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Mystery Monday Review – The Case of the Buried Clock

Monday, January 20th, 2020

The Case of the Buried Clock by Erle Stanley Gardner

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

In the 22nd novel starring the lawyer with super-powers and his trusty sidekicks Della Street and Paul Drake, Gardner shows that he’d mastered his way with punchy dialogue. Plenty of clues make the plot elaborate but not bewilderingly complicated: a clock set to sidereal time; the “truth serum” scopolamine in the vic’s body; an uncertain time of death; and finally Gardner’s trusty old “two revolvers” confusion.

The Mason novels that Gardner published during WWII make passing references to war-time culture, such as blackouts, tire rationing, frugality with gasoline, and internment of Japanese-Americans (it was California, after all).

Also, readers who’ve read many of his novels will recall that Gardner tended to look at reality with no illusions. For instance, in this one Gardner tweaks home-front pieties when the returning veteran says that instead of giving a “flag-waving” speech at a luncheon, he bluntly told them that winning the war was going to take a lot of hard work and that the US could be defeated in the conflict. Even more shockingly, Mason bluntly asserts that there are no ethics when dealing with the police.

Perry Mason fans regard this 1942 mystery as one of their favorites. The plot is crystal clear, and for once, he plays fair with the reader, laying out all the clues.

 

 

 

Fiction Review- Your Perfect Year

Friday, January 17th, 2020

Your Perfect Year: A Novel

Your Perfect Year by Charlotte Lucas (translated by Alison Layland)

Review by Mirah W (mwelday)

I recently received news that would impact my career and I was feeling a bit discombobulated. It wasn’t news I was wanting, and I found myself going through the stages of grief over the change…and not necessarily in the correct order. I was angry one day, in denial the next, just all over the place.  I went to find a book that I thought could give me a new perspective on things.  I found Your Perfect Year.

A bestseller in Germany, Your Perfect Year is about how we can get so stuck in our routines and expectations that we fail to see what is happening around us.  Jonathan has been living a regimented existence without any joy. Hannah has been thrown for a loop with her boyfriend’s recent decisions.

One day during a punctual and structured outing, Jonathan finds a daily planner complete with activities for every day of the next year.  Why was this diary left for him?  And how can a diary written for someone else really make a difference to him?  Jonathan tries to find the real owner of the diary but when he finally admits to himself that maybe he needs some change in his own life, he decides to embark on a new life using this diary as a guide.

I am giving Your Perfect Year 3 out of 5 stars for ‘I liked it’. I found the characters a bit difficult to connect with, but the storyline was a good one. I am not sure how much of my lack of ‘spark’ was a translation issue (originally written in German) or a story/character development one, but I still liked the book and the overall theme.  Sometimes life deals us uncertainty and confusion and how we react can truly change our lives. This was the message I needed during my own time of confusion and frustration with the changes being thrown my way. If you’re in the same boat, go on this adventure with Jonathan and see the difference an open mind can make.

 

 

 

 

 

Fiction Review – Leaving Time

Thursday, January 9th, 2020

Leaving Time: A Novel

Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult

Review by Mirah W. (mwelday)

I have long been a fan of Jodi Picoult. Her take on current social and ethical dilemmas make for heartbreaking and heartwarming fiction. I recently read Leaving Time and I was, once again, struck by Picoult’s ability to create a story that captivated me.

Jenna has been searching for her mother Alice for years. Alice was an elephant researcher and disappeared in the wake of a tragic and mysterious event at the elephant sanctuary where she worked. Jenna joins online chat groups and forums and searches Alice’s journals for any clues to explain her disappearance. Jenna refuses to believe her mother would abandon her without a word.

On Jenna’s journey for the truth she joins forces with two others: Serenity, a psychic, and Virgil, a private detective. The three of them slowly pull back the layers of family drama that led to the tragic event leading to Alice’s disappearance. But in true Picoult form, when the truth is revealed I was left stunned with the outcome and precision and depth of the story.

It’s been a while since I’ve read a Picoult novel and this was just the right one to reintroduce me to one of my favorite writers. Complex relationships and grief impact each of the characters in compelling ways and I found Leaving Time a truly enjoyable read. I give Leaving Time 5 out of 5 stars for heart, emotion, and imaginative story-line.

 

 

Children’s Book Review – A is for Musk Ox

Tuesday, October 1st, 2019

A Is for Musk Ox

A is for Musk OxWritten by Erin Cabatingan, Illustrated by Matthew Myers

Review by Mirah W. (mwelday)

I believe I am entering a new frontier with this post. I don’t recall ever writing a review for a children’s illustrated book before now. It seems odd for someone with no children to write a children’s book review but here we are; I am being forced into this by a book that is entertaining and clever.  Hopefully I have your attention now.

I was recently chatting with a friend who told me about her little granddaughter’s reading habits. There was a book that had her granddaughter just giggling as she read every page.  My friend said she then read the book and laughed, too, and thought she’d send me a copy because, in her words, ‘a good book is a good book’.  (Side note here: I love my friends. Who wouldn’t love a friend with that kind of wisdom?)

A few days later a shiny copy of A is for Musk Ox was in my hands. Um, what?  A is for musk ox? Yes, and it makes so much sense once you start reading.  The musk ox is tired of the apple getting all the attention and thinks it’s boring to start all alphabet books and games with the same fruit. The musk ox is here to save the day…or alphabet.  What comes next is how the musk ox is related to every letter. The reader gets taken on a fun alphabet adventure with the musk ox and learns about his origins, fur, habitats and favorite foods.

The author and illustrator of A is for Musk Ox have created a fun book readers of all ages can enjoy together.  Who wouldn’t get a chuckle out of grass-flavored lollipops?  The book goes beyond the routine alphabet books that, let’s face it, sometimes use boring or predictable words for each letter.  The pages are full of bright colors and fun illustrations to keep the interest of little readers.  It is whimsical while still being educational.  5 stars! Or maybe I should rate it 5 musk oxen.

 

 

 

Fiction Review – The Sometimes Sisters

Tuesday, September 24th, 2019

The Sometimes Sisters

The Sometimes Sisters by Carolyn Brown

Review by Mirah W. (mwelday)

I read The Sometimes Sisters on a whim. I’ve never read anything else by Carolyn Brown even though she is a rather prolific writer with 90 novels. I was a bit unsure since it was labeled as contemporary romance fiction and I don’t read much romance, but I decided to give it a chance since the story sounded complex.

The ‘Sometimes Sisters’ are Tawny, Harper, and Dana.  Dana shares a father with Tawny and Harper, but their lives have been very different and their relationships with one another are strained.  Raised separately, the three sisters find they have little in common and each sister bears resentment for the others. Their only opportunity to spend time together was during the summers when they were younger and they would spend with their grandmother Annie.  It has been years since they have all seen one another and none of them have visited their grandmother Annie regularly in recent years, for fear of disappointing her with what has happened in their lives.

Now their grandmother has passed away and the sisters are back at Annie’s Place to help run the small lake resort, café and store.  Guiding them through their grief and teaching them about the business is Uncle Zed, the best friend and business partner of their grandmother.  Through their grief, each sister confides in Uncle Zed about why they stayed away and why they have a hard time opening up to the other sisters.  There are tears, arguments, misunderstandings, and heartaches along the way but will the sisters find a way to live together to keep their grandmother’s business?

I liked the overall story of The Sometimes Sisters and the romance (thankfully) was secondary to the plot.  I liked the characters but did find it a bit disappointing how their stories were revealed in a rather formulaic way. Some plot points were rather predictable and I think there were missed opportunities that could have offered more depth. The dialogue was a bit stilted and just didn’t seem to have a natural flow.  Not being squarely in the romance column made this book more enjoyable for me but I think there were missed chances to take this novel to the next level of complexity with the characters. I’m settling on 3 out of 5 stars for ‘I liked it’ since The Sometimes Sisters was enjoyable even with its faults. This is not a book I would read multiple times but I am willing to read another book by Brown.

 

 

 

 

Mystery Monday Review – Moonraker

Monday, September 16th, 2019

Moonraker by Ian Fleming

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

 

This is the third 007 novel, published in 1955, after Casino Royale and Live and Let Die. Though it has a brisk pace, it doesn’t hurtle and careen and rock and roll like those two do.

In fact, the novel eschews the exotic scenarios and takes place entirely in England. Bond – who apparently goes on an overseas mission only in exceptional cases – works the normal work of an espiocrat. But it happens that his boss M. asks him a favor: it is suspected that a member of his club, Hugo Drax – war hero and self-made millionaire about to give England a very sophisticated missile system – though famous, admired and esteemed, will cheat while playing bridge. Would you, Bond, mind so very much checking if this caddish behavior is so and make sure that it does not tumble out in a scandal? During an unforgettable card game, 007 reaches the conclusion that Drax indeed cheats at cards and inflicts on him, by cheating on him in turn, a memorable stinging lesson.

The incident would seem closed, but a doubt remains: why does such a well-respected man give into the wayward impulse to rob his fellow club members by risking his reputation with cheating at bridge? So Bond infiltrates the missile project.

A compelling story follows, which holds several surprises. Granted, the ethical and political horizon of the English writer is sharp and stark. But his characters are in fact complex and full of motivations. Starting with Bond, he is anything but a cynical adventurer and always ready to risk his neck for his country. He is a tough man, sure, aware of the ruthlessness of the game in which he is immersed, but he suffers no illusions. He knows that he is unlikely to reach the age of forty-five. In the meantime, try to live as best you can, at least as a consumer of vodka martinis, tasty viands, bespoke duds and, of course, Ursula Andress look-a-likes.

Worth reading if one likes Bond novels and one doesn’t mind Fleming’s run-on, break neck sentences.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mystery Monday Review – The Devil’s Disciple

Monday, August 12th, 2019

The Devil’s Disciple by Shiro Hamao

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

This fictional work consists of two interesting stories that abound in mystery, murder and uncertainty. Nothing is what it seems. Hamao thinks the fact that motives are often impossible to identify limits our ability to a judge anybody with total confidence. In both of these dark short stories in the crime fiction genre, he presents first-person narratives of why a perp did what he did.

Writing between the wars in what the Japanese call the Taisho Era, Hamao was one of the first Japanese writers of modern detective fiction with elements of the police procedural. He covers the discovery of the crime and the processing of suspects in custody and charging them in court. He is blunt about the Japanese police using psychological coercion and violence to extract confessions, false and not.

Japanese critics say that Hamao was influenced by S. S. Van Dine. Perhaps. In both stories, the setting is the upper crust of Tokyo society. We see that Japanese millionaires don’t behave any better than they ought, just like our home-grown rich. Plus, the story is told from multiple points of view, one of which is a defense lawyer who brings logical reasoning to develop alternative theories as to whodunnit. Finally, one victim in the second story was just as arrogant and in as much need of a good kick in the pants as Philo Vance.

But there the cozyish atmosphere ends with these superficial resemblances. These stories include adultery, sado-masochistic sex, and passion gone dark and consuming. It also deals with intense male-male friendships that we see in Japanese fiction like Mishima’s The Mask. Plus, there is uneasiness about unbridled female sexuality as we read about in Tanizaki’s Naomi, written in the same era. Readers into Japan will like how motive is influenced by living in an honor-bound culture, but no anthropological knowledge of Japan is in fact required. Readers who like Erle Stanley Gardner’s shots at the shortcomings of the criminal justice system will see that Hamao is Gardner’s counterpart. I think if a reader of exotic crime fiction is in the mood for pulpy grotesquery, this is the ticket.

Hamao was a viscount. Despite his aristocratic origins, he was a brilliant student and took up law as a career. He became a prosecutor, but when he saw there was money in fiction-writing (newspapers would pay for serials), he became a full-time author. He brought a deep legal knowledge and extensive experience with people from all walks of life to his fiction. His health was delicate, however, and he died when he was only 40 years of age in 1935.