PaperBackSwap Blog


Posts Tagged ‘Book Reviews’

Mystery Monday – The Doomsters

Monday, June 19th, 2017

The Doomsters by Ross Macdonald

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

 

I’ve been reading and re-reading Ross Macdonald’s mysteries since I was a teenager in the middle 1970s. I think that Macdonald could do things in the mystery genre which Raymond Chandler couldn’t. In contrast to Chandler’s too convoluted plots, Macdonald constructed well-crafted plots with no extra screws lying around. For Macdonald, plot unfolds as characters struggle toward their goals, dogged by their fallibilities. The Doomsters covers three kinds of psychological pathologies, various sins like lechery, gluttony, despair, and lesser failings such as social envy and social climbing.

Most importantly, Macdonald’s PI Lew Archer has a heart and soul compared to man-device Phil Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s stories. In the climax of The Doomsters Archer says to the perp “I don’t hate you,” and thinks “I was an ex-cop and the words came hard. I had to say them, though, if I didn’t want to be stuck for the rest of my life with the old black-and-white picture, the idea that there were just good people and bad people, and everything would be hunky-dory if the good people locked up the bad ones or wiped them out with small personalized nuclear weapons.” For Macdonald, the source of pain and pathology lies not in lousy neighborhoods or bad friends, but in family history.

The Doomsters is a turning point in the Archer novels. After this novel, Macdonald was to return again and again to large themes of justice, choice, and alienation. Released in 1958, but the theme that families and their troubles are never what they seem is timeless. Unhappy in their own fashion, indeed.

 

 

 

Mystery Monday – The Private Wound

Monday, June 12th, 2017

The Private Wound by Nicholas Blake

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

Yessir, from page one we get Anglo-Irish poet and classicist meets The Postman Always Rings Twice:

When I remember that marvelous summer of 1939, in the West of Ireland almost thirty years ago, one picture always slips to the front of my mind. I am lying on a bed drenched with our sweat. She is standing by the open window to cool herself in the moonlight. I see again the hour-glass figure, the sloping shoulders, the rather short legs, that disturbing groove of the spine halfway hidden by her dark red hair which the moonlight has turned black. The fuchsia below the window will have turned to gouts of black blood. The river beyond is talking in its sleep. She is naked.

I’m always game for a mystery melodrama if it is as well-written as this. And the writing ought to be fluent and engaging since Nicholas Blake was the pen-name of Cecil Day-Lewis, who wrote this, his last novel, while he was Poet-Laureate of the UK in 1968.

Last novels are occasionally sad products of exhausted creative energies, but this is worth reading and savoring. A young writer wants to save his pennies and pounds so he rents a house in rural Eire. He knows the war is inevitable and he wants to get one more book out. He meets his neighbor’s wife, an attractive, sexually insatiable and deceitful woman.

I’m saying as little about the story as possible. But know that the local scenery, the national character of the Irish at the time, and the theme of being a foreigner (aka the object of intense curiosity) all contribute effectively to the mystery story.

 

 

 

Mystery Monday – The Pew Group

Monday, June 5th, 2017

9780449205945

The Pew Group by Anthony Oliver 

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

 

This genial whodunit was the 1980 debut novel of an art historian who was an expert in pottery. Oliver literally wrote the book on The Victorian Staffordshire Figure. Before his early death in the late Eighties, he wrote four mysteries, in which he used his knowledge of the business and obsession of collecting antique pottery.

More lust and bawdy couplings than is usual in a cozy mystery do lead to lapses in taste. However, far outweighing this quibble is that this is a genuinely British comic mystery. That is, it features eccentric characters in the English village of Flaxfield, an irrepressible Welshwoman, and a scamp of an Irish tinker. Other funny characters in the Dickensy tradition include a vicar that does spend awful lot of time in conservations with the Creator; a randy spinster; a widow who got that way through murder; gay partners in an antique shop, one of whom is nicknamed “Betsey” Trotwood; and an American millionaire who’s mad about a fabulously valuable Staffordshire figurine called The Pew Group.

The Pew Group goes missing during a wake, which in my English is the feasting and drinking held after the funeral and burial, not the vigil held at the bedside of somebody who has died. Inspector Webber, born in Flaxfield, has returned there for a rest cure and a vacation from a shaky marriage. He teams up with Mrs. Thomas, the incorrigible woman from Cardiff, to identify the thief.

In the first quarter or so of the book the tone is more tetchy and acerbic than I like. The waspishness brought to my mind Robert Barnard, whom I don’t read anymore because his parodies of the conventions of the cozy mystery seem mean-spirited. However, to my relief, Oliver’s tone got more amiable as the book went on. It’s more in the English spirit to be nice, as this reader is totally down with Big Bang Theory Bernadette’s motto, “Being mean is lame, what’s cool is being nice!”

Oliver is a clever, imaginative, and first-rate storyteller. I highly recommend this literate mystery.

 

 

 

Fiction Review – Truly Madly Guilty

Tuesday, May 30th, 2017

 

Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty

Review by Mirah W. (mwelday)

Liane Moriarty is one of the authors I have really fallen in love with over the past couple of years.  I’ve read five of her books so far and each one has a gripping, need-to-read feel.  I know many readers have not been overly complimentary of Truly Madly Guilty but I tend to disagree.

Mirah gets a book signed by Liane Moriarty

Mirah gets a book signed by Liane Moriarty

I had the pleasure of attending a book event with Liane Moriarty during her promotional tour for Truly Madly Guilty. She was funny, personable, and self-deprecating. I could instantly see how her personality had come through in her books.  Moriarty said one common theme for all of her books is guilt and what different people do when they carry a burden of guilt. I thought back to her books I had read and realized that guilt did, indeed, have a some role in every story but in Truly Madly Guilty, guilt is front and center in the plot.

Truly Madly Guilty is about six characters who attend a barbecue where ‘something’ happens that changes their lives.  But what happened?!  Moriarty does drag out the story and leave the readers wondering for quite a while.  I admit, I felt very uncomfortable reading this book most of the time.  I had a sinking feeling in my gut during all of the chapters that took place at the barbecue…what was about to happen?  I felt nervous and apprehensive the more I read and even though I didn’t really like the characters, I had to keep reading. I had a similar reaction while reading Gone Girlcheck out my review to that novel here on the blog.  I think when an author has the ability to create such a visceral reaction to a story then she must be doing something right!

The characters in Truly Madly Guilty were not my favorite literary characters. I had a difficult time relating to any of them and that did make it more complicated for me to really care about what happened to them. However, the mystery of the barbecue kept me reading so I decided to give this novel 4 out of 5 stars.  For a 5 star Moriarty recommendation, I would suggest The Husband’s Secret.

 

 

 

 

 

Historical Fiction Review – The Winter Sea

Tuesday, May 23rd, 2017

The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley

Review by Mirah W. (mwelday)

When thinking about this review I had a difficult time deciding what category to put it in…The Winter Sea is historical fiction, with the feel of chick lit and modern day fiction and a little fantasy thrown in for good measure.  I decided to go with historical fiction due to the presence of actual historical figures and events that were integral to the success of the novel.  But with all of that said, I hope the readers who claim not to be fans of historical fiction will still give it a chance.

Carrie McClelland is an author conducting research regarding the efforts to restore James Stewart (the young King James) to his throne in Scotland.  Beginning her research in France, where James was living in exile, she soon realizes she actually needs to be in Scotland and changes the perspective of her story.  Through historical research and family connection, Carrie creates the story of Sophia and her place at Slains Castle, her relationships with various supporters of King James, and her love story that transcends war and exile. The depth of Carrie’s connection to the story, and the way in which the truth is revealed to her, leaves her questioning what she has long believed of her family history.

I think Kearsley has a winner with this novel.  She used an interesting format (chapters set in the present day and chapters that were from Carrie’s historical novel that she is writing) and I liked the mirroring of the past in the present. Kearsley carefully weaves together the past and present and makes sure all of the details connect between the past and present. Kearsley created an ethereal love story that left me feeling hopeful and fulfilled with both stories being told.  For creating fantastic characters and leaving me satisfied with the story but still wanting more, I give this novel 5 out of 5 stars.

 

 

 

Mystery Monday – The Track of Sand

Monday, May 22nd, 2017

The Track of Sand by Andrea Camilleri

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

I hesitated to read The Track of Sand, a 2008 mystery that is the twelfth in the series of mysteries starring a Sicilian police inspector. The reason is that the one previous, The Wings of the Sphinx, was so weak. The recurring themes – Salvo’s rocky romance with Livia, globalization as criminal enterprise – felt stale, so I wondered if the series, like The Big Bang Theory, was just going through the motions.

I was pleasantly surprised that international crooks play no part in The Track of Sand. The series hero Salvo Montalbano wakes up one morning to find in his yard the battered carcass of a horse that was beaten to death. Salvo feels admirable grief for the horse and rage at the evil-doing perps. His half-official investigation delves in Mafia schemes and the lifestyles of the filthy rich. A new character, the lovely Rachele Esterman, adds to Salvo’s diversions.

The sense of place still feels authentic and familiar, with Salvo walking on his jetty and sitting on his rock. He still eats local cuisine at Enzo’s trattoria. The translation is extremely smooth and readable, with helpful cultural notes at the end. Camilleri handles skillfully the spectrum of life, from the funny to the horrible, often following each other only in minutes.

The plot, however, is thin and the reveal has a tacked-on feeling. There’s no harm reading this one if human interest and like of characters outplay plot and detecting, but I advise readers new to Camillieri to read – in order, please – The Shape of Water, The Terracotta Dog, The Snack Thief, The Voice of the Violin and Excursion to Tindari.

Save

Save

Biography Review – Petty

Wednesday, May 17th, 2017

Petty: The Biography by Warren Zanes

Review by Mirah W. (mwelday)

I have been a huge fan of Tom Petty for years.  My earliest recollection is finding my sister’s copy of the Full Moon Fever album but my love for Tom Petty really began in 1993 in Miami and Brazil with the Greatest Hits album; it became the music of my summer.  Any time I hear songs from that album I feel compelled to sing along and I am taken back in time. While I’ve attended Tom Petty concerts and listened to his music for years, I really didn’t know much about the man himself.  In comes Petty: The Biography by Warren Zanes.

Zanes chronicles Petty’s life from his childhood in Gainesville, Florida to his meteoric rise in the music industry to his position now as rock royalty.  Petty: The Biography was rated as #4 in Rolling Stone’s top 10 music books of 2015.   Beginning with Tom’s troubled childhood with an abusive father and a mother who tried her best, Tom was determined to get something more from his life that was expected.  It was heartbreaking reading of his accounts of living with his father and the lengths his father’s family went to in an effort to exploit his fame. What sticks with me the most was Tom’s admission that having his brother acknowledge and validate Tom’s abuse at the hands of his father proved that he was not alone or making it worse in his mind than it actually was.  I found that to be truly heart wrenching to read.

Tom’s honesty with Zanes about his struggle through the dark times in his life and the roles of his friends, family, and bandmates was illuminating. I felt in the beginning Zanes spent too much time identifying the myriad of former bandmates of Tom’s and it got very overwhelming. I couldn’t keep a lot of the names straight and it was a lot of ‘he was in the band, he was out of the band’.  I think that could have been streamlined quite a bit.  But whether with The Heartbreakers, The Traveling Wilburys, or Mudcrutch, Tom has created unique sounds that fit each band and over the years he has worked at his bands like a business, which I think is what accounted for much of his success.

I admit I was apprehensive about reading this book because I was afraid something would be divulged that would change how I felt about Tom Petty.  Thankfully that did not happen and I got a deepened respect for the man who overcame personal demons and challenges to being a rock and roll legend. I can’t recommend this book enough to other Tom Petty fans.