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Posts Tagged ‘Book Recommendations’

Fiction Review – Prester John

Wednesday, July 18th, 2018

Prester John by John Buchan

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

 

The beautiful cover of the Oxford World Classics edition of Prester John (1910) hints that Buchan’s descriptions of landscape are pleasant in this novel.

I could scarcely believe my eyes as I ran towards [a gleaming lake], and doubts of a mirage haunted me. But it was no mirage, but a real lake, perhaps three miles in circumference, with bracken-fringed banks, a shore of white pebbles, and clear deep blue water. I drank my fill, and then stripped and swam in the blessed coolness. After that I ate some luncheon, and sunned myself on a flat rock. ‘I have discovered the source of the Labongo,’ I said to myself. ‘I will write to the Royal Geographical Society, and they will give me a medal.’

Ah, the daydreams of a 19-year-old.

Another plus is that the teen hero freely admits to being at the end of his tether on numerous occasions and he feels the physical effects of his ordeals, both of which are rarely admitted in adventure novels of any time. Although not quite as thrilling as Greenmantle, this is an admirable story, packed with chases and escapes. Aside from the total of absence of female characters, modern readers may be put off by the ethnocentrism and imperialism, enlightened or not. What balances the typical opinions of a man of his nation, class, and time, I think, is Buchan’s relevant idea that civilization is fragile, “a pane of glass,” and that savages come in all guises.

 

 

 

 

 

Mystery Monday – Appleby on Ararat

Monday, July 9th, 2018

Appleby on Ararat by Michael Innes 

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

 

In this 1941 mystery, series hero John Appleby is returning to London from The Sunburnt Country (i.e. Australia) by ocean liner with a zany bunch of passengers. After the liner is torpedoed, the plucky band washes up on a deserted island in the South Pacific which turns out to be not so deserted. One of the passengers is murdered, making the island into a classic locked room. With a few silly elements, the story is more adventure a la John Buchan than a restful whodunit. 

Another attraction is among the cast is an archetypal  Australian woman, the intrepid and fearless prototype and paragon, that Innes used in other novels like The Man from the Sea (Innes taught EngLit in the U of Adelaide, in the 1930s and 1940s). 

This one is fun. It isn’t too wordy or frighteningly erudite so it does not feel too long, as ones set in country houses (Death by Water) and colleges (Seven Suspects) sometimes do.

Historical Fiction Review – The Courtier’s Secret

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2018

The Courtier’s Secret by Donna Russo Morin

Review by Mirah Welday (mwelday)

The Courtier’s Secret was my first official novel of summer.  I found it to be the perfect action adventure/love story to read by the pool (or on my pool float) while sipping a cool beverage. I was transported from sunny Florida to France in the 1600s.

Louis XIV is reigning over a court of opulence and deception.  Many courtiers love the grandeur that is Versailles, while others feel suffocated by the pressure of performing every day to the whims of the King.  Jeanne du Bois is newly returned to court and under the oppressive thumb of her abusive father, Gaston.  His only use for his daughter is to marry her off to a gentleman of the court who can improve her family’s standing before the King.

Jeanne is not the pliable daughter Gaston desires. Jeanne doesn’t want to be a pawn in his schemes and even through fierce, violent arguments and beatings, Jeanne will not bow to her father’s will. Her uncle secretly gives her fencing lessons and Jeanne feels most free when she is using a sword, independent and strong. Jeanne rebels against being the submissive and accommodating courtier that she is expected to be.

One day at the end of her secret lessons, Jeanne and her uncle jump into the fray to assist the Musketeers in an unexpected breach at the castle.  This one act takes Jeanne on an adventure with the Musketeers and she becomes a part of their efforts to foil a plot to assassinate the Queen.  In the process of building friendships with the Musketeers, Jeanne meets Henri who has his own family secrets that could change the course of Jeanne’s life and save the Queen.

I found The Courtier’s Secret to be very entertaining and would highly recommend it for those who enjoy historical fiction.  I thought the characters were varied and interesting, even if I found some of them to be despicable. I think the key for reading this book is to remember it is historical fiction and was meant to be entertaining, not a history lesson.  In the Acknowledgements, the author lists other books and resources for readers who want to learn about the time period.

 

 

 

Thriller Thursday – The Spies of the Balkans

Thursday, June 28th, 2018

Spies of the Balkans by Alan Furst

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

This spy novel is set in Greece in the perilous months running up to the Nazi invasion in April, 1941. The story stars Costa Zannis, a police detective who heads the office of sensitive cases. That is, with his brains and tact, he handles delicate crimes involving the rich, the famous, the dignified though you’d never know it by the way they act up. A ladies man, Costa has relationships with an old GF, a British spy, and the wife of ruthless tycoon. We readers need the romantic angle as a break from the tension of Nazi cruelty and our rueful previous knowledge that Greece is doomed to Nazi occupation.

Zannis becomes involved in three secret operations. He helps a society woman in Berlin smuggle out Jewish people who have to escape or be interned in concentration camps. The British notice that Zannis has experience with escape routes so they pressure him into going to Paris to smuggle an important scientist back to Greece. The British also back an operation in which Zannis is sent to Belgrade to assist in the (historically accurate) coup by a group of pro-Western Serb-nationalist Royal Yugoslav Air Force officers commanded by General Dušan Simović.

The settings all have evocative details of Salonika, Budapest, Berlin, and Paris. Furst is also effective at getting across the mundane details of ordinary people doing their best in trying circumstances – such as the fine scene of his family packing to flee and the reaction of their worried sheepdog Melissa. The irrepressible S. Kolb, British agent, shows up in this one playing the ghost in the machine that he did so well in Dark Voyage and The Foreign Correspondent.

I recommend Furst’s novels highly but don’t read them too close together, otherwise the formula is a little obvious.

 

 

 

Literary Fiction Review – The Possible World: A Novel

Tuesday, June 26th, 2018

The Possible World by Liese O’Halloran Schwarz

Review by Cheryl G. (Poncer)

 

Have you ever opened a book and fell right in? Fell hard from the 1st paragraph? Like in 7th grade when you had a huge crush on someone and just needed to be near them, learn all about them, hear and understand every word they said? Well, this is that book.

I read this book in a day and a half. I raced through the first 300 or so pages, then slowed to a crawl because I did not want it to end.

And If it is possible to have more than one favorite character in a book, then I have 4. Each character is diverse and individual, but come together to create a magical, heartwarmning, heartbreaking and beautiful story.

The past and the present come together flawlessly, and the future seems filled with hope.

Dr. Schwarz is an amazing storyteller. She weaves lives and times together into beautiful patterns.

Read this book and share the story with those you love.

 

 

 

Mystery Monday – Trouble in Triplicate

Monday, June 11th, 2018

Trouble in Triplicate by Rex Stout

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

 

This is a collection of three novellas that were first published in a weekly called The American Magazine: Before I Die (April 1947), Help Wanted, Male (August 1945) and Instead of Evidence (May 1946). I’ve thought for a long time that many of the novellas starring investigators Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin were perfect in their wit and force. The plot unfolds briskly with just the right amount of characterization, cutting but lively conversations, and Manhattan atmosphere.

The first one Before I Die is set during WWII. Because of food rationing, Wolfe is yearning for more animal protein in the form of meat so he cuts a deal with a black marketer. The gangster asks Wolfe to clear up family problems that border on absurdly implausible until we remember our own families probably look chaotic to outsiders. Not once but twice is Archie almost snuffed. A violent, funny story that alternates between making us readers tense and making us laugh.

At about 25,000 words the second one Help Wanted, Male is the longest of the trio here. It is also set during WWII. Archie is petitioning a general to assign him to combat service because he feels he is missing out on the signal event of his generation. Wolfe perceives a threat to his life so serious that he hires a double to distract a would-be killer. The upshot of that decision is hilarious. Sure, the plot is wildly implausible in this one, but it’s so much fun, who cares?

Instead of Evidence also starts with a victim trying to hire Wolfe to prevent more victimization. A successful manufacturer of novelties suspects his weird partner of plotting to kill him to take over the business. A murder in fact is committed: an exploding cigar takes out the victim in funny gruesome scene. A fine story, so giving more details would detract from the pleasure a reader would get on her own.

Stout valued clear thinking, justice, courageousness, and humor. He has Wolfe Wolfe crack wise about lawyers: “They are inveterate hedgers. They think everything has two sides, which is nonsense.” This is typical of Wolfe’s inflexible ethics which we simultaneously admire and know is nonsense. Hey, it’s only a story.

 

 

Mystery Monday Review – The Judge and His Hangman

Monday, June 4th, 2018

 

The Judge and His Hangman

by Friedrich Dürrenmatt

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

In this 1950 whodunnit, it all starts with the discovery of a police detective’s corpse, in a car by a constable in a Swiss village. Commissioner Bärlach, an old, experienced detective takes the case despite ill health – he has been plagued with stomach pain that requires a surgery he’s been procrastinating.

When Bärlach discovers that the murdered man had assumed an alias and attended parties at the house of a certain Herr Gastmann in the village, Bärlach’s investigation is suddenly sabotaged by his superior Dr. Lucius Lutz. Lutz was put off by Gastmann’s lawyer who implied that Gastmann was getting protection from the highest levels of the Swiss government, which in turn was being pressured by politicians and arms manufacturers who do not want their lucrative business disturbed.

Bärlach quickly realizes that Gastmann was an old opponent, who, as a young man, had murdered an innocent man in cold-blood, on a bet. Since then, Bärlach had been following this man, who always took on new aliases, but could never pin anything on him. Bärlach realizes that he must continue his investigations in order to produce a just end which cannot be reached in legal ways.

Bärlach is a disillusioned individual who does not battle the ordinary unfolding of events with a belief system or bureaucratic protocol but with his own sense of right and wrong and his own conviction that criminals are caught because the police can exploit the criminal’ mistakes in planning, executing, and covering up a crime. Crooks are humans and humans are fallible because nobody can predict how reality will turn out in the wake of a crime. His nemesis Gastmann, however, argues that the chaotic “entanglement of human relationships” lends itself to unsolvable crimes and lack of proof that could stand in a court of law.

Again because it is very short, it is worthwhile to read it twice: the first time as a crime novel for the sake of untangling the plot’s the surprising twists and the second time as a jumping off point for curious philosophical questions, if that is the reader’s bent.