Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Case of the Velvet Claws (1933)

The Case of the Velvet Claws. (Perry Mason #1) Erle Stanley Gardner. 1933. Random House. 215 pages. [Source: Bought]

AUTUMN SUN BEAT AGAINST THE WINDOW. Perry Mason sat at the big desk. There was about him the attitude of one who is waiting. His face in repose was like the face of a chess player who is studying the board. That face seldom changed expression. Only the eyes changed expression. He gave the impression of being a thinker and a fighter, a man who could work with infinite patience to jockey an adversary into just the right position, and then finish him with one terrific punch.

The Case of the Velvet Claws is the first book in the Perry Mason series by Erle Stanley Gardner. Though it is unlikely that contemporary readers will be unfamiliar with Perry Mason, Paul Drake, and Della Street, this would have been their introduction to the world. There are plenty of establishing details and descriptions about these characters. Especially Perry Mason.

The book opens with a mystery woman seeking Perry Mason's help. She's married, and she was out on the town with another guy. This 'other guy,' whom she claims is just a friend, is a politician, a Congressman, I believe. They were together--at a club, at a restaurant?--when a crime was committed. Neither wants to be known as being there, being a witness, both are seeking to avoid all attention. But she fears that blackmail is certain, almost inevitable. She wants Perry Mason to handle it for her, for them both. The blackmail will come/does come from a tabloid-ish publication with a mystery-secret-owner. It is only after Perry Mason involves himself thus far, that he realizes that this owner is the husband of his client. Murder is inevitable. It is a Perry Mason book, after all. Who will be the victim? Who will be accused? How messy will it get?

I loved this one. I really loved it. It has a very different feel to it in a way. Most of the Perry Mason novels I've read were published a decade or two later. And, of course, I'm most familiar with the television show.

Quotes:
Perry Mason continued to speak, slowly and forcefully, yet without raising his voice. “All right,” he said, “I’m different. I get my business because I fight for it, and because I fight for my clients. People that come to me don’t come to me because they like the looks of my eyes, or the way my office is furnished, or because they’ve known me at a club. They come to me because they need me. They come to me because they want to hire me for what I can do.”
Perry Mason made a gesture with his shoulders. “Why should I care if she makes it easy for me?” he asked. “She’s the one that’s paying for my time. Time is all I’m investing.” Della Street said, slowly: “Are you sure that time is all you’re investing?” “Why not?” “I don’t know,” she said, “the woman’s dangerous. She is just the kind of a little minx who would get you into some sort of a jam and leave you to take it, right on the button.” His face didn’t change expression, but his eyes glinted. “That’s one of the chances I have to take,” he told her. “I can’t expect my clients to be loyal to me. They pay me money. That’s all.” She stared at him with a speculative look that held something of a wistful tenderness. “But you insist on being loyal to your clients, no matter how rotten they are.” “Of course,” he told her. “That’s my duty.”
“To your profession?” “No,” he said slowly, “to myself. I’m a paid gladiator. I fight for my clients. Most clients aren’t square shooters. That’s why they’re clients. They’ve got themselves into trouble. It’s up to me to get them out. I have to shoot square with them. I can’t always expect them to shoot square with me.” “It isn’t fair!” she blazed. “Of course not,” he smiled. “It’s business.”
“When you’re representing clients, Della,” he said, “you can’t pick and choose them. You’ve got to take them as they come. There’s only one rule in this game, and that is that when you do take them, you’ve got to give them all you’ve got.”

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Infinite Sea (2014)

The Infinite Sea (Fifth Wave #2) Rick Yancey. 2014. Penguin. 320 pages. [Source: Library]

I'm so glad I took the time to reread Rick Yancey's The Fifth Wave! I felt ready for the sequel. Of course, I felt ready for the sequel the moment I first finished The Fifth Wave! But I felt prepared to fully appreciate the sequel.

First, you shouldn't read The Infinite Sea until you've read the first book in this alien-invasion series. It does NOT stand alone.

Second, if you've read the first book, and at the very least enjoyed-it-in-the-moment, you should pick up this next book.

Third, if you're looking for a quick, compelling read--perhaps for a read-a-thon--then consider this one. What makes it quick is the fact that, like the first book, it is hard to put this one down!!!

Some time has passed--perhaps a few days, perhaps a week or two--since the ending of The Fifth Wave.

The prologue, "The Wheat," is something. I think it does a great job as prologue--reminding readers of the intensity of the series, of the world as they know it.

Book one, The Problem of Rats, "The world is a clock winding down." This first section is narrated by Ringer. I believe this was the first chance for readers to get her perspective. I was expecting the book to begin with Cassie, I almost saw The Fifth Wave, as being Cassie's book predominantly, and opening with Ringer's thoughts, well, it was a good reminder that the book, the series, is so much more than that.

Book one, The Ripping, "From the time I could barely walk, my father would ask me, Cassie, do you want to fly?" This second section is narrated by Cassie. You'll probably notice--beginning with this section--that the chronology of the narrators is interesting and overlaps and goes back and forth a bit. I didn't mind this actually.

Book one, The Last Star, "As a child, he dreamed of owls." Evan Walker gets his chance to narrate. Readers learn much in this section!!!

Book one, Millions, "The boy stopped talking the summer of the plague." I found this section--short as it was--to be so emotional. I loved gaining more insight on Poundcake.

Book one, The Price. This fifth section is narrated by Cassie. I wouldn't say it's the most action-packed section, but that's because it would be too tough to choose. Has there really been a slow section?! But much does happen, and we see it through her point of view.

Book one, The Trigger. Again. So very short. But oh-so-intense. Another Poundcake section. And I thought "Millions" was emotional!

Book two, The Sum of All Things. Ringer's section. Plenty of this novel is told through her perspective, and, I came to appreciate that in a way. Much is learned in this section certainly, or, perhaps I should say much is explained through dialogue?

Book two, Dubuque. Essentially the conclusion of the book. Cassie's perspective, I believe.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Monday, January 26, 2015

The Art of the English Murder (2014)

The Art of the English Murder. Lucy Worsley. 2014. Pegusus Books. 336 pages. [Source: Library]

I really liked Lucy Worsley's The Art of The English Murder. There were some chapters that I loved, loved, loved. There were some chapters I 'merely' liked. But overall, I found the book to be worth reading and informative. Plenty of "I didn't know that?!?!" facts were included. I always enjoying learning as I read. I believe this is the book companion to a BBC documentary A VERY BRITISH MURDER. I'm curious how the two compare. If it's better to read or watch.

So the premise of this one is simple: how did the British become so interested, so entertained, so fascinated by murder: murder in real life and murder in fiction. It even looks at how real life crimes influences/inspires fictional crimes. (Think Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins to name just two.) So on the one hand, it looks at real cases that got plenty of press, and stayed in the news, cases that became, in a way, part of the culture (think Jack the Ripper), and, on the other hand, it looks at fictional cases. (Think Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, etc.) The last few chapters focus on the "Golden Age" of mystery writers. And the very final chapter, I believe, focuses on Alfred Hitchcock.

As I said, this book has plenty of details. For example, it talks of how puppet shows--for the most part traveling puppet shows--were for adults. Puppet shows often depicted famous murders. So there would be puppets depicting murderers and their victims. And the audience would watch the crime unfold in front of them. The book notes that at times, the murder would be (could be) encored several times. So it does go into 'melodrama' and the theatre. I found the chapter on the stage version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde fascinating!

This book is oh-so-easy to recommend!

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Sunday, January 25, 2015

Revisiting Worthing Saga

The Worthing Saga. Orson Scott Card. 1990. Tor. 465 pages. [Source: Bought]

In many places in the Peopled Worlds, the pain came suddenly in the midst of the day's labor. It was as if an ancient and comfortable presence left them, one that they had never noticed until it was gone, and no one knew what to make of it at first, though all knew at once that something had changed deep at the heart of the world.  

This will be my third blog review for Orson Scott Card's The Worthing Saga. I reviewed this one in 2007 and 2012. It is one of my favorite, favorite books. And my FAVORITE Card novel. (Though I love Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead.)

I love the world-building. I find the three settings within the book to be fascinating. (There is Lared's home planet which is the present-day setting; there is Capital, the planet from Jason Worthing's memory and stories, Capital becomes "real" to Lared as he experiences Worthing's memories through dreams; there is Worthing, the planet that Jason colonized with a handful of colonists thousands of years before the novel opens, again this planet becomes "real" to Lared as he experiences other people's memories through Justice, Jason's descendent.) Readers get a taste of all these societies and communities. Capital is decadent and immoral and corrupt. It is obsessed with the notion of eternity--of living forever. It "lives forever" by drug use. Somec. You might be under Somec--asleep--for anywhere from one year to ten years, and then awake for anywhere from one day (like the Empress) to three years. But somec disrupts EVERYTHING good and natural about life. An example of the decadence and immorality can be seen in the "lifeloops." People filming/recording their "real" lives for everyone to watch. Most--if not all lifeloops--are graphic in nature. It's hard not to be disgusted by the depiction. (For example, one actress complaining to her agent that he better not hire any seven year old boys for her next film.) Closely connected to the world-building, is the mythology of it. How Abner Doon's name lives on. He IS the devil. How Jason Worthing's name lives on. How people see him as being GOD. Both men are very much human, having strengths and weaknesses, being oh-so-fallible. But they have become collectively so much more than that. They've lost their humanity. Truth has been shaped and reshaped too many times to allow for them to be just human.

I love the characterization. I love getting to know Lared, Sala, Jason, and Justice. Not to mention all the men and women from the memories and stories. (I have a soft spot for Hoom.) I love the storytelling. I love the dialogue. I love how everything is layered together. How the story all comes together. How Lared slowly but surely pieces things together and comes to understand--if understand is the right word--the world. Card's characters are so very human, so vulnerable, so fallible. Readers see humans at their best and at their absolute worst within The Worthing Saga. Moments of compassion and redemption make it so worth while.

I love the ideas. I love the depth and substance. That is not to say that I agree absolutely with every single philosophical idea within the book. But it goes places most fiction doesn't. It asks real questions, tough questions. It explores ideas. One also sees the consequences (or possible consequences) of ideas. But it encourages you to think about deep things, to explore questions like why is there pain? why is there suffering? would the world be a better place without pain, without suffering? Is pain a necessary evil? Do we only feel joy and happiness because we know about pain and sorrow? what makes life beautiful? do we become better people through our struggles with life?


I do enjoy the framework. The Worthing Chronicle (1982) makes up half of The Worthing Saga. This is THE story with Lared being visited by Jason and Justice shortly after the day of pain disrupts his community. (It really is a haunting opening.) The second half of the book consists of short stories. Most of these short stories were written years before The Worthing Chronicle and were previously published. Tales of Capitol (1979): "Skipping Stones," "Second Chance," "Lifeloop," "Breaking the Game," "Killing Children," and "What Will We Do Tomorrow." Tales from the Forest of Waters (1990, 1980): "Worthing Farm," "Worthing Inn," and "The Tinker." Of these stories, I find Skipping Stones, Second Chance, and Breaking the Game to be most memorable. After you've read these stories, you almost need to go back and reread the first section. I'm not sure you can fully appreciate the book without rereading it a few times and absorbing it. Most of the stories--but certainly not all of them--are emotional. I love that the book is a book to be EXPERIENCED.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Revisiting To Dream in the City of Sorrows

To Dream in the City of Sorrows. (Babylon 5: Book #9). Kathryn M. Drennan. Based on the series by J. Michael Straczynski. 1997. Random House. 352 pages.  [Source: Bought]
"What are we to do with him her?" asked the Mole of the Water Rat.
"Nothing at all," replied the Rat firmly. "Because there is really nothing to be done. You see, I know him her from old. He She is now possessed. He She has got a new craze, and it always takes him her that way, in its first stage. He'll She'll continue like that for days now, like an animal walking in a happy dream, quite useless for all practical purposes. Never mind him her. ~ Adapted from Wind of the Willows
Me obsessed with Babylon 5?! Really?! Perhaps. 

I've read To Dream in the City of Sorrows three times now. I reviewed it in 2011 and 2012. I think it is a must read for fans of Babylon 5. In the introduction, J. Michael Straczynski writes, "What you hold in your hand is an official, authorized chapter in the Babylon 5 story line. This is the definitive answer to the Sinclair question, and should be considered as authentic as any episode in the regular series."

But where to place it?! That is the question. It's tempting to read it in between season one and season two. After all, most of the book's events are parallel to season two. Readers get a chance to read what Sinclair is doing in the meantime. But not all the events, and that is where it gets tricky. Reading To Dream In the City of Sorrows before viewing season three would spoil things for you. So reading it after you've seen the third season may prove best. Since I've seen most all the seasons multiple times, I read it when I like! [For the record, this time around, I've seen all of season one, and the first eight episodes of season two.]    

So the framework of To Dream In The City of Sorrows--the prologue and epilogue--take place shortly after season three's "Grey 17 is Missing," and are narrated by Marcus Cole. (I just LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Marcus Cole!) But most of the book focuses on what was happening with Jeffrey Sinclair after he left Babylon 5. (The gap between the last episode of season one, "Chrysalis," and the incredibly intense two-part episode "War Without End" of season three.)

Read To Dream in the City of Sorrows

  • If you want to know what Sinclair was doing in season two and three
  • If you want to know what became of Catherine Sakai, to learn if these two were able to make their troubled relationship work...with the added drama of Shadows and Rangers
  • If you want to know more even more about the Shadows' movements during this time
  • If you want to learn about how Sinclair became Ranger One and re-energized the Rangers (first started by Valen)
  • If you want to learn more about Minbari prophecies (also their culture and caste system)
  • If you want to learn more about the Vorlons; in particular readers are introduced to Ulkesh. (Loved Sinclair's first impression of him! And his insights about the Vorlons in general. How Kosh may not be the most representative of his race.)
  • If you want to learn more about Marcus. Readers meet William Cole AND Marcus Cole. Two brothers with an imperfect relationship. William is an eager ranger-in-training trying to get Marcus to join him, but, things don't always go as planned.
© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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