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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.

 

 

 

 

 

Fiction Review – Where the Crawdads Sing

Thursday, August 8th, 2019

 

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Review by Mirah W (mwelday)

Recently a friend recommended Where the Crawdads Sing and since I was coming off a high of reading another great book (Searching for Sylvie Lee, you can find my review here), I was anxious for another great summer read. I ordered Where the Crawdads Sing so I could read it before I saw my friend during a visit last month and we could talk about it together.  And there was so much to talk about!

I relish great books that I feel like I can’t put down. You know the kind…the books that when you are not reading, you are thinking about the characters and need to know what happens next. I read Where the Crawdads Sing very quickly because I had to know what was going to happen, how it would end, and how the characters would fare.

Kya is known as the Marsh Girl. In her small NC town, she is an outsider. Raised in a shack on the marsh, her mother and siblings leave when she is just a small girl. With an alcoholic and abusive father, she survives by hiding amongst the trees and grasses of the marsh. She befriends Jumpin’, the man who runs a small store and gas station on the marsh where she can exchange mussels and smoked fish for goods. Kya spends her life on the marsh, growing up, finding beauty in the nature around her, and also finding love. When Chase Andrews is found dead, the Marsh Girl is seen as the most obvious villain. Kya and Chase do have a complicated history, but would she kill him? I won’t go into the story any further here, I don’t want to give anything away.

Owens has created a gem with this book.  Owens has also given me one of my favorite characters in recent memory. Jumpin’ is such a wonderfully created character, full of love, wit, and loyalty. His quiet strength and being on the periphery of Kya’s life, but also the stabilizing center for many years, makes him such a memorable character. HIs warmth and kindness provide a much needed balance to the derision Kya receives from most other people.  I would love a novel to learn more about Jumpin’, his family, and his struggles in the same time and town as Kya.

In a strange way, this novel to me is reminiscent of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees. I know that might not make a lot of sense, but Where the Crawdads Sing it is a Southern story of someone who is learning about herself while also just trying to get through every day while being misunderstood, even persecuted. I truly loved Where the Crawdads Sing and highly recommend it. It is even better if you read it with a friend so you can talk about it together; trust me, you will want to talk to someone about this book!

This debut fiction novel by Owens gets 5 out of 5 stars from me for a beautiful coming of age story.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mystery Monday Review – What Happened at Hazelwood

Monday, August 5th, 2019

What Happened at Hazlewood by Michael Innes

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

 

This 1947 mystery does not feature Innes’ series hero John Appleby. However, the story is set in the same world of country houses, discreet if eccentric servants, and mad and bad squires.

The obligatory murder is only yet another atrocity is a series of past evil doings that are returning to haunt the present.

As in other Innes’ mystery novels, the ending so far-fetched as to preclude guessing and to leave us readers shaking our heads at the audacity of the writer to assume that we’ll think it credible. But we do and even find it fun.

Innes’ vocabulary and allusions to Anglophone literatures will please and puzzle us English majors. Finally, many references to things and people Australian will appeal to those interested in the Sunburnt Country.

 

 

 

Mystery Monday Review – Death on the Agenda

Monday, July 29th, 2019

Death on the Agenda by Patricia Moyes

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

The mysteries of Patricia Moyes were written from the Sixties to the Eighties but they exemplify the traditional British detective story, since violence occurs offstage and the light tone is amusing.

Moyes wrote 19 mysteries and many short stories starring the main characters of Henry and Emmy Tibbett. Henry is a Scotland Yard Inspector but homemaker Emmy brings her canniness and pluck to the table. She also bucks up Henry when he’s down. Like Nick and Nora as well as Campion and Amanda, the crime-solving couple makes for a stable domestic atmosphere that long-time married readers can connect with. Moyes was well-travelled and she sets Henry and Emmy down in various interesting locales. For Death on the Agenda (1962) they are in Geneva for a convention of law enforcement officers working against the drug trade. Moyes likes to describe natural settings such as mountains and lakes. Like Patricia Wentworth of Miss Silver fame, Moyes is also skillful with people’s appearance and their clothes and fashion accessories.

A member of the conference staff is murdered. Henry finds himself one of two solid suspects. The evidence is so solid against him that for a couple of moments he wonders if he had a brainstorm and stabbed the victim dead with a dagger. Surprisingly, Henry, at the dangerous age of 45, has a flirtation with another woman, an attractive, intelligent and kind Australian, which sends Emmy rather off the rails too.

While some readers may not feel easy with the semi-adultery, others may be uncomfortable with gun-play in which one character shoots a gun out of another’s hand. How Dick Tracy! Also there is the standby of the Golden Age mystery: the excessively ingenious method of murder. I sigh, but other readers would not.

I’m not giving anything away when I say that things turn out fine. The rich are no better than they should be. The Tibbett marriage stays intact. The killer is caught. Stability restored.

I’ve read two by Moyes lately and both were good enough to drive to snap up about half-dozen additional books with Henry and Emmy at used book sales. I think if a reader likes Ngaio Marsh and Margery Allingham, she’ll like Patricia Moyes.