The Butler Did It

Nice to be back!

Hi everyone! I hope most of my friends are still here on Booklikes.  I've been out of sight for a couple of years while I finished my Master's and started teaching literature.  I've missed being here and I'm hoping to be active again. 

 

Doing a Master's in literature was one of the most fun things I've ever done but it changes the way you look at books.  Of course, it was too busy reading assigned books to read much simply for pleasure so I'm anxious to get back to my mysteries and pleasure reading.  Nice to be back.

Review
4.5 Stars
Ride the Pink Horse-Atmospheric noir
Ride the Pink Horse - Dorothy B. Hughes

Ride the Pink Horse is all about atmosphere.  You see the whole setting and the characters in black and white as you read.  You can smell the sweat and you can feel the heat. Along with the sweat and the heat, the feeling of anxiety, helplessness, and despair are palpable.  I’d never read anything by Dorothy B. Hughes before, but this story shows her to be a master of the noir genre.  My highest compliment to a book is that you are there while reading it and this one puts you there. It wouldn’t have worked anywhere but in the time and place that Hughes put it. The setting, a fiesta in New Mexico, is as clear as if you were watching it on television.  The reader is deeply inside the head of the protagonist, a petty thief from Chicago.  You find yourself feeling anxious along with him and hoping for the downfall of the crime boss (a senator) that he is pursuing. 

This book is of its time and there are some racist passages so read it with the understanding that it was published in 1946. 

This book was provided by Netgalley which does not affect my honest review and rating of it.

Review
5 Stars
The Complete Shakespeare-Here we go!
The Complete Pelican Shakespeare - Stephen Orgel, A.R. Braunmuller, William Shakespeare

I'll be having a class this fall devoted to Shakespeare so my study partner and I decided to get started this summer with MacBeth.  She is Chinese and hasn't read much Shakespeare so she didn't know the plot line at all.  I was very interested to see what she thought and was glad that she really enjoyed it.  I did too. I'm not giving the plot because I assume most readers of the English language know it. I don't know if I had ever sat and read it start to finish in one sitting. Because the plot is so familiar I could read fairly quickly and just enjoy the flow of the words.  No, plot lines are not Shakespeare's strong suit.  The plot is simple and it has holes.  Shakespeare is certainly not the master plotter that Ben Jonson is but I read Shakespeare for his words and his understanding of human character.  MacBeth and Lady MacBeth are quite a fascinating pair and the witches add a great air of creepiness.  The woods coming to Elsinore castle is fun.

 

People seem to love or hate Shakespeare.  I love him.  This particular edition had some interesting introductory notes to the play.  I'm looking forward to a full semester of this.

Review
5 Stars
Israel Potter-The easier side of Herman Melville
Israel Potter: His Fifty Years of Exile - Herman Melville, Robert S. Levine

I had never read a thing by Herman Melville and couldn't have told you anything he wrote except for Moby Dick before I took a class about him.  I've really come to enjoy his writing.  If all you've experienced of Melville is Moby-Dick, you might be surprised by his other writings.  This book is a straight forward narrative of the life of a Revolutionary War soldier.  It's based on a autobiography of a real soldier but Melville does fictionalize it and loves to add in historical characters.

Israel Potter starts with Potter's life before the Revolution and leads up to his service in the army.  He's captured and sent to England and that's where the action really begins. He begins trying to escape and has amazing adventures, including being used as a spy by Benjamin Franklin.  He finally makes it back to America but I'll stop there so I won't spoil anything.

This story is straight forward and easy to read. It's entertaining and enjoyable. Melville wrote it because he needed money and soldier narratives were all the rage.  He seems, however, to have had several points to make as well. One of the points seems to be how easy it is to build up almost a cult around some of the early leaders of the country and he seems to be asking if they were really as wonderful as they seem. He also seems to be commenting on how we tend to think of soldiers as immediate heroes whether we know them or not.  These points are subtle however, and do nothing to keep you from enjoying this as a straight forward adventure.  I really enjoyed it and would recommend it to anyone wanting a taste of Melville without plunging into Moby-Dick.

Review
5 Stars
The Blind Side-A non-fiction favorite
The Blind Side - Michael Lewis

I have not seen this movie and wasn't planning to read the book but our book discussion group at my public library scheduled it so I checked it out.  I loved it.  I generally read fiction but this reads as easily as fiction and was totally engrossing for me.  I had to put aside all the others books I was in the middle of.  Granted, I'm a football fan but even if I weren't I can't imagine I wouldn't have liked this.

This is the story of Michael Oher, a teenager from a very underprivileged background in Memphis who through the right combination of luck and hard work changes his life completely.  He's basically a homeless kid with amazing athletic talent who gets the opportunity to enroll in a fairly prestigious Christian high school and finds the right mentors to help him achieve his potential.  It might sound like a cliche rags-to-riches story but it's not.  The book shows how this took a ton of hard work, love, compassion, money and talent to turn his life around.  It didn't happen easily or overnight.  The evolution of the game of football was also instrumental in Michael being able to achieve what he achieved.  The title refers to the quarterback's blind side which for right-handed quarterbacks is their left side and that's the position Michael was perfectly built to play.  The book is labeled as inspirational and it is.  It's not overtly Christian even though that plays a role but it's inspirational in the fact that a person can change their life with hard work and people can help change other people's lives with dedication, generosity and compassion.  I find it harder to review non-fiction  than fiction so I just have to say thanks to Parsons Public Library for having introducing me to so many great books I wouldn't have tried without the discussion group.

Review
2 Stars
Rock Bottom-Just not good
Rock Bottom - Erin Brockovich

I went into this book not expecting much and got what I expected. I found this to be a hot mess.  You can't just slap the word "environmentalism" on a book and assume that wipes out all its flaws.  It just isn't a good book. It didn't bore me but it wasn't good and I just about rolled my eyes out of my head at the absurdity of it.

The premise is that A.J. Palladino left her home in West Virginia, the coal-mining community of Scotia, years ago when she was 17 under a cloud of disgrace.  She has since then become an environmental activist with a disabled son. She had some successes but is now out of work and a lawyer in Scotia offers her a job to help with his case against the big coal mining company in the area which is removing the tops of mountains to get at coal more cheaply.  It just so happens, of course, that the son of the owner of this mining company is also the father of her son. She comes back to town, has run-ins with everyone including her parents and finds the lawyer who hired her has been murdered.  Fortunately, the lawyer's daughter, who is also a lawyer, is in town and decides to stay and finish the case her father started.

The book is full of stereotypical characters and shallow plot lines.  A.J. brings her son, who is twelve or so, to her hometown and immediately introduces him to his father who is married to someone else.  No build up, just bam, instant love between father and son.  The people that run the coal mine are evil to the core with no redeeming qualities and the good guys are shining lights of humanity.  The handicapped son is smarter and more heroic than all the adults put together.   The coal miners come across as terrible people just for needing to put food on the table for their children.  There's no depth or subtlety.  There are black and white cardboard figures and through all of it, you are being pounded on the head with the hammer of "environmentalism." I don't read mysteries to have my head bashed in.  

I read this because our library discussion group is going to discuss this next month.  I'm very interested to hear what the other readers thought of it.   

Review
5 Stars
Hiking Tennessee-Very useful info
Hiking Tennessee - Victoria Logue

My brother's family recently moved to Tennessee so we have become aware of how beautiful the state is. When I saw this book offered LibraryThing's giveaway program, I requested it immediately and was thrilled to get it. The book divides Tennessee into three sections, East, Middle and West. It has a chapter for each state park. It gives detailed information on the hiking trails in each, including what kind of terrain, difficulty and cautions. There are maps, there is lots of area information, there are phone numbers and hours. There is information about camping sites and other things to see in the area. If I lived in Tennessee, I think I would use this as a challenge to see how many of these hikes I could complete. Since I only get to visit, I'll be looking through this book to find the best ones for the limited time we are there. It looks like an invaluable resource for those living or spending time in Tennessee.

Review
2 Stars
Kittens Can Kill-Nonsensical
Kittens Can Kill - Clea Simon

A mystery with talking animals.  They seem to be popular these days so every so often I try one.  And then remember that I don't like them.  I guess I keep trying to see why they appeal to readers but I've yet to see it. 

Pru is an animal behaviorist that can hear what animals are saying and talk to them.  She's been called in to deal with a kitten that was given to a retired lawyer as a gift and needs to be taken to the vet.  When she arrives, the lawyer is dead and the kitten is playing next to him.  The lawyers three daughters all get accused and, in turn, seem to accuse each other of killing him. In the end, of course, the animals provide the clues for Pru to solve the mystery.

The mystery plot, taken on its own, is not bad.  The book is well edited.  The dialogue is believable.  If you into talking animals, this will probably be ok, but I did not care for it at all.  Pru is bitter and fairly unlikeable in many ways.  She has a great disregard for normal human activities which reminds me of Kinsey Milhone at her worst.  She seems to think that animals are smarter than people and everyone who doesn't understand them is just an ignoramus.  She's dismissive of her boyfriend.  I just generally didn't enjoy her character at all.  But the final nail in the coffin is the way she investigates the murder.  She has absolutely no standing to do so.  The family doesn't ask her to.  She didn't know him.  She's not being accused of anything.  All the normal reasons that amateurs investigate crimes are non-existent.  She's just super-nosy and not in a fun way.  What makes it worse is that people tell her stuff. Stuff that you would never tell a stranger.  It's nonsensical.

This is the fifth in a series and the first I've read so maybe that has some bearing on how ridiculous this book seemed to me but I won't be reading the others to find out.  This was provided to me through Netgalley in exchange for my honest review.

Review
5 Stars
The Worst Hard Time-history that hits close to home
The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl - Timothy Egan
 

My family lived this story so I may be a little bit prejudiced toward it.  This is a history of people who lived through the Dust Bowl and my family, grandparents and mom, did just that.  My mother owns the book but hasn't been able to read it yet because it is too painful.  If you aren't familiar with this episode of American history, this was the 30's when the land literally blew away.  The farming that had been done had ripped away the centuries old grasses and left the topsoil exposed to the never-ending wind.  Then the rains stopped for about 6 years.  It was a brutal time and the majority of people who lived in the Dust Bowl moved away. My grandparents stayed and kept their farm through it all.  My mom was born in 1934 in a dugout so this history is my family's history.

Timothy Egan did his research well.  He has first-hand accounts from many who are my mom's age and older who distinctly remember the Black Dusters coming through town and blocking out the sun.  He ties the stories together well.  His creation of the atmosphere of the Texas and Oklahoma Panhandles is masterful.  I've spent a lot of time there and he describes it beautifully.  I think he is very fair in explaining why the Dust Bowl happened and who was to blame.  He doesn't vilify the farmers as some have though they do take blame.  They didn't know any better and they were told that they were doing the right thing.  He shows the progression of the problem clearly.  He does vilify the ones who deserve it, the land speculators.  He does an outstanding job of showing the determination and fortitude of the settlers. 

Settling the frontier sounds like something that happened 150 years ago but this frontier was being settled in my mom's lifetime and this book is an excellent history of how that part of the Great Plains developed.  Some people won't like his story-telling style.  It's not linear.  He goes back and forth between families and usually has to go back a few years each time he changes families but it's not a hard style to read.  For a non-fiction book, this was as compelling as any fictional story I've read lately.  I couldn't put it down. 

Review
4.5 Stars
The Incidental Spy-Like the best kind of noir film
The Incidental Spy - Libby Fischer Hellmann

Lena is a young Jewish German immigrant who is making a new life for herself after fleeing Hitler’s Berlin, leaving behind her parents and boyfriend. Settling with an aunt in Chicago, she learns to speak English, gets a job as a secretary, marries a nice man and has a baby. Life in America is good even though things in Europe are falling apart. Things are good until tragedy strikes and Lena is forced to make some difficult decisions about her new country, her old country and her family.

 

This story gives you the same feeling as a classic black and white noir film. I can feel Lena’s panic as things begin to happen that she can’t control. I could picture the small, slightly shabby apartment building and I could imagine the foreign accents of the characters as clearly as if I’d been there. The story succeeds because Lena is so relatable and the setting is so spot­on. I’ve always enjoyed espionage novels and this short one is a very good.

 

Libby Fischer Hellman has become one of my new favorite writers. Her ability to create atmosphere and write living, breathing characters is amazing. Many of her stories are set in Chicago, where she lives, and having lived there myself for a while, I think she captures the city beautifully. I’m not usually a fan of short stories or novellas and this one could definitely have been made into a longer book but I enjoyed it at the length it was. The shorter length ensures tight writing and quick action. I read this in one sitting and enjoyed it immensely.

 

Book provided by Netgalley but my reviews are always my honest opinions.

Review
4.5 Stars
Dying Brand-Good mystery with likeable characters
Dying Brand - Wendy Tyson

I'm really enjoying these mysteries from Wendy Tyson.  They are not quite cozy so they aren't overly sweet like some series have become but they aren't hard-boiled.  Somewhere in between.  I like the tone and style.  This series is becoming a comfort read for me.

Allison Campbell is really just recovering from her last outing (I do like the continuity in the series) when she gets a call from the wife of an ex-boyfriend.  He's been murdered and she blames Allison.  Allison hadn't seen him years but the wife doesn't want to believe that.  The murder really doesn't have anything to do with Allison and the police don't think she's involved but when compromising pictures of the old relationship start arriving, she has to find out what happened.  As usual, her Vaughn, her business manager and Mia, her ex-mother in law get involved in the case also.  Thomas Svengetti, the ex-federal agent is back from the last book like I assumed he would be.  The mystery is good and I didn't figure it out until about the same time Allison did. Tyson does a very good job of drawing the settings for the story.  While it's not an atmospheric novel, you can clearly picture each location. 

There is a lot of growth and development in the characters.  Allison and Jason make some decisions, as does Mia.  Allison still puts herself in stupid situations but somehow that isn't bothering me in this series as much as in some. As with the last book, you have to suspend disbelief a bit.  She spends an awful lot of time and money investigating the mystery while running a prestigious business. 

I really like these characters.  They are smart (most of the time!) and compassionate and they have realistic relationships.  I'll be in for the next one Ms. Tyson writes.

Book provided by Netgalley but my reviews are always my honest thoughts.

Review
4.5 Stars
Deadly Assets-Enjoyable second outing for Allison Campbell
Deadly Assets (An Allison Campbell Mystery Book 2) - Wendy Tyson

Allison Campbell, image consultant, and all her friends are back and they have an intriguing mystery on their hands.  Two clients of First Impressions image consulting have disappeared on the same trip with Vaughn, Allison's business manager.  While there doesn't seem to be any way it could be related to Allison and her business, it did happen on their watch and it will cause trouble for Vaughn if they aren't found.  One is a 60 year old Italian wine heiress and the other, an 18 year old rising pop star with seemingly nothing in common.

Allison, Vaughn and Mia, Allison's ex mother-in-law get begin trying to find these two women and the path just gets more murky and dangerous as they go.  There are dark family secrets, mob connections, mysterious private detectives and connections back to Italy.  I was sure I knew what was going on several different times but then was proven wrong. It's not an over-difficult mystery but it does have twists and turns along the way.  I enjoyed the plot and the characters very much.  The relationships between the main group of characters is one of the biggest strengths of this series so far.  I really can feel the bonds between them.  This is one of those books I looked forward to getting back to every time I had to set it down.

My only reason for not giving it the full five stars is that you do have to suspend disbelief a number of times.  As with most stories about amateur sleuths, I never can figure out why people answer their questions.  I wouldn't.  If a random person shows up at my door telling me they are investigating a disappearance, I'm not letting them in my house.  I'm shutting the door and calling the police. It's also hard to image a professional at the level Allison is shown to be could just take off from her business from days at a time to investigate these disappearances, much less be willing to spend all the money she spent on rental cars, hotels and new clothes. All that said, I still loved the story.

Interesting mystery, strong women, good inter-personal dynamics, just suspend your disbelief and enjoy the story.  I've already started on the third one.

This book was provided by Netgalley for review but my reviews always reflect my true feelings.

Review
3.5 Stars
Bridges Burned-Great mystery, too much angst
Bridges Burned - Annette Dashofy

The first book in this series was very good though it went a few places that I was uncomfortable with.  The second book was wonderful!  The plot line was good, the characters were real, the mystery was puzzling, the whole things was just the kind of contemporary mystery I love.  I was really look forward to this one.  Once again the plot was good and the mystery was well-crafted but the characters!  I wanted to slap them over and over and really, I don't think Zoe acted like herself at all.  I hope the fourth book in this series will return her to her right mind and I will be impatiently waiting for it.

Zoe and Pete sure looked like they were getting together at the end of the last book and this one starts with them seeing where that's going to go.  They get a call to a house that has had a gas explosion and have to stop the husband from running back into the house as it burns to rescue his wife who dies in the explosion.  He has a 10 year old daughter, Maddie,  and Zoe can feel Maddie's pain, having lost her father at a young age and suggests that the dad and daughter move in with her at her farm.  Obviously, Pete isn't going to like this since the dad is a murder suspect.  Zoe has so many TSTL moments that I was wondering if it was the same character from the previous book.  Much angst results from Zoe and Pete's differences over the suspect.

The mystery had nice twists and turns.  The characters except for Pete and Zoe moments of idiocy were superb.  I love the style of writing.  Please just pass on the romantic angst next time and I'll be a happy camper.

Book provided by Netgalley but I always give my honest opinion. 

Review
4.5 Stars
Lost Legacy-Family secrets are no fun
Lost Legacy - Annette Dashofy

Lost Legacy is the story of hidden family secrets. Since everyone has a family of some sort, I think most people will find that intriguing. Zoe Chambers, EMT in Monongahela County PA, didn’t realize there were any family secrets in her family until a farmer turns up dead in a barn that her uncles use to own. When the investigation into the death begins, it gets very personal for Zoe very quickly. Her mom and stepdad coming to visit from Florida don’t help the situation.

 

This is the second mystery in the Zoe Chambers series and I am really enjoying them. In the first one, Circle of Influence, we met our characters, Zoe, Pete, Sylvia, the Krolls, and they became people we could relate to instantly. There wasn’t any of that first-book-in-a-series awkwardness. Now we meet Zoe’s mom and Pete’s dad. The characters become even more 3-dimensional. Annette Dashofy knows how to write realistic characters.

 

This is what I classify as a Contemporary Traditional Mystery. It’s not a cozy but it’s not gritty. The mystery is the focus and it’s well done. There are believable red herring and the answer makes sense with what we’ve read. I’m definitely ready to move on to the next one!

 

Book provided by Netgalley but my reviews are always honest and written for other readers like me.

Review
4.5 Stars
My favorite piece of British drama
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead - Tom Stoppard

This play is brilliant and I'm sure it deserves 5 stars.  My only reason for knocking it down half a star is that you really can't read it in a vacuum.  You have to have some knowledge of Hamlet for it to work. 

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Hamlet's two childhood friends. This play is written about the time that they are off-stage in the play.  Not the time the actors playing these parts are off-stage but the times that the characters are off-stage.  Essentially, at those times they have no purpose because the playwright hasn't given them anything to do.  This is their search to figure out who they are when there is no script.  It's like looking at the back of a piece of tapestry.  What matters is what's on the front and everything on the back is just a jumble of seeming meaninglessness. 

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern aren't even sure who they are when they have no scripted parts.  When their parts are on, they speak in brilliant Elizabethan English.  When they are off, they struggle to figure out what's going on in the world and the dialogue can get confusing, deliberately so.  It's very funny and quite clever.  It deals with issues of reality and identity.  I don't usually enjoy modernist literature but this is one of my favorite British dramas I've ever read. 

If you were to read this cold, with no background, you'd probably give it up like I did years ago when I first had the book.  I couldn't make heads or tails of it but with the right bit of knowledge going into it, it's just really fun and thought provoking.  Tom Stoppard himself put out a movie version that's available on Youtube with Gary Oldman as Rosencrantz.  It doesn't follow the play in every detail but it is great fun to watch. 

Review
4 Stars
Death of a Liar-Another fun visit to the Highlands
Death of a Liar - M.C. Beaton

Another trip to the Scottish Highlands is always a pleasure for me.  Hamish MacBeth is an old friend and so are his weird neighbors.  Death of a Liar is the 30th book in this series so I know them pretty well.

Hamish is going about his usual business when a new couple moves into town.  The residents of Lochdubh don't expect newcomers to last long in the Highlands but they don't expect them to end up murdered in their yard.  As that investigation is proceeding, with all the usual interference from Detective Blaine, a known liar in the next town is found murdered in her garden.  MacBeth assumes the murders are related but no one else does so he goes to work on it.

Hamish does some solid police work in this book. In the end, you'll see who the murderer is before it's revealed but there are plenty of interesting plot turns and twists along the way.  I've read some reviews that say this series is more about the characters and less about the mysteries.  I don't know.  The characters are always integral to the mysteries and to the atmosphere of a very insulated society.  The atmosphere of the Highlands comes through strongly. 

If you haven't read the others in the series, I wouldn't start with this one.  I'd go back to the beginning because Hamish does have a lot of history by now.  His inability to have a lasting relationship with women is well established and many of these women float through this book.  A lot of that history is talked about.  For me, it's discussing well-known history but if you hadn't read the others, it might be a little distracting. 

I love Hamish MacBeth and Lockdubh.  I'll keep reading about them as long as M.C. Beaton keeps writing about them. 

I was thrilled to win this book through Goodreads First Reads program and I appreciated the opportunity to give my honest review.