Thursday, July 25, 2013

Why Shoot a Butler?

Why Shoot a Butler?
by Georgette Heyer

Publisher's Blurb:
Every family has secrets, but the Fountains' are turning deadly… 

On a dark night, along a lonely country road, barrister Frank Amberley stops to help a young lady in distress and discovers a sports car with a corpse behind the wheel. The girl protests her innocence, and Amberley believes her—at least until he gets drawn into the mystery and the clues incriminating Shirley Brown begin to add up…

In an English country-house murder mystery with a twist, it's the butler who's the victim, every clue complicates the puzzle, and the bumbling police are well-meaning but completely baffled. Fortunately, in ferreting out a desperate killer, amateur sleuth Amberley is as brilliant as he is arrogant, but this time he's not sure he wants to know the truth…
My Reaction:
I seem to find all of Georgette Heyer's mysteries enjoyable reading, and this was no exception.  It's only a very light mystery, but the reading was (overall) a pleasant experience, with the requisite dash of romance that you'd expect from this author.

More Specifics:
-- "After all, why shoot a butler?  Where's the point?"  One character voices the book's title, and it seems to be a popular opinion among the entire cast of characters.  A bit arrogant, don't you think?  Why shoot a (mere, humble, boring) butler?  Surely even a lowly butler has his own life and his own secrets-- and is every bit as capable of making an enemy as the lords and ladies he serves.

--  "...sort of fellow who drinks his bath water.  Damned bad-tempered."  What in the... I don't know what this means, really.  Well, based on the "bad-tempered" part I can make a guess, but the drinking his bath water... Weird.   Where does that come from?

-- Collins is described as looking like "a typical villain"-- and for whatever reason, I kept picturing him looking like Blackadder (Rowan Atkinson).  I guess Blackadder does have some fairly villainous characteristics, so that fits.

-- At times, Anthony feels very Bertie Woosterish, which is always nice in a character.  (g)

"But you are not an unbalanced person.  This youth is."
"What-ho!" said Anthony, gratified.  "The old brainbox full of grey matter, eh?"
"I didn't say that," Amberley answered.  "There's a difference between the unbalanced and the merely feeble-minded."
 --  It feels odd when Amberley is addressed as "Frank".  He should never be called by his first name.  (Same thing goes for Mr. Darcy in P&P.)  Speaking of Amberley, he would be insufferable in real life.  As a character in a book, I can put up with him, though.

-- "...why doesn't she have him put into one of these homes you read about where they set out to cure people of wanting liquor?  Not but what that does seem a crool sort of thing to do, but there you are!  What can you do for such a young boozer?" 

--  So the British spell "skeptical" with a "c"!  "Sceptical" just looks wrong.

--  Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy.  Sounds like a cheerful volume to have on the bedside table!  Also mentioned:  Disraeli's Curiosities of Literature, which is probably much less interesting than it sounds.

--  "I have been looking over your books.  My dear sir, are you aware that they are all arranged according to size?"  Bwahahahaha!  Well, and what of that?!

--  This was definitely one of those mysteries where the reader and the author are in on a lot of secrets that elude most of the characters for much of the book-- the brilliant Amberley being the exception, most of the time.

-- "...woman with a face like the back of a cab."

--  Shirley asks, "He's rather an uncompromising person, isn't he?" ...and his aunt replies, "But he's so good to animals, my dear."  Ha!  ...But yes, that is a good sign.

--  "Well, I'll thank you to remember that this ain't Daytona Beach, sir."  How long have they been racing on Daytona Beach?  I guess it's been a while!

--  There's quite a bit of violence and death in this book, for a "gentle"/old-fashioned mystery.  Not much happens "on screen", and the gory details are mostly passed over, though.

-- Amberley's looooong explanation scene seems to drag a bit. 

The Shadow Over Innsmouth

The Shadow Over Innsmouth
by H.P. Lovecraft

My Blurb:
A young man on a sight-seeing vacation chances upon a strange seaside community in 1920s Massachusetts.  Innsmouth, as it's called, has rather a sinister reputation, locally, and our narrator is about to find out why...

My Reaction:
This was my first time reading H.P. Lovecraft.  I remember one of my high school friends reading something of his and recommending it, though, and then Donald read this one and suggested it...   So I gave it a try, too, and yes, I found the story interesting.  Based on this, I may read more, at some point.

It's been a week or two since I read the novella, but I didn't feel like bothering with blogs while on vacation, so I'm just getting around to this now.  As a result, my reactions are a bit dim.  (Memory like a steel trap?  Not for some a great many things, apparently...)  I rely on a few random notes for the rest of my "review".

Spoilery Random Notes:
-- "'I guess they're what they call "white trash" down South-- lawless and sly, and full of secret things.'" I hadn't realized that term had been around so long.  Now I wonder when exactly it did originate...

--  At some point, at least parts of what was happening in Innsmouth became clear-- as must have been intentional.  The bus driver has "odd, deep creases in the side of his neck", for example, and I made a note-- "Gills, perhaps?"... Then there's a longer physical description of the man-- "narrow head, bulging watery-blue eyes that seemed never to wink, a flat nose, a receding forehead and chin, and singularly undeveloped ears... long thick lip and coarse-pored, greyish cheeks seemed almost beardless".  My note: "Yep.  Dude's a fish."  ...And so he was.  ;o) Well.  Sort of.

--  Of the bus driver's skin:  " places the surface seemed queerly irregular, as if peeling from some cutaneous disease."  Aw, the poor guy's got ick.

--  A bit odd that the "charm" stones are marked with "somethin' on 'em like what ye call a swastika nowadays".  Yes, I know the symbol has been around a long time, etc., etc.  But still.

--  "A wave of almost abnormal horror swept over me..."  Well, sir, can I trouble you to tell me what degree of horror is normal, then?

--  One complaint-- There were an awful lot of maplike details, attention to road names and intersections, etc.  That sort of thing is always hard for me to visualize.  I don't even bother trying, honestly, unless I get the impression that it's critical to the plot.  Maybe that's a "woman thing", but I tend to have a decent sense of direction and good spatial reasoning... so I suspect that it's mostly just boring writing.

-- My big question:  If the narrator is now turning into a fish-frog-man and is starting to think longingly of going out to sea... If he thinks it's so great, now, why did he write of his earlier experiences with horror and disgust?  Or are we to assume that he's written it over a period of time and has only recently begun to undergo a mental change?  (I can't recall if there's any indication of how long the writing has taken him...)  Anyway, it seemed strange that he'd be rational (well...) throughout the whole thing, then suddenly in the last paragraph or two go, "Oh, what the heck!  Everybody into the pool and all hail cthulhu!"

-- I got my free copy of this e-book from  It was free, so I shouldn't complain, but there were quite a few typos.  Be prepared to do a little deciphering. 

Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Madness Underneath

The Madness Underneath
(The Shades of London, #2)
by Maureen Johnson

Publisher's Blurb:
When madness stalks the streets of London, no one is safe…

There's a creepy new terror haunting modern-day London.
Fresh from defeating a Jack the Ripper killer, Rory must put her new-found hunting skills to the test before all hell breaks loose…

But enemies are not always who you expect them to be and crazy times call for crazy solutions. A thrilling teen mystery.

My (Spoiler-Filled) Reaction:
A quick and thoroughly enjoyable read!   However, I think the blurb is somewhat misleading. This book felt much less case-driven than the first.  The ghost-hunting seems to take less precedence than the character development... or character-propulsion from one stage of life into another-- and that's fine with me.  (For instance, do we ever actually confirm that the weird ghost Rory dispatches from the pub's basement is what really killed that man?  Honestly, I don't care.  I shamelessly admit that I was much more interested in Rory and Stephen than anything else in the book.)

This is definitely an "in-the-middle-of-a-series" book.  There are so many problems and issues left unsettled.  That's always frustrating, when the next book won't be out for months.  But it was still an entertaining tale, and I'm curious to see what happens next. 

Random (Spoilery) Thoughts:
--  The bit about Rory petting a stuffed (dead) dog made me laugh.  I wasn't expecting that.

--  Someone "shook her head in understanding".  I can't picture that.  I think of a head "shaking" (left to right as opposed to up and down) as a signal for "no"-- or in this case, incomprehension.  Someone should nod if they want to indicate understanding, imho.

--  The long bit about how Rory may have a "higher tolerance for crazy talk" than most because of her "background"... Fine, she has peculiar relations.  Maybe it runs in the family.  But then there are all these weird neighbors, too.  "I would be fully absorbed into the crazy wavelength of BĂ©nouville.  Left to my native kind, I would get strange."  I can't recall if the first book mentions her hometown as especially kooky-- stranger than surrounding towns-- but I hope so.  I really don't like this idea that some writers seem to have that the South in general (and Louisiana in particular) is filled with more than its fair share of oddballs.  (Possibly I'm a bit too sensitive about this type of thing, but someone has to defend the South from these bizarre stereotypes.  This obscure little blog is obviously the best place to do so.)

--  When Rory gives up her cell phone, she realizes that she doesn't actually know anyone's phone number, because the numbers are all just stored in the cell phone.  Yep, that's one of those modern problems related to everyone relying so much on technology.  People-- young people in particular, I'd imagine-- don't bother memorizing phone numbers.  But what if you lose your phone... or it's stolen... or broken... and you need to make an emergency call from a borrowed phone?  We really ought to make ourselves memorize the numbers of at least a few key contacts.  (Fortunately for me, my cell phone isn't very "smart", and I'm not reliant on it for much, so I have a few numbers well ensconced in my memory. (g)  On the other hand, I've never sent a text message, and navigating my cell phone's menu system is way more difficult for me than it ought to be.)

--  I guess she was vulnerable at the time, with all those problems piling up on top of her, but it seemed odd that Rory would be so gullible as regards Jane and her brilliant plan for running away.  But, hey, marijuana brownies, so... I guess marijuana brownies can be a plot device useful in explaining away all sorts of erratic or illogical behavior in characters.  ;o)

--  Okay, so the author isn't from the South, obviously.  She has Rory tell a story about how she ran away from home as a little girl, and where she ran away to was Kroger, where her aunt was manager or something.  Only, I live in Alabama and have never laid eyes on a single Kroger that I can recall.  So I don't think they're that common in the South.  Apparently there are some in Southern states, but not many (yet).  I think there's only one in Louisiana.  ...Anyway, just a little thing, but it would've been better if she'd chosen a grocery chain more common to Southern states.  Winn-Dixie?  Or if she wanted to be disgustingly cutesy, Piggly Wiggly.  (g) 

--  The description of how to dial a number on a rotary phone?  Yes, I guess modern YA readers would never have done that, but... it's not exactly a fresh observation.  I'm an old-timer with vague memories of when we replaced the main/kitchen phone with a touch-tone model.  And-- oh gosh, that loooooong curly cord!  It was luxuriously long, to reach all around the kitchen, so you could talk while cooking.  Because of course we didn't have a cordless phone, back then.  You'd stand there and play with the cord while you spoke-- stick a finger through the spiral, or wrap the cord around your finger or arm.  Cordless models give you nothing to fiddle with while you talk. 

--  There's reference to a "bobble hat".  I looked it up online, and-- is really just a toboggan with a pompom on top?  How disappointing.  With a name like that, I was expecting something much more unusual.

--  It felt like Rory might as well never have gone back to school.  She was just floating along-- barely there at all-- and clearly, the only reason for her to go to school was so she had an excuse to get back together with the ghost hunting team.  The going-back-to-school was just a stepping stone into whatever's going to happen in the next book. 

--  I should've known what was coming with Stephen.  I knew there wasn't much left of the book-- and that he'd hit his head-- and then he and Rory had their "breakthrough".  But still, somehow, I wasn't expecting it.  And even when they called the ambulance, I was expecting that he'd be in a coma for a while in the next book.  The others would have to carry on the work without him.  There would be an emotional scene in the hospital after he finally woke up.  But no, he's dead, and now they've tried to make sure he'll be lingering as a ghost.

--  What's next for Stephen?  My guess is that they'll find him, eventually.  Not sure where or how, but Rory will find him.  Since she can interact with ghosts-- even physically-- in theory, they could even pick up their relationship where it left off.  Well, except that if she touches him, she'll zap him, and he won't be around anymore.  So they'll probably have something about that for a while.  (Flashbacks to Pushing Daisies.)  Eventually, maybe Rory will find (or stumble luckily into) a way to transfer her "ghost-killing power" into an object... or another person.  (Callum?)  But what kind of life can she really have with a ghost?  He'll never age.  She'll never be able to introduce him to most people in her life, get married, have kids.  Stephen would never go along with that.  Unless they find a way to bring him back to life (doubtful), I'm not sure how they get a happy ending. 

-- The next one's not out until sometime in 2014, unless they push it back even further.