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Posts Tagged ‘Book Suggestions’

Mystery Monday Review – All Grass Isn’t Green

Monday, October 16th, 2017

All Grass Isn’t Green  by A A. Fair aka Erle Stanley Gardner

 

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

 

Milton Carling Calhoun hires PI team Bertha Cool and Donald Lam to find the missing writer Colburn Hale. Calhoun acts cagey about his background and the reasons why he wants to talk with Hale. As a result, Lam suspects funny business is afoot. 

He easily uncovers the fact that Colhoun is a scion of a wealthy family. Lam starts tracking Hale and finds out another struggling writer, Nanncie Beaver, has gone missing too.  The trail leads to Mexico’s porous border with Calexico, CA, across which tourists casually stroll (it’s 1970 in the novel) and crooks, aided by the high tech of CB radios, smuggle marijuana.  A smuggler is knocked off with Calhoun’s pistol. Lam’s series nemesis, Lt. Sellers of the LAPD, starts measuring Calhoun’s neck for the noose. 

When he wrote as A.A. Fair, Erle Stanley Gardner let himself relax a little. For instance, he is more apt to go off on tangents. He spends time describing the desert country, which he loved and wanted conserved. As in other Cool and Lam books, he supports the cause of women forced into disagreeable jobs, such as exotic dancers, clerical staff, retail supervisors and clerks, and other hard-pressed workers. Gardner, a successful writer, is surprisingly sympathetic to struggling writers who work hard for peanuts from money-grubbing publishers. 

Published in 1971, this was the last Cool and Lam novel. The book is still readable because Lam is narrating in first-person and in the courtroom scene a young DA gets his comeuppance. Bertha Cool, the comic miser, puts in a mere walk-on in the first and last chapters. The dialogue recapitulates information we readers already know. 

Novices or non-fans may want to give this one a pass.  But at the end fans will admire the fireworks Gardner could still light and feel gratitude at the hours of sheer reading pleasure that he provided.   

 

Historical Spy Fiction Review – The Foreign Correspondent

Tuesday, October 10th, 2017

 

The Foreign Correspondent by Alan Furst

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

Alan Furst writes best-selling historical spy fiction. The novels are set before and during World War II. His protagonists are similar to Eric Ambler and Alfred Hitchcock’s ordinary people pulled into murky intrigues in which they have no control over anything except their own will, their own sense that they must strike back against tyranny. With authority and conformity the default settings for many, Furst’s protagonists resist and rebel instinctively, like hardcore readers (“Hey, adult, I’d rather read than go outside, thank you very much.”). Furstian heroes don’t have abstract philosophies about liberty and freedom. They just don’t like getting pushed around and feel they must fight or be overwhelmed by bigots, xenophobes, haters, and the Colonel Cathcarts that all have a right to do anything we can’t stop them from doing. Want rights? Fight for them.

This novel is set 1938, right on the eve of war. Carlo Weisz, along with scores of other Italian brain workers, has had to move to Paris. He belongs to a small group that publishes an underground newspaper that is printed in Italy, then distributed samizdat-style by sneaky teenagers (perennial Furstian heroes) in bus stations and other public places.

Carlo finds himself dealing with agents of various intelligence services and plug-uglies sent by Mussolini. He’s able to visit Germany on reporting jobs and meets the woman that he loves, unfortunately married to anti-fascists and thus watched by the Gestapo.

The Foreign Correspondent is long on atmosphere and short on action. But it’s heartening for rebellious readers.

 

 

 

Mystery Series Spotlight – Amelia Peabody

Monday, October 9th, 2017

The Amelia Peabody Series by Elizabeth Peters

By Vicky T. (VickyJo)

What is it about a series that is so appealing? You would think that several books about the same person would get—if not boring—then at the very least, monotonous.  But for me, if I enjoy the main character, then I want to continue peeking into his or her personal life; I want to continue sharing adventures and finding out what comes next.  I’m obviously not alone in this, because more and more series are being written every day, especially in the mystery genre.   

Lately, I’ve been reading my way through a series written by Elizabeth Peters.  We are introduced to Amelia Peabody in the first novel, Crocodile on the Sandbank.  It’s 1884, and Amelia’s indulgent father has died, leaving her a very wealthy spinster.  Amelia decides to use her money to see the world, and heads to Egypt by way of Rome.  She comes across a young woman named Evelyn, who has been abandoned (and “ruined”) by her lover; Amelia takes her under her wing, making Evelyn her companion as they journey on to the archaeological wonders of Egypt.   

The two women run into very suspicious happenings, and it seems as though Evelyn is in danger.  Amelia fancies herself a sleuth and is determined to not only solve this mystery, but to help the eminent archaeologist she has just met, Radcliffe Emerson, and his younger brother Walter to…well, to do everything.  Men are not the most organized creatures, are they?   

This novel is such fun!  It’s presented to the “Dear Reader” as Amelia’s journal, and the mystery aspect takes a secure back seat to the cast of unforgettable characters.  While Evelyn and Walter fall in love, Amelia and Emerson (he hates his given name) clash repeatedly, and it’s a wonder no one gets throttled.  There is sly humor throughout, and one can’t help but admire Amelia (as she knew you would, of course). 

The author (whose real name was Barbara Mertz) had a PhD in Egyptology and she used her knowledge to give her novels a very authentic feel.  She also includes real people from the time, especially Howard Carter (who eventually discovers the tomb of King Tut) and other luminaries from the world of late Victorian archaeology.  (Emerson does not consider them luminaries.  He considers them bungling idiots who have no earthly idea how to run a cursed dig.)   

There are 20 books in the series, 19 of them by Elizabeth Peters, and one published in 2017 by Joan Hess.  (Elizabeth Peters died in 2013.)

If you’re looking for a fun mystery with engaging characters, an exotic locale and not much in the way of gory murder (although be prepared for mummies) this is the series for you! 

 

Amelia Peabody Series

1 – Crocodile on the Sandbank, 1975

2 – The Curse of the Pharaohs, 1981

3 – The Mummy Case, 1985

4 – Lion In The Valley, 1986

5 – Deeds of the Disturber, 1988

6 – The Last Camel Died at Noon, 1991

7 – The Snake, the Crocodile, and the Dog, 1992

8 –The Hippopotamus Pool, 1996

9 – Seeing a Large Cat, 1997

10 – The Ape Who Guards the Balance, 1998

11 – The Falcon at the Portal, 1999

12 – He Shall Thunder in the Sky, 2000

13 – Lord of the Silent, 2001

14 – The Golden One, 2002

15 – Children of the Storm, 2003

16 – Guardian of the Horizon, 2004

17 – The Serpent on the Crown, 2005

18 – Tomb of the Golden Bird, 2006

19 – A River in the Sky, 2010

20. The Painted Queen, 2017 (written by Joan Hess)

 

 

Fiction Review – The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Tuesday, October 3rd, 2017

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Review by Vicky T. (VickyJo)

 

“I remember my own childhood vividly – I knew terrible things. But I knew I mustn’t let adults know I knew. It would scare them.” ~ Maurice Sendak, in conversation with Art Spiegelman. 

This quote opens Neil Gaiman’s novel, The Ocean at the End of the Lane and beautifully sets the tone for this compact cross between a fairy tale and a horror story. Let me say this right up front: if you do not enjoy magic in your fiction, stop right here. Gaiman presents the very real magic of childhood, where things are generally black or white, good or evil; where magical things can and do happen without too much disbelief on a child’s part. 

The book opens with a middle-aged man traveling back home to Sussex, England, for a funeral. He takes a seemingly aimless drive through the countryside, only to realize that he has been heading to the site of his childhood home, and the home of a childhood friend, Lettie Hempstock. This visit takes him down memory lane to the events that occurred when he was only seven years old, and Lettie was eleven. As the narrator reminisces, his memory becomes sharper, more true — and we see the reality of a very dangerous time that, for some reason, he does not remember as an adult – not until he comes back to this place. It’s almost a glimpse into an alternate universe, except we, as readers, know it’s the real universe. 

I loved this book. I loved how Gaiman captured my childhood philosophy: Don’t Tell the Adults. They won’t believe you, or worse — they’ll ruin it. Magical things can happen, and you just need to deal with it, for with height and age comes disbelief and impatience. The world we live in as children must not be betrayed, even if we get scared sometimes. 

The Specsavers National Book Award is a British literary award which honors the best UK writers and their works, as selected by an academy of members from the British book publishing industry. There is the best in fiction, in non-fiction, in autobiography, and so on. From this list of winners, readers vote to select the Book of the Year. It is the only literary award chosen by the reading public. And the winner for 2013 was The Ocean at the End of the Lane. It’s a lovely honor, and well-deserved. 

Give it a try; after all, can so many voters be wrong?  Oh, and don’t tell the adults what you’re reading… 

 

 

 

Mystery Monday – Black Orchids

Monday, September 25th, 2017

Black Orchids by Rex Stout 

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

 

(AKA  The Case of the Black Orchids and Death Wears an Orchid)

 

This novella opens with Archie Goodwin complaining about being dispatched to the Grand Central Flower show for four days running. His boss, the famous if eccentric PI Nero Wolfe, wants him to gather intelligence on three newly-developed black orchid plants hybridized by Lewis Hewitt, an arch-rival in flower fancying who “churns his beer.” 

While at the exhibition, Archie is smitten by a model in a unique exhibit. A beautiful blonde picnics in a sylvan (now there’s a 1940s word) scene with her boyfriend, near a stream, with mossy rock walls nearby. Crowds gather when she bathes her slim ankles and comely dogs in a nearby pool. Archie is unsettled, to the point where he doesn’t mind looking at thousands of flowers.

On fourth day, she follows the script as usual. That is, she tries to awaken her BF who has been feigning a nap with a newspaper over his face. But she runs into Archie who’s jumped over the rope to examine the supine figure. He’d noticed the male model’s foot at an awkward angle and thought it merited investigation. He probes the top of the man’s head with a finger that went “right into a hole in his skull, a way in, and it was like sticking your finger into a warm blueberry pie.”

Yuck. Not for nothing did blurb writers back in the day describe Stout as “gruesome, gory, but gay.” “Gay” as in the 1940s “carefree” sense, you understand.

The method of murder is diabolically clever, as we would expect in a classic mystery from that bygone era. So complicated, in fact, that we readers doubt it would work in the real world.  Still, this, the first novella Stout wrote, is quite a strong entry in the Wolfe canon. Wise-guy Archie’s narration has its usual brash, snappy, likable tone. The dialog between Archie and Wolfe is simultaneously acerbic and affectionate. The overall tone is light-hearted. As a whodunit that plays fair, there are red herrings and plausible deductions. As any good series book does, it delivers the inevitable touchstones we fans look forward to: the irascible Lt. Cramer; the red chair; the city girl with moxie; the glasses of milk; the bottles of beer; Wolfe barking “Archie!” 

It was published in the August 1941 issue of The American Magazine.

 

 

 

 

 

Mystery Monday Review – Top of the Heap

Monday, September 18th, 2017

Top of the Heap by Erle Stanley Gardner (aka A.A. Fair)

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

Published in 1952, this is the thirteenth of 29 novels starring the PI partnership of Bertha Cool and Donald Lam that were written by Erle Stanley Gardner under the pen name of A.A. Fair. After reading about half-dozen of this series (a misnomer since they needn’t be read in any order), I think that Fair’s Cool and Lam novels are smarter, sexier, wittier and just more entertaining than Gardner’s Perry Mason novels. 

Top of the Heap is worth reading. As usual, the murder is a relatively small part of an intricate scheme, plot, or scam. As the running joke, Bertha Cool plays the comic miser like Mr. Krabs. Her hard-charging ways contrast with ex-lawyer Donald Lam’s subtle questioning of persons of interest and holding off cops bent on putting him in the hoosegow.  Another constant is that because gentlemanly Lam is such a considerate listener, all the female characters fall for him in spite of his short stature and reticence.

We don’t expect asides of any sort from Gardner, who drove plots like big sister Lucy runs little brother Linus. Unusual, then, are the social science tangents, especially involving female characters. Gardner puts on his sociologist’s hat to have a young working woman describe Sex in the City in LA circa the early 1950s: “You’re not independent. You’re a cog in the economic and social machine. You can get just so high and no higher. If you want to play you can get acquainted with a lot of playboys. If you want anything you’re stymied.”  Through an ex-strip tease artist, we get the anthropological view from a participant-observer.  The self-possessed fan dancer describes her sense of power over the audience and her teasing of it as the core spectacle of old-time burlesque shows: “I had the most supreme contempt for the individuals in the audience, but the group of the contemptible individuals became an entity, an audience. I loved to hear the roars of applause….” Short unexpected digressions like this distinguish the Cool and Lam novels from the Mason ones.

A publisher called Hard Case Crime got this novel back into print in 2004, its first publication in 30 years. It was an excellent choice. 

 

 

 

Civil War Fiction Review – Killer Angels

Tuesday, September 12th, 2017

The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara

Review by Bon S. (bons)

I have chosen this title THE KILLER ANGELS by Michael Shaara to review for several reasons. First, it is available to order by anyone reading this article in PaperBackSwap.

It has been printed in hardcover, paperback/trade, mass market and audio cassette.
The book itself is a sure winner, being an account of the Battle of Gettysburg on July 1863 and for any American historian of the Civil War, (also known as the War Between the States), it is the story, in novel form, of probably one the most  famous battles fought in that war.

Another important reason for this book review is it is a Pulitzer Prize winner, plus his book was selected as number one in the book  The Leader’s Bookshelf, of which over 200 current and retired military people selected as the most important 50 books they selected to read, which was written and compiled by (Ret.) Admiral Stavridis, USN, and R. Manning Ancell.

On the same site, President Lincoln stood before hundreds of citizens on a cold winter day on November 19, 1863. only five months after that battle, to deliver his Gettysburg Address.

That speech took only 20 minutes and it was said that the people stood in awe, no clapping of hands, no applause of any kind or like recognition… just silence from listening to those 96 words. Lincoln thought he had failed. Yet in reality that speech will live forever as one of the greatest of all.

Michael Shaara’s book captures the essence of those few days of battle and death. He found and retrieved journals and letters of the original words of soldiers. Those who fought their brothers and cousins and died with over 20,000 other soldiers, from both North and South.

He relied on personal letters from non published accounts in journals or printed newspapers. He did not use already researched or published academic studies, or historians points of view. You will find no index, suggested reading list or bibliography in this book.

Shaara’s book is a novel, presented to the readers as the voices of the Confederate side. Loud and clear General Robert E. Lee and his band of generals spoke. In the back of this novel, you will find a afterword and list of the principle Southern military personnel who served the South. Reviewers of this book have stated it is a re-capture of the emotional experiences of the thoughts and actions this battle presented. It is pain revealed, danger and death experienced, and how the men of Lee’s brigades and companies of thousands of men worshiped the man Robert E. Lee.

No one can accurately pin point what the American Civil War was about.  Many theories, many studies, with thousands of books written on its behalf, and yet in the 21st century we have an author who seems to know how to write of the personal feelings and present his theories, leaving a final conclusion to test America’s viewing of this conflict.

He somehow has explained the impossible and it is believed the words he has spoken have come from the heart.  He seems to get inside the heads of the Confederate Army and speaks for the dead soldiers and that lost cause.

Other famous authors of today read this book and cried, others are studying it still, many keep thinking about it and often we have, from a novel, a recreation of a few days in Gettysburg, PA 154 years ago.

Their testimonies are recorded on the dust jacket flaps of this book.

So on those hot July days the battle raged on and history was made. Our minds are transformed from his novel to what this battle and war was all about or what we think it was all about.

Killer Angels helped us to entertain new opinions, different ideas, and even books written 100 years apart from each other of the actual scenes and style of when that event took place.

Michael Shaara’s book reveals the daily and hourly details of those few days of this famous battle and the reason why that battle was fought.

Remember something about this author…he is not a first time writer. He has been around for awhile with his story For the Love of the Game, his great baseball novel, which later was made into a movie.That novel stirred our hearts for America’s pastime. He now has claim to four novels. The others are The Herald and The Soldier Boy, so check him out in PaperBackSwap.