Blog Posts by David

  • Hold the Breakfast Rice, Lucy: We Remembered Your Anniversary

    " 'I Love Lucy': A Celebration of All Things Lucy" by Elisabeth Edwards
    Reviewed by David Marshall James

    Quick! What's Lucy Ricardo's middle name?

    No, "McGillicuddy" is her maiden name.

    Surprise: It's "Esmeralda"!

    Oh, the things you'll learn about the Ricardos and the Mertzes in this bountifully illustrated volume celebrating the 60th anniversary of TV's greatest sitcom, which debuted in September 1951, running through 1957.

    Each episode is summarized and dated (production date and air date) with a picture therefrom; additionally, character quotes and factoids are compiled, so the reader will garner more information about Lucy, Ricky, Ethel, and Fred than the actors who portrayed them: Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, Vivian Vance, and William Frawley.

    Author Elisabeth Edwards's principal thesis is to demonstrate how the program reflected the escalating affluency of the middle class in post-WWII America.

    During the years of the show's run, more Americans were able to afford

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  • On the Christie Express-- Billions and Billions Sold

    "Agatha Christie: An Autobiography"
    Reviewed by David Marshall James

    Most novelists don't lead anything near the exciting, fascinating life that Agatha Christie did.

    Ernest Hemingway may have dashed into his wife's delivery room, but Christie (nee Miller) toted amputated limbs to the furnace from a World War I operating room.

    She traveled around the globe during the 1920s, surfing (!!!) off the coasts of South Africa and Hawaii, bumping across the Australian Outback, and crossing the deserts of Syria, Iraq, and Iran, before venturing into the Soviet Union.

    She would return to Iraq for many seasons of archaeological digging with her second husband, Max Malloran, who became immersed in the excavation of the ancient city of Nimrud.

    But, that was later, during the 1930s and after World War II.

    Agatha first married a dashing Irishman, Archie Christie, a WWI flier. He abandoned his wife and daughter, Rosalind, for another woman. Agatha even begged him to take a year to reconsider

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  • "Explosive Eighteen" by Janet Evanovich
    Reviewed by David Marshall James

    If Stephanie Plum isn't Da Bomb, she might as well be. Things are forever exploding in her vicinity.

    Generally, it's a GM. Or, a Chrysler. Or, a Ford.

    Sometimes, it's a building. Or, a temporary bail-bonds office on wheels.

    Poor Cousin Vinnie (that would be Stephanie's cousin, Vincent Plum, who once went two letters up with a duck): His bail-bonds office burned to the ground, a couple of Plum novels ago.

    Under mysterious circumstances-- wink, wink.

    Not to fret: A new one's rising in the same place. An office, that is.

    Cousin Stephanie's usually on the road anyhow, tracking down FTAs (bonded-out court-date skippers), and hauling them back to Trenton, New Jersey, PD HQ to reschedule their court appearances.

    Naturally some of those FTAs would prefer not to, and thus must be physically encouraged to do so. That's where the fun comes in, and Stephanie often has coworker Lula riding shotgun (and sometimes

    Read More »from Trentonian TNT; Or, the Further Adventures of Miss Stephanie Plum

  • "The Complete History of American Film Criticism" by Jerry Roberts
    "Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark" by Brian Kellow

    Reviewed by David Marshall James

    Jerry Roberts's volume is the most comprehensive study of American film criticism that I've encountered.

    Presented as a decade-by-decade history, from the silent-movie era to today's regrettable loss of film reviews in many daily newspapers and national periodicals, this altogether readable work weaves critics' biographies with samples of their writing, as well as commentary from other critics.

    The reader will garner a sense of who has influenced whom, who has quibbled (or worse) with whom, and how changes in the movie industry and print journalism have affected the style, content, and analytical approaches of critics.

    Roberts's book provides an excellent prelude to Brian Kellow's intensive study of Pauline Kael, film critic for The New Yorker from 1968 to 1991. Contrariwise, those who turn first to "Kellow on Kael" may well wish

    Read More »from Where Have You Gone, James Agee? Or, Whatever Happened to Film Criticism?
  • All's Unquiet on the Home Front

    "Miss Dimple Rallies to the Cause" by Mignon F. Ballard
    Reviewed by David Marshall James

    Elderberry, Georgia, is prepping for a big parade and a pageant to promote the sale of war bonds (this being 1943, after all), when a grisly discovery that has nothing to do with the Axis powers turns more than a few Elderberrians' lives into turmoil.

    In this second "Miss Dimple" mystery novel by South Carolina author Mignon F. Ballard, not everyone is overwhelmed by a cold-case murder and its resulting blackmail and skullduggery.

    For instance, Charlie Carr's and Annie Gardner's romances with their soldier-in-training amours have them-- ah-- wringing their fingers, with brief encounters stolen when the guys can manage passes from their respective out-of-town camps.

    Although Miss Dimple Kilpatrick-- formidable longtime first-grade instructor who has taught generations of Elderberrians-- is the title character, fellow (much younger) teachers Charlie and Annie share as much of the spotlight,

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  • Judge Deborah Knott: Going on Seventeen

    Margaret Maron's latest Deborah Knott mystery:
    "Three-Day Town"
    Reviewed by David Marshall James

    What better way for author Margaret Maron to have her Judge (as in District Court, Colleton County, North Carolina) Deborah Knott character cross paths with her dormant character, Lt. (as in NYPD) Sigrid Harald, than in NYC?

    Deborah has a delivery from back home, to Lt. Harald from her dying grandmother.

    So, they were going to have a tete a tete, even without a murder.

    Deborah and her husband, Sheriff's Deputy (as in Colleton County, NC-- fictitious, BTW) Dwight Bryant, are taking a much-delayed honeymoon, having lucked out with a stay at an in-law's apartment, while the current tenant is abroad.

    The apartment is located in one of those West Side (highly desirable) relics, a co-op with 24/7 elevator operators and porters.

    Here a tip, there a tip, everywhere a tip, tip.

    Therefore, a murder on the premises allows for more of a "closed door" scenario than, say, if the elevators were

    Read More »from Judge Deborah Knott: Going on Seventeen
  • Sue Grafton's Latest

    Review of Sue Grafton's "V Is for Vengeance"

    by David Marshall James

    Who would have thought that a brief (so to speak) shopping foray into Nordstrom's to scoop up some scanties on sale would plop P.I. Kinsey Millhone in such a pile o' poopie?

    That's what she gets for lingering over the jewel-toned silk PJs.

    Good Citizen Millhone has her eyes peeled on a couple of shoplifters. The first bad thing that results from her finger-pointing is her nearly getting runover.

    A Taurus to the core-us (indeed, she's fast approaching her 38th birthday-- it's 1988, K.M. time, which means she's 61 in our universe, which also means the author could pull some major "into the future that's really the past" tricks over the last four volumes in this series; okay, please don't drop any "Kinsey really died a couple of years ago" stuff down the line, 'cause readers don't like that sort of thing; better that she run off with Rosie,
    Read More »from Sue Grafton's Latest
  • "A Burial at Sea" by Charles Finch: Book Review

    "A Burial at Sea" by Charles Finch
    Minotaur, 310 pp., $24.99
    Reviewed by David Marshall James

    This fifth Victorian-era Sir Charles Lenox mystery casts him into a ship-shape story, a true-blue adventure in which he sets sail from Plymouth aboard the HMS Lucy, across the Mediterranean to Port Said, Egypt.

    Ostensibly, Member of Parliament Lenox is representing England's economic interests in the Suez Canal. Below deck, as it were, he's clandestinely meeting with a highly-placed Frenchman in order to receive secret intelligence concerning the recent deaths of British spies in France.

    However, Lenox is scarcely out to sea before one of the ship's lieutenants is knifed and mutilated, upon which Lenox is summoned by the captain to discover the murderer.

    Not that he's been doing much detecting as of late, since he has married childhood friend Lady Jane Grey.

    Wedded bliss and Parliamentary affairs having occupied and otherwise prevented him from pursuing his avocation (Lenox, being

    Read More »from "A Burial at Sea" by Charles Finch: Book Review
  • "The Barbary Dogs" by Cynthia Robinson: Book Review

    "The Barbary Dogs" by Cynthia Robinson
    Minotaur/Thomas Dunne, 328 pp., $24.99
    Reviewed by David Marshall James

    Opera performer Max Bravo of San Francisco has a return engagement that is, well, operatic.

    Factor in ghosts, figurative and literal descents into the Underworld, suicide, murder, affairs, shrieking and screeching galore, and a panoply of Grand Guignol images.

    IOW: It's the sort of thing Max lives for, on- and offstage.

    Pour him three fingers of Vermouth, then four fingers of tequila, then a sloshing snifter of Calvados. Fire up a ciggie, a cigar, a cheroot, or a little something extracted from a Ziploc in the bottom of your purse.

    He likes a good drink and a nice smoke. Otherwise, he's terribly un-PC. PC never really reached this part of the PC (Pacific Coast), anyway.

    Gotta love the scene where an "I Am Mother, Hear Me Roar" wearing pink Crocs and pushing a stroller commands Max to allow her toddlers to pet his pug, Dixie.

    To which Max counters that Dixie is being

    Read More »from "The Barbary Dogs" by Cynthia Robinson: Book Review
  • "A Piggly Wiggly Christmas" by Robert Dalby: Book Review

    "A Piggly Wiggly Christmas" by Robert Dalby
    Berkley, 258 pp., $15 (trade paperback)
    Reviewed by David Marshall James

    Hale ("Mr. Choppy") Dunbar has lost his family-owned Piggly Wiggly grocery store just off the town square in Second Creek, Mississippi, to the exigencies of economic ebbtides.

    Read: The big-box chain store out on the bypass.

    However, Mr. Choppy has been elected mayor, and is just returning from his honeymoon with wife Gaylie Girl.

    She was the girl of his dreams for many decades, during which she married a wealthy man in Chicago and had two children, then was widowed.

    So, fate has closed one door for Mr. Choppy while opening several even brighter ones, all the better to render his golden years just that.

    In this fourth "Piggly Wiggly" novel by Mississippi author Robert Dalby, Gaylie Girl finds herself not only in the role of newlywed, but also in the part of Girl Friday to her husband, seeing as how his secretary has been compelled to take an early maternity leave

    Read More »from "A Piggly Wiggly Christmas" by Robert Dalby: Book Review


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