Sunday, January 2, 2011

Middle Sis' December Books

I hope you don't kind that I cheat and include the last book I read, as I technically finished the last few chapters on New Year's day. But it's a galley from NetGalley due to be published soon, and I don't want to have to wait all  month to post my review. Not much reading this month, as I was a little too preoccupied with Stinkerbelle's medical problems to concentrate on reading and thinking about what I was reading. I went for books that didn't require too much concentration.

  1. Tale of the Witch Doll by Mildred A. Wirt  Yes, I confess, I still want to be Nancy Drew when I grow up. This long OOP series by one of the stable of authors who wrote the Nancy Drew books does Nancy one better, as Ms. Wirt was writing this under her own name for herself, not the Stratemeyer Syndicate, so she had lots more leeway with her heroine. This book introduces us to the series heroine, Penny Parker, who is Nancy gone rogue. Okay, maybe not rogue, but not the goody two shoes we love Nancy for being. Penny is a bit more irreverent, more sure of herself, more flippant with her father, and more realistic in some ways because of these traits. Penny is impatient; Nancy would never be impatient. Penny teases her father or talks back to him; Nancy never would.  Penny's car is so decrepit it's out of service half the time and Penny can neither afford to repair it or put gas in it when it is running; Nancy never has problems with her little blue roadster. The mystery is a little darker, with The Criminal determined to kill His Archenemy. A little dated and maybe a little stiff and plenty formulaic, but loads of fun nonetheless. I have several other of Penny's adventures on my Kindle and can't wait to read them.
  2. The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie Last year I briefly toyed with the idea of working my way systematically through all of Dame Agatha. I've read all the books, and many of the short stories, but haven't read most for more than 25 years. I may still take this on in 2011. Tommy and Tuppence are the lighthearted amateur detective series, and I needed lighthearted. Luckily, it's been so long since i read this or saw the BBC dramatization that I couldn't remember a thing about it. Perfectly written, of course, with tight dialogue, action, and enough background that the international intrigue made complete sense, even 80 years after the fact. Who wouldn't enjoy an Agatha Christie? Grab a big mug of tea, a scone, and settle in for a few hours of great storytelling.
  3.   The Girl in the Green Raincoat by Laura Lippman A to-be-published novella from established author Laura Lippman, whom I confess to never having read before. A riff on Rear Window and A Thief of Time, with our heroine on bedrest during the latter part of her pregnancy. Watching the daily visitors to the dog park across the street, she becomes concerned when one of the regular dogs appears, still on leash, but with her owner. Taking in the dog and determined to find the owner, the mother-to-be uses all her private detective skills and friends to find out what happened to the missing dog owner. This novella does a good job of incorporating modern technology into the classic bedridden detective tale while still providing a good dose of bone-chilling drama at the end. While the novella started off slow, it quickly picked up steam. I have to confess that the main character and her paramour didn't interest me very much, but Mrs. Blossom was very intriguing. I may read more inthe series just to find out more about this supporting character.
  4. A Certain Dr. Thorndyke by R. Austen Freeman Classic mystery series from the golden era, Freeman's books aren't well known today, but they should be. The first half of the book is rather slow moving, and allows us ample time to get to know the criminal on the run. The second half is retroactive, and shows how 'a certain Dr. Thorndyke' solved the mystery. Although somewhat old fashioned, the female character is a strong and likeable woman and no shrinking Edwardian violet. I will definitely be making Dr. Thorndyke's acquaintance some more.
  5. Lethal Lineage by Charlotte Hinger Okay, our mother raised us not to say anything if we couldn't say something nice, so I'll start with the positives. Although the descriptive blurb talks about murder in a church, this is not a preachy, Christian lit, proselytizing mystery. Just a mystery centered on a mysterious death in a brand new church in the farmlands of Kansas. The author realistically mentions the problems a May-December marriage may pose for the grown-up children involved, although there are few details to flesh this problem out and help us like our heroine. I really liked the historical research angle to the story, which was used to introduce us to some of the major players and their interrelationships. However, I am forced to admit I thought this book, another galley, was pretty bad. If I had received this as an acquisitions editor, I'd have sent it back for some polishing and re-working. There are some inconsistencies in the character that were unsettling (she's concerned about being blasphemous in our first encounter with her when she thinks "Oh God!" but later has no problem with calling a bishop a bastard) that could have been easily taken care of with a few sentences. The entire story hinges on a series of improbable coincidences, and far too many of them. The introductory chapters and the discussion of roaming Episcopal bishops and priests was so confusing I still don't understand it, and I wonder if the author had it straight in her own mind or just abandoned that part of the story because she couldn't make it make sense. The Hutu/Tutsi genocide angle was very far fetched, and could have been handled far better than it was. Overall, this reads like a second draft, not a final galley ready for publication. And the formatting was terrible on my Kindle--it was often difficult to tell who was speaking as paragraphs all ran together and no quotation marks were used. The book may have potential, but this needs a lot more work.

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