PaperBackSwap Blog


Posts Tagged ‘Book Reviews’

Mystery Monday – Mr. Moto is So Sorry

Monday, July 31st, 2017

Mr. Moto is So Sorry by John P. Marquand

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

 

A reader can tell this spy story was originally published in serial installments in the Saturday Evening Post in 1938. Chapters end with cliffhangers. Three long-winded chapters in the middle give the distinct impression Marquand was getting paid by the word. He gives the magazine audience what it expects. Dangerous encounters on a train. A romantic interest with a modern plucky American woman. Exotic and wily Chinese, Japanese, Mongols, Russians, and, heaven forfend, Australians. A maguffin that spy services want.

But despite temporary and uncharacteristic verbosity in the middle, Marquand is true to himself by including themes that he liked to use. The protagonist is a young American man who finds himself through his adventures, just like the young men in Your Turn, Mr Moto and Think Fast, Mr. Moto. Also, though willing to give his all for the Emperor and expand Japan’s influence, Mr. Moto is kind of a good-guy, working to restrain factions in the Japanese army that want to overrun China.

Marquand was an Army Intelligence operative during WWI and traveled in China and Japan during the Thirties so his writing on these topics have authority. Recommended to readers of vintage mysteries.

 

 

Mystery Monday – The Longer the Thread

Monday, July 24th, 2017

 

The Longer the Thread by Emma Lathen

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

The 13th mystery starring series hero John Putnam Thatcher was published in 1971 by two business women who wrote under a pen name. Thatcher, a middle-aged financier on Wall Street, must visit his bank’s Puerto Rico branch, which is concerned about problems at an investment, a large garment maker. The backdrop of Puerto Rico provides social and political conflict between those who want Puerto Rico to be independent versus those who want the special status with the US to continue as usual.

The garment maker’s factory has seen sabotage of finished goods and machines. A foreman – an obnoxious bad actor who was enjoying the trouble (we all know such people at work) – is shot to death. The main suspects are the gringo managers of the plant, which sparks talks of strikes. The factory owner calls in a union organizer, a tough woman negotiator, a character for which the book is worth reading for the authoresses’ first-wave feminist views (that anybody can achieve success from logical thinking and having a clear-cut goals). Thatcher investigates the murder and sabotage, but arrives at the conclusion mainly by reasoning. There is local color and plausible action in Lathen stories, like fires, riots, and intense confrontations, but ultimately reason takes center stage.

I highly recommend this one to Lathen fans and novices.

 

 

Fiction Review – Calling Me Home

Wednesday, July 19th, 2017

Calling Me Home by Julie Kibler

Review by Mirah Welday (mwelday)

Dorrie and Isabelle have what many call an unconventional relationship.  Isabelle: eighty-nine years old, white, set in her ways, and facing the realities of secrets she has kept all of her life.  Dorrie: single mom in her thirties, black, business owner, and dealing with issues of trust and acceptance.  Somehow, these two forge a relationship akin to granddaughter/grandmother when Isabelle begins seeing Dorrie regularly for haircuts.

When Isabelle approaches Dorrie with the request for her to drive Isabelle from Texas to Ohio the following day in order to go to a funeral, Dorrie accepts even though she is not clear on the details.  The resulting road trip brings Dorrie and Isabelle even closer.  Isabelle shares memories with Dorrie that explain her guarded life and deepen the connection between the two women.

Calling Me Home is the quest of one woman to find closure and acceptance to events that happened to her many years before, events that she has never fully been able to move beyond.  Both women are warm characters with connections that deepen their love and appreciation for one another.  And one is able to learn how to navigate today’s world and relationships by learning from what happened to another many years before.

Love comes from all kinds of places, some of which are totally unexpected.  Kibler reminds us in Calling Me Home to be open to love from others even when our differences seem so insurmountable. I give this novel a heartfelt 5 stars.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mystery Monday – Where There’s a Will

Monday, July 17th, 2017

Where There’s a Will by Rex Stout

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

Internal evidence – references to the World’s Fair in New York City and the parlous state of Europe – suggests that this mystery was written in 1939. Slightly abridged, it was published in the May, 1940 issue of The American Magazine (1906 – 1956). It was the eighth story starring eccentric private eye Nero Wolfe and his wise-cracking bodyguard, secretary, bookkeeper and legman Archie Goodwin.

Since The American Magazine concentrated on female readership, Stout featured in the story three strong successful women. The mystery opens in Nero Wolfe’s office where the celeb Hawthorne sisters – April the stage actress, May the college president, and June the State Department spouse hostess – want advice on breaking the bizarre will of their multi-millionaire brother Noel . Clearly they are upset at being bequeathed, respectively, an apple, a pear, and a peach. But cops burst in with the unhappy news that the forensic evidence says their brother was murdered, not killed in a gun-related accident as originally thought.

In contrast to the earlier novels, this outing is shorter because less exposition makes for a more briskly-paced story. Depending on the reader’s tolerance for description or the extras we want to see in a Wolfe novel, this tightness may or may not be a good thing.

I missed the absent or slighted extras. Archie does not have his usual love interest Lily Rowan around. Wolfe has to leave the brownstone but Stout doesn’t exploit the fish out of water situation except for a mildly comic scene when the gourmet Wolfe is served a lackluster lunch. Wolfe does little detecting and deducing nor is evidence clearly provided. The femme fatale does not have much banter in her, especially not with Archie. Homicide Detective Cramer is overbearing in an unfunny way.

Finally, the amazing Hawthorne sisters – the beautiful one, the smart one, and the practical one – must be based on actual celeb sisters of that bygone era. But it drives me crazy that I can’t identify the original versions since I regard myself as a Thirties buff.

Still and all, I recommend this one to Nero Wolfe fans. Newbies may want to start with The Rubber Band or the great Some Buried Caesar.

 

 

 

Nonfiction Review – Beyond Belief

Wednesday, July 12th, 2017


Beyond Belief
by Jenna Miscavige Hill (with Lisa Pulitzer)

Review by Mirah W. (mwelday)

Several months ago I read Leah Remini’s autobiography Troublemaker (check out my review on the blog) and she exposed many of the questionable practices of Scientology.  I was intrigued by Remini’s book and wanted to learn more about Scientology and the experiences of others who had also managed to escape the Church.  I found Beyond Belief by Jenna Miscavige Hill, the niece of the Chairman of the Board of Scientology David Miscavige.

Jenna was raised in the Church when her parents joined when she was just a small child.  Some of her stories of her childhood in California and her jobs for the Church sounded like nothing more than child labor. During much of her childhood, while Jenna and her father were in California, her mother was in Florida.  The separation of children from their parents (and the rule that members of the Sea Organization can’t have children) seems to be part of an elaborate isolation and brainwashing scheme on the part of the Church.

As Jenna describes her various duties in the Church, her auditing sessions, her limited friendships, and monitored interactions with her family, she voices what seems to be doubt but she stays in the Church, even when given an initial chance to leave.  What she experiences seems to be nothing more than systematic brainwashing and separating of individuals from any support system outside the Church.  There were obvious mixed messages from the Church through their words and actions and even directly from her uncle and aunt, David and Shelly Miscavige. When Jenna questions the Church over some practices or requirements, she is met with hostility, degrading accusations and punishments. Her final frustration that pushes her to leave the Church was a long time coming based on her life story.

In Beyond Belief, Jenna goes into great detail regarding her experiences and she comes across as genuine and honest. While the delivery is a bit simplistic and the writing style is not very sophisticated, I think a reader who is wanting to learn more about the practices of the Church will find this book engrossing and, honestly, quite disturbing.  Beyond Belief gets a solid 4 out of 5 stars from me.

Mystery Monday – The Misty Harbour

Monday, July 10th, 2017

The Misty Harbour by Georges Simenon

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

Nothing like an early Maigret mystery. Le port des brumes was written in 1931 and published in 1932. This translation Linda Coverdale, however, is one of the many re-translations that Penguin commissioned a couple of years ago. The goal, I think, was to better capture the spareness of Simenon’s prose.

The atmosphere is persuasive, with trains, fog, smoke from Maigret’s pipe, and stuffy rooms. The novel opens with Maigret escorting an amnesiac back to his native town. He’d been identified by his maid from a picture published in the papers. When they arrive at Ouistreham (in the Normandy region in northwestern France), Maigret tries to figure out the background as to why the amnesiac suffered a gunshot wound to his head, which, although patched up skillfully, robbed him of his memory and speech.

Once the victim is left at home he is killed with a dose of strychnine in his pitcher of water. The Inspector investigates. Simenon brilliantly describes closed community of seamen who work and drink around the lock, who live according to the tides, an exclusive order not loquacious with outsiders. They stick together in wary silence. The quality, too, face Maigret in silence. The victim and his maid Julie have only one advocate for the truth to come out, Maigret.

The plotting is rather uneven, but reader finishes the book rather regretting leaving the atmosphere behind. These Depression-era Maigret novels are strong novels, marked by sober, precise writing. And don’t forget the existentialism before existentialism was cool in the Fifites. I’m not a totally objective observer because I like novels set in the Thirties but I think these novels do not age, thanks to the lean style of Simenon. Still, there are period artifacts: pitch pine, coal tar, alarm clocks, a peasant’s cart, the bistouille (black coffee with moonshine) in glasses, pale firefly gaslights, fuggy taverns, and people smoking anyplace and drinking anytime they like.

 

 

Mystery Monday Review – The Piccadilly Murder

Monday, July 3rd, 2017

 

The Piccadilly Murder by Anthony Berkeley

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

 

Published in 1929, this is a lighthearted mystery that we can still enjoy today. The plotting is almost too clever since the average reader of mysteries will be able to figure whodunit about two-thirds into the novel. Still worth reading because the central character, mild-mannered and ever so nice Mr. Ambrose Chitterwick, is astute and after some hiccoughs of the brain ensures that an innocent man does not hang. Chitterwick is bullied so severely by his autocratic aunt that we can’t help but pull for him. The conversations and nonverbal interactions between nephew and aunt made me laugh. Berkeley has a dab hand at the witty aside too: “To us who frequent it the Piccadilly Palace is what Monte Carlo is to Europe’s new rich, our pride, our Mecca, our rendezvous.”