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Posts Tagged ‘Book Recommendations’

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.”

Mystery Monday – The Case of the Dangerous Dowager

Monday, June 26th, 2017

 

The Case of the Dangerous Dowager by Erle Stanley Gardner 

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

 

Self-styled “hard bitten old hellion,” Matilda Benson hires lawyer Perry Mason to obtain IOU’s from the operator of a gambling ship, Sam Grieb. The IOU’s were signed by her impetuous granddaughter Sylvia. Her brute of a husband, Frank Oxman, wants the IOU’s to prove that Sylvia can’t manage money or her impulsive gambling so she can’t possibly raise their daughter properly. Matilda wants to scare and thus save Sylvia.

When Mason gets to the floating casino, he finds Matilda Benson on board. He also finds Sylvia in the waiting room of an office where Sam Gieb is slumped behind his desk, dead from a gunshot to his head. There are two witness that have seen a woman throw a handgun thrown overboard. Is Sylvia or her dowager granny a murderer?

This is worth reading because it is a locked room mystery, one of the few in the 70 or so Mason mysteries. Though the number of suspects is small, the reveal is a genuine surprise. This novel was published in the 1930s so Perry Mason plays very fast and loose as an officer of the court. There is no courtroom climax. Instead – surprise! – all but one of the suspects are gathered into a room. Gardner was not usually strong on describing people, places, or atmosphere. But in this he does get in nice atmospherics: the fog, the garish lights, the speed boats plying between shore and gambling ship.

 

 

 

 

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.