**** Stop reading this review and get this book
*** Definitely worth your time
** Not bad, but not a must-read, either
* Better than reading the shampoo label, maybe
no stars Reading this may damage your brain
MOTS = More Of The Same (Not necessarily bad. See previous reviews of same author.)
- ** How To Talk So Your Teenager Will Listen, Swets. Not bad.
- How to write and sell humor and 3 books on writing for children, one of which was good.
- *** Make Way for Lucia, which includes Queen Lucia, Lucia in London, Miss Mapp, The Male Impersonator, Mapp and Lucia, The Worshipful Lucia, and Trouble for Lucia, E. F. Benson. The Lucia series is an extended and potentially exhausting read. I don’t recommend trying to do it in one pass. This is a book that should be kept to fall back on between other books. On the whole it is entertaining to a surprising and unexpected degree. I found myself thinking, “How can this collection of completely superficial social manuevering be so captivating?” If I had to describe a plot I would be embarrassed to admit I was reading such fluff. It would sound no better than a soap opera, only more inoccuous and trivial. However, Benson is such a writer, close to the caliber of Wodehouse (but never quite attaining that lofty height) that the shallowness of the characters is in itself intriguing. The only character I remember in the entire work that wasn’t two-dimensional and predictable was Olga, the opera star, who only appears in two or three of the novels. But this in itself isn’t neccessarily an indictment. Wodehouse’s characters and plots are as predictable and automatic as a vending machine but his writing style transcends and transforms the whole into a work of art. It would be an interesting question to consider whether Wodehouse could have written as effectively if he had developed characters of greater depth and plots of less superficial intricacy. Say something on the order of Graham Greene but with the Wodehouse style. Would it even work? And why am I doing all of this analysis of Wodehouse in a review of Benson novels?
- *** The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. A collection of modern Sherlock Holmes stores, including selections by Stephen King and John Gardner. This collection has several entertaining stories in it, some of which approach the style and caliber of the Canon. Recommended reading for Holmes buffs.
- **** Poor Russell’s Almanac, Russell Baker. This is a classic I read in the 70’s that I found at Mary Ann’s Books in Garland, TX. Excellent satire. Recommended reading.
- ** The Loved One, Evelyn Waugh. A satire on modern society set in a funeral home. O.K. but not great.
- **** The Gospel According to Chegum, Fazil Iskander. A collection of 10 short stories by a popular contemporary Russian author. (Actually, he is Abkhazian, but he writes in Russian.) His most famous work published in Russia is The Goatibex Constellation. The Chegum stories evidently weren’t published in Russia as of the printing of this edition. Definitely worth reading for serious readers. Good sections with occasional gusts of genius. It gives a good feeling of life in post-Stalin Russia without being morbid. Would like to find the first in the set, Sandro of Chegum.
- *** A Thief of Time, Tony Hillerman. Pretty good detective novel set in modern Navajo culture. Hillerman weaves Navajo culture and religious traditions into the fabric of a murder mystery. Very readable. Recommended reading.
- Journey Toward Wholeness, Don Crossland. Better left unsaid.
- *** Man’s Search For Meaning, Viktor Frankel. Evidently a classic work in psychology. Very intriguing. Without being specific it validates Christian belief as a major factor in developing a stable world view that enables people to endure trauma with psyche intact.
- *** Happy To Be Here, Garrison Keillor. Good, as usual, but a bit slow in spots.
- **** The Book of the Dun Cow, Walter Wangerin, Jr. An excellent allegory mistakenly catagorized by many as a children’s book. It is a bit slow in spots, but overall a mentally stimulating read. Recommended reading for serious readers.
- *** Marco Polo, If You Can, William F. Buckley, Jr. Another Blackford Oakes novel, the fourth in the series, and not particularly remarkable. Nothing yet compares with Stained Glass or The Henri Todd Story.
- **** Our Man In Havana, Graham Greene. An amusing and reflective novel about a British vacuum cleaner salesman who is recruited by MI6, England’s version of the CIA. The amusing aspects of a salesman sending in bogus reports for the pay and the resulting complications are offset by the melancholy introspections of the protagonist. Highly recommend reading.
- ** The Bridge of San Luis Rey, Thorton Wilder. A rather droll tale which I read because someone compared my style to Wilder’s. Can’t say I see it in this novel.
- ** The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, Carson McCullers. I finally read it after years of hearing people mention it. It’s a fairly good book, but not the kind of stuff that really interests me.
- * The Lady in the Lake, Raymond Chandler. Forgetable detective novel. As a matter of fact, I’ve already forgotten most of it.
- *** A Whiff of Death and Murder that the ABA, Issac Asimov. The first was very good with great depth of character for the protagonist. The second was amusing but mostly fluff.
- **** The Tenth Man, Graham Greene. An excellent, short book, very cinematic. Recommended reading.
- ** The Surchataine’s Guardian, The Stone of Help, High Lord of Lystra, Robin Hardy. I read this series because I met the author. They’re not bad, but not the type of reading I would have chosen for entertainment, being primarily romances. They get better as they go. [Note: Robin Hardy was responsible for the FredBooks getting published 10 years later. I owe her more than I can say. Buy her books.]
- ** Talent is Not Enough, Mollie Hunter. A book on writing for children. It has its interesting points and is motivating.
- ** The Cockroaches of Stay More, John Harrington. An amusing and grows on you as you read it. At first you think, “I’ll give it 20 more pages.” Eventually you get sucked in and it flows on to the end.
- *** Mrs. Ames, E.F. Benson. The precursor to the Lucia series, I liked this one even better because Ames finally became a real person at the end, something which rarely, if ever, happened in the Lucia/Mapp stories. Olga was about the only real person in the series.
- *** Miss Undine’s Living Room, James Wilcox. An excellent writer. Great characters, set in modern Louisiana, rather flimsy on plot, however.
- *** The Blessing Way, The Dark Wind, Skin Walkers, Tony Hillerman. More great Navajo detective stories set on the reservation. This guy is very entertaining. Recommended reading.
- * Vanna Karenina, Frank Gannon. A collection of, for the most part, forgettable sketches with a few gems interspersed.
- ** The Best of Bill Vaughn. A pretty good collection by an old columnist.
- ** The New Hilton Bedside Book. An amusing collection of stories printed in 1955.
- ** Mama, Mormonism, and Me, Thelma Geer. Pretty good.
- ** The Coming Economic Earthquake, Larry Burkett. An interesting analysis of the situation which shows how we are paralleling earlier depression cycles. Reinforces my decision to get out of the house payment and get out of debt.
- **** The Power and the Glory, Graham Greene. Great book! The story of a whiskey priest on the run from Communist authorities and his struggle with his own sin and inadequacies. The scene where he attempts to buy wine on the black market in order to serve communion is riveting and moving. Highly recommended reading.
- *** This Gun For Hire, The Confidential Agent and The Ministry of Fear, Graham Greene. All quite good. Based on the work I’ve read so far, he seems to favor a protagonist who is flawed and wrestles with his conscience and his own inadequacies while trying to do what he must, which is in some cases merely attempting to survive.
- * The Latimer Mercy, Robert Richardson. Not bad for a first novel, but he’s not someone I’ll go looking for on the shelves. As far as mysteries go, there seemed to be a lot of sitting around helplessly wondering what to do and crying about the deceased. What little conflict there was between characters was smoothed over rather quickly, usually within the scene.
- *** Joseph Smith, The First Mormon, Donna Hill. This was an interesting biography, all the more so since it was written by a woman whose ancestors were in the original 5,000 settlers in Utah and whose “sympathies lie with the Saints.” There was plenty in this book to reveal Smith as a complete fraud as far as I’m concerned. The fact that it was written by a Mormon (I’m guessing she is still active) and not someone hostile to the LDS makes it even more powerful.
- ** The Way Things Ought To Be, Rush Limbaugh. Just like the show. Nothing new here, but good.
- ** The Captain and the Enemy, Graham Greene. Disappointing. The first GG novel I’ve read that I didn’t like. It seemed to have no direction, sort of like my stuff.
- *** Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen, P.G. Wodehouse. I don’t know how I’ve missed this one before. I thought I had all the Jeeves/Wooster stories. Typical Wodehouse.
- *** Thirteen Detective Mysteries, G. K. Chesterton. Pretty good, includes one Father Brown story. Chesteron has a real penchant for paradox and irony.
- *** Genome, a popular science work about mapping the human DNA sequence. It’s pretty good.
- *** Mrs. Polifax and the Golden Triangle, Dorothy Gilman. Fairly good spy story about an old lady who volunteered to be a CIA agent. It sort of treads the line between straight spy stuff and serious fiction.
- **** The Exploits of Sherlock Holmes, Adrian Conan Doyle and John Dickenson Carr. An excellent post-canon collection of Holmes stories in a style remarkably faithful to the original stories. Money well spent. Highly recommended reading for Holmes fans.
- ** The Edges of Science, Richard Morris. Moderately O.K. popular science discussion of particle physics and the fringes of theory and speculation on the origin and structure of the universe.
- ** Getting to Know the General, Graham Greene. Interesting for its historical content and insight into the Latin American culture/mind. Otherwise boring.
- *** The Hidden Value of a Man, Gary Smalley and John Trent. More practical doctrine on the role of a man in family and society. Kenny Nair in significantly diluted doses but still probably too strong for the general public.
- *** Parliament of Whores, P.J. O’Rourke. Excellent humor and satire by a political conservative but moral liberal. Recommended reading.
- *** Jack: The Life and Times of C.S. Lewis, George Sayer. Pretty good stuff but probably only interesting to serious Lewis fans.
- ** Sleep Til Noon, Max Schulman. Loaned to me by Nelson D. as an example of someone who writes more like me than I do. There is a definite similarity of style, although Max is a bit more manic. Mildly amusing, occasional clever turn of phrase.
- *** The Boxcar at the Center of the Universe, Richard Kennedy. Well written, intriguing children’s tale about a 16-year-old hobo who encounters an aged Arab in a boxcar who relates his journey to find the Center of the Universe. First page should be re-written, however.
- *** We Are Still Married, Garrison Keillor. Pretty good stuff, as usual for GK. However, he gets a bit wearisome in his liberal whining about callous, brutal conservatives. I must be on guard against sounding like a victim in my own retrospective stuff.
- ** The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, Vincent Starrett. Semi-interesting, well-written, around the 30’s. Only for Holmes junkies.
- *** The Complete Yes Minister, Johnaton Lynn and Antony Jay. A fairly amusing account, the diary of a Cabinet Minister in England who often doesn’t have a clue. Good reading but only for serious readers. The real payoffs in humor come a good way down the line.
- **** The Incredulity of Father Brown, G. K. Chesterton. I thought I had all the Father Brown stories in that hardback, but of the eight stories in this little paperback, I only remember reading one. There were some very excellent stories in this book. Chesterton in his usual form: brilliant. Highly recommended reading.
- *** The Haunted Bookshop, Christopher Morely. Written after WW I, the sequel to Parnasus on Wheels, which I couldn’t find. This was a fairly decent book, although the paean of praise to literature got a bit wearisome after a while. The guy is a good writer, though. Probably not most reader’s cup of tea.
- An Odor of Sanctity, Frank Yerby. Very disappointing. Jacket said the story of a man’s search for God. Mostly a story of a man’s humping every female he comes in contact with. Doesn’t hold a candle to The Foxes of Harrow.
- ***Side Effects, Woody Allen. I picked this up in a flea market and after I got home I realized I’ve read it before. But it was nice to read it again.
- *** The Human Factor, Graham Greene. Very good vintage Greene, but the ending was a bit weak. Recommended reading.
- *** Coyote Waits, Tony Hillerman. Predictable Hillerman, but I like his stuff, so I enjoyed this one, too. Good holiday reading.