Jul 292015
 

My reading has taken a distinctly different path since I complained about my “all cozy mystery, all the time” reading diet. However, reading about the Pacific War all the time could get a girl down, so for every nonfiction book or so, I throw in a cozy mystery.

My first experience with Aunt Dimity was Aunt Dimity & the Lost Prince back in 2013, and as fun as I proclaimed the series, it wasn’t until this year that I picked her up again. Since then, I’ve read six others, and Atherton’s latest, Aunt Dimity & the Summer King is no less charming. Aunt Dimity isn’t exactly a ghost, per se…but she does “speak” to Lori Shepherd through her notebook. For someone who really hates reading anything supernatural, Dimity’s presence doesn’t bother me. In fact, she is frank enough to often put Lori in her place when she needs it, something more cozy mystery heroines could use.

In Aunt Dimity & the Summer King, Lori’s beloved Finch seems to be in some kind of trouble. There are rumors of a developer coming in, changing the pastoral neighborhood (nosy neighbors and all!), and pricing out the locals.

But Lori can’t get any inside information. Upset about the possibility and distracted by family events and a looming birthday, Lori is thrilled when she meets her father-in-law’s eccentric neighbor Arthur Hargreaves. However, his name is mud with Lori’s neighbors over some ages-old feud between Finch and the adjacent village, of which Hargreaves is a part.

Lori (with Aunt Dimity’s ever-present help) is just the person to sort out such a mess and put to bed old grudges.

Aunt Dimity & the Deep Blue Sea was one of my favorites. Lori’s husband Bill receives a series of death threats. Scotland Yard believes it must be a former client (Bill is a family estate attorney), but to be safe, Lori and the boys are ferried to a remote island off the Scottish coast. The boys have their own bodyguard, as does Lori. But the island is harsh and unforgiving, proven when a human skull washes ashore.

A chance encounter with a family friend puts even more suspicion in Lori’s head, and with the evidence mounting, Lori is sure the island’s inhabitants have a secret.

More suspenseful than others I’ve read in this series, Aunt Dimity & the Deep Blue Sea would be a great entry into the series.

In Aunt Dimity & the Family Tree, Lori’s hair is on fire. She’s attempting to event plan and hire her father-in-law’s staff all at one time. When a local gets herself into trouble, Aunt Dimity offers up a plan that’s sure to work…if absolutely everything goes perfectly. But of course, in Finch, there is no perfect, but Lori is more concerned about Willis, Sr. and his new live-in staff. They’re a little too good at their jobs, and Lori worries they may be trying to hoodwink her father-in-law.

Dimity keeps her from jumping to too many conclusions, and she learns a lot more than she bargains for by the end of the day.

Aunt Dimity seems to be a well-loved series, as each time I mention it or post a book on Facebook or Goodreads, someone comments. There’s little violence here, but Atherton’s look at village life in the Cotswolds has me aching to visit.

*While Aunt Dimity & the Summer King was sent to me by the publisher for review, I have purchased the other Aunt Dimity books I have read and have given my honest opinion of each.

Jul 272015
 

dietland*I requested this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Once upon a time, when a young picky girl was working on her graduate degree, she immersed herself in feminist theory and literature – as any good twenty-something English graduate student should. She wrote of women who killed – specifically, women who killed their children, and why and how literature treats them afterward.

Charlotte Perkins Gilman played quite a role in that young woman’s thesis, but Herland was one of the texts that stuck out in her mind, though it wasn’t all that good. What an odd concept – a world without men.

When I picked up Dietland, that much older novel didn’t register. I anticipated a funny, wry look at society and the emphasis we place on weight, particularly women’s weight. Women’s space – how much we take up of it and how much we may lay claim to – is a fascinating conversation. Plum Kettle understands that deeply. At 300 pounds, Plum has lived her entire life completely aware of her size. Others make sure she knows just how large she is.

But Plum has a secret. Working from home for a teen girls’ magazine and stockpiling clothes many sizes too small for her, Plum is waiting for the day she will go under the knife and be able to drop pounds upon pounds and become who she was intended to be.

Except that a mysterious woman seems to be following her. When the woman slips her a copy of a book written about the lie of a particular weight loss program she endured as a young woman, Plum’s life is altered.

At the same time, men around the world are being threatened, hunted, and killed for any number of offenses – rape, institutional sexism, porn (the creation of it, specifically).

Only when she encounters an enclave of women who extract from her a promise to follow a series of steps prior to her surgery does Plum understand what it means to “come into her own.”

Whereas Herland is an exploration of a world without men and what happens when men tread on such a space, Dietland is a harsh, in-your-face look at our society and the ugliness of a world where women’s bodies are public.

Dietland is not an enjoyable book. I’ve read some reviews that describe it as “funny,” but frankly, that’s not a word I would use to describe it. The guerrilla group “Jennifer” methodically threatens, maims, and/or kills those who perpetrate crimes against women as well as those who support or fund such crimes. That’s not a feminism I’m at all familiar with, and it’s certainly not something I support.

Dietland is fiction, yes. I also understand that describing our society’s ills in such gross excess and punishing it accordingly may make some sort of point, but again, it’s not at all comforting/comfortable to read.

You may argue that is exactly the point, and I know it is. Dietland, in many ways, seemed a response to Herland - a look at what happens if men are allowed to infiltrate and influence a society of women, a cautionary tale at best; a horror story at worst.

Add this to your Goodreads list.

Apr 152015
 

For real. So the bff and I rarely get to spend any time together. She’s got three kids; they’re all uber involved in extra activities…yada yada yada. When I realized I’d have a Friday evening to myself, I figured I’d see if I could hang out with her and the kids, but she called and practically yelled in the phone, “It’s meant to be! I don’t have the kids tomorrow! Let’s go see The Longest Ride!”

She hung up about as quickly, leaving me to Google The Longest Ride and then groan. Because The Longest Ride is a Nicholas Sparks movie, based on his book. And I hate Nicholas Sparks films – though that isn’t quite fair, I’ve only watched one – The Notebook - under duress (same bff gave it to me and bugged me for six months until I watched).

Friday afternoon I girded my loins to go the theater to see a film about a cowboy and love. Yech.

At least, I thought I was going to see a mushy film about a cowboy and love. What I actually saw…was a mushy film about a cowboy, and a girl, and an old man thinking back on the love of his life. Cheesy as hell, but I actually liked it.

There was still the obligatory rain scene (I swear, someone could do an academic paper about Sparks’ use of rainy scenes. He must think there’s some real symbolism there or something. Yes! The rain washes away who I used to be and now I am clean and free to love you!). Anyway, there’s also not much in the way of character development: I know two things about Sophia, one of the main characters. She was raised by Polish immigrants. And she likes art.

Similarly, her paramour, Luke, rides bulls to keep his momma on the ranch because Daddy died of a heart attack. But momma doesn’t care about the ranch and wants Luke to stop bull riding because a bull nearly killed him. Motivation enough? I guess.

BUT. The real gem of the film is the relationship between Ruth and Ira, a Jewish couple who meet at the start of World War II, when Ruth’s family immigrates to the US from Vienna. Luke and Sophia save elderly Ira from a car crash, and he asks Sophia to go back for a box of letters that chronicle his relationship with his love. She develops a relationship with the old man, reading him the love letters he wrote and can no longer read and gaining insight into love, life, and relationships.

And I loved it.

Had the majority of the film focused on the contemporary couple, it would have been a snoozefest, but watching Ruth and Ira fall in love in flashbacks and navigate the problems couples encounter was really lovely. Their lifelong love affair was beautiful.

Even though I never thought I’d find myself saying this, I’d actually recommend The Longest Ride. It may be rental material, but if you want a love story that won’t make your eyes roll back in your head (I’m looking at you, every rom-com ever), try this one.

Oct 312014
 

10 FUN

For a girl who hates anything scary (we’re talking I hide my eyes and sing when a Law & Order: Criminal Intent commercial comes on), I love Halloween. Maybe it’s that Halloween means fall and changing leaves and chili, but I really enjoy it.

Growing up in my small town, we had a lady everyone called the Good Witch of Groves who sat outside with her pointy had and talked to children and passed out candy minus bloodcurdling screams and bloody eyeballs in a bowl. I loved it. My mom has taken to doing the same in her neighborhood, and I usually go out there for a bit and enjoy the more kitschy side of the holiday.

But my favorite thing to do on Halloween is curl up with some chili (usually with cheddar thrown in for good measure), leftover candy, and a good Halloween movie. Mine may not be traditional, but these have all been in the rotation in the past years, and if you haven’t seen them, I give them all high scores as being perfect for the Halloween weekend:

1. Arsenic and Old Lace (Of course my first pick would star Cary Grant. What do you take me for?)

Mortimer Brewster is flying high on his wedding day and stops off to tell his sweet old aunts and pack his bags…until he discovers they have a dirty little secret, or actually, over a dozen dirty little secrets buried in the basement. What follows is a funny, unsettling romp as Mortimer tries to figure out where to stash the body he’s discovered and how to deal with his psychopathic, criminal brother who suddenly makes an appearance.

2. Clue

This movie needs no introduction really, but in case you haven’t seen it, it is inspired by the game of the same name and takes its characters into the library, the dining room, AND the kitchen to determine who is responsible for the suspicious and sudden deaths. Oh yeah, and just why are they all gathered? Inspired performances by Tim Curry, Madeline Kahn, Eileen Brennan, and many more.

3. Murder by Death

Though not as well known as Clue, Murder by Death is just as endearing. A mystery writer gathers other famous mystery writers at his home, ones with names like Dick and Dora Charleston and Sam Diamond. The invitation is for “dinner and murder,” and murder is, indeed, on the menu. Watching these supposed experts in their fields devolve in the ensuing chaos is absolutely hysterical. Peter Sellars really shines in this one.

4. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

When I taught ESL, I was able to really incorporate the holidays into my lesson planning, and each Halloween I showed this classic, and my students loved it. But who am I kidding? I love it too.

5. Monster House

I rarely watch animated films these days. I don’t have kids, and a lot of them (animated films, not kids) just don’t look that appealing. However, a few years ago I picked this one up and thought it was just the best.

Nebbercracker is known across the neighborhood as the bad-apple neighbor. He destroys anything that lands on his lawn, so when DJ and his friend lose their basketball in his yard, bad things happen. It doesn’t take long before they figure out that something strange is going on, and they’re determined to expose the monster house.

6. The Thin Man (any of them)

If you haven’t read the book, it’s a real treat. And the movies extend the pleasure, particularly as the acting duo of Myrna Loy and William Powell have such amazing on-screen chemistry that they went on to make five additional films, all based on Dashiell Hammett’s characters.

Nick and Nora Charles have returned to New York with their dog, Asta. No longer a detective – and now living off his wife’s money – Nick has some unsavory friends but is determined to go straight. But when a family friend who has been missing is accused of killing his girlfriend, Nick knows he has to get up to his old tricks.

7. The North Avenue Irregulars

Oh how I love this movie. I’m so grateful to my mom and dad for movie nights when we’d watch films that were often before their time as well.

The North Avenue Irregulars is just plain fun. A young Edward Hermann is a progressive minister in a traditional town. When one of his church members loses money meant for the church while gambling, he determines to do something about it. But the local government hasn’t been able to do much good, and it’s only when a group of church women gets in on the action that the crooks begin to worry. Cloris Leachman is absolutely hilarious in this film.

8. That Darn Cat!

Another Disney film, That Darn Cat! stars Haley Mills and Dean Jones. A local bank robbery and kidnapping has Patti Randall’s imagination in high gear. So when her cat comes home with a wristwatch around its neck, she’s convinced it’s a message. She contacts the FBI who then sends out an agent who is – of course – allergic to cats to follow the cat back to the hideout.

9. American Dreamer

I actually haven’t seen this film in ages, but I remember loving it. I need to just buy it.

JoBeth Williams stars as Cathy Palmer, a housewife who wins a trip to Paris in a contest ghostwriting a story about Rebecca Ryan, an international spy. A freak accident sends her into the hospital, and she wakes up thinking she is Rebecca Ryan. In her altered state, she encounters real spies in a laugh-out-loud film.

10. The Ghost and Mr. Chicken

No one does cowardly like Don Knotts. Playing local journalist-hopeful Luther Hegg, he is asked to spend the night in the Old Simmons House, the site of a murder-suicide 20 years earlier, to commemorate the anniversary. Ghostly happenings abound, and Luther may just stumble upon the answer to a decades-old mystery, get his dream job, and win the girl before it’s all over.

Happy Halloween! I hope you enjoy your evening!

 

Mar 042014
 

pg1*I received this ebook from the publisher Melville House in exchange for an honest review.

Billy Ridgeway is a do-nothing. He works at a Greek deli when he can make it on time. He thinks his girlfriend may have dumped him, but he’s not sure. And the short stories he’s written are pure crap – he’s got a writeup in an NYC lit magazine to prove it. When the Devil shows up in his apartment with good, no, great coffee and offers to publish Billy’s novel if he’ll just do him a tiny favor, Billy isn’t even tempted. Ok, maybe a little. All he has to do is steal the Neko of Infinite Equilibrium, a cat statue, from a powerful warlock.

At first, Billy can’t be bothered. If he can’t even get his girlfriend to return his calls, how could he possibly face a warlock? But soon, whether or not Billy wants to help the Devil isn’t an option as he’s in up to his neck and discovers he’s a hell wolf and that his entire life up to this point has been a lie. As he races across the city, Billy learns a lot about what he’s capable of, and if he lives through this weirdness, maybe he’ll be able to do something after all.

The Weirdness is absolutely, positively one of the most original takes on the nearing middle age, suffering male writer bit. Because frankly, had this been another story about a guy who is too lazy to get off his ass and do something, I’d have hated it. Hell, I may not have even finished it. But Jeremy Bushnell manages to turn this story on its head in what should be the most ridiculous novel you’ve ever read.

Instead, Billy and his really lovely counterparts, specifically his best friend Anil, are people you feel for. They’re doing what they have to in order to make it. Maybe Billy hasn’t been doing his part, but he’s obviously unhappy. He has a job that is fine but isn’t a career. His writing isn’t transcendent. His love life…yeah, it’s not great. In a lot of ways, Billy has just shut down, and he can’t figure out how to restart until the Devil shows up. And ain’t that the way of things? Ok, maybe the Devil doesn’t really show up in order for you or me to get out of our funks, but it takes something pretty out of character or, in this case, out of this world.

Add this to your Goodreads shelf.

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