can be explained on the spot.  And what better way to open a discussion about whatever it is that might be a factor in your child’s life?  Are they afraid of the dark?  Is it harder being a big brother or big sister than expected?  Is sibling rivalry a problem?  How about peer pressure?  Is your twelve-year-old acting more like she’s going on 25?  Believe me, every parent has been there, and one good way of keeping those important lines of communication open is by reading…aloud…together.

So, I’ve decided to recommend a few great children’s books that would be fun for the whole family to listen to.    William Durbin has written a wonderful historical novel called “Blackwater Ben.”  It’s the story of Benjamin Wade, who drops out of the 7th grade to help his father in a logging camp in Blackwater, Minnesota in the year 1898.   Ben’s father is the cook for the lumberjacks in the camp, and Ben is his kitchen assistant.  But, it doesn’t start out as exciting as Ben expected:  “Though working in the woods had been Ben’s dream, he soon discovered that cooking, dish washing, carrying water and wood, and doing laundry occupied him from before dawn until after dark.  In the slack moments, Pa had him mop the floors, fill and clean the kerosene lamps, and organize the supplies in the storeroom.  At times Ben got so tired of his chores that he almost wished he’d stayed in school.”

Ben wants to be away from his cranky father and out in the forest with the jacks, cutting down huge trees, sawing them into logs, driving the teams of horses through the snowy landscape.  But as time goes by, Ben gets new responsibilities, and even has a few adventures along the way!  When an orphan boy nicknamed Nevers shows up and is hired to help Ben and Pa in the kitchen, Ben finds that he has a companion his own age…and a rival!

We learn about life in a logging camp at the turn of the last century through Ben’s eyes:  how hard the work was, how dangerous, how the men coped with the work, the cold, and life in the forest.  Throughout the story, we also learn about Ben’s childhood before the camp and his beautiful mother, who died when he was only two and who remains a mystery to Ben, since his Pa won’t talk about her.   The author also includes a glossary in the front of the book, so the logging terms are easier to understand.  I mean, you don’t want to ask for swamp water when you really want blackjack!

I would say this would be a great story to read aloud to children 8 and up.  I thoroughly enjoyed Blackwater Ben.  Now, go find a child and read!!