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Fiction Review – The Double Bind

Tuesday, June 11th, 2019

The Double Bind

The Double Bind by Chris Bohjalian

Review by Mirah W. (mwelday)

The Double Bind begins with a very straight-forward account of a horrific attack on the main character Laurel Estabrook when she is out for a bike ride. Years later, having put the pieces of her life back together as best she can, Laurel now works at a homeless shelter and she has given up biking. She has removed herself from a lot of social activities and has insulated herself with limited relationships with family and close friend Talia. Laurel often dates older men, but she resists entering into a committed relationship with any of them.

Through Laurel’s position at the homeless shelter, she is tasked with sorting through photographs presumed to have been taken by a formerly homeless man, Bobbie Crocker, who Laurel had helped through the shelter. Katherine, Laurel’s supervisor at the shelter, hopes creating an exhibition with Bobbie’s photographs will help bring attention to the shelter and serve as a fundraiser for their efforts.

Laurel’s interest in Bobbie’s photographs soon take her down a path of mystery but is her interest turning into an obsession? Is Bobbie somehow connected to the horrific event that changed Laurel’s life forever? Did Bobbie’s alcoholism and mental illness cause him to confuse his own reality with fiction? Is Laurel losing her own grasp on reality in an effort to learn more about Bobbie?

Bohjalian weaves mysteries and secrets together in a way that the reader is never really clear on what is real and what is the result of mental illness. I thought the storyline was very interesting, but I did find myself getting distracted by the integration of the characters from The Great Gatsby. I know from the author’s acknowledgements that he is a fan of The Great Gatsby and has read the novel many times. I, however, did not like the Fitzgerald novel and could barely get through it once. The inclusion of those characters was frustrating and I had some difficulty putting that aside to stay focused on Bohjalian’s characters and story.

The Double Bind was well thought out and deftly delivered to not give away too much of the mystery too soon. The structure of the novel and development of the main character are my main reasons for giving this novel 4 out of 5 stars. I definitely recommend it for those who want a thought-provoking novel with emotional grit. I would also recommend Bohjalian’s novel Midwives.

 

 

 

 

Fiction Review – The Honk and Holler Opening Soon

Wednesday, June 5th, 2019

The Honk and Holler Opening Soon

The Honk and Holler Opening Soon by Billie Letts

Review by Mirah W. (mwelday)

From page two I was hooked on this The Honk and Holler Opening Soon.  Molly O is decorating The Honk for Christmas and ‘frizzy- haired Barbies’ are now positioned doing splits, taped down on every napkin holder.  I laughed out loud at this decorating description and realized I was in for quite a unique story with this novel by Billie Letts

Set in the 1980s in Sequoyah, Oklahoma, Letts has created a world for her unique, yet totally relatable, characters.  Caney, wheelchair-bound diner owner, and Molly O, his mother figure and friend, own and operate The Honk and Holler Opening Soon diner (don’t worry, the name is explained in the book).  The diner is a big part of the community and is part of the daily lives of many of the locals.

One day Vena Takes Horse walks into the diner inquiring about a job and she’s carrying a three-legged dog with her.  Soon after Bui Khanh, a Vietnamese immigrant, arrives and wants to work at the diner, too.  What had become a hum drum existence at The Honk is now a place where new faces are making a big difference in the business and the lives of those in the town.

Billie Letts has a way of creating characters (I love all of the character names she comes up with in her books) that have unique personalities but life experiences that are totally relatable.  She writes stories that have pain and hope swirling together an emotional mix that helps the reader understand the character and their challenges. I got swept in the lives of Caney, Molly O, Vena and Bui and even though I was satisfied in the end, I was also left wanting more and that’s what makes The Honk and Holler Opening Soon a 5-star read for me.

I would also recommend Where the Heart Is and Made in the U.S.A. by Billie Letts. You can read my review of Made in the U.S.A. here.

 

 

 

 

 

Mystery Monday Review – The Case of the Reluctant Model

Monday, June 3rd, 2019

The Case of the Reluctant Model by Erle Stanley Gardner

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

Millionaire collector of pictures Otto Olney wants to sue art maven Colin Durant for slander, claiming that Durant is saying that a painting purchased by Olney is a fake.

Lawyer-series hero Perry Mason discourages the slander suit but provides his usual sage legal advice. He later realizes that Durant might be plotting an intricate scam with the coerced help of model Maxine Lindsay. Maxine ends up in trouble deep after Mason and Della Street find a body in her apartment and Maxine seeming to take flight. DA Burger and Homicide Detective Lt. Tragg are not amused.

I liked this one because it did not follow the lockstep stages of a typical Mason novel. Also, I clearly shouldn’t read these because Gardner’s antique Americanisms – “no doubt of it on earth” or “take a powder” or “as dead as a mackerel” – seep into my vocabulary and make middle-aged women at work say to me, “You sound like my dad.”

 

 

 

 

Cold War Thriller – The Ascent of D.13

Friday, May 31st, 2019

The Ascent of D.13 by Andrew Garve

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

Born Paul Winterton, Garve (1908 – 2001) was known for his thrilling adventure stories set in places like Turkey and the USSR. In this 1968 rouser, mountain climbers from both sides of the Cold War are sent to retrieve a spy camera from a crashed plane in the mountains on the border between Turkey and Soviet Armenia. Readers who aren’t too sure about climbing gear such as the ice ax, pitons, crampons or features like couloirs, cornices, or tors will still enjoy the vivid fight for survival in cloud, wind, snow and cold at 13,000 feet. Between Bill Royce, a British mountain climber, and Varvara Mikhailovna Lermontov, a Russian Master of Sport, there are engaging conversations about the benefits of democracy and the joy of mountain climbing. So read this for the unique plot and striking setting.

 

 

 

Historical Fiction Review – The Piano Teacher

Tuesday, May 28th, 2019

The Piano Teacher

The Piano Teacher by Janice Y. K. Lee

Review by Mirah W. (mwelday)

I am always interested in books set during World War II and I like to look for books that explore various perspectives of the war. The Piano Teacher is set in Hong Kong in the years surrounding World War II. The story is not told in chronologically, but rather flashbacks to before and during the war are dispersed amongst events from the 1950s.

Claire Pendleton arrives in Hong Kong with her husband after the war. She gets a job as a piano teacher for the daughter of the wealthy Chen family. The Chen’s driver, Will Truesdale, is handsome and mysterious and Claire is drawn to him immediately. Feeling unhappy and unfulfilled in her marriage, Claire begins an affair with Will. As Claire gets to know Will better, she realizes his experiences during the war deeply impacted him. She also learns there are deep-rooted secrets from the war shared among the members of Hong Kong’s social elite.

In learning Will’s story, the reader meets Trudy Lang, a socialite in Hong Kong prior to the war. She and Will are in a relationship that gets derailed by the Japanese invasion of Hong Kong. Will is forced into an internment camp and Trudy begins her perilous association with the Japanese, including the head of security forces who uses Trudy as a pawn in his dangerous manipulations to gain power and control.

I found this novel a little difficult to get into at first. The characters seemed to lack substance initially and I had a hard time connecting with them and feeling invested in their stories. The storyline did gain traction about half-way through the novel and my interest increased. The characters seemed to gain a ‘voice’ at this point, and it was easier to be interested in what happened to them and I was drawn into their stories. The secrets revealed in the end explained character connections and provided depth to the novel on the whole.

 

 

 

 

 

Fantasy Review – Midnight Crossroad

Friday, May 24th, 2019

Midnight Crossroad (Midnight, Texas, Bk 1)

Midnight Crossroad by Charlaine Harris

Review by Mirah W (mwelday)

I really didn’t need to start a new series. I am already reading numerous series and I sometimes forget when new books are released, and then I get behind in my reading! But here I am, writing a post on Midnight Crossroad, book one of the Midnight, Texas series by Charlaine Harris.

Midnight, Texas is what could be described as a ‘one horse town’.  Midnight has seen better days, but now businesses are boarded up and residents have to go to other towns to take care of basic errands.  When Manfred Bernardo moves to town he is welcomed by a few of the locals, but he quickly realizes things are ‘different’ in Midnight.  There is a diner, a convenience store/gas station, and a pawn shop; these three locations are where most of the action takes place in this small town.

Bobo owns the pawn shop and is heartbroken that his girlfriend Aubrey has left him.  But did she just leave Bobo or did something more sinister happen?  Manfred Bernardo is new to town and works as a psychic.  But does he truly have a gift or is he a fake?  Fiji has a New Age shop in her home and describes herself as a witch.  But does she really have any powers? These characters are just the tip of the iceberg of the quirky residents in Midnight.

Now strangers are coming into Midnight and they’re asking questions about Aubrey and attacking the residents.  Who are these strangers and what are they really after? And can the locals all be trusted?  It seems the residents of Midnight all have secrets, and none react well when they believe their secrets will be exposed.

This book had its downfalls, but overall, I enjoyed it. I found it to be fast-paced and a fun escape, but I don’t think the plot was as exciting or as well-developed as previous Harris books. I think the characters were rather two-dimensional, but I am hoping there is more character development in the next books of the series because the characters were likeable and had redeeming qualities. There are obviously more secrets and true identities to be revealed and I’m curious what else can happen in this sleepy town.  One of my favorite things about this book was the inclusion of Lily Bard from Harris’s Lily Bard mystery series.

 

 

 

 

Mystery Monday – Rear Window and Other Stories

Monday, May 20th, 2019

Rear Window and Other Stories by Cornell Woolrich

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

 

Among fanatics of noir, Woolrich is up there with Hammett, Chandler, and Cain, though most admit, I gather, that his prose is the most purple and pulpy of the founding bunch. Among non-fans of noir, Woolrich is probably best-known through movie adaptations: The Bride Wore Black is a 1968 French film directed by François Truffaut and Rear Window, a 1956 fun fest by Alfred Hitchcock.

It Had to Be Murder was the original title of Rear Window, which he published in 1942 in the late lamented pulp Dime Detective. Left obscure in the story is why the narrator is trapped in his Big Apple apartment and so idle that he takes to secretly observing the lonely city lives of his neighbors through their windows. He realizes that the man across the way has very likely done away with his invalid wife. And he enlists the help of his “houseman,” an African-American, to break into the possible killer’s apartment. It’s a solid story that’s fun, though allowances must be made for the casual racism of the time and all of us readers know the reveal, more or less.

Though the fanatics seem to regard Post-Mortem (1940) as a mediocre story, I think the over-the-top premise redeems it. A widow wants to have her recently deceased husband disinterred so that a pocket of the last suit he’ll ever wear can be checked for a missing but winning sweepstakes ticket. Hey, $150K back then had the purchasing power of $2.5 million today, so I don’t think many people would think twice on this unique problem. The oddity is that her current husband puts his foot down, refusing to go along with the disinterment. Why?

The story Three O’Clock made its first appearance in a 1938 issue of Detective Fiction Weekly. A concussion turns a mild-mannered watch repairman into a deviser of infernal engines of death. He rigs up a homemade bomb to blow up his house with his wife in it. What these nimble-fingered handy guys will get up to. But circumstances prove that Creation is not above having its little joke on the unwary makers of infernal engines. The suspense in this story is so killing that the smart reader slows down to get the maximum effect.

Change of Murder (Detective Fiction Weekly, 1936) is the shortest story of this collection. It is a noir story with gangster characters, one named Brains and the other Fade (as in the craps term). What makes it worth reading in our jaded day is Woolrich’s surprise ending, which will call to mind the tradition of H.H. Munro (Saki) but a lot grimmer, as befits the period between the wars.

Momentum was originally published as Murder Always Gathers Momentum in 1940. In a story with a persuasive Depression-era bleakness, an ordinary guy, half of a young married couple, has the wolf baying at the door. He runs into a peck of trouble when he accidentally yet fatally shoots a conscience-free rich guy who owes him money. This fast-moving, ironic story will persuade even the most optimistic reader that doing a bad thing once makes it more likely to do so again. And again. And again.

In Woolrich’s view, the universe has endless space, time, flux, and hostility. In other words: so many people are bouncing off so many other people – especially in cities, the usual setting of his stories – that mischief and turmoil and irony are inevitable. The characters in Woolrich stories think to get across muddy roads they are walking safely on planks but really they are on tightropes over abysses. With no pole.