Review 2103: Kill Me Tender

When I asked Dean Street Press to send me books for Dean Street Press in December, I felt that a mystery starring Elvis Presley might be clever and amusing. This was despite my usual dislike for mysteries using an actual person or someone else’s character as the detective. So, I asked for the first book in the series. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to post my review until now, so I missed the event.

Elvis is feeling strange and unfocused since he returned from his army service. He keeps an eye on his correspondence and is distressed to learn that the president of one of his fan clubs, a young girl, died of a heart attack. Also, someone has sent him a record of an Elvis impersonator singing one of his songs, only with the lyrics horribly changed. Then, he learns that another fan club president has died unexpectedly—and both girls had a red spot on their tongues. After a third death, Elvis begins to suspect that someone is killing off his fans. Elvis feels he must get to the bottom of this.

His investigation leads him to meet colorful characters—an uncredentialed doctor serving the Black community and his beautiful nurse, a whole room of Elvis impersonators, an expert on criminology, and a hippy-like jail resident who seems to be psychic.

The humor of this novel seems to be based in strange encounters and outrageous behavior, and it didn’t really work for me. Far from the witty maybe sharp novel I expected, it comes off as a fanboy tribute.

What bothered me more, though, was that while Klein obviously researched Elvis, he didn’t spend the same amount of time checking the accuracy of his memory of 1965. For example, a 14-year-old Southern girl of the time would be very unlikely to even know the language that one character uses. Elvis’s affair with a black nurse is also unlikely. But there is at least one downright anacronism—the use of the term “serial killer” ten years before it was coined.

Characterization is mostly one-dimensional in this novel except for Elvis himself. The rest of the characters are just being put through their paces.

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for a free and fair review.

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Review 2088: Mrs. Tim Flies Home

I intended to read the Mrs. Tim books in order, but that hasn’t quite worked out, and I received this one just in time for Dean Street Press in December.

Hester Christie (Mrs. Tim) reluctantly leaves her husband in Kenya, where he is now posted, to form a household in England that her children can return to for the summer holidays. But en route she stops for two days in Rome. There she is unexpectedly met by family friend Tony Morley. Her couple days of sightseeing with him create a misunderstanding that travels all the way back to England to cause trouble for her through the person of Mrs. Alston, whom she met on the plane from Kenya to Rome.

Mrs. Tim has found a house in Old Quinings called the Small House. Although she loves the house, she finds she has a troublesome back neighbor and a landlady who isn’t to be trusted. She also meets some pleasant neighbors and helps out a young man in his romance with a nice young girl. She solves a mystery and finds out why some of the villagers are treating her oddly.

This book is another breezy entry in the Mrs. Tim series, written in the form of letters to her husband. It gets a little patronizing toward the ancient Romans (conveniently forgetting about the Inquisition), but they’re dead so they won’t mind. Otherwise, it’s an entertaining read.

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for a free and fair review.

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Review 2077: Literary Wives! State of the Union

Today is another review for the Literary Wives blogging club, in which we discuss the depiction of wives in fiction. If you have read the book, please participate by leaving comments on any of our blogs.

Be sure to read the reviews and comments of the other wives!

My Review

Literary Wives logo

State of the Union takes place in ten scenes, as Tom and Louise meet in a pub before their marriage-counseling sessions. The novel is almost completely dialogue as the couple bicker and each picks apart what the other says. Although Louise has had an affair, she says it’s because Tom stopped having sex with her. Tom says he stopped having sex with her because she was clearly uninterested.

I haven’t read a Nick Hornby novel in a while, although the ones I read I found touching and engaging, particularly High Fidelity and About a Boy. State of the Union just seems too facile to me, though, about a couple who are more interested in scoring points off each other than talking seriously about their problems. Then when they finally start talking, they clear up their problems too quickly.

What does this book say about wives or about the experience of being a wife?

It says Hornby wants someone to make a movie from his book.

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Review 2069: Mobituaries: Great Lives Worth Reliving

TV host and comedian Mo Rocca loves obituaries and little factoids. So does my husband, so I bought him Mobituaries last Christmas. Then, after listening to the podcast, I decided to read it myself.

Unfortunately for me, a good deal of the content of the book was in the podcast and in seemingly greater detail. Still, it’s a fun book to read and full of factoids.

Rocca has written not just about the lives of people, some well-known, like Audrey Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor, some whose contributions are less known, like Elizabeth Jennings (the first black woman to refuse to leave a streetcar, 100 years before Rosa Parks) or Ada Lovelace (inventor of the computer algorithm in 1843) but also of objects and concepts that are not longer with us—the belief in dragons, Prussia, the station wagon, alchemy, and other medieval sciences. Obviously, this book, while not at all comprehensive, more notional, is wide-ranging. It is also fairly funny, and its asides, quips, and incidental factoids remind me of some of the works of Bill Bryson, although Bryson is a better prose stylist.

In any case, the book is enjoyable to read and provides plenty of fodder for trivia buffs.

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Review 1836: Rhododendron Pie

Ann Laventie comes from an artistic and elegant family, all of whom are witty and have excellent taste. All, that is, except for Ann, who thinks they are wonderful but likes ordinary things and people. While her family disdains their solid Sussex neighbors and stays away from them, she likes them, especially the large and noisy Gayford family. Still, she feels she must be at fault.

A young film maker, Gilbert Croy, comes to stay and pays Ann a lot of attention. After Ann’s sister Elizabeth moves to London, Ann goes to visit her, convinced that she is in love with Croy and determined to come back engaged. But once in London, she begins to notice things. Her brother Dick’s sculptures, for example, all look alike. She absolutely adores a girl that everyone in her siblings’ group of friends shuns.

Rhododendron Pie is Margery Sharp’s first novel, and it’s quite funny as it explores the bohemian world of her upbringing versus the more mundane. Ann is an appealing heroine, and frankly I liked the Gayfords a lot better than the Laventies, especially in their reaction to Ann’s engagement. Her mother, though, an invalid who is mostly just a presence in the novel, gives a wonderful speech at the end. A fun one from Margery Sharp. I’m glad to have read it for my Classics Club list.

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Review 1821: Berry and Co.

I hadn’t heard of Dornford Yates until a friend gave me a copy of Berry and Co. Apparently, Yates wrote a series of books about the same characters called the Berry books. This one was published in 1920.

The characters are Boy, the narrator, a major but certainly no longer serving; his sister Daphne, who is married to their cousin, Berry; and their cousins Jonah and Jill, all wealthy young people who live together at Whiteladies in Hampshire.

There isn’t really much of a plot to Berry and Co. In fact, I would have taken it for a collection of short stories except that it is clearly labeled a novel. Each chapter consists of a little adventure or some sort of prank, and the only recurring plot has to do with Boy flirting with a series of young women until he finally settles on one.

The novel is certainly meant to be funny and light-hearted, similar perhaps to Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster series. Now, I do love a Jeeves and Wooster, but I did not much enjoy Berry and his pals. In fact, the reason I bring in the Jeeves books is because comparing them helped me understand why I liked one much more than the other.

Of course, Bertie Wooster and his pals are always getting themselves in ridiculous situations or pulling pranks similar to the ones in this novel. Here’s the difference. Bertie is essentially brainless, but he is also good-hearted. Almost all of his tangles result from him trying to help out a similarly dim-witted pal.

Berry and his friends, however, are highly intelligent, and their pranks tend to be mean-spirited. Sometimes, they are aimed at nasty characters, but other times these idle people, who have to be pushing 30 by 1920, just don’t like the way someone looks or is dressed. In other words, it’s a class thing.

I didn’t enjoy most of these jokes, which seemed juvenile, like something they would have done in college. Further, the zippy narration is periodically interrupted by rather florid descriptions of the scenery that don’t seem to belong to the same novel.

The characters, with the exception of Berry, aren’t very distinctive. They all engage in the same kind of banter, and a lot of time is spent with them rolling in laughter or trying to suppress it. Frankly, my favorite character was Noddy, a Sealyham terrier with a lot of personality.

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Review 1818: Quichotte

I was fairly sure I was going to hate Quichotte. I did not much like Midnight’s Children or Don Quixote for that matter, which Quichotte retells. However, this novel is part of my Booker project, so I opened it with hope.

Quichotte is Ismail Smile, an elderly consumer of all things TV who becomes infatuated with Salma R, a young TV star. He decides to go on a quest to earn the love of his beloved. This is a road trip, and for a partner he takes Sancho, his imaginary son. To add another layer, Quichotte is himself an imaginary character, created by Brother, a writer of spy novels who has decided to change his genre.

This novel is one full of circumlocution. As we meet each character—and we meet a lot of them—we go off on the tangent of that person’s life story. Further, there are lots of subplots, for example, the one about Smile’s cousin and employer, whose pharmaceutical company has developed a drug even more dangerous than OxyContin and who has himself developed a similar model to that of the makers of Oxy, delivering it in huge quantities to small rural communities.

The genre for this novel is fantasy and of course satire. Fantasy is not my genre, and although I wouldn’t have thought the same was true about satire, I have not enjoyed the satirical entries on the various shortlists. They all feel the same to me: ponderous, overblown, and written by old men. Definitely lacking subtlety. Even the reviewer from The Guardian remarked that the book was funny but not as funny as Rushdie thought it was. That is exactly how I feel about it, except I didn’t think it was very funny. I sensed Rushdie winking all the time.

Still, I was enjoying parts of the novel, although it didn’t seem to be getting anywhere. Then Sancho decided he wanted to be a real boy, and guess who popped up? Jiminy Cricket. At that point I had to restrain myself from throwing the book across the room (only because it was a library book), and I stopped reading.

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Review 1808: The House in the Cerulean Sea

I have to confess to having picked this book out because of its cover and title. What a great word “cerulean” is.

Linus Baker is a caseworker in the Department in Charge of Magical Youth. He goes completely by the book, which may be why he is selected for an unusual task—to investigate the orphanage on the island of Marsyas where seven magical orphans live under the tutelage of Dr. Parnassus. He is instructed to report everything.

On the island, he meets Dr. Parnassus as well as Ms. Chapelwhite, a sprite who helps with the cooking and care of the house and children, and the seven orphans. These unusual children include Lucy, the six-year-old Antichrist.

This novel is well written and occasionally amusing, but I don’t read much fantasy, and when I do, I have high requirements for it. This isn’t really my genre. But my biggest problem with it was trying to decide who it was written for. It reads like a children’s book and its sense of humor is juvenile. However, Linus and Dr. Parnassus have conversations on such topics as Kant and I think it was Schopenhauer that would certainly be above most kids’ heads, and he uses vocabulary (like “self-flagellation”) that seems aimed at adults. In addition, the novel features a love story between two middle-aged men, which doesn’t seem as if it would appeal to even gay children, so more for adults. But the tone of the piece smacks of children’s literature, and not necessarily good children’s literature.

Finally, though, the novel was just too saccharine to appeal to me. I ended up reading about 2/3 of it but eventually decided that I wasn’t invested in the outcome. The kids were cute but kind of one-dimensional, although I thought the concept of Lucy was clever and sometimes funny.

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Review 1806: Harlequin House

When Mr. Partridge decides he needs a holiday, he just walks off from the Peters Lending Library, leaving it closed. He may be an older man with a shape like an egg, but he is lawless. Wandering around the seaside town of Dormouth Bay, he spots Lisbeth Campion and follows her. Lisbeth is the type of girl that men are always following. He not only follows her, he has tea with her and her aunt.

Later that night, he sees Lisbeth getting into a car with a man. He gets in the back. Finding they have landed in London at midnight, he learns that Lisbeth has been looking for her brother, Ronnie, who through a misunderstanding, of course, has been in prison for delivering cocaine and is just out. Ronnie claims he thought it was baking powder.

Although Lisbeth is engaged to a fine, upstanding captain in the army, Captain Brocard wants to ship Ronnie to Canada with a small pension, as he has never successfully kept a job. Lisbeth has other plans, though: to rehabilitate Ronnie so that the captain returns to find him an upstanding citizen with a job.

Using Mr. Partridge’s five pounds, the three find a modest lodging in Paddington and set out to find jobs. And they find very odd ones.

Harlequin House is a charming, silly comedy. It made me laugh.

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Review 1801: Classics Club Dare! The Grand Sophy

The latest Classics Club Dare is to read something romantic for February, so I have chosen The Grand Sophy from my list.

When Sir Horace Stanton-Lacey unexpectedly arrives at Lord Ombersley’s home to ask his sister to take charge of his daughter Sophy for a while, he discovers a depressed household. Lord Ombersley’s gambling debts had almost overrun the establishment until his son and heir, Charles Rivenhall, inherited a fortune from a distant relative. Charles “did something with the mortgages” and paid off the debts, and now he is trying to get the household to economize.

Charles is also engaged to Eugenia Wraxton, whose outward sweetness hides a self-righteous and meddling disposition. Her plans to occupy the family home after the wedding depress everyone except Charles.

By the time Sophy arrives, the announcement of her cousin Cecilia’s engagement to Lord Charlbury has been delayed by his having contracted mumps. Cecilia now thinks herself in love with Augustus Fawnhope, a devastatingly handsome but vague young man who fancies himself a poet.

Sophy arrives like a breath of fresh air. She brings a monkey and a parrot to entertain the children, a shy greyhound, and a fabulous black steed to ride. She immediately realizes that the family needs her help. And she never shirks her obligations.

Sophy is a firecracker of a heroine, and The Grand Sophy is one of Heyer’s most beloved novels. There is lots of fun to be had as Sophy’s stratagems twist and turn the plot. The novel is a re-read for me for the Classics Club, but I loved it this time just as much as I did the first time I read it.



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