Tag Archive: book review



REVIEW BY HELEN KRUMMENACKER

Away With the Fairies

This is one of the Phryne Fisher novels, a mystery set in Australia. These deal not only with solving crimes– in this case, looking into the suspicious death of an eccentric writer of fairy stories– but also the social structures of the times they are set in. It’s 1928, and the aftermath of the Great War is still felt in everything from the growth of women’s career options to international politics. For Miss Fisher, the international politics has turned her personal life on end, because her Chinese boyfriend is in danger just trying to handle his family’s import business while China is in crisis. As for the mystery, most of the suspects living as neighbors to the deceased were also her co-workers through a women’s magazine. And what a women’s magazine it is! While there are columns on child-raising and fashion, the magazine is full of how-to information on building your own radio and fixing your car, as well as health and gardening advice.

The editor is a feminist and sees her magazine as a means of changing the world, by making it so that people see achievement as not merely for extraordinary women, but every woman. I found this an important take because in the history of feminism, there was a split after winning the vote between women who wanted to focus on opening opportunities for extraordinary women (what I think led to the idea of “white feminism” being about leadership and opportunity for women of the privileged classes) and women who wanted to focus on helping the most vulnerable women (immigrants, working class, etc.). By making a magazine that intended to lift up women regardless of background, giving them skills that would save money and show them as competent and capable, the editor was, in essence, trying for a middle ground that would move all women forward.

Phryne is sympathetic and joins in with the magazine, filling in for their fashion writer who is away. While Miss Fisher is wealthy now, her background was quite different and she has a refreshingly practical approach to get maximum wear and versatility with minimal outlay, with a bonus column on remaking vintage clothing into couture to get a special occasion look at thrift store pricing. While her work on the articles is mostly a way to gain access to the suspects and a minor part of a plot involving assassination attempts, pirates, and the search for a motive, it tells us about Phryne’s character– how she can turn a chance encounter with a friend into an opportunity to create a win-win scenario; how a cover ‘job’ is attended to with the diligence appropriate for someone seeking a career; and how her respect for Dot gives her even more insight into the needs of the everywoman than her own life experience can.

True to the concept expressed in the magazine, the writer uses the novel to give us not merely the extraordinary Miss Fisher, Bunty, and other seekers of adventure, but the quiet strength and leadership of the magazine editor and the matriarch of the Lin family, the single-mindedness of a passionate photographer who will spend hours to get the perfect shot and work for plates, and the wholesome determination of Dot, or a widowed mother, or prodigal niece who combine their labor with principle. There is something to admire in most of the women, and while there are a few who are more notable for folly in the end, there is hope (except in the case of the deceased) that they will learn from their mistakes and come out better and happier for it.

This is the first I have read of the Miss Fisher books, although I’ve enjoyed the TV series. As usual, books give so much more wealth of detail and the opportunity for greater depth. Kerry Greenwood takes the time to delve into history and social themes, grounding them in reality (piracy is organized crime, not merry mischief) and weaving them together from separate plot strands, as when she links post-trauma reaction to mutilation and betrayal in different circumstances. While the novels can be enjoyed on a superficial level of escape into a distant time with a flamboyant heroine pursuing justice, I think most readers will find satisfaction in the sense that they have learned a little, thought a little, and been given an opportunity to see ways to live well.


Waverly

REVIEW BY ALLAN KRUMMENACKER

5 – STARS “What price for sanity?”

    Waverly Hills Sanatorium is an actual place in Louisville Kentucky that the author visited as part of a paranormal investigative team. By the author’s own admission their paranormal experiences where ‘minimal’, I feel the setting and strangeness of exploring an abandoned place with so much history lent a great deal to the creation of this novel.

     Ben Clausen has landed a job teaching English over at the U of L, and is now searching for a place to live. His search has brought him to the most unlikely place to find an apartment, one half of the old Waverly Hills Sanatorium a place famous for its tragedies and ghostly legends. Only one half of the place has been converted into apartments, while the remaining half is still in severe disrepair and is kept off-limits, perhaps for very good reasons.

    But beggars can’t be choosers, and with the rent priced just right Ben moves in and soon begins meeting his fellow residents, but are all of them truly real? There’s the down to earth Kayla, who seems to know a lot about the place and the residents, the disconcerting Mort Shackelford who meets an untimely end by a strange visitor, and the fascinatingly exotic Scarlet Snow who seems to weave a spell over Ben in more ways than one.

    Before long Ben finds himself caught up in a series of strange encounters, and not all of them are purely of this world, all of which could be leading to his own destruction/damnation…

    But beggars can’t be choosers, and with the rent priced just right Ben moves in and soon begins meeting his fellow residents, but are all of them truly real?

    The author weaves an intricate and tantalizing tale, often leaving the protagonist with the questions of “Did that really happen?” carefully blended with intrigue from human sources, that keeps the reader wanting to know more.

     A good page-turner. A perfect read for the Halloween season. Hope to see more.

AMAZON:

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07CRB4VGV/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i2


*Blogger’s Note: I know I promised to continue about our experiences with creating our first anthology, but massive colds have been kicking us around.  Hope to get back to that subject next week.  Until then, here’s another book review.  Enjoy*

Grandma's Trunk

This was my first venture into the writing of Miss Grogg and I have to say I was quite pleased. This tale took me down the winding passages of my own childhood memories involving friends, relatives, and grandparents (who I sorely miss).

The story begins with Brandon having to move into his little brother’s room, because his elderly great-grandmother is coming to live with his family. Brandon is not happy about this and even resentful. But we quickly see the conflicting emotions within him early on when he first meets his great-grandmother who is full of spunk and not one to be pushed around in spite of her advanced age. But in addition to that fiery spirit she brings an old fashioned trunk that captivates not only Brandon’s imagination but those of his little brother Melvin and their cousin Alisa.

Soon the trio find that there may be more to great-grandma than meets the eye, making Brandon’s feelings towards her more complicated. Eventually we learn that he’s afraid of growing too fond of her because she is so old. He has already lost his other grandparents who were not nearly as old as her, and he still misses them terribly.

Miss Grogg fleshes out her characters extremely well and makes the reader dwell upon family and friendships, as well as the realization that even though we may one day have to say goodbye, there is so much to be enjoyed in the here and now.

AMAZON:


Cover Three Bags Full

REVIEW BY HELEN KRUMMENACKER

     Mystery stories have to work hard to set themselves apart from the crowd. Some do it with an underlying nonfiction theme, such as mystery novels/recipe books. Special settings can be useful. Most of all, characters are a way to be distinctive and memorable. There’s an entire bookshelf in our house of mysteries with animal detectives.

Cats make up the majority of animal detectives, able to roam freely and unobtrusively. Three Bags Full takes a different, and possibly unique path. As the name suggests, the mystery is being worked on by… sheep.


It begins with the discovery of the death of their shepherd. Even they can tell it is not natural causes, because he has had a spade stuck in his body. Whether it is the cause of death or not, it is a definite sign of violence and took place in their pasture, at night, while they were in a barn. They are disturbed; it is very like and yet unlike a wolf attack. The sheep vow that, as he protected them and cared for them in life, they would see his killer brought to justice.


From early on, it is evident the sheep are unusual (and some of the most interesting subplots come from the secrets of the sheep themselves being revealed). Even so, they are terribly unsuited for the task ahead of them– to solve a murder, one must understand how human society functions, and they start out knowing so little about it that they draw conclusions like the priest’s name is God, because they heard him welcome people to the house of God. He seems to talk about himself a shocking amount. (I find their attempts to understand religion quite amusing.) They also have to understand those parts of their shepherd’s life that don’t involve them, and, indeed, we the readers are somewhat puzzled by the parts that do. He seems to have deliberately brought in sheep that might have been in danger elsewhere, won’t sell any of them, reads books to them, and wants to take them on a tour of Europe.

The best thing, for me, is that the write, Leonie Swann, puts so much empathy into working out the way sheep might think. They aren’t little humans in wool coats; they are nervous, social, forgetful (except for Mopple, the Memory Sheep, who acts as a sort of living notebook for the flock), and they can gather information through their sense of smell. They also have their own culture; human society may be a mystery to them, but they have their own aphorisms, superstitions, and generational knowledge. Within the flock, each sheep still has individual identity. Miss Maple is extremely clever, Othello is brave, Cloud is kindly, Zora has imagination, and there are many more special traits and sheep.

     I would recommend this even without having finished it yet. It is the kind of book where the experience of reading and thinking about it make the journey a joy, regardless of how the plot wraps up in the end.


 

The-Handmaids-Tale

REVIEW BY HELEN KRUMMENACKER

I’m starting this book review with the book still unfinished. It’s the kind of book that you think about a lot while reading it, even as you itch to turn the pages again. I can’t compare it to the movie or TV show, as I wanted to read it rather than watch it. I would advise this, although the adaptations may be excellent. The voice of the narrator is crucial.


The voice of the narrator is crucial to the story’s style. We begin, a little scared, a little confused, picking up meaning from tiny details– because that is what she can give us. Her voice becomes clearer, gradually, as she moves farther from the drugging and brainwashing and has time to rebuild her story and factor in the new things. But even ¾ of the way through, I still don’t know what goes on in the colonies that has her worried about being sent there, or what the real fate of Unwomen is. Sometimes, it sounds like she’s afraid of being executed and sometimes it sounds like there is something worse in store for her. The people in charge probably like to keep everyone uncertain, because it makes them more pliable.

The voice of the narrator is also an important part of the story itself. There are many women in this story, but the narrator’s story is very much hers, very personal. She finds joy in little things, and fear in them as well. She was left with a pillow that has Faith embroidered on it, but reading is forbidden to women… so she stands, when she finds the pillow, reading that one word over and over, enjoying breaking one of the stupid rules, but wondering if she will be held responsible for a pillow she did not choose. Internal moments like that are a tremendous part of the narrative, and they make the dystopia seem far more real than an external storytelling would.

One thing that is difficult in reading it is that she speaks in the present tense even when recounting dreams and memories. We don’t always know what is real until we have read enough to place it in her timeline. But this reflects her own struggle to handle it all. Her memories, her reality, her hopes and fears jumble together when she is left to sit alone for hours with nothing to do.

If you aren’t familiar with the concept, the story takes place in a near future time when theocrats take over. There are wars and perhaps disasters as well that have left the majority of people unable to create healthy children. The narrator had a healthy child, before the theocrats took over but after some of the pollution events, and so she is seen as proven fertile, and eligible for status as a Handmaid, a caste of women who are, in theory, to be honored for trying to keep humanity alive by acting as breeding vessels, but are in fact despised for having a life defined by their sexual potential. They are circulated in assignments among the elite, and if they give any of the Commanders a healthy child, they will have a future. If they do not, at a certain age or after a period of time, they are removed from Handmaid status and death or exile seem to be their fate.

This is part of a larger theocratic totalitarian state, but the Handmaids are important not only because this is the story of one, but also, I must say, Gilead (the state they are in) is both correct to be desperately trying to make more citizens and at the same time, doomed by its methods. The rules controlling the Handmaids, the infertile Wives, and the men of all ranks, makes it less likely there will be successful offspring. Cheating leads to death (and I suspect some Handmaids are trapped into it by angry Wives), but the Commanders often are sterile. The atmosphere of fear and mistrust seems unconducive to reproduction. At best, stress hormones aren’t great for a pregnancy, while at worst, the people are actively undermining the possibility. If Gilead really wants babies, it should make procreation fun and free rather than coercive, but the people in charge want to control everything more than they really want another generation.


* * *
Now that I’ve finished the book, I’m finding myself surprised by some things I heard in the past. I have to wonder if people saying, “Serena Joy was worse than the Commander” were talking about the movie, because my feeling about her in the book is quite different. She was unhappy and oppressed as well, and sometimes showed some genuine kindness in spite of her general jealousy. Even when she had something specific to be jealous about, she didn’t want the Handmaid destroyed– she alone had the nerve to make a slight protest when the narrator was led away.

The ending, I won’t say exactly what it was, but this book manages to pull a The Lady or the Tiger end which I look at from the optimistic perspective, finding it more in keeping with the way I interpreted a couple of characters. It certainly gave more room for optimism than 1984 or Brave New World, mostly within the personal story, but also, I believe that Gilead is doomed/ They have no real ability to convince the people they are oppressing that their regime is the best thing around. They have only existed for a few years and already they are riddled with corruption, resistance, hypocrisy, inconsistency, poverty, and a death rate much higher than the birthrate. Either the regime will be pulled down or it will collapse under its own failure to work with human nature.

I wonder if the people who found the book more depressing than I did mostly identified with the narrator more. I don’t say she was difficult to identify with. Actually, she’s a fairly normal woman. I’m just not normal, and found myself more drawn to side characters. I also kept thinking that in that world, I would have been sent to the Colonies (forced labor areas), if I wasn’t killed outright,  and wanted to know more about life there.


     Today I’m turning the reins over to guest blogger Tanmay Jain, who has just finished reading another one of Dan Brown’s famous Robert Langdon novels.    Take it away, Tanmay…

Angels and Demons – Dan Brown

Book Review

About the Author:

     Dan Brown is an American author of thriller novels, most notably the Robert Langdon stories: Angels & Demon, The Da Vinci Code, The Lost Symbol, Inferno and Origin. His other books include Deception Point and Digital Fortress. He is mostly known for the book The Da Vinci Code. Three of his books, Angels and Demons, The Da Vinci Code, and Inferno have been made into successful films.

Plot Introduction:

     The story starts with Robert Langdon, a Harvard professor and art historian being called down to Switzerland by CERN Director, Maximilian Kohler, when one of his most brilliant scientists, Leonardo Vetra, has been murdered with an ambigram seared into his chest, ‘Illuminati’. Robert Langdon, being a specialist in the satanic group, teams up with Vittoria Vetra, the daughter of the deceased to stop a seemingly-impossible plan of the Illuminati to carry out the plan they dreamed of for centuries, the destruction of their biggest enemy, the Vatican.

Book Review:

     Dan Brown is no doubt a mast of his game. His books are laden with intricate and complex plots filled with detailed and accurate research. Angels and Demons is no less.

     As with the majority, I read The Da Vinci Code before Angels and Demons. While the previous was a pure masterpiece, the latter obviously did not meet its standards. This book’s beginning was no that interest-ingiting. The first fifty pages are a little bit of a bore. One has to go through those to reach the real fun that begins after Robert Langdon reaches Vatican City. Before that, the book does not resemble the page-turning flavor that is usually found in Dan Brown books.

     One great marvel about the book’s narration is what a collection of short stories it is. In between the main narrative, which itself is joined with a few other smaller story-lines, there are little stories strewn in. The background stories, Langdon giving a brief about relevant history as the plot progresses really increases the depth of the story and helps in connecting the reader to the characters. The books I also quite informative about art history which is its main theme. The workings of the Vatican, art history of the Illuminati, and certain masterpieces are brilliantly added to the narrative without making it tedious.

     While the main suspense about the plot, that is, the identity’s of the killer is kept until the end, many smaller surprises are revealed and many smaller questions are answered regularly to keep the reader hooked. The book quite easily inspires an unnecessarily loud ‘WHAT?’ from the reader.

     The characters of the book were well-written and deeply explained. While Kohler remained a big mystery and Janus and Hassassin’s character showed the much darker tone of the book. The merging of the multiple story-lines and similarly a single story-line being divided into two story-lines is radiantly maneuvered.

    The writing is filled with creative metaphors and similes, some of which, again introduce small stories of the character’s past. The plot of the book while deeply informative and thrilly is not as complicated as the other books. The ambigrams in the book were quite a delight and seem to be the main flair of its popularity.

     The title of the book is quite poetic and resemble the two different tones of the book, as aforementioned, that of Langdon and Hassassin’s. While the original cover was not available to me, I saw it on Wikipedia. The title was also an ambigram.

Plot – 7.5/10                                                 Research – 10/10

Narrative – 9/10                                         Cover – 8.5/10

Title – 9/10

Thanks so much Tanmay.  For anyone wishing to see more of Tanmay’s insights and writings, here are some links:

Until next time my friends, keep writing.

making money

The Bank of Ankh-Morpork has gone to the dogs… or rather the dog of the now deceased chairman of the bank. When Topsy Lavish died, she willed her controlling shares in the bank to her dog Mr. Fusspot, who she in turn bequeathed to the least trustworthy man in all of Ankh-Morpork, Moist Von Lipwig former con artist and now “reformed” character.

Soon our dear Mr. Lipwig finds himself trying to deal with the entire Lavish family who all want Mr. Fusspot dead, while at the same time he has Lord Vetinari the city’s Patrician, breathing down his neck to give the city a loan to fund some much needed infrastructure improvements.

But the Bank and the Mint both run on the gold currency, and there’s only so much gold to go around.

Soon Moist is in mischief and high finance up to his ears. Wheeling and dealing, talking a mile a minute and selling the idea of paper currency to the inhabitants of Ankh-Morpork. Can his fast talk and silver tongue keep him ahead of his enemies as well as his old partner, who remembers him as Albert Spangler notorious crook and con-man?

The jokes and imagery Mr. Pratchett creates within this novel are as fast and furious as ever. Yet at the same time, he provides the readers with a good look into the way banks operate and how financial decisions are made.

His unique blend of comedy with fact is an amazing achievement that keeps the reader both entertained and informed a the same time. However, he never loses that wry sense of humor that keeps his audience in stitches. The image of Mr. Fusspot and the self-winding ‘toy’ he finds amidst piles of leather garments, whips, and chains, provides some classic imagery throughout the book.

Mr. Pratchett is indeed one of the finest comedic authors of our time and this installment of his Discworld series proves it. Truly worth 5 stars. A fantastically funny read.


c3b4c-e-vamp

A Romantically Fang-Tastic Read

5-stars:   

This book surpassed all my expectations.  In an age of sparkling day-walkers, we get some good old traditional vampires who have moved with the times.  They’re powerful, clever, and have built some strong financial power for themselves.  However, a number of them are still ‘monsters’.  Dorian Taylor is an exception.  He does not view mortals as merely play-toys or food, like his associates.  He longs for something more and finds it in Jennifer, he also finds his heart.  

Definitely not a book for anyone under eighteen, but a cracking good read.  Miss Black supplies the reader with a good amount of BDSM and sex.  But even more importantly she provides us with a love story with plenty of danger lurking in the shadows.  There are twists and turns I did not see coming which I found both moving and exciting.  While some situations might seem trite to some people, the author does something else that certainly makes up for it.  She makes us ‘care’ about the characters, including the supporting ones.  

A damn good read, which I highly recommend to others.  


Have you ever felt like you would never fit in?  Of course you have, we all have at one point or another.  But for some this is not simply being awkward socially, but much more.  For 10 year old Matica, the problem is a physical one.  She is not growing.  Despite her age and having a younger brother, Matica has the body of a much younger child which has made her life a real challenge as far as making any friends in the little village in Peru where her parents are missionaries trying to help the local tribe.  The tribe finds Matica’s situation strange and tend not to associate with her, making her more lonely than ever.

However, Matica does have knack for making friends.  In this case its a pair of condors, which seems to fascinate the local villagers.  But they are even more surprised when the bond between the undersized girl and the huge birds becomes so strong that when their egg is threatened by poachers they allow her to watch over and care for it.  Soon the egg hatches and Talon is born.  The villagers are more impressed than ever by the young girl as she helps raise the young condor, becoming an expert on the birds and soon Matica finds herself no longer the source of curious glances but a bit of a celebrity.  But her true love for family and her condors never takes a backseat to this new status.  Her dedication to both her families is unwavering and continues to grow just as quickly as Talon who is soon big enough and strong enough to take flight.  But is he powerful enough to grant Matica’s most secret wish?

Aimed at preteens, this is a story that can be enjoyed by any age.  As I said at the beginning of this review, we’ve all felt out of place and thought we’d never find where we truly belong.  Matica’s journey is a tale that everyone can relate to.  Sometimes its not finding where YOU fit in, but making a place for yourself in the world and watch it start swarming towards you.

This is such a wonderful tale, I have not problem giving it the 5-Star rating it deserves.  I’m even more delighted to know that this is only the first installment.  As of the writing of this review, there are four more books in the series.  Needless to say, I’ll be adding them to my library and more reviews will come with time.

And now I will take my hat off to the author Gigi Sedlmayer, may she, Talon, Matica and the rest of this fine cast soar high and far for many years to come.

https://www.amazon.com/Talon-Come-Fly-Gigi-Sedlmayer-ebook/dp/B00J2643PG/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8


For those who don’t know, Richard Matheson is one of my many favorite authors.  His work on the original Twilight Zone, caught both my attention and imagination.  To this day, I consider his novel “Hell House” one of the greatest haunted house stories ever written.

But he also wrote about vampires in his classic “I Am Legend” (aka “The Omega Man”).  I was given a copy of this novel last Christmas and had finally gotten a chance to reading it. Having seen several movie versions of the story (including the one with Charles Heston), I was already familiar with the overall concept of the tale about the last normal human being on the planet.  However, knowing how Hollywood likes to put extra spins and its own touches on a story, I was eager to actually read Mr. Matheson’s original vision and I was not disappointed.

We are quickly introduced to Robert Neville, who (as far as he and the audience knows) may be the last normal human being on the planet.  We get to see the strange monotony of his day as he makes stakes, rounds up food and supplies and goes about fortifying his home which is also a kind of tomb for him.  He is surrounded by the memories of his life, when he had a wife and child who were both taken from him, along with all those he knew, by a mysterious plague that killed everyone around him.  But at night, he is terrorized by a more frightening enemy.  Those he lost come out from the places they hide in the daytime, hell-bent on sucking his blood.

Former friends and neighbors try to breach his security measures night after night.  Some of the women try to woo him with the promise of sex and love, while one neighbor constantly calls his name, saying “Come out Neville!”  We witness his plight to hold onto his humanity and sanity amidst these nightly raids, and then follow him during the daytime as he tries to eliminate as many of these vampires.

Mr. Matheson shares Robert’s memories of losing his wife to the plague and burying her, only to have her rise as one of the vampires and his being forced to put her down a second time.  Over a three year period we watch Robert become harder as well as a survivor.  He goes from being just the hunted to seeking answers.  I found this part interesting since, unlike in the most of the movies, he is not an expert in blood or disease.  We watch him educate himself through books and failed experiments as he tries to find the answers to the problem that surrounds him.  Yet all the while, he continues his daytime raids to exterminate those who hunt him.

Finally, after three years of loneliness he meets a woman who can walk in the daylight.  Out of desperation he tries to make friends while inadvertently frightening her.  Robert brings her to his home, against her will but slowly wins her over.  It is an interesting scene watching him trying to remember how to act like a civilized person after three years of no contact with someone who wasn’t trying to kill him.

In the end we learn the truth, that the woman he met, named Ruth is infected.  But the germ has mutated in her and others, so that they can control the bloodlust and can walk in daylight for short amounts of time.  And like Robert, they seek to put down the more violent feral creatures that hunt him.  But they also seek his destruction as well.  For he has unwittingly killed a number of them during his daylight raids, including the husband of Ruth.  But she has come to know him and understands his mistake and forgives him.  She even warns him of what is to come down the road, and urges him to move away and go into hiding.

But Robert refuses and a year later, the members of the new society, come and rid him of those who seek to destroy him.  They also take him into custody and prepare for his execution.  Due to his resisting capture, Robert has become fatally injured but is being kept alive for his public demise.  For now he has become to the boogeyman.  The thing who stalks these people in the day, when they have to avoid the sunlight.  He is the monster to them and he knows it.  He is now the creature of legend, in this new society and accepts the fate that awaits him.

Although it is a sad ending, the book is a powerful study in struggling with loss, loneliness, depression, survival and finally, realization.  Written in 1954, this is one of those timeless novels that I thoroughly recommend to all lovers of science fiction, horror, and fantasy.  It is a thought provoking work that will make you think for years to come.

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