Showing posts with label Martha Grimes. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Martha Grimes. Show all posts

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Flavia's Sweetness

"It is the summer of 1950–and at the once-grand mansion of Buckshaw, young Flavia de Luce, an aspiring chemist with a passion for poison, is intrigued by a series of inexplicable events: A dead bird is found on the doorstep, a postage stamp bizarrely pinned to its beak.  Then, hours later, Flavia finds a man lying in the cucumber patch and watches him as he takes his dying breath.  For Flavia, who is both appalled and delighted, life begins in earnest when murder comes to Buckshaw.  'I wish I could say I was afraid, but I wasn't.  Quite the contrary.  This was by far the most interesting thing that had ever happened to me in my entire life.'"

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie was just as sweet as its title.  Sliding from Martha Grimes’ twelve-year-old sleuth, Emma Graham, and into Alan Bradley’s similarly close-aged sleuth, Flavia de Luce, proved successful.  The tartness and twang the two series share is undeniable, albeit explored through protagonists who are a year and decade apart as well as from different countries.  Nevertheless, hear me when I say that Flavia is just as precious, intuitive, resourceful, and smart-alecky as Grimes' Emma. I will say that Emma’s mouth is a lot slicker than Flavia, though. Flavia has her moments when she "reads" an adult or peer down, but she’s not as creatively shady as Emma.  That's probably because Emma's pessimistic and general disregard for any adult who sees her only as a child is a lot stronger.  Whereas Flavia uses an adult's perspective of her to become virtually "invisible" as she snoops.  Seriously, the girl walked straight through the police station at one point and, upon getting caught, bubbled up tears used to ensure her way forward.  Emma would've pitched a fit, but eventually gain the same results. 

Nonetheless, let’s not split hairs here. The truth is that both ladies know how to carry a pleasurable, humorous and intriguing narrative. And respectively speaking, I can't count the number of times I burst out laughing while reading The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. It was simply hilarious watching the curious and outspoken Flavia attempt to solve her given murder mystery; whether she’s questioning a suspect, giving the police crap, or pedaling her bicycle all across the English village she lives in.  And she's not always 100%, but I pique in those tiny moments where she considers something I may have looked over.  An example as simple as her pulling her bike into a shed, so that she can rifle through old newspapers unbothered, is one considerable moment.  Or her hanging back behind a tree to witness an argument, and then walking forward as if casual and unawares (with a high-pitch greeting) is another.  Or covering her ass on the spot with a shameless lie when her presence comes into question.  So I appreciated her thoughtfulness and forward thinking.

Oh, and I have to mention how passionate she is about chemistry and uses her knowledge of it throughout the book. However, on the flip-side, she’s not exactly passionate and mindful of her own family.  While her two older sisters often give her hell, Flavia does have to look after them as well as her father.  (Her mother, Harriett, passed when Flavia was too young to remember her.)  Nonetheless, there were sweet moments where Flavia sort of appointed herself guardian of her father, who naturally found himself arrested as a suspect while the murder took place on his property.  And even toward the end, it was Flavia's oldest sister that came to her rescue.  I've kind of grown to like the de Luces, so I'm interested in seeing their family grow and develop as a sort of B-hook to the series.  Because essentially there's a lot of interesting points made in this area.

I can say that I’m hooked to this series now, and can't wait to start on the next book. Except for a few questionable investigative moments–like Flavia using her braces to pick a lock–The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie was a wonderful ride.  It wasn't the most guttural or complicated of mysteries, and sometimes the backstory related to the victim got in the way of watching Flavia flourish on paper.  Nonetheless, all that rounded out as a necessity to the mystery and narrative.  Otherwise, you may find yourself caring less about Flavia's troubles and fine detection.



Just like with Emma, I have to capture and quote my favorite moments with Flavia.  These are the times I cracked up the most.

"It was dark inside the little bedroom, but there was light enough to see the form lying on the bed; to see the white face staring back at me, its mouth gaping open in a horrid 'O.'

'Flavia!' Miss Cool said, scrambling to her feet, her words muffled by the window glass.  'What on earth–?'

She snatched her false teeth from a tumbler and rammed them into her mouth, then vanished for a moment, and as I leaped to the ground I heard the sound of the bolt being shot back.  The door opened inwards to reveal her standing there–like a trapped badger–in a housedress, her hand clutching and opening in nervous spasms at her throat.

'What on earth...?' she repeated.  'What's the matter?'

'The front door's locked,' I said.  'I couldn't get in.'"


"One day when I found her sobbing on the bench with her head on the closed piano lid, I had whispered, 'Give it up, Daff,' and she had flown at me like a fighting cock.

I had even tried encouragement.  Whenever I heard her at the Broadwood, I would drift into the drawing room, lean against the piano, and gaze off into the distance as if her playing hand enchanted me.  Usually she ignored me, but once when I said, 'What a lovely piece that is!  What's it called?' she had almost slammed the lid on my fingers.

'The scale of G major!' she had shrieked, and fled the room.

Buckshaw was not an easy place in which to live."


"The little man's pale blue eyes bulged visibly in their sockets.

'Why, it's only a girl!' he said.

I could have slapped his face.

'Ay, that's her,' said the suntanned one.

'Mr. Ruggles here has reason to believe that you were up in the tower,' the Inspector said, with a nod at the white mustache.

'What if I was?' I said.  'I was just having a look round.'

'The tower's off limits,' Mr. Ruggles said loudly.  'Off limits!  And so it says on the sign.  Can't you read?'

I gave him a graceful shrug."


"'Feely,' I said, turning on her, 'do me a favor:  Pop back into the pit and fetch me my handkerchief–and be sure to bring me what's wrapped up inside it.  Your dress is already filthy, so it won't make much difference.  There's a good girl.'

Feely's jaw dropped about a yard, and I thought for a moment she was going to punch me in the teeth.  Her whole face grew as red as her lips.  And then suddenly she spun on her heel and vanished into the shadows of the Pit Shed."


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.

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

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."

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Emma Graham, Once Again

I have never laughed out loud so much during a book until now.

Cold Flat Junction is book two in Martha Grimes’s portrait-esque Emma Graham mystery series. It runs in direct conjunction with the first book, Hotel Paradise. Well, to be precise, just about a week or two in narrative time made up the difference. Therefore, twelve-year-old Emma Graham is still present and strong; decorated in her usual witty, stubborn and cheeky ways. She’s also still obsessing about a 40-years-past “accidental” drowning of a girl her age, as that was the mystery that led her from Hotel Paradise and into its somewhat conclusion in Cold Flat Junction. Tack in another, recent murder (that was also introduced in Hotel Paradise), and Emma is on her Nancy Drew-ish way. Let her tell it, but nobody can convince her that the two murders are not connected.

As always, Emma employs her quick-witted wordsmith abilities to elicit the help of several residents of her town to assist her in her investigation. Dwayne Hayden, the auto mechanic and squirrel poacher, has a shotgun handy; therefore, he’s in top order for Emma to maneuver into bodyguard status. Sheriff Dehgan, Emma’s under-recognized mentor, is back and a little more distant from Emma. This distance worries her, but the truth is that she’s the one keeping secrets (some of those secrets are criminal offenses like obstruction of justice). The eccentric back wood-dweller, Mr. Root, is back to uselessly guide Emma through places she doesn't belong. And on a softer, funnier note, Mrs. Bertha is still complaining about Emma’s ability to be a good Hotel Paradise waitress and cook. Oh, and I couldn’t forget to mention Aunt Aurora, who resides in the fourth floor of the Hotel Paradise. Per standards, Emma continues to pump information out of the irate old lady with a mix of alcoholic drinks used to loosen her mean but venerable tongue.

Ah, I love this atmospheric town and its cast of bright, vivid characters.

Emma pulls hardly any stops as she sets on her quest to find the answers related to the two murders that surround the Hotel Paradise and its history. Hedged with the awareness that she require adults to help her along the way, you can’t help but to admire her captivating charm (as a reader as well as for the supporting characters). However, behind all of that charm and wit, you may also feel the loneliness she emanates. Nonetheless, where Hotel Paradise left matters on somewhat of a cliff-hanger, Cold Flat Junction ties down a few answers, but builds even more questions for Emma and her crew.

Final thoughts…

Let me go ahead and get straight to the point. Cold Flat Junction kind of drug in the last quarter of the book. By that time, even Emma’s spunky personality couldn’t stop the ennui I felt from her repetitious need to continue visiting adults under false pretenses so that she could chip information out of them. It was fun, cute, and clever the first 20 times, and then it got a little too "run of the mill." No doubt that she managed to gather her clues, but there came a point where I needed the mystery to push forward. (It also didn't help when several chapters were dedicated to her spending time alone, fantasizing about a trip to Florida.) But seriously, Emma would recycle her way through pumping some of the same characters for information. However, I must say that this deductive means of investigation seemed a lot more organic and appropriate when you consider the mystery is told through a twelve-year-old girl. Still, toward the end of the book, I'd had my fill and wanted to move along to the end. I don't believe I'm the only one who felt this way.  And also, some readers may grow tired not from the cycling interviews, but more from the point that Emma was always sticking her nose in adults’ business.

Grimes herself.
And that’s kind of where I also realize how some readers may have another problem regarding Emma and the storytelling.  See, there are instances where Emma sort of sermonizes her dislike in adult characters that treat her… well… like the adolescent she is. I don't think I was as smart (though I was adventurous) as Emma when I was twelve, but how she managed to find the right words to discredit those who look over her seemed learned through her ever, secretly candid mother. And I say that whether Emma is accurate or not in her assessment of said adults. Nonetheless, in essence, Emma gathered her guts and ability to criticize adults from her mother; therefore, her doing so didn't bother me at all.  It's only natural. However, I could see in places where it would bother someone to watch this girl stand up for herself, however misguided (or not) she may appear.

Take this scene:

Perhaps recalling that I was alive, Mrs. Davidow said to me, “You won’t mind keeping an eye on things here, will you?”

“Yes,” I said.

For some reason they thought this answer was amusing and laughed.

In retrospect, I think the adults treated Emma like she was younger than even twelve.

Like this moment:

I guess he was making fun of me, but I would ignore that. “Listen: I could meet you out there at Brokedown House. But you’d have to promise that you’d come.”

[Dwayne Hayden] screwed his face up in the most utter surprise I’d ever seen, except when Will [her brother] was playing innocent. “Promise? You’re talking like you’re doin’ me a favor.”

I shook my hands in impatience. “Well, but will you?”

He paused for some moments, watching me and probably thinking I was crazy. A crazy kid.

I busted into laughter during this scene and many more, nowhere near phased by Emma's attitude.

All in all, I give Cold Flat Junction a solid five stars. It’s not for everyone. It’s not a traditional mystery per se. Hell, even the end was slightly (and I stretch this lightly the world over), dubious. I kind of felt like Grimes didn't give enough clues to shape the sudden appearance of a particularly character. Okay, I tried so hard to keep that last statement as spoiler-free as possible. Even so, man do I love Emma Graham’s voice, the atmosphere, the characters, and Grimes's picturesque writing ability. I feel so lucky to already have the next two books willing and waiting for me to dive back in.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Unbox Me

Here we go.  Time to unbox the latest batch of BookOutlet books.  I suppose I can't resist a deal, and saving $10 when you spend a total of $30 is too good a deal to ignore.  Especially when the books are less than $7.  So you can look at it two ways: either you're getting free shipping or a free book.  Makes no difference.  You must indulge yourself!

Freshly opened and free of packing paper (and mysteriously missing a packing slip).  I'm already super excited at this point.  I like how BookOutlet always makes it seems like there are less books than you actually ordered.  But still, I can already tell I'll need to rearrange my bookshelves again.  Including placing the remainders of my last order off my desk and somewhere appropriate until I find the mood to read them.

As I mentioned in a recent POST, I finished the first book [Hotel Paradise] in Martha Grimes's Emma Graham series.  Immediately, I just had to have the remaining three books in Emma's series.  Like... it was that serious.  So I'm happy I found them all in one go!  The series order goes as: Hotel Paradise, Cold Flat Junction, Belle Ruin, and Fadeaway Girl.  Still, I'm going to wait before I jump into book two.  I have to catch up on another author first, then it's back to Emma Graham's world.

Two copies of Sue Grafton's A is for Alibi suddenly popped up on the BookOutlet's listings.  They're the original hardbacks–which is extra, extra cool.  And made for a quick, compulsive snatched.  The original hardbacks have tons more character than the current paperbacks (speaking about the covers).  So what better way to start collecting them in this form than with the first book in the Kinsey Millhone series?  A Mind to Murder is book two in P. D. James's Adam Dalgliesh series.  After reading the first book, Cover Her Face, finding book two screams WIN!

Max Gladstone's Two Serpents Rise is the second book in his Craft Sequence series.  Released in October of 2013, I've waited this long to finally pick it up.  Why?  Because book three, Full Fathom Five, just released and I'm behind.  Basically, I have to catch up.  Max Gladstone is great.  Like Steve Bein, I'm starting to notice that I like male urban fantasy writers more than female–which is very unusual.  But it has to do with how the romance aspects are mostly snuffed off by male authors.  That's just the damn truth.  Give me the great characters, the world-building, the unique plotting.  Leave all the sex chat and werewolf gazing out.  

Nonetheless, Gladstone's series reflects the democracies of corporate America (but not necessarily American) inside urban fantasy, extreme world-building fantasy, and a few other genre-bending elements.  As I await my copy of Full Fathom Five, I'm sinking my teeth into this one.  I'll be back Emma Graham.

Thanks, everyone.  Do you love BookOutlet?  And what're you reading this summer?  Share in the comment section below!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Paradise & Old Murders

"Life was hard, but I was resolute."
~ Emma Graham, Hotel Paradise

I missed the voice of twelve-year-old Emma Graham the second I finished Martha Grimes’s Hotel Paradise.  And lucky me, BookOutlet had a $10-dollars-off-when-you-spend-$30 deal happening.  Even more thrilling, the remaining three books in Emma Graham’s series was in stock.  SOLD!  I packed my e-cart then went about my gleeful business.  As I write this–days after reading Hotel Paradise–I have yet to find myself lost in another book.  I'm currently struggling through Marlon James’s The Book of Night Women, because it’s apparent that what I really want is more Emma Graham.  Crazy, right?  Has this ever happened to you?

Emma Graham reminds me of myself when I was twelve, and on forward.  She pays close attention to adults.  She asks questions without much regard.  Sometimes those questions are attached to requests for favors.  She also speaks most of her mind to adults, but knows when to hold back for her own, stealthy advantage.  She’s the definition of precocious and brassy, but never to the point where she becomes an unlikable smart-ass.  Tack on how hilarious and perceptive she is, and not once did I feel any dislike for her.  

Most of that is probably because I understood where she was coming from.  She and her family resides and works (she waits tables) in a lakefront resort hotel called Hotel Paradise.  They somewhat inherited it through Emma's father, but not quite with Emma's biting great-aunt hanging over the place from her fourth floor bedroom.  Nonetheless, Emma's mother is the busy head chief at the Hotel Paradise (my mother was always busy and left me to my own devices sometimes); her brother is a charming prankster who is best to avoid (my younger sister got away with murder); and her father has long passed (yeah, well not mine).  Like myself Emma kind of has herself, her intrusiveness, and her imagination.  With the exception of a handful of townies to help her along the way, she stood on her own resolve.  And it was Emma’s imagination, intrusiveness, and resolve that affixed her to the forty-year-old "accidental" murder of a woman named Mary-Evelyn.  See, many moons ago a local resident named Mary-Evelyn climbed aboard a small boat that lead her out onto the lake adjacent to the Hotel Paradise.  She never came home alive.  This is where Hotel Paradise takes off... but never quite lands...

Martha Grimes
There are several things that you have to kind of take note of before you begin reading Hotel Paradise. The first is that it’s not your conventional mystery at all. Apparently, Martha Grimes gets a little flack for this from some readers, and even I had trouble kind of calculating what she was attempting to do with the spread of her plot. So with that said, do not go into Hotel Paradise thinking this is a case of page-turning suspense. Not quite. Even with two murders for Emma to break her sleuthing teeth on. The book is leisurely. The investigation process is leisurely. The town(s) Emma tromps through is leisurely. However, what’s not leisurely is Emma’s wit and commitment. Nor is Grimes’s rich characterizations of the other townies, Emma’s nemeses, and the interesting theories surrounding her investigation. Those elements are opulent in details, and makes up the bulk of the book.  As they should, because even toward the end not a damned thing is resolved. Everything–and I mean everything–is up in the air. And you know what? I loved it like that!

Another aspect about this book that you should probably consider is that Hotel Paradise doesn't have a set location. You'll quickly realize that it’s a small town somewhere in America, even if it comes across as somewhere in the United Kingdom. Or some place specific like Keswick, Cumbria. But no. You’ll realize that it’s American, and mostly through the attributing dialogue. It still doesn't quite cover the feel of the story, though. Which brings up another allure within the book: there is no definition of time and/or age. The book was published in 1996. However, that doesn't mean a thing when it reads a touch like something Frances Hodgson Burnett [The Secret Garden] wrote in the early 20th century. It’s both a funny and haunting thing; and all part of Emma’s voice and the magic of a narrative that draws you into its world.

In closing, Hotel Paradise is not for everyone. Part of me wants to push recommending it, and another doesn't. What I can say is that if you like the traditional mystery set up, then you just may want to stay away. However, if you got time for a slow book with a great leading narrative (who is at her best because of her age), then Hotel Paradise just might work for you. Anyway, I can’t wait for book two, Cold Flat Junction.

Some of Emma

"...Why make a fuss about such a little thing? is always my mother's fuming response as she bangs around the pots and pans preparing to shut down for the night.  All she wants is some peace and quiet.  Well, I say, all I want is some white meat of chicken."

"I kept the butterfly box, which I'd made from a small carton that once held Hunt's tomato sauce, for I had gone to a lot of trouble making the plastic-covered window, and I might be able to use it for something else."

"I stood before the candy-display case looking at the lineup of Butterfingers and Necco wafers and keeping my own ears open.  When I left the kitchen, I remembered I'd want some money, so I crossed the grass to the other wing and went up to my room to collect some of my tips.  I took a dollar in change along, which I jiggled in my fist whenever Mr. Britten looked my way, just to let him know I was here on business and not to loiter like some other people I could mention."

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