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Posts Tagged ‘Book Recommendations’

Mystery Monday – The Case of the Curious Bride

Monday, February 13th, 2017

The Case of the Curious Bride by Erle Stanley Gardner

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

A woman claiming not to be a bride consults lawyer Perry Mason about her “friend” whose husband, supposedly killed in a plane crash, turns up alive and well. Della Street, Mason’s assistant, is sure the would-be client is in fact a bride. The lying client ends up facing charges of murder. All the evidence points to her guilt, of course, so Perry Mason requires cunning and mother-wit – not to mention a lot of PI legwork that he does himself – to save the client.

Published in 1934, the fifth Perry Mason mystery was a pretty good read. However, it has a hard edge to it, probably because the Depression casts a shadow over the characters and action. A millionaire businessman demonstrates the ethics and morality of an alley cat, reflecting public attitudes that were fed up with The Heartless Conscience-free Rich. Plus, near the end, Mason coldly observes that the murder victim – a con man who swindled plain janes into marriage and then stole all their money – “needed killing.” Yikes, talk about a dog-eat-dog world.

In the intricate plot, Mason is always a couple of moves ahead of the DA and cops. Planting fake evidence will do that, I suppose. I did not figure out who the culprit was before the end and I was blind-sided by the reveal.  To be fair, I must say that Gardner plays fair with reader. He has different characters repeat the basic facts of the case, so we readers can’t complain at the end that Gardner expects us to know things we were never told. I think Gardner used the repetition because the novel was serialized in Liberty Magazine (July 7 to September 15, 1934) and he had to get new readers up to speed.

I liked the antique atmosphere. Despite the racy hint of you-know in the title, there is no you-know in the novel, which is par for Mason novels. The trial sequence, as in many of the early Mason novels, is pretty short.

 

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Thriller Thursday – Dark Voyage

Thursday, February 2nd, 2017

Dark Voyage by Alan Furst

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

In his eighth historical espionage thriller, Furst departs from his usual place and time of Europe between the wars. Nor does he focus on typical spies. In this one, the time is during WWII, April to June 1941 to be exact. The setting is at sea on a spy ship, the Dutch tramp freighter Noordendam. The hero is a stoical captain, Erik DeHaan.

DeHaan has been recruited into naval intelligence by three co-nationals, the owner of the Noordendam, a businessman, and a female artist. The Noordendam is re-painted, put under the control of the British intelligence service (which office is unclear to DeHaan), and sent out on a mission both in convoy and on its own, both as the Noordendam and the Santa Rosa. It lands commandos in Tunisia and explosives in Crete. It negotiates German defenses in the Baltic in order to transport radio equipment to listen in traffic to and from German submarines.

DeHaan is a classic Furstian protagonist. That is, sensitive and professionally capable, he brings his emotional and professional intelligence to fight, because that is what an ordinary person would do, fight when fight we must.

The other characters are regular folks too, doing what they can to fight in the hope that their small contribution will add to the huge effort to eliminate the Fascist threat, whether on the left or the right. Fleeing right extremism are Greek deserters, Spanish Republicans, and a veteran Ukrainian Jewish spy. A female Soviet maritime reporter is fleeing the Russian spies that want to recruit her for dirty work.

One flaw. The second half of the novel is set on the Baltic Sea near Malmö, Sweden, in the first 20 days of June, heading up to the Summer Solstice. Recalling how far north this setting is and the time of the year, readers will recall there is not quite 24 hours of daylight. When I lived in Riga, Latvia (1994-97), the sun didn’t set until close to 11:30 p.m. It didn’t get dark until 1:00 a.m. when it didn’t get “darkest before the dawn” kind of dark either. Then at about 1:00 a.m., it started to lighten up again. Furst does not mention one word about this phenomenon.

This flaw is balanced by the simple fact that Furst sets the climax in the Latvian port of Liepāja. Furst gets points in my book for mentioning Latvia at all, much less a little-known place such as Liepāja. The Russians and Germans wanted to occupy Latvia for the possession of Riga and the ice-free port of Liepāja, which the Russians wanted so secret they didn’t even put it on maps.

Furst’s writing style tends to the run-on sentence, which gives an effective herky-jerkiness to the exposition. We readers never know what going to happen next.

 

 

 

 

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Historical Fiction Review – Leaving Independence

Tuesday, January 24th, 2017

Leaving Independence by Leanne W. Smith

Review by Mirah W. (mwelday)

I am always in the search of a great western.  Leaving Independence is a story of Abigail Baldwyn’s journey on the Oregon Trail with her children.  Abigail believed her husband Robert was killed in the Civil War but when she finds out he is alive and intentionally didn’t come back to his family, her grief changes to anger and then to resolve to find him.  While taken aback by the tone of her husband’s letter, she uproots herself and her children to travel west to, hopefully, be reconciled and reunited with him

Leaving Independence is full of the usual western genre suspects: the mysterious stranger, the strict religious believer, the rough cowboy, the damsel(s), etc.  But what category does Hoke Matthews fit in?  Hired to lead one of the companies during Abigail’s trip on the Oregon Trail, Hoke seems to be a man of integrity with loyal friends and the respect of the others; however, he is very secretive and generally keeps to himself.  Abigail and her children soon bond with Hoke and as the trail gets closer to Abigail’s husband,  Hoke begins to realize he has developed feelings for the family. But what will happen when Abigail and Robert are reunited?

Much of Leaving Independence is rather predictable.  In addition to the usual cast of characters, there are the usual trail complications: dangerous water crossings, weather difficulties, snakebites, illness, etc. Smith provides a story with characters that were fun to read about but the story left me a little unsatisfied with the quick conclusion.  I’m not sure this will make it on to my list of great westerns, it was an enjoyable read. 3 out of 5 stars.

 

 

 

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Mystery Monday Review – The Case of the Silent Partner

Monday, January 23rd, 2017

The Case of the Silent Partner by Erle Stanley Gardner 

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

 

The 17th Perry Mason mystery, published in 1940, is a must-read for all Mason fans. The reason is that Lt. Tragg makes his debut as Mason’s astute adversary.  Gardner explicitly puts Tragg at the same age as Mason, something that may disconcert fans who have always pictured Tragg as Ray Collins who was almost 30 years older than Raymond Burr.

Another curious point is that Tragg interviews a person of interest without Mason in the scene even after Mason has been introduced into the story. Usually Gardner places Mason in every act, every scene. Gardner has Tragg get the person of interest to reveal unwittingly what is on her mind while ostensibly giving her a word association test. Gardner does not want even the dullest reader to miss that the wily Tragg knows psychology whereas his hard-charging predecessor Sgt. Holcomb spells “psychology” starting with an “s.”

Our expectation that a Mason novel always climaxes with a rousing preliminary hearing scene leads to the third uncommon point. The climax is a civil trial. Mason does make the opposing lawyer look silly, however.

Because Tragg gets a lot of space, there is less Paul Drake. He is not introduced until about half-way through the story. His role is small. Fans of Della Street will be happy to know that she plays a very active role in the story. This, by the way, is why the novels are much better than the TV series. In the TV shows Della rarely did little beyond answering the phone and taking notes.

As usual, too, Gardner expresses his support for womankind, being about as much a feminist as we can expect of a man of his generation. He sympathizes with the female owner of a small chain of flower shops, emphasizes that she has to be twice a tough and canny as men in business but still be available to be caregivers to aging relatives.

 

 

 

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Fiction Review – Small Great Things

Wednesday, January 18th, 2017

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

Review by Mirah W. (mwelday)

I love Jodi Picoult’s novels because of her deft tackling of ethical and moral issues that face our society.  I have been a fan since I read The Pact many years ago.  When I saw that Jodi was going to be in Kansas City during her promotional tour of Small Great Things I immediately purchased tickets and it was a wonderful event!

According to Jodi, she started a book about race relations many years ago but set it aside when she felt it wasn’t her place to bring up the issue.  Given recent events in the US, she felt it was time to tackle a story about racism and our societal and learned attitudes about race.  Picoult described her in depth research, from meeting with former white supremacists, talking medical jargon with nurses, and meeting with a group of African American women to discuss Ruth’s voice and language.  One thing that cannot be denied through reading this novel is that Picoult did her absolute best to write with authenticity.

Small Great Things is the story of Ruth Jefferson, an African American labor and delivery nurse with over twenty years’ experience. During another regular day, conducting a regular check of a newborn in the ward, Ruth’s life is turned upside down.  She is told the parents, who are white supremacists, don’t want her treating their son.  When there are complications after a routine procedure and the baby dies, the parents accuse Ruth of killing their child. In the aftermath, Ruth questions the choices she has made throughout her life, how she has raised her son, and if her career will recover.

In true Picoult style of telling the story through various points of view, the author draws the reader into the gripping, misunderstood and complicated lives of all of the characters.   What do we each know about other races and what different roles does privilege play in society that we may have not even considered before?  What creates hate in our society? Picoult has given us a book that holds a mirror up to our faces and forces us to look honestly at ourselves, our words, and our actions.  Small Great Things earns 5 solid stars.

Mirah gets a book signed by Jodi Picoult

Mirah gets a book signed by Jodi Picoult

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Mystery Monday – Red Harvest

Monday, January 16th, 2017

Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

Personville, a city of forty-thousand in Montana, grew because a company developed mines. The mine owner had called in thugs to push back workers and their troublesome union organizing. The workers were duly crushed but the thugs didn’t leave since the pickings from vice rackets were so sweet. The town government was corrupted by the owner and the thugs. The mine owner gave his son a local newspaper to woo him back from Europe. Trouble was stirred when the son started a reform campaign and called in an operative from the Continental Detective Agency to provide facts to fuel the reform. The Continental Op(erative), who has no name, hits town and the son is shot dead in the street.

With his client dead, the Continental Op makes a deal with the mine owner to find the killer and by doing so shake up the bad guys that run the town. The Op does find the killer but the owner backs off reform. The Op does not let up. The Op employs deceit, brutality, and bad guys killing bad guys, among other low tactics, to clean the town up.

The Nobel Prize-winning author André Gide called the book “a remarkable achievement, the last word in atrocity, cynicism, and horror.” It is not for faint-hearted readers. After all, Hammett coined the phrase “blood simple” which inspired the Coen brothers call their first movies, an experiment in noir, Blood Simple. Also challenged will be readers that are wary of convoluted plots and large casts whose names have to be remembered.

Strangely, the book is not grim – its high spirits are irresistible.

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Author Interview with Nya Gregor Fleron

Tuesday, January 10th, 2017

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Author Interview with Nya Gregor Fleron by Vostromo

NYA GREGOR FLERON (it’s pronounced “knew ya”) was born and raised in Copenhagen. As if this wasn’t unfair enough in and of itself, she was also born with the cheekbones of not just a goddess but all possible goddesses because I, for one, don’t see how there’s enough calcium in the universe left to do… anything. I mean yeah she’s talented and friendly and cheerful and bright and wise but the point is, if you can’t find your letter opener, she’s the one to call.

Nya holds a Master’s in Creative Writing from City College NY, which just adds to the unfairness thing. Her novel Kali’s Gift was published in 2013 by Cheekbone Press (I’m kidding! … or am I?)

Nya has dedicated herself to exploring and experiencing the world with a confident curiosity and free self-reliance I wish I had. She has held a carousel of jobs ranging from amusement park ride operator to Program Associate at the Lawyers’ Committee on Nuclear Policy but her real purpose on this planet, besides Emergency Scalpel Replacement, is to show everybody else that the pursuit of happiness Out There is the one thing that will make you unhappy — a message sadly lost when daily concerns and shiny stuff misdirect us. I know Nya’s had her sad and difficult times like anyone, but I’m equally sure she’s learned to handle them better than many, because she’s mastered the art of smiling on the inside even when she can’t on the outside. You only have to spend five minutes under her blue-eyed gaze (see fairness, un-) to know that: to become aware that there is, after all, a calm warmth in the world you’ve sensed but couldn’t put a face to until now — and you won’t notice until much, much later that your expensive kitchen knives seem suddenly barely adequate.

Nya’s latest book, Staying Happy: Personal Happiness Through Movement and Love has just been published.

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VOSTROMO: Welcome, Nya. You’ve spent much of your life traveling and experiencing different cultures, and reflecting on the way cultures are both shaped by, and shape, individuals. In Staying Happy you note a conscious decision to smile at people (When I come to new places in the world, I can get a sense of how open people are by seeing how many smile back) and I wonder: is it true that dental care in Malmö is significantly cheaper than in Copenhagen? Asking for a friend.

NYA GREGOR FLERON: Thanks, Greg. First can I say how extremely happy I am to be here. Thank you for your flattering introduction, I especially enjoy your fascination with my cheekbones. Regarding your specific question, I cannot say I know for sure. I try to stay away from dentists for the sake of my own happiness. My bet is, if the Swedish dollar is still lower than the Danish, that your friend could find some better deals in Sweden.

V: You’ve explored the cultural, interpersonal and spiritual connections people share through such disciplines as dance and yoga. Common to both is the notion of “losing one’s self” for a while through a focus on action over thought. I often act without thinking, and without going into detail (let’s just say I followed your advice in Chapter Eight and… hugged a tree like I… meant it…) would you happen to know any affordable defense attorneys in the Chicago area? Asking for a friend.

NGF: I am so glad to hear you are trying out some of my advice and getting out of your comfort zone. I am sorry if it got you, I mean your friend, into trouble, perhaps that is part of the experience you are co-creating? I am not familiar with lawyers in Chicago, but I do know a few here in New York I could hook you, I mean your friend, up with. Another great exercise I suggest is to share your story with a stranger. Sounds like a great opportunity for this. Let me know how it goes.

V: You were born in Copenhagen, Denmark, generally considered one of the world’s most beautiful and culturally interesting cities. Yet you’ve chosen to live in Brooklyn, NY. Our readers want to know: what’s wrong with you?

NGF: Ha ha. I totally understand your question: why would I leave El Dorado? The Danish translation of El Dorado is Smørhul — roughly translated it means “butter hole” which derives from the idea that the melted butter in the middle of the porridge is in the most peaceful and cozy spot. What better place for me to live in than New York to prove to the world that you can be happy anywhere? My happiness is my responsibility and I can make the best out of anywhere. On a more serious note, I actually find that New York brings out much more dynamic parts of myself that have helped me get over shyness and get out of my comfort zone: to become more alive. A life with little challenge and variety can result in sleepiness, and at least here in New York it is hard to fall asleep, so it suits my personality.

V: Laetitia Casta was chosen as the model for an update to “Marianne,” the symbol of the French Republic; rumor had it (incorrectly) that Annette Bening modeled for the revamped Columbia Pictures “Torch Lady” figurehead; am I correct in assuming that you are the model behind the Gillette Mach 3 Turbo Series razors?

NGF: Again I am flattered by your obsession with my cheekbones, ha-ha. I am vaguely familiar with Gillette’s different types of razors, am I correct in saying that Gillette Mach 3 is a razor for men? So… do you use one?

V: I’ll ask the questions, thank you very much. Many websites claim that, with sufficient determination, anyone can achieve Fleron-level sharpness, yet I remain skeptical. Thoughts? Can you describe your own cheekbone regimen?

NGF: Healthy diet, love, smiles, laughter and dance I am sure play into it. I also take a supplement, Chiamaka, which is supposed to hydrate your skin and hair. I also use various different skin products. But more importantly I think your admiration of my cheekbones plays a big part in their well-being.

V: Followup question: Have you ever cut yourself just washing your face?

NGF: No I cannot say I have, but I do have a tendency to be a little clumsy (perhaps due to too much excitement), so at times I accidentally poke my skin with my nails. Cute little crescent moons.

V: Lastly, Staying Happy ends with a quote from Carl Jung: There are as many nights as days, and the one is just as long as the other in the year’s course. Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word ‘happy’ would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness. Is this an adequate description of why you agreed to do this interview? Asking for a friend.

NGF: Yes, definitely. All the tears of laughter have been invaluable and the praise received and the brain-wracking to come up with some clever responses. How did I do?

V: I’ll ask the questions!

 

Nya Gregor Fleron has generously offered a brand-new copy of her book Staying Happy Personal Happiness Through Movement and Love to a PaperBackSwap member who comments here on the PaperBackSwap Blog. A winner will be chosen at random.

Thank you Vostromo and Nya Gregor Fleron!

 

 

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