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review 2015-04-08 22:29
1930 Aryl's Divide - Book Three - M.L. Gardner

It appears that some readers were let down by this book in the series simply because it did not hold the same gravitas as the first book in the series.  They may well have a valid point but I wanted differences in the lives of these great characters.  To that end, the author has delivered.  I thoroughly enjoyed the continuation of the saga.  It is trues that there is nothing ethereal in this book.  However, the plights of these folks continue to show just how difficult their lives, and those around them, became during the depression.  I anxiously await reading the next in the series.  After reading Jonathan's cross, I bought all (except for Book 5 - too $$ for a short story) so I will have them on hand when ready.  So, The Drifter, here I come.

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review 2014-10-27 19:42
Murder is Bad Manners: A Wells and Wong Mystery
Murder Is Bad Manners: A Wells and Wong Mystery - Robin Stevens

This was so fun--I'm hoping it's the start to a new series!

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review 2014-09-27 07:01
Little Man, What Now? by Hans Fallada
Little Man, What Now? - Hans Fallada

This tale is a sweetly naÏve, charming description of a couple's relationship and survival through economic hard times in Berlin 1932. It is a response to social stories of the day, of bleak futures on the horizon as poverty, conflict and social disorder dominated everyday life. Fallada draws on his observations of many Berliners left jobless and despairing by the depression. In 1932 when Little Man, What Now? was published, 42% of German workers were unemployed and further cast into desperation as unemployment support was cut. Realism dictates the themes of the novel as Fallada illuminates the essentially invisible day-to-day struggles of staying above the breadline, the terror of being on the thin edges of employment, and the fear of financial insecurity while trying to provide for a family. His fictional world of Berlin was praised as "no fiction at all," but rather an authentic report of life - a novel for 'the people.'

The novel's strength is in the acute perspectives and observations of its characters, mainly through Johannes Pinneberg, a man of little means; and his wife, Lammchen, as they confront an unexpected pregnancy, the contentment and wonderment of the newly-wedded, the fulfillment of work regardless of its meagerness, the anxiety of unemployment and then utter despair. Pinneberg finds joy in the prospect of becoming a husband and father, but hopes of providing for a family turn dismally in a string of unfortunate events. "Down the slippery slope, sunk without trace, utterly destroyed. Order and cleanliness, gone; work, material security, gone; making progress and hope, gone. Poverty is not just misery, poverty is an offense, poverty is a stain, poverty is suspect.”

Pinneberg's love for Lammchen, who rises above her proletarian parents; his confidence in her judgment; her courage and steadfastness when her husband becomes one of the 6 million unemployed, are validations for the novel. Lammchen, modeled after Fallada's wife, the levelheaded and stabilizing influence of his life , Anna Issel: shines as the novel's equally supportive and incorruptible heroine. “But you know, money isn’t the answer. We can get by, and money isn’t what’s needed. It’s work that would help Sonny, a bit of hope. Money? No.”

Fallada deliberately restricts political tones, although the more astute reader might recognize, buried within the folds of the story, a clearly developed political context of the time. He concentrates more on the couple's romantic idylls, contrasting those with despair and hope, irony and humor, the ups and downs of daily life, never allowing their troubles to completely overwhelm them. Even in the moment of Pinneberg's dejected, lowest point, Lammchen's bright outlook won't allow it.

And suddenly the cold had gone, an immeasurably gentle green wave lifted her up and him with her. They glided up together; the stars glittered very near; she whispered: 'But you can look at me! Always, always! You're with me, we're together..' It was the old joy, it was the old love. Higher and higher from the tarnished earth to the stars.

Fallada suggests no resolution to the dismally urgent situation of unemployment, but as he often does in his novels, leaves the reader with a glimmer of hope; in this case to ponder the question: 'What Now?'

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review 2014-09-26 10:20
Queen of Hearts (Her Royal Spyness, #8)
Queen of Hearts - Rhys Bowen

In the time between WWI and WWII, when everything about society is changing, Lady Georgiana Rannoch, 35th in line to the English throne, is a charming throwback to Victorian aristocracy - no matter how hard she tries to be otherwise.  She is the sister of a Duke, frequently has tea with the Queen, and her mother is a famous stage actress infamous for her ability to rip through very rich men around the world, but Georgie is penniless and trying desperately to make her own way in the world.  She's in love with a penniless son of the aristocracy and despite her willingness to throw her values to the wind, she just can't catch a break.

 

In Queen of Hearts, Georgie's mother declares that she has finally agreed to marry her current beau, bazillionaire German industrialist, Max.  But first she must divorce her current husband, American bazillionaire oil magnate, Homer.  But he's always refused a divorce, citing religious beliefs, so it's off to Reno to acquire a quickie divorce and she pulls Georgie along with her for company, introducing Georgie to her first Atlantic cruise, New York City, and ultimately Hollywood (via Reno).  Along the way, a very clever jewel thief and eventually a dead body has Georgie scrambling for solutions while soaking up all that 1930's America has to offer.

 

This series and this book are a joy to read.  The author writes wonderful characters and puts them in vivid, descriptive settings and sets them upon very well plotted, clever mysteries.  At any given moment in this book the author had me absolutely convinced that character A, then character B,  - no, no, character C MUST be the culprit.  Georgie "investigates" without ever interrogating, making TSTL decisions or EVER thinking she is better than the authorities - even if she sometimes is.

 

I was initially reluctant to try this series - "Her Royal Spyness" just sounded too, too silly.  I had visions of an empty aristocrat going on undercover missions.  But Georgiana charmed me from the beginning with her sincere, practical, common sense outlook on the life she was given and her openness to the adventures and mysteries thrown in her path.  And Darcy...ahhh Darcy.

 

#9 soon please, Ms. Bowen.

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review 2013-11-01 05:27
Melbourne Cup 1930 by Geoff Armstrong & Peter Thompson
Melbourne Cup 1930: How Phar Lap Won Australia's Greatest Race - Geoff Armstrong,Peter Thompson

27/10 – So my local library set us a challenge to read a horse-related book and write a review of it.  My personal challenge was to find a horse-related book that I was likely to enjoy, and review it, I usually need to have some possibility of enjoying the book because I find it much easier to write a thorough review of a book if I’ve enjoyed reading it first.  Melbourne Cup 1930 is, clearly, about the Melbourne Cup of 1930, focusing most of its plot on the attempted shooting of Phar Lap, and the subsequent police investigation, the Saturday before the Cup.

 

Full of history and background about, what seems like, every horse that won an Australian horse race prior to the 1930 Melbourne Cup, it can get a bit tedious for a reader like myself who isn’t all that interested in horses, horse-racing or the characters that are involved in that world.  So while I was reading the background for all the humans that were somehow related to any of the horses mentioned, I was thinking “when are we going to get back to Phar Lap?”.  One of the more interesting facts I learned about Phar Lap is that his name, Phar Lap, is Siamese for Lightning.

 

I think my grandad might get more out of this book than I am.  He is a long-time horse racing fanatic who actually owned a horse in his hey-day.  Then he went and made an unfortunately large bet on a horse that didn't win and lost a considerable amount of money (around a house's worth), after that experience he promised my grandma that he would never put money on a horse again, and, 30 or 40 years later he is still keeping that promise. He watches, and wins hundreds in monopoly money (except for 26/10/2013's Cox Plate where he had his money on It's A Dundeel and it placed 8th after Shamus Award won), every race weekend but no real money changes hands.

 

Except for a short chapter detailing the attempted shooting of Phar Lap while he was being walked back from the Caulfield Racecourse after an early-morning workout session, and little interjections here and there on the continuing investigation the book was mostly Phar Lap free.  There was more about the backgrounds of his owner, trainer, the detectives involved in the case and even some of the well-known bookies making (and losing) money in the first 3rd of the last century.  In the end Armstrong and Thompson come to the probable, but not certain, conclusion that the shooting was a hoax.  They base this conclusion on all the strange pieces of evidence for e.g. completely absent shotgun pellets after the discharge of a shotgun the day of the incident, then suddenly five or six of them appear out of nowhere the next day.  Other strange occurrences included the fact that the newspapers stopped reporting on the shooting the Wednesday after the Cup (the papers were full of rumours in the days immediately after the shooting, leading right up to the Cup, then they seemed to forget about it, despite there being no resolution), the conflicting ‘eyewitness’ accounts from people who couldn’t have been anywhere near the shooting at the time it happened and, most compelling, the fact that if it had been a real ‘hit’ the shooter wouldn’t have missed.  The car was only a metre or two away from Phar Lap and firing a shotgun isn’t precision work, you just have to aim in the general direction of your target and you’re likely to hit it with one of the 100 or so pellets in the shotgun cartridge.

 

Near the end of the book a previous book, also written by Armstrong and Thompson, about the death of Phar Lap is mentioned and I wish that had been the one I’d picked up for this challenge as I think I would have found it more interesting (although, at the same time a little frustrating as nothing can be definitively proven all these years later).  Anyway, a decent little book associated with the Melbourne Cup, finished one day before the 83rd anniversary of the ‘attempted shooting’ of Phar Lap, Australia’s greatest racehorse.

 

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