Monday, May 26, 2014

The Black-Eyed Blonde by Benjamin Black

The previous post is about the character Philip Marlowe by the late author Raymond Chandler.  Mr. Chandler may no longer be with us, but Philip Marlowe lives.  Mr. Chandler's estate authorized the Booker Prize-winning author John Banville, who writes detective fiction under the pen name Benjamin Black, to create another in the Philip Marlowe series, and he has done a great job.

Wise cracking, heavy smoking, hard drinking Marlowe is again on a case full of misdirection, beautiful women, connected people getting away with murder, and much else in a very satisfying sequel in the series.  It's a little later in time from his earlier books but the L.A. area hasn't changed now that they're into the 1950's.  A high class blond with jet black eyes walks into his office with the desire to find a boyfriend who has gone missing.  Sounds a little fishy, but just for the sake of being able to see her again and the fact that he's between other cases, he starts to dive into the details.  As you would expect, the details seem to change over time and persons unknown also are looking for the missing boyfriend as well.  The motives of most of the people you meet are blurred or completely unknown but when revealed make sense.  The story moves right along and is satisfying both as a stand-alone book and a welcome return of a great character done with wit and good writing.  It's a good summer read, or anytime, really.  Enjoy.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

"Farewell My Lovely" by Raymond Chandler

 It’s mid-May, at least according to the calendar, and summer may be coming, if not in northern Michigan, at least in New Jersey and places not touched by the last ice age.  It’s time to read a mystery. 

One of my all-time favorites is Farewell My Lovely by Raymond Chandler.  He’s one of the earliest and best creators of a hard-boiled detective, in this case Philip Marlowe.  Those detectives of the 30’s and 40’s were lonely men focused on solving a case while steering clear of the local police who were normally lazy and/or on the take.  Theft and murder were always involved but it just seemed somewhat less gruesome than what seems more the rule by today’s writers.  One thing that seems to jump out though is they smoked like chimneys and drank like fish.

In this story, Marlowe is on a dead end case when he spots a giant of a man, Moose Malloy, enter a night club looking for his girlfriend Velma.  She’s not there and Moose ends up killing the club owner.  The police aren’t that interested since the owner is black and Marlowe decides to look into it a little on his own.  This soon leads to a cast of shady characters who lie to, assault, seduce, drug and try to kill Marlowe.  It’s all done through Marlowe’s narrative of dry humor and snappy patter.  Since there were more novels featuring Marlowe we know he doesn’t die in this story, but the intent and fate of everyone else is not guessed until it happens.

Here’s another mystery.  Why suggest this book now?  Anyone who likes the genre and who hasn’t read this book should really pick it up over the summer, but the real answer will come in another post.  Enjoy. 

Friday, May 09, 2014

A History of the World in 100 objects by Neil MacGregor

This was a Christmas gift from Becky and I've been reading it between other books since then.  It is such a good read that I even discussed it briefly with one of Becky's friends at her bridal shower. Yep, it's my idea of a scintillating conversation.

Anyhow.... the BBC had a series of programs on objects within the British Museum and how they reflect aspects of human history and development.  The series was well received and issued as a book.  The discussion is segmented into twenty topics with each topic having five objects that have their own chapter of about 5 pages and one or more very good photos.  It spans the last 2 million years with such topics as Making Us Human (2,000,000 to 9000 BC), Ancient Pleasures, Modern Spice (AD 1 to 500), Tolerance and Intolerance (AD 1550 to 1700), and Mass Production and Mass Persuasion (AD 1780 to 1914).

What struck me most about this book is that no mater the object discussed, it is interesting because of the context it provides regarding our thinking and existing as individuals and societies over time.  I've always liked history to better understand just that insight and yet was continually offered information and perspective I'd not seen before. However, this is not a dry text book but a continuing series of very readable discussions.  It's as if you met a subject mater expert at a party who was a great teacher and within a few minutes, let you understand a thumbnail sketch into what they've spent a lifetime learning.

The book could probably be read in a week or two if you just read it alone but also fits in nicely when you only have brief openings of free time.  If you're at all interested in history, this is for you.

Friday, May 02, 2014

"How to be a Woman" by Caitlin Moran

“But, of course, you might be asking yourself, 'Am I a feminist? I might not be. I don't know! I still don't know what it is! I'm too knackered and confused to work it out. That curtain pole really still isn't up! I don't have time to work out if I am a women's libber! There seems to be a lot to it. WHAT DOES IT MEAN?'
I understand. 
So here is the quick way of working out if you're a feminist. Put your hand in your pants.a) Do you have a vagina? andb) Do you want to be in charge of it?If you said 'yes' to both, then congratulations! You're a feminist.” ― Caitlin MoranHow to Be a Woman
I picked up this book when I was at the airport a few weeks ago, waiting for a flight and desperately looking for something to pique my interest. So when I happened upon "How to be a Woman," I was pretty excited. First, because I'd heard and read a lot about it in the last few years (see the NY Times article here if you're interested in a review by someone who knows more than me). Also, you can pretty much get me to pick up any book that is quoted as being "the British version of Tina Fey's 'Bossypants.'" I mean, obviously.

So I must say that I probably dove into this book with pretty high expectations - we all know how I felt about Bossypants (or do we? Click here if you aren't sure...). And it's an unfair characterization to say I was disappointed. But if you read this expecting Bossypants, I think you might be a tad disappointed.

But let's back up. The only reason I'm even comparing it to that book in the first place is because it was mentioned on the cover! Don't mention it on the cover if you don't want me to compare! Unfair, publishing company, unfair.

Because, without that expectation, I think I would've walked away with a much more fair assessment. It was funny, interesting, dug into some topics about women that are sometimes, um, not something we really read about (outside of Cosmo, which is the worst) - like waxing, getting your period, and other really fun girl stuff!

Also, obviously CB was fighting me to read this book the whole time and cannot wait to read about a girl's coming of age in the UK in the 1980s.

I guess the overall feeling from me is that it's a good read, an important topic (feminism - and not being scared of that word for the love of God!), and really palatable. But it isn't something that I'd necessarily pass around to everyone I know (like I did with the aforementioned "Bossypants," whether people wanted me to or not).

I do think that mom and Amanda would enjoy this, if for no other reason than it's pretty relate-able if you do, in fact, possess female body parts. (sorry dad and CB!)

Pick it up. Read it. Let me know what you think.