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Monday, October 18, 2021

Mystery Movie Review - Knives Out

If you weren't part of the crowds that saw this movie in the theaters, let me introduce you to the movie Knives Out.  If you packed in to watch it on the "big screen", revisit it for Halloween.  Released November 2019 and rated PG-13.

What it's about
"The night after his 85th birthday, after a party with his combative family, the wildly popular mystery author, Harlan Thrombey (played by the legendary Christopher Plummer from The Sound of Music) dies a sudden and suspicious death. The police arrive to investigate with a well known private investigator named Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig of James Bond fame) sporting a Southern drawl.  The assumption is Harlan committed suicide and cut his own throat - or could it be murder?  Benoit was hired by an unknown person to investigate which adds to the mystique.  The family members are all shown to have reason to kill the author.  The film centers around the author's nurse, Marta, who will literally vomit if she tells a lie.  The all-star cast includes Jamie Lee Curtis, Don Johnson, Chris Evans, and Ana de Armas (Blade Runner 2049) as the nurse. 

Rotten Tomatoes: 97%
Critic Leonard Maltin: "Knives Out is never, ever dull and offers the kind of classy entertainment we could use more of on the big screen. And I have a feeling we'll see more of Daniel Craig's colorful character down the road."
  • 3 nominations at Golden Globe Awards
  • Best Original Screenplay nomination Academy Awards  AND British Academy Film Awards
  • Selected for top ten films of 2019 by American Institute and the National Board of Review.
  • Plus many, many others
The director, Rian Johnson, wrote the screenplay and specifically wanted to make a Christie inspired murder-mystery film.  Filming was in and around Boston, Massachusetts with the exteriors of the house filmed at a mansion located in Natick, west of Boston. The interior shots used The Ames Mansion in Borderland State Park a lot.
My thoughts:
This is perhaps one of the best Hollywood takes on a traditional mystery in the vein of Agatha Christie (but updated) with a powerhouse ensemble cast.  It exceeded my expectations, and most peoples.  The acting reflects that everyone on set was enjoying their roles and the directing and camera angles created the tension and intimate feel.  The mystery has plenty of red-herrings, twists, and a surprise ending.  It is meant to be funny in parts, and pulls it off great.  This is a really good, fun, and clever adult-oriented movie.  

It is an "original" movie, meaning there was no book or comic book with a fan base already existing, it had to stand it on its own merit, and it did.  As one person in the industry noted for a Buzzfeed article: "It’s the stars, but it’s more. It’s the genre, but it’s more. It’s a solid script, a savvy director, attention to detail, and excellent casting." 

Another highlight to this movie is it wasn't generated, like the majority of movies these days, to be the basis for an exploitable merchandising campaign, but solely for the craft of the movie itself.  Sadly, Hollywood hasn't taken the lesson to create and support more original adult-oriented good content, but rather are running with this.  So, there will a Knives Out 2, trying to recreate the magic of the first and will be another Benoit Blanc investigation.  Please don't turn this into a series trying to milk this for every dime.

I highly recommend, make a night of it to watch the movie.

If you want more, here is the director going in depth into one scene of the movie and his insights on what the scene took.

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Saturday, October 16, 2021

Review - The Unkindness of Ravens

I discovered this debut of a new mystery series on Netgalley and it intrigued me.

Tagline: "Librarian Greer Hogan matches wits with a deviously clever killer in M.E. Hilliard's chilling series debut, ideal for fans of Louise Penny and Dorothy L. Sayers."

Last week I reviewed Bait and Witch for a Halloween touch.  It featured a librarian sleuth, and this week I have another librarian sleuth and this is good for the upcoming holiday as well.  At points I would get the two books mixed in my mind.  But this is different in significant ways.

Author: M.E. Hilliard

Copyright: April 2021 (Crooked Lane Books) 331 pgs

Series: 1st in Greer Hogan Mystery series

Sensuality: mild

Mystery Sub-genre: Amateur Sleuth, traditional mystery

Main Characters: Greer Hogan, librarian who is recently widowed 

Setting: Contemporary, Raven Hill, NY

Obtained Through: Netgalley

Book blurb: "Greer Hogan is a librarian and an avid reader of murder mysteries. She also has a habit of stumbling upon murdered bodies. The first was her husband's, and the tragic loss led Greer to leave New York behind for a new start in the Village of Raven Hill. But her new home becomes less idyllic when she discovers her best friend sprawled dead on the floor of the library.

Was her friend's demise related to two other deaths that the police deemed accidental? Do the residents of this insular village hold dark secrets about another murder, decades ago? Does a serial killer haunt Raven Hill?

As the body count rises, Greer's anxious musings take a darker turn when she uncovers unexpected and distressing information about her own husband's death...and the man who went to prison for his murder. She is racked with guilt at the possibility that her testimony may have helped to convict an innocent man.

Though Greer admires the masters of deduction she reads about in books, she never expected to have to solve a mystery herself. Fortunately, she possesses a quick wit and a librarian's natural resourcefulness. But will that be enough to protect her from a brilliant, diabolical murderer?

And even if Greer manages to catch the Raven Hill killer, will living with her conscience prove a fate worse than death?"

Greer has been the librarian for six months and remains hopeful of seeing a ghost in the supposedly haunted mansion made into the library. She is still a little traumatized from discovering her husband and discovering her friend's body brings it all back again.  There are a few employees at the library, but none take more of a central role.  She rents the top of a house owned by Henri and his dog Pierre who are the breakout characters and I adore them. Henri has sort of unofficially adopted Greer.  Officer Jennie Webber ends up being a substantial character in the investigation and I like this character and would love to see more of her.

Raven Hill and the gothic library with a brooding exterior are each used to great effect.  The creek, called Ravens Kill, was the sight of an old drowning and adds creepy touches as well. "I have it on good authority that the currents have always been strange in the Ravens Kill."

The plot centers around a killer who struck a woman down during library hours. Greer tries to figure out the culprit while fully aware the murderer could be lurking and watching.  The pacing is steady and this book builds till the very tense climax. 

The killer reveal, or showdown, is excellent and left me breathless.  Greer is daring and smart against the killer. Excellent. While I had begun to suspect the killer, the full motive revealed just how cold blooded the murderer was.  The wrap-up answers the final questions and firmly sets up the next book where she will face some nagging discrepancies in her husband's murder since she has had to relive that trauma throughout the story.

My thoughts: This book tries for literary, but some literary allusions didn't make sense or seemed forced to appear "literary".  The writing style adds to the atmospheric feel throughout the book. This is a little darker in feel and style than a cozy mystery and there isn't any romantic interest or light moments.  Overall the book is well done with a solid mystery and compelling characters, and the gripping climax is superb.

Rating: Excellent - Loved it! Buy it now and put this author on your watch list

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Monday, October 11, 2021

11 Native American Mystery Series

Native American mysteries are some of the most atmospheric novels (in my opinion).  I have enjoyed many of these and some I discovered while researching for this post.  Let me know in the comments if you would like me to review more of those series that I don't have any reviews or only a few. 

Charlie Moon series by James D Doss features a Ute tribal policeman (later becomes private detective) in southern Colorado.
The first four are my favorites: Shaman Sings, Shaman's Laugh, Shaman's Bones, and  Shaman's Game

Of course Tony Hillerman put Native American mystery novels on the map like never before.  His series starts with The Blessing Way.  Anne Hillerman continued the series when her father passed away.  My favorites are A Thief in Time, Skinwalker, and Sacred Clowns.  **If you would be interested in my reviewing some of these, please leave a comment saying so.

Wind River series by Margaret Coel, Eagle Catcher is the1st in the series.

Manny Tanno Investigations by C.M. Wendelboe take place mostly on the Pine Ridge Lakota reservation in South Dakota.

Kate Shugak Mysteries by Dana Stabenow (no review) take place in Alaska.

Vanishing Act is the 1st in Jane Whitefield series by Thomas Perry (no reviews). Jane is a Native American (Seneca) who has made a career out of helping worthy people disappear (like an abuse victim disappear from powerful husband sort of thing).

Shandra Higheagle Mystery series by Patty Jagger features a woman who is half Nez Perce for an amateur sleuth. Double Duplicity is the first in the series.

Sadie Walela Mystery series by Sara Sue Hoklotubbe features a Cherokee amateur sleuth in Oklahoma.

Naomi ManyMules mystery series by J & D Burges (no reviews) features a divorced, thirty-something mom of two as the amateur sleuth on the edge of Navajo country and claims it is humorous. 

Walt Longmire series by Craig Johnson has many Native American themes and characters

This series has some Native American themes: Cork O'Connor Investigation series by William Kent Krueger

There you have 11 series either featuring a Native American sleuth/detective or that often have Native American characters or themes featured in the stories.  I may have missed some, so please share if you know of one that isn't spotlighted here.  If you have read some of these, tell me what you thought of them too.

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Thursday, October 7, 2021

Review - Bait and Witch

 “Zippy and fun, with just enough ambiance to satisfy readers seeking spooks and humor.”

—Kirkus Reviews

In my search for some paranormal mysteries for Halloween, I found this new cozy series.  Librarian Josie Way moved to small-town Oregon to lay low. Instead, thanks to newfound magic abilities—and a killer on the loose—she’s leapt out of the frying pan and into a cauldron of trouble . . .

Author: Angela M. Sanders

Copyright: Dec 2020 (Kensington Cozies) 338 pgs

Series: 1st in Witch Way Librarian Mystery series

Sensuality: Mature topics

Mystery Sub-genre: cozy paranormal mystery, amateur Sleuth

Main Characters: Josie Way, librarian and newfound witch 

Setting: Contemporary, small town Wilfred, Oregon 

Obtained Through: Library

Book Blurb: "Josie Way loved working among the Library of Congress’s leather-scented stacks—until she uncovered corruption and made herself a target. As Wilfred, Oregon’s new librarian, Josie can stay undercover until the case goes to court. But life in this little town isn’t as subdued as she expected. The library, housed in a Victorian mansion, is slated to be bulldozed. Still digesting the news that her safe haven is about to become scrap lumber, Josie discovers a body in the woods . . .

 Almost as shocking, Josie learns that she’s descended from a long line of witches—and her powers have suddenly sprung to life. With help from a spoiled alley cat who just may be her familiar, Josie’s thumbing through a catalog of suspects, hoping she can conjure a way to save her library—and her life . . ."

Josie Way is a strong willed gal who suddenly has magic powers as she is hiding for her life. She was easily likeable and relatable.  Rodney is the black cat that has adopted Josie and seems too smart for the average cat.  He steals the show and I can't get enough of Rodney! Darla is the Library Trustee who hired Josie and the owner/operator of Darla's Tavern and Diner as well as owner of the Magnolia Rolling Estates Trailer Park.  Sam Wilfred is the only living descendant of the "Wilfred family" the town was named after. His ancestor's abandoned the town and mill that supported the entire town, so the town hates the family.  Roslyn "Roz" Grover is Josie's right hand gal at library with a secret.  Sheriff Bert Dolby and sister are ever present in the story.  Lyndon Forster is the minimal-talk caretaker of the grounds and library.

The library grounds include a caretaker's cottage and the Big House that are the primary setting with Magnolia Rolling Estates Trailer Park and the Kirby river added.  I love the Library building, but living upstairs was a little unsettling at night. Great use of the old mansion/library. 

The mystery is fairly straight forward, who killed the woman found behind the library and who was she anyway?  Was the victim an assassin after Josie or did somebody mistake the woman for Josie?  Is Josie safe or not?  Is the killer a local? As the story unfolds, things get complicated.  Along with the subplots around Sam acting suspiciously, Roz's secret, the fight to save the library, and Josie's fear of her own powers, the pages flew by.

 The climax was somewhat tense and I had only begun suspecting the villain a couple chapters before the reveal, so great job there.  The wrap-up was great and solves a big problem unrelated to the murder.  

I found this debut of a new paranormal cozy series very enjoyable. The witchy aspects are well done for added oomph to the story. I was surprised at the level of development for the supporting cast. The mystery was well done with a great surprise killer that I really appreciated.  There was an added bonus of a hidden crime being solved in the midst of all this as well.  I also found the economic hard times of the town more true to life for small towns than the rosy image portrayed in most cozy mysteries while still keeping it charming.

Rating: Excellent - Loved it! Buy it now and put this author and series on your watch list

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Monday, October 4, 2021

Mystery Movie Review - Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte

I am reviewing this 1965 psychological thriller as a warm-up for Halloween.  Although this was directed by Robert Aldrich, you might think it was a Hitchcock flick with it's build up to edge-of-your-seat tension.

Rotten Tomatoes: 82% 
  • 7 academy award nominations (best supporting actress [Moorehead], B&W cinematography, score, song, art direction, costume design, and editing).
  • Adapted from the unpublished short story "What Ever Happened to Cousin Charlotte?" by Henry Farrell 

Movie Blurb:  
An aging, reclusive Southern belle (Bette Davis) is plagued by a horrifying murder of her lover forty years prior when she was young.  The arrival of a relative (Olivia de Havilland as Miriam Deering) plunges Charlotte into madness - or is she being helped along?  And who killed lover John Mayhew all those years ago?

What's It About?:
Rotten Tomatoes: "Forty years ago, on the night they were meant to elope, Charlotte Hollis (Bette Davis) found her [married] lover decapitated during a party, the blood on her dress leading everyone to suspect she was the murderer. Now, in 1964, Charlotte is an old recluse and must fight to keep her home. She enlists the help of her cousin Miriam (Olivia de Havilland), who was there at the time of the murder. However, soon after Miriam's arrival, Charlotte's mind becomes unstable, and she starts thinking he is alive."  As for the mystery part, nobody was ever arrested for the murder. Did Charlotte kill him, or her father? Is she going insane now from guilt?  

Bette Davis, Olivia de Havilland [Melanie from Gone with the Wind], and Joseph Cotton, Mary Astor, with appearances from  Agnes Moorehead (Known for playing Endora in Bewitched), Bruce Dern, and George Kennedy.

My Thoughts:
The murder mystery isn't at the forefront. But the murder becomes the impetus for what happens in the rest of the movie.  Bette Davis, Agnes Moorehead, and Olivia de Havilland gave powerhouse performances. The cinematography, although black and white, was atmospheric, providing an ominous feeling with plenty of gothic touches. Sadly, the special effects aren't very good.  It does show the privilege of wealthy white in the south and the struggles of facing a changing status quo in the sixties.  It also has a haunting theme song that gets stuck in your head:

“Hush hush, sweet Charlotte,
He’ll love you till he dies... 
And every night after he shall die
Yes every night when he’s gone
The wind will sing you this lullaby
Sweet Charlotte was loved by John.”

 It's dated and comes across a little melodramatic for modern audiences, causing some to call it "campy".  I saw it for the first time on television at around twelve years old and I was riveted. I have re-watched it many times over the years and love the build-up of tension.  Bette Davis gave a great performance of a woman with a tragic past fighting to save her world and fearing she is loosing her grip on reality. She made you feel sorry for her in one scene and hate her in the next.  There are red herrings regarding who actually killed philandering John Mayhew, but the murderer from forty years prior is finally and formally identified.

Everybody seems to want to compare this film to "What Happened to Baby Jane", but this was a better written screen play and the acting was better - in my opinion. I can't stand Joan Crawford, but de Havilland was superlative as cousin Miriam.  It isn't perfect, but it is wicked good. Make a tub of popcorn, some root beer floats, and watch this early psychological thriller to get in the Halloween mood.

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Friday, October 1, 2021

Review - The Agency: A Spy in the House

Where has this year gone. October already!  I will have many more Halloween-related reviews coming for this month (yay).

I have found this new-to-me series set in Victorian era featuring a resourceful seventeen year old young woman on her first assignment for an all women private investigation agency!  I know this isn't recently published, I think it is very worthwhile and want to share it with you. 

Author: Y.S. Lee

Copyright: March 2010 (Candlewick Press) 276 pgs

Series: 1st in The Agency Mystery series

Sensuality:  Adult topics or situations mentioned

Mystery Sub-genre: historical Suspense, historical amateur sleuth

Main Character: Mary Lang, 17 year old orphan and former thief 

Setting: 1858, London, England

Obtained Through: Library

Book Blurb:  "Rescued from the gallows in 1850s London, young orphan (and thief) Mary Quinn is surprised to be offered a singular education, instruction in fine manners -- and an unusual vocation. Miss Scrimshaw’s Academy for Girls is a cover for an all-female investigative unit called The Agency, and at seventeen, Mary is about to put her training to the test. Assuming the guise of a lady’s companion, she must infiltrate a rich merchant’s home in hopes of tracing his missing cargo ships. But the household is full of dangerous deceptions, and there is no one to trust -- or is there? Packed with action and suspense, banter and romance, and evoking the gritty backstreets of Victorian London, this breezy mystery debuts a daring young detective who lives by her wits while uncovering secrets -- including those of her own past."

Mary Lang (undercover as Mary Quinn) begins as a hard-luck 12-year-old orphan of half-Asian decent and accomplished thief about to be hung is saved by Miss Treleaven of Miss Scrimshaw’s Academy for Girls.  We then pick up five years later - after she has been reformed and educated and asked to be an investigator by the school's leaders.  She did excellent in school and when presented with the chance to be an investigator she is eager to prove herself.  Anne Treleaven is the woman who saved Mary from being hanged, is involved in girl's school, and is a founder of The Agency, an all female investigative service.  Felicity Frame is also is involved in the girl's school, and another founder of The Agency.  Angelica Thorold, the spoiled young lady Mary is posing as her companion to investigate her father, has more to her as the story develops. James Easton, second son of wealthy status, is investigating Mr. Thorold- but his motives aren't clear. He takes an interest in Mary, but what is his game? Even sleepy, sickly Mrs. Thorold has her secrets.

London is presented with the lavish, vain society parties held in vast expensive houses along the river with its gagging stench. Which is a perfect analogy of London with ultra rich existing alongside, but oblivious to, the desperately poor and destitute.  

The plot of an investigation agency that uses young women, who are often overlooked, to investigate cases is a great concept. This first case for Mary seems simple and is supposed to be a gentle entry into the Agency, but quickly becomes complicated.  The story is written well and kept me reading into the night.

The climax shows Mary's bravery and true heart.  It was exciting and tense. The wrap-up is short, answering the remaining questions and solutions to the case.  The potential romance for young Mary will hopefully continue in the next book in the series.

My thoughts:  The mystery is solid with twists and surprises and the characters are fleshed out and defined well.  This book is marketed as age 12 and up, but honestly, this is perhaps young adult but solidly adult with the topics touched on.  Mary's mother turned to prostitution to survive for instance.  Although that is only mentioned and not detailed, that and other references to adult topics move this to an older audience than 12 years old IMHO.  

It boldly portrays class differences, love gone terribly wrong, racial discrimination, even London's growing struggles in the 1850s, and the status of women in society. Historical details bring the time period alive and immerse the reader. I felt deeply invested in the characters and the storyline. The dynamic and flirtation between the Mary and James provided some lighter touches and added to the characters as well as the story.  I highly recommend for historical sleuth fans.

Rating: Near Perfect - Buy two copies: one for you and one for a friend. 

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Friday, September 24, 2021

Review - Haunted Homicide

 This is a new series that I haven't heard much buzz about.  Which is a shame, because I was really captured by the concept and think it is worth more attention.  This is also fun with Halloween approaching since it has a ghost that I hope is a reoccurring character.  I will be reviewing the second in the book before the end of October as well.

Author: Lucy Ness

Copyright: Sept 2020 (Berkley) 299 pgs

Series: 1st in Haunted Mansion Mystery series

Sensuality: n/a

Mystery Sub-genre: Amateur Sleuth, Light Paranormal Cozy

Main Characters: Avery Morgan, New manager of a prestigious women's club 

Setting: Contemporary, Portage Path, Ohio, thirty miles south of Cleveland

Obtained Through: Library

Book Blurb:  "Avery Morgan has been hired to breathe new life into the Portage Path Women's Club, but first she'll have to deal with a dead body and a meddling ghost.

Avery Morgan has had a harrowing first week on the job as manager of the Portage Path Woman's Club. Not only is she in charge of a grand old home with a mountain of maintenance problems and scheduling nightmares--thanks to a recent fire in the Marigold meeting room--but she's also got Muriel Sadler to deal with. Muriel is the current president of the club, the one "nay" vote when the rest of the board voted "aye" to hiring Avery.

After a morning of dealing with another one of Muriel's snits and a meeting with the delicious and delightfully unsettling Ben Harkness, who will be handling renovations in the fire-damaged portions of the house, the last thing Avery needs is for one of the fuses to blow. Again.

She grabs her handy flashlight and heads into the basement, where she stumbles across Muriel's body. She also stumbles across an unexpected helper, Clemmie Bow, the ghost of a young woman who was accidentally killed in the building almost a hundred years ago.

Together Clemmie and Avery are determined to solve Muriel's murder before the killer sends Avery to join Clemmie on the other side."

Avery Morgan, running from her psychic aunt's influence in NY and seeking normalcy, gets a job in Ohio only to face her own psychic talent of seeing the dead.  Muriel Sadler, the victim, made Avery's first days at the Women's Club very difficult. She was mean-spirited. 

Patricia Fink, a Board member, definitely has a secret.  Gracie Grimm is the club's historian and Board member who didn't like Muriel.  Agnes Yarborough, another Board member, gets treated harshly by Muriel.  Then there is Clemie Bow, resident ghost from roaring 20s hanging around. Jack Harkness is the restorationist working on restoring a room and is maybe-not-quite a romantic interest who has his own secret.  Sergeant Alterman, known as Oz, is a romantic interest.  Quentin is the Club's chef and Geneva is the regular waitress.  These two are great and I really enjoy their characters as well as Clemie. 

The Women's Club's historic manner house is a great setting and most of the book takes place there.  It has a secret history of being an illegal speakeasy in the 1920s, which is when Clemmie died and has been hanging around the house ever since.

This debut novel in the series introduces us to mostly the Board and their backgrounds as the investigation is taking place. Muriel has a line-up of potential murderers that are uncovered as Avery asks around.  The story moved along at a steady clip and maintained my interest.

 The killer reveal was dramatic and had some thrilling moments that I thought were nicely done.  The wrap-up was short and sweet with just the right touches to leave a smile on my face.

This is a fun debut that I hope keeps up the vibe started.  It has interesting characters with a solid mystery and Avery is a good heroine I can relate to.  The ghostly touches are lighthearted and enjoyable.  Overall a well done first entry that I look forward to reading the next novel in the series.  

Rating:  Excellent - Loved it! Buy it now and put this author on your watch list 

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Monday, September 20, 2021

Book Giveaway - Poppy Redfern and the Midnight Murders


One winner of a paperback copy of Poppy Redfern and the Midnight Murders by Tessa Arlen.  Click here for my review.

Book Blurb: "Summer 1942. The world has been at war for three long and desperate years. In the remote English village of Little Buffenden, Poppy Redfern’s family house and farmland has been requisitioned by the War Office as a new airfield for the American Air Force. As the village's Air Raid Warden, Poppy spends her nights patrolling the village as she tries to ease her neighbors’ fears about the “Friendly Invasion” and what it means to their quiet way of life.

 When two young, popular women who were dating American servicemen are found strangled, Poppy quickly realizes that her little town has been divided by murder. The mistrust and suspicion of their new American partners in war threatens to tear Little Buffenden apart. Poppy decides to start her own investigation with the help of a charismatic American pilot and she soon unearths some chilling secrets and long-held grudges. Poppy will have no choice but to lay a trap for a killer so perilously close to home, she might very well become the next victim...."

Entry for giveaway lasts until Friday October 1st 6:00 p.m. (MST).  U.S. entries only please.  
I will be shipping the book to the winners.

How to enter:

*** First, you must be an email subscriber to this blog***

All entries are to be in the comments for this post.  ALL ENTRIES WITHOUT AN EMAIL ADDRESS ARE DISQUALIFIED.

I will accept entries for this giveaway until 6:00 p.m (MST) on  Oct 1, 2021.  I shall notify the winner via the email address you provided to get your physical mailing address and have the prize sent directly to you.  If I don't hear from you in 3 days, I will select another winner and notify them.

**IF you are an email subscriber of this blog, you only need to leave a comment with your correct email.

**BECOME an email subscriber of this blog if you aren't already and enjoy the celebration of all things mystery and suspense.

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Saturday, September 18, 2021

Review - Murder at the Royal Botanic Gardens

I loved Andrea Penrose's Lady Arianna Regency mystery series and I jumped on board this series of hers with the first book.  It continues to be one on my go-to series.  

1)  Murder on Swan Lake (review here
2)  Murder at Halfmoon Gate (review here
3)  Murder at Kensington Palace (review here
4)  Murder at Queen's Landing (review here
Author interview (click here

A thrilling new mystery novel from the acclaimed author of Murder at Queen’s Landing, perfect for fans of Deanna Raybourn and Anne Perry! The wedding of the Earl of Wrexford and Lady Charlotte Sloane is not-to-be-missed, but the murder of a brilliant American scientist threatens their plans—and their lives…

Andrea Penrose

Copyright: Sept 2021 (Kensington Books) 250 pgs

Series: 5th in Wrexford & Sloan Mystery series

Sensuality: mild

Mystery Sub-genre: historical Suspense, hsitorical amateur Sleuth

Main Character: Widowed Charlotte Sloane, a satirical cartoonist under the name A.J. Quill, estranged from her family

Setting: Regency Era, London England

Obtained Through: Netgalley

Book Blurb: "One advantage of being caught up in a whirl of dress fittings and decisions about flower arrangements and breakfast menus is that Charlotte Sloane has little time for any pre-wedding qualms. Her love for Wrexford isn’t in question. But will being a wife—and a Countess—make it difficult for her to maintain her independence—not to mention, her secret identity as famed satirical artist A.J. Quill?
Despite those concerns, there are soon even more urgent matters to attend to during Charlotte and Wrexford’s first public outing as an engaged couple. At a symposium at the Royal Botanic Gardens, a visiting botanist suffers a fatal collapse. The traces of white powder near his mouth reveal the dark truth—he was murdered. Drawn into the investigation, Charlotte and the Earl learn of the victim’s involvement in a momentous medical discovery. With fame and immense fortune at stake, there’s no shortage of suspects, including some whose ruthlessness is already known. But neither Charlotte nor her husband-to-be can realize how close the danger is about to get—or to what lengths this villain is prepared to go."

Lady Charlotte is approaching her marriage to Wrex, which is a major change in her life: giving up her autonomy. She feels compelled to look into the murder for justice's sake.  She also has a reunion with her remaining sibling and is a ball of nerves over it. Great Aunt Alison is a stellar character and continues to be a stalwart supporter of Charlotte. Raven and Hawk, the two street orphans she had taken in years before are becoming shrewd young men who still have enough "hood" in them to help investigate. They seem to realize more and more how much Charlotte means to them as she tries to protect them in this book.  The Earl of Wrexford, Wrex for short, is determined to ensure the safety of Charlotte and the boys as they approach the wedding. I love how he accepts her independence and won't make dictates to her, just expresses his concerns. 

Kit Sheffield is Wrex's best friend who is trying to be more responsible and has invested in starting a shipping company. Kit is head-over-heels for his business partner but feels unworthy.  Lady Cordelia, is the boy's math tutor and Kit's business partner in the shipping business. 

The setting is partially the large and impressive Royal Botanic Gardens (Kew Gardens) and the rough and dangerous shipping docks.  Both the gardens and the docks are meticulously recreated on the page so you are immersed.

The plot is two-fold: Find the murderer and thereby hopefully save the medical discovery that the visiting botanist intended to be free to save lives.  The suspects bring about many twists in the story and keep the pacing moving along.
The killer confrontation/reveal is an exciting race with danger and a daring attempt to catch the killer.  The climax is well written and quite tense and lives up to the established high bar set by previous books in the series.  The wrapup is the wedding and is delightful.

There are so many aspects to this book that the pages fly by.  The mystery is an exciting race to bring justice as well as save lives with recovering the medical discovery. The killer was a surprise as there were many twists surrounding the suspects.  Wrex and Charlotte are realistic in their approaching joining their lives.  Their balanced relationship is touching and heartwarming.  Raven and Hawk being accepted by Wrex and his including them in his life is equally touching.    The wedding at the end isn't to be missed for fans.

Rating: Near Perfect - Buy two copies: one for you and one for a friend.

Here is a video on the gardens and their importance.

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Monday, September 13, 2021

Mystery Movie Review - Murder on the Orient Express 1974 vs 2017

Which is the best movie adaptation:
Murder on the Orient Express 1974 vs 2017

In December 1935, when the luxury train with detective Hercules Poirot aboard is stopped by avalanche (blocking the tracks or derailing train, depending on the version), he is called on to solve a murder that occurred in his car the night before. 

This is a great book and I will try to compare these two movie adaptations without any serious spoilers (a tough trick, but I'll give it a whirl!)

1974 Adaptation
Rotten Tomatoes 90%
6 Oscar Nominations/1 Oscar win
The 1974 movie is considered closer to the book.

Starred:  Albert Finney, Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, Sean Connery, Jacqueline Bisset, Michael York, Anthony Perkins, Vanessa Redgrave, John Gielgud, and Richard Widmark.

Opens with the kidnapping of Daisy Armstrong and news coverage which sets the stage for what follows.

1974 thoughts:
  • The cinematography is stylish and atmospheric.
  • The costumes I felt were better because they gave more contrast between characters and the the styles for the wealthy reflected the opulence of the era.  
  • Music is period specific and lavish.
  • Poirot is fastidious and true to the books.
  • Better written characters in this screenplay. 
  • Richard Widmark as Samuel Ratchett is more a businessman and not an obvious bad man as the 2017 screenplay portrays him.
  • Ingrid Bergman is superb as a missionary-Won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for this role!
  • Anthony Hopkins' portrayal of the victim's personal secretary, Mr. McQueen, was far better.
  • Jacqueline Bisset is the best Countess Andrenyi and Michael York is a suave Count and more believable than the 2017 Count.
  • John Gielgud is the penultimate butler, although I know Derek Jacobi (2017) is a stellar actor but it wasn't the role for him to show his abilities.
  • Lauren Bacall was brilliant throughout as Mrs. Hubbard where Michelle Pfeiffer (2017) didn't have her moment until Poirot reveals the solution.
  • An 84 year-old Agatha Christie attended the movie premiere in November 1974. It was the only film adaptation in her lifetime that she was completely satisfied with. In particular, she felt that Albert Finney‘s performance came closest to her idea of Poirot.

2017 Rotten Tomatoes 60%  

Starred: Kenneth Branagh, William Dafoe, Judi Dench, Derek Jacobi, Penélope Cruz, Leslie Odam Jr., Johnny Depp

Opens with Poirot uncovering police corruption.

2017 Version thoughts:

  • Poirot is particular, friendly, and far more warm and humorous than the book. 
  • He uses his cane for utility more than walking or style.  
  • Characters aren't true to the book and aren't distinctly different, they rather melded together.
  • Count is overly prone to violence and over the top silent brooding.
  • Judi Dench is a much younger Princess Dragomiroff, but gives a superb performance and she is better than the 1974 version.
  • Johnny Depp is more of a mobster portrayal of victim Samuel Ratchett and openly does business with mobsters giving away he is a criminal early. I think having him as a demanding businessman was better.
  • Derek Jacobi, who is a phenomenal actor, was under-cast as the butler/valet.
  • Trainline owner is a ridiculous playboy rather than a businessman.
  • The character of the English Colonel John Arbuthnot, played by Sean Connery in 1974, is incorporated into the Doctor for 2017 adaptation. Both Sean Connery and Leslie Odam Jr. do a great job.  The 1974 being closer to the book though.
  • The train is derailed rather than tracks blocked from an avalanche, which makes isolation more pronounced.
  • Excellent cinematography, camera angles, exterior shots -- Modern, slick - all the benefits of modern film making.
  • The luxury of the train is optimized.
  • Chase scenes and some gun play are added which was forced into the story and didn't really make sense. 
  • The killer reveal was more emotional and in one instance too melodramatic.
  • The ending was more philosophical with murder portrayed as causing a fracture of the human soul and resulting in so many broken lives. 

Albert Finney vs Kenneth Branagh

1974's Finney is more true to Christie's vision, although the mustache wasn't big enough. This Poirot is fastidious like in the books and you follow his thought process as he comes to his conclusions.  There are only a couple of scenes where you get much of a sense of the man Poirot is.  But that was like the books. 

2017's Branagh: Poirot surprisingly gets a romantic backstory of some lost love that is never explained, he displays a sense of humor, his mustache may be even bigger than Christie had in mind, and ultimately he wrestles with the imbalance of justice in this case.  Branagh's portrayal on the one hand makes Poirot more warm and human but on the other hand his leaps of logic seem more fantastical than elementary.

There are excellent aspects to both movies but here is my breakdown.

I love the 1974 movie for a true Christie portrayal and the superior acting.  There's a reason why it had 6 Oscar nominations (Best Actor in a Leading Role: Albert Finney, Best Writing-Screenplay Adapted From Other Material, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, and Best Music-Original Dramatic Score) and Ingrid Bergman won for Best Supporting Actress.  The cast was fantastic together.  They did a great job for 1974 with the cinematography and created an atmospheric feel and suspicious mood.  Costuming was superior and reflected the golden era of Hollywood.  This movie wins, absolutely.

Although I enjoy the modern camerawork of the 2017 adaptation with unusual angles and how it addresses some modern issues and sensibilities, I honestly found the acting only barely grabbing me in a few rare scenes and not for long.  The addition of a chase scene and a shooting scene was out of character and didn't fit (IMHO).  Changing Poirot to provide some sort of romantic backstory seemed like trying to make him more likeable or make the movie very different from the original, but it is nothing like Christie's Poirot and didn't provide the payoff.  It came off all wrong and even awkward.  Poirot was also uncharacteristic in that he had such doubts that he could solve the murder after a while, which Christie's Poirot never has such self-doubts.  The screenplay left some characters poorly written (The Count and trainline owner were terrible).  There were some scenes that actually made no sense as well. I can't go into them without spoilers. 

1974 version is my favorite, hands down.  But don't take my word for it.  Watch both and see what you think of them.  If you've seen both, leave a comment on how they measured up for you.

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Thursday, September 9, 2021

Review - A Rogue's Company

I have been a fan of this series since its debut.  I enjoy historical mysteries and this is one of my go to series.  Check out my reviews of the prior books and an author post:
#1 The Right Sort of Man (Review here)
#2 A Royal Affair (Review here)
Author Guest Post (Click here)

In Allison Montclair's A Rogue's Company, business becomes personal for the Right Sort Marriage Bureau when a new client, a brutal murder, two kidnappings, and the recently returned from Africa Lord Bainbridge threatens everything that one of the principals holds dear.  Find out how the third book in the series holds up.

Allison Montclair

Copyright: June 2021 (Minotaur Books) 342 pgs

Series: 3rd in Sparks & Bainbridge Mystery series

Sensuality: adult themes

Mystery Sub-genre: historical Suspense, amateur Sleuth

Main Characters: Miss Iris Sparks and Mrs. Gwendolyn Bainbridge of the Right Sort Marriage Bureau 

Setting: 1946 London 

Obtained Through: Netgalley

Blurb: "In London, 1946, the Right Sort Marriage Bureau is getting on its feet and expanding. Miss Iris Sparks and Mrs. Gwendolyn Bainbridge are making a go of it. That is until Lord Bainbridge—the widowed Gwen's father-in-law and legal guardian—returns from a business trip to Africa and threatens to undo everything important to her, even sending her six-year-old son away to a boarding school.

But there's more going on than that. A new client shows up at the agency, one whom Sparks and Bainbridge begin to suspect really has a secret agenda, somehow involving the Bainbridge family. A murder and a subsequent kidnapping sends Sparks to seek help from a dangerous quarter—and now their very survival is at stake."

Iris Sparks who worked for the secret service during the war is still figuring out her complicated love life. Gwen Bainbridge has been fighting to get custody of her son and autonomy over her life since her husband died. That aspect comes to a head when Lord Bainbridge returns home and goes out of his way to make Gwen's life hell on earth.  Lord Bainbridge is a self-centered privileged jerk who proves himself worse than ever.  Lady Carolyne Bainbridge is just as tormented by her husband's terrible temper and foul mood and becomes a semi-ally of Gwen's. Gwen's son Ronnie gets more page time in this outing and he is adorable. Sally, short for Salvatore, is a good friend of Iris from college and through the war. He is a hulk of a big guy and does surveillance and body guard jobs. Even his character is developed more and we understand why he continues to help out the Marriage Bureau.

First there is the murder behind the stuffy entitled gentleman's club where Lord Bainbridge has been spending most of his days and nights, then there is the new client of the Marriage Bureau seeming to keep a watch on Gwen's house, then there is a kidnapping and the danger comes too close to both Gwen and Iris.  I flew through the pages.  The mystery wasn't as defined from the start but as the story developed the mystery invades Gwen's life and Iris won't let Gwen face it alone.  the pages flew by in this character driven story.
I didn't see the major reveal coming, so that was excellent and it had some great twists as the climax unfolded. I was thoroughly entertained. The wrap-up was also well done providing some resolutions to a few of the personal issues for Iris and Gwen.

I loved this addition to the series. The personal lives of Iris and Gwendolyn intertwining in the mystery is very believably done. There is more emphasis on the characters than the mystery, but the last third of the book is thrilling and nail biting with plenty of action and danger.  The series has become known for its witty dialog and that is still the case.  As always I love the support Iris and Gwen give each other through their personal issues. It is so refreshing to see.

Rating:  Excellent - Loved it! Page turner, but best to start with book 1

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Monday, September 6, 2021

Movie Review - Enola Holmes

Movie Blurb: "When Enola Holmes—Sherlock’s teen sister—discovers her mother missing, she sets off to find her, becoming a super-sleuth in her own right as she outwits her famous brother Sherlock and unravels a dangerous conspiracy around a mysterious young Lord. Starring Millie Bobby Brown,  Henry Cavill (Superman), and Helena Bonham-Carter (Harry Potter and  King's Speech)."

What's it About?:  Enola Homes is based on the first book in the young-adult fiction series by Nancy Springer. The story is about the teenage sister of the already-famous Sherlock Holmes, who travels to London to find her missing mother but ends up on a thrilling adventure, pairing up with a runaway lord as they attempt to solve a mystery that threatens the entire country.  

Enola's mother, and therefore Sherlock's mother, raised her in seclusion to be smart and capable of defending herself.  It becomes clear that the Holmes matriarch had something planned or was hiding from somebody.  This adds to the overall mystery.

A Change Of Plans:  The movie was originally planned to be release by Warner Bros. Pictures in movie theaters, but then Covid hit.  The distribution rights for the film were then picked up by Netflix and the release was solely on the paid subscription site on September 23, 2020. 

Reviews:  It received overall positive reviews from critics (91% Rotten Tomatoes and praised Brown's performance). It was one of the most-watched original Netflix films with an estimated 76 million households watching the film in the first four weeks of release.  

Peter Debruge of Variety called the film an "entertaining franchise starter" and praised Brown's performance and found the film "more tasteful in its high-energy storytelling than Guy Ritchie's recent Sherlock Holmes.

Legal Troubles: However, the Conan Doyle Estate filed a lawsuit against Netflix over the film.  The estate claims the movie violates copyright by depicting Sherlock Holmes as having emotions.  It seems that the few stories in the Sherlock canon that were written with Sherlock displaying any emotions (in 1923 and 1927) haven't reached the 100 year copywrite expiration.  Henry Cavill said that his portrayal of Sherlock was "a lot more emotional to begin with, so we pared it back, and we said, 'alright, let's not make it too emotional'."  My thoughts on the lawsuit is that an actor does have some artistic license to portray a character and make it his.  That is what acting is all about.

My thoughts:

I love the idea of Sherlock having a sister and Enola seems perfect.  She is unexpected, smart but is still honing her deductive skills, impetuous, wily, and yet still a touch naïve and trusting.  I adore Henry Cavill's portrayal of Sherlock and how he would feel towards a younger sister.  I grant you the movie is more of an intrigue tale than a sleuthing story, but I also think it needed to wow audiences to ensure a follow up movie.  The good news is that there will be a second movie and it should start filming this fall.

Overall, it is an entertaining movie with excellent acting and the story keeps moving.  I enjoyed this far more than the Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock franchise - by far!  I loved it and highly recommend.  If you haven't seen it yet, treat yourself.

Movie trailer:

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