Saturday, December 31, 2011

Middle Sis' December Books

Murder Past Due by Miranda James Cosy "Cat in the Stacks" mystery with a male college librarian/archivist in a small southern town. When a famous college alumnae and bestselling author is murdered the day after he donates his notes to the library, our hero swings into action to help an old college friend and her son, who are prime suspects. Male protagonists written by women sometimes seem more feminine than male, and that's certainly the case here--Charlie Harris is sensitive and introspective and not macho at all. And his Maine Coon cat, Diesel, his best friend and constant companion (how does he not get into trouble for taking his cat into the bakery?), is not the usual sidekick for a man, nor the pistol my Maine Coon cat is, but the chirping meow is recognizable to any Maine Coon owner. Too bad the cat on the cover is not a Maine Coon. Note to publishers: trying to sell a genre book will work better if you're accurate in basic details, like the cat prominently portrayed on the cover. Having the wrong breed on there just cheeses the cat-loving mystery buffs you're trying to attract, and non-cat-loving mystery buffs are unlikely to buy a book featuring a cat, so you might as well have the graphic designer get it right and please your target audience. Pleasant read, although the mystery is not mysterious at all and even a lackadaisical armchair detective can solve this one before the book is one-third read.

Death by Cashmere by Sally Goldenbaum Lovely setting in a fictional Cape Cod-type seaside town, the first in the series centered on the Seaside Knitting Studio introduces us to a group of women brought together by their love of knitting and food and proximity. Loved the setting, and would love to live there. Note to publishers: the copy editor needs to make sure that there is continuity through the book. After a big deal is made about the turquoise sea yarn (p. 82) Nell uses to make herself a scarf/shawl to wear to the gala event that is pivotal to solving the murder mystery, to have her go find her "black" shawl (p. 167) is just sloppy. Also sloppy: not keeping track of who is who: p. 167, Izzy is working on a sweater and Cass is working on a shawl for her mother, yet just a few scant paragraphs down, "Izzy put down the alpaca shawl she was making for her mother." And how could Izzy be playing with her toast (p. 215) when they weren't served breakfast until p. 216? (Yes, a point is made of Stella the waitress bringing their food.) It's hard enough keeping track during some passages of dialogue, when all four women are talking (Nell, Izzy, Cass, and Birdie) and no names are used; the reader doesn't need sloppy editing. I never found any of these women to have a unique voice or way or talking that came across in the written dialogue, and pages of unattributed dialogue were frustrating if the reader is trying to keep track of who knew what, when, and how. Again, the mystery is not mysterious, and this undiscerning armchair detective had the mystery solved halfway through the book without even trying, but the setting is so vividily described, and Nell such a nice woman, I'm sure I'll be back to visit Seaside.

The Middle Temple Murder by Joseph Smith Fletcher Enjoyable historic-period mystery (set in 1912) in which the murder of a mysterious stranger from Australia is solved by an honest newspaperman with a nose for following a cold trail. I very much enjoy mysteries where the detective has to use his brains and courage, not his cell phone and brute force, to solve the mystery. Complicated shenanigans where no one, except our hero, is what he seems.

Chili Con Corpses (The Supper Club Mysteries) by J.B. Stanley Contemporary series focused on a group of dieting friends who take a culinary class, which is disrupted by the murder of a classmate. Pleasant enough, also with a male protagonist who seems more feminine than male in his attitude and actions. Do men really sit around in coffee shops talking about what would be the perfect gift to buy a particular woman? 

The Burglar and the Blizzard, a Christmas Story by Alice Duer Miller Historical mystery wherein the solving of the mystery may ruin our hero's (yes, another book with a male protagonist--it was a bit of a theme this month) chance at happiness. Enjoyable, fast read, neatly solved, no drama.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Middle Sister Reads in November

Hmm, seems I read more in November than I thought. The monthly summaries, plus a new feature--a monthly Best Book Quote.
  • The South Beach Diet Wake Up Call by Arthur Agatston The latest South Beach book. Really, these aren't diet books but lifestyle books. In the first, Dr. Agatston presented his diet-for-life plan. In the second, he added exercise as diet alone won't cut it for most people. And now, he's come to understand the importance of sleep to our health and well-being. Sleep and health have been hot topics in health magazines for the last 18 months, and this book provides a plan to incorporate both more movement and more sleep into our 21st century, constantly-on-call lives. I used the second book and the accompanying cookbook to lose 14 lbs two years ago, and have kept them off ever since, so I admit to being prejudiced to like this book before I ever read it. Another plus--he specifically addresses parental concerns in this books, with columns in each chapter covering topics specific to children. A high recommendation if you think your New Year's 2012 goal will be to get healthy.
  • A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle My online 19th century novels book group selected this classic mystery, the first which introduces Sherlock Holmes, for our November/December book. I hadn't read it in years, and had forgotten the premise (man tracks down killer of his sweetheart's father and the indirect killer of his sweetheart, over decades) and the plot device (presented in two halves, with the first centered on the present-day murder of the murderer, and the second presenting the back story). Not the best Holmes in my opinion, but enjoyable nonetheless.
  • Waiter, There's A Clue in My Soup! by Camille LaGuire Anthology of five short stories. I enjoyed this far more than I really expected to, given the historical Western setting of three of the stories. The two Mick and Casey mysteries were pleasant, and I liked the characters enough that I may search out more books featuring them. The Alibi was a classic murder plot--twisted. The Promise was a more predictable premise, but well written (and provides this month's Best Book Quote; see below). Waiter...is the weakest of the five in my opinion, as I had to read sections twice to make sense of the unraveling of the murder. However, that could have been my inattention at fault. I plan on looking for more novels by Ms. LaGuire.
  • The Haunted Pajamas by Francis Perry Elliott Ancient Chinese pajamas that mysteriously can affect the behavior of the wearer? Mistaken identities? Mischief and prison? Sounded like a great cheesy novel, but unfortunately, it was marred by the overeager use of some terminology designed to make the reader think the main character was a Bertie Wooster type. Sadly, he lacks Bertie's style and substance, and this writer was no Wodehouse. Some situations dragged on way too long and lost their edge and their supposed hilarity. Nor did I get a good sense of the era (it was published in 1911). And remember, I love reading old, old mysteries, so it takes a lot to disappoint me. In doing some archival research to determine how this book was received when first published, I learned there was a movie made in 1917--and now I am eager to track that down. Hopefully, it's better than the book.
  • June Bug by Jess Lourey Weak entry in a weak series. A long-lost diamond necklace is the prize object hunted by divers in Whiskey Lake, with a modern paste replica offered as a stunt by a not-so-local newspaper. The mystery is weak (and ick on the mental images of the dead body found in the denouement), the mean guy so appalling I cannot wonder why no one called the police on this creep (he trashes her house and defecates in her bath tub, and Mira doesn't call the sheriff, just cleans it up? I'd never liked her in the previous book in the serious I'd read, but at this little incident, she lost all sympathy she might have garnered from me.), and Mira's repeated lustful comments after the gardener got tedious very quickly (and if I were him, I'd think she was a loser, too). Skip this series. it's not funny, not quirky, not entertaining, and the mystery stinks. 
  • Village Life in America 1952-1872 by Carline Cowles Richards Some of you may know I am entranced following the Disunion series in the New York Times, which has been tracing the beginnings of the Civil War and now, the actual war, through fantastic essays written by a number of historians. The photographs, reproduced contemporary editorial pieces, and modern critiques and assessments have been fascinating. While there are a number of Southern diaries and memoirs that have been published, there are far fewer Northern examples of the same to show how the Civil War was perceived there. This twenty-year diary follows a young lady in upstate New York. Some pluses: fascinating local reaction to McLelland's firing by Lincoln; local reactions and impressions of the war; the window into a middle-class home of the time. Some minuses: not deeply stirring or well written. Students of history may enjoy the different perspective.
  • Miss Mapp by E. F. Benson I found an online group who adore Benson as much as I do, and this was my first group read with them. The Chintz Wars! Miss Mapp's Food Hoard! The Kingfisher Blue Gown Tragedy! I love this book. I always love visiting Tilling. With my stressful November, it was the perfect book to take my mind off my troubles for a little while.
Okay, and now, for the Best Book Quote of the Month:

"A woman's soul can stretch. Can endure and suffer any stain and any pain. But a man's soul is hard. It breaks." Ma to Lola, in The Promise by Camille LaGuire (2006; nominated for the Short Story Mystery Fiction Society's Derringer Award in 2007).