Friday, March 17, 2017

What I Read in January 2016 Part VIII

What I Read in January 2016 Part VIII . . . 

Miss Dimple Disappears by Mignon F. Ballard -- Historical Cozy Mystery

Miss Dimple Disappears (Miss Dimple Kilpatrick #1)
Big changes have come to the small Georgia town where Miss Dimple has taught first grade for 40 years. Since World War II broke out, the men have been leaving, many former students and some never to return. For third-grade teacher Charlie Carr, that means a decided lack of men. For now her beau Hugh is still around but she knows it's only a matter of time before her overcomes his mother's objections and marches off to war. She isn't sure how she feels about that or making a commitment to him. She tries to focus on her job and not think about Hugh, her brother, her best friend's brother and she tries not to resent her younger sister for marrying and moving away preventing Charlie from leaving their widowed mother and joining the WAACS or WAVES. Early one morning Charlie arrives at school to discover the furnace hasn't been lit and the trash cans have not been emptied. The staff is shocked to discover the janitor, "Christmas" Wilson dead in the storage closet. He had strange wounds on his head and part of the school's wooden eagle mascot has broken off but the police are mysteriously tight lipped about the cause of death. Then Miss Dimple fails to show up for work. Faithful in her duties for 40 years no one expected her to miss a day let alone leave town without telling anyone, but where could she be? Charlie and her best friend Annie are determined to keep pestering the police for answers while Charlie's mom and Aunt Lou take it upon themselves to investigate.

This story resembles a classic mystery novel with a bit of romance thrown in. The major focus of the story is Miss Dimple's disappearance. The writing style is a little odd. Each chapter begins with the thoughts of one specific character before switching over to omniscient point-of-view. Even so, we don't know the identity of the villain/s or where Miss Dimple is until the final clues fall into place. I didn't find the plot all that engaging but I had a hard time putting the book down until I found out who the villain was. Some of the period references are really forced into the story, especially the pop culture references. Other period details are seamlessly woven into the story which I really liked. There may have been mistakes in the rationing timeline but no one except for those who studied rationing intensely will probably notice or care. Charlie's romantic dilemma didn't really interest me much. The romance is clean with a kiss or two. Charlie does wonder what it would be like to make love with Hugh but they don't make it past the friendship mark.

There were too many characters to keep track of in this novel. The main characters are Miss Dimple, Charlie and her best friend Annie. Charlie is a bit hard to know. She's rather reserved for the most part. She loves her family, seems to like her job well enough and had big dreams about life beyond small town Georgia. Her best friend Annie is lively, fun and quotes Shakespeare. I loved her instantly. She's the kind of person I'd like to be friends with even if she's a bit nosy. Miss Dimple is the type of woman she likes to read about in mystery novels. She's intelligent, brave, and non-nonsense. She never panics and is always resourceful. I liked her well enough but found her a bit prim. Charlie's mom, Jo and Aunt Lou provide some comic relief. Aunt Lou is so funny. She's spunky, sassy and full of get up and go. She's an older version of Annie. I liked her very much.

I didn't care enough about the characters or the town to want to read more of this series right away but next time I need something to read I may look for the next book in the series in the library.

Death on the Prairie (Chloe Ellefson Mystery, #6)Death on the Prairie by Kathleen Ernst--Historical Cozy Mystery

Chloe Ellefson is excited to speak at the Laura Ingalls Wilder symposium. As curator of a living history museum, she understands that though fiction, the Little House books described the exact historical processes of daily life on a farm: milking cows, churning butter, sewing, etc. Knowing how much Laura Ingalls Wilder means to Chloe, Miss Lila, a family friend, shows her a quilt said to have belonged to Laura. If Chloe can prove it, she'll be beyond thrilled but she needs documentation. Sadly, Miss Lila meets with misfortune and is unable to help. Chloe will need assistance from Laura Ingalls Wilder museum curators. She has no idea there are so many but embarks on a road trip with her Laura-loving sister Kari in search of Laura. The sisters meet other Laura fans along the way, including Hazel, a sweet little old lady and her awful husband Wilbur, and Alta, the operator of Laura Land Tours. The trip gets off to a bad start when first Chloe overhears someone confronting Alta and Wilbur bullying Hazel. Next a man dies in front of Chloe! Then her boyfriend Roelke drops a major bombshell on her. Roelke is thinking about buying his grandparents' old farm and would love for Chloe to move in with him. That's more than she's prepared to think about at the moment. As the trip progresses, mysterious disturbing events occur with eerie similarities to the books. Chloe will learn more than she ever knew about the real Ingalls family, her own family and her dreams for the future.

I HAD to read this book. Like Chloe, I grew up obsessed with Laura Ingalls. Unlike Chloe, I was only 5 years old in 1983 when this book takes place and being too young to read, a fan of the TV show. Also, unlike Chloe I actually bothered to read a biography of Laura my grandparents brought me from one of the home sites. My biggest problem with the book is how little Chloe knew or wanted to know about the real family. I had to keep reminding myself that this was 1983 so Chloe doesn't have the Internet or any connection to any of the home sites. I didn't find this book as well-written as Kathleen Ernst's middle grades novels. Perhaps because of the setting - a road trip and year 1983. Her middle grades novels are all set before the end of WWII and she takes a lot of care to incorporate every day life details that may be unfamiliar to young readers. I found the constant search for payphones repetitive and a little annoying. The details are still there, lingering traces of the 1970s and of course the lack of cell phones and Internet. The road trip part didn't really appeal to me either. Not enough time was spent actually visiting the Ingalls home sites and not enough time was spent in examining the quilt. The mystery was the primary focus of this story. I did like the brief visits to each of the sites and the tantalizing promise of what was inside those museums. I would love to visit at least Mansfield one day.

Chloe sure would have benefited from a cell phone with 4G and Google as she attempted to figure out the mystery. The mystery kept me guessing and I could not put the book down. I just did not know who the villain or villains could be. One guess seemed to obvious and another guess took me in a direction I didn't want the characters to go in. I liked everyone on the LLT and the hangers-on except for those who were antagonistic. I was very surprised by the plot wrap up. What I didn't like about the mystery was Kari's problems. Her sister is dating a cop for goodness sakes! HELLO earth to Kari! I did feel bad for what Kari was feeling but her plot was too much on top of the other mysteries that needed to be solved. I also wasn't super crazy about Chloe's reaction to Roelke's plans. I would have preferred that the plot focus exclusively on the Laura Ingalls Wilder mysteries but this is a part of a series and other readers may be happy to catch up with their favorite characters.

Chloe is my kind of woman. Her response to stress and unhappiness is to binge on chocolate - the good Swiss stuff. She's a chocolate snob and I'm not really. I do agree that European chocolate is much better than American. Chloe isn't as stupid and clueless as cozy mystery heroines usually are and I appreciated that she's smart, dedicated to her career and of course, a Little House fan. I could relate to those aspects of her personality but she was hard to really like. There was just something about her that didn't quite make her a kindred spirit. She was a bit cold with her sister. Her constant jealousy was petty and annoying. Kari is also selfish and annoying at times too. I would never ever go on a road trip with my sister. We'd kill each other. Roelke sounds like the perfect boyfriend and she was kind of not very nice to him. He's a good guy, kind of quiet but he feels things deeply and cares about Chloe very much. He's a good cop and really wants to help the community.

The LLT tourists were mostly all wonderful. They were a diverse cast of characters who had individual personalities but united by a common bond. I especially loved Hazel and her personal journey. Alta grew on me a lot despite the brightly hued sunbonnets. Though Leonard was unpleasant. he did have a valid point about the novels but his argument doesn't hold up for the real Pa Ingalls. Jayne was very nasty and the character I loved to hate as much as Chloe did, though I have heard that argument before.

I think Chloe and other Laura lovers searching for their lost youth would like The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie by Wendy McClure. This novel is sort of the murder mystery version of that memoir.

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