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.”

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Movie Review: The Man Who Invented Christmas, directed by Bharat Nalluri (Five Stars)

the_man_who_invented_christmasMovie Review: The Man Who Invented Christmas, directed by Bharat Nalluri

Five Stars

“No one is useless in this world,”

Outstanding. A mashup of historical biography and fantasy. Nalluri, Coyne and Standiford take viewers into the soul of Charles Dickens as he almost doesn’t create A Christmas Carol in 1843. The pace and production values exactly match the theme. Dan Stevens is great; Christopher Plummer is incredible.

“We must not disturb the poet when the divine frenzy is upon him.”

Before seeing it, remind yourself of both the story and Dicken’s biography, otherwise nothing that follows will seem quite so wondrous. Before taking children to see this, adults should see it Continue reading

Book Review: The Disappearance of Winter’s Daughter by Michael J. Sullivan (Four Stars)

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Book Review: The Disappearance of Winter’s Daughter (Riyria Chronicles #4) by Michael J, Sullivan

Four Stars

“Are you two always like this?” “He is,” they both said in unison.

Perhaps the best Riyria book yet. Both Royce and Hadrian have more depth. Their relationship is more complex. The storytelling, especially the inner dialogue, is superb. Several distinct and distinctive female characters. Sullivan clearly signals changes in point-of-view character. Why not five stars? See my quibble.

“You just hate being happy.” “I have no idea. What’s it like?”

For those unfamiliar with Riyria (Royce and Hadrian) the fourth book of the second series seems the wrong place to try them out. Not so. Winter’s Daughter is a self-contained, rich Continue reading

Book Review: Murder Must Advertise by Dorothy L. Sayers (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Murder Must Advertise (Lord Peter Wimsey #10) by Dorothy L. Sayers

Three Stars

“The most convincing copy was always written tongue-in-cheek.”

Lord Peter without balancing humanity of Harriet Vane is thin soup. A ripping great mystery, in fact several nestled within one another, but Wimsey anticipated much that doesn’t work about Bruce Wayne. Talk about leading a double life.

“A man of rigid morality–except, of course, as regards his profession, whose essence is to tell plausible lies for money.”

Each of her books is set in a place (London here) and a culture (advertising) which allows modern readers insight into Continue reading

Book Review: Have His Carcase by Dorothy L. Sayers (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Have His Carcase (Lord Peter Wimsey #8) by Dorothy L. Sayers

Four Stars

“I can believe a thing without understanding it.” “Your explanations are more incredible than the problem.”

Perhaps the best Lord Peter mystery yet. Opening the book in the point of view of a female mystery writer gives the story a verisimilitude wanting in previous Lord Peter works, even those featuring Harriet Vane. Her reflections on how this “real” mystery compares with her fictional ones gives the story extra substance. Her critique of detectives in general and Lord Peter in particular entertains.

“–the halcyon period between the self-tormenting exuberance of youth and the fretful carpe diem of approaching senility.”

Why only four stars? As the story progress, Vane is shoved to a supporting role. Too many recapitulations. Probably realistic, but Continue reading

Book Review: The Five Red Herrings by Dorothy L. Sayers (Two Stars)

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Book Review: The Five Red Herrings (Lord Peter Wimsey #7) by Dorothy L. Sayers

Two Stars

“The more you hate everybody for hating you, the more unattractive you grow and the more they hate you.”

By her own admission (elsewhere), “the plot was invented to fit a real locality.” Apparently, also written to please her Scottish friends, this is a Sudoku puzzle of clues spread through several hundred pages of prose. Not one or two but five false trails are explored and discarded. Dreary. The least pleasing Wimsey mystery to date.

“This English habit of rushing into situations on a high tide of chatter and excitement.”

Five percent in, Sayers inserts a comment, “… as the intelligent reader will readily supply these details for himself, they are omitted….” Dirty trick. Yes, I deduced Continue reading

Book Review: Strong Poison by Dorothy L. Sayers (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Strong Poison (Lord Peter Wimsey #6) by Dorothy L. Sayers

Three Stars

“I really don’t know how it was done … I’m not worrying about a trifle like that.”

By all standards this should be one of the best Lord Peter stories because in it we are introduced, under the most trying circumstances, to Harriet Vane. If you don’t know who she is, I’m not going to spoil things more than necessary (which will make this review difficult).

“People have been wrongly condemned before now.” “Exactly, simply because I wasn’t there.”

I’m not familiar with English judicial terminology, but the judge calling the accused the “prisoner” in his charge to the jury strikes me as prejudicial.

“A man doesn’t like it to see a man go all wobbly about his sister—at least, not such a prolonged wobble.”

Love at first sight. Gushy, saccharin, head-over-heals infatuation?

“A person who can believe all the articles of the Christian faith is not going to boggle over a trifle of adverse evidence.”

Spiritualist of the 1930s would be comfortable in certain circles of today’s society. The more things change ….

“Don’t talk like Jeeves.” “… Sherlocked.” “… as Holmes would say …”

Sayers is conscious of her antecedents and boasts of them.

“The enormous and complicated imbecility of things was all around him like a trap.”

Book Review: Lord Peter Views the Body by Dorthy L. Sayers (Two Stars)

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Book Review: Lord Peter Views the Body (Lord Peter Wimsey #4) by Dorothy L. Sayers

Two Stars.

“Built noticin’–improved with practice.”

This anthology of early Wimsey shorts reminds me why I hate anthologies. Authors (or, more likely, publishers) sweep up all the bits and pieces of a successful author or authors and foist it on the public as great literature. The resulting collection is often–as in this case–mediocre at best.

“Nobody minds coarseness, but one must draw the line at cruelty.”

Especially avoid the novelette: “The Undignified Melodrama of the Bone of Contention.” Dreadful. “The Fascinating Problem of Uncle Meleager’s Will” will enthrall crossword puzzle enthusiasts, without leaving the rest of us clueless.

“Bunter likes me to know my place.”

Sayers wrote for different readers. She assumes a level of French and Latin literacy rare among Americans today. Wonder how contemporary (1920s) English did.

“It is … dangerous to have a theory.”

Book Review: Clouds of Witness by Dorothy Sayers (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Clouds of Witness (Lord Peter Wimsey #2) by Dorothy Sayers

Four Stars

“Beliefs don’t matter. It’s what you know about people.”

Readers who like 1926 tongue-in-cheek detective stories of manners and fans of Downton Abbey, will find this just their cup of tea. Others, not so much. The reader is assumed to be literate in French, which I’m not. I muddled through.

“Time and trouble will tame an advanced young woman, but an adult old woman is uncontrollable by any earthly force.”

Lord Peter’s brother, the Duke of Denver, is accused of murder. Suddenly Peter’s embarrassing hobby–sleuthing–may save Duke Gerald’s title … and neck.The title gives away the twist: too many witnesses to too much, some of it misleading or simply untrue.

I’ve read this book before. Don’t know where or when. I suspect in ebook format, so it couldn’t have been that long ago.

“Contrast is life.”

Book Review: Whose Body? by Dorothy Sayers (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Whose Body? (Lord Peter Whimsey #1) by Dorothy Sayers

Three Stars

“It’s a wonderful the ideas these rich men with nothing to do get into their heads.”

First published in 1923, this is a dated but enjoyable detective fiction by the sole female associated with the Inklings. Storytelling is tedious with frequent repetition and long narrative exposition, the tone is light and enjoyable.

“The franker you are with people, the more likely you are to deceive them; so unused is the modern world to the open hand and guileless heart, what?”

The central premise of this tale: whose body is which of a pair–one missing and one found, but clearly not the same person–is justified so poorly in the end, but the reader will have been hooked by then and won’t care.

“I love trifling circumstances; so many men have been hanged by trifling circumstances.”

Beneath the breezy English nobility send up is a darker backstory of “shell shock” (as they called post-traumatic stress after World War One) and changing cultural mores. Sly references to how real investigation differs from fictional, especially Holmesian.

“There’s nothing you can’t prove if your outlook is only sufficiently limited.”