Monday, July 31, 2023

"Playback" by Raymond Chandler

Man, this book has given me such a bad book hangover.  I don't even remember the last time I had such a severe one.  Usually, I am reading at least two books at once, and so I just naturally keep on reading my other book whenever I finish one.  And then I transition into another pretty smoothly.  But this book... I just can't leave it behind yet.  I finished it two days ago and, up until the last chapter, I was just kind of okay with it, but not loving it as much as Chandler's other novels... and then I got to that last chapter and it knocked me down.  I can't even remember the last time I read this book, and I had forgotten pretty much everything about it, which is how I like it -- that's why I cycle through Chandler's books by reading one a year.  And boy, was that effective this time around.

So yeah... I haven't managed to read anything in either of the other two books I have going right now, since I finished this.  I tried starting a different book because it felt more similar to this, but that isn't working either.  I guess I'll just have to let the hangover wear off on its own, or something.

Playback is the last full book Raymond Chandler wrote and published.  It is a bit unusual in that Philip Marlowe alludes to characters from a previous book in it, and talks about things that had happened in it, namely The Long Goodbye, which I don't recall him doing at all in the other books.  And it's some of those tie-in things that really come together in the final chapter of Playback and just... were so completely awesome and made me so happy that I can't get over them.

And, it seems I can't really review this book coherently, thanks to that.

Let me try to at least describe the plot a little bit.  Philip Marlowe gets hired by a lawyer to follow a woman.  He does, and discovers that she is in some pretty serious trouble, so he decides to try to help her instead of just tailing her and reporting on her activities.  There's not an actual mystery here in the traditional sense -- the focus of the book is not on figuring out whodunnit and bringing in a criminal.  Instead, it's about figuring out what someone is hiding, and why, and kind of... studying human nature a lot in the process.  

It's a pensive and contemplative book, really, and Marlowe sometimes seems to drift through it.  But I think that's the point -- Marlowe is adrift, and so is the woman he was tailing, and the idea of "what do you do if you can't anchor yourself to someone else or someplace else" is the story's actual focus.  And Marlowe gets a chance at an anchor, which could change his whole life forever.

Still not super coherent, I guess, but that's what I've got.  Like I said, this book knocked me for a loop.  But in a very enjoyable way.

Particularly Good Bits:

You can't run away from yourself (p. 24).

On the dance floor half a dozen couples were throwing themselves around with the reckless abandon of a night watchman with arthritis (p. 44).

"Excuse me," I said.  "I'm a little tired.  Once in every two or three days I have to sit down.  It's a weakness I've tried to get over, but I'm not so young as I was" (p. 142).

"If I wasn't hard, I wouldn't be alive.  If I couldn't ever be gentle, I wouldn't deserve to be alive" (p. 153).

I sat down on the couch and stared at the wall.  Wherever I went, whatever I did, this was what I would come back to.  A blank wall in a meaningless room in a meaningless house.  I put the drink down on a side table without touching it.  Alcohol was no cure for this.  Nothing was any cure but the hard inner heart that asked for nothing from anyone (p. 164).

If This was a Move, I Would Rate It: R for Marlowe spending the night with two different women, one instance of which does not fade to black until after one person is already naked.  There's also a lot of violence, including torture and a suicide, and some bad language and drug use.  And a lot of drinking, as usual.  

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

"Lando" by Louis L'Amour

Now, that's what I call a rousing good adventure story!

Lando Sackett leaves the Appalachian mountains as a young man, hunted by three of his uncles who are convinced he knows where there's a fabulous buried treasure.  Not Sackett uncles, of course, but his mother's brothers.  Lando and a man known only as the Tinker strike out to find their fortunes in the West, but the Tinker turns out to be involved with that buried treasure too.  After many misadventures and a stint in a Mexican prison where hard labor turned his muscles hard even if his disposition is still pretty kind, Lando ends up duking it out with his childhood nemesis in the middle of a Texas town.  Also, there's pirate gold.  And Lando's dad turns up again and falls for the woman Lando kinda fancies himself.  But somehow, Lando just remains a good-hearted, sensible, nice man through it all.

Honestly, this book just kind of trots along from one adventure to the next, all of which are tied together by that search for pirate gold, which Lando himself is not really all that interested in, but which people around him keep dragging him toward.  I could have trotted along beside Lando for another couple hundred pages.  This is probably going to end up being one of my favorites of the Sackett books.

Particularly Good Bits:

"Mr. Sackett, face a man with a gun or a sword, but beware of bookkeepers.  They will destroy you, Sackett" (p. 43).

"The place for a woman," she said, smiling at me, "is where she is needed" (p. 83).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-13 for a lot of violence, including a brutal boxing match.  Some minor cussing too.

This is my 41st book read from my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2023.

Sunday, July 23, 2023

"In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson" by Bette Bao Lord

This is such a fun, upbeat book!  It's set in 1947, when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball, but it's actually about a little girl from China who moves to New York City with her mom to be with her dad, who had previously come to the USA to find work.  The little girl has to choose an American name for herself, so she picks the only American-sounding name she knows and likes: Shirley Temple.

Shirley Temple Wong doesn't speak English, doesn't know how to roller skate, can't play baseball, and doesn't know the Pledge of Allegiance.  But she learns all of those things over the course of the book.  She becomes an avid baseball fan and listens devotedly to Dodgers games on the radio.  She makes new friends, tries new foods, and even takes piano lessons from their landlady.

If This was  Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for one scene where a friend of Shirley's makes her take a blood oath not to tell their parents they are looking at an anatomy book that has pictures of naked people in it.  It's not belabored or really dwelt upon, but still not something I probably wouldn't want my kids encountering when they were quite young, so some other parents might feel the same.

Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Top Ten Tuesday: In a Word (July 18)

This week's Top Ten Tuesday subject from That Artsy Reader Girl is "Books with One-Word Titles."  I am not counting articles (a, an, the) in this, just FYI.  I've gathered up my favorites and linked their titles to my reviews of them, and given you a hint of what you can find in each one too!

The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton -- found family, brothers, young hoods, Robert Frost

Persuasion by Jane Austen -- second chance at love, family strife, personal growth, female friendship

Shane by Jack Schaefer -- found family, western, lone gunman, hero worship

Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson -- swashbuckler, historical fiction, buddy story, mismatched friends

Laura by Vera Caspary -- dark mystery, detective hero, mysterious woman, unconventional romance

Bloodlines by Jan Burke -- dual timeline, connected murder mysteries, mentors, news reporter

Emmazel by Kendra E. Ardnek -- Jane Austen retelling, Rapunzel retelling, snarky talking cat, female friendship

Beauty by Robin McKinley -- fairy tale retelling, medieval-esque setting, friends-to-lovers, unconventional heroine

Hondo by Louis L'Amour -- man of few words, unconventional romance, western, sacrificial love

Mandy by Julie Andrews Edwards -- gardening, cottagecore, orphans, found family

Have you read any of these?  What books were on your TTT list this week?

Sunday, July 16, 2023

"Murder at Kensington Palace" by Andrea Penrose

Yet another thoroughly entertaining Wrexford and Sloane mystery!  I won't say this one was thoroughly enjoyable because it had a couple of quite grisly murders and involved the subject of people doing scientific experiments on themselves and on dead bodies, which is kinda icky.  Not nasty or repulsive to the point where I felt squeamish, just... a bit ew.  

When Charlotte Sloane's cousin is murdered, and his twin is arrested for the murder, she sets out to prove the surviving brother innocent.  Naturally, the Earl of Wrexford involves himself in the case as well.  The two of them dance around the fact that they have come to care for each other, and come to a somewhat satisfactory understanding of this fact by the end of the book.  As an emotionally cautious person, I found their hesitancy completely relatable, but I suppose some readers may be irked by their reticence to fall into each others' arms. 

Charlotte also makes a decision that will change her life, and the lives of her two wards.  It involves introducing a new character: her aunt, Lady Peake, whom I found amusing and fun.

Particularly Good Bits:

Creativity is rarely tidy, he thought wryly as he ran his gaze over the bookshelves and work counters (p. 213).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-15 for the grisly murders, one of which involves removing a piece of male anatomy, but which does not involve any kind of sexual element.  There are a variety of cuss words, some veiled suggestive dialog, and a violent fight scene.  No spicy scenes, and the murder scenes are not described in a grossly gory way.

This is my fourth book read from my #20BooksOfSummer23 challenge list.

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

"The Detective's Assistant" by Kate Hannigan

Remember when I read Girl in Disguise by Greer McAllister a few years ago and lamented that there are no biographies about Kate Warne, the first female Pinkerton Detective?  There still aren't any good adult biographies of her, and that still bothers me.  BUT there are a few more books around these days that involve her, and that makes me really happy, because she wows me.

The Detective's Assistant is a middle-grade fiction book that is a great way to introduce younger folks to Kate Warne.  In the book, Kate's (fictional) orphan niece Nell Warne lands on her doorstep, demanding to be taken in and not shipped off to an orphanage.  Nell is a spunky and clever 11-yr-old who, over the course of the next two years, proves to be a valuable help to her Aunt Kate in solving some important cases and doing some important spy work.

The cases in this book are all based on real ones that Kate Warne really was instrumental in solving.  Thieves and scoundrels make up the first few baddies that Kate and Nell take down, but the climax of the book revolves around The Baltimore Incident, Kate Warne's real-life discovery of a plot to assassinate President-elect Abraham Lincoln on his way to take the oath of office.  And if that doesn't sound like a thrilling and exciting climax for a book, I don't know what does!

This book also touches on the abolitionist movement and the Underground Railroad, and I thought it did a great job of showing why people had such strong opinions about slavery without getting preachy.  Better than so many adult books I have read, actually!

Particularly Good Bits:

"There is always work to be done in this life... You can be the hands that lift the load, or you can be the burden itself.  You choose" (p. 136).

Aunt Kate once said that family is the folks we choose to be with, not the ones we're stuck with.  But I had my own notions about family now.  To me, family meant taking the folks we're stuck with and choosing to love them anyway (p. 339).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-10.  There is some violence depicted, including a discussion of a man being killed with a hammer and a depiction of the blood involved.  A tween girl fires a pistol and talks about hunting for food.  No cussing or improper situations.

Saturday, July 8, 2023

"Thornrose Estate" by Kendra E. Ardnek

This book is a whirlwind!  An amnesiac heroine (who repeatedly forgets things in the past), a shape-shifting hero, a horrible curse to untangle, and a friends-to-lovers arc that I loved.  Not to mention some found family elements too!

Calla (who was a side character for much of the previous book in the series, Snowfield Palace) has grown up in a small cottage in the middle of nowhere.  She can't remember the last nine years of her life, but her guardians assure her that when she turns nineteen, she'll be able to remember who she is and what happened to her nine years ago.

Nine years ago, the Forest was sealed off, not allowing people in the northern and southern kingdoms to contact each other in any way.  Calla knows this is due to some disaster, and she feels like she should remember what happened, but how could she have been involved if she was a child of ten at the time?

Calla's guardians send her to stay with a friend in the big city, where she's befriended by the chatty and gossipy Belle and pursued romantically by Belle's brother Johnston.  Calla also makes friends with the sweet Elaeza and her brother Hansel, both of whom are much kinder than Belle and Johnston.  Which pair of siblings can Calla truly trust?  She really wonders about this when Elaeza and Hansel turn out to be royalty and ask her to stay with them at Thornrose Estate.  Why would they seek the company of a nobody with no memory of her childhood?

Of course, Calla's memories eventually return, and she joins one set of friends in fighting the other, trying to break the curse that binds the Forest and its Gardiner.  Plus, she falls in love with a man who can turn into a wolf, which echoes a couple of her favorite fairy tales.

I like that a lot of what happened in Snowfield Palace got resolved in this book -- I'm so glad Ardnek didn't drag that out until the final book of the series, which is expected to launch this fall.  Though I can see that some of this book's ending is setting things up for that final adventure, so everything is not fully resolved yet.

Once again, Ardnek cleverly twists a Jane Austen novel (Northanger Abbey) with a fairy tale ("Beauty and the Beast") and uses them to craft an entirely new story of her own.

Particularly Good Bits: 

Wasn't that why she read all of the books that she did?  So she could pretend that the lives of the heroines were hers.  Pretend that there were people who loved her and adventures that she could travel.  But it was only ever pretend (p. 136).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG for some violence, scenes of peril, and kissing.  As with the rest of the series, no smut or bad language.

This is my 3rd book read from my 10 Books of Summer list, and the 40th book read off my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2023.

Thursday, July 6, 2023

"Sackett" by Louis L'Amour

I really loved Tell Sackett's dry, self-deprecating humor.  He was a charming narrator, and I thoroughly enjoyed his wry observations about people and life.

The story in this one is not my favorite -- too much gold-hunting, maybe?  Too many people impinging on Tell's plans?  The love interest did annoy me a bit because she was so easily swayed against him, and then she just shifted right back onto his team with too much ease too.

The part where Tell has to survive an ice storm high in the mountains was pretty spectacular, and I loved that he helped found a new town.  But overall, this one grabbed me less than the previous books in the Sackett series.  It was still enjoyable, don't get me wrong.

Particularly Good Bits:

Folks talk about human nature, but what they mean is not human nature, but the way they are brought up (p. 55).

But the fact of the matter is, no man can shape his life according to woman's thinking.  Nor should any woman try to influence a man toward her way.  There must be give and take between them (p. 85).

Women are practical.  They get right down to bedrock about things, and no woman is going to waste much time remembering a man who was fool enough to kill himself.  Thing to do is live for love, not die for it (p. 117).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-10 for violence, dangerous situations, and some mild cussing.

This is my second book read from my Ten Books of Summer list and my 40th read from my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2023.

Tuesday, July 4, 2023

"Code Name Edelweiss" by Stephanie Landsem

I suspect this book will be on my list of favorite new reads for this year.  It is enthralling!

Liesl Weiss loses her job as a stenographer at a big Hollywood studio.  It's the middle of the Great Depression and, ever since her husband disappeared a couple of years earlier, it's been up to Liesl to support her two children, herself, her mother, and her brother.  While searching for a new workplace, she meets up with Leon Lewis, a Jewish lawyer who offers to pay her to spy on suspected Nazi agents in Los Angeles.

Liesl takes the job, sure she will discover that her fellow German-Americans are not up to anything nefarious.  Instead, she helps uncover a real-life plot to attack Jewish movie makers and take over the studios.  Sometimes, the book was almost too suspenseful for me -- I occasionally had to put it down and process everything that had happened.  But, in the end, I loved it.

I was absolutely fascinated by the historical notes at the end, which talked about the real history of Leon Lewis and his tireless efforts to stop Nazis from infiltrating the movie industry and Californian culture.

Landsem's writing style was engaging and appealing, and I loved the wealth of historical details that really made the story come alive.  The message of how good people need to stand up for what is good and decry what is bad was also very timely.  But it was the characters, particularly the mysterious Agent Thirteen, that I loved the best.

Particularly Good Bits:

This was war.  Not with guns and tanks--not yet at least--but with words and ideas, with ideology.  And wasn't that how war always started?

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-16 for a lot of sexual harassment toward Liesl and other women, discussions of an unwed pregnancy, some violence, and lots of racism directed not just toward Jewish people, but many others as well.  No bad language or smutty scenes.

This is my first book read from my 10 Books of Summer list and my 39th read from my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2023.