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Holiday Fiction Review – The Gift

Tuesday, December 4th, 2018

The Gift by Richard Paul Evans

Review by Donna C. (darkcoffeeclouds)

 

This is a great book to read at this time of the year.  It is sad but doesn’t leave you sad because the story comes wrapped up with hope. It is like the story of Christ and how he died, but he died for a purpose and presented us with his gift.  This book is about a little boy named Collin who also had a gift. He was a very sick little boy with cancer and heart failure and he had a little sister who loved him very much. He lived with his mom, Addison,  who worked very hard to make sure he and his sister were taken care of.

Nathan Hurst met this little family in a crowded airport when a snow storm shut down all flights and the roads leading to the airport.  The airport was full of stranded, tired, and very frustrated people. Nathan’s employer provided him with a hotel room at the airport but many people were out of luck and had to sleep in the chairs or on the floor.  When Nathan saw the woman with the sick little boy and his little sister who was very tired he offered her his hotel room.  He was also very sick with bronchitis and she didn’t feel right taking his room. It turned out that he ended up with the only room left, which was a suite with two rooms so they decided he would stay in one and the little family stayed in the other.  Later, when they were getting to know each other something amazing happened. The little boy put his hand on Nathan’s head and healed him. He didn’t just heal his bronchitis but also his Tourett’s syndrome.  Nathan didn’t say anything at first because of how ridiculous it sounded.  No one would believe him, but he knew that little boy was special.

Collin’s mother didn’t want anyone to know about his gift because every time he healed someone, he got sicker.  She knew everyone would be begging for his help and it would kill him. What she didn’t expect was people trying to use his gift for monetary gain. It was bound to happen and it eventually did.  Someone saw Collin work his magic and the chaos began.

This story hits on a few other topics as well, like greed and forgiveness, especially forgiving yourself and letting go of the pain.  Nathan had been holding onto something very painful that happened when he was a child.  He never talked to anyone about it and it was like a festering wound that was preventing him from really living his life.  Collin helped him realize that it was time to let it go and to finally start living.  I know from experience that can be very hard to do, even when you desperately want to.  This book doesn’t take long to read but it is worth the time.

 

 

 

 

Mystery Monday Review – A Connoisseur’s Case

Monday, December 3rd, 2018

A Connoisseur’s Case by Michael Innes

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

 

This 1962 mystery is known as The Crabtree Case in the US. It is a late novel with series hero Sir John Appleby in his retirement. It begins with the Applebys taking a summer country walk and to Sir John’s chagrin, Judith wants to barge in on Scroop House, to look over the valuable antique furniture of a stately mansion.

Crossing an old canal and ending up at a pub run by on an obnoxious poser, they fall into conversation with Seth Crabtree, a stage rustic who seems to have walked out of Hardy’s The Woodlanders. As the former cabinet maker for mansion, he tells them of the glory days of Scoop House and its owner Mrs Coulson, a grand collector of objets d’art and antiques. Shortly after, the Applebys find Crabtree floating in the canal, shot dead. Though not as dramatic as the earlier novels, this still features tight, witty writing.

“Judith looked south—which was towards what Appleby had called the secondary motor road. All she saw was a momentary glint of light.

“‘I think,’ she said, `that I saw the sun reflected from the wind screen of a passing car. Right?’

“‘Right as far as you go. What you saw was a silver-grey Rolls-Royce Phantom V.’

“‘My dear John, it’s terribly vulgar to name cars—particularly astoundingly expensive ones. It’s only done by cheap novelists. You must just say: `a very large car.”

“Appleby received this with hilarity.”

Take that Ian Fleming, you brand name-dropper you. If you find this kind of thing as hilarious as Sir John and I do, you should read Michael Innes.

 

 

Mystery Monday Review – The Smell of the Night

Monday, November 26th, 2018

The Smell of the Night by Andrea Camilleri

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

 

In Sicily, like everywhere else, people aren’t into thrift as much they hope to make a big score for an easy-going old age. And the big score is exactly what Emanuele Gargano, the self-styled wizard of finance, promises. Gargano, in his forties, tall, elegant and so handsome that he seems to have stepped out of an American movie, cultivates a reputation as a brilliant wheeler-dealer in financial matters.

After almost the entire population of the province of Montelusa has entrusted him with their nest eggs, he suddenly vanishes. Having disappeared with everybody’s life savings, the previously admired figure becomes the most hated man south of Naples. Of course, in Vigàta, too, the manure has hit the ventilating device and enraged pensioners are on the look-out for the dastardly thief and their promised returns.

Series hero (this is Book #6) Commissario Montalbano accidentally gets into a situation, whose consequences he cannot foresee at the beginning. Although a senior investigator argues that the “financial wizard” has been rubbed out by the Mafia, Montalbano believes there is more to it than a gangland killing. Although this case is not part of his job, nosy,he gets deeper and deeper into it.

Maverick Montalbano does what he wants. To say the least, the energetic and emotional inspector is idiosyncratic. He seems to hold a special position, because he opposes orders and invents excuses to get around his superiors with few consequences. In addition, one can call his methods of investigation quite unconventional.

The author skillfully combines the criminal case with a view of Sicily and its inhabitants, so that one would like to pack the suitcases straight away and head for the Med. One feels sympathy with Montalbano who mourns the island’s transformation into a concrete wasteland. The nostalgic tone will remind one of Simenon saying goodbye to his Paris in the late Maigret novels of the 1960s and early 1970s.

Camilleri writes easy, less frilly prose but in no way unimaginatively. His stories are not overloaded, getting to the point right away. Also the humor comes in welcome doses, as in the other books. But too much Montalbano in a row could be tiring, so enjoy them in widely spaced readings.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mystery Monday Review – The Moving Target

Monday, November 19th, 2018

The Moving Target by Ross Macdonald

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

This is the first Lew Archer mystery –MacDonald named him after Miles Archer, Sam Spade’s murdered partner in The Maltese Falcon. Published in 1949, WWII hangs heavy over the story.

A distraught wife hires private detective Archer to search for her missing husband. It seems an almost inconsequential case, a matter that occurs in Archer’s agency every day. Nothing indicates crime is involved until we get into kidnapping and human trafficking in a case that will cost six lives.

Ross Macdonald is mentioned in the same breath as Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler and is considered one of the greats of 20th century American crime fiction. He took the classic whodunit thriller to a different level by exploring the question of the social and psychological “why” and influenced the hardboiled genre in the long term.

For instance, in this one, echoing Simenon’s view that given the right combination of interior and exterior pressures, anybody is capable of anything, Archer explains that war’s undermining of certainties, money and social pressures, opportunity or its lack, bad luck, and the wrong crowd cause good people to make mistakes that attract the attention of the law. For others who are just bad to the bone, “Money is just a peg people hang their evil on.”

This was his fifth novel, and so there are flaws. Some spots are slow. Other parts are over-written, which made Raymond Chandler mock the writing as pretentious (talk about the pot … ). Macdonald later learned to restrain the “fine writing” and he later outpaced Chandler, Cain, and Hammet, especially in the Lew Archer novels.

 

 

 

Mystery Monday Review – Maigret Goes Home

Monday, November 12th, 2018

Maigret Goes Home by Georges Simenon

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

 

In this 1931 mystery, in the Quai des Orfèvres our favorite Chief Inspector accidentally comes across an anonymous note, “A crime will be committed at the church of Saint-Fiacre during the first Mass of the Day of the Dead.” The message was received by the police of Moulins, who shrugged – no doubt in a Gallic way – and passed it on to the Police Judiciaire de Paris.

Since Maiget spent his childhood at Saint-Fiacre, in the Allier, his curiosity is stirred and he goes immediately to the chateau, where his father had served as the loyal steward. Maigret attends the Mass in which the note forecasts the crime. Sure enough, the Countess of Saint-Fiacre dies of apparent heart failure.

The local doctor finds that the death of the countess was brought on by violent emotion. Maigret finds in the Countess’ missal a clipping from the Journal de Moulins announcing the death of Maurice de Saint-Fiacre, her son and heir. The latter had just arrived from Paris to the village, where he intended to sponge money off his mother to pay his copious debts. If the check bounces, it’s the clink.

The inquiry, conducted at the castle, at the village and at Moulins, takes place in a somber heart-rending atmosphere from the get-go. Maigret returns to the village of his childhood, with an aura of nostalgia. But it soon dawns on him that things have changed for the worse in the past thirty -five years.

The estate is no more than a shadow of what it was at the time when the Maigret’s father was serving it. The countess has sold off three of the four farms, since the death of the Comte de Saint-Fiacre. She has had to cover the profligate the investments and expenses of her son Maurice. The countess has allowed herself to be exploited by many “secretaries” who have been lovers. The last of these, Jean Métayer, feeling suspected and vulnerable, appeals to a provincial lawyer whose manner and way of speaking get up Maigret’s nose.

Upsetting somebody to death with a fake clipping is not a crime for the courts. But all agree that is was a disgusting moral offense. Maigret talks to people to get a bead on the milieu, as usual. Maurice de Saint-Fiacre, however, the day after the death, gathers all the suspects in a room.

 

 

 

 

Mystery Monday Review – The Case of the Demure Defendant

Monday, November 5th, 2018

The Case of the Demure Defendant by Erle Stanley Gardner

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

Nadine Farr’s head-turning beauty is no help in dealing with her anxiety symptoms. Bad dreams. Jumpy. Feeling guilty. She has turned to the retro-named Dr. Logbert Denair, a psychiatrist who has her do a talk session under the influence of truth serum. Under sodium pentothol, she confesses to poisoning her uncle and then throwing the bottle with the cyanide pills into a small lake. Dr. Denair recorded the confession on reel to reel tape. Fearing the legal consequences but not wanting to hand the tape to the police, the good doc consults attorney Perry Mason concerning how to proceed.

Mason tells the shrink that the statements of a patient are confidential and protected by professional privilege, but evidence a crime has been committed must be reported to the police. Mason, also reluctant to run to the police (which may lead to a defamation charge), points out that since the confession could be a delusion caused by drugs and thus not legally effective, the doctor had better make further inquiries. Denair hires Perry to take the lead since and who would know better that the illustrious legal expert?

This 1956 mystery has a lot of surprises. As for Mason, he is accused by Hamilton Burger, with frank and inhuman glee, of fabricating evidence. Things look pretty dicey for our hero until the last few pages. I would highly recommend this as better than average to readers who know they are fans of Perry, Della, and Paul but readers not used to Gardner’s shenanigans with evidence may be put off by the convoluted plot.

 

 

 

Historical Fiction Review – The Tsarina’s Daughter

Tuesday, October 30th, 2018

The Tsarina’s Daughter by Carolly Erickson

Review by Mirah W. (mwelday)

There is something about the Romanovs, something that has made many people question what really happened to the family. Were they all executed? Could some members of the family and household have escaped the tragic end? Historical accounts tell us the Romanov family died 1918, executed by the Bolsheviks to keep the Russian people not loyal to Lenin from uniting under Tsar Nicholas, who abdicated the throne in 1917. But there are questions that surround the events of the execution and where there are questions, there will (inevitably) be doubts.  These questions and doubts have led to numerous books and movies about the possibility that not all of the Romanovs died that fateful night in 1918.

I was first drawn to Carolly Erickson when I read her novel The Hidden Diary of Marie Antoinette many years ago. That novel was based on the ‘what if’ scenario of Marie Antoinette leaving a hidden diary behind to be found after her execution by guillotine. I found it to be a real page turner. Erickson’s The Tsarina’s Daughter is written from the same ‘what if’ perspective. What if one of the Romanov daughters managed to escape? What if she was able to immigrate to the United States under a new name and live a full and meaningful life?

Erickson weaves a love story for Tatiana, daughter of the Tsar. Accustomed to a life of luxury, Tatiana is unexpectedly exposed to the dark reality of life in Russia after World War 1 and the start of the Russian Revolution.  Tatiana begins to go out in disguise and works to help the poor and sick. Tatiana meets people who are strong but struggling with the hardships of Russian life. While she is out from the confines of the walls of the palace, she falls in love with a young doctor. Tatiana also begins to see her father in a different light. He is not the strong leader she thought he was; his choice to turn a blind eye to what is really happening in Russia is doing real damage to the country. Upon his abdication, the family is imprisoned, and their lives quickly degenerate from the life of abundance they have always known.

This is not an accurate historical account of events, but it’s not supposed to be. Erickson clearly states this in her ‘note to the reader’ at the end of the book. She writes, ‘The Tsarina’s Daughter is an imaginative retelling of Tatiana’s story, with many invented characters and events added to the historical background’. Some of the more negative reviews I have read were accusations of the author’s lack of research and that things weren’t based on fact.  I think this is an unfair reason to not offer a positive review. Erikson has written her share of nonfiction works and knows how to do research but The Tsarina’s Daughter wasn’t meant to be an addition to the historical record, it was created to be a fictional, ‘what if’ tale.

This ‘imaginative retelling’, as Erickson calls it, allows the reader to daydream of a situation where an innocent girl finds love, escapes a terrible fate, and goes on to live a full and complete life….and I’m ok with that.  I read the book in two days, so it was another Erickson page turner for me.  I think if you can accept that it’s meant to be a ‘what if’ scenario and not a retelling of fact, you will enjoy this novel by Erickson as much as I did. After all, The Tsarina’s Daughter won the Romantic Times Reviewer’s Choice Award for Best Historical Fiction so I can’t be the only one who thinks it is a great read!