Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Unflappable Emma Graham

"A waitress at her mother's decaying resort hotel, twelve-year-old Emma now has a second job as the youngest cub reporter in the history of La Porte's Conservative newspaper.  But when she discovers the crumbling shell of a fabulous hotel–the once-sumptuous Belle Rouen–in the woods near her small town of Spirit Lake, Emma never imagines that the mysteries it holds will bring her one step closer to solving a forty-year-old crime–and force a new transgression to light..."
~ Belle Ruin blurb

Just when we've thought we've heard the last of Emma Graham, here comes the third book in her series, Belle Ruin. I told myself I would wait a month between books, but hell, there are only four and I was ready to drive back to her world after reading Cold Flat Junction earlier this month. However, not much has changed between Cold Flat Junction and Belle Ruin. Actually, I would say that nothing at all has changed. This kind of makes it difficult to write about. Everything I said in my thoughts on Cold Flat Junction, and the first book in the series, Hotel Paradise, are all relevant and the same. The books take place in a single summer; Emma Graham is working as a waitress in her family’s summer resort, while fulfilling her side interest investigating a forty-year-old drowning that took place on the nearby lake. The difference is that Emma managed to resolve, or come a crumbling step, to the conclusion of that murder by the end of Cold Flat Junction. And while there were many questions still left in the air, Belle Ruin threw in many more to enlarge Emma's investigation.

Unfortunately, by the very end of Belle Ruin, not a damned thing gets resolved. Nope. Nothing at all. You are purely in the ride for the precious fun of watching Emma Graham wheedle information out of adults, facetiously manipulate a few, and well, purport to be a twelve-year-old girl. And while that was all super-duper fun, I have to be honest when I say that I slowly found myself leaning toward listlessness in some areas of Belle Ruin.  (This came many times during moments where Emma was wrestling with her brother about a stage play he was producing in the hotel's garage.) And really, that listlessness came from Grime’s repetitious need to have Emma repeat her likes and dislikes of the world around her (some covering the previous two books). Now, now, now. Everybody knows by now that I go hard for Emma Graham. She’s the kid I would want, which turns me into a defensive machine. But even here, three books in, I kind of got tired of her mini spiels.  As an example, one repeated spiel revolves around why she prefers white chicken meat and why it's a hassle for her to obtain some.  That was connected with me two books ago.  I got it, young lady. 

Even so, I had to remind myself that this series encapsulates a single summer in this girl’s life.  Therefore, I smiled with affection.


1. After her near-death/attempted murder experience in Cold Flat Junction, Emma is now a reporter for the Conservative newspaper (as stated in the aforementioned blurb). Having her brush with death reported in the paper, and a new job at hand, Emma has a certain level of credibility and access to the individuals around her. Sure, she still lies her ass off to gather information, but now she has a good excuse to back herself up with. “I'm interviewing,” she'd often claim.

2. As mentioned, Emma discovers a partially burnt hotel called Belle Rouen–dubbed “Belle Ruin." Twenty years ago, and before the fire that destroyed the hotel, a baby girl named Fay was reportedly kidnapped from her room while a gala event went on in the hotel’s ballroom. No one knows what happened to baby Fay, including those connected to the hotel (many of which Emma hunts down like a fox for information). 

Nonetheless, this becomes Emma’s “big squeeze" as well as the crux of the book.  The kidnapping is in fact tied into the previous two books, and a small revelation does come to light.  However, there just isn't any resolution.  Really, the ending of Belle Ruin was more than a touch disappointing either way I try to cut it.  I can't make excuses for it.  Just know that it was really dissatisfying.

3. After reading Hotel Paradise, I mentioned how Grime’s writing painted Emma in a world that seemed timeless and uncertain to the reader of its location. Well, in Cold Flat Junction we learn that the series takes place in America, somewhere near Maryland if I recall correctly. In Belle Ruin, my suspicions are confirmed that the series takes place in the late 50s early 60s. How did this come about? Well, Emma mentions watching The Loretta Young Show, which aired between 1953-1961.  Go figure, right.

4.  Grimes seemed to inject herself a little more into Emma's narrative this time.  Call me wacko, but I found tiny moments where she may have used Emma and Emma's story to address some criticism she may have received from the series.  Take one of Emma's quotes for instance:  "That was what they called being childish.  It was what I called being twelve."  I put heavy, heavy emphasis on they.

With that being said I'm ready for book four, Fadeaway Girl. Am I excited? You better believe it. However, I'm going to give myself some space before I drive into that one. Not too soon, Emma.  Not to soon.

Lastly, I didn't laugh out loud as much in Belle Ruin like the howling I did during Cold Flat Junction.  Nonetheless, I must share some of my favorite Emma moments.

Emma Moments
"I was in the kitchen arranging salads.  My mother told me to please remember the black olives should be sliced before adding them and for heaven's sake to remember not to put the Roquefort dressing on Miss Bertha's salad for she hated it.  I thanked her for reminding me and scooped off the top layer of one salad and added a spoonful of Roquefort dressing.  Then I put back the layer of lettuce, the pepper and onion ring, arranging them so that the dressing was invisible."
"...I did not take the word lightly when I said to Ree-Jane.  'You're so full of shit.'  I then went into the cool darkness of the lobby.

She sprang to her feet and yelled, 'You just wait until I tell Miss Jen!'

I nearly skipped my way to the kitchen, happy I had once again got the best of Ree-Jean.  I even looked forward to her telling on me."
"But I think I've learned a lesson and that is that you have to find your own answers to things.  Even if they're the wrong answers.  The point is the finding."
"'Back to the ho-tel, right?' said Delbert, gunning the gas.

'No.  Stop by the graveyard to see if Dracula made it back before dawn.'  I sat directly behind the driver's seat so he couldn't see me.

'You've always got some smart-ass answer, you know that?'

'I'm telling Axel you called me a smart-ass.'  How could I?  I could never find him."

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