The Crime at Black Dudley by Margery Allingham

a-1-black-dudleyBook – I have a fundamental problem with the term ‘cozy mystery’.  I agree that it’s a useful term to distinguish the darker, faster-paced, harder-edged tone of a thriller like Gone Girl from an all-ages mystery puzzler like the marvelously re-readable Westing Game.  It seems patronizing, however, to imply that there is anything remotely ‘cozy’ about the slow-burn psychological horror of stories featuring protagonists trapped in increasing danger, like Christie’s terrifying And Then There Were None or J. Jefferson Farjeon’s pleasingly creepy Mystery in White.

For the same reason, I would hesitate to label The Crime at the Black Dudley–the first book in Margery Allingham’s classic Campion series–as a ‘cozy’.  Yes, it’s written by one of the Queens of mystery’s Golden Age, and yes, it features an eccentric amateur sleuth in an English country house.  But it’s also a story about a group of innocents, and one unknown murderer, locked in a remote house by a gang of international thugs, in the company of their dead host, facing increasing and violent pressure to hand over a document which one of the party has already destroyed.  It’s a nightmarish (if over the top) scenario, and Allingham skillfully milks the claustrophobia of the situation for all it’s worth.  The story is wonderfully told in other respects as well, like the fact that the narrator, an undercover policeman, turns out not to be the one who saves the day; Allingham intended him to be the star of her series, but Peter Wimsey caricature Albert Campion unexpectedly stole the show instead.

The Crime at the Black Dudley was a great find hidden away in our stacks, a reminder of the manifold delights of cozy mysteries–or whatever you might want to call them.

Maplecroft by Cherie Priest

20821288Book – Lizzie lives alone with her invalid sister Emma in Maplecroft, a big old house in Fall River, Massachusetts. Everybody knows what she did. (You know what she did.) But what they don’t know is the reason why, the thing that keeps Lizzie up at nights, the thing that her sister writes to a scholar at Arkham University about, the thing that they don’t know about because Lizzie has been protecting them: There are monsters coming up out of the sea. And there is, so far as she can tell, very little that can stop them.

Fortunately, Lizzie is still very good with an axe.

This is a tremendous mashup of the real-life Lizzie Borden and the Lovecraftian mythos, and Priest doesn’t stint on either the historical flourishes (from Emma’s illness to the precarious social position that puts the two spinster sisters in) or the horror (lots of creepy-crawlies, monstrous fish-people, and the slow corruption of intellectuals studying things that Man Was Not Meant To Know). While this novel has its scares, it’s also got an action-movie quality about it. Or maybe it’s just so darn fun to imagine Lizzie Borden sinking her infamous axe into a Lovecraftian fish-monster. You have to admit, that’s a great image, and it happens plenty in this book.

Maplecroft has a sequel, Chapelwood, about a Lovecraftian cult in the rural Deep South. Or, if you prefer modern horror, try Priest’s new standalone horror novel, The Family Plot, about a salvage crew that runs afoul of an old ghost.

 

Sing Street (2016)

51Sl6kdAoyLMovie – Have you ever watched a movie and after, had to research to see whose life was just depicted? Only to find out that it was 100% original! Sing Street tells the story of teenage life in Dublin, Ireland in the mid 80’s.

Connor aka Cosmo is a teenager in a new school, where he is trying to fit in. He meets a girl, Raphina, as do all fifteen-year old boys, and changes his mind on fitting in. Cosmo forms a band with other misfits in the school and they start filming music videos for their new band Sing Street. This being the height of MTV culture, the video is key to making the girl want to hang out with the band. Cosmo asks Raphina to be in the bands video. Only problem is they have no music and are doing covers. Enter Brendan, the older guiding brother. Brendan tells Cosmo to write original songs. This is the only way to get noticed, make it big, and getting out of Dublin. Brendan loves Cosmo and schools him on the latest bands. Brendan wants Cosmo to make it and leave Dublin behind. Brendan knows Cosmo can do this, with his help of course.

The Sing Street band make writing, composing, and recording music look easy. John Carney, the director, does an excellent job of showing how easy music can be created. Cosmo writes the lyrics, sometimes with the help of Eamon, the bands musical genius. Cosmo and Eamon work together to compose the music to make sure it’s right for the lyrics. After all the work is done they practice and record both tapes and videos.

As I watched I kept wondering who the film was based on, because I did not know the songs the band was playing. After some research I found out the songs by Sing Street are all original! They all have that 80’s feel and would fool any die hard 80’s New Wave loving fan. Though some may see this a coming of age story, I see it more as a love story. Not between Cosmo and Raphina, but as a love story between two brothers and their love for music. If you like 80’s New Wave, Irish accents and kids having some fun, definitely check this one out.

Nerve (2016)

10768Movie –  A new game has hit the internet. Its a game like truth or dare, but without the truth option. If you want to participate in this came you become one of two positions. A Player or a Watcher. A player is given dares. If the dare is completed with self photographic/video graphic proof then they win money and move on to another dare more intense than the last. If you are a watcher- you watch others doing dares, and can suggest to the creator what the next dare should be for specific Players. The more watchers a player has the higher up in the ranks you move, therefor the more money you can make.

Venus (Emma Roberts) is a safe boring high school girl who has a “popular” best friend that is at the top of the leaderboard. After its made abundantly clear Venus is super lame, she decides to become a Player in the game of Nerve herself. She finds herself paired up with Ian (James Franco) per the watchers request. The dares get more and more extreme as she tries to prove to everyone that she really does have what it takes to be cool.

I found this teen thriller mildly predictable in the overall story line. It was certainly entertaining, fun, and intense. The dares that are in this movie are all natural things that would/could really be dared by someone. I was nervous that it would be blown way out of proportion, but I am happy to report that is not the case. I am sure everyone can relate to at least one person in this high school drama movie. I found the ending brilliant and suspenseful. The colors and graphics are outstanding. It really shows how this game is played in real life.

The Last Adventure of Constance Verity By A. Lee Martinez

indexBook–This skewering of the adventure genre follows Constance Verity, an adventurer since childhood who was blessed (or cursed, if you ask Constance) by a fairy godmother at birth to live an exciting life full of adventure and die a glorious death. Similar to how Poirot stumbles on murder mysteries even while on vacation, Constance’s life is never far from adventure. Her job interviewer turns out to be a member of a strange cult, her biology teacher is part of a vast conspiracy, and since adventure is par for the course of her life, Constance is perpetually exhausted, trusts no one, and suspects everyone of hidden motives. When your whole life is adrenaline and excitement, monotony and ordinariness become sacred. In a quest for an ordinary life, Constance and her best friend Tia set off, ironically, on an adventure, with the goal of murdering her fairy godmother and thus hopefully shedding her blessing/curse.

Part of the fun of this book is all of the crazy adventures that Tia and Constance refer to in their dialog and the loving way that Martinez sends up the classics of adventure.  This book is the start of a series, so it’s probably actually NOT the “last adventure” of Constance Verity.

A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick

indexBook – The opening of the book sets the tone of A Reliable Wife. Widower Ralph Truitt waits on a train platform in bitter cold blizzardy conditions in rural Wisconsin.  It is 1907 and the wealthy business man awaits his future bride, Catherine from Chicago, whom he chose from numerous responses to his newspaper ad seeking a “reliable wife”.  He is shocked to find that the photograph that she had sent him represented her as a plain looking woman versus the stunning beauty before him and it makes him wonder what other secrets she may be keeping from him.  Despite his suspicions, he marries her anyway due to his loneliness and his own ulterior motives. Catherine, haunted by a tragic past is motivated by greed and plans to eventually leave Wisconsin as a wealthy widow.

After the wedding Catherine and Ralph treat each other amicably. Catherine tries to be cheerful, though she feels trapped, because of the cold and snow. She also misses her fast-paced life in the city.  Sensing her restlessness Ralph reveals to her a splendid house on the property filled with treasures.  He had built it for his wife, Emilia and had not gone in it since her death.  Ralph also wants to find his estranged son to atone for the abuse that he had stowed upon him. So when some detectives have a lead that he is in St. Louis, Catherine jumps at the chance to go kick up her heels in the city under the pretext that she would try to coax Andy to come home to his father.

Things become more twisted when Andy becomes part of the plot. The gothic tone of this suspenseful story will keep the reader engrossed and the pages turning. If Hitchcock would have been alive, I’m sure he would have made a movie out of this. This book reminded me of Steinbeck’s East of Eden and Du Maurier’s Rebecca.

Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler

ParableOfTheSower(1stEd)Book – Lauren has hyperempathy, a disorder born from a drug her mother took while she was pregnant; it means that Lauren feels other people’s pain like it’s her own. When she was a kid, her brothers would cut themselves to watch her bleed. It’s a tough disorder to live with in a world like hers, where everyone lives close to the edge all the time. Her dad tells stories about the good old days, when his professor’s salary was enough to live well, when people didn’t live in walled neighborhoods just to keep the looters out, when you could buy your food at the grocery store instead of growing and trading for what you need to survive – but Lauren knows better than to listen too close to those stories, because she’s pretty sure it’s going to get worse before it gets better. Which means that when, one day, it does, she’s one of the only people from her old neighborhood who’s prepared for what comes next.

This is one of those books that people have been telling me to read for years, and I only just got around to it. It’s a classic of science fiction, and for good reason: Lauren is one of the most real characters I’ve ever seen. She’s afraid, she’s hurt, she’s brave, she’s stubborn, she’s uncertain, she’s a leader not because she knows better than anyone else but because she’s thoughtful, and has thought about things that most people are too afraid to consider. This is a quieter dystopia than most of the current run of dystopian fiction. There’s no Hunger Games here, just people fighting for their own survival. But it’s even more inspiring because of that, because while we can’t all be Katniss, it’s much easier to imagine ourselves being Lauren — someone who, when faced with the loss of everything she’s ever known and loved, does her best to help others build a future.

100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

51OY+Ih8XLL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Book – Allan Karlsson is turning 100 and minutes before his birthday party at the nursing home, he makes a last-minute getaway through his bedroom window. He wanders to the nearby train station and purchases a train ticket to take him to a destination as far away as possible. While waiting for the train, an uncouth young man asks him to watch his suitcase while he “takes a dump.” Allan agrees and then is forced to make a quick decision when the train arrives before the young man returns. As Allan is discovered missing, it seems like everyone is looking for him while he meanders his way through villages, adventures and mishaps. Along the way, he meets other characters, including a lifetime scholar turned hot-dog vendor, a self-declared thief, a beauty with a colorful vocabulary, a gangster boss and a lonely policeman. During his journey, Allan reflects on his past, which in Forrest Gump fashion, led him to encounters with famous people including Mao Tse-Tung, President Truman and Stalin. This lively accounting of Allan’s life made me reflect on historical events. While Allan was entertaining, he was not a particularly appealing character to me. He was resourceful, but somehow left a lot of dead people behind, which didn’t seem to trouble him at all. The DVD (same title) is also available for check-out at the Library.

Bessie (2015)

bessieMovie – Bessie Smith was one of the greatest jazz singers of the 1920s and 30s, a major influence on other jazz musicians, and as such one of the originators of all modern popular music. She was born in poverty in Chattanooga, toured with the legendary Ma Rainey, and after signing a record deal with Columbia, became the highest-paid Black entertainer of her time. They called her the Empress of the Blues, and you can still hear why in her recordings — Bessie Smith could rock. Really, the only surprise about her biopic is that it took them until 2015 to make one.

My favorite part of the movie they made of Chicago was Queen Latifah’s single number as the women’s prison warden, so I was thrilled to see her cast as Bessie Smith. She’s outstanding in it, not just in the musical numbers (which look like such a great time) but in portraying the drama of Bessie’s life – a bisexual woman, one who worked hard and partied hard, who struggled with her upbringing and her desire to build a family, who loved being on stage and loved her career. Other standouts in the cast include Michael Kenneth Williams (of Boardwalk Empire fame) as Jack Gee, Bessie’s volatile husband, and Mo’Nique as Ma Rainey, Bessie’s mentor.

If you’re fond of movies from the 1920s and 30s, be aware that this is not sanitized Hollywood fare; there’s plenty of drinking, fighting, sex, and the kind of raunchy music the Hayes Code would never permit (including one of Ma Rainey’s famous drag numbers). But this is a terrific look at what the 20s and 30s were really like, and a wonderful portrait of an amazing Black woman who deserves more recognition than she gets.

 

My Sister Rosa by Justine Larbalestier

Rosa_HC-REV-678x1024Book – Che has a short list of things he wants. He wants to stop following his parents around the world and go back home to Sydney. He wants to spar, the step his trainers say he needs to take his boxing to the next level, which he promised his parents he wouldn’t do. He wants a girlfriend. But first, most of all, he wants to keep his ten-year-old sister Rosa under control. Rosa isn’t a normal kid; she’s a psychopath, and Che’s parents refuse to believe it. But he’s seen her kill pets, and he’s sure she’s going to do it again, and worse, if he doesn’t keep both eyes on her at all times. And even that might not be enough.

This might technically be a YA book, but if you love psychological thrillers like Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train, you do not want to miss this. This book is full of terrific characters and relationships, but the relationship between Che and Rosa, where he sets boundaries and she pushes them, he tries to teach her how to have empathy and she tries to see how well she can fake it, is heartwrenchingly real. The last pages broke my heart and left me reeling. This modern-day variation on The Bad Seed is one of the best books I read in 2016.