Book Review: Porter Girl: Sinister Dexter by Lucy Brazier (@portergirl100) # book review #murder mystery #British university

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This is the third mystery in the Porter Girl series set in, as the author describes it, “the ancient and esoteric Old College.” The first-person voice is that of the Assistant Head Porter (a position the author once held) and the story is a fun-filled adventure with wildly colorful characters (almost neon) and lots McGuffins. My kind of mystery.

This time out, Porter Girl – I’ll call her PG – faces two terrible events: the discovery of the bodies of two young men, one of them an Old College student, at the bottom of Old College’s garden and a complete lack of biscuits in the Porter’s Hall, with only three tea bags left. Of the two, PG is taking the latter most seriously.

A new Bursar, Dexter Sinistrov, has been hired by Old College, and he is a riveting personage. His first priority was to cut the catering budget, although judiciously so that the cuts affect the Porters’ food heavily. The author knows how to create a slimy character. Sporting a bizarre haircut (shorn at the back but sweep of black hair over his forehead), he sneaks around old college in shiny, pointed shoes and he clearly has it in for PG. The Dean, whom we’ve met before and an excitable personage with a gigantic imagination, thinks the Bursar is a Russian Spy. Coming to investigate the deaths in this cloistered academic enclave is the formidable DCI Thompson, who is constantly at odds with the Dean. Things escalate when a young woman student dies under similar circumstance to those in the College, but on the other side of Old College’s garden wall.

PG is faced with confronting the Bursar about the lack of biscuits and tea, dealing with the Dean and his proposed investigation, assisting DCI Thompson in his work, and recruiting some students she knows to discover more about the victims. The Head Porter is mysteriously absent for most of the duration, so PG is faced with running the College from the Poster’s Hall as well.

What I enjoy so much of this series (I’ve read them all) is PG’s character and voice. She is snarky, smart, observant, and never averse to adventure. Her voice is wonderful and fun, much like the author herself. The plot is tightly imagined, the characters pop, and the dialog crisp and academic. I am smitten with these mysteries and you will be, too!

About the author 

 Adapted from Amazon: Adventurer. Puzzle-solver. Expert tea-maker. Lucy Brazier started writing to entertain herself during childhood as the internet did not yet exist. Later on, she had a punt at writing to entertain other people and pulled it off rather well.

From an interview with the author Dan Alatorre: Her books derive from the fact that on a whim, she applied for the role of Deputy Head Porter at one of the most prestigious Colleges of Cambridge University. She didn’t expect to get the job, but when it was offered, she thought it churlish to refuse and became the first female Deputy Head Porter in the College’s 600 year history. She believes she was absolutely the worst Deputy Head Porter the College had ever seen, and she hung up her bowler hat after a year. But her experiences inspired her blog and the Porter Girl series of fictional adventures (Porter Girl: Keeper of the Keys, Porter Girl: The Dark Lord).

You can find Lucy Brazier

On twitter: @portergirl100

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/lucy.suzuki.3?fref=ts

Blog: https://portergirl.com/

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Book Review: Over My Dead Body by Christoph Fischer and David Lawlor (@ch_fischer) #cozy #mystery #Eurovision

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This is the second in the Bebe Bollinger series by Christoph Fischer. The is sleuth is once again the charming, talented and a bit snarky Bebe Bollinger, an early 60s chanteuse with a remarkable career behind her but fighting to be back in the spotlight.

It is quite a change up from the first book, the author having chosen the setting to be Eurovision, the longest-running annual international TV song competition, held in a different country each year. I have to admit I didn’t even know Eurovision existed until I started to read this book, but I learned a lot.

Bebe is colorful, intelligent and one of my favorite characters. When her friend Bonnie Tyler (think Holding Out for a Hero and Angel of the Morning) is chosen to represent the UK at Eurovision, Bebe jealously watches the pre-publicity trail for Eurovision in Malmö and discovers a string of odd accidents happening to several participants in the competition. This triggers her detective antennae and she decides to attend the event. Going there also allows her to assess the suitability of a Eurovision appearance for her own career.

The author does an incredible job describing Eurovision, with its countries’ representatives, both new and seasoned, the outrageous costumes, lighting, and most of all the crowds and the carnival atmosphere. I know he’s been to one or two!

We again meet Beth, now a former police detective with a drinking problem who does legwork for Bebe when she is otherwise occupied, and Bebe’s grasping and selfish daughter Helen, who shows up at the festival and promises to ruin Bebe’s renewed and growing reputation. Bebe somehow gets herself into the middle of the action, singing a version of one of Bonnie’s songs on stage with another vocalist and being asked to judge the competition, as well as be a presenter on the day of the event. While her status grows, contestants continue to fall until it becomes clear that what Bebe suspected all along: these are no accidents.

Bebe deals patiently and with aplomb with nasty TV reporters and career climbing presenters, but ultimately begins to think she may be the next target. I honestly did not know who dunnit or why until the very end.

For fans of Bebe Bollinger, mysteries with a colorful and detailed setting, followers of Eurovision, or women of a certain age (like me), this is the book for you! I anxiously await the next book to find out what happens with Bebe’s career.

About the author

christoph-fischerChristoph Fischer was born in Germany, near the Austrian border, but moved to Hamburg in pursuit of his studies and to lead a life of literary indulgence. After a few years he moved on to the UK where he now lives in a small town in West Wales. He and his partner have three Labradoodles to complete their family.

Christoph worked for the British Film Institute, in Libraries, Museums and for an airline. He is a prolific writer: The Luck of The Weissensteiners was published in 2012; Sebastia‘ in 2013 and The Black Eagle Inn also 2013 completing his Three Nations Trilogy.  He then published two contemporary novels Time to Let Go and Conditions in 2014. The sequel Conditioned was published in 2015, along with a medical thriller The Healer. Two more historical novels, In Search of a Revolution and Ludwika came out in December 2015.

You can find Christoph in many places:

Website: http://www.christophfischerbooks.com/
Blog: http://writerchristophfischer.wordpress.com/
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6590171.Christoph_Fischer
Twitter: @CFFBooks, @WriterCFischer
Twitter: https:/twitter.com/CFFBooks
Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/christophffisch/

 

Pilgrim History: What Did the Pilgrims Have to Eat During Their First Years in the New World?

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This is a re-post, slightly changed, of something I wrote in 2017.

I don’t think I fully understood the situation with food for the Pilgrims until I started research for The Last Pilgrim.

The Pilgrims did not bring any large livestock with them on the Mayflower. The only animals mentioned in any historical reports are two dogs, an English mastiff and an English spaniel. However, they must have brought some chickens because of chicken broth being mentioned, and possibly some goats and pigs. By 1623, a visitor to the colony reported there were six goats, fifty pigs and many chickens.

The Fortune was the second ship to reach the Plymouth Colony, but other than the passenger manifest, I’ve been unable to find any mention of animals aboard. The first cows arrived on the ship Anne in 1623, and they were nicknamed the ‘Great Black Cow,’ the ‘Lesser Black Cow,’ and the ‘Great White-Backed Cow.’ By 1627, two of them had had calves.  Onboard the Jacob in 1624 were four black heifers. By May 1627, there were 16 head of cattle and at least 22 goats living in the colony.

So the Pilgrims initially had a source of eggs, possibly some pork (after the pigs had offspring) and maybe a bit of goat’s milk; however, they had no butter, milk, cheese or cream. They had no flour, except for what they brought with them, and that would undoubtedly have been moldy after so long in the Mayflower’s lowest deck. After the first year’s corn harvest, they would have had corn flour.

They did plant barley (for beer) and peas in the spring of 1621, but the plants did poorly, possibly because, unlike the corn, they lacked fertilizer. The Pilgrims were taught how to grow corn by the Wampanoags, specifically Squanto – two fish were planted with a few corn kernels, and squash was planted around the corn stalks when they were tall enough, to shade them from the sun. The Indians also taught them how to fish and hunt. Remember that the Pilgrims were not farmers but craftsmen and tradesmen, used to purchasing their food, and they knew little of survival skills. How amazing is it then, that they survived?

In his journal for the year 1622, William Bradford, governor of the Plymouth colony, recorded the landing of new colonists from England. Bradford confessed that he and his fellow colonists were humiliated that they had little  better to offer the newcomers than lobster, which the Indians had taught them how to cook.

Pilgrim woman making dinner                                                             from http://www.Plimoth.org

One thing I’ve found is that Plymouth Harbor teemed with fish of all sorts, and the nearby streams had eels. In fact, I used to play in one of them (aptly named Eel River) when I was a child. There were abundant wild turkeys, swans, geese and ducks, and deer and rabbits in the forests. Plus there were mussels, clams and lobsters – the latter so common that they could be plucked by the bushel from the nearest tidal pool.

In considering what the Pilgrims ate, you must consider what was normal for the time: beer, bread, meat and cheese. English settlers looked on seafood – except for oysters – with scorn.  The Pilgrims wanted meat, not anything from the sea. They weren’t trained as fisherman and had brought the wrong size fish hooks. They had to fashion some when it was clear they would need fish to fertilize their corn and feed their pigs.

With regard to drink, beer was the preferred drink for the whole family, even children. It is possible, from some of what I’ve read, that a few families in Plymouth brewed a small amount of beer from barley. Most had to drink water, which at that time was considered unhealthy! Eventually the colonists realized their children remained healthy, despite drinking water instead of beer. Milk was not considered good to drink either, and was usually made into butter or cheese, or cooked with grain to make porridges.

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From all this, it is clear Plymouth colonists’ main goal was to get food on their tables, in order to survive. Most of the work that they did — hunting, fishing, farming, gardening, cooking, and taking care of their animals — had to do with getting and preserving food, enough for the whole year.

While you think on this, imagine a diet without dairy products, flour, sugar, spices, oil, vinegar, wine and barley for beer. While these staples eventually arrived yearly on ships from England, the Pilgrims’ first two years were hard! And yet, after the first winter, they were a hale and hearty population – perhaps because of a healthy diet?

A New Writing Challenge: A Historical Novel

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As many of you already know, I am working on a historical novel entitled The Oldest Pilgrim. I am toying with the idea of changing the title to The Last Pilgrim. In any event, it is the story of Mary Allerton Cushman, the longest surviving person to come to the New World on the Mayflower – dying in 1699 at the age of 83, certainly a long life for a woman in those days.

You might wonder why I would tackle this particular history. The reason is that I grew up in Plymouth, played the roles of several Pilgrim girls in the Pilgrims Progresses, which were held for tourists on weekends, and later became one of the first tour guides at Plimoth Plantation (which was created two doors down from my home!). Along the way, I learned a lot and my interest is still there!

Women in the 17th century were in many instances little more than chattel, the society being patriarchal. But I believe the women of the Mayflower were strong and fiercely determined to survive, or at least provide that their children would survive in this new and challenging land.  Although they did not have a voice in the governance and major decisions regarding their settlement, its survival rested on their shoulders as much as on those of the men.

I had trouble with the voice at first, since how can one describe the horrors of the voyage in the words of a four-year-old? Finally, I decided to tell the tale first in the voice of her father, Isaac Allerton, who as it turns out, is quite a character, and then, as she reaches maturity, in Mary’s voice. She marries Thomas Cushman, who becomes one of the leaders of the colony, so through his relationship with her, I can follow the colony’s history.

I am loving the research for this book – right now I am deep into 1621 – the struggles with finding food and the interactions of the Pilgrims (they called themselves Separatists – the name Pilgrim came much later) with their Indian neighbors. The Pilgrims’ story is as much that of these neighbors as theirs.

There were thousands of Indians of various tribes living in the area of what is now the state of  Massachusetts. The Pilgrims’ immediate neighbors were the Wampanoags, who lived in villages spread out over a wide area and which gave them their local names. The Wampanoags had been decimated by disease during the 2-3 years before the arrival of the Pilgrims, and indeed, the decision to settle at the site which became Plymouth was made because the land there had already been cleared and it had a fresh running stream. The Indians who had lived there were Wampanoags called the Patuxet, but they were now all dead, leaving the site advantageous for the Pilgrims to build their colony.

The Wampanoags taught the Pilgrims how to plant corn, fish and hunt, and where to find wild foods – these Englishman were not skilled at survival!

Further south and east lived the Nausets. These were the first Indians the Pilgrims encountered after they moored in Cape Cod Bay and went exploring for a site for their settlement. They were also the Indians from whom the Pilgrims stole corn. Since several of their young men had been kidnapped by a previous English explorer, the Nausets were not kindly predisposed to the Pilgrims.

To the east of the Wampanoags lay the Narragansetts, an Algonquian tribe living in what is now Rhode Island. Their language was Algonquian and was largely unintelligible to the Massachusetts and the Wampanoags. They were the most powerful tribe in the area, having been largely untouched by the epidemic that killed so many others.

To the north of the Wampanoags lay the land of the Massachusetts tribe, which had often threatened the Wampanoags.

The leader or sachem of the Wampanoags was called Massasoit. He was the first to sign a treaty with the Pilgrims, which guaranteed that his tribe would help defend the Pilgrims in case of attack, and the Pilgrims would do the same for the Wampanoags. In this way did Massasoit ensure the survival of his much-reduced tribe.

The Pilgrims, under the leadership of their governor, William Bradford, signed treaties with the leaders of these various tribes to ensure their peaceful co-existence.

I promise to share more snippets of Pilgrim history as I go along, and I hope you will find my eventual book as interesting as I am the research!

Book review: Gypsies, Tramps and Weeia by Ella Boca (@elleboca) #RBRT # urban fantasy

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This book was reviewed for Rosie’s Book Review Team and was purchased by the reviewer.

Elle Boca is the prolific author of seven books about Weeia, and three in the Marshalls series, of which this is the first. Although I have not read the previous books, it was easy to immerse myself in this one.

The Weeia look like normal humans but they possess special powers for the sole purpose of protecting humans and Weeia alike. Their lifespan is longer than humans, but they are subject to the same dangers. Marshals are trained to police Weeia hiding among humans.

At the opening of this story Danni Metraeux, who, while constantly bullied at the academy, completes her final exam and becomes a level 3 Marshall. The bullying is the result of something that happened to her family, but it’s not explained, so I was left wondering exactly what had marked her. Expecting to be given an assignment in a backwater place, Danni instead receives a plum assignment to Paris. Arriving there, she discovers why the assignment isn’t plum: her housing is less than substandard, her immediate superior isn’t interested in working with her, and her predecessors all died.

Nevertheless, Danni, who is strong, persistent and inventive, gradually overcomes all the negatives and finally – one her own – discovers a purpose for her being in Paris: to find a missing Weeia man in the underworld of gypsies and tramps who also populate the city.

The author does a good job of creating a three-dimensional protagonist with special powers and a whole host of tangential characters: a sort-of boyfriend named Ernie, who as second to the school’s Weapon Master, supplies her with the weapons she needs for her work; her BFF Marla, with whom she can share her troubles, both at school and in Paris; Odile Marmotte, an overly-made up matriarch who handles the day to day affairs of Weeia Marshals and is largely dismissive of Danni until Danni stands up to her; and the handsome Alain, who takes her on a tour of Paris on a motorbike, introducing her to the city. Of course, there is also Paris, and the author makes the city real and immediate.

In Paris, Danni comes into her own, as her growing powers allow her to be successful. I did like the paranormal aspects of the Weeia and enjoyed this world the author created.

There were a few issues for me, in addition to wondering about Danni’s parents. The pacing of the book was somewhat uneven. The testing of new marshals at the beginning started the book at a good pace but was followed by a lot of background information slowing the story. The tempo finally picked up around the middle of the book.  The author does a great job with action scenes – I just wish there were more of them!

This book will definitely appeal to readers interested in the colorful world of a paranormal race, and there are two more books in this series.

About the Author

Elle Boca is the author of the Weeia urban fantasy series about superhumans. The Unelmoija series is set in Miami. In the Garden of Weeia, a novella, is set in Portland, Maine, and her newest Marshals Series is set in Paris, France. Growing up the only child of a monkey mother and a rabbit father she learned to keep herself entertained and spend time reading.

You can find the author on

Twitter: @elleboca

Her website: https://elleboca.poyeen.com/

You can find Gypsies, Tramps and Weeia on Amazon:

https://www.amazon.com/Gypsies-Tramps-Weeia-Marshals-Book-ebook/dp/B01A01R5SI/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

Book Review: A Clerical Error (A Yellow Cottage Vintage Mystery) by J. New #RBRT #Vintage Murder Mystery

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This review was written for Rosie’s book review team and it was purchased by this reviewer.

A Clerical Error is a cozy, the third in the Yellow Cottage Vintage Mystery series. I read the second in the series, The Curse of Arundel Hall, so I am familiar with the setting, and I was looking forward to this next adventure. What appeals to me about these books is the historical setting, the paranormal aspects of the stories, and the fact they are cozies.

The Yellow Cottage series is set in the 1930s, and the author is developing her characters and the back story with each further adventure. Following the death of her husband, Ella Bridges moves to Linhay Island, spurred by a strong suggestion from her husband’s boss, the British Home Secretary, that she move away and forget her husband. She takes up residence in a refurbished cottage that was once a part of the Arundel Hall estate – a cottage inhabited by ghosts. In this volume, only Phantom, a cat ghost and companion to Ella, remains. Ella develops a reputation as something of a local sleuth, following her solution of a murder in the previous book.

In A Clerical Error, Ella takes a bike ride around the island and meets two ladies involved in raising funds for their church. Despite their somewhat off-putting interaction, they persuade Ella to run a stall to make money for the church at the May Day Fete. The action begins with the sudden death of the vicar, Father Michael, at the Fete. The vicar had only recently returned from a sabbatical and while liked, was not well known by his [parishioners. Characters previously introduced reappear, cleverly woven into the story: Sergeant Baxter, a policeman Ella had worked with before; her ever supportive Aunt Margaret; her housekeeper Mrs. Shaw, and her Uncle Albert, the Police Commissioner at Scotland Yard.

Confounding the threads of the investigation and shocking Ella is the discovery that her husband is still alive and the fact Mrs. Shaw is not who she claims to be.

The descriptive narrative is very well done, if at times not completely necessary. I particularly liked the walled garden – I could almost smell the flowers and hear the bees. I also enjoyed learning more about the island and Ella’s cottage, both of which are characters themselves. The author does a good job of creating well-rounded and sympathetic people to populate her books, and she keeps the reader in the 1930s. Best of all she provided enough plot turns to engross the reader in finding out who done it.  While Phantom appears from time to time in the story, I would have liked to see more of Ella’s paranormal skills, and the story of her husband’s reappearance and the sequalae was somewhat of a stretch.

All in all, though, a satisfying read and one which keeps me interested in reading the next book in the series. This is a book to cuddle up with on a rainy day, and the ending does leave you hanging!

About the author

J. New has been a voracious reader and writer all her life. She took her first foray into publishing in 2013 with An Accidental Murder, the first in her Yellow Cottage Vintage Mystery series. Originally from a small picturesque town in Yorkshire, she relocated in 2007 and currently resides with her partner and an ever-expanding family of rescue animals. She particularly loves murder mysteries set in past times, where steam trains, house staff and afternoon tea abound, and surmises she was born in the wrong era. She also has an impossible bucket list: to travel on the Orient Express with Hercule Poirot, shop in Diagon Alley with Sirius Black, laze around The Shire with Bilbo and Gandalf, explore Pico Mundo with Odd Thomas and have Tea at the Ritz with Miss Marple.

A Clerical Error can be found on Amazon:

https://www.amazon.com/Clerical-Yellow-Cottage-Vintage-Mysteries-ebook/dp/B078WYK7K1/ref=la_B00SLHW83G_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1523911352&sr=1-1

J New can be found at

https://www.jnewwrites.com

and on her blog https://www.jnewwrites.com/Blog.php

 

Book Review: Bad Blood Will Out by William Savage (@penandpension) #RBRT #Georgian Mystery

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This review is for Rosie’s Book Review Team. The book was purchased by the reviewer.

Bad Blood Will Out is the fourth in the Ashmole Fox series of mysteries set in Georgian England. The protagonist is the owner of a bookstore and is also the purveyor of rare books in central Norwich. He was introduced in the first book in this series, The Fabric of Murder, as somewhat of a fop, who frequents ladies of the night, the theater, and fine dining establishments. Over the series, he has grown into a much more established figure, well-know to the leaders of Norwich as a successful investigator of more serious crimes. His bookstore is now run by a widow with clever business skills: the proper, reliable and clever widow Mrs. Crombie. He also has an apprentice, Charlie Dillon, who was rescued by Fox from a life in the streets. Charlie has retained his connections to the street urchins, which proves of inestimable value in Fox’s investigations. Fox is one of the few elite of Norwich with a genuine understanding of, and care for, these children.

Bad Blood Will Out is probably my favorite in this series, and I have read and reviewed them all. It works well as a stand-alone mystery, which should tickle the reader to take a look at the first three. Before I go into my reasons for this, here’s the story line.

Fox has the bad luck to be presented with two murders at much the same time: one of a wealthy chandler (a dealer in supplies for boats and ships) and the other an alcoholic, over-the-hill actor at a local, run-down theater, the White Swan. Fox tries to avoid being involved in investigating the second murder because he loathes the manager of the White Swan. At the same time, he is forced by his inconsiderate brother, a moralistic preacher in the countryside, to entertain his nephew Nicholas, who is trying to find a profession for himself. Fox begins to unravel the chandler’s stabbing, which occurred while he was hosting a masquerade ball and was surrounded by guests., But Fox finds his mind wandering to the theater murder, which he finally decides to tackle by using the network of street children to gather evidence. What does the death of a popular actress twenty years ago have to do with the theater murder?

In this Fox adventure, we meet some interesting new characters, among them the local Cunning Woman – the Georgian term for a folk healer and herbalist – who in this case has some clairvoyant qualities. She has some past history with Fox and sends him a cryptic message about his necessity to solve both murders.

As usual, William Savage has woven his story into the historical tapestry of Georgian England, with wonderful details of life at that time, its customs and mores, and the nature of theater in places apart from London. His mystery, as always, is complex – lies and deceit abound. His characters are wonderfully drawn and three-dimensional, and there is a subtle but lovely sense of humor in the dialog and interactions between his people.

The reason I particularly liked this latest Ashmore Fox adventure was a compelling first chapter – really a prologue – and the evolving maturity of Fox. Although we are introduced to his sins of the flesh, I got the distinct feeling he might eventually consider marriage. It seems a likely direction, but I leave that to the author!

A great addition to the Ashmole Fox series, I highly recommend it!

About the author:

William Savage grew up in Hereford, on the border with Wales and took his degree at Cambridge. After a career in various managerial and executive roles, he retired to Norfolk, where he volunteers at a National Trust property. His life-long interest has been history, which led to research and writing about the eighteenth century.  But his is not just a superficial interest in history, but a real desire to understand and transmit the daily experience of living in turbulent times. All his books are set between 1760 and 1800, a period of great turmoil in Britain, with constant wars, the revolutions in America and France, and the titanic twenty-two years struggle with Napoleon and France.

You can find Bad Blood Will Out on Amazon:

https://www.amazon.com/Bad-Blood-Will-Out-Mysteries-ebook/dp/B079RCVQ4X

along with this author’s other Georgian mystery books.

William Savage’s blog is Pen and Pension:  http://penandpension.com/author/bluebrdz1946/

And at www.williamsavageauthor.com

The Garfield Chronicles

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 I’ve been very busy lately, entertaining my two leggeds. They do enjoy my running up and down the hall, skidding on the floor into the family room and leaping on to the top shelf of my cat tree. They must like me because I’ve heard them call me a lot of names: thunder paws and fuzzy butt and crazy clown cat. It’s true I do have long pantaloons, and therefore I have to be brushed pretty much every day, or I have dingle berries. I love being brushed but it’s annoying when I’m not allowed to bite the brush.

I’ve become very curious about what’s outside where I live. Occasionally my main two legged will hold me up to an open window so I can see out. I love those things that fly through the air and I make hunting noises when I see them on their food container.

Usually I sleep in the corner of the loft where my two-legs works in the morning, but occasionally I just fall asleep wherever.

I love snarfing wet food, and I am sure to tell them most emphatically around noon that it’s time to have it in my bowl. The dry food tides me over, but I like to fish it out of the bowl and eat it on the floor.  I have two new toys: a mouse that runs across the floor (it’s lost its tail) and a feather thing that runs around under a cover. I like to wait until it gets close to me and then jump on it. But mostly I play with just about anything I find interesting – pieces of paper, leaves, dead wasps, whatever. 

I’m good at asking for belly rubs – just roll over and look pleadingly.

Is that a can opener I hear? Yum! Gotta go! It’s time for lunch.

BUSBY BERKELEY, CHOREOGRAPHER EXTRAORDINAIRE

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I believe few of my readers know of Busby Berkeley. I discovered him watching old black and white musicals when I was in my twenties. It was good they were in black and white because we didn’t have a color TV then! I was fascinated by how he created the overhead visuals of the dancers, especially those done in the water (!)

Busby Berkeley was an American film director and musical choreographer. His elaborate musical production numbers often involved complex geometric patterns, almost kaleidoscopic, using large numbers of showgirls and props as fantasy elements. His musical numbers were among the largest and best-regimented on Broadway. And yes, this first picture is of dancers!

Berkeley was the son of two actors, so his introduction to the Broadway stage and Hollywood came early. His earliest film work was in Eddie Cantor’s musicals for the producer Samuel Goldwin, where he began developing such techniques as a “parade of faces” (individualizing each chorus girl with a loving close-up), and moving his dancers all over the stage  in as many kaleidoscopic patterns as possible, using a top shot technique from overhead.

During the Depression, Berkeley’s popularity with an entertainment-hungry audience was secured when he choreographed four musicals back-to-back for Warner Brothers; 42nd Street, Footlight Parade, Gold Diggers of 1933, and Dames. Berkeley said his main professional goals were to constantly top himself and to never repeat his past accomplishments.

As the outsized musicals which he had made popular became passé, he turned to straight directing. One of actor John Garfield’s best films, They Made Me a Criminal, was directed by Berkeley. Berkeley had several well-publicized run-ins with MGM stars such as Judy Garland and was actually removed as the director of her film Girl Crazy because of them. The lavish musical number “I Got Rythm,” which he had choreographed and directed, remained as part of the movie, however.

In the late 1960s, the camp craze made Berkeley’s musicals popular again. He toured the college lecture circuit and even directed a 1930s-style cold medication commercial, complete with a top shot of a dancing clock. In his 75th year, Berkeley returned to Broadway to direct a successful revival of No No Nanette, staring his old Warner Brothers colleague and star of the original 42nd Street, Ruby Keeler. I was privileged to see a production of No No Nannette in Los Angeles in the ‘70s, with the incredible dancing feet of Ms. Keeler, who was then in her early sixties. Now there was a hoofer.

Dancing to Bruno Mars

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I love, love Bruno Mars. His music makes me want to get up and dance! I also love all the old movies with the great hoofers: Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Rita Hayworth, Gene Kelly, Cyd Charise, etc. (my Dad once danced with Ginger Rogers!),

So for your midweek entertainment, here is a You tube video of some great dancers hoofing it up to Bruno Mars and Uptown Funk.