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Posts Tagged ‘Book Recommendations’

Mystery Monday Review – The Case of the Angry Mourner

Monday, September 24th, 2018

The Case of the Angry Mourner

by Erle Stanley Gardner

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

One of the upsides of reading Perry Mason novels is that they can be read in only about three or four hours. So even if the plot is far-fetched, any reader who likes Perry, Della, and Paul stories can put up with unlikely happenings for a couple of hours.

Another plus is despite the fact that Gardner doesn’t develop characters beyond a bare minimum, even minor figures are easy to keep track of because, like in mystery plays or Pilgrim’s Progress, a character is associated with a memorable trait. Distinctive passé names aid memory too: independent Carlotta, callow Harvey, haughty Dexter, and preening Darwin.

Another standby in the Mason novels is that clients handle the truth economically with Perry. When a rich wolf, Arthur Cushing, is murdered, Belle Adrian fears her daughter Carlotta, a pretty baa-lamb, resisted the wolf’s advances with a little too much force. Carlotta, in turn, suspects her dear old mam as the defender of her daughter’s honor, interfering and yet endearing as a mom-murderess. Belle fails to help her own cause when she not only tries to destroy all evidence of her daughter’s potential involvement in the crime but she also lies to Perry about doing so.

All in all, this mystery is worth reading, with the caution to hard-core fans of Perry, Della, and Paul that Perry and Pals don’t show up until the fourth chapter. One thing about Gardner too is that he wasn’t afraid of dealing with hard issues – like date-rape – in 1951.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Free Book Friday! Dirty Magic

Friday, September 21st, 2018

 

Dirty Magic by Jaye Wells

MAGIC IS A DRUG. CAREFUL HOW YOU USE IT. — The Magical Enforcement Agency keeps dirty magic off the streets, but there’s a new blend out there that’s as deadly as it is elusive. When patrol cop Kate Prospero shoots the lead snitch in this crucial case, she’s brought in to explain herself. But the more she learns about the investigation, the more she realizes she must secure a spot on the MEA task force.

Especially when she discovers that their lead suspect is the man she walked away from ten years earlier – on the same day she swore she’d given up dirty magic for good. Kate Prospero’s about to learn the hard way that crossing a wizard will always get you burned, and that when it comes to magic, you should never say never.

ISBN 9780316228435, Paperback

There are currently 10 Members wishing for this book. 1 lucky member will win a brand-new copy.

To enter, simply leave a comment on this Blog post. You must be a PaperBackSwap member to win.

We will choose 1 winner at random from comments we receive here on the Blog from PBS members.

You have until Sunday, September 23, 2018 at 12 noon EDT, to leave a comment.

Good Luck to everyone!

 

Note: All the books given away on Free Book Friday are available in the PBS Market. We have thousands of new and new overstock titles available right now, with more added hourly. Some of the prices are amazing – and you can use a PBS credit to make the deal even better!

Historical Fiction Review – The Book Thief

Thursday, September 20th, 2018

 

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

 

Review Vicky T. (VickyJo)

 

I read a lot of book reviews, and talk with a lot of people about books. I love recommendations, because it’s a wonderful way to find new authors or wonderful stories. However, I have had the experience (more than once, I might add) of hearing such amazing reviews of a book, that by the time I read it, this allegedly wonderful book isn’t quite so wonderful, and it becomes a letdown for me. I allow myself to have such high expectations that I am seriously disappointed. And I hate it when that happens.

Back in 2005, I began hearing some buzz over a book called “The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak. I read glowing reviews; a couple of friends read the book and couldn’t say enough about it. And then, it was named a Printz Honor Book. The Printz Award is given every year for the best books written for young adults. There is a winner, and anywhere from one to three honor books named every January.

I finally decided to try the Book Thief, but I had serious reservations. Too much good stuff was circulating about this novel! I went in prepared to be letdown…but I was pleasantly surprised.

The Book Thief begins with an introduction to our narrator…Death. He says, “Here is a small fact. You are going to die…does this worry you? I urge you—don’t be afraid. I’m nothing if not fair.” Death meets nine-year-old Liesel when he comes for her younger brother on a cold, snowy day. He made what he called an “elementary mistake. I became interested. In the girl. Curiosity got the better of me…” especially when he saw Liesel steal her first book, a copy of The Gravedigger’s Handbook.

Liesel’s mother leaves her with a foster family in Munich, Germany; Hans who plays the accordion and teaches Liesel to read using her only book, The Gravedigger’s Handbook, and his wife Rosa, whom Death describes as having a face decorated with constant fury. Liesel adapts to her new life, making friends with other children in the neighborhood. But it is the man Max, the Jew that Hans and Rosa hide in their basement, who has such a profound effect on Liesel. At a time when people must be cautious, must watch what they do, what they say, and to whom they speak, Liesel grows into a young woman who learns survival skills she never dreamed she would need.

And stealing books is the theme in this novel. Liesel steals again; she picks a scorched book out of a pile the Nazis are burning, and hides it until she can get home and safely examine it. She meets the mayor’s wife, a sad woman with a mystery of her own. Liesel’s first visit to the mayor’s home results in finding the mayor’s personal library. Liesel steals another book, and with the mayor’s wife giving her unspoken permission, she continues to visit and steal books. For reading has become a distraction for Liesel, an escape from the world of Nazi Germany, which grows more frightening and uncertain with every passing day. Death becomes a presence in Liesel’s life; he observes her with an interest that both puzzles and fascinates him. Death confesses to us, the readers, “I am haunted by humans.”

As I was reading The Book Thief, I kept thinking, “Well, this is okay. It’s not a BAD book, it’s just not one to gush over, either.” But by the time I finished all 550 pages, I was hooked. This novel had worked its way into my heart and my mind to such an extent that I was sorry to see it end. It’s an incredible story, and one I would recommend to older teens and adults.

 

 

 

 

Mystery Monday Review – The Big Knockover and Other Stories

Monday, September 17th, 2018

The Big Knockover and Other Stories
by Dashiell Hammett

 

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

Hammet was a master of PI fiction in the 1920s. These long stories star The Continental Operative, the nameless detective employed by the Continental Detective Agency. The writing is lucid, the tone hard-boiled and the settings realistic.

The Gutting of Couffignal (1925). The Op is employed by a rich dude to guard the presents at the wedding reception of the rich dude’s daughter. An audacious attack by a gang of robbers nets millions in booty. His attempt to recruit the locals on the exclusive island fails since “You can’t fight machine guns and hand grenades with peaceful villagers and retired capitalists.”

Fly Paper (1929). A debutante hangs out with the wrong people and finds that living on the edge with violence-prone knuckle-walkers is to her taste. The Op lands right in the middle of four marriages that are all rotten in unique ways. This story also shows Hammett’s penchant and supreme ability to set a large number of characters to bounce off each other.

The Scorched Face (1925). The Op is assigned to find two missing daughters. He uncovers evidence that connects a many socialite suicides and disappearances. The subtext of unbridled sex and its unfortunate consequences for vulnerable people – especially women – reflect an unease many people felt in the 1920s as Victorian mores were discarded.

This King Business (1928). The Op is sent to a Balkan country to extricate the wayward son of a rich guy. The son has found himself bankrolling a revolution for a crew of wily Slavs. The treatment of freebooting – i.e., funding coups out of sheer ignorance and misguided adventure and idealism – holds powerful interest in this story.

The Gatewood Caper (1923). Another wayward daughter case. It’s good, but feels half-done, as if its writing were rushed, that the writer should’ve revised a couple more times.. The setting of the Pacific Northwest – lumbering land – is persuasive.

Dead Yellow Women (1925). Set in San Francisco’s Chinatown, the Op and a Master Chinese Tong Boss match wits. In places it feels like a satire of a Yellow Peril story. The description of the maze-like interior of the criminal mastermind’s mansion is a tour de force.

Corkscrew (1925). The Op is a fish out of water when he assigned to clean up remote Corkscrew, Arizona. This ought to remind the astute reader of the masterwork Red Harvest. A gunslinger remarks, “A hombre might guess that you was playing the Circle H. A. R. against Bardell’s crew, encouraging each side to eat up the other, and save you the trouble.” The Op replies, “You could be either right or wrong. Do you think that’d be a dumb play?”

Tulip (1952) is a fragment of an autobiographical novel Hammett attempted near the end of life. Not consistently convincing as fiction, it at least presents Hammett’s ideas about literary form and content.

The Big Knockover (1927). Another audacious crime – the robbery of two banks at the same time. Unlikely that such an operation could be planned as carefully as the story would have it, but it has a lot of action and witty dialogue.

106,000 Blood Money (1927). This presents the sequel to The Big Knockover. Like many aftermath stories, it is less satisfying than the original, because the characters are made of cardboard. With hinges.

 

 

 

Non-Fiction Review – Touching History

Tuesday, September 11th, 2018

 

Touching History: The Untold Story of the Drama That Unfolded in the Skies Over America on 9/11

by Lynn Spencer

 

Review Vicky T. (VickyJo)

 

The Federal Aviation Administration Command Center is located in Herndon, Virginia. The Center is responsible for monitoring and planning the flow of civilian air traffic over the United States. 50 specialists work full time with airlines and air traffic control centers, helping to guide the nearly 50,000 flights operating on any given day in the U.S. They watch flight trajectories and weather patterns on huge screens. Picture NASA’s Mission Control, and you have a good idea of what the FAA’s Command Center is all about.

Ben Sliney was hired as the national operations manager at the Command Center. His job would be to oversee all 50 specialists, and he was very qualified for the position, having been an air traffic controller and then a manager for many years. But still, there was a bit of nervousness on his first day of this new job. We’ve all felt that, right? First day on a job jitters.

There’s one wrinkle, though. Ben Sliney’s first day on the job just happened to be September 11th, 2001. That’s right: 9/11.

Ben Sliney’s story, and the story of scores of other people from the flight industry and the military, is told in the gripping book “Touching History: The Untold Story of the Drama that Unfolded in the Skies over America on 9/11” by Lynn Spencer. Spencer gives us a minute by minute account of that terrible day, allowing us to experience the events of 9/11 through the eyes of other pilots, air traffic controllers, and the military personnel that scrambled to respond to an unthinkable situation.

This book, even though it’s non-fiction, reads like a suspense novel. The minutes and hours tick down as we go from the FAA’s Command Center, to the American Airlines headquarters, to various air traffic controllers, to other pilots in their cockpits. The author is a pilot and a flight instructor, so she does an excellent job of explaining flight terms, and keeping the various characters and agencies straight. I learned a lot about civilian flights, our military response to the threat that day, and about the personalities involved.

It’s the little details that I found fascinating. For instance, when the hijackers picked up the intercom to talk to the passengers in the cabin, they didn’t realize that the intercom didn’t just broadcast to the passengers in the plane; everything they were saying was on the plane radios, and could be heard by other pilots in other aircraft. Another chilling detail: the North American Aerospace Defense Command (or NORAD) is the agency that is responsible for the detection of and response to an attack against the mainland United States. Sept. 11th was the day they had scheduled a training exercise, which would include a simulated hijacking. So when word came in of a plane suspected of being hijacked…everyone thought it was part of the exercise.

Not only did U.S. air flights need to be grounded that day, an incredible decision that poor Ben Sliney had to make, but flights coming into the U.S. had to be re-routed when the unprecedented decision to close American air space came down. It was just too unbelievable for many folks. One radio controller had the task of trying to explain this to an incoming Asian flight. The pilot was enroute to San Francisco, but was told he could not land in the U.S. “No problem, we go to Oakland.” “Negative, Sir, You are unable to land in U.S. airspace.” “Oh..roger! We go to Los Angeles.” “No, sir. You cannot go to the United States. The United States is closed.” The controller then sends the flight to Vancouver. The pilot finally understands the implications of all this, and signs off with a quiet, “Our condolences.”

For an inside look at 9/11 from a unique perspective, be sure to try “Touching History.”

 

 

 

 

Mystery Monday Review – A Most Contagious Game

Monday, September 10th, 2018

 

A Most Contagious Game by Catherine Aird

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

 

In this 1967 whodunnit, our main character, Charles Hardin, is a London business man who has had to retire in his early fifties because of a dicky heart. While in hospital, he’s given his wife a blank check to buy whatever manor house she can find that she finds suitable.

Once discharged and in the house in the village of Easterbrooke, he is discouraged to find the house is not much of a fixer-upper. His attitude changes quickly when he discovers a priest’s hole, a hiding place for a priest built into many of the foremost Catholic houses of England during the period when Catholics were persecuted by the Tudors. The chamber, in fact, contains a skeleton about 150 years old. To parallel this old murder mystery is the contemporary murder of an errant wife, whose husband, having vanished, is the suspect.

As Charles does his research on the old murder, readers will be reminded of Josephine Tey’s classic A Daughter of Time, in which a bedridden copper rehabs the rep of Richard III. This village cozy has a brisk pace and well-drawn characters. The prose is witty and intelligent but not too much so. This is a stand-alone mystery, her only outing that did not feature the team of Sloan and Crosby. Though I have kiddish memories of an uncle who read mysteries having Catherine Aird books, this was the first one of hers that I’ve ever read. I can say that I’d like to read more, though I’m usually snobby about cozies.

 

 

 

Fiction Review – South of Broad

Tuesday, August 28th, 2018

South of Broad by Pat Conroy

Review Vicky T. (VickyJo)

 

 

I’m going to make a confession here: I have never read a novel by Pat Conroy.  I’ve heard lots of wonderful things about him, but as you may or may not know, there are a LOT of books out there.  I can’t read them all, a fact I have almost accepted.  Pat Conroy, while I heard high praise for his work, was just one of those authors I never got around to reading.   

So when his novel “South of Broad” came out, I ordered the audio version.  I drive a lot, and so I listen to books as well as read them.  And I decided, for some reason, that now was the time to delve into Pat Conroy.  I am so glad I did!  

South of Broad is set in Charleston, South Carolina, a city beloved by Conroy and his characters.  We meet Leo Bloom King, an 18-year-old boy on the 16th of June, 1969.  It’s an important summer for Leo, because he meets a group of people who will become his lifelong friends.  He meets orphans Starla and Niles Whitehead, dirt-poor “white trash” from North Carolina; twins Sheba and Trevor Poe, who move in next door and immediately charm everyone they encounter; Chad and Fraser Rutledge, from Charleston’s highest social ranks, and Chad’s girlfriend Molly Huger, who is another high society girl, and finally Ike Jefferson, one of a group of African American students who will be integrated into Leo’s high school in September. 

The story plays out over the senior year of the group of friends.  We follow them through the integration of their school, the racial tensions when Ike’s father is hired as the new football coach, and the frightening appearance of Sheba and Trevor’s violent, psychotic father.  Then we move forward to 1989 to see what has become of everyone.  Leo is a well-known columnist for the Charleston newspaper.  Sheba has gone to Hollywood and become a household name and sex symbol; Ike is the local chief of police; Chad and Molly’s marriage is none too secure, and Niles married Fraser, in spite of her family’s disapproval.  While they have remained in touch through the years, it’s only when one of their group desperately needs help that they all come together and cement their bonds even more strongly. 

At one point, I actually thought to myself, “Pat Conroy has done it. He has spoiled me, with his beautiful writing, for any other author.”  This man can write.   He uses language as a tool, as a means to open our hearts and remember what it feels like to fall in love, to be hurt, to be outraged.  He uses language to make us smell freshly baked cookies, and nail polish, and newsprint.  He uses language to remind us of the common connection we all have, as human beings.  I am in awe of his talent. 

But the book didn’t get glowing reviews, much to my amazement.  I think, if everyone who gave it unfavorable reviews had listened to it, they would have felt differently.  The narrator of South of Broad did a wonderful job of bringing Leo King to life, charming southern accent and all.  He made this story breathe, and his portrayal of each character truly made a difference to my listening pleasure.  He gave me some laugh out loud moments, and I found I couldn’t wait to drive to or from work, just to hear what was going to happen next!  A reader can make or break a book, and I have to say this narrator was a wonderful asset.  I highly recommend listening to this one. 

Now that I have revealed the dark secret that every librarian has an outstanding author which he or she has never read,  I will just end with this:  I’ve never read To Kill a Mockingbird either.  I know, I know….