Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Nightmare Alley: Film Noir and the American Dream

Author:  Mark Osteen
Genre:  Film/History/Criticism

Five Stars
Desperate young lovers on the lam ( They Live by Night), a cynical con man making a fortune as a mentalist ( Nightmare Alley), a penniless pregnant girl mistaken for a wealthy heiress ( No Man of Her Own), a wounded veteran who has forgotten his own name ( Somewhere in the Night)-this gallery of film noir characters challenges the stereotypes of the wise-cracking detective and the alluring femme fatale. Despite their differences, they all have something in common: a belief in self-reinvention. Nightmare Alley is a thorough examination of how film noir disputes this notion at the heart of the American Dream.
Central to many of these films, Mark Osteen argues, is the story of an individual trying, by dint of hard work or, more often, illicit enterprises, to overcome his or her origins and achieve material success. In the wake of World War II, the noir genre tested the dream of upward mobility and the ideas of individualism, liberty, equality, and free enterprise that accompany it.
Employing an impressive array of theoretical perspectives (including psychoanalysis, art history, feminism, and music theory) and combining close reading with original primary source research, Nightmare Alley proves both the diversity of classic noir and its potency. This provocative and wide-ranging study revises and refreshes our understanding of noir's characters, themes, and cultural significance.


Initially I was drawn to this book because I love classic movies.  I really love classic movies, and especially film noir.  Not only have I seen 98% of the movies listed in this book, it has given me a completely different take on them.  Where I enjoyed them before, I never looked at what Dr. Osteen describes as "hidden meanings" in the films.  To be honest, I will probably not parse them any more than I ever have, and just enjoy them for what they are - great films from an era never to be seen again.

Whether or not the directors of these films ever wanted anyone to see a 'hidden agenda' remains an enigma in itself.  Whether or not they knew - or cared - that anyone would see anything other than what the film is - a vehicle of entertainment, of escape, as it were - we may never know.  But Dr. Osteen has definitely brought up interesting points, and logical ones, in that these films have deeper meanings.  After all, isn't it called 'noir' for a reason?

I would suggest, though, that if you have not seen the films listed that you watch them first, because he gives you pretty much the entire film in all key points, including the ending.  And just like books, many people do not like spoilers.  Also, this book is not a 'bedside companion,' which you need to help enjoyment of the films; rather it is a dissection of them, and you may not look upon them the same again.

Hopefully, though, for those of you who enjoy classic movies and the genre of noir itself, you will appreciate this book for what it is and read it.


Monday, April 28, 2014

A Dark and Stormy Knit

Author:  Anne Canadeo
Genre:  Mystery

Four Stars
Knitting graffiti, in Plum Harbor? Maggie Messina doubts it could ever happen in her quiet village. Until the new parking meters on Main Street are found covered with cat-faced cozies. In the dark of night, the mysterious Knit Kats have struck again! The infamous gang of stitching graffiti artists are totally harmless, and their pranks all in good fun. Or so Maggie and her friends think. Until a yarn-covered corpse is discovered a few days later—the tangles identical to Knit Kat handiwork.

These threads of evidence should be easy to follow. But the clever Knit Kats hide behind a website and secret identities. The murderer could be anyone. A familiar face in town, even a copy Kat. But when Maggie’s assistant, Phoebe, becomes the prime suspect, the knitting friends know the police have dropped a few stitches. With no time to rest on their needles, the Black Sheep set out to unmask the crafty killer. No simple task, when all Knit Kats look the same in the dark.
Maggie Messina owns a yarn shop in the small town of Plum Harbor.  As usual in what is termed 'cozy mysteries,' Maggie has a group of friends (I call them a posse) who sit around and talk about what's going on in town while they knit.  They call themselves the Black Sheep Knitters.  Then, a murder occurs and the posse spends their time trying to figure out 'whodunnit.'  Now, I know that sounds like I didn't enjoy the book, but quite the contrary; I'm just stating facts.  And this being the sixth book in the series, you'd expect Maggie to have friends, so no biggie there.  That being said, I did like it.
Well, to be honest, not at first.  This is my first Black Sheep Knitters book, and getting to read about the characters, I wasn't sure about Maggie.  It appeared to me that she didn't like animals in the beginning - she didn't allow them in her shop (and I have been in many needlecraft shops where there are 'mascot cats') which seemed kind of cold to me, because I am a huge animal lover, and most crafters (myself included) have some sort of pet, and she didn't even want her tenant to have one.  She also wasn't too generous about Lucy's dogs (she didn't seem to like them at all), but as the book progressed, she warmed up and so did I.  By the end of book Maggie and I were great friends.
Maggie shows up for work one morning - her shop is the ground floor in an old Victorian house - and sees that parking meters on the entire block have been covered with knitted cat covers.  She's pretty sure it's the work of a group of "knitting graffiti artists" called the Knit Kats, which she suggests - but doesn't confirm - to a local news reporter covering the scene.  Although it seems harmless enough, it ties in with the rest of the story pretty well.
Maggie's second story tenant in the Victorian is a young college student named Phoebe, who also works in the shop part-time and is a member of the Black Sheep Knitters.  Phoebe's friend Charlotte is a textile artist, and has some art pieces in a show at the local college and the group, to show support for Phoebe and her friend agree to attend.  While there, Charlotte's violent ex-boyfriend shows up, chases her from the show and the Knitters follow trying to rescue her, but don't get very far.  However, Charlotte does - she disappears completely.  Phoebe, worried about her friend, shows up at Charlotte's home unexpectedly only to find the body of a young woman wrapped in a knitted afghan, which resembles the work of the Knit Kats.
What should have been Charlotte isn't, and even though they are told to stay out of the investigation, everyone in the group wants to help Phoebe, who has been identified as 'a person of interest' in the crime, so they do what they can to help solve the murder and find the real killer.  It doesn't help that Phoebe has just broken up with her boyfriend and is miserable (especially with Valentines' Day so close), and her best friend now gone to places unknown.  Maggie does her best to keep Phoebe occupied and out of the investigation, but she knows it's pretty much a lost cause, even if she won't admit it to herself.
While I didn't feel that I really got to know the other characters well, they seemed to be a group of friends who truly cared about each other and what happens, and that's what friendships are about.  For myself, I will start with the first book and read my way through the series.
I received a free copy from the publisher but this in no way affected my review.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Fireball: Carole Lombard and the Mystery of Flight 3

Author:  Robert Matzen
Genre:  History, Biography

Hardcover; Trade Paperback; [Audio CD]; Digital Book
ISBN #:  9780988502512; 9780996274098; [9781482996692]
Goodnight Books; [Blackstone Audio]
432 Pages
(Various Prices); $14.49; [$21.85]; $7.99 Amazon
January 16, 2017


This fresh look at Hollywood's "Queen of Screwball," Carole Lombard, presents a first-ever examination of the events that led to the shocking flight mishap that took her life on the side of a Nevada mountain in 1942.  It also provides a day-by-day account of the struggles of Lombard's husband, Clark Gable, and other family, friends and fans to cope with the tragedy.  In effect, just having completed the first sale of war bonds and stamps in the nation following its entry into World War II, Lombard became the first Hollywood star to sacrifice her life in the war.  The War Department offered Gable a funeral service with full military honors, but he refused it, knowing that his wife would not approve of such spectacle.  Based on extensive research rather than gossip, this investigation further explores the lives of  the 21 others on the plane, including 15 members of the U.S. Army Air Corps, and addresses one of the most enduring mysteries of World War II.  On a clear night full of stars, with TWA's most experienced pilot at the controls of a 10-month-old aircraft under the power of two fully functioning engines, why did the flight crash into that Nevada mountainside?  This gripping page-turner presents the story of the people on the plane, the friends and families left behind, and the heroic first-responders who struggled up a mountain hoping to perform a miracle rescue.  It is a story of accomplishment, bravery, sacrifice and loss.


I have always believed deeply that when you read a book, it should draw some sort of emotion from you, whether it be joy, sadness, disgust, consternation, etc.  I can tell you that this book did not disappoint.  It left indelible marks upon my very being.  I have always known about Carole Lombard and Clark Gable.  I have even visited the place where they spent their honeymoon.  Please understand this:  I am not a star-watcher, nor do I follow their every movement.  But it was the situation of these two lives which intrigued me: two people very much in love, and without warning, taken from each other.

Admittedly, it is something that happens to people every day.  But you do not read about it every day.  You do not read about their lives quite the way Mr. Matzen has written.  He has interspersed every other chapter with Ms. Lombard and Mr. Gable's life from their beginning right up until the end together.  You learn things that are not the fodder of fan magazines - the tragedies that befell her when she was young, and the reason she lived her life at such a fast pace.  She felt she had to; that she needed to, as if each day meant something important, and she was not going to let one minute slip by unnoticed.

Mr. Gable lived his life quite differently from hers, and reading it, you wouldn't expect the two completely disparate personalities to come together at all.  But they did - and they lived furiously; and when the news of her death becomes a reality to him, it shakes him up and shapes him as nothing else has ever done before.

As I said, every other chapter is about these two, but it is what is in between that is the most heart-wrenching of all.  He allows us into the lives of the others on the plane, the people who were there and some that were not supposed to be (although I suppose, in a way they were supposed to be); a glimpse of their lives and the ones they left behind who were waiting for word even while Mr. Gable was hurrying to find his wife, hoping against hope that everyone was wrong.

At the last, there is the story of the people who gave their time and effort climbing up that mountain on a cold January day, trying to see if there was anyone alive who needed rescuing, and their stories are here as well, and just as thought-provoking.  A sad read, but an intense one, and worth the time.  Highly recommended.


Goodreads:  https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/3381172673

More on Robert Matzen's Books:  https://www.amazon.com/Robert-Matzen/e/B001HD2ZAC/ref

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

A Taste Fur Murder

Author:  Dixie Lyle
Genre:  Mystery

Five Stars
Meet Deirdre "Foxtrot" Lancaster.  Trusted employee of eccentric zillionairess Zelda Zoransky, Foxtrot manages a mansion, a private zoo, and anything else that strikes her boss's fancy.  Her job title is Administrative Assistant, but chaos handler would be more accurate.  Especially after she glimpses a giant ghost-beast in Zelda's pet cemetery.  For some strange reason, Foxtrot is seeing animal spirits.  And, ready or not, the fur's about to hit the fan...
Still reeling, Foxtrot comes home to find her cat Tango - her dead cat Tango - alive and well and communicating telepathically.  But that's not all: There's an ectoplasmic dog named Tiny who changes breeds with a shake of his tail...and can sniff out a clue like nobody's business.  So when a coworker drops dead while organizing closets, Tiny is on the case.  Can Foxtrot and her new companions ferret out the killer among a menagerie of suspects-human and otherwise-before death takes another bite?
Well, let me tell you, this book is certainly different.  I've read books where people communicate with dead animals, but not quite like this one.  It begins well enough; Foxtrot is an Administrative Assistant extraordinaire, and ZZ, her employer, depends on her completely to keep her place running like clockwork.  That includes knowing everything about the workings both inside and out, and making sure all problems are handled. 
While giving herself some "alone time" in the cemetery behind ZZ's home (where else could be better?), she senses that there is something sinister there, something alive, and sees what appears to be lightning, she shakes herself and decides she must have been imagining things.  But add to this the fact that when she goes home she discovers her cat Tango resurrected from the dead, she pretty much has a lot to deal with.  Not trusting her eyes nor ears - for it seems Tango can now communicate with her telepathically - she finds that a shape-shifting dog named Tiny has attached itself to her (don't let the name fool you).  Both these animals inform her that her life is about to change, and Foxtrot isn't sure she's up to it, nor wants to be.
ZZ enjoys having 'salons', which means inviting various people, famous or not, but all unique in one way or another, to her home for extended periods.  Foxtrot knows everything she needs to about them, and part of her job is keeping the guests happy.  It all seems simple enough, and fairly enjoyable, until disaster strikes, and her coworker is killed.  But when Tango and Tiny (and other dead creatures) tell her that the coworker wasn't the intended target, but someone else close to her, Foxtrot jumps into action, not thinking about the danger to herself, knows she must protect and save whomever the real target was, because the killer will surely try again.  This means having to look at all the guests and other employees differently, because it is determined that the killer was someone at the house, which gives Foxtrot a very large pool to choose from.  Not trusting the local police  to catch the right person (understandably so), Foxtrot dives in with her usual capability and perseverance and decides to find the killer herself.
 Mingling fact with fiction, Ms. Lyle spins an interesting and engrossing tale that drew me in and kept me interested.  (And yes, I even googled a few things myself just to check).  I found the book extremely fun to read, dark at points but not sinister, and many characters with enough depth to be believable.  A very good read and recommended for anyone who enjoys paranormal in their novels.  I eagerly await the next in the series.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Guidebook to Murder

Author:  Lynn Cahoon
Genre:  Mystery

Five Stars
In the gentle coastal town of South Cove, California, all Jill Gardner wants is to keep her store--Coffee, Books, and More--open and running. So why is she caught up in the business of murder?
When Jill's elderly friend, Miss Emily, calls in a fit of pique, she already knows the city council is trying to force Emily to sell her dilapidated old house. But Emily's gumption goes for naught when she dies unexpectedly and leaves the house to Jill--along with all of her problems. . .and her enemies. Convinced her friend was murdered, Jill is finding the list of suspects longer than the list of repairs needed on the house. But Jill is determined to uncover the culprit--especially if it gets her closer to South Cove's finest, Detective Greg King. Problem is, the killer knows she's on the case--and is determined to close the book on Jill permanently...

Jill Gardner owns a small bookstore/coffeeshop in South Cove, California.  She moved there after a divorce and made fast friends with Miss Emily, an elderly woman who took an instant liking to her.  When Emily dies suddenly, Jill has suspicions that she was murdered, since Emily never seemed sick at all.  After Emily leaves everything - house, belongings, money, etc., to Jill, and people start coming out of the woodwork wanting the house, she's more than convinced of that.
While the local police detective, Greg King, warns her to leave the investigation to him, Jill knows she should, but still thinks that she would be disloyal to Emily if she didn't try and find out who killed her.  And when 'accidents' and vandalism start following her around, she knows she's closer to the killer than she ought to be.  It doesn't help any that she is highly attracted to the good-looking detective, and he appears to be attracted to her also, but keeps her at arms' length (sort of) while he considers it his personal mission to protect her from danger.  The interaction between these two is believable and delightful.
I absolutely loved this book.  It kept the mystery right up until the end, which was great.  There are plenty of twists and turns, suspects, and red herrings.  The plot is interesting without getting bogged down in too many extraneous details, and as Jill went through her emotions, I could amost feel them myself.  I really enjoy being pulled into the story, not just reading the book and going through the motions.  I have always felt that a book should draw you in, not keep you to the sidelines as a mere observer, and this book definitely fills that area.  This is the author's first title in this series, and I look forward to reading the next.  Highly recommended.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Whack Job (An Elliott Lisbon Mystery)

Author:  Kendel Lynn
Genre:  Mystery


Elliott Lisbon blends her directorship of the Ballantyne Foundation with her PI-in-Training status by planning parties and performing discreet inquiries for charitable patrons. But when the annual Wonderland Tea Party makes everyone go mad as a hatter, Elli gets pulled into a shooting, a swindle, and the hunt for a Fabergé egg.

From seedy pawn parlors to creepy antique shops, Sea Pine Island’s other half prove to be as wacky as the wealthy. Elli falls farther down the rabbit hole and finds a scheming salesman, a possessive paramour, a dead donor—everything but a bottle labeled “Drink Me.” As events evolve from curious to crazy, Elli gets lost in the maze and finds herself trapped in a house of cards with a killer.


Elliott Lisbon is training to be a PI, while working as director of the Ballantyne Foundation.  When there is a shooting in the restaurant where she is eating lunch, the victim, Gilbert Goodsen, hires her to find his Faberge egg and the man who stole his money.  Then a murder occurs, and her client is suspected of the murder, so now she has to also prove he didn't do it.

Sounds simple, right?  It turns out that nothing simple happens around Ms. Lisbon.  What should be simple turns into an hysterical farce, with Elliott getting into and out of 'situations' practically on the hour.  Her clothes keep getting ruined (and yours would, too, if you had to literally dodge as many things as she does), and she constantly looks as if she gets in street fights on a regular basis.  However, none of this is her fault - to hear her tell it.  Although there are probably easier ways to get the information she desires, she never quite takes the time to figure them out; hence the spoiling of her clothes and person, not to mention that her client constantly looks as if he was an escapee from an insane asylum, and acts that way too.

So while she is trying to find the egg, she is also trying to organize the Wonderland Tea Party for the foundation, and stay out of a murder investigation that she literally keeps falling right back into, through no fault of her own.  Somehow she manages to come through it all with a sort of bulldog tenacity, and with the belief that her client is innocent, yet is always at the wrong place at the wrong time.

I found this totally enjoyable to read and can't wait to hear from Ms. Lynn and the further adventures of Elliott.  Highly recommended.


Goodreads:  https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/911004740

More on Kendel Lynn's Books:  https://www.fantasticfiction.com/l/kendel-lynn/

Deal Killer

Author:  Vicki Doudera
Genre:  Mystery

Five Stars
Realtor-turned sleuth Darby Farr arrives in the Big Apple and finds big trouble: her boyfriend Miles Porter is a suspect in the brutal stabbing of a Russian businessman.  Setting out to prove his innocence, Darby discovers that Central Park Place - the luxury residence where Miles lives - is a hotbed of wealthy tenants with well-guarded secrets.  One of them is Natalia Kazakova, a billionaire's daughter and the victim's not-so-distraut fiancee, wnose investigate journalism has caught the attention of Russia's shadowy security agency.  With the looming threat of Soviet-era spies and long list of rich and devious suspects, Darby must work fast to stop a killer who knows no bounds.
I found this book to be very well-written and the plot taut, with plenty of red herrings (which I love), enough to keep me interested throughout.  Although I don't agree with the blurb - Darby's boyfriend is never really considered a suspect - there isn't a dearth of them anywhere.  In fact, there are so many suspects that you're only really sure the two people who couldn't have done it are Darby and Miles.  It seems everyone had a reason to kill Alec Rodin (and there are no spoilers here, since he is killed off almost immediately). 
Just when you think you might have the right reason, and the right person, another comes along to change your mind; and before you know it, there are at least ten people who had reasons to kill him, and not because of things that he might have done, but because the little reasons all tie into other reasons, and other people.  Talk about being being twisted around...
In the midst of this we have Darby and her beau Miles furthering their relationship and sort of trying to cement it somehow, while Darby struggles with her past and their future.  And just when you think it's going to be smooth sailing, something else happens that will test their affection for each other.  Quite enjoyable, without too much drama.
In the end, it was hard to put down, because I really wanted to know how it all wound up at the end.  Stick with it; you'll enjoy the book.


Goodreads:  https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/911007074

Monday, April 14, 2014

Dying to Know

Author:  T. J. O'Connor
Genre:  Mystery

Five Stars
Detective Oliver Tucker prefers to be the guy investigating shootings, not the guy getting shot.  So when he returns as a ghost after being murdered in his home, it's only natural for Tuck to investigate the most important case of his life - his own.  Detective, solve thyself!
Piecing together cold cases, foggy memories, and eerie premonitions, Tuck fears that if he doesn't figure out who pulled the trigger, his wife may be the next victim.  Surprised to discover many earth-bound spirits chasing the same killer, Tuck's unique perspective from the other side leads him to a chilling conclusion - it's the living, not the dead, who are most terrifying.
Well, this book was definitely a surprise.  I wanted to read it because I really liked the premise - a man is murdered, and then has to find out who did it.  (Sounds kind of creepy the way I wrote that, but I like books with a twist).  When he returns mere minutes after he is killed, he soon discovers that only his dog, Hercule, can see him.  He also finds out other things, with the help of another mysterious 'ghost', Doc.  That once you pass, thoughts become nothing and emotions are everything.  Definitely a different twist on what people might or might not think happens when they die.
Once Tuck discovers that his death might have not been planned, and his wife Angel (Angela) could be in danger from the same killer, he strives with everything he has to find a way to communicate with her.  Even when he does eventually reach her, he doesn't have all the answers, and while she is struggling to come to terms with Tuck's death and sort-of reappearance, he doesn't know who to trust or how to keep her safe, and this includes whether or not to trust his partner, 'Bear' Braddock.
Angela is a Professor who is assisting a local dig, Kelly's farm.  Just when I thought the book couldn't get any more interesting, I was delightfully surprised.  I say that because I am a huge Civil War devotee, and intermingling with not only Tuck's murder, but others', is finding out that the dig at the farm has to do with the Civil War and brings elements of that into the story.
Yet when you dig deeper into Tuck's murder, you will find that things are not always as they appear, and what does appear may not be what you see after all.  Read the book.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Boys of Blur

Author:  N. D. Wilson
Genre:  Childrens'/Fantasy

Five Stars
When the sugarcane's burning and the rabbits are running, look for the boys who are quicker than flame.
Stare through the smoke and let your eyes burn.
Don't blink.
While cane leaves crackle and harvesters whir, while blades shatter armies of sugar-sweet sticks, watch for ghosts in the smoke, for boys made of blur, fast as rabbits and faster.
Shall we run with them, you and I?  Shall we dodge tractors and fire for small handfuls of fur?  Will we grin behind shirt masks while caught rabbits stick in our hands?
Shoes are for the slow.  Pull 'em off.  Tug up your socks.  Shift side to side.  Chase.  But be quick.  Very Quick.  Out here in the flats, when the sugarcane's burning and the rabbits are running, there can be only quick.  There's quick, and there's dead.  (From inside front cover).
I know this is listed as a childrens' book, but the title got me.  Boys of Blur.  I knew I had to read it, and I'm glad I did.  For while it is technically a childrens' book, I don't think it is for small children; rather those around twelve or older.
Charlie Reynolds lives with his mother Natalie, half-sister Molly and stepfather Prester Mack.  Prester, like Charlie's biological father, is an ex-football player more of a father to him than his own ever was.  While at a funeral for Mack's old high school coach he meets his second cousin, Cotton, who is home-schooled by his mother, intelligent and full of knowledge; and together the two boys become fast friends and and immediately begin adventuring into "the muck", where Cotton offers some truth about how it came to be.
Mack has been offered the coach's position teaching football at the high school, and when he discusses it with his family, decides to accept.  While watching Mack coach football one day, the sugarcane begins burning.  Mack offers cash to any boy who can return with rabbits.  It is a test of their running speed, and the burning forces the rabbits away from the fire toward the boys.  It is a ritual of Taper, and Charlie is invited along this time.  (Don't worry; they release the rabbits after catching them).
This is Charlie's second adventure into the muck which surrounds the town of Taper, and it leads him into an adventure even he could never have imagined.  It is there that Charlie discovers the secrets and dreams of the muck, Taper, and the people within.  There is evil and there is good, and Charlie must find the truth in it all.
The author's imagery is strong, and the story is compelling.  I would love to say more about this book, but cannot, because saying more would be giving too much away, and I don't want to diminish anyone's pleasure in reading it.  I would recommend this book not only for children, but for anyone who has a sense of spirit and adventure.


Thursday, April 10, 2014

No One Could Have Guessed the Weather

Author: Anne-Marie Casey
Genre:  Fiction

Five Stars
The middle part of your story might just be the beginning...
After her husband loses his job, Lucy has to leave behind her posh life in London and settle into a tiny East Village apartment.  Now she's a middle-aged mother in the midst of hipsters, homesick and resentful until she embarks on a new love affair-with New York City and three new friends.
Julia has left her family for a mini breakdown and a room of her own.  Trophy wife Christy is a bit adrift, as only those who live in penthouses can be.  Robyn is constantly compensating for her wunderkind husband who can't seem to make the transition to adulthood.  And all of them are starting to learn that what you want in your twenties isn't always what you need in your forties...
I honestly didn't know what to expect from this book.  At first glance, it sounds like another chick-lit novel, where four women get together and then start dishing on their lives, their unhappiness and missed opportunities; and proceed to have affairs that will "make things all better."
Well, it is none of those things.  What is is, exactly, is up to the reader to decide.  While the books is told from four different standpoints - Lucy, Julia, Christy and Robyn - and what is going on in their lives at this particular moment; the actions they take that will influence every day of their lives from this point on, I found it to be quite interesting in the fact that none of these women are remotely alike, and yet they grow to become friends.
It follows a year in the lives of these four women, and the thoughts, feelings and changes they go through.  It shows how their lives intersect and how they react to one another through this time.  What begins as Lucy merely entering this circle by chance - moving to New York - shows that as she meets these three other women her life, and theirs, begin to change, as they enter their forties and realize that life is what you want it to be; and a strong bond is joined between three of the four.
I truly enjoyed reading this, and though it may not appeal to everyone, if you choose to read it I guarantee you will not be disappointed.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Miss Zukas and the Library Murders

Author:  Jo Dereske
Genre:  Mystery

Two Stars
Meet Miss Zukas . . . the very proper, exceedingly conscientious, and relentlessly curious local librarian of tiny Bellehaven, Washington--and one heck of an amateur sleuth! The Bellehaven police are baffled when a dead body turns up right in the middle of the library's fiction stacks. But Miss Helma Zukas--who never fails to make note of the slightest deviation from the norm of everyday life--is not willing to let this rather nasty disruption stand. Her precious literary sanctuary has been violated, and if the local law cannot get to the bottom of this case, Miss Zukas certainly intends to--with the help of her not-so-proper best friend, Ruth, a six-foot-tall bohemian artist with a nose for gossip and a penchant for getting into trouble. But their research project is bringing them a little too close to a killer . . . who'd like nothing better than to write Helma and Ruth out of the story completely!  (From the book).
The following review MIGHT contain spoilers, but everything I am writing you will learn almost immediately in this book.  I know I wasn't going to write spoilers, but if I don't do so in this case, you won't be able to understand why I didn't care for the book.  If you wish to read it at some later date, please do not read on.  That being said: 
The book is okay as far as the mystery, which is why I gave it 2 stars. However, the main character (Miss Zukas) is completely unlikeable. She is a librarian, only 36, but a prissy woman who acts like she is 90. She doesn't like anything about anyone; she makes disparaging remarks about her co-workers, and she can't understand why she is friends with Ruth (supposedly her best friend). These two are SO different, you can't imagine them as even wanting to spend time with each other. The friend is a slob, a drunk, and (shall I say it) a slut.
The reason it doesn't make sense is because Miss Zukas is SO perfect - her apartment is perfect (after 14 years of living there?????) no gossip, smiling, anything out of place, etc; that someone like Ruth should horrify her. She doesn't even have any conversations with anyone that aren't somehow related back to the library. Everything she thinks reminds her she 'needs to look it up at the library'. She even formulates a thought that she didn't move into a certain apartment building because 'they allowed families with children." So she even dislikes children, and pets, since she makes a point of stating she lives in a 'pet-free' building, and thinks of possibly 'turning in a neighbor" because they MIGHT have a pet.

She "looks down" on everyone and everything, including her own mother, whom she barely tolerates. She also has no social life, no other friends (understandable), no answering machine because she "doesn't want to be disturbed during dinner", so if the phone rings, she ignores it. It appears she is so self-centered and selfish, that she is the only one that matters in life. (I spend my life trying to avoid these types of people).

It appears that Miss Zukas is an opinionated, bigoted egotist, and has no endearing or redeeming qualities, and I will probably not read any others in the series.

Monday, April 7, 2014

John Wayne: The Life and Legend

Author: Scott Eyman
Genre: Biography


John Wayne was one of Hollywood’s most famous and most successful actors, but he was more than that. He became a symbol of America itself. He epitomized the Western film, which for many people epitomized America. He identified with conservative political causes from the early 1930s to his death in 1979, making him a hero to one generation of Americans and a villain to another. But unlike fellow actor Ronald Reagan, Wayne had no interest in politics as a career. Like many stars, he altered his life story, claiming to have become an actor almost by accident when in fact he had studied drama and aspired to act for most of his youth. He married three times, all to Latina women, and conducted a lengthy affair with Marlene Dietrich, as unlikely a romantic partner as one could imagine for the Duke.  Wayne projected dignity, integrity, and strength in all his films, even when his characters were flawed, and whatever character he played was always prepared to confront injustice in his own way. More than thirty years after his death, he remains the standard by which male stars are judged and an actor whose morally unambiguous films continue to attract sizeable audiences.

Scott Eyman interviewed Wayne, as well as many family members, and he has drawn on previously unpublished reminiscences from friends and associates of the Duke in this biography, as well as documents from his production company that shed light on Wayne’s business affairs. He traces Wayne from his childhood to his stardom in Stagecoach and dozens of films after that. Eyman perceptively analyzes Wayne’s relationship with John Ford, the director with whom he’s most associated and who made some of Wayne’s greatest films, among them She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, The Quiet Man, and The Searchers. His evaluation of Wayne himself is shrewd: a skilled actor who was reluctant to step outside his comfort zone. Wayne was self-aware; he once said, “I’ve played the kind of man I’d like to have been.” It’s that man and the real John Wayne who are brilliantly profiled in Scott Eyman’s insightful biography of a true American legend.


I have read other books about John Wayne, and I have to say that this is yet the most detailed one.  You not only learn about Wayne himself, but many other friends and acquaintances.  The book relates how young Marion Morrison grew up, his relationships with both parents and how it shaped his life.  His youth was difficult and, in my opinion, somewhat sad, yet he managed to grow with honesty, generosity and grace.

John Wayne was a complex human being, not the person seen on the screen, yet everything he did was for his family; and every movie he made was for his fans.  We are shown the triumphs in his life and the regrets; the happiness and the sorrow he went through, and the deep, abiding love for his family and his friends.

We are given not only details regarding the movies Mr.Wayne made, but what was going on in his personal life at the same time, and those of the people he worked with.  I learned many things I never knew - and I read a lot of biographies.  Some were understandable; others, not so much (in the fact that while his actions were generous, I felt he was ill-used).  There are also quite a few anecdotes regarding several actors, including Glenn Ford, Robert Mitchum and Ward Bond that I found fascinating at the least. 

In all, this book is well worth reading, not only for the fans of westerns and John Wayne, but for anyone who wants to know how he became an American icon, and still remains so today.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

A Second Helping of Murder

Author: Christine Wenger
Genre: Mystery

Five Stars
Trixie Matkowski is warming up to running her family's diner in the small town of Sandy Harbor in upstate New York.  But the only thing more demanding than serving piping-hot comfort food twenty-four hours a day is getting to the bottom of a double homicide...
Trixie fondly remembers summers as a child spent visiting the shores of Lake Ontario.  Not much has changed-there are still vinyl booths at the Silver Bullet Diner, families eating home-cooked comfort food, and days of swimming in the lake.
But before Trixie can say "Order's up," someone's summer is abruptly cut short.  One of the cottage residents is found dead, and Trixie suspects the crime might be linked to an unsolved disappearance in the picturesque town's past.
As Trixie works with Deputy Ty Brisco to solve both mysteries, their shocking discoveries will shake up the small town.  And when word gets out that she's on the case, Trixie's in trouble-after all, the murderer won't spare her life just because she makes a killer corned beef sandwich...(from back cover).
I wasn't sure what to expect, since I've never read this author, but she reeled me in immediately.  I liked the fact that I was drawn into Trixie's life from the get-go, she started talking about her life as if I were there to share it with her, and that was indeed a nice beginning.  Also, I really liked the plot: the remains of a former summer renter is found in a cave, and since Trixie knew the girl and liked her, she wants to find the killer.  Especially since shortly after, another murder takes place in one of Trixie's cottages, and people start cancelling their reservations.  Convinced the two murders are connected somehow, nearly everyone who knew the girl twenty-five years ago becomes a suspect, at least in Trixie's mind.
Trixie bought the diner, cabins, and her house (which she refers to as 'the Big House') from her aunt Stella, who retired after her husband died.  Since she spent much of her girlhood there, working and playing, she has always had a fondness for it; and since she needed something in her life after her messy divorce, the timing seemed ideal.  However, the murders have placed her front and center with a new goal in her life - find the killer, or killers.
Although she is repeatedly cautioned by Ty to stay out of the case, she lets him know that she has no intentions to do so, justifying it by the fact that she's the one losing money by not renting her lake cabins, not him.  The interaction between these two is believeable, and fun to witness.
What bothered me, however, was the fact that all the 'good guys,' her staff included, have great personalities - always smiling, happy, go-getters, fun-loving, etc.; and the 'bad guys,' (the suspects), are all people who are nasty, mean, unhappy, etc.  Even the sunniest of people still have off days, but none of her friends ever do.  They're willing to move heaven and earth to help her.  The other thing was her repetitive use of the word "fabulous."  The author must have used it at least fifty times.  Everything was fabulous - even Deputy Ty, who is from Texas, used it once.  No self-respecting cowboy (and I know, since my Dad's a Texan and half my family still lives there) would use the word 'fabulous'.  At least I never heard it from my Dad, anyway.
Apart from those two things, this book was a great read.  I loved the fact that the original murder was so old and had to be revisited (digging into the past in a mystery is always interesting), and even though the reasons the murders were committed weren't original, it was understandable and woven into a tightly knitted plot that made this a pleasure.  I highly recommend this book and will certainly be reading the first in the series - Do or Diner.

A Killing Notion

Author:  Melissa Bourbon
Genre:  Mystery

Four Stars
Harlow Jane Cassidy is swamped with homecoming couture requests.  If only she didn't have to help solve a murder, she might gets the gowns off the dress forms...
Harlow is doing everything she can to expand her dressmaking business, Buttons & Bows-without letting clients know about her secret charm.  When she has a chance to create homecoming dresses with a local charity and handmade mums for several high school girls-including Gracie, whose father, Will, has mended Harlow's heart-she is ready to use her magical talents for a great cause.
But when Gracie's date for the dance is accused of murder, Harlow knows things won't be back on course until she helps Gracie clear the football player's name.  If Harlow can't patch up this mess before the big game, her business and her love life might be permanently benched.  (From the back cover).
Harlow Jane Cassidy is a descendant of Butch Cassidy - but, as the author should know, Butch Cassidy was an alias, and his real name was Robert Leroy Parker, so any descendants he would have would also have the surname of Parker.  This would be tantamount to the Sundance Kid's decendants having their last name as "Kid".  (Just because he decided to call himself Cassidy doesn't mean it was his legal name, nor would it be the legal name of any descendants).  That being said, and the only thing I disliked about the book, on the whole it was an enjoyable read.
Harlow sews for a living.  She has a "charm," as all the Cassidy women do (although each has a different one); and her charm is the fact that when she makes a garment for someone, their deepest desire seems to come true.  Therefore, when someone wears one of her creations, whatever they want to occur surely will, whether it be good or bad.  She is involved in making dresses for some of the girls attending the homecoming dance in conjunction with Helping Hands, a group that gives girls who would have no chance to attend otherwise their dresses and accessories. 
I should also mention the fact that Harlow has a resident ghost, Loretta Mae, who is her 'meemaw;' since she does figure quite prominently in the story, helping Harlow with her designs and also trying her ghostly best to give her advice, even if it does manifest in mainly swirling air.
Harlow's boyfriend is Will Flores.  His daughter Gracie is a descendant also, and is learning to sew under Harlow's tutelage.  Gracie is attempting to make her own dress, and proceeding quite well.  However, when Gracie's boyfriend, Shane, is accused of killing his own father, both Gracie and Shane's mother, Reba, beg Harlow to help find the real killer.  Even though Will wants her to stay out of the investigation, she knows she must help regardless.
This is where it gets sticky.  Harlow's stepfather is the sheriff, and her stepbrother Gavin is deputy.  She has a love-hate relationship with Gavin, tries to avoid him at all costs, and knows he will be livid if he finds out she is investigating.  However, this doesn't stop her in the least.  Her investigation into the murder not only uncovers deep secrets held by more than one person, it takes her to a town less than an hour away where she finds even more secrets, and more suspects.  Soon her suspect list is beginning to resemble a Christmas naughty list.
There are plenty of red herrings, but also plenty of clues that eventually tie into one another and you will have that 'aha' moment, likely around the same time as Harlow.  I highly recommend this and suggest you begin with the first book in the series, Pleating for Mercy.

Tragic Toppings (A Donut Shop Mystery #5)

Author:  Jessica Beck Genre:   Mystery Mass Market Paperback; Digital Book ISBN #:  9780312541095 Minotaur Books 290 Pages [Various Prices];...