Monday, August 20, 2012

And Now for Something Completely Awful…

I love mysteries, especially, no surprise as an Anglophile, English mysteries.  There are some really, really great reads out there, probably more suspense than truly a mystery, but artfully written with plots that make sense and characters with personality that come to life.  Almost novels, really, with a twist.  Off the top of my head some fantastic ones, some that I have mentioned here before, include Denise Mina’s Garnet Hill series (actually anything she has written), Case Histories by Kate Atkinson (anything she’s written as well), In a Dry Season by Peter Robinson, anything by P.D. James.

Then there are what the industry has named “cozy” mysteries.  On the surface, they sound like they will be fun.  The protagonist is usually a female, of varying ages, who lives in a small town and stumbles upon a mystery.  There is frequently a love interest as well, and most of the time the relationship is a conflicted one.

Now I have not written a book myself, so I am reluctant to be critical of someone who has done something I haven’t had the gumption or discipline to do myself.  But I have to say, I have found that “cozy” mysteries usually mean awful, terribly written, preposterously plotted non-mysteries.  The dialogue is stilted and the narrative is full of clich├ęs.  The characters are flat, one dimensional cardboard cut outs, straight out of central casting.

Some examples:

From Million Dollar Baby:

The door creaked open ominously…

Marjorie slid him a snotty look.

A fiendish glint leapt into her eyes.

From A Killer Read:

Mark turned beet red.

(speaking of a tenacious individual) “She reminds me of a Jack Daniel’s terrier…”  Umm, do you mean a Jack RUSSELL terrier?!?

From Hearse and Buggy:

The front door of the shop opened, its telltale door-mounted bell announcing the presence of a shopper.

She followed the finely graveled road as it wound to the left and headed down into a valley of farmland, the peace and tranquility of her rapidly approaching surroundings allowing a sense of true contentment to seep in past the worry she’d felt lapping at her heart all day long.  Now that is a mouthful!

The winner for the most enormous hole in the plot: The Orchid House

The gist of it is this, starting in the 1930’s, a manor house with landed gentry has one Son and Heir.  Possessive mother marries him off to Eligible Girl.  Eligible Girl cannot understand why he is not as, er, affectionate as she would like.  Eligible Girl, now Neglected Wife, discovers Son and Heir in passionate embrace with – gasp – his best male friend.  Consequences ensue.  Son and Heir goes off to war, is imprisoned by the Japanese.  He survives and while waiting to be shipped home he meets The Love of His Life (female, that male stuff was just a phase).  She gets pregnant.  He goes back to England promising to send for her.  But he never does.  Instead, he sends his estate manager to Thailand to find her, which he does, at death’s door, so he brings her baby back to England and he and his barren wife raise it as their own.  AND NO ONE EVER SUSPECTS A THING!!  A Eurasian child born to a thoroughly English couple?!?!  No one ever notices?!?  It is a big shock to everyone when the “truth” comes out?!

Oy vey.

But there have been a few good ones as well.

As far as cozies go, Twenty-Eight and a Half Wishes by Denise Grover Swank was a cute, fun read.  Nicely written and funny it also is moving in places as the main character comes out of the shell her narcissistic mother kept her trapped in, solves a mystery and maybe finds love as well.

I loved Darkside by Belinda Bauer.  In a small town in England, someone is killing elderly people and taunting Jonas Holly, the local policeman, who is already stressed from caring for his wife who has multiple sclerosis.  This story and its ending haunted me for weeks, it was stunning.

The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty was truly unusual.  The premise is 15 year-old Louise Brooks (a real life character who was soon to be a major silent picture star) needs to be chaperoned on a trip to New York City from hometown Wichita, Kansas.  Local matron Cora Carlisle volunteers for the job, having her own personal reasons to want to visit New York.  The twists and turns of the story are both implausible and believable at the same time, with likeable, complicated characters.  I loved the twenties atmosphere and the follow up to the story.


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Sunday, August 12, 2012

Another Try

A girl can change her mind, can’t she?

I realized if I am going to commit to writing at least one post a week about books and put it on my Nourish blog, I might as well just put it here. So that is what I’m going to do…

Back to my Kindle. I, a person who reveres books and had sworn to uphold the printed word, have only read about five hard copy books in the past year. The rest, over 120, are all on Kindle. I never imagined I would be so enamored. But convenience definitely wins in this case. I no longer have the luxury of hopping in the car and driving to the bookstore to browse. It is so easy, actually too easy, to just peruse the Amazon site to find something I want to read, whether it is 3 o’clock in the afternoon or 3 o’clock in the morning. The disadvantage is how deceptively ‘reasonable’ many kindle books appear to be. “Only $8.99?!?” “Only $9.99?!?” The next thing you know, those $8.99 and $9.99’s have really racked up. I have found many free books on line, though, as well as some that are a dollar or two, so there are bargains out there.

Looking at my overflowing bookshelves, it amazes me I could have brought another 100 books in the house. I am not sure if I am sorry or not. Some of what I have read has been wonderful and some simply awful. It would be nice to have a hard copy of the books I really loved, but I always can do that anyway. And the books that fall into that category are few. More are in the “I enjoyed that” group and can easily forgo owning. And, of course, the awful ones are no great loss.

So while I will always prefer a real, in-my-hands book to read, the Kindle is a great alternative for someone like me who is virtually housebound.


A few of the things I’ve read this year:

I found a really fun, beautifully written series by S. J. Rozan. Set primarily in New York City, it follows private detectives Lydia Chin and Bill Smith, at first tentative and then firm partners. I love the details on Chinese culture that come from the Lydia Chin character and Bill Smith is utterly believable as a jaded, wounded misanthrope. Rozan uses the interesting technique of having the novels alternately narrated by Lydia and Bill, so the tone of the story is completely different depending on the narrator. Their bond is platonic on the surface but full of tension underneath. Great ancillary characters, too.

Two non-fiction books I had really looked forward to left me with differing reactions.

The Receptionist: An Education at the New Yorker should have been riveting. I wanted it to be riveting, I kept waiting for it to be riveting, but…it just left me cold and bored. Which is some feat because I LOVE stories about other people’s lives. What could be more fascinating than all the characters at the New Yorker during the 1950’s?!? Surely a beautiful, brilliant and educated receptionist who watched the comings and goings for more than 20 years would have a fantastic story to tell. But Janet Groth just didn’t engage me for some reason. I could not muster all that much interest in her and her angst-ridden love life (which was entirely separate from the New Yorker.) The best part was at the end when she goes into detail about the travails her family had endured due to her father’s alcoholism, something she had made veiled references to throughout the book. But it is too little too late. And I was entirely creeped out by her description of Joseph Mitchell, a writer I have revered, who apparently, although married, had a penchant for lunches with pretty young women. She was his Lunch Partner for a time until she was replaced by someone younger. Ick.

On the other hand, The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Family’s Century of Art and Loss by Edmund De Waal was riveting (his website is beautiful as well; I've linked it to his name.) Dramatically written in elegant, poetic prose, it is the story of De Waal’s secular Jewish family and their talent for collecting valuable art, beginning in nineteenth century Paris, continuing through to Vienna and the horrors of the Nazi regime to present day. Going back over a century, he describes various relatives and the roles they played in creating this treasure trove, with the focus on a collection of antique netsuke purchased by his fifth great uncle. It is a beautiful and heartbreaking story that will fascinate anyone who loves art and history and the triumph of a family over changed circumstances.


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Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Time to Admit Need For a Change

If this blog was a child I would be in prison for neglect. I clearly bit off more than I could chew when I started it. But I love books!!!! What am I to do?!?

I have given it a lot of thought and have decided that I will try to do a weekly Bookworm post on my Nourish blog, complete with the Bookworm logo, and [choke, choke] shut this one down. I am also considering transferring the posts over gradually to my other blog and keeping them in an archive there. It will be the same content, except maybe there will finally be content, as I haven’t posted here in months.

I hope you will all come along with me. I am going to aim for every Sunday right now.  We'll see how it goes and if it works I will make it permanent.  Thanks so much for your readership and support all this time!!!


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