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Posts Tagged ‘Book Recommendations’

Mystery Monday – Right on the Money

Monday, February 20th, 2023

Right on the Money by Emma Lathen

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

Given the background of this 1993 mystery is a corporate merger, I couldn’t blame a reader thinking that reading this oldie would offer as much excitement as changing a duvet cover. In fact the author makes the merger the stuff of drama, with fatal flaws like pride and fear of the future bringing about tragedy.

In the 22nd mystery starring John Putnam Thatcher, the banker and amateur detective has to get the bottom of the murder of a loudmouth so ambitious for attention and promotions that an insurance adjustor expresses surprise that the vic made it as far as 32 years of age.

Aqua Supplies, Inc. (ASI) is too big, too bureaucratic, and too complacent to fire anybody and so not able to develop new kitchen appliances that female consumers may actually want to buy. So it fixes to merge – that is, gobble up whole without so much as a belch – with Ecker, a small family-owned and operated designer and maker of nifty percolators and such. Since the disability retirement of the Ecker heir, the main assets there are its ageing founder and its highly talented female CFO.

ASI assistant division manager Victor Hunnicut rolls his eyes at the kool-aid stand ways of Ecker. His skill set, he realizes, would not make him a candidate for running Ecker so he puts his ambition above the interests of his employer and makes plans to quash the merger plans. He fears that other middle managers will leapfrog over him, thus cutting him off from chances to shine for his superiors. While giving Ecker a get-acquainted tour, the hotshot intimates to Ken Nicholls that factions in both companies are duking it out over the merger plans. Ken Nicholls is a junior banking exec who’s often sent by hero John Putnam Thatcher to gather information.

After the tour, things start to get criminous. The quaint old mill that stored Ecker’s financial computers and files for research and development is torched by an arsonist. Go-getter Vic Hunnicut is murdered at the annual trade show.

Emma Lathen was the pen name of Mary Latsis (economic analyst) and Martha Hennissart (attorney). Both knew the worlds of business at all levels from clerks to CEOs, so they felt at home in a constantly changing business environment and the variety of personalities to be found in the private sector. Sure, the business environment has changed in the last 35 years, but human nature has not. For instance, as old-school feminists, they have acerbic fun satirizing businessmen who are buoyed up by secretaries but who attribute their success to their own intelligence and diligence.





Fantasy Review – A Second Chance

Friday, February 17th, 2023

A Second Chance by Jodi Taylor

Review by Cyndi J. (cyndij)


A SECOND CHANCE is third in the Chronicles of St Mary’s, all about time-traveling historians. You should start at the beginning – read my previous reviews of JUST ONE DAMNED THING AFTER ANOTHER and A SYMPHONY OF ECHOES.  The tone is shifting away from amusement; there’s more than one dark episode here although we still have some funny scenes as well as nice snarky dialogue.

As in the last book, the story proper begins with a trip into the past that’s supposed to be an easy in-and-out, but turns into a hair-raising life or death experience, but this is just an appetizer.

It’s off to Troy, the bit of history that Max has long dreamed of watching.  We know we’re going there thanks to the unnecessary prologue Taylor inserted (I don’t like them- others will disagree I’m sure). Troy will take up the better part of this story, what with the intial reconnoiter and then the team spending quite a while observing daily life. The pacing  is a little slower than I’ve seen in the other two books; Taylor spends  a while settling the team into Troy and describing the setting.  That’s fine, it gives us a chance to catch our breath and anticipate the chaos we know is coming. I quite liked the explanation of the Trojan Horse and how it was that Troy became so vulnerable.

However, now we come to a couple really big surprising events.   As a reader, I know there are many books left in the series, and with a good chunk of this book left to go, I had theories on where Taylor would go with it/them. I wasn’t right this time

After Troy it’s off to Agincourt. I remembered it from Henry V’s speech in Shakespeare’s play, but that’s all, and was curious enough to look up the real story. Just as in Troy, it’s got some grim scenes in it and ends in a startling way.  I really was not expecting that either.

In the first book we’re shown that History will not tolerate changes. If you do something to alter the past, History (and if you’ve read the previous books, you know who that is) will drop a rock on you or something equivalent in order to keep the timeline pure.  But that turned out to have some wiggle room, and now Taylor rips off the cover and throws it away. We are firmly into alternate timelines and anything can happen.  I am still on the fence about the two Muses, though, they are a bit too much deus ex machina for my liking.

As I mentioned, this book has less amusement factor than the first couple, but wow she really threw in some twists. I’m definitely intrigued to see what happens next. Taylor hasn’t really succeeded in getting me emotionally attached to the characters, even the main ones, but no matter, I’d still like to know how (or if) she’s going to resolve Max’s current problem.  I hate spoiling plots for myself, so I won’t look ahead.  Number 4, A TRAIL THROUGH TIME, is now on my reading list.




Mystery Monday Review – The Case of the Queenly Contestant

Monday, February 13th, 2023


The Case of the Queenly Contestant by Erle Stanley Gardner

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)


Tall queenly suave Ellen has a sad story. Twenty years before in her California burg, Ellen won a beauty pageant at 18 and a chance for a screen test in the City of Angels. But she disappeared to have the baby of rich kid about town Harmon Haslett. She totally broke off relations with her own family due to shame of having a love child in the late Forties.

Ellen asks Mason about the law of privacy invasion because a newspaper in her hometown is thinking of running a “Whatever happened to…” kind of column on her doings and whereabouts after she seemed to have vanished in Tinseltown. For the sake of her son, Ellen does not want probes into a past better left in the past. Perry feels she is not forthcoming with all her concerns and she leaves his office with both lawyer and client dissatisfied.

Working on his own dime because he is attracted by a fight, Mason kicks over some rocks and finds himself surrounded by especially duplicitous people, such as Ellen’s indiscreet female friend, a bent cop turned PI, a sleazy lawyer, and a tough fixer man, not to mention, unfortunately, Ellen his own client. Added to the fog of mystery is the sudden disappearance and presumed death of rich Harmon Haslett, heel of a father but still a tycoon back in the burg. Gardner doesn’t tell us why Harmon’s yacht was sunk so readers are thus free and happy to assume it was attacked by a pod of killer whales off the Portuguese coast.

Hey, it happens.

Mason digs in and finds still more intrigue. He discovers that Ellen had her and Harmon’s son but left the child to be raised by that staple of fairy tales, a kindly childless older couple. They didn’t live a lonely hut in the woods. If they had, they would not have been recently killed in – you guessed it in one – a car crash and thus not available to back up Ellen’s story. Plus, in the wake of Harmon’s providing lunch for some orcas, a nurse, the “diabolically clever” Agnes Burlington, who attended at the time of the out-of-wedlock birth, wants to seize the chance to make money out of this potentially embarrassing information.

And we all know what happens to blackmailers in Perry Mason novels. Busted, charged, and jailed with no bail, prime suspect Ellen tells Mason not to argue the circumstantial evidence. Luckily for her, Mason disregards her instructions, and does challenge the reasonable inferences the evidence implies. With what result I need not reveal at this time and in this place.

Though I readily admit the Mason novels of the Sixties are a mixed bag, I recommend this one for its tight story, variety of players, and timely for 1969 theme of changing attitudes about single women having babies. Sure, Gardner has assumptions about the roles and attitudes of men and women that we would expect of somebody born in 1889. But at least he had sympathy for the long row women have to hoe in this world.






Non-Fiction Review – Drug Lord

Saturday, February 11th, 2023

Drug Lord: The True Story of Pablo Acosta: The Life and Death of a Mexican Kingpin
by Terrence E. Poppa

Review by jjares

This is the true story of the drug kingpin of Mexico, Pablo Acosta. Terrence Poppa extensively interviewed the drug kingpin and many associates. As a result, a startling, disturbing expose of Mexican and American policies that don’t do enough to stem the drug tide emerges. Starting as a marijuana salesman, Pablo quickly added heroin. When the Columbian drug lords came calling with cocaine, Acosta allowed them to use his distribution system — for a fee. After a while, the Columbians got too powerful, and Acosta tried to kill them off.
Acosta saw himself as a Robin Hood for the poor of Mexico. He “loaned” money to the poor (people were proud and wanted to feel there was a chance they could repay the loan), built and repaired schools, built nursing homes for the elderly, paid for surgeries, and provided civic support for the poor areas in his region of northern Mexico. Acosta avered that the government should have been doing these good works, not a drug lord. Acosta saw himself as a benevolent Papa. However, he killed rivals, stole thousands of American cars, trucks, and airplanes yearly, and corrupted officials, the police, and soldiers.
One of the author’s most upsetting declarations is that in the 1970s and 1980s, the Mexican government (state, local, and federal) and the Mexican Army were all part of the drug business. They protected approved drug dealers (Pablo Acosta paid them $100,000 monthly to conduct his business). The government also planted, grew, and sold marijuana on its own. US agents got virtually no assistance across the border to stop drug shipments because the Mexicans were making too much money by turning a blind eye. The only reason the Mexican government killed Pablo Acosta is that he talked with journalists, telling the dirty secrets of the Mexican government and military.
As soon as Acosta was killed by Guillermo Gonzalez Calderoni of the Mexican Federal Judicial Police, he was kicked upstairs (gotten rid of, so the corruption could continue). However, it later came out that Calderoni was actually acting for the PRI (Partido Revoucionario Institucional). Calderoni worked through orders of the PRI (more info below), so they could appear to be trying to stamp out organized crime. In reality, the PRI was the drug cartel. The author points out that the deeply ingrained corruption ceased when Vincente Fox became President of Mexico. However, the author states that before Mr. Fox, the crime went all the way to the President of Mexico.
One of the most surprising things I learned from this book is that the Acosta clan sampling the goods. That is one of the cardinal taboos in drug dealing — to imbibe in the product. Unfortunately, this seems to have created the conditions under which drug lords were taken down. After they became addicted, they became unreliable as drug dealers.
Please note that this is the 20th year update of the original version (1998). With a well-trained eye, the author offers an update on the drug scene since Pablo Acosta. Things have changed in the Mexican drug scene. Now, there are $ 30+ billion of drugs pouring into Mexico yearly. However, the government is no longer acting as a mafia leader, controlling organized crime for the benefit of the people in power. The PRI (Partido Revoucionario Institucional) is no longer controlling the government. Now, the highest levels of government are separate from the drug traffic. However, so much money is to be earned that when one drug lord crashes, several more are ready to take his place. Politicians, bureaucrats, and moneyed citizens are now running the drugs. They aim to do it quietly, with no fanfare.
It took decades for reform-based Mexicans to oust the PRI from the government. The author points out that the US must support the democratic Mexican government trying to remove drugs from their economy. It is an uphill battle.  This is an eye-opening book. I cannot recommend it too highly. The author tells his story in such an engaging way that the pages fly past.

Fantasy Series Review – The Sharing Knife

Friday, February 10th, 2023



THE SHARING KNIFE is a four-volume fantasy series by Lois McMaster Bujold.  Bujold is well-known for her science-fiction series, marketed as the Vorkosigan Saga, and her fantasy series set in the World of the Five Gods. She sometimes has a romance element and that’s very strong here.

WARNING: The first book has semi-graphic descriptions of a miscarriage, and it is referred to several times over the course of the four volumes. Some may be sensitive to the topic.

BEGUILEMENT, the first book, introduces the world, but it’s definitely more concentrated on the romance between the two protagonists, Fawn and Dag. Fawn, unmarried and pregnant, runs away from the family farm, is abducted by creatures controlled by a monstrous malice, and has to be rescued by the Lakewalker patroller Dag.

Dag is a Lakewalker, people with a talent known as “groundsense” – they can feel “ground”, the life force that emanates from everything. Malices, or blight bogles, are things that emerge from the earth and suck the ground from everything around them, while at the same time making and controlling other beings. If not stopped they could potentially kill off everything living in the world.  Lakewalkers hunt malices. Only they can kill a malice with a very specialized knife, thus the title SHARING KNIFE  Fawn is of the farmer society, in this world just regular people without Lakewalker talents. This is an agrarian society, with no evident government or ruling class.

Back to the plot. Fawn is left with major injuries and while nursing her back to health, she and Dag fall irretrievably in love. But marriage between a Lakewalker and a farmer is not done. Even casual hookups are seriously frowned upon. How can they possibly make a life together when both societies don’t just disapprove, but are ready to cast them out?

Bujold is a master at keeping the reader involved; Fawn and Dag are of course very likable characters and the reader wants them to get together.  But this reminds me too  much of Harlequin romance. Dag and Fawn hit an awful lot of cliches. Looked at with a critical eye, Fawn in particular is just too, too sweet. And if you’re in a critical mood, the age gap between them will leave you grinding your teeth.  There were a couple more things that grated.  Nonetheless, I still liked BEGUILEMENT and in fact I liked it best of the four.  But none of these books are meant as standalones, they build one on the next.

Book 2: LEGACY. Fawn and Dag are newly married by farmer customs but have also created their Lakewalker marriage cords. The cords are made and infused with the ground of each partner, and swapped. Each person can feel the live ground of the other and know they are still alive and well. Dag had to do some interesting groundwork in order for Fawn to get her ground into the cord, but it worked.

That is pretty much the entire bit that this book hangs on. Much slower paced than the first, it tells how the couple travel to Dag’s home Lakewalker camp, and the struggle they have to convince the Lakewalkers they are really, truly, married. Dag has to go on a patrol to kill a dangerous malice and is badly injured along with many others. No one will listen to Fawn’s desperate pleading until she takes off on her own to find him. This time she gets to save his life.  There’s a lot of family tension in this book, and a lot of the same arguments over and over again.

In book 3, PASSAGE, Dag and Fawn have left Hickory Lake Camp. After the malice disaster that befell Greenspring, Dag can’t stop thinking about all the farmers who died as opposed to the relative few Lakewalkers. He believes that if farmers knew more about and trusted Lakewalkers, that wouldn’t happen again. But Hickory Lake Camp isn’t going for it. Dag has also promised to take Fawn to see the ocean, so they’re going to travel downriver on a flatboat. A lot of characters will be  added, including Fawn’s brother Whit. Of course they’re going to meet up with river pirates enslaved by a renegade Lakewalker. Dag learns a lot more about his abilities as a maker, and gets to save Fawn’s life again. And they make it to the ocean.  We see a bit more of this world’s people and scenery, and the flatboat travel is interesting.

Lastly, HORIZON: On the road again, they can’t wait to be on the road again…oops sorry about that. Fawn has found out about an expert “maker” and off they go, leaving the riverboat crew at Greymouth and hoping the maker will take Dag on as an apprentice. And so he does, after the usual arguments about whether the two are really married (that’s definitely getting old).  It’s all great until a farmer kid is dying of lockjaw and Dag breaks his promise not to treat farmers. And so, on the road again, collecting an even bigger assortment of farmers and Lakewalkers in the group. The awful malice attack this time includes mud-bats, which I thought was an inspired idea of Bujold’s and definitely cringe-worthy.  It’s killed with a method I was wondering about since the first book, nice to have that explained. The book ends with a few pages concerning a visit from one of the other characters. It’s out of place enough that I can’t help but think Bujold intended to keep the series going, but didn’t, although she did wrap up that bit with THE KNIFE CHILDREN, a short novella available as an e-book.

While I enjoyed the series, it’s not on par with her other two, but I’d still rank it above many other fantasy/romance series I’ve tried. It feels uneven in that the romance is consummated, if you will, in the first volume, and after that the married couple is just trying to find their place in society. Binge-reading the series left me a little bored with the constant explanation of ground, Lakewalker abilities, and prejudices of the two societies. (I should know better than to binge-read, this always happens.) All the characters feel well fleshed out, the imagery is great especially in the battle scenes, and the idea of groundsense is quite interesting. It might have been better to have a little conflict between Fawn and Dag, they are besotted with each other and there’s never a cross word. It’s not very realistic, but I felt it made the series a good “comfort read”.




Thriller Review – Tim Frazer Again

Thursday, February 9th, 2023

Tim Frazer Again by Francis Durbridge

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)


The longest–running BBC thriller series of the early 1960s was The World of Tim Frazer. It was so popular in fact that professional writer Francis Durbridge was encouraged to write three novels starring the engineer-spy Tim Frazer. Laid-back and relatable, Tim is an everyman character that we like in comfort reading such as this lightweight 1972 classic.

A fellow agent, Leo Salinger, in Tim’s unnamed spy agency is struck and killed by a car in Amsterdam. The driver, comely Englishwoman Barbara Day, is cleared of culpability. But Tim’s boss, the enigmatic Ross, wonders if Salinger was bent, a disturbing thought since hiring Salinger would reflect badly on Ross’ judgement. Tim is sent to Holland to shadow Barbara Day to see if she makes any shady contacts.

Barbara Day seems to be just what she is, a partner in an antiques business. Tim returns to London, only to meet a weird situation. He discovers the body of American tourist in Barbara’s apartment. The cops think Tim knows more than he is saying and boss Ross tells Tim that he is on his own in dealing with the cops.

The story is complicated without confusion. Weird artifacts like metronomes and tulip bulb catalogs stir up our curiosity. Iffy bad guys start fights and attempt murder, though violence is minimized. There’s a Master Controller that even the thugs are scared of, mortally. As I said, Tim as hero is approachable, without the lone hero baggage of Jack Reacher or killer machine relentlessness of John Wick. The writing is smooth and readable despite the frequent and odd use of jarring adverbs like “exasperatingly” and “hostilely.”




Non-Fiction Review – Shergar

Tuesday, February 7th, 2023

Shergar: A True Crime Story of Kidnapping, Racehorse, and Politics by Conrad Bauer

Review by jjares

Because our family was living outside the US at the time of this kidnapping of Shergar, I was interested in learning about how a champion racehorse could be stolen and never seen again. But, unfortunately, where we were, on the other side of the world, there was no mention of this enormous crime. While this author described Shergar’s prowess on the racetrack, his writing style was sublime.


Shergar was the pride of the Irish. He was referred to as “Ireland’s Pegasus.” Shergar was named European Horse of the Year in 1981. He’d won many races and was now a stud to produce more winners. Then, on the 8th of February, 1983, six men assaulted the Fitzgerald family, took the father (James Fitzgerald), and forced him to load Shergar into a heavy horse trailer. Then, they took James with them for a multi-hour drive. At the end of the time, they dumped the confused groom on the side of the road and left. It took hours to find his way back to civilization.


The author stops the narration and discusses the “Troubles” between Northern Ireland, Great Britain, and the Republic of Ireland. A large swath of land corner remained with the British, while the rest was a Republic. Since 1969, there has been an IRA, Irish Republican Army. Eventually, the IRA split into two groups. The “Officials,” based in Dublin, looked for peaceful means to resolve their conflict, while the “Provisionals,” found in Belfast, were willing to do anything to get their way.


In 1983, at the time of the heist, the IRA and the British were still fighting. Now let’s shift to an interesting character. Aga Khan IV, a British subject and spiritual leader of the Ismaili Muslims, owned the Ballymany Stud Facility and had a very successful operation. After Shergar finished his racing days, Aga Khan sold thirty-four shares in the horse and kept six shares. That created Shergar’s value to be ten million British pounds. Interestingly, each of the “owners” bought his individual insurance policy on the horse — which would lead to later problems.


 The author does a great job wading through the rumors, books, articles, and stories about this awful case. Then, he perforates the tales with entertaining facts. However, he leaves the reader to decide. The author mentions that the British government releases classified documents about recent past events every few years. Shergar was such a lightening-rod for trouble that the British may have found out what happened and didn’t release it because of the harm it would cause in Ireland and England.


This is a riveting and complex story with many variables. This is a mystery with an impossible number of possible miscreants and motives. Fascinating reading. 4.5 stars