The Mysterious Double Death of Honey Black by Lisa Hall

Publication Date: September 21, 2023

Lily Jones is an English ex-pat in Hollywood looking for her big break. She’s working as a chambermaid at the Beverly Hills Hotel and cleaning the suite where an actress was killed in 1949 when she’s transported back in time to two weeks before the murder. Can Lily save Honey Black?

I as given this book by the Book Reviewer Book Club on Facebook in exchange for my review.

 

I love a good time travel read and you can win me over with Old Hollywood anytime. I went into The Mysterious Double Death of Honey Black ready to be entertained and sure that I would like the novel. The prologue was great. We see the murder of Honey Black. Suspense is built. The promise of what is to come is undeniably sweet but the author does not carry through on that promise. What this reader was left with at the end was confusion. The ending felt abrupt as though the author had simply had enough of the writing process or the characters and was ready for it to be done.

Lily Jones is an English transplant in Hollywood in 2019 hoping for her big break. She’s working as a chambermaid at an iconic hotel where an actress was murdered in 1949 just as her career was set to take off and on the cusp of her 21st birthday. Lily is cleaning the suite where the murder took place when she’s transported to just 2 weeks before the murder. She hides in the bathroom as two women argue. The first what the heck moment for this reader is that Lily is, from the start, not a woman to pick up on context clues. She doesn’t recognize the actress, iconic in death (and also about whom she later claims to know everything available on the Wikipedia page), when she’s hiding behind the bathroom door watching her argue with her PA. This is the first of many times that Lily is simply quite slow to get what’s going on in the story. That’s great for the reader if those points are not obvious to them and we’re working through with the character but that’s just not the case in this novel

The Mysterious Double Death of Honey Black does demonstrate a real sense of place in time. Lily notes the difference in her landscape and the difference in the appearance and demeanor of those around her. Lily has chance encounters with Golden Age Celebrities as she plods through the course of the narrative that seem natural. While there are some general history missteps, they are only off by a few years and not something the average reader will pick up on. 

Many authors would take the opportunity of this kind of narrative to appropriate a real life celebrity for one of their main characters and I appreciate that this author did not do that. Unless you use the character in a way that shows deep dive their history (i.e. Louise Brooks in “The Chaperone.”), it tends to come off as a little slanderous employing rumors that persisted either in their life or after their death. Hall avoids this completely by forming new characters based on archetypes that are, generally, pretty well fleshed out.  The stereotypes in The Mysterious Double Death of Honey Black read more as the reason that we have these stereotypes than unrealistically lazy novel “casting.” Because of how well fleshed out the characters are, some readers may find Lily pretty unlikable. As mentioned, she’s pretty slow on the uptake and is mostly occupied with making hay while the sun shines (to use an expression of the day). Lily, for a lot of the narrative, seems to be unintentionally driving the plot. 

As a cozy mystery, The Mysterious Double Death of Honey Black, is standard. There is a mystery that, if you’re nota regular reader of mystery, you maybe won’t figure out too early. If you are someone that likes classic star call backs like a hometown crowd loves a singer shouting their name, this is the book for you. They are, for the most part, brushes with fame. This is a cozy mystery and technically time travel but not in a sense in which there’s an struggle really to adjust so we miss the sweet sense of danger to the main character. As Historical Fiction, it’s simply not applicable to that category and you will be disappointed. 

 

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Towel Day 2023

So it’s Towel Day 2023 and I really have nothing prepared. If you’d like to scroll back in this website, there are nearly 800 reviews. Some are good, some are bad, and some are downright embassing in their enthusiasm. I make no apologies. When I really love something, I REALLY love something. 

” Haven’t you been reading?” you might ask. I have a little. I have a frightening stack of TBR books just waiting and silently judging me. I added two books to the pile last night after attending a bookstore event. I buy the old favourites: John Sandford, Lee Child, etc… and am several books behind in each. Thankfully my Dad makes up for it by reading each new release by these authors and several others usually the week they come out. 

I have read books that I could review. That I WANT to review but life has caught up. I recently helped organize a Jane’s Walk festival in the County where I live and my day job is high demand and deeply stressful. The most hurtful thing to my reading life is that I now go to bed several hours earlier than I did when younger. 

To tie in to Towel Day, when I read it’s Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, or (yes) Douglas Adams. I need that clever humour to decompress. That’s what Douglas Adams is to me. An author with a wit that I never could posess but that I find wholly satisfying. He was an escape from a restrictive religious upbringing. My mom didn’t (and doesn’t) read so couldn’t imagine pre-screening her children’s books so never did. Lucky for me. Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy was perfect to read under the covers with a flashlight and I read it over and over again. Even now, it is the one book that I take the time to reread from time to time. I watch the BBC show which I have on DVD at least once per year all the way through.

Douglas Adams was a man that lived the dream by working with the pioneering humourists of his age and lending his genius to so many mediums and dying simply far too young. He was a man that died in his prime because he was always in his prime. My life has been and continues to be a quest to find authors that have a similiar brillance.

I will be back to writing reviews sometime soon but in the meantime when I need some light and happiness, I will turn to Douglas Adams and cherish his work and life.

 

The Principal Chronicles by David Garlick

Publication Date: December 19, 2021

The Principal Chronicles is a collection of humorous stories of one man’s childhood and career in Windsor and Essex County, Ontario.

 

 

 

Full disclosure: I am acquainted with David Garlick and his lovely wife, Linda, by way of the heritage advocacy scene in Windsor, Ontario. Though I think they’re delightful people, this will in no way color my review of The Principal Chronicles or the opinion that this book would make an excellent holiday gift for anyone in your life that enjoys an afternoon with a cup of tea, cozy blanket, and a good book.

When I started this blog in 2012, my intent was to review books with my dad. We never really synced our reading schedules and my dad, who will read 3 or 4 books at a time, often remembered books but not really specifics other than that he liked the book or didn’t. Sometimes I would catch him at a good time and include his input in the reviews. He was recently diagnosed with dementia and his memory has gotten hazy regarding what he reads if not discussed in the moment. I recently visited and we read The Principal Chronicles together laughing at the varied stories and talking about those anecdotes we found especially relatable. I usually call him “Dave” in my reviews but will refer to him as Dad in this review to avoid confusion.

Anyone can teach. It takes a special person to be a good teacher. Garlick begins his anthological memories by showing us the child that grew into that good teacher. The Principal Chronicles is sometimes fact, sometimes openly fiction, and frequently funny. The anecdotes are largely simply written and the sort of thing that you’ll tell friends and acquaintances at holiday parties in part or in full.

This author is clearly someone that has spent a lot of time around children as the patois is very natural. The flow of his narrative is clear, and the chapters follow a natural progression. There are anecdotes labeled openly as fiction. The Tornado of 1948 shows an insightful little boy who uses the faulty information that his brother (who is not as horrible as he seems in the story, Garlick tells us) has given him to navigate a teacher who isn’t as warm and fluffy as he might have experienced prior. The purpose of plot brings readers to a surprise ending that is very true of little boys talking in the dark and serves as a bit of a redemption for the antagonist and the older brother. That childlike insight makes sense earlier when you see parents giving their child the autonomy that would not be realistic these days but was once a normal routine. Dad remembers walking to the neighborhood store at 5 years old to pick up an item his mother forgot. My brother and I were not quite that young, but we weren’t much older when we’d each proudly present a nickel for a special treat.

Though it’s been a long time since I’ve read Jean Kerr (Please don’t eat the Daisies) or Erma Bombeck, I found Garlick’s style heavily reminiscent of the two authors. The anthological layout is mostly happy and mostly bright. When it does get a bit heavy, it is with purpose and serves as a mere retelling than as a sermon. One anecdote takes us post 9/11 and serves as a gentle reminder of the atrocities and that not everyone of a culture is the same. Another deals with bureaucracy in the school board with the good of the children in the balance and optics maybe or maybe not winning the day.  Each chapter is short and self-contained making The Principal Chronicles a book easy to pick up and put down again if you’re reading in precious spare moments. As readers of this blog will know, my dad is quite the fan of the short and self-contained chapter. “Good coffee refill points,” he told me.

Despite being the memoir of an educator, The Principal Chronicles is a relatable read. You need not live in rural Amherstburg, Ontario to identify with that time of year when the mice come into the warmth of a building. That said, Dad and I agreed that neither of us had seen a turkey in the wild before I moved to the area, and he visited. One fateful Canadian Thanksgiving, a flock of turkeys gathered in our backyard not far from Western Secondary School surely plotting their revenge. You may gather, I am no fan of the wild turkey. They tend to be quite large birds and, unlike the Chef at Western, I can’t contemplate cooking one up. My father shared his own story of chasing a squirrel around the halls of Brunswick High School. The principal of that school employed a similar tactic to Garlick with much different results, but it prompted quite a bit of laughter when my mother suggested that the cafeteria missed an opportunity to serve Squirrel and Dumplings (not something she would ever eat).

I will admit to a bit of disappointment not to see much mention of Walkerville Collegiate Institute in The Principal Chronicles. The school is home of Walkerville Centre for the Creative Arts, one of the region’s enhanced arts programs.  Because of the band program (and later Visual Arts), my daughter opted to attend this school rather than the one in Amherstburg from which we live walking distance. Garlick was retired by the time Alex began her freshman year, but he and his wife made a point of attending the varied shows. Seeing this retired educator in the wild, it is evident the affection that the teachers and his former students hold for him.   Walkerville is a great school filled with some vibrant personalities and I’m sure Garlick has several stories from his time at the school. Because of the nature of the truly wonderful and creative students of that institution, I’d like to think that it was the setting for Loneliness in G Minor, an especially beautiful anecdote in which Garlick encounters a student playing a violin after hours in the school foyer. This disappointment is mine alone, my father thought that the stories included were perfect and not including everything opens the author up to a follow

The Principal Chronicles is a joy to read and would make a great gift for that special someone in your life. Because I share and account with my father, I got the e-book version but it’s available in paper form from Amazon or at your independent bookshop. I know my local bookstore, River Bookshop, in Amherstburg has copies but if yours doesn’t, encourage them to stock a few. Well written and engaging, The Principal Chronicles is the right book for that special reader in your life.

 

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The Uploaded by Ferrett Steinmetz

Towel Day 2022 Review

Publication Date: September 5, 2017

The minds of the dead are uploaded into a computer afterlife from which they have full control of the living. Being alive is all in preparation to die. For Amichai a life of quiet desperation is never going to be enough. 

 

I originally bought The Uploaded because I thought that the Amazon series Upload was based on this book. It is not. They are of the same time and have the same core idea – a luxury afterlife for the dead. That is where their similarities divide. In the show, the dead are basically enjoying an eternal vacation at a luxury resort (those that can afford to do so) where there are visiting days and humans that act as their concierge. In The Uploaded the book, the dead are directly involved in the day to day dealings of the world. An example is that in order to have a residency at a hospital, a doctor must have the kind of practical time that no one could ever achieve in a natural lifetime. The sick in hospitals are treated to what they have to look forward to doing once dead but their actual ailments are dismissed and treatment minimal. The cure is death when one ascends to a higher plane.

The Uploaded is funny but quite dark. The story starts slow and is exceptionally dark. Amichai and Izzy have lost their parents and though the dead can communicate with the living via calls, the afterlife is simply too engaging and people forget about the people and lives they had outside. Amichai and Izzy are hopeful that they’ll hear from their parents and when they do it’s clear that they’re having the time of their lives and not too concerned with the mortal suffering of their offspring. Izzy soon falls ill and Amichai is sent to an orphanage. This character is not one to let life keep him down even if acting out is lowering his chances of a cushy afterlife working to level up. Amichai is not wholly likable but what we see of his world leaves us with a very real character. Anyone rebelling in that situation is going to be a bit of a headstrong jerk. It’s the only way to survive. There’s a desperation in everything to feel and to hope in a world where hope is toward what comes next.

The Uploaded is separated into two parts. The complexity of the story and the world that the author has built is staggeringly impressive. Sure, the setting is dystopian but it’s more than that. It’s an expanded reality enhanced by a real despair, The reason that I chose this particular book for Towel Day because I feel that there’s a hint of a world that Douglas Adams may have created. The characters range from the beaten down to the rebellious to the megalomaniac. There is a wealth that can be gleaned from the subtext of the stories. The Uploaded is a few stories drawn together with a common thread leading to a complete plot stream.

I did find the love story wholly unnecessary.  I think some people would enjoy it but it felt to me like it was thrown in because it was expected. I’ve heard of publishers pushing for a wider reach by including subtexts that might entice readers not typically engaged in this sort of storyline. It was a distraction but done well enough that I didn’t hate it, just found it unnecessary so I suppose that’s something.

The Uploaded is a truly dark read and it could be a lot to read it one sitting but pick it up and give it a shot and let me know what you think!

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The Girls in the Attic by Marius Gabriel

Publication Date: June 1, 2021

Maggie’s father dies and friends and family of her mother encourage her to ask her mother about her past. When she does, Maggie learns of the struggles her mother (Lola) faced as a Jewish woman in Nazi-era Germany and the extreme odds she faced of survival when the Nazi’s literally came to the door in the form of the son of the woman hiding Lola and her sister, Heidi, in her attic.

 

If you look at the Amazon description of The Girls in the Attic, its the story of Max Wolffe. Max’s father was a minister who spoke out against Hitler and was taken away when Max was young. The official story is that his father died in prison and Max’s devotion to the protection of the motherland and master race came at the hands of a Nazi who took the boy under his wing when he was tortured everyday as a result of what he believed was his father’s treason. When Max returns home after having suffered a head injury at the Russian front for what he thinks will be a recovery break, he finds that his mother has concealed two young Jewish women in his home. The only thing keeping Max from going to local authorities to turn the women in is that he knows that his mother will also be taken into custody. 

Once you get a sense of the setting, The Girls in the Attic actually goes exactly where readers will expect it to go. As Max gets to know the women they open his eyes to the atrocity of the War and their confidence that the Allies are coming moves his belief in the dominance of the Reich. Max starts to question his staunch views about Jewish people and his blind faith in the military expertise of Hitler. There are several navel gazing epiphanies from Max and Lola. 

As much as the book is billed as the story of Max, it’s really the story of Lola Rosenstein. Lola starts out, despite having been moved from home to home with her sister for their protection, a little recklessly angry. She hates Max and everything he stands for. Heidi is her voice of reason but the young woman is just angry. As time goes on, she becomes circumspect and, once they start to move through war-torn Germany, a bit world weary. The idea of death as a rest is something we hear from many survivors and rang very true. That it is Lola telling the story, the omniscient look into Max’s thought process and private conversations between Heidi and Max’s mother, Magda, are a choice. While Max’s thought process and transitions may play as an excuse for the relationship that develops between Max and Lola (not a spoiler. ANYONE reading this book will expect it), it’s not something our narrator would know and that bothers me more than it should especially as she slips into first person in the epilogue. From Lola the epiphanies tend to be regarding the hearts of man and the lack of control in her own life. From Max, they are grand gestures toward a changing attitude toward people and generally the enemies of existence that serve to romanticize him. Considering that we’re seeing him from the memory of an old woman, it makes sense that she would remember him as he should have been.

Though quite predictable, the story is interesting and the characters engaging. As odd as it may sound, Lola starts as a bit of a reckless young woman. She was protected by her parents and then protected by Heidi and ultimately protected by Max. She has suffered living in the slums and she knows what her sister went through to keep her safe but as she grows in the sense of the novel, she becomes more circumspect understanding how lucky she’s been to survive.

I enjoyed The Girls in the Attic. I have seen the reviews that cite errors. There were errors but I did not find them distracting. The story was not of the quality that I’ll seek out other books by Gabriel but it was a good, solid read and one that makes some very good points. Pick it up and let me know what you think.

 

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Brett Gets Hammered by David D’Aguanno narrated by Travis Henry Carter

Audible Release Date: May 4, 2018

Brett Cornell is called to action when someone with absolutely no morals or limits is needed. In this case, Tammy and Andy Rankin’s father has died and their stepmother stands to inherit the estate. Tammy and Andy need to pin the death on their stepmother – doesn’t matter if she had anything to do with it or not –  and there’s no better man for the job than Brett Cornell.

Brett gets Hammered is the sixth book in the Brett Cornell series.

I received a copy of this audiobook from the author in exchange for an honest review. I then did not review this book for a few years and for that I deeply apologize to this author. 

 

Brett is back and brash as ever. The self-acclaimed unscrupulous bastard is ready to break heads and bed ladies. Brett has standards though an old hag of 40 may have a shot (Brett is 36) but Tammy Rankin is right in his lane. She’s a woman he’d spend a few fun times with but the contentious bruiser at her side is a fly in the ointment so Brett is ready to focus on what he likes best – the money. Tammy’s wealthy father has died and left all of his money to his young wife cutting Tammy and her brother completely out so Tammy needs someone to dig up – or make up – dirt on the young widow. Is there anyone more fitting for the job than Brett?

It’s been a while since I last read a Brett book but his signature verbal effluence self aggrandizing in Brett gets Hammered brought it all back. Brett is always going to be the ultimate unreliable narrator. As smooth as he thinks he is and as easily as he plays it off, we see the discomfort of the people in his environment when he sits down with Tammy, stares at her chest and orders a “pair of Heinekens.” His retelling to us has him pulling off his explanation but he manages to relate the awkwardness of his audience which he attributes to anything other than his charm. 

Brett gets Hammered is a very linear read and the story is very structured. There’s a feeling that D’Aguanno knows Brett very well now (and perhaps always has). We also get the sense of the narration that Carter is quite comfortable in his role. Brett gets Hammered is the 5th books he’s narrated for this author (subsequent to this release, he narrated Beach Bum Brett). When Carter is in character, Brett is someone we all knew in the 70’s or perhaps who was a throwback to that time. Brett is a man who wants to be a caricature and as much as he tries to pull it off, as the story goes on, we see right through him. He mentions his childhood when dealing with cops later in the book and questioning why he should continue to pretend things don’t bother him. There is real growth in this character. 

Brett’s macho man throwback is going to be a lot for some readers. If you observe the people around the narrator and observe his few honest moments we are led to a potential understanding of why he’s a jackass in much of the narrative. As per usual, reality meets Brett and in this story it seems especially poignant. Got to say, once I started listening to the characterizations presented by Carter, I got a bit swept away and this was one audiobook that I wasn’t rewinding because I felt I missed something.

Well produced and well written, Brett gets Hammered is just a really solidly good story. Brett’s malapropisms are engaging. Was “said the spider to the cucumber” in a previous book because that was one that I just had to stop the book.  Is that part of my vocabulary now? It remains to be seen.

It’s a holiday weekend here in Canada. Pick this one up today. Its a great listen for sunning outside or puttering around the house. 

 

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The Ethics of Silence by C. J. Nash

Publication Date: June 24, 2021

Mason Turner is sent from Earth to the Mars Colony to investigate a murder. What Mason finds is a community entrenched in its secrets and a people divided and information a commodity that is in short supply. With everyone and time working against him will Mason uncover the secrets of the red planet?

I was given this book by the author, C. J. Nash, in exchange for an honest review.

 

Let me begin by saying that the plotline of this story is a great idea. One of my former coworkers always said “Everyone hates the new guy” and that is the first thing that Mason learns when he gets off of the space craft and meets his guide, Janet. The Mars colony wants to be left alone. They have faced obstacles that their early counterparts cannot imagine and the murder is perceived to be family business of a sort of Mason is an interloper. No one likes him, no one wants him there (even the guy who requested him) and if he’s not careful he may go the way of his long dead investigative subject.

Continue reading The Ethics of Silence by C. J. Nash

Towel Day 2021 – Douglas Adams and Monty Python

Towel Day occurs on May 25th annually and is the internet-wide celebration of the life and work of Douglas Noel Adams (1952-2001).

 

“He was a brilliant writer….maybe that’s why he hated it. He put so much effort into it” Terry Jones quoted in an article on what would have been Douglas Adams’ 60th birthday. 

Graham Chapman discovered Douglas Adams in 1974 as the result of a live show the latter had written. They started a short lived writing collaboration when Chapman’s former collaborator, John Cleese, left Monty Python in December of 1974. Adams would go on to receive a writing credit for the sketch Patient Abuse which appeared on the final episode of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Adams is one of only two non-Python members to receive a writing credit in the series. Adams also collaborated on a sketch for Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  

Continue reading Towel Day 2021 – Douglas Adams and Monty Python

The Lions of Fifth Avenue by Fiona Davis

Publication Date: August 4, 2020

Laura Lyons is a housewife in 1913 living with her family in an apartment in the New York Public Library where her husband is the superintendent. She enrolls in Columbia Journalism School and finds a new world outside of the library walls and herself where women have their own identity. When someone starts stealing rare books and her lifestyle is at risk, she has to make a choice.

Eighty years later, Laura’s granddaughter, Sadie, is hired as a curator at the New York Public Library. When rare books from an exhibit Sadie is setting up starts to go missing, Sadie starts to dig into the past and may not like what she finds.

 

Readers of my blog will know that I love historical fiction. I fully expected to be fangirling in this review when starting the book. The mystery, varied timelines, New York Public Library tie-in, sounds fascinating on paper. The paper on which it is fascinating is not the pages of this book. The Lions of Fifth Avenue is not the worst book I’ve ever read. It felt self-indulgent on the part of the author. Davis wanted this setting and timeline tie but the story and characters never really seemed to come together. This is the only book I’ve read by Fiona Davis so the rest of her books might be brilliant. Am I likely to find out? No. 

Continue reading The Lions of Fifth Avenue by Fiona Davis

Hollywood (Mini Series – 2020)

Release Date: May 1, 2021

Hollywood follows the lives of aspiring stars of various races and sexual persuasions pursuing their movie making dreams in Hollywood’s Golden Age.

 

 

 

Hollywood is piece of alternate fiction featuring 7 episodes. The miniseries follows the people involved in the making of “Peg” a reimagining of the story of Peg Entwhistle, an aspiring actress who killed herself in 1932 by jumping from the top of the “H” in the Hollywood sign, as the first major motion picture to star a black actress (Laura Harrier). Jeremy Pope plays Archie Coleman, the screenwriter of “Peg” who is both black and gay. 

There is nothing negative that can be said about the acting in Hollywood. David Corenswat as aspiring actor and desperate husband, Jack Castello, gives a heartfelt performance and develops his character drastically over the course of the episodes. Joe Mantello is outstanding as studio executive Dick Samuels who desperately fights to be a good guy in a bad industry. Continue reading Hollywood (Mini Series – 2020)