Saturday, October 30, 2021

"Trouble is What I Do" by Walter Mosley

I read Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley a while back, and it left a bad taste in my mouth because it involved child exploitation and trafficking, and that issue both revolts and terrifies me.  Even though Mosley's writing was cool and his main character was trying to stop that exploitation and trafficking, I just had a hard time with that book.  Looking back, I'm surprised I didn't just DNF it, which is what usually ends up happening when that subject crops up in a book.  Maybe I didn't because it was a very small part of the story.  Or because it didn't turn up until deep into the story.  Hmm.

ANYWAY, I'm super happy that I tried another of his books, because I liked this so, so much better.  Trouble is What I Do is a novella set in modern-day NYC and revolving around private investigator Leonid McGill.  Like some of the classic hardboiled PIs from the 1930s and '40s, McGill has a tendency to bend rules and stick to his own moral code.  I haven't read any of Mosley's previous books featuring McGill, but I would like to because he is a cool, nuanced character, and I loved his narrative voice.

Leonid McGill takes on the job of delivering a personal note to the daughter of an uber-rich socialite family that will enlighten her as to the truth of her heritage.  That main plot gets sidetracked a few times as McGill tells us about other cases he worked that involve people who also become tangled up in this plot.  After a while, those began to feel just a little like filler, but I was enjoying the writing so much that I didn't mind.

Random note: I picked this one off the shelf because the title reminded me of Trouble is My Business by Raymond Chandler, which I read recently.  

Particularly Good Bits:

"To paraphrase the great Sugar Ray Robinson," I said, "trouble is what I do" (p. 62).

At one time, I blamed my father's abandonment for these sins, but I had learned that in the end, wrong is wrong and every man has to carry his own water (p. 83).

Some days, when you're sitting alone with the truth, you question whether or not there'll be a tomorrow.  That was one of those days for me (p. 152).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: R for a LOT of bad language, violence, and suggestive/adult dialog/narration.  No sex scenes, though.

This is the fifth book I've read for #AMonthOfMystery.

Friday, October 29, 2021

"The Thin Man" by Dashiell Hammett

When I said I was going on a Dashiell Hammett kick, I meant it.  My goodness, I am enjoying his books!  

I feel like, when I read this for the first time, fifteenish years ago, I just didn't get its humor.  In fact, I recall being rather disappointed by it, for whatever reason.  Not sure if I'd seen the Myrna Loy/William Powell movie version already and thought this didn't measure up, or what.

Well, I found it really funny this time around.  As in, it made me laugh aloud, in public, repeatedly.  The wit is as sharp and acidic as a Jane Austen novel, and the plot trots briskly along.  Not as briskly as in the movie, but I enjoyed that the book has more time to develop some of the characters a bit more.  If you don't like sarcasm, you probably won't dig the humor here, but since I do, boy did it ever please me.

The movie version is a little more bubbly and cute than the book, but that's because the movie is a comedy with a mystery in it, and the book is a mystery with humor in it.  Different focuses, different vibes, same story.  Which, if you don't know, features Nick Charles, a retired detective, and his wealthy wife Nora.  They're visiting New York City for Christmas during Prohibition, and people Nick used to know keep ending up dead.  I had forgotten that this is narrated by Nick Charles in first person, which lends a nice, noir-y voice-over feel to the whole proceeding.

Particularly Good Bits: 

Nora said, "I love you, Nicky, because you smell nice and know such fascinating people" (p. 129).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-16 for rather a lot of cussing, some violence, lots of alcohol, and some innuendo in dialog.

This is my 31st book read and reviewed for my third Classics Club list and my fourth for #ANovelMonthOfMystery.

Thursday, October 28, 2021

"A Spy on the Home Front" by Alison Hart

My kids love the American Girl books, just like I did as a kid.  I've bought them a lot of the tie-in mysteries over the years, mostly at the second-hand bookstore, but I've never read any of them myself, until now.

A Spy on the Home Front is a fast read with a pretty serious topic: anti-American spying during WWII.  Molly McIntire spends every summer with her grandparents, and she's good friends with Anna Schulz, a girl her age who lives on a nearby farm.  Anna's parents immigrated to America before Anna was ever born, but now the FBI is investigating the family because they came from Germany.  They suspect Anna's older brother is trying to distribute anti-American propaganda, and Molly and Anna uncover evidence that points to someone else entirely.

Mysteries where kids find things adults can't are often kind of contrived, but this one does a good job of showing that kids sometimes are more observant than adults, but not necessarily smarter.  I had fun reading it, even if the ending was more melancholy than I had anticipated.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for discussions of American concentration/containment camps for Japanese-Americans and German-Americans.

This is the third book I read for the #AMonthOfMystery challenge on Instagram.

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

"The Glass Key" by Dashiell Hammett

The first time I read this book, fifteenish years ago, I had no real idea who Alan Ladd was.  I definitely had not seen the 1942 version of The Glass Key that starred him opposite Veronica Lake and Brian Donlevy.  Not even once.  Cut to 2021, when I've seen it probably five or six times, and that makes this reading experience totally different from that first one.

One of the best parts of this reread was how it cleared up a few things about Ladd's performance in the movie version for me!  I've always been a little bugged by certain expressions Ladd uses as Ned Beaumont because they don't seem natural to him.  In particular, he does these weird smiles where his lips are pulled tight against his teeth so he looks more like he's grimacing that smiling.  I had always chalked this up to Ladd being nervous because this was his first big hero role after he gained fame playing the sympathetic villain in This Gun for Hire (1942).  But now, I don't think that was it at all!

I think Alan Ladd read this book when he got cast in the movie version.  Because Hammett is very explicit about exactly what sort of smile Beaumont is doing at any given moment, whether it's a friendly smile, a genuine and boyish smile, or a controlled and fake smile... with his lips pulled tightly against his teeth.  I think Ladd was trying to draw on the source material and, if you have read the book, you'll realize that's what he's doing.  But, if you haven't, it just looks like he is really uncomfortable in a lot of scenes.  Which, actually, his character does tend to be, so it does kinda work.  But it works better now that I've read the book and then rewatched the movie right after.

ANYWAY, this book focuses on Ned Beaumont (renamed Ed for the movie because whyyyy?), right-hand-man of a political fixer who falls in love with a senator's daughter and decides to put all his political power behind this senator.  The senator's daughter can't stand him, but plays nice so he'll keep helping her dad.  And then her brother gets murdered.  Everyone assumes the fixer did it, but his power keeps him from getting arrested for it because he's in control of the District Attorney and so on.  Ned Beaumont tries to figure out who did kill the senator's son, if his boss didn't, and a lot of violence and excitement ensue.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-13 for violence, including a pretty extreme beating, and contemplations of suicide.  Also some bad language, lots of alcohol use, smoking, etc.  I did mention this is hardboiled detective fiction, right?

This is the 30th book I've read and reviewed for my third Classics Club list and the second book I read for the #AMonthOfMystery challenge on Instagram.

Sunday, October 24, 2021

"Sugar Birds" by Cheryl Grey Bostrom

This was not always an easy book to read, but it was a fulfilling one.  There was a point when things took a dark turn where I probably would have just stopped reading if I wasn't reading it for my church's book club -- but I'm glad I stuck with it, because the ending was so beautiful and healing.

Ten-year-old Aggie causes a horrific accidental fire that she believes kills both of her parents.  Terrified she'll be sent to prison, she runs off into the woods alone.  Using all the woodlore and survival skills her father taught her, she survives, at least physically.  Emotionally, she is a crumbling bundle of guilt and remorse.

Sixteen-year-old Celia absolutely hates the idea of staying at with her grandmother for the whole summer, especially since her father tricked her into travelling there.  She meets a guy who seems to understand her anger all too well, but his own problems could pose a whole new kind of trouble.  Meanwhile, another young man teaches her that even complex emotions can be explored in healthy and healing ways, even if you don't quite understand them.

Celia and Aggie's paths cross and recross, tangling them together in ways that will eventually help rescue them both.

I do wish that the presentation of Christian faith and the ways God can bring healing and understanding had not been presented so obliquely.  They were hinted at, but almost in a mystical way, and I came out feeling like this should be labeled "religious fiction" instead of "Christian."

On the other hand, I loved the way the author handled one supporting character's autism.  This book is set in the 1980s, and the way she had other characters responding to and not understanding his autism felt very similar to my memories of how people interacted with the autistic son of some of my friends' parents back when I was a kid in the '80s.  Both my childhood friend and this character are what some people call "high-functioning," in that they make friends, hold jobs, and so on, but are experiencing life in their own unique way.  I would say this is the best book with an autistic character that I have read since Loving Isaac by Heather Kaufman.

Bostrom's writing is fluid, her pacing was irresistible, and her characters felt real and believable.  I quickly got attached to three characters, and liked several others quite well by the end.  Although things got very tense about three-quarters of the way through, I assure you that everything wraps up in a good way, and the Big Bad Thing I was expecting to happen, or nearly happen, did not.  I don't want to spoil this book any more than that, as I think a lot of my bookish friends would really like this one.

From my Instagram

Particularly Good Bits:

My library?  Hers now, too, though socks fit a rooster better than Meredith fit into any library (p. 29).

Who was I kidding?  My anger was merely a cover for my sadness.  It didn't protect me at all (p. 205).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-16 for realistic danger, mention of a date rape drug, some violence, and children handling firearms.  A couple of minor bad words said by a character who is obviously not a good guy.

This is my 42nd book read from my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2021.

Thursday, October 14, 2021

"Woman in the Dark" by Dashiell Hammett

After rereading Trouble is My Business by Raymond Chandler last month, I began to crave more hardboiled detective stories of that same era.  But I have a strict rule about only reading one Chandler book a year that I only fudge on in the must extreme circumstances.  And this didn't feel extreme.  So I had the happy thought of rereading Dashiell Hammett's books.  I read all his novels and short stories in one fell swoop almost 20 years ago, with the result that I can only remember the ones that I've also seen movie versions of, namely The Thin Man, The Maltese Falcon, and The Glass Key.  And even those, I know, are somewhat different from the movies, though I can't remember how.

So, I'm rereading a bunch of Dashiell Hammett.  Some friends on Instagram are hosting #AMonthOfMystery for October, challenging participants to read a lot of mysteries in October because why not?  So I'm joining that because I never need any excuse to read more mysteries and talk about them with bookish friends.  And Woman in the Dark is my first book read for that event.

It's not quite even a novel, really -- it's a slim novella.  But whatever.  It was really enjoyable.  I found myself rooting so hard for Brazil, an ex-con with a temper and dangerous fists, and Luise Fischer, a kept woman trying to get away from the brute who thinks he should be allowed to keep her.  Everything goes sideways and down for a long time, but there's a surprisingly hopeful ending that I absolutely loved.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-16 for oblique references to sex, considerable violence, and some bad language.

Monday, October 11, 2021

"Hamlet" by Alexandre Dumas

No, the title of this post is not a typo.  Alexandre Dumas, the guy who wrote The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers and so on, also translated Shakespeare's Hamlet into French.  And then I read a translation into English by Frank Morlock of his translation into French.  Which sounds like a waste of time, since I can just read Hamlet in English any time I want to, and have often done so.  BUT.

But Alexandre Dumas didn't so much translate Hamlet as retell it.  He trimmed it considerably (there's no Fortinbras, for instance), he pepped up the dialog even more, and... ::drumroll please:: he changed the ending.


Not tons!  It still ends with a swordfight between Hamlet and Laertes, and dead people strewn all over the stage.  But one character who dies in Shakespeare's Hamlet lives in this one, and the Ghost makes an extra appearance in this one, and it's just really fantastically fun to read!

I knew going in that the ending was going to be different because there's an opera version of Hamlet with music by Ambroise Thomas and libretto by Michel Carre and Jules Barbier that is based on Dumas' translation rather than Shakespeare's original.  I've seen the 2004 production starring Simon Keenlyside, which is fantastic, though the changed ending just shocked my socks off the first time I saw it.  When I discovered this translation in print, I knew I had to read it!  And I'm so glad I did.

Note from the cover that the volume it's in is called Shakespeare in France and includes a translation of George Sand's French translation of As You Like It also, both translated by Frank Morlock.  I only read the Hamlet.  So I'm only reviewing that.  But if you want to find this yourself, look for it as Shakespeare in France and you'll have an easier time finding it.

(Mine from my Instagram)

Particularly Good Bits:

Polonius:  ...his shipwrecked heart struggles and forgets itself (p. 51)

Hamlet:  The stage is a mirror where man, such as he is, good and bad, must see himself (p. 59).

King:  You are speaking like an enigma and I don't understand you at all.
Hamlet:  Me neither (p. 70).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-13 even though it cuts down a lot on the obsession with Gertrude being in Claudius's bed now.  Still a lot of innuendo and violence.

This has been my 29th book read and reviewed for my third Classics Club list and my 41st for #TheUnreadShelfProject2021.

Friday, October 8, 2021

"Trouble is My Business" by Raymond Chandler

This is a collection of four long short stories, or maybe four short novellas?  They have chapters, which inclines me more toward calling them novellas.  Whatever.  This book collects four different cases for Philip Marlowe to solve, how's that?

In "Trouble is My Business," Marlowe is hired to protect a wealthy playboy from a gold-digger, but he discovers that a much bigger, nastier crime than that is waiting just offstage, and he'll have to clear that up too.

In "Finger Man," Marlowe is hired to protect a gambler who visits a rival's casino, and when murder ensues, Marlowe gets framed for it and has to find the real killer before it's too late.

In "Goldfish," Marlowe is hired to find some stolen pearls that have been hidden away for years and years.  He finds them, all right, but there's a twist that I didn't see coming and really liked.

In "Red Wind," a man gets murdered right in front of Marlowe, and since the police can't seem to get anywhere on the case, he solves it himself, along with a related murder.  Marlowe's a little kinder in this one than he's sometimes able to be, which I liked.

These are not my favorite Philip Marlowe mysteries, and the short story format forces Chandler to be a little less fantastic with his prose and descriptions -- I think novels gave him more room to play, which he needed.  Still, this was an absolute treat to read.  I made myself only read one story each day so I could savor the pleasure of reading my favorite author just as long as I could.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-13 for violence, cussing, and innuendo.  Nothing dirty, but it's not a book for kids, either.

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

"Little Town on the Prairie" by Laura Ingalls Wilder

I remember really liking this book as a kid, mostly because it meant the Long Winter was over and I didn't have to worry about the Ingalls family anymore.  This is a very upbeat, hopeful book in which Laura turns from child to almost-an-adult.  I wish I had navigated that transition as gracefully as she does.

I hadn't remembered just how shy she is, and how much she wrote about being socially awkward, especially when she first began to make friends with other teen girls.  But no wonder I identified so strongly with her when I was growing up!  I've always had a little social anxiety (sometimes a lot), with the difficulties in making new friends and entering new situations that comes with that, and it was really neat as an adult to recognize that in Laura too.

Also, Almanzo Wilder is really sweet.  We kept cracking up over how Laura couldn't figure out why he wanted to walk her home.

Yes, this is the book where Pa and other men of the town dress in "blackface" and perform a minstrel show.  Because I was reading this aloud to my kids and husband while driving around on vacation, we were able to have a good discussion about how culture changes over time.  What was completely acceptable in one age may not be in another.  Discussions like that are such a cool side benefit of reading this series aloud.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG because I do think kids need an adult's guidance through that section so they understand that it's not okay for white people to pretend to be black people today.

This is my 28th book read and reviewed for my third Classics Club list.

Monday, October 4, 2021

"Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" by J. K. Rowling

It took me a couple of months to read this book.  Not because it is hard to read, or because it's 870 pages long, but because I knew what was coming at the end and I just kept dragging my feet about getting there.  Also, I was loving how much Sirius Black gets to be in this one!  He gets more page-time in it than in the previous two books combined, and I adore that.  So much Sirius.

(Spoilers in this paragraph if you haven't read this book or seen this movie.)  Of course, Sirius is also why I didn't want to get to the end of this.  Because he dies, and it's such a sudden, gut-punch kind of death that I did not want to reach it.  Interestingly, I didn't cry when he died this time.  I cried a little later, when Harry unwrapped the mirror he could have been using all this time to communicate safely and easily with Sirius, but never got around to opening.  The thought of Sirius checking that mirror over and over for months, always hoping Harry would be there, and always being disappointed really got to me.

I will admit, though, that this was a hard read because it felt horribly relevant right now.  A proliferation of little rules to try to control every aspect of someone's lives?  Rules about who can go where and with whom, demands for compliance with things individuals don't agree with, firing people for not toeing every new line drawn arbitrarily in the sand, and a general attack on personal freedoms... no, that doesn't sound familiar at all, does it?  I'm sick of it in real life, and so reading a fictional version of that was not enjoyable.  I like my reading to be a time to experience new things, not be reminded of what I'm currently going through, and that's never been truer than this past 18 months or so.  

But I did finish it.  I did enjoy it, on a whole.  I'm very much looking forward to the next book, though I have some October reading commitments that mean I might have to put off book 6 until next month.  We'll see.

Mine from my instagram

Particularly Good Bits:

"No, like all young people, you are quite sure that you alone feel and think, you alone recognize danger, you alone are the only one clever enough to realize what the Dark Lord may be planning..." (p. 496).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-13 for a lot of danger and peril, some child abuse and torture, and more bad language than in the previous books, though still nothing strongly offensive to me.