Tzimmes (and don't forget the cheesecake and strudel) is a charming slice of Jewish life served up with a side of humor and heaping portion of panacheTzimmes (and don't forget the cheesecake and strudel) is a charming slice of Jewish life served up with a side of humor and heaping portion of panache by Art Marshall Fell. When Art contacted me through the blog to ask me if I'd like to review his short novel, I was delighted. His request was lovely--it came adorned with two music videos of him and his friend David Cross playing a bit of jazz and his bio told me that he hails from Bloomington. As I told Art in my reply, How could I possibly say no to a fellow Bloomingtonian? I couldn't and I am glad.
This short piece of fiction was delightful to read as it tells the story of Dr. Sam Landover, high school math teacher, and his trials and tribulations in brokering a deal among the Shalom Center's Board as they try to choose a new rabbi. Dr. Landover has just gotten through congratulating himself on easing himself off of the Board and getting his friend Max voted on. Time to relax! But Max finds himself unable to take sides when the other six Board members split down the middle on a vote between two rabbinical candidates. He has friends and customers on each side and he doesn't want to make anyone mad. So...he insists that Sam (who got him into this mess, after all) help figure out a way to make everyone happy. Sam uses his flair for making things up as he goes along and, miraculously, manages to find a solution that everyone approves.
Great fun and a lovely quick read. ★★★★
[Disclaimer: My review policy is posted on my blog My Reader's Block, but just to reiterate....The book was offered to me for impartial review and I have received no payment of any kind. All comments are entirely my own honest opinion.]...more
It's Not All Flowers & Sausages: My Adventures in Second Grade by Jennifer Scoggin--aka Mrs. Mimi--caught my eye on my last visit to the library.It's Not All Flowers & Sausages: My Adventures in Second Grade by Jennifer Scoggin--aka Mrs. Mimi--caught my eye on my last visit to the library. I opened it up and found an amusing tidbit and thought it would be a perfect short read for some of my reading challenges. It is intended to be a humorous look at Mrs. Mimi's life and times as a second grade teacher--with her takes on everything from administration to "teaching to the test" to parents and her "little friends" (as she calls her students). It is a book that grew out her blog (It's Not All Flowers & Sausages) and covers everything from pee jokes to her cutesy nicknames for coworkers (The Fanny Pack) and students (Goggles, Braids, etc) alike.
I'm not quite sure what happened between reading that snippet at the library and bringing the book home, but somewhere in between most of the humor leaked out of the book. Not that there aren't any funny parts...but they were few and far between and I didn't enjoy the book nearly as much as anticipated. I also have two quibbles with Mrs. Mimi, who apparently counts herself among the "Super Teachers" group at her school. First...honey, if you're going to rag on your fellow teachers for their grammar, spelling and whatnot in various handouts and presentations mentioned throughout the book, then you ought to be a little bit closer to word perfect yourself. Several places could use a better editorial eye than they received. Second, and maybe it's just me and the fact that I don't use swear words myself....but if you're a second grade teacher presenting a book about teaching second graders, then I don't expect to see swearing on every other (if not every) page of your precious tome. Surely to goodness you don't talk this way in front your little friends. But maybe that's supposed to be part of the humor.....Nah.
Overall, a fairly disappointing read that is shelved as non-fiction even though she goes out of her way to tell us that she's making things up--not real stories and not about real people (little or big). So that would be fiction, yes? Oh, well, my library calls it non-fiction and so will I...for the challenges.
The Adventure of the Eleven Cuff-Buttons by James Francis Thierry (1918) is thought to be the first novel-length Sherlock Holmes parody with "Holmes"The Adventure of the Eleven Cuff-Buttons by James Francis Thierry (1918) is thought to be the first novel-length Sherlock Holmes parody with "Holmes" as the central character. "Doc" Watson recounts Hemlock Holmes's first British adventure after they return from a three-year stay in New York City--this explains why he and Holmes sound like caricature-versions of Americans abroad. It doesn't explain why every other character--including the Earl of Puddingham and all the inhabitants of the manor also sound like they've been studying American slang.
Holmes is called to Nomanstow Towers to track down eleven of an even dozen diamond cuff-buttons which have been stolen from the Earl. The famous detective is determined to find the missing buttons...not out of any interest in justice, but in the interest of adding the enormous fee to his bank account. Holmes examines shoes and questions all the staff and family from the Earl's wife to his younger brother to his wife's elderly Uncle Tooter and from the Earl's private secretary to his temperamental French chef to his German gardener. Everyone has a theory about who might be thief--basically anybody but their honest selves.
This parody actually ventures beyond spoof to outright exaggeration--Holmes is over-the-top dismissive and not just abrupt, but down-right rude to everyone. His contempt for the Yard, as represented by Inspector Barnabas Letstrayed, is at its highest level ever. There is some humor to be found in this--but not as much as anticipated. In my opinion, the funniest bits are in Watson's asides to himself and comments to Holmes when they are alone--for while, he is outwardly a fawning, loyal side-kick, he is inwardly wondering why "it was that I still continued to swallow such talk as that, when I knew it was my duty to rise up and paste him one in the eye for his sarcasms." The book is also made--if in any sense it is--by the illustrations by Rob Pudnim. Two stars--for limited humor, Holmesian historic value, and the illustrations. What keeps it from three stars? The Americanisms--I got really tired of "hearing" Holmes say "gol-darned" and "chump" and worrying about his fee in American dollars. Three years in the States doesn't change a British subject permanently. And the mystery just wasn't that engaging--as parody or as legitimate puzzle.
...I realized that the noises in the attic had stopped. The next minute I heard them all pour down into the hall, sounding like a herd of elephants, ...I realized that the noises in the attic had stopped. The next minute I heard them all pour down into the hall, sounding like a herd of elephants, as men usually do when they're trying to be quiet. (p. 113)
Black-Headed Pins is the second book by Constance and Gwenyth Little and the first in a long line of books with "black" in the title. Their first book, titled The Grey Mist Murders, might count as a shade of black but despite the somber colors of their titles, the Little books are far from somber affairs. The ladies may deal in murders, but they are humorous, madcap affairs rather than chilling, nerve-wracking adventures.
Cozy by nature, the murders happen tidily off-stage and allow for plenty of frantic rushing about and snappy dialogue by the players. The action always takes place in drafty old mansions, hospitals, boarding houses, ocean liners--in short, anywhere that the Littles could convene a gathering of eccentric characters who seem to have wandered in from a B-movie along the lines of Bob Hope in The Ghost Breakers or my Halloween-viewing experience The Thirteenth Guest with Ginger Rogers. The heroine in each stand-alone novel runs very much to type--strong-minded and always willing to speak her mind with a sense of humor and a distinct interest in finding a man who will either do his share of the housework or who is rich enough to hire help to take care of it.
Black-Headed Pins finds Leigh Smith needing a job and having agreed to play companion and housekeeper to Mrs. Ballister. Only Mrs. Ballister didn't tell her that she holds on to every penny as though it were the last one ever minted and that they were bound for the drafty, creaky Ballister mansion in the back of beyond in New Jersey. It isn't long before "Smithy" (as she is known) regrets her decision--there is little food and less heat and no housekeeping funds to speak of. When Mrs. Ballister takes it into her head to invite the nieces and nephews for Christmas, it all Smithy can do to get the old lady to part with enough cash to provide a little Christmas cheer for the party.
The family doesn't make it any easier by arriving with three unexpected guests--but Smithy does see some possibility of a pleasant weekend. She doesn't, however, anticipate the resurrection of the Ballister family curse--which comes equipped with ghost dragging bodies back and forth across the attic floor--or that the Ballisters will start dropping like flies from "accidents." Because, you see, when the ghost starts dragging imaginary bodies around that means a Ballister will die. And once the Ballister is dead, someone must sit with it till it's firmly planted in the ground or it will start transporting itself around the house.
Mrs. Ballister's favorite nephew, John (favorite because he repairs things around the house for free), is the first to go. Liking nothing better than a home-improvement project, he heads to the roof on Christmas Day to fix a few leaks. Next thing we know he's slipped from the roof and died when his scaffolding rope accidentally breaks. Or is it an accident? That "break" in the rope looks an awful lot like a clean cut....The local town cop--Joe by name--shows up to investigate, but Smithy and her two male conquests, Berg--nephew of the house--and Richard Jones, his uninvited guest--decide to play detective themselves and try to get the bottom of things. But another Ballister will die and an attempt will be made on Berg before they finally explain the dragging noises, the scattering of black-headed pins everywhere, the bloody phone receiver, the mysterious tune on the gong, the lack of blood, and the footprints in the flower bed. Oh...and of course who engineered it all.
Like my previous read, Mayhem in B-Flat, this madcap mystery is great fun--with suspects popping in and out of rooms and dead bodies roaming through the hallways how could it not be? Smithy gets in plenty of witty one-liners and exchanges bon mots with her two beaus...all while giving the local policeman a run for his money in the detecting business. Highly entertaining and I look forward to reading the other three Little novels hanging out on the stacks.
The Great Dinosaur Robbery by David Forrest (1970) reads like it was written with a movie deal in mind. Which is convenient because Disney made a moviThe Great Dinosaur Robbery by David Forrest (1970) reads like it was written with a movie deal in mind. Which is convenient because Disney made a movie from the book (One of Our Dinosaurs Is Missing) in 1975. I've never seen this particular Disney film with Helen Hayes and Peter Ustinov, but the novel's plot reminds a great deal of another Disney film, The North Street Irregulars. As in Irregulars, we have a group of ladies (middle-aged church parishioners in Irregulars and various-aged British-born nannies in Robbery) taking on a group of down-right baddies.
In the records of crime there have been many great robberies--The Great Train Robbery, for instance--but never has there been a robbery like the The Great Dinosaur Robbery. Five very British nannies who are taking care of their charges in New York City find themselves plotting the biggest heist of them all...the lifting of a 200,000,000-old brontosaurus skeleton from the American Museum. It all begins when one of Nanny Hettie MacPhish's charges falls dead at her feet in the middle of the museum. His last words:
W-W-World security...avoid t-t-total destruction...m-m-museum...the m-m-message..microdot...room th-thirteen...largest beast...don't t-t-trust anyone...Get it to...to...G-G-God save the Q-Q-Queen.
After leaving the nursery, Lord Quincey de Bapeau Charmaine-Bott had become a very important person indeed...a member of the British Foreign Office and the most reliable, trustworthy, discreet, and fearless wearer of the Silver Greyhound, the insignia of the Queen's Couriers.
The 25th Earl carried word of a top-secret plot by the Red Chinese under Mao Tse-tung to conquer England (and the rest of the world) using the Great Leap Downward plan. He had intended to pass the information (via microdot) on to his contact under guise as a British tourist. But his fellow Courier had not arrived and Mao Tse-tung's minions had pursued him through the museum. In a moment's respite from the gang, the British lord had stashed the secret in one of the museum's displays before collapsing at his former Nanny's feet. It's up to Nanny Hettie and her band of loyal caregivers to find the microdot before England's enemies. But who would have thought it would require stealing an entire dinosaur?
This is a very silly--but fun--take on the caper crime. I mean, after all, can you really call it a crime when a bunch of British nannies are stealing a whole dinosaur in the name of Queen and Country? Not terribly realistic and definitely not a puzzle plot, but I did enjoy myself. I'm pretty sure the Disney movie has toned it down though--there are a few adult scenes (one of the nannies has a lover!) and informational bits that I just can't see making it into a 1975 Disney film. Park your realism expectations at the front cover and settle in for a fun ride with Nanny Hettie and company....
"You can drive a lorry, Nanny Emily?" "I drove a caterpillar tractor during the war..." "We heard about that," said Hettie. "At the Land Army Club they said it was the longest furrow ever ploughed....You nearly cut of Devon and Cornwall"
Carol E. Wyer is a lovely, funny lady. I have appreciated her humor since I discovered her blog before her first novel (Mini Skirts & Laughter LinCarol E. Wyer is a lovely, funny lady. I have appreciated her humor since I discovered her blog before her first novel (Mini Skirts & Laughter Lines) came out. I looked forward with eager anticipation to the review copy of How Not to Murder Your Grumpy which she arranged to have sent to me at the earliest possible moment.
In the book she offers us all sorts of tips on how to keep our husbands amused and out of our hair once they decide to retire. I'm not quite there yet, but I certainly know the male species well enough to know how they can get underfoot if they're home with their spouse too long too often. The tips she offers range from the intellectually interesting (stamp collecting, bird watching) to the interestingly obscure (Korfball, anyone?) to the downright unusual (rabbit show jumping?). And the commentary that accompanies these suggestions range from the mildly amusing to the more infrequent laugh-out-loud hilarious.
Which brings me to my take on the book....it was a pleasant enough read and it did provide amusement, but I'm afraid it wasn't quite as funny as anticipated. I have to say that I have laughed and chuckled far more often when reading Carol's blog than I did while reading her how-to book on keeping the hubby entertained. A nice quick read for a solid three-star outing which just didn't quite knock it out of the park for me.
This review was first posted on my blog My Reader's Block. Please request permission before reposting any portion. Thanks.
[Disclaimer: This book was sent to me as a review copy by the author. My review policy is posted on my blog, but just to reiterate...This review copy was offered to me for impartial review and I have received no payment of any kind. All comments are entirely my own honest opinion.]...more