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The Vengeful Virgin by Gil Brewer

The Vengeful Virgin is a Hard Case Crime Novel. Originally published in 1958, it has VengefulVirginvestiges of James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice. The beautiful eighteen year old Shirley Angela has to take care of her aged, bed-ridden step father, Victor Spondell, primarily because she’s heir to his fortune and he has no one else. However, she’s lonely for a man and has devised a plan to meet one. On the pretext of putting an intercom throughout the house and purchase new TVs she decides TV repairman Jake Ruxton is the man (patsy) for her.

She tells Ruxton of the horrors of being at Victor’s beck and call. All her sexual frustrations come out after their first meeting and after having sex with her, he’s got it bad. Upon hearing how much money Shirley will inherit, he tells her that what she really wants, subconsciously, is to murder Victor and have the money to herself. He convinces her that that’s what they should do and she ultimately agrees. Ruxton, having no lack of ego, devises a plan, but, as with The Postman Always Rings Twice, things don’t necessarily go according to plan.

The Vengeful Virgin is caught between the old pulp mystery and the noir genres. Brewer’s career started with stories for the pulps in 1929 and continued through the early 1950s when he began writing crime novels. However, his stories never made it to Black Mask, the pinnacle of pulp mystery magazines and you can tell why. Although hard hitting and tough, the writing lacks something…finesse, location, I’m not sure what.  According to Twentieth Century Mystery and Crime Writers, most of his books reflect an average guy getting caught up with a beautiful, but evil and manipulative woman. So it is with The Vengeful Virgin, although, one can make a strong case that Ruxton was the evil and manipulative one. This was an OK read, but not one to make its way to my home library. (I do like the cover, though.)

Positive: A Memoir by Paige Rawl

There are books that you don’t put down because you are obligated to read them, either because of a Positiveschool assignment or a journal review, which was the case with the book I read before Positive: A Memoir. Then there are the books you don’t put down because they are so good or so absorbing you want to/need to keep reading, which is the case with Paige Rawl’s story of the middle school bullying she faced and overcame because of her HIV+ status.

At the age of three, Paige and her mother were diagnosed HIV+. Her mother contracted it through Paige’s father and passed it on to her. Their lives would never be the same. There was the regimen of pills to counteract the HIV,  and pills to  moderate the depression and loss of appetite caused by the medication. But that was their lives and Paige knew nothing different. To her, her disability or illness was no different than someone with asthma or allergies. So when she mentioned it to her best friend, Yasmine, in passing (“everyone has something”) the reaction was so unexpected. Within minutes, this knowledge was spread to other students who lost no time in ridiculing her, calling her Ho and PAID, telling her she has AIDS and making life miserable.

We all know the impact of bullying on teens. We read it in the newspapers all the time. Teen suicide is on the rise. Cutting is becoming more prevalent. It was no different with Paige. She went through all these emotions. We also know that schools are ill equipped to counteract bullying, as was Paige’s school. One counselor told her to ‘just don’t tell anyone you’re HIV+”. Another told her “to cut the drama”. She was unable to get satisfaction through our legal system as well, unable to get a trial in order to make her situation public.

Luckily for Paige, she was able to overcome this. She had a very supportive mother and some great friends who stood by her.

Listen, in my mind, bullying doesn’t even have to be directed at a person. Even commenting amongst ourselves is a form of bullying. If you see an effeminate man and make comments to your co-workers, that’s a form a bullying. If you see a man dressed in women’s clothing and whisper, that’s a form of bullying, only because you are not seeing what’s inside that person and you’re denigrating him. And what’s the next step you might take? Openly commenting?

Positive: A Memoir is a low key, eye opening book. Paige is the exception to the rule. She ultimately chose to be an anti-bullying activist and tell people her story. Most young adults aren’t able to make that leap. Most suffer alone, afraid to tell an adult or having told someone, watch as nothing is done, no or minimal action taken.

With an Introduction by Jay Asher and a list of resources and facts at the end, Positive: A Memoir is a quietly powerful book.

Happy Holidays

From my family to all of yours, we wish you L’Shanah Tovah…as my father used to say, a Happy, Healthy and Round New Year. May it be a peaceful and sweet year (this is me talking, not my dad…have to add a new tradition).

Proof Positive by Archer Mayor

When Beverly Hillstrom, Vermont’s chief medical examiner and girlfriend of Vermont ProofPositiveBureau of Investigation detective Joe Gunther, asks him to look into the death of her cousin, Ben, how could he refuse? Ben, a Vietnam War Signal Corps photographer and a hoarder, was found crushed to death under a pile of his collection. The cause of death from Hillstrom’s autopsy was inconclusive. When Ben’s estranged ex-wife is found tortured and murdered soon after, Gunther’s senses are on high alert. As they search Ben’s house, another body is found. The murders coincide with a local exhibit, organized by Hillstrom’s daughter Rachel, of Ben’s photos. Soon, a curator of the exhibit is attacked in her bedroom and the Rachel’s faculty advisor, who assisted in the exhibit, is kidnapped. Gunther surmises that the photos may be at the crux of the killings and Rachel, too, may be in danger. Gunther’s VBI team goes all out to unravel this baffling situation.

Gunther and the regular crew, Sammie Martens, Willy Kunkle and Les Spinney, are back in full force in this absorbing 25th book in the Joe Gunther series, Proof Positive. One of the things I like about this series, is similar to the characters in Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct series, these characters age as the books progress. Their personalities and life situations evolve over time. They’re not static as they are, for instance in the Sue Grafton’s alphabet series. I also love the Vermont setting: the mountains, the snow, the forests and rivers. I especially like how he talks about the industrial history of Vermont. I see that as I drive through all of New England, the old factories shuttered.

Mayor has created an interesting, unique set of criminals as well. They match wits very well with the VBI detectives. There is mystery and suspense to satisfy any reader.

I admit that I skipped a few books in the series. I just didn’t get around to reading them (too much other good stuff). However, it still felt like a family reunion. Those unfamiliar with the series will still enjoy Proof Positive immensely. The book stands alone quite nicely. A perfect book for fans of police procedurals, detective fiction and good mystery writing.

 

The Drop by Dennis Lehane

Two days after Christmas, as Bob Saginowski is walking home from his late night shift at TheDropCousin Marv’s Bar, he hears whimpering emanating from a garbage can. Investigating, he finds under the debris, a bleeding, obviously beaten puppy. Nadia, the occupant of a nearby house offers to help clean up the puppy, ultimately named Rocco after the Patron Saint of dogs. Both lonely, Nadia and Bob soon form a relationship. When the bar, previously owned by Bob’s cousin Marv but now owned by brutal Chechen mobsters and used as a drop for mob cash, is robbed the following night, the Chechens strongly advise Marv and Bob to recover the money or suffer serious consequences. To make matters worse for Bob, the dog’s psychotic previous owner, Eric, wants it back and threatens Bob, Nadia and Rocco. It is the relationship among all these characters that drives the plot.

Let me start by saying I’m a big Dennis Lehane fan. I love his mysteries and the characters. His historical fiction is good. The Given Day is a phenomenal book. So I was excited to get an advance copy of The Drop.

The Drop is an expansion of the Lehane story, Animal Rescue, included in the book boston noir. It was a disjointed story to begin with, however, and all he did was transform it into a disjointed novel. Bob, Nadia, Marv and Eric all harbor deep, dark secrets and desires. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make them overly interesting. The predictable plot and ending contain little ‘noir’ and less suspense.

There are changes that Lehane made from the short story that don’t seem significant. For instance, The Drop takes place after Christmas; Animal Rescue after Thanksgiving. Why change it?

There are oblique references to the short story, as well. In Animal Rescue the dog is named Cassius, after Cassius Clay. In The Drop, Bob mentions that he almost named the dog Cassius instead of Rocco. I’m sure that was for his own amusement, but I didn’t find it funny.

I seem to be the only one who was dissatisfied with this book. All the reviews are glowing and I didn’t realize that they made a movie out of it.

But, sadly, The Drop fell far short of my expectations. I will not follow the crowd on this one.

Zac & Mia by A. J. Betts

You’ll need your tissue box for this one folks…well at least I did. Zac has had a few rounds and relapses ofZacAndMia leukemia and is now in the hospital (Room 1) recovering from a bone marrow transplant. It’s pretty much isolation other than the fact that his mother stays with him, despite his entreaties for her to go home.

A new patient enters Room 2. Typically they’re older people but this one seems young. Since the walls are thin (6 centimeters according to Zac who is a numbers, statistics person) he can hear the arguing in the next room. When Lady Gaga is put on a continuous loop, as loud as it can go, Zac’s sure it’s a young girl. It turns out that the pain in her ankle wasn’t due to a sprain. It was cancerous.

Unlikely as it is, since they are both isolated, Zac and Mia develop some sort of friendship through the walls and notes passed back and forth via Nina, the nurse.

Zac and Mia are a contrast in personalities. Zac is the old pro at this and wishes he could tell Mia what to do–crushed ice helps, grilled cheese with ketchup when your taste buds dull due to chemo. He’d also like to tell her that statistically, her chances are 98% that she’ll be cancer free for 5 years once her treatment is over. Mia on the other hand is  mad, belligerent, despondent. Yet, at 3 AM, the cursed hour, when both are up, they communicate through Facebook.

If John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars set the kids with cancer standard, Zac & Mia by A. J. Betts is not far behind. The locale is Australia and is peppered with alpaca and kangaroos. It’s poignant, funny, sad, teary. Readers will fall in love with Mia and Zac, absolutely. While no one can understand what they go through unless they’ve been there, readers will get a good idea.

I’m going out on a limb and saying this will make my Top 10 list this year, it’s that good. So, on a day when you’re indoors, it’s dreary out, and you need to involve yourself in a book, sad story, get out your tissue box, put up a hot chocolate, put your feet under the blanket and read. You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. But you’ll be better for it.

 

Here are a few things I learned from Danger is My Business by Lee Server.DangerIsMyBusiness

1. Joseph Shaw, the man credited for making Black Mask the premier mystery pulp magazine was the only person in New York licensed to carry a sword cane. Yes, he had a sword hidden in his cane.

2. The following characters originated in the pulps: Tarzan, Conan, Hopolong Cassidy, the Shadow and Perry Mason.

3. There as actually a sport called Auto Polo. Per Wikipedia: “Auto Polo was a motorsport invented in the United States with rules and equipment similar to equestrian polo but using automobiles instead of horses. The sport was popular at fairs, exhibitions and sports venues across the United States and several areas in Europe from 1911 until the late 1920s; but it was dangerous and carried the risk of injury and death to the participants and spectators.”

4. The following famous authors got their start in the pulps: Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, Louis L’Amour and Erle Stanley Gardner.

5. An author who got his start in the pulps wrote the well known book They Shoot Horses Don’t They?

6. An assistant editor for the pulp Adventure was the first person to win a Nobel Prize in Literature. Who was it? Sinclair Lewis!

Although the title of the book implies that it is about the mystery pulps, it really covers the gamut from sci-fi to romance to adventure to mystery. Danger provides a short, readable history of the pulps, mentioning titles, authors, companies, etc. It has some anecdotes, some writing samples and a whole bunch of interesting trivia.

This is a must for pulp fiction fans.

 

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