Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Murder, She Wrote: Gin And Daggers by Jessica Fletcher and Donald Bain

I positively love Murder, She Wrote, the TV series. Naturally, I have to read the books, yet I've been slow in doing so. Gin and Daggers is the first in the series and I just started reading it. My new goal is to read one of her books for each month. There's plenty, so it'll take me a while.

I keep writing "she" when it should be "he." The books are "written" by Jessica Fletcher, but it's really Donald Bain. I know discussions are abound about gender-bending in writing and I do my best not to let the author's gender influence me on the writing. I don't think Bain does a bad job of writing from the female's perspective. I sure hope he watched the show quite a bit. He does seem to have the secondary characters down, but I've just started and I want to read a mystery set in Cabot Cove to get a better feel. I guess it'll take some getting used to. When watching the series, the story/mystery takes place from different points of view, but the book's written from first person (Jessica). It's just a little odd. Kind of like having to remember the furniture in the living room has been rearranged. There might be a lot of knee-banging on the coffee table, but eventually one gets the hang of the new layout.

In this story, Jessica takes a trip to Merry Old England for an international mystery writers symposium. While there, she decides to look up and old friend, colleague, and mentor, Marjorie Ainsworth. During the visit and the dinner party, poor old Ms. Ainsworth is murdered and Jessica's the prime suspect. But everyone at the dinner party is Jessica's suspect and they had a lot of motive. As Jessica digs deep into the mystery, she uncovers some things about her dear old friend, including the question of authorship of Ainsworth's latest book, Gin and Daggers.

As I mentioned earlier, I'm still feeling myself around this book. The writing is different from the series and this one had too many characters, I felt. There are plenty of books to get the hang of this and I do love Murder, She Wrote so I might stick this one out.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Murder is Binding by Lorna Barrett

I'm not sure how I feel about this series. I really want to like it, but the premise is reaching a tad: A tourist town of bookstores?! I love books, but a town full of nothing but bookstores and that's the main attraction?! Uh, OK. What is making me teeter about giving the series a shot are the secondary characters. I'm intrigued by Angelica. For some reason she reminds me of Andrea (Hannah's sister of Fluke's cookie shop series).

Tricia owns a bookstore in Booktown. Everything's going OK, until her neighbor, Doris Gleason who owns the Cookery, is murdered. Turns out Doris had a high-priced booklet she just bought and in the middle of a rent war with her landlord, but Tricia is the prime suspect. To add on to Tricia's woes, her sister, Angelica, swooshes into town hot off another divorce and looking for comfort. Much to Tricia's chagrin, Angelica finds it in the quaintness of the town and Bob Kelly, Booktown's landlord. In the interim, Tricia runs into Winnie and buys an old pin, some books, and information about Doris's purchase. Then Winnie dies, but the police aren't interested. Doris's murder and an article by Russ Smith, marks Tricia as the town jinx. But not everyone is keeping distance from Tricia, Mike Harris is keeping close, perhaps a little too close. And Tricia finds some living skeleton's in the Harris household. After poking her nose around, Tricia and Angelica find the answers to the murders of Doris and Winnie.

Aside from Booktown's premise, what irked me about this book is the protagonist's smugness in one scene. They find the missing booklet and Tricia proceeds to tell the sheriff the proper way to get prints off the book, after it's been handled by several people. I hadn't heard of the final procedure, but a quick Google search showed me what it was. Considering this is a small town and the sheriff could care less about the book's condition, I don't think Tricia's opinion would matter and I'm sure the sheriff enjoyed being told how to process prints. But then the protagonist didn't stop there, she kept going on and said the following: "I deal in mystery fiction. Not only do I read the classics, I read contemporary authors like Patricia Cornwell, Kathy Reichs, and Elizabeth Becka. You can practically get a degree in forensics just by reading these top authors." ARGH!!!!!! I'm going for my forensic degree. Granted, it's only an Associates, but it's a start. You study more than fingerprints (which are very difficult to collect, process, and identify) and while the authors might have forensic degrees, there are a lot of liberties when writing the books and some methods are no longer used or new ones have pushed the edge of the horizon. One book I gave up on was written by two authors who had degrees in forensic. I had to give up on it because some of the things written in there were wrong and the author got away from the mystery. I don't think I could've gotten a degree from reading that series. I accept when I pick up a cozy mystery, there are going to be a lot of liberties, but to make statements like this, goodness. Maybe the next book will be better.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

This is one case where I actually liked the movie better than the book. I wonder about the process of writing the screenplay for this book. It has made me more curious about what that would be like and how that must actually work. Hmm...
As for reading, it was hard for me to enjoy this book as much as I had hoped to do. The time traveling concept was a bit confusing at first for me because I couldn't grasp that he couldn't wield it. I wanted it to be more like what I always envisioned time traveling being but this completely changes that fantasy of what I imagined in my mind. I suppose that might not be a bad thing, to imagine differently, but it left me feeling disappointed. I want to go back to my old time traveling images of helping others, saving the world and enjoying it instead of how this portrayed time traveling but it will be hard to forget what and how she described it in this book. The idea is I want to forget. This is not a book that I'd feel good about recommending to others.
I don't mean to sound so negative because I'm sure there are many that have liked this book. It did receive a lot of attention. It's possible that I'm bothered by some content within the book which is quite possibly tainting my review. I didn't care for the writing style. I needed more resolution. Mostly, I struggled with the characters. Where was the growth that I felt should naturally come through some of their experiences? I didn't feel I could relate and they felt unreal or stereotypical. It didn't feel loving when needed in relationships and there was a lot of tension. Was that the point or am I missing it? I do feel like I am missing out. I'm going to have to reread a childhood favorite, A Wrinkle in Time, that seems to be embedded in my memory. Perhaps, I'll re-watch Somewhere in Time again revisiting the fact that I liked the music better than the actual movie. That's what this book is like to me, I was intrigued by the concept of time traveling more than the actual storyline itself.

560 pages, May 2004, 1.5 stars

Other reviews:
Amanda
Melanie
Duffbert

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson


The inside of this book jacket (along with mention of it's eleven book awards with names like the Dagger) included a brief description of the contents as follows:

"A spellbinding amalgam of murder mystery, family saga, love story, and financial intrigue."

I've always loved the word amalgam. It's just fun to say. Amalgam. A mixture of equal parts. How you get that out of amalgam I have no idea. So I asked myself the question, is this popular book by Swedish author, Stieg Larsson, who unfortunately died of a heart attack right after delivering the manuscripts of the three books in this series, a fine-tuned mixture of mystery, saga, love, and intrigue?

It is, at its heart, a family saga with the main point being - What happened to 16-year old Harriet Vanger who vanished without a trace forty years ago? Her grandfather, Henrik Vanger, has hired a down on his luck journalist and magazine editor, Mikael Blomkvist, to dig up the skeletons in his family tree and find out what happened to her. But, Blomkvist has his own set of problems: his girlfriend is married to another man (must be a Swedish thing), he's been forced out of his current job and is therefore running out of money, and he's about to start a three month prison sentence after being convicted of slander against a dirty corporate industrialist that took him to court over a story he wrote. (And yes, that last sentence leaves you panting. Just like the book did..)

Blomkvist takes the job for Vanger because he needs to get away, and, of course, the money won't hurt. For help, he recruits a computer hacker with a dragon tattoo on her neck, a girl named Lisbeth Salander, who is by far the most interesting character in this series of books. Think of a tinier, craftier Laura Croft with an even worse attitude and she's your gal.

Next then, mixed in is plenty of mystery and intrigue, some of which is in the form of tons of backdrop on the world of finance (the first 100 pages or so bored me to tears), then throw in some magazine and journalist type lingo, some Nazi backstory, and lastly the occasional political statement that jolted me from the story when I started to doze off. There's also a whole lot of violence. Really terrible violence. I've heard the original title in Swedish was Men Who Hate Women. After reading this book, I believe that was entirely appropriate.

And love? I would never think of this as a love story. Not. At. All. For instance, our main character's girlfriend's husband has no problem that she and Blomkvist still "see" each other on a regular basis.

Hmm...
Right.

Really there's just a whole lot of sleeping around by pretty much everyone, married or no. It's like a magical, casual sex fairy land where condoms aren't even necessary and no one worried about diseases. Again, maybe that's a Swedish thing.

Aside from what I've just mentioned, when taken as a whole, I will admit this was an interesting book. It improved as it went along until, aside from bathroom breaks, I had a hard time putting it down. It was well-written and moved at a great pace. All the characters are well-defined, complex and super meaty. Larsson had no problem weaving together the story lines, and I didn't even have too hard a time keeping track of all the Swedish names, like Gregor, Gottfried, Gerda, we're talking umlaut central here. You just have to somehow get through all the violence against women and casual sex.

Good luck!

So now I feel all Swedishized! Meatballs recipe anyone?
3.5 stars.

Another point ot view: Trixie

CymLowell

Be sure to check out Cym Lowell's Kindle giveaway!!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

I have been aiming to read this book all year and I promised myself I'd have it read by the end of '09 so I made it! Now, I'm thinking why did I wait so long to read a book that is near perfection? Beautiful writing, a superb pace, captivating premise, honest characters, plus a whole lot more of great storytelling. Okay, so the book is perfectly brilliant! I enjoyed it to a magnificent degree. It gripped me from the first line:

"The early summer sky was the color of cat vomit."

I also loved this simple description about a bridge:

"The old bridge stretched massively across the water, it huge iron frame as black as the sky. It had been built so long ago that it held up its own weight, without any support from hoverstruts. A million years from now, when the rest of the city had crumbled, the bridge would probably remain like a fossilized bone."

I did have to take time to mold Westerfeld's world into my brain. So, I can understand why I've heard that a reader couldn't get into this book. It might not be for everyone. I think it would make for a great discussion. For me, I like that part of setting things up in my brain then seeing how it unfolds as the story goes.
Overall, I'm happy to have read this and I'm already reading the next book in the series, Pretties, when I'm supposed to be reading a pile of other books for book groups etc...
Doesn't that say it all?

448 pages, Feb. 2005, 5 stars

Other more informative reviews:

Amanda
Rebecca

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Girl She Used To Be by David Cristofano

This is one of those books that I checked out from the library on a whim because the premise sounded interesting then it turned out to be a book that I couldn't put down. I had to know what happened next. I really enjoy it when this happens.
One normal family trip out to eat. One curious decision to find out why the restaurant isn't open when it should be. A back door. A murder. A family's life is changed forever.
"Call me whatever name you want; it's just a name, after all."
Sandra, Karen, May or Melody was only six when this happened to her and now for the last twenty years of her life she's been constantly moving through the Witness Protection Program (WITSEC) to keep from being killed herself. Her life isn't turning out at all like she'd imagined it should and there is no way to change it either. So, she does the only thing she can when she needs a change and pretends to being found by the "bad guys" in order to move and get a whole new life.
So, what happens when they find her anyway? Or at least one of them does? Enters Jonathan. Suddenly, it seems as if she had never been in hiding all those years like it hadn't counted. What?!? This is her life after all, isn't it? Is this her chance to live the life she always wanted as her true self? Of course, that could be too good to be true also.
Plus, there is this simple issue of who do you trust with your life? Oh, Melody, what's a girl to do?
Cristofano mysteriously weaves a story of second chances where you'll feel for the "bad guys" as much as the good. I enjoyed his writing which is another plus to the whole experience of this book.
A nice whimsical choice. I'm glad I discovered it.

A couple of excerpts from the book:

"Are you okay?" I ask.
He nods but looks back down, but something in my touch, or the interaction with another caring human. brings his tears to a pour and he wipes vigorously, as though it is sand, not water, filling his eyes. I wait and finally he returns the card to its holder, glances at me, and slowly lumbers from the store as he dries his eyes and nose with his sleeve.

"On my fifth day in class, the teacher asked each of us in turn to spell our name for the other students... It sure would've been easier to spell May Adams, but wouldn't you know, without even giving it a second thought, there I was, unveiling myself to my teacher, her aide, and seventeen other first graders."

M-E-L-O-D-Y-G-R-A-C-E-M-C-C-A-R-T-N-E-Y


256 pages, March 2009, 3.5 stars

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Intimations of Austen by Jane Greensmith


Intimations. For the longest time I thought that said Imitations of Austen, which means to copy actions, appearance, etc., but the word, Intimations, well, it just sounds more English doesn't it? I almost travel back in time as it rolls off my tongue like liquid butter dripping off a hot muffin when I say it.

Intimations.

Sigh...

I'll admit, gulp - I had to look that one up. I suspected it held a similar meaning to its root, intimate, which means marked by close acquaintance or familiarity and that would perfectly describe how I believe the author feels about Jane Austen, but the word choice of intimation, I was happy to discover, brings Greensmith's ardor into even sharper focus.

Intimations of Austen by Jane Greensmith - A collection of short stories inspired by the words of Jane Austen. A hint, a glimmer. An inkling of Austen even. A whisper on a sun-drenched afternoon. These would've been perfect to read in summer, but winter it turns out was just as good. Better to drink it in with a hot, steaming beverage.

These stories are perfect for anyone who likes Austen even a tiny little bit. Perfect for anyone who has read these classics over and over again and wondered, what happened after the last word. Or even better, what happened before the first one! What made Frederick Wentworth return to Kellynch Hall in the first place? What if Elizabeth Bennet (holy cow gasp!) had married Col. Fitzwilliam instead of Mr. Darcy? What was going through Mr. Darcy's mind as he wrote that letter to Elizabeth after she'd rejected him? And the relationship between Mr. and Mrs. Bennet? Greensmith even tackled that one with a conclusion that brought a smile to my face.

Altogether a delight. And most importantly, she did not rehash the novels, a common complaint that drives me nuts with Austen fan fiction. All were very original and well written. But the highest praise I can give? After reading these, I had to watch and wanted to read Northanger Abbey and Persuasion again with a fervor.

So to that I say, a job well done then Greensmith.
4 stars

A special thanks to the author for sending me this book because my library had no copy. I'll pass it on to anyone who wants it.

CymLowell Also, be sure to check out Cym Lowell's Kindle giveaway on his Book Review Wednesdays! He always gives away the best stuff!