The Butler Did It

Review
4.5 Stars
Vertigo 42-I love traditional British mysteries
Vertigo 42: A Richard Jury Mystery - Martha Grimes

This is the first Martha Grimes novel I've read and it's number 23 in the Richard Jury series.  I almost never read a series out of order but I had, of course, heard of this series so when this came up on NetGalley, I requested it.  I'm so glad I did.  I loved this book.  Since I haven't read the others, I have no idea how it compares but I will find out because I immediately went to my shelves to see what else I had by Martha Grimes.  Happily, it turns out that I have three more from this series so I'm very excited to get started.

This is the traditional British mystery that I have loved since 5th grade.  If it hadn't been for the modern technology, I could have thought I was reading Ngaio Marsh or Dorothy Sayers.  The story begins with Jury being approached by a friend of a friend to re-investigate his wife's murder, which happened 18 years ago.  She fell down the stairs of their terrace and since she was known to have vertigo, an accidental fall seemed reasonable.  Her husband hasn't ever believed it.  Other dead bodies begin to turn up, killed far more recently, but they sure seem connected to the 18 year old death.  Jury begins to tie it all together in the best traditions of the British Inspector. 

There are a good many characters who I assume are regulars in the series.  Only Melrose Plant plays a significant role but the others add color and community.  There is at least one plot point that seems to have been missed by the editor because it seems to be a clear contradiction from one page to the next and the wrap-up is a bit fuzzy to me and those are why it lost a one-half star but the excitement of finding such a fantastic writer of traditional British mysteries overcame every other feeling.  Why have I waited so late to start this series? 

I actually won the hardback from Goodreads and got the eArc from Netgalley both in exchange for an honest review. 

Review
4 Stars
Circle of Influence-If you like your mysteries just a little grittier
Circle of Influence - Annette Dashofy

Henery Press is certainly on a roll with interesting, smart, readable mysteries.  Circle of Influence continues that roll.  It's not a cozy, it's a straight mystery.  It goes somewhere I didn't really need it to go.  But that only slightly lessened my enjoyment.  Overall, this is a very good read with a good plot and likeable characters.

The main characters are Zoe, an EMT and Pete, the police chief. After a very contentious city counsel meeting which ended with a shouting match between Jerry McBirney, Chairman of the town supervisors, and pretty much everyone else. Ted Bassi is particularly upset because McBirney has Ted's mother fired as police secretary.  Later in the evening when Ted is found dead in McBirney's car, everyone from Ted's wife Rose to Zoe herself are considered suspects.

The small town setting of this book ensures that there are a lot of overlapping relationships and deep dark secrets.  Zoe does keep information from the Pete that she should have turned over immediately and I don't care for that but she doesn't do it out of contempt for the police.  She has all the respect in the world for Pete and a growing romantic interest but she feels the need to protect another character.  The atmosphere is winter in Pennsylvania and Dashofy does a great job writing atmosphere that you can feel. Another plus for me is that there is no sign of a triangle!  If you don't mind your mysteries a little grittier than cozy, this is a good one.

Provided by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Review
5 Stars
The School for Scandal-Fabulous British drama
The School for Scandal and Other Plays: The Rivals; The Critic; The School for Scanda (Classics) - Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Eric Rump

This play starts out with a scene between Lady Sneerwell and Snake, discussing the malicious stories they are planting about other members of society.  You have no doubt what kind of play you are getting yourself into with a beginning like this.  This is a comedy of manners and "manners" are pretty much the last thing most of the characters have. 

If you've never seen or read a classic British comedy of manners they all have a few things in common.  They center around the behaviors, good and more often bad, of the upper class.  They have lots of plots and subplots interweaving.  They have to do with amorous adventures and they don't always end with people getting their just deserts.  Some times, the wicked aren't punished. (See The Country Wife for a good example of that.)  They are funny and enjoyable to watch.

Joseph Surface wants to marry Maria for her fortune but he wants to look like a good guy so he makes himself known as a "man of sentiment" which seems to mean that he goes around quoting proverbs all the time.  Maria wants to marry his brother Charles Surface, who is known as a profligate and all-around bad boy.  Lady Sneerwell want Charles, even though he is a bad boy.  Sir Peter Teazle, a bit of an older fellow, has married Lady Teazle who is younger and quite pretty.  She thinks that Joseph wants her because he is trying to get on her good side so she won't oppose the match between him and Maria, who happens to be the Teazles' ward.  Lady Teazle mistakes his intentions and thinks he wants her so she begins a flirtation with him.  Sir Peter, however, thinks she's carrying on with Charles because of a letter planted by Snake.  Sound confusing?  It's really not when you read or watch it but you see what I mean about plots and subplots.  It's just a lot of fun.  As it turns out, the Surface brothers have a rich uncle who returns from India in disguise to see which of them is worthy of inheriting his fortune. 

There are intrigues, disguises, concealments, big reveals, everything a playgoer could hope for.  But there are a few moments when characters have to make big decisions based on their principles that are turning points in the play.  Charles as one and so does Lady Teazle.  Whether they choose to be true to themselves or follow the fashion of the day changes the direction of the story.  It's very satisfying.  I'd love to see this one performed live some day.  For me, this is as good as classic British drama gets.

Review
5 Stars
Nell Hill's Rooms We Love
Nell Hill's Rooms We Love - Mary Carol Garrity

This is an inspiration book. I've been looking at several of these lately.  They aren't things I would necessarily do but they are things that make me think about how I live.  Decorating is not a talent of mine so I need guidance and these type of books make me look at my stuff in new ways.  This particular book focuses on 4 houses specifically.  While they are different types of houses, they are all decorated in what I would consider "traditional." To me that means partly elegant, partly cozy. 

What I always notice is the little reading retreats that most of these houses manage to work in somewhere.  I envy a little private place to read.  Several of the pictures in this book make me reconsider a few places in my house where I might be able to create one.  The pictures are beautiful and there are plenty of them.  The decorating looks above my pay grade but again, it's inspirational.  I enjoyed looking through this and dreaming.

This was provided to me through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Review
4.5 Stars
Tiny Homes
Tiny Homes: Simple Shelter - Lloyd Kahn

I'm not sure why I'm so fascinated by little houses but I am.  This book about them is a beauty. 

This is not a how-to manual.  You'll have to look elsewhere for blueprints.  this is more of a dream book.  It shows lot of tiny houses, all under 500 sq ft.  It has detailed photographs of interiors and the descriptions of many of these houses are written by the builders themselves. They tell how they were inspired to build, what techniques they used, how it's working for them, etc.  It is full of inspiration.  These range from houses built out of scrap material to high-end homes but they are all under 500 sq ft.  Buildings from all around the world are found here and a number of them aren't full time houses.  Some of them are weekend cottages or workspaces or buildings just used as a bedroom.  They even show the Capsule Hotel in Tokyo.  A number of the companies that manufacture these homes are features also.  It's fun to read.

If I have any complaints about the book it's that at times the tone from some of the builders gets a little self-righteous. Sorry, you're not going to guilt me into leaving my big ol'1905 Victorian but I sure do love to look at the pretty little houses.

Book received from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Review
4 Stars
Killer Image-Good cast of characters
Killer Image - Wendy Tyson

Killer Image is about Allison Campbell, an image consultant.  I find that to be a fascinating profession.  I think I could use one. 

This is not a cozy mystery.  It's grittier than that. Allison Campbell gets involved with a murder investigation when her former mother-in-law's divorce attorney is killed.  That seems a long way around to get involved but the divorce attorney has also represented a number of Allison's clients and she had worked with his ex-wife.  There are a lot of overlapping relationships.  I'm finding it hard to describe the plot for some reason but it wasn't because I didn't enjoy the book.  I really did.  I will put out the warning that there is quite a lot of discussion of Wicca.  I know there are people that will want to know that before reading.

I liked the secondary characters as much as I liked Allison.  Her employee, Vaughn, and his brother were two of my favorite.  All of what will probably make up the regular cast of characters in this series were likeable.  The bad guys were definitely dislikeable.  There was a too much amateur investigating without bringing the police in on their suspicions which is why it is 4 stars instead of 5.  It had good atmosphere and I'll be anxious to see where these characters go next.

I received this from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Review
5 Stars
Saving Grapes-Fun and clever
Saving Grapes - J.T. Lundy

Everyone needs a good laugh now and then and you will find that in this book.  I had a fun time with it!  Along the lines of a contemporary Wodehouse, it is just a really enjoyable read.

Jason Barnes is a perennial screw-up. When his aunt dies and leaves him a French vineyard, he has a problem.  He can only inherit it if he isn't in trouble with the law, which his ex-stepbrother makes sure he is.  It turns into a mad romp in the French vineyards with nuns and beautiful French women and lawyers in disguise.  I won't recount the plot here, you can see that above.

This is a comic novel with a lot of heart.  It's clever and has a few unexpected twists.  The characters are fun and likeable.  The writing is excellent. You feel yourself in the hands of a very talented wordsmith.  Very fun!

I received this from the Librarything Early Readers program in exchange for an honest review.

Review
4 Stars
Academic essays on Douglass and Melville
Frederick Douglass & Herman Melville: Essays in Relation - Robert S. Levine
This is a book of scholarly essays relating the writings of Frederick Douglass and Herman Melville. I had never related these two writers to each other until I had a class about them this semester.  I'm still not sure they relate as well as some scholars would like to think they do but both writers are excellent and fascinating.  This type of book is really only for someone who wants to do academic research.  The essays are not fun but they are enlightening.  Plenty of subjects and thoughts I would never have come up with on my own are presented for consideration.  Some fairly dense reading. 

Review
1.5 Stars
The After House-A book looking for an editor
The After House - Michael Phillip Cash

The cover of this book is so beautiful and so intriguing.  Unfortunately, it all goes down hill after that. 

I'm not sure exactly what this book is trying to be.  Is it horror?  Cause it's not scary or even creepy.  Is it romance?  Cause there is no chemistry.  Is it a mystery?  Cause there could only be one person that is causing the mischief.  It's just a badly written book. 

The plot line is that a recently divorced mother of one, Remy,  moves into a house haunted by a long-dead sea captain.  Her ex is a jerk but she is determined to take the high road. Some annoying things happen to her along the way, evidently they were supposed to be attempts on her life but they were all just juvenile delinquent stuff.  She meets a guy and I won't go further in case someone is planning to read this.

The book is a hot mess.  Remy's emotions and reactions swing like a pendulum.  There are pop culture references that feel very out of place.  Cliches abound.  What this reminds me of is when I write a paper and I think it's pretty good. Then I take it to my professor for a conference and he tells me everything that's wrong with it so I rewrite it.  After you do this two or three times, a decent paper emerges.  This book needed a smart and tough editor.  Maybe something good could have emerged.  As it is, well, it least the characters' names remained consistent through the story.

I received this from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Review
4 Stars
Buyer, Beware-And the dead bodies keep coming
Buyer, Beware - Diane Vallere

Buyer, Beware is another fun and well-written cozy mystery from Diane Vallere in her Style and Error series.  I'm enjoying them thoroughly. Samantha Kidd is an out-of-work department store buyer who has moved back from New York to her hometown in Pennsylvania.  Unfortunately, as we learned in the first book of the series, the job she moved back for didn't work out, mainly due to dead bodies.  Now, she and her friends are trying to win a contest from the new department store in town to make some money for paying bills.  The new department store is called Heist and the contest is to steal a particular piece of artwork and deliver it to the store.  On the night of the reception to deliver the artwork and receive their prize, Samantha finds another dead body.  Like most cozy heroines, they seem to follow her.

The owner of Heist hires Samantha as the handbag buyer because of her past experience with murder investigations. Yeah, I know, that's a little lame. Amazingly, she goes straight to the police and tells them what she is doing.  Yay!  Someone who realizes that maybe tracking down murderers on your own is a dumb idea!  It shows one of the things I like about Samantha, she's smart.  I like her and I like her friends.  I like the descriptions of the vintage clothes she wears.  I like that she lives in her parents old house and hasn't changed anything so it still has it's 70's decor.  I didn't guess the mystery until it played out so that's another reason to like it. Now if she could just find a job that doesn't involve dead bodies.

Diane Vallere's mysteries are smart and fun.  I'm pretty hooked on them right now.  Fortunately, she has three series out so I have a few more of her books left to read. 

Book provided by Netgalley for review.

Review
2 Stars
Mercy Killing-A miss for me
Mercy Killing - Kathryn  Johnson

I'm not sure if I can explain this but it felt like everything that should be in a good book was there but it still wasn't a good book.  Not sure if that really makes sense.  I guess what I'm trying to say is it felt like someone said, "Let's throw in all the elements, beautiful woman, sexy bad boy, international intrigue, exotic setting, that should do it." Unfortunately, the execution just wasn't there.

Mercy is the name of the heroine so the book gets to have a clever title.  She is the gorgeous and talented-at-everything-she-touches type who's father was a Senator.  Hate her already?  Yeah, me too.  She is absolutely written as too perfect and too good to be true.  Having a flaw here or there would make her a little easier to like.  Her husband is a handsome diplomat who runs around on her and is a weasel.  Hate him already?  Yeah, me too.  Not one thing to like about him.  So you see the dilemma already.

The husband, Peter, is being sent to Mexico.  At the reception celebrating this, Mercy is approached by a shady character who eventually lets her know that her globe-trotting celebrity photojournalist mom is missing and if Mercy will help him get info on Mexican smugglers, he'll help her find her mom.

She gets to Mexico and starts sniffing around and there's the sexy bad boy and his super-sweet daughter and kidnappings and embassy parties and stuff like that. It became hard for me to care because Mercy was too perfect to be real and the idea that her celebrity mom would be missing for months with no one noticing was too hard for me to get past.  I felt no connection to anyone in the book, no atmosphere or emotion.  But I will say, it was well edited and proofread.  It was produced in a professional manner.

This was provided to me in exchange for a review through the Goodreads Early Reader program.

Review
1.5 Stars
Whisper Lake-Not really sure what to make of this
Whisper Lake - James Melzer

Ok, so I'm assuming that the author wrote this as a joke or maybe to win a bet.  I'm really hoping this wasn't meant as a serious writing endeavor.  The blurb says "In the tradition of 80’s slasher films and old school horror." Well yes, but not in a good way.  Not in a way that says "Hey, let's all laugh together at the stupid teenagers in the lakeside cabin being killed by a psycho." More in a way that says, "I want to be clever but I'm coming off incompetent." 

Basic plot, teenagers who are into alcohol and pot go to the lake to clean up their grandmother's cabin so it can be sold.  While there they plan to do everything they shouldn't do and so a madman kills them.  I don't think I spoiled anyone with that synopsis.  I'm just going to quote a few lines and then I'll let this one go.

"watching her friend Sarah die was enough of a shock to bring her back to reality and say, 'Hey, I better do something or else I'm going to end up like her.'"

"Yeah, her boyfriend had just been murdered and that was hard to deal with, but for crying out loud they were all fighting for their lives now."

"His entire face looked like melted cheese clinging to a piece of bread, with breaks in the skin that made him think of pepperoni pizza."

Ok, enough.  I'm going with the idea that this was written as a joke.

This was given to me by the author in exchange for a review through the librarything member giveaway. 

Review
5 Stars
The Tomb in Turkey-My newest Simon Brett fix
The Tomb in Turkey: A Fethering mystery - Simon Brett

I'm a huge fan of Simon Brett and I may not be capable of giving him less than 4 or 5 stars.   He's one of the five authors I would take to a desert island.  So realize as I write this review of his newest Fethering mystery that I am a huge fangirl.  All that said, I think this one lives up to what I've come to expect of him. It's fun and twisty and the characters are colorful. Jude is as free a spirit as you'll ever meet and Carole is as uptight as a person can get. Does traveling together really seem like a good idea?

Jude gets the opportunity to use the villa of an old friend for a vacation. The villa happens to be in Turkey. Carole is not at all sure that this makes any sense, she hates to leave her granddaughter and she's sure she will be sick the whole time but after much shilly-shallying she decides to go. Packing her Imodium, of course. As she suspects, the old friend is an ex-boyfriend of Jude's who's wife is a bit on the jealous side. Jude starts to wonder if she's made a terrible decision, inviting Carole to go. It should be a great vacation. I love to travel so the plot already had me intrigued. It does, however, have a little different feel than most of his other writing because usually his books are so very British and this is set in Turkey.

There are murders, there are suspects galore, there are weird neighbors, there is an exotic setting and there is the fabulously witty writing of Simon Brett. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

I received this from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review but I would have bought it when it came out if I hadn't been able to get it from them.  Yeah, lifelong fan of Simon Brett.

Review
5 Stars
Ben Jonson's Plays and Masques-Better than Shakespeare?
Ben Jonson's Plays and Masques: Texts of the Plays and Masques, Jonson on His Work, Contemporary Readers on Jonson, Criticism - Ben Jonson

I only read two plays in this collection so that is all I’m commenting on. They were both great. The two were Volpone and Epicoene and I read them for my British Drama class. Again, as with other classics I’ve read, a good professor can make all the difference in the world when you are reading things that may seem a bit foreign to a contemporary audience. My prof made these plays come alive! I would love to see them performed but I think I’ll have to leave my little corner of Kansas for that.

 

Volpone is set in Venice and is a story of a bunch of greedy people. Volpone is a rich man with no heir and he has a succession of other well-off people trying to insinuate themselves into his will. They constantly bring him gifts, which only makes him richer. None of them seem to have this scam figured out. Volpone has a “parasite,” a servant, who does most of the actual work on this scam. Volpone likes to pretend he is on his deathbed to get everyone’s hopes up and then he pretends to recover. In the end, everyone gets what they deserve. There are twists and turns and I don’t want to give those away but it’s a funny and clever play.

 

Epicoene takes the art of scamming to the next level. Dauphine is the nephew of a rich man who has no heir but the uncle, Morose, does not want to leave his estate to Dauphine. Morose also cannot stand the sound of anything except his own voice. He wants to marry a silent woman and have a presumably silent heir so that Dauphine will get nothing. Dauphine and his friends want to keep this from happening. The shenanigans they pull and the way they just keep twisting the scam make a hilarious plot and the other characters in the play are great fun. This was thoroughly enjoyable to read.

 

Ben Jonson is considered to be a technically better playwright than Shakespeare. He doesn’t leave all the memorable quotes and doesn’t have the same brilliance with language but his plays are well plotted, tight and satisfying. He leaves no loose ends. They are works of technical genius. Now, to find out where I can see them performed!

Review
4 Stars
Designer Dirty Laundry-A stylish contemporary cozy
Designer Dirty Laundry - Diane Vallere

I'm a fan of Vallere's Mad for Mod series but I may be an even bigger fan of this series.  This is the first book of the series and I really enjoyed it.  It has the characteristics of a cozy mystery but to me, it has a little bit more style and polish than some other series, it feels a bit more contemporary.  No crafts, no homemade jelly, no candlemaking classes.  Lots of fashion and gorgeous shoes.

Samantha Kidd has quit her job as the shoe buyer for a New York department store to move back to her home town and work as the Trend Specialist for the local department store.  She's also buying her parent's house as they have decided to move someplace warmer in retirement.  Her first day of work starts with a bang as she finds her boss dead in the elevator and no one seems to know that she's been hired.  Obviously, both of these situations present difficulties for Samantha.  Since she is back in her old home town, she runs into old friends from high school as well as people she knew in New York as she attempts to keep herself from being arrested for murder and to make her mortgage payment at the same time.  It's a lot of fun (for us, not for her)!

I've always loved seeing behind the scenes of things we're only supposed to see the front of so the behind the scenes look at a department store are very interesting to me.  I loved Samantha as soon as I met her and the characters she encounters are well-developed.  The mystery is good, the characters are likeable.  The book has several flaws.  She doesn't tell the police what they need to know.  She gets herself into situations that are not very believable.  She doesn't just march into the HR department of the store and figure out what's going on.  But the storytelling and characterization overcome those flaws and I just found it highly entertaining.  Another win for Diane Vallere.

Review
5 Stars
Doctor Faustus-A cautionary tale
Doctor Faustus - Christopher Marlowe, Sylvan Barnet

While everyone may not know the actual play of Doctor Faustus, almost everyone knows of the concept of selling your soul to the devil.  That's exactly what Doctor Faustus does in exchange for 24 years of knowledge and power.  He has big plans for what he can do as the smartest, most powerful man in the world.  He can put the rightful leader back on the throne in Germany.  He can protect Germany from invaders.  He can cloth all the students at his university in silk.  (I wasn't sure what the point of that one was!)  He can know all the secrets of the universe.  Mephistopheles can be his best buddy. 

Only as the years go on, that's not exactly what happens.  Yes, he has power and knowledge but somehow all the wonderful things he planned to do with it never get done. He ends up using his power of invisibility to play pranks on the Pope.  He plays tricks on common people he meets just to vex them.  He wants accolades from the aristocracy and so become little more than a party clown for them instead of doing all the wonderful things he believed he would do. 

Faustus never seems to actually realize that Mephistopheles isn't his best buddy.  He seems to think they are just kicking around the world together having a good time.  He doesn't seem to believe that in the end, yes indeed, Mephistopheles is going to take him to hell as the agreement they made said he would.  Many people throughout the play tell Faustus to repent and ask forgiveness from God but he never does.  He seems right on the verge of it at times but never crosses that line.  He always backs away from asking forgiveness.  At the end, he says that he is too wicked for God to forgive but it comes across as boasting, not regret. In fact, the whole play seems to be about Faustus' arrogance. 

This play is set in an interesting time because it's the beginning of the Renaissance and Marlowe was not a Christian and yet, this play seems to be saying that man should not try to grasp higher than his station.  That seems to go against what the Renaissance was all about.  It's a fascinating play with so much room for thought and interpretation.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.