Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Mystery Review: Time Out


 


We're posting today as part of another Great Escapes Free Book Tour!



Title: Time Out (Dodie O'Dell Mysteries #2)
Author: Suzanne Trauth
Publisher: Lyrical Underground, 2017. 240 pages.
Source: Free electronic ARC as part of the blog tour.

Publisher's Blurb: 
The amateur actors at the Etonville Little Theatre may be known for chewing the scenery, but restaurant manager Dodie O’Dell has something more appetizing for them to sink their teeth into. She’s been taking bows in her small New Jersey town for her theme menus, designed to complement the local productions. This fall, the community theatre is staging Arsenic and Old Lace, set in 1940s Brooklyn, so Dodie is serving up hot dogs, Italian ices, egg creams, and knishes at the weekend food festival.

All is going well until Antonio Digenza, the ex-Off-Off-Broadway director of the show, dies dramatically while noshing on a knish. As rumors of food poisoning quickly spread, Dodie scrambles to rescue the Windjammer restaurant’s reputation. But when clues point to foul play, she’s faced with a cast of suspects all auditioning for the part of DiGenza’s murderer. She’ll need to act fast to shine a spotlight on the killer—before it’s curtains for another victim . . .

My Review:
Time Out is a solid mystery with a few issues that kept me from truly loving it. The main characters are interesting and fairly well developed (I did feel I was maybe missing some things because this is the second in a series, and I have not read the first). The town felt real, and there is a nice touch of humor in the writing.

I did, however, get off to a poor start with a dump of too much information about the town, the theater, and the people in the first few pages. Once I got that straightened out, the story moved along well. My deeper criticism is a common one for cozy mysteries: I didn't feel that Dodie's motivation for running her own investigation was adequate. At first it was justifiable--she needed to clear the restaurant of any culpability in Digenza's death, and the police chief was a little too willing to accept the man's death at face value--but later, I felt that the effort to make Dodie's failure to share information with the police was a bit contrived.

I also fully expected the worst, as she kept insisting on doing things like searching the theater on her own, even after she'd been attacked twice. That was a bit too much like the horror movies where the heroine insists on entering the dark room alone...

With all that out of my system, I have to say that the mystery was well-constructed. I didn't figure it all out, and yet didn't feel that I'd been cheated of information that I should have been given. In the end, despite my frustrations, I have to say I generally enjoyed the book, and it was certainly no chore to read it. In fact, once past the first few pages, where I did have to do some flipping back and forth (most annoying with an e-book), I zipped through it quickly.

My Recommendation:
If you enjoy cozies with a decent touch of romance, and especially if you have any interest in theater (I've done just enough to get a kick out of the theater group's antics), you'll probably enjoy this.

Suzanne Trauth, Harvard Studio, Montclair, NJ. 06/27/2014 Photo by Steve Hockstein/HarvardStudio.comAbout The Author

Suzanne Trauth is a novelist, playwright, screenwriter, and a former university theatre professor. She is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and the Dramatists Guild. When she is not writing, Suzanne coaches actors and serves as a celebrant performing wedding ceremonies. She lives in Woodland Park, New Jersey. Readers can visit her website at www.suzannetrauth.com.

Purchase Links
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FTC Disclosure: I received an ARC of Time Out from Great Escapes Free Book Tours, and received nothing further from the writer or publisher in exchange for my honest review.  The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."  
 

Monday, January 16, 2017

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and in honor of the day I decided to look over and review some children's books on his life. I won't claim that these are the best, or even very carefully selected. I did what most kids or parents would do: went to the children's biographies section of the library and picked out the most promising-looking books of what was there (I'm sure there are others that were checked out). I got three rather different books. Here are my thoughts, in brief, on each.

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Title: Free At Last: The Story of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Author: Angela Bull
Publisher: DK Publishing, 2009. 47 pages.
This is a fairly conventional biography, at about a 3rd grade (8-year-old) reading level. It has sidebars with information about things mentioned in the main text, from slavery to the invention of television, and ample illustrations to engage less-adept readers.

The biography is well-written, and includes the more challenging parts, like Martin's inability to keep the protests from breaking into violence at times, and his own sense of frustration. We see the conflict that divided him from President Johnson over the Vietnam war, and of course read about his assassination. The information is, as far as I can tell, accurate if a bit sanitized.


Title: Martin's Big Words
Author:Doreen Rappaport; illustrated by Bryan Collier
Publisher: Hyperion Books for Children, 2001. Unpaginated picture book.
This is a book for younger children, with a nice twist. In addition to the simple text summarizing the highlights of King's life, each page includes a quote from his speeches, Martin's "big words." These are chosen to be understood by children, but have a lot of power in the context; the author has chosen carefully and well.

Bryan Collier illustrated the book with strong images that are a mix of collage and watercolor. All together, this is a  beautiful book that is a good introduction to the man and his cause, suitable for children of all ages.

Title: As Good as Anybody: Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Joshua Heschel's Amazing March Toward Freedom
Author:Richard Michelson; illustrated by Raul Colon
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf, 2008. Unpaginated picture book.
This book takes a little different approach. It begins with the boy Martin, growing up with prejudice and Jim Crow laws, and the efforts of his parents to comfort him about it, and tracks him through the 1955-56 bus boycott, to 1965 when he called for "all of God's children" to join in the march from Selma to Montgomery. At this point, the story switches to Warsaw, Poland, well before WWII, and a young Jewish boy named Abraham Heschel. The author deftly uses parallels (even the exact same words) as Abraham also deals with unreasoning prejudice and laws limiting his freedoms.

Heschel immigrated to the US at the start of the war, and was doing his own marching for justice when Martin put out his call. The book gives us a beautiful image of the two meeting, becoming friends, and marching side by side, at the head of what became 25,000 people on that march. A final page of the book offers a more prosy summation of the key events that followed, through Martin's death to Abraham's.

In many ways, though there are fewer facts and details, I thought this was the best of the three books. The illustrations are good, though not as much to my taste as Collier's (above). But it's the story that did it for me, the reminder that injustice affects all sorts of people and that we need to stand together to fight it. It's a good book for these times.

Recommendation:
It doesn't matter what book you chose, but read up on the remarkable life, and the work he did for racial equality, voting rights, and civil rights, because it's all under threat. And it doesn't hurt to take away the message of all standing together for what we know is right.

FTC Disclosure: I checked all three books out of my library, and received nothing from the writers or publishers for my honest reviews.  The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising." 

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Flash Fiction Friday: When Worlds End

Chuck Wendig is finally back on the job with our weekly challenges, and for reasons that don't take a lot of parsing, our challenge this week was to write an apocalypse. We weren't supposed to do the usual apocalypse, though, but instead to come up with a whole new sort, which I didn't really do. Instead, I picked up on something he said about writing "your uniquely-you" apocalypse, and that got me to thinking about how one person's world can end while everyone else's goes on. I was also thinking about the book I just finished about "Wicked Women" of the frontier, and got some ideas going in my head. So you don't really get a story about an apocalypse, just one human's personal end of the world, in right about 1000 words.

When Worlds End

I read the book of Revelation when I was a little girl, and found there a story of how the end of the world that turned out to be rubbish. Well, I don't actually know that. It’s just that we don’t get to see THE WORLD end very often. But I know that worlds end every day. What matters is what happens next.

My world ended on a March afternoon on a pass in the Rocky Mountains, standing in the snow next to what was left of a train. An avalanche had come down and caught the tail end of our train, putting a halt to forward progress for the time being, as everyone gawked over the edge of a cliff .

“It’s not so bad. Just the caboose and one car,” the conductor said. "Not the end of the world."

“It sounded like the end of the world when that snow came down, but I reckon you're right. Joe wasn’t in the caboose,” the fireman answered, and they walked off.

It wasn’t much to them. But that car had been carrying passengers, the ones with cheap tickets. It had gone over the cliff under a load of snow, and I wasn’t fool enough to think anyone in it would be dug out alive, if they were dug out at all. But I wanted to run down there anyway, because that car had held my world: my family. That one car lost was the end of the world, as far as I was concerned.

I wasn’t dead because I was always wandering off when I shouldn’t, as Ma would say. Only, this time, I guess it was good that I did, though just then I wished I’d died when the world ended.

But I’d been off in the observation car with the friends I’d made in my wanderings. I wasn’t supposed to be there, but Belle and Suzy were bent on showing me the sights. I guess they hadn’t had a youngster to play with for a long time, and we were having a good time admiring the new snow, when we got knocked down by a sudden stop.

I don’t think I understood how completely my world had ended until the rescue train came. That was when the railroad people discovered that I was supposed to have been in the car that was lost, and that now I was an orphan. I probably wasn’t supposed to hear their discussion of what to do with me.

“We can take her on into town and find someone to take her in.”

“Let Belle and Suzy take her with them. Kate’s always got room for one more.”

“She’s too young. Look at her. Just a skinny kid!”

“Some like 'em that way.” The men shrugged and moved off, leaving me shaking with cold, fear, and fury.

I wasn’t stupid. I’d learned a lot from Belle and Suzy on the long train trip, and I knew what they did for a living. I remembered Belle telling me, “The ones with weird tastes, those are the ones to watch out for. Me and Suzy, we’ve learned. We won’t do any of that. It just leads to a heap of hurting.” I was pretty sure that a skinny 12-year-old would be in for a heap of hurting in their business.

So before I even got on that train, I vowed that whatever I did, I wouldn’t go to Kate. I’d find my own way.

I started by insisting that they not put me off the train in that tiny mountain town. Our tickets had been through to San Francisco, and I wouldn’t take no for an answer. Then I said that the railroad owed me for the luggage I’d lost. I got lucky there.

The storm that ruined our train trapped everyone in town for a week. The one hotel wasn’t big enough to give me a room of my own, and since I wouldn’t let them send me to the “boarding house” with Belle and Suzy, the railroad folks found a couple from the train to take me in.

The luck came when I found out that Mr. Carlyle was a lawyer. He had his own grudge against the railroads, though I never found out what it was, and he said he liked a challenge. So he set to work on my case, and he didn’t drop it or me when we got to the coast. I went on staying with him and his wife while he fought the railroad, and got me a nice cash settlement, not just for my baggage, which was all I’d thought about, but for the loss of my family. I didn’t think the weather was the railroad’s fault, but Mr. Carlyle said that the pass was known to be unsafe in winter, so it was a matter of poor judgment to have sent the train over it in a snowstorm, and he made the case that they did it to save the cost of delays, and for a wonder the judge agreed.

With the winnings, I set myself up in business. That wasn’t easy to do, being female and young, but I was stubborn. I also let Mr. Carlyle help me. He was male and old—fifty, at least—and it wasn’t so hard for him. Never mind what business; it was profitable and I was good at it.

By the time I was 16, I was had built a new world from the remains of the one that ended on Rollins Pass. I’d grown and filled out, and I could pass for 21, which let me take control of my empire when Mr. Carlyle died that winter. I promised to take care of his widow, and I did, even after the world ended again.

It wasn’t just my world that ended that April. The flames that ate San Francisco after the earthquake devoured my business and my home, and sent me to a tent in Golden Gate Park with Mrs. Carlyle in tow. Plenty of people thought it was the end of the world, but I knew better. Worlds never end, not really. And this time I knew how to rebuild.

###

I'm sorry I have no photos of a train in the snowy mountains. But here are a couple of a mountain train ride, followed by some nice snowy terrain!




©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2017
As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated!