DOUBLE MINT, GRETCHEN ARCHER – A WITTY ROMP WITH DAVIS WAY

I have loved everything Gretchen Archer has written, from her first book “Double Whammy,” to this latest, greatest entry into the Davis Way caper novels.

Double mint gretchen archer

Davis is growing into herself. Still madcap, but madcap in a Sherlock Holmesian way. She knows what she’s doing. She knows why she’s doing it. She sees connections between seemingly random events. How they form a pattern. The problem is getting anyone else to see.

She and Bradley make a great team. They have that “thing” which makes husband-wife detective couples so much fun — the ability to communicate so cryptically no one else understands. But they “get” each other … and it may save a life or two.

It serves them well as the complex plot unrolls. Finding themselves living in the Bellissimo Casino itself (it’s temporary, isn’t it?), in the most hideous apartment imaginable. There’s a conference of bankers going on and Davis can’t get in. Not even for a quick security scan.

Why not? What’s really going on?

Bankers who have their own security people? Who look and act like thugs?  What’s going on with that super-secure vault? What does the apartment’s previous occupant and (shudder) designer, have to do with it? Has Fantasy gone nuts? Where is No Hair when you need him?

Mysteries within mysteries call for Davis’s clever mind and remarkable ability to see what no one else can see. Will anyone else believe her? Will they “get it” before it’s too late?

Welcome to another taut mystery and hilarious romp through the world of casino gambling, mysterious bankers, and sealed vaults. Not to mention gigantic heaps of money. Or something like it.

AVAILABLE IN KINDLE AND PAPERBACK.

Double Mint: Intelligently written with complex plot. Gretchen Archer never drops a stitch. It’s a marvelously witty detective tale you’ll love from start to finish — and wish it would never end.

ROMANTIC SNOBBERY

It isn’t just culture that divides us into classes. What we watch on television, see in the movies, and read also puts us into a category, often unfairly by people who don’t “get” why we like what we like.

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I read a post about how dreadful — yet gripping — romance novels can be. The not-so-subtle insinuation is that anyone who reads them is probably not too bright. While it’s true that romance novels are the potato chips of the literary world (bet you can’t eat just one) that’s not the point.

double dip in bookcase

As a former editor of the Doubleday Romance Library, I assure you that research showed readers of romance novels are better educated than most readers.

They read romance novels because they are pulp. These readers aren’t looking to be informed or improved, to have their world expanded, reading-level or awareness raised. They want a book they can pick up, read, put down, and forget. If life gets in the way, they can just never finish the story — without regret.

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I read each 3-book volume, every month. Three romances: 2 modern with a Gothic sandwiched between. Every novel had the same plot, the same outcome. They sold gangbusters.

Regardless of what we, as writers, would prefer people enjoy, people don’t always read good books. I often avoid “good” books. I don’t want to go where that book would take me. I’m not stupid or lacking in culture. I just don’t want to read it. Don’t enjoy the subject matter. Don’t need to be further depressed by the ugly realities of life or history.

Good books can be too intense, too serious, or educational for this moment in time. Too close to reality. I read to be entertained. I’m not seeking enlightenment through literature. Perhaps I should rephrase that. I am no longer seeking enlightenment through literature. If I ain’t enlightened by now, I’m pretty sure it won’t happen in this lifetime.

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The wondrous thing about the world of books is there are so many. Enough genres, themes, and styles for everyone. An infinity of literature. No matter what your taste — low-brow, high-brow, middle-brow, no-brow — there are thousands of books waiting for you. That’s good. I’d rather see someone reading a bad book than no book.

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I’m not a culture snob. I think reading crappy novels is fine if you like them. Watching bad TV is fine too.

Snobs suck the fun out of reading. While I’m not a fan of romance novels, if you are, that’s okay with me. I love reading about vampires and witches. I’d be more than a hypocrite to act as if your taste is inferior to mine.

old favorite books

These days, I’m rarely in the mood for anything serious — except maybe a conversation. Tastes change over time. Life has been a very serious business for me. When I read, watch TV, or see a movie, I want to escape, Reality will still be there when I get back.

Finally, my favorite professor at university — a man I believe was profound and wise — was a big fan of Mickey Spillane. He said there was a much truth in those books. I believe for him, there was.

DAVIS WAY IS BACK! DOUBLE MINT, GRETCHEN ARCHER

I have loved everything Gretchen Archer has written, from her first book “Double Whammy,” to this latest, greatest entry into the Davis Way caper novels.

Double mint gretchen archer

Davis is growing into herself. Still madcap, but madcap in a Sherlock Holmesian way. She knows what she’s doing. She knows why she’s doing it. She sees connections between seemingly random events. How they form a pattern. The problem is getting anyone else to see.

She and Bradley make a great team. They have that “thing” which makes husband-wife detective couples so much fun — the ability to communicate so cryptically no one else understands. But they “get” each other … and it may save a life or two.

It serves them well as the complex plot unrolls. Finding themselves living in the Bellissimo Casino itself (it’s temporary, isn’t it?), in the most hideous apartment imaginable. There’s a conference of bankers going on and Davis can’t get in. Not even for a quick security scan.

Why not? What’s really going on?

Bankers who have their own security people? Who look and act like thugs?  What’s going on with that super-secure vault? What does the apartment’s previous occupant and (shudder) designer, have to do with it? Has Fantasy gone nuts? Where is No Hair when you need him?

Mysteries within mysteries call for Davis’s clever mind and remarkable ability to see what no one else can see. Will anyone else believe her? Will they “get it” before it’s too late?

Welcome to another taut mystery and hilarious romp through the world of casino gambling, mysterious bankers, and sealed vaults. Not to mention gigantic heaps of money. Or something like it.

AVAILABLE IN KINDLE AND PAPERBACK.

Double Mint: An intelligently written, perfectly plotted, marvelously witty detective tale you’ll love from start to finish — and wish it would never end.

A PAINFULLY DIFFERENT HISTORY – POSTWAR, TONY JUDT –

Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945
by Tony Judt – Audiobook

Reading PostWar was a project, an immersion experience during which I first unlearned, then relearned everything I knew of modern European history. It was worth the effort. This is a long book — 960 pages — crammed with so much information I had to read it twice before I felt I had the beginning of a grip on the material.

Tony Judt was an historian with controversial opinions. He made no pretense of being a neutral observer. Not that any historian is truly neutral. Every historian has an agenda, a point to make. Whether or not he or she puts it up front is a matter of style, but there is no such thing as historical neutrality. If an historian is writing about an era, he or she feels strongly about it. All history is changed, shaped, slanted by the historians who write it.

Mussolini (left) and Hitler sent their armies ...

Dr. Tony Judt believed the role of an historian is to set the record straight. He undertakes the debunking and de-mythologizing of post World War II European history. He lays bare lies that comprise the myth of French resistance, the “neutral” Swiss, the open-minded anti-Nazi Dutch — exposing an ugly legacy of entrenched antisemitism, xenophobia and ethnocentrism.

Although Judt follows a more or less chronological path from World War II to the present, he doesn’t do it as a strict “timeline.” Instead of a linear progression, he follows threads of ideas and philosophy. Tracing cultural and social development, he takes you from news events through their political ramifications. You follow parallel developments in cinema, literature, theater, television and arts, not just the typical political and economic occurrences on which most history focuses.

After two consecutive readings, I finally felt I’d gotten it. Postwar changed my view of  the world, not just what happened, but what is happening.

Tony Judt and I were born in 1947. We grew up during same years, but his Old World roots gave him an entirely different perspective. He forced me to question fundamental beliefs. What really happened? Was any of the stuff I believed true? Maybe not. It was hard to swallow, but he convinced me. I believe it.

If you are Jewish (I am and so was Judt), and lost family during the Holocaust, this will stir up painful issues. The depth and breadth of European antisemitism and collusion in the destruction of European Jewry is stomach churning. Pretty lies are easier to handle than ugly reality.

It’s easy to understand why so much of what we know is wrong. That’s they way we were taught. If we took the courses in school, we learned the “official version” of how the world was made.

Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945 cover

Even though I know more history than most civilians, I didn’t grasp the impact of these post WW 2 years — until Postwar.

I assumed, having lived these decades and followed news, that I knew what happened. I didn’t. What is reported by media barely scratches the surface.

The transformation of Europe from the wreckage of war to a modern European union is far more complex and far-reaching than I knew. These changes affect all of us directly and personally. I will never see the world the way I did before reading Postwar.

I read Postwar on paper, then listened to the audio version. It’s available from Audible.com. I recommend it to anyone with easily tired eyes because it is a very long book, no matter how you read it. The audio version has excellent narration. It a fine platform for the author’s conversational writing style.

Postwar is analysis and criticism, not just “what happened.” The book is an eye-opener, worth your time and effort, an investment in understanding and historical perspective. It’s never dull. After reading it, you will never see our modern world the same way.

IN THE GARDEN OF BEASTS – ERIK LARSON

IN THE GARDEN OF BEASTS

Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin

I have rarely been more conflicted about a book than I was about this one. It was gripping, sometimes mesmerizing. Simultaneously appalling and annoying.

William Dodd was made ambassador to Hitler’s Germany because no one else wanted the job — and because they didn’t want to put a “real” ambassador in a lose-lose position.

From the outset, it was the intention of Dodd’s bosses that he should fail. The U.S. government never had any intention of supporting him, of stopping the Nazi rise, or curtail the personal power of Adolph Hitler. You need to understand this in order for the rest of the story to make sense, if indeed it could be said to make sense.

The indifference and callously entrenched antisemitism of US State Department officials and their resulting tolerance for the atrocities of the Nazi government is hard to stomach.This is not an image of our government that would make anyone proud to be an American.

The failure of all western nations to do anything to stop Hitler while they could have done so with relative ease, is difficult to fathom. Their choice of Dodd, who was considered an amateur and not “one of the club” was an incredibly cynical move by the U.S.

Most of the people in the book are awful in one way or another. Dodd, the ambassador, ultimately grows to become, in his own way, heroic. He saw what was happening and tried — within the very limited power of his position — to do what he could. That no one listened to him is part of the tragedy. Dodd’s daughter, on the other hand, is a feather-headed self-absorbed brat. She is like a case of hives. The more you scratch, the more you itch.

Everyone acts in bad faith to one degree or another. Even more hard to bear are those who failed to act, failed to respond to Dodd’s repeated pleas for aid. Usually, it wasn’t because they didn’t believe him (although some didn’t), but because the majority of them were hardened anti-Semites who thought Hitler would rid Europe of the menace of Communism while wiping out the Jews. He didn’t get rid of Communism, but he did a pretty thorough job of wiping out European Jewry. Historically, I guess that would make the glass half full?

How revolting is it for me to learn this? I always rejected my mother’s suspicions on this score as paranoia. I refused to believe my government could allow — encourage — the genocide of an entire people. Sometimes, discovering mom was right is not heartwarming. This is one of those times.

To put the cherry on this dessert, the State Department’s little plot to allow Hitler enough latitude to “take care of the Jews” also led us into to the bloodiest war in human history, a conflict in which more than 30 million people — military and civilian — died.

The banality of evil has never been more terrifying. Read it and weep.

Evil intentions never produce good results. This book offers the ultimate cautionary tale.

THE BLACK STALLION

 

If I’m going to be in a movie, I say — bring on the horses!

I grew up yearning for a horse and devoured any book about them. My favorites books were the Walter Farley’s Black Stallion series. I probably read the book so many times its cover fell apart.

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All through my childhood, Walter Farley wrote a steady stream of new Black Stallion books  — and I read every one of them. About his colts and fillies. About Alec Ramsey, who grew from a teenage boy to a man in the course of the series. Of Henry Daily, the old horse trainer whose career is revived by his accidental encounter with Alec and The Black. Many stories, as the years went on, were about the racing stable Alex and Henry build in upstate New York for which The Black was the founding stud. To this day, I know more about horses and horse racing than most people … because Walter Farley told me all about it in book after book.

Throughout my young years, I wished they would make The Black Stallion into a movie. I wanted to see The Black, to see Alec ride him. To see him come from behind and become the greatest horse to ever run on a track. I was bewitched by horses and was convinced I would need nothing else in this life if I had a horse.

bucephalus

Oddly, the great Secretariat’s real accomplishments — winning the Triple Crown in 1973 — remarkably mirrored those of the fictional Black. Watching Secretariat’s career — in the real world — made up for never having seen The Black race.

I never got a horse. Gradually real life overtook my fantasy life. College, work, husband, baby, home, friends replaced dreams of riding bareback on the greatest stallion of them all.

But the magic wasn’t over me because in 1979, Francis Ford Coppola made the movie I’d yearned for since childhood. He based the movie, The Black Stallion, on the first of Walter Farley’s Black Stallion books, the one he wrote in 1941. In making the movie, they changed the story some. This would have made me crazy as a kid, but by the time I saw the movie — in an old theater in Jerusalem, Israel — I was a 30-year-old mother living overseas and able to cope with relatively minor digressions from the original tale.

Last week, Turner Classic Movies showed “The Black Stallion.” So, of course, we watched it again. I’ve seen it many times. Each is seeing it for the first time.

I am swept away to a desert island for the adventure of a lifetime. Even if you aren’t a great horse lover, the score and the cinematography are so extraordinary, the movie is like a dream. They set the story in its original time period, the early 1940s which helps augment the dreamlike effect.

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I want to be on that island with The Black. To ride him along the edge of the ocean, free from everything but the sun, the wind, the sand beneath my horse’s pounding hoofs. I would give a lot for just one day to live that dream.

“The Black Stallion” is a paean to horses, nature, and overcoming adversity. You don’t have to be a kid to love it. It also contains the least dialogue of any movie since the talkies took over Hollywood.

Director Carroll Ballard tells the story with luscious cinematography and a lovely soundtrack. Music fusing with images that wrench your heart.

WAITING FOR A GOOD BOOK

To_Kill_a_MockingbirdRecently, I listened to To Kill a Mockingbird. It was re-released in a year ago by Audible.com, with a new narration by Cissy Spacek. After I settled into it, I remembered why I love it. It’s a rare story in which all the pieces fit. Some call it the perfect book. It may be.

It never hits a false note. Takes its time, tells the story at a leisurely pace. It talks about justice, injustice, racism, and the legal system. It’s about family, love, relationships and coming of age. Discovering the world is both better and worse than you imagined.

My granddaughter was assigned to read To Kill a Mockingbird for school and found it boring. I don’t agree, but I understand her problem. She lives in a world so changed from the one in which “Mockingbird” takes place, she can’t relate to it.

Harper Lee wrote about a world without cell phones or email. People walked more than they drove. Food grew in gardens. The world was segregated, separated by class, religion, and ethnicity. My granddaughter can’t even imagine such a world. In her world, the President is Black and her white grandma is married to a brown man.

Everything is instant. You don’t go to a library to do research. You Google it. There’s no time for slow-moving books that depict a less frantic world.

It’s no wonder the fastest growing segments of fiction are fantasy, mysteries, thrillers, and so on. These books are fun. Exciting. So much of “literary fiction” is dreary. Authors seem to have forgotten that literature is also supposed to be entertaining.

I need stories that are more than a dark mirror of reality. That’s not enough. I want a good plot. I need action, stuff to happen. I don’t want to just hear what characters are thinking. I want to see them moving through their lives. I need characters who develop, grow, are changed by events. And, I need heroes. Un-ambivalent good guys for whom I can root. I welcome enlightenment and education, but I require entertainment. Lately it seems the reality-based books I’ve read have forgotten how to entertain. The people they portray are sad, depressed, trapped, miserable. Living lives so hopeless they lack even the energy of desperation.

Are our lives truly so pathetic? So grey and drab? I don’t believe so. I think it’s easier — and fashionable in current literary circles — to write that way. Easier to capture a single note than a whole range of feelings. There are plenty of sad and hopeless characters, but there are also plenty of glad and joyous ones. Winners, not just losers. Heroes and success stories.

I don’t understand current criteria for publication. I don’t get it. A high percentage of the new books I read (I read a lot of just-published books for review) are dull. Many are also poorly written. I find myself wondering why this book, whatever it is, was chosen. To me, I has no merit. I don’t even review these books. I don’t like trashing books and authors, so if it’s that bad, I just skip it.

Boring to me, is the worst sin in literature. I don’t believe Faulkner, Wolfe, Hemingway … or for that matter, Harper Lee — would be published today. I doubt they’d get a reading.

I miss books based in reality. I bet there are great manuscripts waiting, their authors yearning to be published. I hope they get to it soon. Because kids like my granddaughter need to discover how much fun books about real people can be.