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Contemporary Fiction Review – In a Book Club Far Away
July 27th, 2021
In a Book Club Far Away by Tif Marcelo
Review by Mirah W. (mwelday)
As a Navy spouse who has dealt with moving every couple of years, making friends in new locations, and being a member of various book clubs, this book called to me. In a Book Club Far Away centers on the lives of three friends: Regina, Sophie, and Adelaide.  While stationed at Fort Fairfax, they become incredibly close and help each other through deployments and personal challenges.  When a secret is exposed, there is a fracture in the friendship and their trust in one another is broken.  Adelaide needs Sophie and Regina years later when she faces a medical emergency and emotions and hurt come back to the surface when they are all together again.
When I started reading, I was immediately pulled in and enjoyed the pace of the novel; however, about half way through, I felt the pace slowed and found myself drifting.  The author differentiates between the characters very quickly, which I liked. I felt I understood their differences and also what brought them together. However, it seemed things stalled as the author delivered the background of why their friendship initially broke down years before the current events that have brought them back together. I liked this book and the references to other books in popular culture, but I wish the momentum would have carried all the way through and that the ending didn’t feel quite so rushed.
In terms of my connection with the characters, I understood their feeling of distance when getting to know new people.  As a military spouse, this has been my struggle for many years.  As a more introverted person, connecting with others at each duty station is a real challenge. I felt Marcelo adequately expressed that, but I thought it could have gone deeper and avoided some of the stereotypes of what it means to be a military service member or spouse.
I read Marcelo’s novel over two weekends and I was interested in the characters and what the outcome would be. I am giving In a Book Club Far Away 3.5 stars for readability and character development, but I felt the pacing and lack of military stereotypes would have helped bump up my rating.
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Tags: book review, contemporary fiction, friendships, military life, womens literature
Posted in Book Reviews
Mystery Monday – Death Walks in Eastrepps
July 26th, 2021
Death Walks in Eastrepps by Francis Beeding
Review by Matt B. (​BuffaloSavage​)
In the early 1980s Dover Publications reprinted classic British whodunits from the first half of the 20th century. Their selection criteria guided them to choose well-written stories that had the familiar elements that we mystery readers like to see in Golden Age mysteries: unique London enclaves, the quiet English village, foggy nights, dotty Dickensian characters, horrid deeds, imperturbable inspectors, plot twists galore with stolen love, impersonations, poison pen letters, etc.
Critics say Death Walks in Eastrepps (1931) was the best of the over 30 novels written by the writing team of Hilary St. George Saunders and John Palmer. The most interesting aspect is that the plot is told through many points of view. During the courtroom drama, we view the action from the points of view of the jury foreman, a court stenographer, a constable, and a playwright.
Vincent Starrett (1886-1974), an American writer and journalist, considered this book “one of the ten greatest detective novels.” This was also reprinted more recently (2011) by Arcturus Publishing in their Crime Classics series.
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Tags: Book Recommendations​, Book Reviews, Book Suggestions
Posted in Book Reviews
Mystery Monday Review – Something in the Air
July 19th, 2021

Something in the Air by Emma Lathen
Review by Matt B. (​BuffaloSavage​)
This 1988 mystery is the 20th appearance of the Wall Street banker, John Putnam Thatcher. His bank, the Sloan Guaranty Trust, has a 30% interest in Sparrow Flyways, a ‘no frills’ carrier that has had great success as a result of the deregulation of the airlines in the late 1970s. Steady growth and profit-earning have buoyed the stocks of the employees who own about 30% of the company.
The success of the company has made a media darling out of its charismatic CEO Mitchell Scovil, a born salesman. Accordingly, he has fallen into patterns of thought that sometimes strike leaders who have achieved much in only a little time. He has convinced himself that a flourishing Sparrow Flyways is the result of his entrepreneurial genius, with only slight contributions from the co-founders, legions of subordinates, and plain dumb luck. Lacking self-awareness, he has become more impulsive, less risk-aware, and, most dangerously for himself and others, less skillful at seeing things from other people’s point of view.
Mitchell Scovil is developing a grandiose plan to make the regional airline go national. Many employees, nervously watching the established competition and their stocks, are against expansion. After a loud meeting, the spokesman of the workers is murdered at Logan airport. The cops focus on Scovil. And our hero John Putnam Thatcher, in his unassuming way, figures out the real culprit.
Besides the excellence characterization of clueless leadership, Lathen features two strong female characters. Eleanor Gough has been quietly resourceful and proficient at many tasks since the inception of the airline. But she gradually realizes that she must get Scovil to see the risks of expansion. Unlike Scovil, she feels responsibility for the employees and their livelihood. She feels it unjust that though Scovil is too willing to gamble with risks, the employees would be the ones to suffer most if expansion was a bust. With her sense of duty, she becomes more liable to throw her weight around. During an interview with Thatcher: “For the first time in his life, he realized that an expression of ladylike attentiveness is the feminine equivalent of a poker face.”
The other interesting female character is auditor Phoebe Fournier. She’s young and intelligent with figures, but not good at reading people. She sees people too much as mere means to her ends, not living breathing people with lives just as vivid and real to them as her life is to Phoebe. Lathen has fun putting Phoebe through hoops on her long winding road to the realization that she’s not the smartest person in every room. Lathen usually has a set piece that involves public chaos; to get Scovil’s attention Phoebe sets up an industrial action that is a hilarious disaster.
Emma Lathen was the pen name of Mary Latsis (economic analyst) and Martha Hennissart (attorney). Both knew the worlds of business and the federal government, so they felt at home the constantly changing business environment and the variety of personalities to be found in the public and private sectors. As old-school feminists, they have acerbic fun satirizing men who know full well and deplore that other business executives are kept afloat by their secretaries but never in a million years would think that the secretaries be paid commensurate to the service they deliver to the company.
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Tags: Book Recommendations​, Book Reviews, Book Suggestions
Posted in Book Reviews
Mystery Monday Review – The Paper Moon
July 12th, 2021
The Paper Moon by Andrea Camilleri
Review by Matt B. (​BuffaloSavage​)
This 2005 mystery is the ninth story starring Inspector Salvo Montlbano. For those of us who have Mediterranean genes, Salvo of Sicily is utterly relatable. He’s smart and intuitive and a devil for both work and the nice things in life like good food. But he is also grouchy, short-tempered with a sarcastic bent and sharp tongue. He is shocked and scared that he is not exempt from getting deeper into middle age. Surrounded by colleagues like the numbskull Catarella, he doesn’t like drama but creates a lot of it simply by being himself. And the drama of his personal and police life is often pretty funny.
Compared to other books in the saga, this one focuses more on the investigative aspect, leaving little space for Montalbano’s personal life. For instance, a weekend visit from his long-time GF Livia takes up about three lines. The case unfolds in a linear way and without any particular twists until the final surprise.
There are many laughs in the story but there are harsh aspects as well. It is a murky story of drugs and sexual transgressions featuring incest, adultery, impotence, a coerced abortion and a sexual assault committed by the police. Some scenes are not for the faint-hearted.
This is worth reading mainly because Salvo Montalbano finds himself dealing with two astute women. He will need all his self-control and wisdom as he negotiates his way between dangerous Michela the Fury and Elena the Cheetah, who tries to charm him with innocence and spontaneity.
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Tags: Book Recommendations​, Book Reviews, Book Suggestions
Posted in Book Reviews
Young Adult Historical Fiction Review – The Hummingbird Dagger
July 6th, 2021
The Hummingbird Dagger by Cindy Anstey
Review by Mirah W. (mwelday)
England, 1833.  Young Walter Ellerby is out cavorting with a friend near his family’s estate and is involved in a frightful accident with a strange carriage. A young woman from the carriage is injured in the accident and the men with her seem cagey and uncooperative.  The young woman is taken back to Hardwick Manor by Walter’s older brother, Lord James Ellerby, and the men from the carriage make their escape.  Thus begins the mystery of The Hummingbird Dagger.
The family is deeply concerned about the young woman’s welfare and takes responsibility for her care; however, there is more than physical wounds to recover from- the young woman has no memory of who she is or why she was traveling in the carriage. The Ellerbys begin calling the young woman Beth and they all develop an attachment to her and do what they can to protect her and help her regain her memory. Throughout Beth’s recovery she is plagued by nightmares of a bloody dagger with a hummingbird carved into the hilt. In addition to the nightmares, there are other kidnappings, secrets, murders, and attacks that make Beth’s story even more confusing to herself and the Ellerbys.
The Hummingbird Dagger is the first novel I have read by Anstey and I found it a solid 4-star young adult mystery novel. I thought the characters were endearing (I rather loved Caroline, Lord Ellerby’s sister, and Dr. Brant), but I could have used a little more character development. I thought the pace of the novel was good and I did not unravel the mystery early but, in hindsight, there were a few breadcrumbs left along the way. The novel was wrapped up well and I think there is the opening for other novels featuring some of the same characters.  I, for one, wouldn’t mind another visit to Hardwick Manor.
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Tags: book recommendation​, Book Reviews, Book Suggestions, england, historical fiction, young adult fiction
Posted in Book Reviews
Historical Fiction Review – The Lost Apothecary
June 24th, 2021
The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner
Review by Mirah W. (mwelday)
It was hard to determine a genre category for The Lost Apothecary.  Shifting from past to present, Penner weaves together the lives of 21st century historian Caroline and 18th century apothecary Nella.
Nella’s mother was a well-known apothecary with a little shop off Bear Alley in 18th century London.  After the death of her mother, Nella begins to run the shop herself. Later she is fueled by her own loss and heartache and becomes known for helping women who are the victims of oppressive men. By developing poisons that are easily-disguised, Nella gives strength, freedom, and hope to the women who request her services.
Caroline has arrived in England angry and confused after learning of a betrayal within her marriage.  During what is supposed to be a romantic getaway for her and her husband, Caroline is alone and trying to decide on how to move forward.  She crosses paths with Bachelor Alf and his mudlarking group and decides to see what historical objects the River Thames might provide to distract her from her real life.
Caroline finds a glass vial while mudlarking and she is taken on a journey of discovery into the mysterious apothecary and shop. The reader learns more about Caroline, Nella and Eliza, the young maid of a wealthy woman who demands Nella’s services.  Nella and Caroline’s stories of betrayal bythe men they love are paralleled in the story and their reactions to those betrayals change the course of their lives.
I thoroughly enjoyed The Lost Apothecary.  I thought it was a unique story (I’ve never even heard of mudlarking before, but I’ve learned it really is a thing and it seems so very interesting) with characters who were complex and relatable.  The sense of magic and mystery come together to provide an engrossing tale and I am not surprised this debut novel by Penner became a New York Times bestseller. I highly recommend this vivid and rich novel when you want to lose yourself in the pages of a good book.
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Tags: apothecaries, book recommendation​, book review, contemporary fiction, historical fiction review, history, magic, Mystery, womens literature
Posted in Book Reviews
Mystery Monday – The Three Couriers
June 14th, 2021

The Three Couriers by Compton Mackenzie
Review by Matt B. (​BuffaloSavage​)
I was lucky enough to have fall into my lap the 1929 spy mystery The Three Couriers by Compton Mackenzie. A prolific writer before and after his work in the secret world during the Great War, Mackenzie portrayed spying not so much as a noble clandestine fight against the Germans and Turks but as a running contest against His Majesty’s army and navy authorities and embassy and consulate employees that put the “dip” in “diplomat.”
Stationed against his will in Greece, our hero, the unfortunate Waterlow, has to put up with endless French machinations and the never-ending nincompooperies of his own agents, both British and Greek. When he finally succeeds in counter-espionage, his masters and betters utterly ignore the vital intercepted message. “This is a Charlie Chaplin war” he mutters as he bravely moves on to the next fiasco.
In The Man Who Was Thursday (1908), Chesterton makes a case for the futility of espionage, an ironic theme Somerset Maugham was to exploit in the Ashenden stories. But it could be that Mackenzie was the first to write a spy story as a black comedy of errors. The Three Couriers does not have much plot. However, the incidents and set pieces are hilarious as the hapless spies move in on the couriers. The characters are Gogolian grotesques. One wonders if he involuntarily stored these outrageous impressions in his head and wrote to get shut of them.
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Tags: Book Recommendations​, Book Reviews, Book Suggestions
Posted in Book Reviews
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