December 10, 2014
The holidays sneak up every year, don’t they? And every year—if you’re anything like me—you wind up scrambling for The Right Gift. In fact, fairly often, that’s Gifts, plural. Books, of course, make terrific presents; they’re easy to wrap, and relatively gently priced, so they work well as stocking-stuffers or gifts for those holidays, like Chanukah, where tradition points toward multiple presents. And if you’ve got a passionate reader on your list, what could be better than packaging up a few books into one blissful gift, with the promise of hours of great reading.
But…which books? The best readers can actually be the trickiest to buy for, because that passion goes hand in hand with pickiness. To help make things easier, we’ve got lists of suggestions below, for just about anyone who might be on your list. And as a present for you—and who deserves it more?—there’s a 25% discount on all our recommended holiday sale titles, including some highly collectible hardcovers!
December 4, 2014
In an earlier version of yesterday’s post, Maggie erroneously identified Raymond Chandler’s detective as Sam Spade (gasp!).
That odd thumping noise you hear? That’s the sound of me knocking my head against the wall. Inside my head is…it sounds very much like the voice of Jackie Mason. And it’s saying “Ooooh, look at you, such a mystery expert. Well, mystery expert, remind me, who was it who created Sam Spade? Wait a minute, the name will come to me. Sounds like…dammit. Yeah, sounds just like dammit. Could it maybe be…Dashiell HAMMETT?”
Me (sourly): Ok, ok, so I got it wrong.
Irritating Voice Inside My Head: She got it wrong. The mystery maven got it wrong. Boys and girls, crowd around here, you won’t see this happen very often. Now, dear, what was that again?
Me: I MADE A MISTAKE.
Incredibly Irritating Voice Inside My Head: Once more, a little louder. I want to make sure the people in the cheap seats hear this.
Me: I MADE A MISTAKE I MADE A MISTAKE IT WASN’T RAYMOND CHANDLER OK???? Jeez louise, I was writing really fast, it was late at night…
Voice Inside My Head That’s Going to Get Popped in the Nose: (sotto voce) What’s that thing about the poor workman blames his tools?
Me: I’m. Not. Blaming. My. Tools. (deep breath) My apologies. I stupidly suggested that Raymond Chandler created Sam Spade, when any mystery fan knows I was really thinking of Philip Marlowe. It was a foolish error, and I am thoroughly embarrassed.
Voice: Very nice. That was a nice apology. And it wasn’t so hard, was it? You can have a chocolate cookie.
Me: (fuming silently) (taking a chocolate cookie)
December 3, 2014
Just recently we’ve heard that a long-forgotten work of Raymond Chandler’s has been unearthed, languishing in the dusty stacks of the Library of Congress. But before you get too excited, a few things to note: 1) The literary agent who represents Chandler’s estate is refusing, for the moment at least, to allow the piece to be published; 2) The piece…the piece. The piece is not the second coming of The Big Sleep. It is in fact the libretto for a comic, Gilbert-and-Sullivan-style opera called “The Princess and the Pedlar”; 3) You know how Chandler is widely regarded as one of the greatest (if not the greatest) stylists of hard-boiled fiction, famous as much for the quality of his prose as for the creation of Philip Marlowe? “The Princess and the Pedlar” seems unlikely to enhance that reputation. I say this based only on the following lyric, courtesy of the Guardian: “Criminals dyed with the deepest dyes/Hated of all the good and wise, Soaked in crime to the hair and eyes/Very unpleasant are we.” What can I say? Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid.
I guess he got better as he got older. A whole bunch better.
And yet I will jump on “The Princess and the Pedlar,” if it ever does see the published light of day, and I will meander down some likely-looking mean streets in search of a bootleg copy, and I will do whatever I can to read the thing because.
Because it’s more Chandler. And more Chandler is good, end of story.
And the beginning of the next one, which is not about Chandler at all. It is, however, about someone else who seemed to be done, down for the count, only to bounce back: Albert Campion. That curious, quip-happy gentleman, with a nose for trouble and a knack for getting others out of it.
Margery Allingham, Campion’s creator, died in 1966. Her last Campion novel, Cargo of Eagles, was published two years later, having been completed – at her request – by her husband, Philip Youngman Carter. To have a book come out two years after one’s death! That would seem to be enough immortality for anyone.
But Miss Allingham clearly had enough life-spark for two lives – or perhaps Mr. Campion did. In 1969 a new Campion adventure, Mr Campion’s Farthing, was issued, followed the next year by Mr Campion’s Falcon. Both had been written in their entirety by Youngman Carter, and the New York Times, at least, breathed a sigh of relief: Mr. Campion, they said, was “in excellent hands.”
Were they Allingham hands? No. We could slap “Just as good as when the Missus wrote’em!” on the front covers, in the hope of pulling in a few gullible punters, but we don’t lie to you. However, they are jolly good reads, in the fine Campion tradition. And as with Mr. Chandler, more Campion is good, end of story.
More Campion on sale? That may be an even better story. This week, 25% off Albert (we’ll throw in Rupert Campion, Albert’s sleuthing sprog, for free).
And no, they are not Margery (though we can say, with some reasonable assurance, I think, that they are also not “The Princess and the Pedlar”). But how can you possibly resist Albert Campion in the Age of Disco???
Add Mr. Campion’s Farthing to Stack
Add Mr. Campion’s Falcon to Stack
November 24, 2014
Getting your files to open in a Kindle, if you didn’t purchase them directly on the Kindle from Amazon, is not the most intuitive of processes, so here is a step-by-step guide (the short version of this is: you need to make sure to move the file into your Kindle “documents” folder before it will open).
There are two ways to get your Kindle files onto your Kindle: You may email them to your Kindle email, or transfer them via USB cable from your computer to your Kindle.
It’s Thanksgiving week, a week of heavy travel, and lots (and lots!) of family time. Here at Felony & Mayhem we hold the opinion that nothing helps a person get through long flights, weather cancellations, and that post-Thanksgiving slump like a good book. And if you make it an ebook, well, then you can take as many with you as your heart desires. So this week, we’re offering a serious ebook sale: each title in our ebook catalog for just $4.99. Go ahead, read the entire Julian Kestrel series, it’s a long weekend!
Here are some highlights from the backlist: Caroline Graham’s “Inspector Barnaby” series, as well as her very funny stand-alone parody of a country house mystery, Murder at Madingley Grange; Bob Cook’s Paper Chase and Disorderly Elements, two underrated espionage capers that never take themselves too seriously; Sarah Rayne’s chilling trio of psychological suspense novels (deliciously long too; now here are some books to get lost in!); the genteel yet felonious world of Elizabeth Daly’s 1940s New York; Maggie Joel’s The Past and Other Lies, with a family at its center that will make your family seem utterly angelic, no matter their shortcomings! And, of course, get to know Ngaio Marsh’s Inspector Alleyn, from Enter a Murderer to Singing in the Shrouds.
November 10, 2014
So here I am, still in the hospital, and still wedded to my habit of reading only books I have read (and loved) before. But for the moment, I have strayed from the F&M line-up, and am happily wallowing in A Walk in the Woods, Bill Bryson’s marvelous tale of his attempts – successful and otherwise – to hike the Appalachian Trail. I’m a city girl, born and bred, so the Nature Stuff is, frankly, of limited interest to me. What I love about this book, what keeps me reading it again and again, is the relationship between Bryson – middle-aged, with a gut and a wheeze and a taste for niceties like flush toilets, and his pal Katz, who makes Bryson look svelte and fit and low-maintenance. Katz, whose idea of how to pack for an epic journey in the wildness involves many cartons of Little Debbie snack cakes. Katz, who essentially defines the term “pain in the butt.” Katz, who has known Bryson since the two of them represented the entire teenage Bad Element of the state of Iowa, and who therefore represents both a kind and a degree of friendship that cannot be gainsaid by any amount of stupid packing, irritating behavior, or flatulence. I love many things about this book, but most of all I love its hymn to friendship – a relationship that fiction too often overlooks, I think, in favor of the glamor of romance and the meatiness of the parent-child bond.
Sadly, we can’t offer a discount on Mr. Bryon’s work, but the thought did send me looking through our list, to see what we have to say about friendship. I thought first about Anna Blundy’s sharp punch of a story, The Bad News Bible, in that the death of one friend sends another on a quest. It’s a wonderful book – and in fact, I can’t wait to reread it – but in honor of Katz, I wanted something where the friendship is a living thing. So the Valentine and Lovelace series it is, because as many of your female friends will tell you, great friendships don’t get a whole lot greater than those between straight women and their gay best friends. Michael McDowell, who wrote the series with his friend Dennis Schuetz, very consciously based it on the “Thin Man” moves starring Myrna Loy and William Powell. The books are set in Boston and environs in the early 1980s, but they nevertheless do a tremendous job of channeling that glorious “Thin Man” ethos where the wit sparkles as deliciously as the champagne, the martinis are cold, the music is hot, and one solves crimes because really, darling, one can only drive around in fabulous cars so many hours of the day. True, the protagonists of “The Thin Man” are married, but it’s a very swanky, sexless sort of marriage – and very much like the swanky, sexless friendship between Daniel Valentine and Clarisse Lovelace, both of whom would look great in satin piped pajamas. It’s a massive stretch, I know, from Clarisse and Valentine (much less from Powell and Loy) to Bryson and Katz…but it isn’t really. Because the thing about friendship is, it may take many different shapes, may be giddy or reserved or centered around burping contests, but at bottom, if it’s there…it’s there. Robert Frost famously said that home is where, when you go there, they have take you in. I’d suggest that a friend is who, when you call them, they come out – in a snowstorm, at 4 in the morning, kvetching all the way – and drive you there. This week only, 25% off on all four of the delightful Valentine and Lovelace books, and in the hope that you all have at least one such good friend. And if I may, it comes complete with a shout-out to the wonderful friends of mine who kept me such good company while I’ve been laid up. I’m a lucky woman.
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November 5, 2014
The Truth About Unicorns is one of my favorite books on the F&M list, but I’m betting that Yien Yip, the young illustrator we hired for the cover, wouldn’t read it if you paid her. She wound up doing a terrific job, but boy, we – I – sure put her through hell to get there.
The book is set in the 1920s and ‘30s, in an small farming community in upstate New York. We’re very definitely in Shirley Jackson territory (shades of “The Lottery”), in that this charming little town, all green fields and red barns and girls in starched white dresses, is concealing a black, black secret: It’s positively obsessed with witchcraft, and particularly with the witchy evil of readheaded women.
As in “The Lottery,” that brilliant, classic tale of village chills, there is talk about the supernatural – witches, in this case – but the real evil is supplied by the real humans, courtesy of the miseries they can inflict on one another. In other words, the story may be horrifying in parts, but it’s a long, cool way from Horror.
November 3, 2014
In The Haunted Bookshop, Christopher Morley’s indelibly delightful salute to both bookselling and Brooklyn, the proprietor of the shop in question offers some thoughts as to how his customers might best be served. Posted on the wall of the shop is a sign, in a neat, un-showy hand, reading:
If your mind needs phosphorus, try “Trivia,” by Logan Pearsall Smith.
If your mind needs a whiff of strong air, blue and cleansing, from hilltops and primrose valleys, try “The Story of My Heart,” by Richard Jefferies.
If your mind needs a tonic of iron and wine, and a thorough rough-and-tumbling, try Samuel Butler’s “Notebooks” or “The Man Who Was Thursday,” by Chesterton.
If you need “all manner of Irish,” and a relapse into irresponsible freakishness, try “The Demi-Gods,” by James Stephens. It is a better book than one deserves or expects.
It’s a good thing to turn your mind upside down now and then, like an hour-glass, to let the particles run the other way.
One who loves the English tongue can have a lot of fun with a Latin dictionary.
I often thought of that sign and its prescriptions when I worked at the bookstore. I used to say that I felt sometimes like the village pharmacist: People would come in with one ailment or another, and my job was to figure out what book would answer their needs. Sometimes they would ask me the titles of my favorite books, and I would always explain that that didn’t really matter, that I wanted to find the right book for them.
And what that book might be could change from one day to the next. Just as a pharmacist’s client may have a sore throat on one day, and the jitters the next, a given customer of mine might need a chuckle on Monday, something calming on Tuesday, and a book to take on a plane, so absorbing as to make him forget the cramped seat and the lousy meal, for the weekend.
I’m thinking about book-prescriptions right now because I’m headed into the hospital on Wednesday, and I’m planning what books I’ll take with me. I won’t want anything really complicated – no Cold War espionage with back-room betrayals and Russian names to keep straight, and certainly nothing hugely violent or upsetting. I will need to be both soothed and absorbed, and a giggle or two would not go amiss.
For soothing, I will almost certainly turn to books I’ve already read and know I love. I know there are people who don’t reread – my mother never did – but for me, a well loved book is like a blanket with a comforting, familiar smell. The giggles are tough: In my experience, there are a lot more writers who think they’re funny than there are actually funny books. But happily, F&M publishes some dandy ones. Finally, “absorbing”…I’d like a book that has enough of a plot to keep me interested, to help block out the bleeping machines and the sharp smells of antiseptic and the ghastly Jello they always want you to eat. I’m going to have to bring a whole bunch of books of course – because if you want to see my vital signs go wacky in a hurry, lock me in a hospital room with AN INSUFFICIENT AMOUNT OF READING MATTER – but what am I going to start with? What’s the book that will see me through that first day, when I’ll be snappish with nerves and peevish at the forms and needle-jabs?
Got it: The wonderful Elephants in the Distance, by Daniel Stashower. Dan has by this point won so many Edgar awards that he could field a (somewhat static) baseball team, but this was one of his early novels. It may not be backed by the extraordinary research that underpins the biography and non-fiction he specializes in, but it has two very powerful hallmarks: A deep familiarity with the history of magic, and a great love for the old geezers with the arthritic rabbits and the moth-eaten top hats. The first scene in the book, in which an elderly, once celebrated magician is making balloon-animals at a toddler’s birthday party, reflecting with some grief – but little sourness – on the fact that he used to perform for princes…it’s a killer. I read it, and I keep reading even though I know the book, because I want so badly to see justice done for the nice old fellow.
Want to read along with me? It would give me enormous pleasure to know that I had some company in Stashower’s world. So this week, we’re offering 25% off the wry, clever, gentle and altogether lovely Elephants in the Distance.
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