Wednesday, September 20, 2017

My Favorite Movies about Teachers

This week my top ten list stays closer to the original subject of this blog because many of the movies on it are based on books.

I've found movies about teachers to be inspiring for many years, ever since I was a child in fact. I think I harbored an idea of becoming a teacher once, and for a period of a few years, I was sent from coast to coast to train people for the company that employed me. But the idea I had involved being something like a history teacher, where I could use many of the bizarre facts I've learned over years of reading to spark the imaginations of my students. But I don't really have the emotional fortitude it takes to be a teacher, and my path led me elsewhere.

But I can still love watching movies about teachers, and this is my list of my top ten movies featuring them. They inspired me when I first watched, and they inspire me still. This time, I've listed my choices according to the years they were released. If you click on the portion of the caption after the release date, you'll be able to find out more about the movie. Let's take a look---

1939. Looking back over a long career.

1955. English teacher in a violent, inner-city school.

1958. Clark Gable goes back to school.

1962. As pupil or teacher, Patty Duke owned Gibson's screenplay.

1967. Idealistic teacher in an inner-city school.

1967. Young female English teacher in an inner-city school.

1969. The incomparable Maggie Smith.

1988. Calculus as a way to success.

1989. O Captain! My Captain!

2007. Young teacher learns about herself and her students.

If you like movies about teachers, did I leave out any of your favorites? Which ones? (You knew I was going to ask!)

Perhaps my caption below The Miracle Worker needs a bit of explanation. I watched the film when I was young. Both Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke won Academy Awards. Although I wanted to be loyal to Bancroft, my attention was commandeered by Patty Duke as Helen Keller. I just marked it down to the girl having the "showier" role. (The movie poster makes the film resemble The Exorcist!) But in 1979, The Miracle Worker was made again, this time with Duke in the role of Annie Sullivan. Once again Duke was absolutely riveting. It didn't matter which role she had, both Helen and Annie were hers. It's as though no one could possibly understand those parts the way she did. They were in her soul.

Hmm... I feel a trip to Netflix coming up shortly! How about you?

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Dangerous to Know by Renee Patrick

First Line: "The food was too rich, for one thing."

No longer a department store sales clerk, former aspiring actress Lillian Frost is adjusting to life as the social secretary to movie-mad millionaire Addison Rice. Costume designer Edith Head is running Paramount Pictures' wardrobe department, but only until those in charge find someone they think is better. When an international scandal hits the newspapers, the two friends find themselves working together once more.

Lillian attended the Manhattan dinner party in which a maid with Nazi sympathies divulged secrets that have all of New York society running for cover and two Paramount stars (Jack Benny and George Burns) facing smuggling charges. If that wasn't enough, Marlene Dietrich's pianist in her budding nightclub act has disappeared. Lillian reluctantly agrees to look for him. When Lillian finds him dead, Dietrich blames Nazi agents, and it's up to Lillian and Edith to uncover the truth.

Reading Renee Patrick's Lillian Frost and Edith Head mysteries is like walking into Old Hollywood; you never know who's going to have a cameo role. So much of the plot is based on actual events-- like Jack Benny and George Burns facing smuggling charges-- that readers get a real sense of life in the movie industry before the U.S. enters World War II. 

For some reason, I'm having a difficult time warming to Lillian Frost, and I don't know why. I can certainly sympathize with what Edith Head had to endure-- being considered the cheapest alternative while the studio brought in a continuous round of prospective replacements. Edith is a good foil to Lillian and does provide the younger woman with sound advice. Frost's new job as social secretary helps give her the entrée into Hollywood society that she needs in order to conduct her investigations.

The writing team of Renee Patrick is adept at creating absorbing, complex mysteries that keep the pages turning. Anyone with even a minuscule interest in old Hollywood movies and stars should enjoy their Frost and Head mysteries. In fact, the books are so good that readers unfamiliar with the territory may find themselves becoming fans, too.

Dangerous to Know by Renee Patrick
ISBN: 9780765381866
Forge Books © 2017
Hardcover, 336 pages

Historical Mystery, #2 Lillian Frost & Edith Head mystery
Rating: B+
Source: Purchased at The Poisoned Pen.


Monday, September 18, 2017

Matt Goldman & Rachel Howzell Hall at The Poisoned Pen!

Sunday, September 10, I climbed aboard the Jeep and headed over to The Poisoned Pen to see two new-to-me authors, Matt Goldman and Rachel Howzell Hall. They would be talking about their latest books. Gone to Dust is Goldman's debut novel, and Hall's City of Saviors is the fourth book in her Lou Norton series-- a series that has been on my radar for a while. 

My vantage point in the back.
When I arrived, I picked up the four books that were waiting for me and headed to the table in the back. I was going to do something different for this event. It's rather difficult to juggle a notepad, pen, and camera while sitting on an uncomfortable folding chair, so I thought I'd stay at the table in the back. The way the authors are usually situated, I knew that the zoom lens on my camera would be able to get good shots, so I wasn't worried about that, and it would be heaven not to try to balance a notepad on my knee and try to write. As soon as they set up the chairs, I knew decent photos were doomed. As you can see, they weren't expecting a very big crowd, so they set the chairs in a circle, which I do not care for. (Hey, what can I say? I always preferred to sit at the back of the classroom when I was a young'un!)

Barbara Peters came in early to say hello to the authors and to see how things were progressing. She's standing in the photo above, and the woman to the left with the black and yellow backpack behind her chair is author Rachel Howzell Hall.  Once the event began with Poisoned Pen staffer Karen in charge, all the seats were filled. I'm always sad when there's a small turnout, but these events often are the most fun and informative.

Karen's introduction of both authors let us know that Hall is on the Board of Directors of the Mystery Writers of America, and she collaborates with James Patterson on BookShots. Goldman is an award-winning writer for Seinfeld, and his book Gone to Dust has been adapted for the screen and is on the market to be optioned for film. Having read both books, Karen was impressed by their bizarre crime scenes, their strong sense of place, and their irreverent sense of humor. "Both of you have a sense of humor that I found refreshing," Karen said. "More than once I found myself commenting that I hadn't heard anyone say that out loud for a while. And both of you give a very real sense of the political side of an investigation."

Matt Goldman with Barbara Peters
 "It's funny that you should say that about our senses of humor," Hall said. "We've been told that our humor almost sounded alike. I don't know if it's because we have the same editor or not!"

Karen began talking about City of Saviors. "It's the hottest day of the year in Los Angeles, and there's a dead man in a boarded-up house. Your Lou Norton is an African-American woman in a good old boys club. She's also been recently promoted, which will undoubtedly cause problems."

Hall nodded in agreement. "City of Saviors is also church-related. It's about people trying to help people. Lou is back in her old neighborhood trying to save people whom she left behind when she left to get an education."

Goldman's character Minnesota native Nils Shapiro went through the Academy but when the budget cuts came, he was caught in the "first hired, first fired" cut. Shapiro then decided to become a private investigator. "When local police find that their crime scene is a house with a body that's literally covered in dust, they don't know where to start," Goldman told us. "They haven't investigated a murder in over a decade, so they bring Shapiro in as a consultant. I've been told that this book is 'too Scandinavian' but I've never been to Scandinavia!"  

Rachel Howzell Hall (L) asking a question.
Karen then asked about each author's background. "I was a quiet kid growing up in an at-risk neighborhood," Hall replied. "I was a voracious reader. I was an observer. A lot of what I saw bothered me, but I internalized it, and the only way I could deal with it was through writing. I soon discovered that the 'dark side' interested me, and I wrote a play when I was in the third grade that disturbed many of the grownups! My first book was psychological suspense, and I've learned that the best way for me to solve the things that bother me is through my writing."

Matt said, "I was a chemistry major for three years, and I thought I'd be going to medical school. Like Rachel, I was very quiet, and I read a lot. One night some friends were going to a standup comedy place and I went with them. Then I started doing standup myself. I hated to perform, but I met a lot of people through it

"I opened for Jerry Seinfeld, Roseanne Barr, and others which led to me writing for Seinfeld. Now... I am quite introverted and most writing for television is done in a room full of people. I hated it. Then in January of 2015, both my kids went back to college. It was -11°, and I thought to myself, 'You're not going back to TV writing for a few months, why don't you give writing a novel a shot?'"

Available Now!
When Karen asked, Goldman said that Raymond Chandler was a big influence on him, especially with characterization and social commentary. Who are Hall's influences? "Raymond Chandler, Stephen King, Judy Blume, and Jackie Collins."

Matt admitted that "I didn't start reading mysteries until six or seven years ago. I was a bit of a lit snob, but I love that the mystery carries the plot so that the characters don't have to do it all the time."

Rachel said, "I have to be angry or interested in something before I'll start writing. I work full-time. I have a thirteen-year-old daughter who's heavily involved in sports. I have to outline when I write. I'm a control freak, and I need a map!

"Those CSI shows on TV make me angry," Goldman admitted, "getting in the way at crime scenes with their guns! I wanted to write a book in which those people didn't matter.

"I get a wisp of an idea, and I start writing. I'm 60,000 words into my third book, and I'm hoping it will work."

"I wish more movies and TV showed the Los Angeles that I love. I love writers who have a strong sense of place!" Rachel said.

Goldman said, "I think most people want to be brought into a world that's real and fair. I like learning bits and pieces, and I really enjoy writers like Jo Nesbo and Michael Connelly because they know what they're writing about."

Available Now!
Continuing the talk about the writing process, Hall said, "I like the fact that we can sneak all this educational stuff in because it's fun to read about it." When Karen asked her about  BookShots, Rachel said, "I got a call from Patterson's editor asking me if I wanted to do this. At first I said NO! but then I went out to dinner with my husband. We talked it over, and I realized what an incredible experience I'd be missing if I didn't do it."

First person or third person? 

Hall said, "I tried writing in third person, but it's just not my voice. I'm much more comfortable in first person. It just flows. Although if I had to write a book in the third person, I could."

"First person just felt natural," Matt added.

Hall then told us of a problem she had when writing in first person and that particular character died. She worked through the issue with her editor.

When Goldman wrote Gone to Dust, he was already contracted for two more books, so this is the first book in a series. "The second book will be about in June 2018, and the third in June 2019. Writing books is so much better than writing for TV! There is a pure voice coming through, and no one else is weighing in on what you're saying."

What have they been reading lately? For Rachel, it's Michael Connelly and random non-fiction like Darcy O'Brien's Murder in Little Egypt. For Matt, it's Rex Stout, Hamlet, and Michael Chabon's latest book.

When asked about book covers, Hall said, "I have some say on the covers. My husband is an illustrator, and covers are important to me. When my second book came out, the cover looked so much like the cover of the first book that many people didn't buy it-- they thought they already had!"

"The cover on Gone to Dust is really cool," Matt said. "It's actually printed on the book itself, and the cover is see-through acetate."

Both authors said that they loved working with Tor/Forge Books because they cared about authors, they cared about the writing, and they were very collaborative. It's always nice to hear that writers are happy with their publishers. It has to make writing just that little bit easier.

I am so glad that I went to this event. I came away with two new authors whose books I can't wait to read, and that's always a good thing.

And just one stray thought before I let you go. The body outlines on the floor at The Poisoned Pen have always made me smile. Why is it that when I looked at one on that Sunday, it looked as though the "person" died while trying to reach for the books on that bottom shelf?

Friday, September 15, 2017

An "I Cracked the Case!" Weekly Link Round-Up

If you've been ambling down this trail with me for very long, you know I've had  decades-long problems with Golden Age mysteries. One of the problems is just the way it is when one tries to compare apples with oranges. Golden Age mysteries tend to emphasize plot over character, and I'm a reader who prefers character over plot. But I keep plugging away, trying to find mysteries during that time period that I like. I seldom have success-- especially with the Queen, Dame Agatha Christie herself.

I've never been able to finish a full-length Agatha Christie mystery. She is a woman of her times, so I can find the inherent racism difficult, but my real problem with Christie has always been her smugness. As I've read her novels, I can hear her whispering in my ear, "See how clever I am? So much more clever than you, m'dear. You'd never be able to create these complicated plots!" You're undoubtedly correct in your assumption, madame, but kindly refrain from rubbing my nose in my inability.

But I keep trying because (1) I don't like to fail, (2) she is the Queen of my favorite genre after all, and (3) the television adaptations of her work are some of my favorite viewing. There's gotta be a way!

I am happy to announce that I've finally had a breakthrough. I've learned that if I stay away from novels and read her short stories that I can actually enjoy and appreciate the shorter fiction. It's as though the woman didn't have time to be smug in her short stories (although it did creep into one of the Miss Marple stories I read). I'm so pleased with myself that I'm going to mosey out to the corral and give all those links an extra carrot before I... head 'em up and moooooove 'em out!


►Books, Movies & Other Interesting Tidbits◄
►Channeling My Inner Indiana Jones◄
►Channeling My Inner Elly Mae Clampett◄
  • African wild dogs sneeze to vote on group decisions. Gesundheit! 
  • Thirty-one adventurous dogs exploring the world.
  • Prize-winning images capture birds in all their feathered glory. 
  • Stress is killing these tiny lemurs, and the story is in their hair.
  • A southern Arizona winery is mourning the death of Trevor the Peacock.
  • A mysterious Amazon animal has been spotted for the first time in eighty years.
►Fascinating Science◄

►The Happy Wanderer◄

►I ♥ Lists & Quizzes◄

That's all for this week! Don't forget to stop by next Friday when I'll be sharing a freshly selected batch of links for your surfing pleasure.

Have a great weekend, and read something fabulous!

Thursday, September 14, 2017

A High Mortality of Doves by Kate Ellis

First Line: Stanley was dead.

It's 1919, and the Derbyshire village of Wenfield is still reeling from four long, terrible years of war. Villagers have yet to come to terms with the loss of so many of their young men, and now a young girl has been brutally murdered, her mouth slit and a dead dove stuffed inside.

When two more women are found murdered in identical circumstances, Inspector Albert Lincoln is sent from London to investigate. Lincoln is fighting his own private battles: his war injuries, the death of his young son, and a wife grown cold and distant. The area is thrown into a panic with a killer on the loose, and Inspector Lincoln has his hands full with suspects whom he finds to have hidden lives and secrets.

In A High Mortality of Doves, author Kate Ellis has given us a marvelous evocation of time and place. Readers can see and feel how World War I affected Inspector Lincoln, his family, and all the villagers in Wenfield. 

The story is told by two people: Flora Winsmore, the local doctor's daughter, who yearns for freedom from her oppressive life, and Albert Lincoln, the Scotland Yard inspector who's filled with his own demons. There is much sympathy to be had for both characters as the story unfolds.

The mystery hinges on brilliant misdirection which will not please some readers, and although I wasn't completely satisfied with the outcome, I didn't find it off-putting. What did bother me was the fact that the book had "too much middle," and the pace bogged down significantly. Some judicious editing would have tightened up the story and made reaching that shocking reveal much less like work.

A High Mortality of Doves by Kate Ellis
ISBN: 9780349413082
Piatkus Books © 2017
Hardcover, 400 pages

Historical Mystery, Standalone
Rating: B
Source: Purchased at The Poisoned Pen.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The Murder Book by Jane A. Adams

First Line: Ruby was used to keeping out of the way when her mother had visitors.

Detective Chief Inspector Henry Johnstone is sent to Lincolnshire when three freshly-buried bodies are uncovered in the yard of a rented cottage. Two of the victims are identified as Mary Fields and her seven-year-old daughter Ruby, but the third remains unidentified.

Johnstone is determined to use the latest detection and forensic techniques 1928 has to offer, but his determination and modern thinking ruffle the feathers of the local constabulary. He soon fears his investigation is going nowhere...and then he's called out to another murder.

Author Jane Adams does an excellent job of portraying life in the small villages and farms of England during the Depression. Her depiction brought me right into the story. Detective Chief Inspector Henry Johnstone is an extremely goal-oriented man who, thankfully, has Detective Sergeant Mickey Hitchens with him to bring in the personal touch that makes the natives more cooperative.

The writing style of The Murder Book reminded me of Jack Webb's portrayal of Sergeant Joe Friday in Dragnet-- just the facts, ma'am. This type of delivery kept the pace moving right along even though it kept me at a distance-- and I'm the type of reader who likes being in the middle of the action. I didn't let that keep me from enjoying the mystery; however, because this is a convoluted investigation whose resolution only becomes clear due to Johnstone and Hitchens' sheer, dogged determination. 

I only had one real disappointment in this book, and it's what gives The Murder Book poignancy-- my favorite character was seven-year-old Ruby. What a marvelous little girl, and she was killed in the prologue! As a reader, it made me even more determined to learn the identity of the killer.

Those of you who like everything neatly tied up by the time the last page is turned may not like the fact that one case Johnstone is working on is not concluded by book's end. It was unclear to me whether the author was going to leave it as is, or if Johnstone would resume working on the investigation at a later date. I shall have to find out....

The Murder Book by Jane A. Adams
ISBN: 9780727886552
Severn House Publishers © 2016
Hardcover, 240 pages

Historical Mystery/Police Procedural, #1 Henry Johnstone mystery
Rating: B+
Source: Purchased from The Poisoned Pen.

A Few Red Herrings

Remember that post I did back in May about the proliferation of mystery book covers featuring crows? I had a thought cross my mind the other day (no, it didn't hurt) and did some searching.

Here are some of the results of that search, narrowed down to a dozen of the mysteries that have Red Herrings in their titles. I think you'll very quickly notice a theme. Let's take a look!

Did you notice the theme? Red herrings may be a popular plot device in mysteries, but it's rather obvious that showing fish on a cover is taboo! Out of a dozen covers with red herring in the title, there's only one that actually shows a fish. If you think about it for a second, it's completely understandable. Who wants a fish eye staring at them from the front of a book?

Now that you've taken a look at those covers, take another one. Which cover is your favorite? My favorite is Catriona McPherson's The Reek of Red Herrings, and following in second is A Plate of Red Herrings by Richard Lockridge.


Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Beach, Breeze, Bloodshed by John Keyse-Walker

First Line: Violent death is part of a policeman's job-- witnessing it, dealing with its aftermath, informing the next of kin, capturing the perpetrators, and sometimes even avoiding having it visited upon one's self.

He may have been awarded the Queen's Police Medal for his bravery in solving the crime in Sun, Sand, Murder, but Constable Teddy Creque is still recuperating from the physical and mental wounds he received as a result of that investigation. But a promotion and a medal can be great incentives, so when a woman is killed in a shark attack off the coast of a neighboring island, Teddy is happy to answer Deputy Commissioner Howard Lane's call. 

He was supposed to capture and kill the man-eating shark, but he quickly begins to suspect that the woman's death was far from accidental. Still new to everything that a murder investigation entails, Teddy has to become creative in his pursuit of justice. His only witness is a silent child who communicates in unorthodox ways, and he must also gain the trust of islanders who have learned to be reserved in order to deal with tourists. Sooner or later, all this gathering of clues and facts is going to put the British Virgin Islands' newest constable right in the path of a killer.

It is rather sobering to write this review in the days following Hurricane Irma's destruction of the two islands-- Anegada and Virgin Gorda-- that figure so prominently in Beach, Breeze, Bloodshed. John Keyse-Walker writes eloquently of island life and culture. It's so easy to visualize the scenes that take place on the islands or out on the water and diving on the coral reefs. 

Teddy Creque has done a lot of growing since the first book in the series, both mentally and emotionally. He's learned quite a bit about what being a good police officer entails, and he's very aware that his education has just begun. He has a natural aptitude for investigation, and he's even improved his skills in working with his superior officers. This character growth really impressed me, and certainly makes me eager for more books in the series. 

The mystery in Beach, Breeze, Bloodshed features some excellent misdirection, exciting action sequences, and a romantic interest for Teddy that no-romance-in-my-books me didn't turn my nose up at. Bring on the next book; I'm ready for another trip to the Caribbean!

Beach, Breeze, Bloodshed by John Keyse-Walker
eISBN: 9781250148483
Minotaur Books © 2017
eBook, 297 pages

Police Procedural, #2 Teddy Creque mystery
Rating: A
Source: Net Galley