Sunday, November 30, 2014

My Inconvenient Truth About Flesh and Blood...

"It’s Dr. Kay Scarpetta’s birthday and she’s about to head to Miami for a vacation with her FBI profiler husband Benton Wesley when she notices seven pennies on a wall behind their Cambridge house. Is this a kids’ game? If so, why are all of the coins dated 1981 and so shiny it’s as if they’re newly minted? Then her cellphone rings, and Detective Pete Marino tells her there’s been a homicide five minutes away. A high school music teacher has been shot with shocking precision as he unloaded groceries from his car. No one heard or saw a thing. It’s as if God did it.

In this 22nd Scarpetta novel, the master forensic sleuth finds herself in the middle of a nightmarish pursuit of a serial sniper who seems to leave no evidence except fragments of copper. The shots are so perfect, they cause instant death and seem impossible, and the death scenes aren’t crime scenes because the killer was never within hundreds of yards of the victims. The victims seem to have nothing in common, and there is no pattern that might indicate where the Copperhead will strike next. First New Jersey, then Massachusetts, and then into the murky depths off the coast of South Florida, where Scarpetta dives a shipwreck, looking for answers that only she can discover and analyze. There she must face an unthinkable truth that points in the direction of her techno genius niece, Lucy, Scarpetta’s own flesh and blood."

~ Take from Goodreads

My inconvenient truth about Flesh and Blood is that I was so disinterested that 220 pages in (and a host of days held hostage to the drudgery of the book), I skipped to its end. Now I have to keep it real when I say that these Scarpetta books aren't anywhere near as thrilling as they once were.  So I more or less expected as much tedium out of Flesh and Blood. However, despite that sort of naked truth, I'm still into Kay Scarpetta.  She’s the aunt I wish I had, and a comfortable hat in the forensic literary form. Those are truths that has never changed–and never will. 

So nowadays it’s a matter of revisiting her year after year. I enjoy her pathologist and techno knowledge, alongside her perspicacious (can you tell I just wanted to use that word?) insight. I love when she goes between being a chef and a medical examiner; an aunt, wife and friend.  I can appreciate her often intimidating–yet grounded–role in her relationships with the other veteran characters and small-time cast members.  So simply put, I like her and look forward to another publication in the series.

However, sadly, this year it just didn't cut to stick around and play with dear Aunt Kay. If I thought last year's Dust was "dusty," Flesh and Blood drained me until I dejectedly decided to jump to its conclusion more than halfway through. 
Besides the usual bad pacing, the real problem I had with Flesh and Blood was that I couldn't find value in its direction, nor find a means of empathizing with the round of victimizing events leading me through it. Not that every book has to have a foreseeable direction, but I would much rather be comfortable trusting that there is one instead of running into a stream of events that doesn’t appear even marginally connected. No, no. Not marginally, but more like believably connected. Therefore, one arbitrary occurrence or issue leading into another kind of bred mistrust in me during Flesh and Blood.

Gather ingredients consisting of copper pennies, snipers, terrorist, realtors, and insurance men that apparently look like something that stepped out of Goonies (or that weird s/he beast villain in Cornwell's Hornet's Nest book).  Toss in a victim who operates as a drug mule carrying cocaine wrapped in condoms in his stomach, and an incident involving a teenage girl drowning in some politician's pool.  And then sprinkle in law enforcement individuals having affairs, and the standard (often jealous and mean-spirited) personal concerns from the B-cast (particularly Lucy and Marino).  Wrap all of those and branching events for Scarpetta to spend a too many pages mulling and discussing with others (in contrast to scenes with movement), and you may feel as uninspired as I. And while so many of those events were surely connected somehow, I couldn't help but imagine someone throwing pasta against a wall and seeing what sticks. In the case of Flesh and Blood it's seeing what sticks, forcing it into a believable and plausible space.  Then hammering it into truth when there could've been an easier way, with a little more caress and ingenuity spent, on managing a sound plot.

Am I even making sense here?

So yeah. I cheated. I skipped to the end to give myself permission to put the book up and go elsewhere. And really, the ending wasn't all that great either–which right away killed my guilt for cheating. It involved Benton and Scarpetta scuba diving into some underwater wreckage.  For a moment I actually started to find interest in the story (but not enough to retrace), only to have the scenario cut short through a matter of paragraphs and a few pages. It cliff-hangs, then the resolution is spoken over in the proceeding epilogue. One, in which, is never unfolded to the reader first hand. Bummer because that underwater scene/confrontation had some serious potential.

And that's basically what I was left with as a whole: spoiled potential with the gratification of spending a little time with Kay Scarpetta.  Here's to next year's attempt!  I made a list of what I'd like to see, but decided to hold back for now.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Last Night a Bookstore Saved My Life (Acquisitions)

Was my title too corny?  I couldn't help it, as I sit here tapping my foot to InDeep's "Last Night a DJ Saved My Life".  I kind of live for that low disco throb anchoring the track.  It's so sweet that I had to find a way to incorporate it here as an expressionist at work.

It's been a challenging–and I mean challenging–reading month.  I started off strong, finishing the fourth book in Martha Grimes' Emma Graham series (who I still miss).  I then managed my way through the fourth book in Sara Paretsky's V. I. Warshawski series, Bitter Medicine.  I enjoyed my time with Elizabeth Peter's Jacqueline Kirby in her English country house mystery adventure.  And without a doubt Rita Mae Brown's Mrs. Murphy feline detective series gave me the warm and fuzzies in its third offering.  Then I stopped by Barnes & Nobles one day after work and picked up the recent release of Patricia Cornwell's Kay Scarpetta series, Flesh and Blood.  That's when the high-flying fantastic reading hit the fan.  Between dealing with health insurance madness and a cell phone battery that just wouldn't (thankfully, my replacement came in about forty minutes ago), I just kind of let the rest of this month go all together.  Even my blog suffered!  

I kind of got through by watching Golden Girls, playing Tales of Xillia 2, and fitting in a short story/manga or two to keep me reading.  However, all personal stuff aside, let's get back to how I abandoned the 22nd book in Cornwell's Kay Scarpetta series!  Or better yet, be on the look out for my review.

Nonetheless, I'm here to share a few of the recent acquisitions I've gathered through the month of November.  Because if I wasn't reading books, I was buying them.

The Mysteries!

1.  The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

Seeing that Emma Graham was coming to an end, I frantically searched for something similiar to take her place (at least until Mrs. Grimes writes the fifth book).  I didn't want to let twelve-year-old Emma's voice go after Fadeaway Girl.  So I am happy to say that I discovered Alan Bradley's Flavia de Luce series immediately following.  Flavia de Luce is a ten-year-old girl detective; and where Graham's series takes place in 60's US, Luce's is 50's UK .  So we have era and adolescence all spinning in the same vein of detective fiction.  I only hope Flavia is as witty, clever and smart-mouthed as Emma.  And despite all those hopes, I trust that she's a different girl all together.

2.  Blanche on the Lam by Barbara Neely

I did a video where I talked about how I'm unable to jump right into the middle of a series with any kind of comfort.  I must start from the beginning and work my way down.  In that video, I related my owning book three [Blanche Cleans Up] in Barbara Neely's series about a black housekeeper who solves mysteries.  The series has been on my radar for years, but I've only owned the third book.  After watching the video again, I realized I had no excuse for not starting Blanche's story.  So, I finally ordered the first book, Blanche on the Lam.

3.  In the Game by Nikki Baker

More on detective fiction, black women, series, and radars comes In the Game by Nikki Baker.  We're going to double (or even triple) minority realms here.  You see, this series not only revolves around a black woman named Virginia Kelly, but she's also a black woman who happens to be a lesbian.  My radar was buzzing with this series for quite some time, and I finally got my hands on the first book, In the Game.  Rumors has it that Virginia Kelly has a nasty attitude as she goes about solving murders in Chicago's lesbian community (or further out).  From my understanding, said attitude has turned some  readers away.  We'll just see about that.  As most of you know, I'll be the first one to tell you about it.

From Korea to Japan

4.  The Surrendered by Chang-Rae Lee

This is certainly not my first foray into Korean-American author Chang-Rae Lee.  I was first introduced to him through his debut, Native Speaker.  Native Speaker was somewhat of a frustrating read for me.  Its context, concerning a Korean-American's alienation from Americanized concepts of culture, attitudes and behaviors, was the best thing ever.  I got the purpose (exchange that with any other word) of the book.  However, while that's all true, I also felt like shaking Lee's character, Henry.  It's all filled in his narrative, but man did he make a mostly inexpressive and sober narrator.  Long story short, recently Chang-Rae Lee popped to mind.  I researched his publications and decided on The Surrendered as my second take.

5.  1Q84 by Haruki Murakami  

My coming to 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami is almost a direct reflection of my coming to The Surrendered by Chang-Rae Lee.  Both authors I read years ago and, for no imaginable reason, held back from until recently.  The difference is that I, like many, seemed transfixed by the length (and maybe even cover) of 1Q84.  It's always been on my radar, screaming "buy me read me" since its release.  I suppose I was hesitant because of its size.  Nonetheless, I read (as well as discovered) Murakami's Dance Dance Dance years ago, finding myself more or less gripped to the author afterwards.  I gave him a try, and that was that.  So here's to attempting 1Q84.  Because it's three books combined into one, my plan is to take them one book at a time.  1157 pages begs to be piecemealed.

What's Missing!

A few books I'm kind of waiting on...

6.  Pay Dirt by Rita Mae Brown

7.  Buffy Season 10 Volume 1: Rules by Christo Gage

8.  A Map of Betrayal by Ha Jin

The "Gotta Go" Pile:

December should not be like November–or even October for that matter.  I want to just let these last few days in November idle on by before I decide which book on this list will break open the final sprint of 2014!  With that said, happy reading everyone.  If you've read any of these books, please use the comments section to share your thoughts.  I'd love to hear them.

Monday, November 24, 2014

A Taste of Mori Hiroshi

"Kaoru thought she would get married to her boyfriend Thoru soon. However, since she met Satoru, Thoru's younger twin brother, something in her mind had changed. Kaoru noticed that she was being attracted toward Satoru more than to Thoru.

While Thoru was on his overseas business trip, the apartment Satoru lived in was burned down and a burned body was found on the site.

Was it an accident?
Was it a suicide, homicide, or murder?
Whose body was burned to death, Satoru or Thoru?

Did Thoru kill Satoru?
Or, did Satoru kill Thoru?

There is only one victim.
There is only one suspect.

And, there is only one truth."

I am bored with Patricia Cornwell’s latest, Flesh and Blood. Well, actually, not bored. Maybe weary of the uneventfulness of it all. Nonetheless, I didn't want to lose any reading momentum I’d already gathered for November–though I think it’s already lost. Having gotten through a manga (Stepping on Roses volume 2), I then decided to read a translated copy of A Pair of Hearts by Japanese thriller writer, Mori Hiroshi. I happened upon the book after watching two episodes of The Perfect Insider, a Japanese television crime drama based off Mori’s S&M series. It’s no surprise that I’m a big fan of Japanese crime writer, Natsuo Kirino; and a little more on the abnormal side of Japan as it concerns the author Haruki Murakami. So Hiroshi seemed like a great fit/distraction.

I did enjoy A Pair of Hearts. It was a quick read (54 pages); not too heavy on the details, and just an easy introduction into Hiroshi's writing (certainly not the best introduction, I'm sure). I anticipated its wooly ending, considering the story built itself on the internal and external conflict of a woman shuffling relations between a pair of twins. So there’s not too much here, but I look forward to one day reading a full novel by Hiroshi. And sadly, this little reading interlude wasn't sweet enough to push me back into Cornwell. Oh, well.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Confused with Richard the III

Here we are with this three-book omnibus collection of Elizabeth Peters’ Jacqueline Kirby mystery series. Except now, we're on book two, The Murders of Richard III. For my thoughts on the first book in the series, The Seventh Sinner, click HERE.

The Murders of Richard III begins with librarian Jacqueline Kirby strolling through London’s National Portrait Gallery with an old colleague and friend, Thomas Carter. While it’s somewhat fun to discuss portraits and argue with Jacqueline about England’s Parliament, War of the Roses, Lancastrian kings, and Bishop of Bath and Wells, Thomas's true agenda is to arouse Jacqueline to a attend costume party.  It's a distinct type of party, populated by a group of Ricardians. (“…not to be confused with the followers of the economist, David Ricardo.”) The Ricardians are a mix of individuals with an interest (or obsession, really) in Richard III and his history. So much so that they gather together for a costume party where each portrays a certain individual surrounding the history of Richard III. And while that may seem all fun and games, the latest truth is that the group has discovered a letter from Elizabeth of York, Richard’s niece. The contents of the letter are to be revealed during the costume party, and Thomas would like Jacqueline to attend as a port of authority. According to him, she’s intelligent, aware, and critical enough to spot a fake; errors in vocabulary, spelling, and the paper itself are clues for Jacqueline. Jacqueline is more or less amused by Thomas’s proposition, but decides to go. And here begins the English country house mystery where party members of the Richardians begin to experience “accidents” related to their historical characters' respective deaths and murders.

So, The Murders of Richard III and how Jacqueline Kirby smokes (both literally and figuratively) her way through solving an old English country house mystery straight out of the golden age of detective fiction. The twist is that this English country house is the setting for a costume party featuring a number of eccentric people dressed as historical individuals once intimate to Richard III of England (of course the host dressed as Richard III himself). And before you even attempt to give Jacqueline's second outing a go, bring a pen and paper to make character notes.  Oh, as well as an encyclopedia that covers all subjects pertaining to Richard III, King of England. Why? Because that is where the problems come in.

There are over ten–yes, ten–characters/suspects fitted into this tight little country house setting. Each of them come from a variety of different backgrounds. One is a doctor. Another is an actor. You have a family. A beautiful young woman. Oh, a man of religion. A jerk who does nothing but eats. And, well, you might as well consider the Butler. Nonetheless, the list kind of goes on. The issue is that 90 percent of the characters featured in The Murders of Richard III are costumed as historical people. Therefore, they are repeatedly addressed (within the narrative as well as between one another) as not only their real names (sometimes interchanged with their first or last name, which increased the confusion), but also the names of the historical figures they represent. Those names are frequently repeated, and untethered by any comprehensible history for your average reader to take stock upon to differentiate any difference. Furthering the confusion is how some characters even share the names of historical figures–or at least it appears so in some points of the dialogue. Nonetheless, slowly, very slowly, you’ll get the hang of things. Or, like me, your subconscious may automatically kick in and divide the difference for you through a string of mnemonic tricks.

Honestly, that’s the only problem I had with the book. I can say that even with the abundance of available culprits, I guessed the correct one immediately after the first "accident". Nonetheless, surprises and reconsiderations were definitely in store as Jacqueline smart-mouthed her way through. And the breakdown at the end, where Jacqueline deconstructs the entire mystery while others stood along to contest her ideas, made me cry out for the ability to produce the same.  It was that old-fashioned (in a very good way) and slick of a mystery.  And once again, I'm reminded as to why I like Jacqueline Kirby a little more than Peters' most popular sleuth, Amelia Peabody.  I'm two books into each series, and I got a feeling Jacquline will shuttle her way in next.

Kirby Highlights

Because–like Martha Grimes' Emma Graham–I love these slick-mouthed women in mysteries, I want to highlight some of my favorite moments of Jacqueline Kirby.

"Jacqueline was regarding the portrait with a fixed stare.  Her horn-rimmed glasses rode high on her nose, but she had left the rest of her tailored working costume at home.  She wore a short, clinging dress of her favorite green; the short sleeves and plunging neckline displayed an admirable tan.  Tendrils of bronze hair curled over her ears and temples.  Without turning her head, she spoke.  The voice could not by any stretch of the imagination be called mellow."

Nope.  Jacqueline is hardly ever mellow.
"'Okay, I guess I've got them sorted out.  Thomas, do you realize what this is?  It's an English house party, darling, straight out of all those British detective stories I revel in.  These people are classic characters.  They couldn't be better if you had invented them.  The doctor, the vicar, the village squire; the catty middle-aged hags and the sulky, beautiful young heroine, and the two juveniles–homely and nice, handsome and rakish.  This is one missing.  But I suppose it would be too much–'"

Jacqueline, always regarding people and situations with an honest observation.
"'I don't think, I know,' said Jacqueline.  She added parenthetically to Thomas, 'There is no point in being subtle with him, Thomas.  Now, Percy, go away.  Don't ever come in here again without knocking and waiting for permission.  If you do, I will belt you one–as we crude Americans are wont to say.'

'You wouldn't dare...' Percy stood up.

'But you can't be sure.  Taking chances lends variety and interest to life.'

Percy began to look trapped.  'I'll tell them you've got Thomas in here.  I saw you drag him in.  My mother would like to hear that.'

Jacqueline laughed.

'What a little horror you are,' Thomas said.  'If young Edward was anything like you, it's no wonder he was smothered.'

'You're wasting words,' Jacqueline said.  'Never tell them more than once.  Never bluff.  Act.'

She rose and advanced purposefully on Percy, who proved her point by retreating, at full speed, and without further comment."

As seen, Jacquline is not one to play with.
"'Thomas, do you know why the detective doesn't tell until the last chapter?  So he won't make a fool of himself in case he's wrong.  It's much easier to deduce the identity of the murderer when you catch him in the act of murdering, or when all the other suspects are dead.  Ellery Queen made that mistake in one of his books, I forget which one, but it was funny; he kept presenting complicated solutions that were promptly exploded...'

Jacqueline even teaches readers how to write detective fiction.
So much more to share.  But I'll leave that up to you.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Cats, Dogs. Monticello.

Harry, her pet tiger cat, Mrs. Murphy, and pet corgi, Tee Tucker, are back in their third installment, Murder at Monticello. A deep look into history and relationships comes into thematic play in Murder at Monticello. And this time the three sniff, sneak, and ruminate over a centuries-old skeleton dug up during an archaeological dig.  The remains were found underneath the slave quarters surrounding American Founding Father Thomas Jefferson‘s home. Further research and investigation uncovers that it’s the remains of a wealthy white man, dressed and decorated as a man of status during his era. So when questions arise concerning whom this man was and how he found himself bludgeoned and buried underneath the slave quarters' fire place, the citizens of Crozet are suddenly under watch as a murderer begins to pick off those researching this unearthed and ancient scandalous affair.

As always, I love Rita Mae Brown’s “creamy” way with words and characters, and her even “creamier“ cozy mysteries. She does small-town murders with big personalities well–whether it’s through the perspective of a cat or dog. (Or possum or owl.) However, I sometimes do struggle with maintaining her list of characters, with their off-beat names and nicknames. Though she’s a series regular, characters like Big Marilyn Sanburne (the “queen of Crozet”) is often referred to as Mim, Big Marilyn, Mrs. Sanburne, or Marilyn within the narrative flow. Then toss in her daughter Little Marilyn, and other names like Miranda Hogendobber and Mary Minor Haristeen (who is the main character, Harry), and sometimes I had to take a small recollective step back. However, it’s not that bad once you get the hang of these characters as well as establishing which has specific relations with who (pay close attention to the husbands involved).  I can say that Brown placing a Cast of Characters list at the beginning of the book was helpful and necessary. But still, sometimes I just needed a visual to keep up.

If following the characters and their relations with one another weren't enough, you should be forewarned that you may want to brush up just a touch on your American History. While the subject of Thomas Jefferson’s presidency may seem familiar on the surface, watching these characters (including Mrs. Murphy and Tee Tucker) work to unfold his lineage will require a degree of concentration.  Of course that's if you are interested enough to tackle the subject just as Brown did.  Personally, I kind of ho hum'ed my way through knowing I would never remember the details, but trusted that if it related to the actual mystery Brown would set it all straight in the end.  Nonetheless, the study on period attire, 19th century politics, and slave/owner relations, may bring confusion just as well.  So how they relate to the mystery?  Well, you'll either get these essential subjects as a whole, or in pieces. Just be ready for a stack of historical and genealogical information.

With all that said, I found the mystery itself layered and pretty satisfying, if not easy. I think the ease came from how the book is told through the third person, so you gather all the quirks, manners, motivations, and aspirations of each of the characters and their respective potential as the murderous culprit. From that point, it became a simple matter of deduction outside of the obvious; therefore, not too much came unexpectedly.  This leads me to the ending and retrieval of the culprit. In this instance, the mystery was dissatisfying.  Unlike the excitement in the previous two books, Harry and her pets didn't have a standoff with the killer.  Those scenes I really enjoyed and missed this time around.

I think the best part of Murder of Monticello is the layers, and the way Brown peels each layer away to construct her mystery. (Okay, besides Mrs. Murphy and Tee Tucker in conversation and action.) The murder(s) were done in a greedy attempt to hide family secrets generations deep. With a political slant relating race issues and history. So there’s always more to a Brown book besides a story featuring animals as sleuths. Lots and lots more. And I think that’s why I like these books. They're fun, easy, peculiar, and multi-layered enough to keep me interested.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Bitter and Soft

"Once again, private eye V. I.  Warshawski finds herself up against rampant corruption in the city of Chicago.  She knows her friend Consuelo's pregnancy is already risky–she's sixteen and diabetic–but when the baby arrives prematurely, suddenly two lives are at stake.  Despite V. I.'s efforts to provide Consuelo with proper care, both mother and daughter die in the local hospital.  Suspecting malpractice, V. I. begins and investigation–and a reluctant romance with an ER doctor.  But deadly complications arise when a series of vicious murders and an attack on a women's clinic lead her to suspect a cold-blooded cover-up.  And if V. I. isn't careful, she just might have delivered her final case."
~ Bitter Medicine

Bitter Medicine was just too easy.  It’s interesting because I remember complaining about how convoluted the first two books in Paretsky’s hard-boiled V.I. Warshawski series were. Setups such as the insurance fraud in Indemnity Only (book #1), and the problematic Chicago freighters issue in Deadlock (book #2), seemed bloated with not-so-easy-to-follow facts, data and principles.  However, the third book in the series, Killing Orders, took on counterfeit bond certificates gracefully; further fueled by the development of Warshawski’s character. And then I arrived here, at Bitter Medicine, and its setup of medical malpractice and racketing.  Somehow, I pipelined my way to the end with very little difficulty comprehending the context concerning those topics. Which could be a good or bad thing, but kind of startling once I reached its conclusion. I was certain I missed something.  It was a Sara Paretsky mystery after all–which requires careful concentration.  But no, it was all laid out clearly, and a little too easily as a whole.

Nevertheless, Bitter Medicine wasn't nearly as great as the book before it, Killing Orders. In all respects, besides the medical malpractice and racketing setup, the murder-mystery aspect of Bitter Medicine kind of read like some sort of practice novel. For starters, a few stock characters were present.  There was the bent and irrational doctor desperately clinging to his status, while invoking its glory on surrounding "peasants" and the rest of the medical community.  Also, there was the Spanish Eddie-like gang leader who profuse intimidation and violence to get his point across.  Unfortunately, he was severely limited to that. 

For real, I could assemble the plot-points and events in a single summary, and even you would realize who the culprit was, and how Paretsky set these stock characters up to fulfill their unswerving purpose. Actually, "unswerving" is the precise word for Bitter Medicine

The book was so plotted and constructed that it gave me little room to speculate outside the narrative. The purposes of her characters and events were that obvious and clear. I immediately knew each role of her characters as they each pertained to the unfolding story. Try this: a women's clinic is raided by protesters. A specific, case-breaking file went missing in the fray. High-powered attorney is used to protect low-waged criminals involved in the raid. Said criminals retained this costly attorney through an undisclosed, third-party sponsorship. This sponsorship is linked to those files missing from the women's clinic's raid.  There is only one available slot for Warshawski to explore concerning the file, the criminals, the attorney, and the sponsorship.  And it's all laid out flat for the reader.  When you read the book, the obvious connections leaves very little for your imagination to deviate from.  At one point I only wondered why Warshawski was even questioning and investigating the plain and obvious.  However, I suppose there has to be some level of procedural work.

Very little difficulty involves piecing this one together.  With that being said, I will continue this series. I like it easy, but not this easy. Nonetheless, Warshawski at her truth-driven smart-mouthed best is worth the journey.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Good-bye For Now, Emma Graham

"...Twelve-year-old Emma, still hard on the trail of the truth behind these old intertwined crimes: the murders of Mary-Evelyn Devereau, Rose Queen, and Fern Queen; the attempted murder of Emma herself; and, most of all, the supposed kidnapping of the four-month-old Slade baby from the belle Ruin Hotel twenty years previously.

'Too many bad things happen around here,' says Emma to a visitor she never expected to see.  And with this visitor and the appearance of a mysterious drifter, it looks like too many bad things might start happening again.

In this suspenseful sequel to the best-selling Belle Ruin, the unflappable Emma Graham returns, still a waitress in her mother's decaying summer hotel, still a cub reporter for the local newspaper, and still a sleuth for the ages."
~ From Fadeaway Girl

I guess this'll be the last time I mention Martha Grimes’s twelve-year-old sleuth, Emma Graham, in a long time. Fadeaway Girl is the fourth and latest book in the series. So until Mrs. Grimes comes up with a fifth book (each book takes at least five years between the next), this will be it. However, believe me when I say that I have back up in the form of Emma’s eleven-year-old English counterpart, Flavia de Luce. So, stay tuned for the introduction of that one.

Nonetheless, like all books in Emma Graham’s series, Fadeaway Girl takes place at least a week or two after the events in the previous book.  In this case, that would be Belle Ruin. It’s the same summer and decade introduced in the very first book, Hotel Paradise. Same cast of crazy, eccentric and talkative characters. Same budding and expanding mystery revolving around a pocket of murders and a missing baby. And best of all, the same smart-mouth, lonely and inquisitive Emma Graham. Oh, and Fadeaway Girl still contains that dreamy, somewhat melancholy mood of a picturesque town spinning in its own humorous direction. Furthermore, I continued to burst out into laughter at Emma and her somehow lodged–yet dislodged–sense of pre-teen humor.

On another note, I believe Fadeaway Girl probably provided the most momentum plot-wise within the four books of the series.  Or at least it stomped the dryness of its predecessor, Belle Ruin. Nonetheless, considering Emma’s mysteries aren't traditionally told (or traditional at all), and are expansive and off-branching, many resolutions came to head in this fourth book. The only problem that I found with said resolutions was that they came kind of swift and abruptly. Toward the end of the book, Emma’s slow, hyper-observant styled narrative shifted gears completely. Nonetheless, even those quick resolutions were not so clean.  With that being said, Emma's story continues!

I’m going to miss Emma and her world until that fifth book comes out (sure, I can re-read them).  Whenever it comes.  The Emma Graham mysteries easily became one of my top five favorite mystery series.  No, they are not for everyone, but they were absolutely perfect for me.  

Emma reminded me of myself when I was a pre-teen.  I asked a lot of questions.  Some adults didn't like me because I challenged their authority (ask several of my middle school teachers).  Sometimes I had to lie to get information.  Many times I had to swerve my words to get what I wanted.  I was reckless and ruthless when it came to other kids my age, often shooting out commands at them.  And generally, just curious and adventurous while acknowledging that I was special if only I saw so in myself.  My connection with Emma was so real after that first book that I knew it would be hard to let her go.  

For now, anyway.


"Mr. Gumbrel was sitting at his desk in the back of the newspaper office.

'I just wanted to run this by you.  I called a couple of times, but you weren't here.'  No, I hadn't.  As if the only thing holding up the installment of the story was his not answering the phone.  'I need to know what you think of this story line.'


When I looked at the little I'd written, I felt disloyal."
"I would present myself as working for the Conservative and wanting an interview for the story of the Belle Ruin.  This had the disadvantage of being the truth.  I'd rather have pretended to be selling Girl Scout cookies (the Girl Scouts being a bunch I would drop dead before joining).  But here I was stuck with the truth."
"When I piled out of the cab in front of the Orion, Delbert asked me what I was going to do until the movie started, which wouldn't be for another half hour.

'Shoot up the place,' I said, and slammed the door."
"I had no idea what she was talking about.  'What?'

'Private detective.  Ain't you been listening?  Yes, Larry or Barry, no, Harry Oates.  We went dancing together under the stars.'

Pushing away from the wall, I decided to leave before she remembered that scene too well and got out of her chair."
"There were a lot of Moomas in the phone directory, but no Carls.  There were two C's, and I called both numbers.  I pretended to be selling magazine subscriptions, and one said his name was Charles, and he nearly talked my ear off, and the other hung up..."
"Naturally, he wanted to know why I was at Hanna's Building Supply, and I told him because we were building an ark at the rear of the hotel grounds and were charging fifty cents for anyone who wanted to bring his pet to get blessed.

Anyone else would have been questioning the whole ark-building plan, but not Delbert, who instead had to comment on Noah: 'Now I don't think he blessed the animals; I think his job was just to get 'em on board, march 'em up the ramp and inside the ship and that was all.'

I slid down in my seat and did not contradict him, because that would encourage conversation.  Probably, it served me right for the ark story.  And I forgot that silence could encourage conversation as much as speaking."
"I ran down the rest of the stairs and into the back office, where the phone was.  I plunked down Aurora's glass and grabbed up the metal phone pad, pushed the pointer to 'M,' and clicked it open.  There was Dr. McComb's number.

'Be there, be there,' I said to myself, and danced around like I had to pee.

'Dr. McComb, this is Emma.'

He was surprised.  'Emma, you should be–'

'What did Deputy Mooma mean about a "granny gun"?' I hadn't time for my roundabout ways.


I pinched my eyes shut.  'He was talking about the gun, I think, that was lying on the floor.'

'Oh yeah, I recall.  It's a small one.  Now listen Emma–'

'What about it?  What.  A.  Bout.  It?'  I said this through gritted teeth so he would know I wasn't fooling around and that I meant business.

He knew.  He told me.
Emma Graham Series Order
1.  Hotel Paradise
2.  Cold Flat Junction
3.  Belle Ruin
4.  Fadeaway Girl

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Africa and Ammie (Disappointing October Reads)

I’m going to make this quick because I really don’t too much care to talk about these last two books.  But I must.  Here are the last two books I read in the month of October and both were incredible, incredible disappointments. 

Mark of the Lion by Suzanne Arruda

Jade Del Cameron was raised on a ranch in New Mexico, years before she became an ambulance driver in France during World War I. Between the two, she has gathered her own personal connection with the animal kingdom as well as a survivor’s proclivity required during War Time. So when she witnesses her beau’s military plane shot down from the sky by the enemy, her immediate reaction is to rush to his rescue unfazed by the smoking danger. Pulling him from the wreckage, she lays him in her arms as he whispers his last dying words for her to find his long-lost brother as well as for her to find out the truth behind his father’s murder. Later, after having experienced the coldness of her dying beau’s mother, Jade turns to the family lawyer for assistance in where to begin her search.  She's determined to fulfill her promise and seek the answers her dying beau pressed into her, even if that means heading all the way to Africa. Before long, Jade is stepping off a train in Africa; and onto African curses, murder, and a touch of newfound romance.

Oh, Jesus. Where do I start with this book? Mark of the Lion, by Suzanne Arruda, completely stalled out my October reading. It took on a hefty week and one day for me to complete; killing the strong reading start I had at the beginning of the month. So why did this book slow me down? Why did I plow through this safari-based murder mystery by choking down 50 pages a day instead of my much required 100? The answer is… well… I really don't have one.  However, in retrospect, I felt it suffered from the problematic middle-slump.  No amount of new character introductions or small stretches in the sub-plots could save me from the apathy I felt during the middle of this book.  The African setting couldn't save it either.  I was bored.  Sometimes I sat up with the book reasoning with myself by thinking that maybe I chose a bad time to read it.  

The single saving grace (for me) is the main character of Jade.  Some reviewers claim she's portrayed as a modern woman slipped into the era of World War I.  She's great with a rifle, speaks her mind, and is proficient as an auto mechanic.  I really didn't care for the difference, concerning Jade and the reality of women of her era.  Because of her, I'm willing to give the series another go by moving into the second book in the series.  But man was this an unexpected disappointment.

Ammie, Come Home by Barbara Michaels

"The seance began as a party game.  A playful diversion for the guest in Ruth Bennett's fashionable Georgetown home.  But when her niece Sara speaks in a voice not her own, the game becomes frighteningly real... and the dark, forgotten secrets of yesterday's passions rise up to claim new players..."

Such a huge, enormous let down. Despite Barbara Michaels being Elizabeth Peters’ other penname, not even that realization could save this story. It was just… well… a boring ghost story that drug on and on and on for no reason. The back-story concerning the ghost and how that played out was moderately interesting. Nevertheless, alas, it was just too boring and dry of a story.  And I doubt that has anything with how dated the material is (it was written in the late 60's).  At least I don't claim that.

I didn't care for the characters at all–which didn't help matters. Most of them were snippy at one another, and the “possessed” Sara was a doormat to the ghost as well as her family and boyfriend. Damn. I was really hoping this book was going to creep me out and keep me up at night, especially after reading the synopsis months ago. Needless to say, it didn't creep me out or keep me up. I digested this one in a sluggish 50-pages a day, while finding myself extremely (and I mean extremely) restless and stir-crazy after only five pages into each session. That was a total of five days thrown into this book, rounding out my October with a whimper. And that’s all I care to talk about. To the library donation pile this one goes.

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