Book Review-Owls Don’t Blink by A. A. Fair

Title: Owls Don’t Blink: A Donald Lam-Bertha Cool Mystery

Author: Erle Stanley Gardner writing as A. A. Fair

Format-Paperback, Dell Publishing

Published: 1961 (Originally 1942)

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Most people know Erle Stanley Gardner for being the creator and author behind Perry Mason. Gardner was actually much more than that, including a rather daring lawyer himself. But even as an author, there’s more than fiction’s best known attorney to his credit. Writing as A. A. Fair, Gardner shared one of the most unique and best Private Detective duos ever with the world beginning in 1939. Bertha Cool and Donald Lam.

Some have referred to Cool and Lam as an interesting variation on the Nero Wolfe/Archie Goodwin relationship, and although there are points of comparison, they’re not plentiful. Lam is the legs of the outfit, but not because Bertha can’t work or get involved, but usually more because Lam is the cooler head and better suited to the in depth detective work than his barrel shaped (at least in the beginning, she shed some pounds over time), hot tempered boss, later partner. But Bertha makes her own contributions in the field, often helping Lam when he needs it, but always attempting to make sure it goes the way she thinks it should, though it doesn’t always.

In OWLS DON’T BLINK, the firm of Cool and Lam are hired by an attorney from New York to find a woman in New Orleans who doesn’t want to be found. Not allowed to ask any questions about why she must be found, Donald makes short work of finding her…and shortly also finds a dead body in her apartment. The body belonged to a man that, just hours before his demise, Lam watched argue with the object of his search.

This begins a cross-country romp, both past and in the present of the book, stretching from New York to Los Angeles to Little Rock to New Orleans and a few other stops in between. It also ends up involving another murder, maybe a serial killer (though this book was written about thirty years before that was a term), a distraught husband, a missing wife, and Bertha desperate to keep Donald from being drafted.

This series is one of my all time favorites. Not every entry is top notch, but OWLS DON’T BLINK is Fair (Gardner) at the top of his game. Not only are Lam and Cool both completely engaging characters, but the cast sprinkled around them all have their own quirks and flaws, which make them stand out as well. The mystery is actually several woven together and done so tightly in a way that works perfectly. The pacing is perfect, not breakneck, but also not turtle slow. Lam has a confrontation or three that every good PI novel should have, but Fair does a great job of also showing the real work that goes into the job, the actual tracking down of leads, of questioning people, of wasting hours to get the few minutes that will solve a case. Add into that a twist at the end that fits the time period…and the lead characters….perfectly and OWLS DON’T BLINK is top notch.

Five out Five pages for this read. There’s nothing at all wrong with OWLS DON’T BLINK from beginning to end. It starts off well, runs the course, and wraps on a pitch perfect note.

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Book Review – Mates, Dates, and Inflatable Bras

TITLE: Mates, Dates, and Inflatable Bras
AUTHOR: Cathy Hopkins
FORMAT: Paperback
PUBLISHED: 2011

Mates, Dates, and Inflatable Bras is a coming of age book about Lucy, her friend Izzie, and new girl Nesta.

Lucy is short.  So short that they call her a midget (under 5 foot at 14).  Blonde but flat chested.  And doesn’t really have a clue where her life is going.  One day, on her way to Izzie’s house, she sees a guy come out of a store and realizes that her life would totally make sense if she had a guy like him.

Cue a bunch of problems on a bunch of fronts.  There’s the identity of the mystery guy of course, and there’s Nesta, who is fairly new to the school and monopolizing Izzie’s attention with her seemingly lavish life.

Everything comes to a head when she forces herself to hang out with Nesta and Lizzie together.  Turns out the mystery guy is Nesta’s brother.  NO! Gasp!  She hates Nesta!  How can THE MOST AMAZING BOY INTHE UNIVERSE(tm) turn out to be related to the Horrible, Terrible, Awful person trying to take her best friend from her?

Of course that’s not how it goes down.  She’s forced to examine a lot of things – how she looks at Nesta, who she is as a person, etc.

 

So, I found this book at my local thrift store while on a quest for the most bizarre book I could find.  No, this isn’t it, but the title made me giggle and I bought it (probably for about 50 cents) for me.  I thought by the title it was going to be chick lit, and it is, but I didn’t realize it was YA until I got it home and actually read the back cover (Note: I don’t care, just putting that out there.).

The book is very British, which I love.  I think it could have had a little bit more substance, but it’s geared towards the younger end of YA, so it fits the genre just fine.  Just a personal thing.

The only thing that reallllllly annoyed me about this book was that he planted a huge kiss on her just because he thought she should get a kiss from a boy.  Nevermind that he wasn’t at all interested (not as much my problem) and had a girlfriend (very much my problem).  And I guess it was a minor issue, but still.

In all, it was a decent book.  I don’t know that I’ll rush out to find the rest of the series, but if I come across them, there’s a good chance I’d read them.  It was a light, fast read, I liked how the characters went down, and it’s a nice deviation from books that weigh heavy long after I’m done with them.

In all, I’ll give this a 4/5 page rating.  It’s a great short read when you just want something fun.

 

 

 

Book Review — Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey

Title: Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness
Author: Edward Abbey
Format: Paperback
Published: 1968

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Delicate Arch, Arches National Park. Photo courtesy of Flickr user Paxson Woelber. Creative Commons licensed.

A colleague at work was shocked that I’d never heard of Edward Abbey, so she gave me a copy of Desert Solitaire. I read all but the last few pages and wrote most of a draft of this review before I looked him up in Wikipedia and discovered that Desert Solitaire is, “regarded as one of the finest nature narratives in American literature.” So now I feel ignorant, but at least this review is a genuine reaction to the book, not influenced by its reputation.

Desert Solitaire chronicles Abbey’s experiences as a seasonal ranger in Arches National Monument (now Arches National Park) in 1956-1957. “This is the most beautiful place on earth.” That’s the opening sentence of the first chapter, and Abbey spends the rest of the book showing the reader that beauty. His prose is as poetic and vivid as John Muir’s but with more snark and bite. Abbey was a philosopher, an environmental activist, and an anarchist; all three of those identities are on display here. He blends rhapsodic odes to the beauty of Utah’s canyonlands with misanthropic rants about the evils of cities, cars, development, tourists–and especially the Glen Canyon Dam, which was being built during his time at Arches and which he considered an abomination.

Even if you don’t share Abbey’s environmental views, Desert Solitaire is worth reading if you have any interest in the stark, stunning landscape of the Four Corners region (Confession: I live near there, so I’m biased. This region is breathtaking. You need to see it. Start packing.) Whether describing a cattle drive or the Colorado River rushing through narrow red rock canyons, Abbey immerses you in the otherworldly beauty of the canyonlands. He’s also one heck of a storyteller, regaling you with hair-raising tales of him doing extreme (and occasionally really stupid) things like sliding down waterfalls or hiking into The Maze (now part of Canyonlands National Park) with little more than a bottle of water and some trail mix.  My favorite chapter is also the longest: Abbey’s tale of rafting Glen Canyon, which was later flooded after the construction of Glen Canyon Dam. I’ll never see Glen Canyon as he did, because much of it is at the bottom of Lake Powell, but at least I got to see it through his eyes and prose.

I’ll leave you with two passages from the book, which, taken together, will give you a sense of Abbey’s writing style. The first is from near the end of the book, as his time at Arches is coming to a close:

October. Rabbitbrush is in full bloom. The tumbleweeds on the move (that longing to be elsewhere, elsewhere), thousands of them rolling across the plains before the wind. Something like a yellow rash has broken out upon the mountainsides–the aspen forests in their autumn splendor. Sunsets each evening that test a man’s credulity–great gory improvisations in scarlet and gold that remind me of nothing so much as God’s own celestial pizza pies.

Now whenever I look at the aspens on the flanks of the San Francisco Peaks in fall, I’ll think of a yellow rash. Thanks, Mr. Abbey.

The second passage is from the end of the introduction:

Do not jump into your automobile next June and rush out to the Canyon country hoping to see some of that which I have attempted to evoke in these pages. In the first place you can’t see anything from a car; you’ve got to get out of the goddamned contraption and walk, better yet crawl, on hands and knees, over the sandstone and through the thornbush and cactus. When traces of blood begin to mark your trail you’ll see something, maybe. Probably not.

I disagree with Abbey on at least one point: I think you should hop in your car and get out here, and seeing this area from a car is better than not seeing it at all. But if you can’t get here–or you’ve been here and want to relive the experience–pick up a copy of Desert Solitaire and let Abbey be your cranky, crotchety, yet oh-so poetic guide.

Rating: 5/5 for people who enjoy nature writing; 3/5 for everyone else.

Book Review – Lexicon

TITLE: Lexicon
AUTHOR: Max Barry
FORMAT: Hardback
PUBLISHED: 2013

 

Poets.  No, not the type that string words together into iambic pentameter.  Worse.  These poets understand words and language in ways that laypeople do not.  They can talk to somebody for ten minutes and understand what their segment is and know what words need said to end them entirely.

Wil Parke is a man on the run, and he doesn’t know why.  He’s got total amnesia.  Hell, he isn’t even sure that Wil Parke is his real name.  Oh, and a poet has gone rogue and wants him dead.  So two men kidnap him from the airport and spend much of the book just trying to keep his sorry ass alive.

The book flips between two story lines – one starts with Emily Ruff, who is recruited in California and becomes a poet.  The other story line centers around Wil.  Who is he, how can they keep him alive, and why does somebody want him?

The two stories come together in two places about as different as they can be – Broken Hill, Australia, and Washington, DC.   I know I’m not doing a good job explaining this, but really, I don’t want to give things away too much, and I’m not smart enough anyway. Max Barry was a friggin’ genius with this story.

I loved the background about the poets and that setup, and a lot of the information they were sharing about words is true. So it made the book extra realistic.

That said, I saw how the two stories were going to come together about halfway to when they did.  I didn’t mind, and I still enjoyed the book, but I could see how that might upset some readers a little bit.  Still, I thought the book was strong enough that it didn’t matter.

Max Barry is good about making you care about his characters, so even though you’re expecting xyz, you still want to see how it plays out.

Very happy with this one.  I give it 5/5.

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: The Idolaters of Cthulhu Edited by H. David Blalock

Title: The Idolaters of Cthulhu

Authors/Creators: H. P. Lovecraft, DJ Tyrer, Amanda Hard, Matthew Wilson, James Victor, Herika R. Raymer, Shenoa Carroll-Bradd, Robert J. Krog, E. dane Anderson, Gregory L. Norris, Michael Krog, H. David Blalock, Jonathan Dubey, Robin Wyatt Dunn, Ben STeward, Tyree Campbell, Harding McFadden, Brian Fatah Steele, Clark Ashton Smith. Edited by H. David Blalock

Format: Trade Paperback, Alban Lake Publishing

Published: 2015

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This…will be an odd review to read, probably. So, with that in mind, read this in its entirety.

This is a book I will never read again.  It left me with intense emotional feelings, even though the intent was simply to tell stories out of a popular mythos, and the feelings it left me with weren’t ones that I’d want to revisit. And that has nothing to do with the fact that this mythos isn’t one I tend to read anyway, at least tales written so true to the mythos as these were.

Having said that, this is a book any fan of genre fiction, horror tales, intense emotional rollercoasters through reading, and particularly ALL Lovecraft fans should read.  At least once.  Guaranteed.

The tentpole of the anthology, created by editor H. David Blalock, is captured in the title. Although a ton of work exists set in the world of Cthulhu, both written by Lovecraft and countless others, very few pieces are written solely from the perspective of those who might worship the giant bipedal squid and the other Ancient Ones in his gruesome pantheon.   Blalock, using both historical pieces by Lovecraft and Smith, as well as utilizing brand new tales from a plethora of authors, puts together a collection that not only takes readers deep into the twisted minds of those who pledge their life and fealty to monstrous gods, but also connects readers to these poor souls.  Several stories in the book will cause readers to see people they know in the doomed lead characters, and scarily enough, even see themselves.

There are several very strong tales in this book and only one or two that I feel could have been better.  The strongest by far for me was Sentry by Herika R. Raymer.  Now, I’ll admit, this is probably because it is the one story in the book that leans more to what I prefer to read, which is a hero attempting to stand against the unstoppable foe.  But there’s more to why this one is the best in the book.  Raymer presents a character who has given his life to his mission and even before the conclusion of the story, the reader understands just how much of a sacrifice, how much loss this individual has experienced.  This tale is very intense on an emotional level and perhaps is the best mirror in the entire collection for readers to look into.

This book is definitely a Five for me on the Book In The Bag scale.  Anytime a written work can elicit a variety of strong responses, from revelation to revulsion, in a reader, then it is something everyone should read. Even if I will only ever read it once.

 

Book Review – Elephants Never Forget! by Anushka Ravishankar

Title: Elephants Never Forget!
Author: 
Anushka Ravishankar
Illustrator: 
Christiane Pieper
Format: 
Hardcover
Written: 
2007
Published: 
2007

A rollicking adventure story takes one little elephant through terrifying thunderstorms and tiger attacks, isolation, and even an existential crisis, as he learns what really shapes his identity. After running away and joining a herd of buffalo, a little elephant finds his place despite his differences. He stays on with the herd, and is appreciated for who he is and what his differences can bring to the group. When he crosses paths with a herd of other elephants, he is torn about where he belongs, and finds himself making a difficult choice. The text bounces, and swirls across the page, full of onomatopoeias and impact words. Beautifully, but starkly illustrated with elaborate woodcut-style prints in black, white, and a medium grey-blue, this book has a lot of cohesive symbolism. Am I this? Or am I that? Could I be something in the middle? The illustration style not only reinforces that concept, it dances and plays around those boundaries.

I love books that give children credit for having complex inner experiences, and this one definitely does that. There is plenty here to interest younger children, like bold images and big words, but I think this book would be best for children just starting school, when social divisions begin to occur, and some children struggle to find their place in a new little society. This book reinforces the idea that your friends, and your experiences with them, help to shape you as a person, but that ultimately, you are the arbiter of who you decide to be. and you don’t have to be who the rest of the world might think you are. Growing up as an Army brat and frequent transplant, I would’ve gotten a lot out of this book’s message during my own childhood.

I would recommend this book for a library trip, and certainly for K-3 classrooms and read-a-louds, but I don’t think it’s a book that kids will pull out for themselves or get the most out of without guidance from adults. For that reason I’m giving it 4/5.

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