Book Review: The Smoking Gun Sisterhood by Thad Brown (Three Stars)

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Book Review: The Smoking Gun Sisterhood by Thad Brown

(Three Stars)

“I’m not much of a theologian; but I don’t think any of them made it to the pearly gates.”

Have to take these as they are presented: a sister sub-genre to Girls-with-Swords fantasy. Not that magic is involved, beyond people shooting four and a half pound, .50 caliber automatics one-handed. Hate to be one of the “tongue-clucking critics” mentioned in the preface, but the reader must not only willingly suspend disbelief, but must murder it. It’s all good clean fun–if you ignore the blood and powder burns.

“Not ratting out another biker to the cops was an ingrained part of the code they all lived by.”

Though the stories were published in 2009, they have an 80s vibe–pay phones, fifty-cent beers, and all. Questionable police, gang, and mob procedures, but it’s not that kind of story. Lots of lengthy descriptions and sermons Continue reading

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Book Review: The White Hart by Nancy Springer (Three Stars)

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Book Review: The White Hart (The Book of Isle #1) by Nancy Springer

(Three Stars)

“Pel shall pay the long-kept score/When the White Hart goes to war.”

Quaint. When published in 1979, this would have been a major accomplishment in epic fantasy, though its borrowings from The Lord of the Rings are many and obvious. It owes as much to nineteenth-century English romanticism and Celtic mythology. Springer did her homework. Still, not a compelling read by today’s standards.

“At the very worst, it will make a fine song.” “May the Mothers grant us life to hear it.”

A pleasant story, well-written, it nevertheless is predictable and syrupy. The plot opens with a strong, believable female lead, then abandons her partway through to follow the story of two men. Disappointing.

“Great is your gift of love … and great will be your pain in it.”

Book Review: Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Four Stars

“You know the secret which is the key to my life.”

Unexpectedly good fiction. As deep and introspective as the best modern storytelling though written 150 years ago. Nineteenth century England produced many treasures apparently hidden to American readers by the glare of modernity. A mystery and a romance, of sorts. Based, as they say today, on a true story.

“Life is such a troublesome matter … that it’s as well even to take its blessings quietly.”

Braddon takes the reader deep into both male and female characters. That all is not as it appears is obvious, but what it turns out to be Continue reading

Book Review: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (Five Stars)

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Book Review: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

Five Stars

“Do you think, because I am poor and obscure and plain and little, I am soulless and heartless?”

Amazing how real and relevant this 170-year-old novel is. Heavily autobiographic, it deserves its classic status.

“If all the world hated you, and believed you wicked, while your own conscience approved and absolved you from guilt, you would not be without friends.”

Not as easy to read as works by Jane Austen, but the reflective mind will find much to ponder. Many modern readers may lack the familiarity with French (as a language) and the Bible (as a source of literary allusion) to fully appreciate some of passages.

“Inexorable as death”

Brontë shares a social conscience and impatience with hypocrisy with her contemporaries (Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, etc.) but lacks their sense of humor. Nonetheless, Jane Eyre delivers a gut punch of honesty and introspection. Brontë’s novel espouses a feminism fully in step with modern sensibilities.

“Women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts.”

Her critique of Christianity as practiced by some characters would be opaque to most moderns, whose understanding and response to religion has been conditioned by Hollywood. She critiques the religion practiced by some, and is daunted by that of others. The whole work reflects her deep-felt if unorthodox beliefs.

“There is no happiness like that of being loved by your fellow-creatures, and feeling that your presence is an addition to their comfort.”

Book Review: The Stone in the Skull by Elizabeth Bear (Two Stars)

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Book Review: The Stone in the Skull (Lotus Kingdoms #1) by Elizabeth Bear

Two Stars

“We’re not the heroes of the story. We’re those guys who wander in during the third act to pick up the dirty work.”

A pleasant excursion into a world analogous to southern Asia before the British spoiled the local fun. Don’t read the blurb; it reveals too much backstory about the cauled sun and other phenomena of this world, robbing the reader of wonder and discovery.

“Duty above anything else. And then the lifetime regret for choices untaken.”

Decent character and world building. Enough strands that, at first, the reader is adrift. Enough point of view characters to bring the reader into the story without Continue reading

Book Review: The Christmas Train by David Baldacci (Three Stars)

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Book Review: The Christmas Train by David Baldacci, read by Tim Matheson

Four Stars

A fun, seasonal story. The blurb claims Baldacci is “one of America’s most critically acclaimed storytellers.” Never heard of him. It is a good story–mixing (rail)road trip, mystery, romance, humor and advocacy (for increased Amtrak funding). Has a good heart.

A fun read listen. Perfect tale for whiling away the miles on a road trip of my own.

Concern: Current revelations of sexual misconduct in Hollywood are reflected in one character. What goes on is Hollywood, like Las Vegas, is an open secret which our society has winked and Continue reading

Book Review: Busman’s Honeymoon by Dorothy L. Sayers (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Busman’s Honeymoon (Lord Peter Wimsey #13) by Dorothy L. Sayers

Four Stars

“We can’t pick and choose. Whoever suffers, we must have the truth. Nothing else matters.”

This story opened like a farce compared to the previous serious detective tale, Gaudy Night, however it ends being one of the richest of the series in terms of literary allusions, humor and psychological insights. Sayers returns to the lasting impact of shell shock (World War One’s PTSD) and the personal cost of exposing criminals.

“Come and hold my hand,” he said. “This point of the business always gets me down.”

Sayers loads this book with quotes from all over, as several characters speak in quips. For a change, they identify (to each other and the reader) their sources.

“Earnestly hope we shall not have another war with meat coupons and no sugar and people being killed–ridiculous and unnecessary.” (1937)

Sayers again assumes a high level of literary among her readers; that they are fluent in French and Latin. Also her rendering of rural dialect is occasionally impenetrable.

“There’s no one like the British aristocracy to tell you a good stiff lie without batting an eyelid.”

We are also reminded that English society is, or was, fundamentally different than American. We may talk about class divisions here, but they were never universally accepted.

“Harriet … felt depressed, as one frequently does when one gets what one fancied one wanted.”

For all the loose ends she fastens, one would think this volume closed the series. Indeed, she eventually moved to writing plays. Sayers considered her translation of Dante’s Divina Commedia her best work.

“You’re my corner, and I’ve come to hide.”

Book Review: Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers (Five Stars)

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Book Review: Gaudy Night (Lord Peter Wimsey #12) by Dorothy L. Sayers

Five Stars

“He has been about as protective as a can opener.”

Excellent. Best story of the series. Engaging plot and exposition. Sayers’ voice sounds more authentic when the point-of-view character is Harriet Vane, a writer of murder mysteries. Lord Peter has added depth, including a real purpose, the secrecy about which is also explained. The setting, a fictional woman’s college at Oxford, is drawn with perception.

“… mentally turning the incidents of the last hour into a scene in a book (as is the novelist’s unpleasant habit).”

The Lord Peter stories can be read in any order. If you read no other, read this one. However, if you do you will spoil Continue reading

Book Review: The Nine Tailers by Dorothy L. Sayers (Three Stars)

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Book Review: The Nine Tailers (Lord Peter Whimsey #11) by Dorothy L. Sayers

Three Stars

“Probably I’m tryin’ to be too clever.”

I liked it but, by the time you’ve read a dozen books in a series, you’ve not only learned the modus operandi of the protagonist but that of the author as well. The surprises may still surprise, but the way they develop is not a surprise.

“’Nature has marvelous powers of recuperation.’ Which is the medical man’s way of saying that, short of miraculous intervention, you may as well order the coffin.”

A good story, lost in the minutiae of ringing peals (of church bells) in rural England. The church bells get into every aspect of the story, including the murder. Lord Peter at his best as Sherlock Holmes acting as if he’s Bertie Wooster.

“Take care of the knot and the noose will take care of itself.”

Book Review: Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Uncommon Type: Some Stories by Tom Hanks

Four Stars

“Tell just enough of the truth, but never lie.”

Is there anything Tom Hanks can’t do … and do well? Add writing fiction to the list. His prose is compelling, if pedestrian. Great stories, with a lot of heart.

“Every day in Gotham is a little like the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and a little like Baggage Claim after a long, crowded flight.”

Somewhere in each story is a cameo (at least) by an old typewriter. Hanks collects them. Occasionally their presence is an intrusion, but mostly they fit right in. At least once it serves as the McGuffin. While some are contemporary stories, many are set mid-twentieth century.

“In a flash as well defined as that from a Speed Graphic camera ringside at a prize fight …”

Best story is “These are the Meditations of my Heart.”

“… as nutty as a can of Planters.”