Category Archives: fun read

The End of a Semester (or, How I Turned into a Softie)

 

I have tried and tried and tried to finish a blog post this morning and just can’t. I have about 10 drafts going, but alas. Nothing. So I’m going to go au natural this morning.

I think part of it is the end of the semester has just really wiped me out. Grading nonstop until 1:30 in the morning is exhausting. And then, brilliant me decided to have a Christmas party. THE DAY AFTER GRADES WERE DUE. So that turned into a whole evening/morning of manic cleaning, menu planning, and decorating. The next day my parents moved out of my house (they stayed with me for a month between the sale of their old house and the closing of their new house), so the weekend was spent painting rooms and unpacking them. Their new house is beautiful and closer to me and not 100 years old, which is good for a number of reasons. Then Monday, my brother (aka Picky Boy) came in from NYC. In other words, it. has. been. crazy.

However, it’s a good crazy. I’ve done a little bit of reading, but honestly, I’ve been so busy, reading hasn’t been much on my mind. Plus, reading dozens of essays right at the end of the semester did me in. I had to share one story, though:

I had one student who, from the beginning of the semester, I really liked. He’s a young kid, from an inner-city school, and he was just so enthusiastic. When the class turned in its first essays, his was awful, though I could tell he spent some time on it. Truly. It was terrible. There was no organization, no coherence. The grammar was abhorrent, and there were sections I could barely read. So I pulled the kid aside and asked him to set up a time to meet with me because he failed the assignment. Those of you who teach know, not every kid will take advantage of extra help. This student did. He came to my office. I gave him two specific areas of concentration to focus on and told him to rewrite one paragraph. He did and brought it to me, and I increased his grade based on that paragraph.

Throughout the semester, he remained engaged and worked diligently, but he could never seem to really make the cut. We continued to work on several problems in his writing, and he improved steadily. During the final, I graded their final essays, and when I came to this particular student, I put my pen down. I read it through, and it was very obviously still his own work, but guys, it was good. It was organized. The essay topic was dead on, and I was so proud of him. I marked a few things and slapped a 90 on that essay and wrote him a note about his hard work.

When he came up to turn in his final, I pulled him aside and told him he couldn’t take the essay with him, as I wasn’t handing them back but that I wanted him to look at his grade. He scowled at my mark-ups on the first couple of pages, but when he got to his grade, he clutched his chest, looked at me, looked down at the essay and back up at me: “Really? I really got an A? I’ve never made an A on a paper.”

I told him he had done the work, had improved steadily and that he did a fantastic job on the essay. Tears welled up in his eyes, and he looked at me and said “Thank you so much. You made my Christmas.” I explained to him that the grade had absolutely nothing to do with me and that he should be proud of himself. He thanked me again and walked off, saying he would text his mom and grandma. I discreetly wiped tears from my eyes as well.

And you know what? He really made my Christmas. It’s easy to wish I made more money and gripe about how teachers don’t get paid enough (we don’t). It’s simple to fall into the trap of whining about those who don’t put in any effort and then complain because they get a C in class. But to really see a student persevere and improve and then appreciate your and his own work? It was really touching. The only problem is, ever since, I have been boo-hooing at the smallest things, and I am not a crier. Hell, last night we watched Cupcake Wars, and I practically cried. We watched Miracle on 34th Street yesterday, and the second Santa spoke Dutch to the little girl, off I went again. Don’t even let the ASPCA commercials come on. Frankly, it’s embarrassing, but I guess it’s better than the alternative.

So, to you and yours, whether or not you celebrate Christmas or just use the break as an excuse to read, I hope there is a little softie in you (if, for nothing else, so I don’t feel quite so foolish), and as always, happy reading.

 


It’s a mystery!

Actually, it’s three mysteries. I did quite a bit of reading last weekend, and I decided to do three short reviews as opposed to individual ones. In fact, I may bring this back regularly since I tend to read them often. If you’ve read any good mysteries lately and want to link up, leave your link in comments, and I’ll include it here.

Every now and again I just get on a kick where all I want to read are mysteries, so bear with me. It usually happens toward the end of a semester when my brain feels fried from grading essay after essay. So, in no particular order, here’s the low down:

Death of a Poison Pen by M.C. Beaton – a Hamish Macbeth mystery

I’ve heard quite a bit about M.C. Beaton, both from bloggers and from my mom, who loves Agatha Raisin. Even though cozy mysteries aren’t usually what I like, I thought it might be a nice switch. What a pleasant surprise, then, to find quite a nice combination of hardened detective and charming Lochdubh in this book. This isn’t the first book in the series, but I definitely didn’t feel as though I was left out in any way. Hamish Macbeth is the underdog. His superiors don’t really like his methods, but his methods seem to solve a lot of cases. In this book, Macbeth is seeking out a writer of petty but poisonous letters. Everyone seems to have gotten one, and Macbeth is afraid pretty soon someone will take matters into her own hands. Of course, he’s right, and pretty soon there are swinging corpses showing up and startling the otherwise quiet village. Throw in an outsider looking for an adventure and following Macbeth in an effort to make her friend (and Macbeth’s former girlfriend) jealous, a nosy reporter, and a vindictive headmistress of a local school, and the writing is on the wall: Murder most foul, as Miss Marple would say (not to totally mix my cozy mysteries).

Mr. Dixon Disappears by Ian Sansom – A Mobile Library Mystery

Ah, I had such high hopes for this book. A mobile librarian who is a bit of a deadbeat? A mobile librarian who is a bit of a deadbeat who also runs into crime? Sign me up. Israel Armstrong is that librarian, and the story opens with him setting up a mobile exhibit about a local legend – Dixon and Pickering’s, a department store. As he is setting up, though, the store is robbed, and the owner, Mr. Dixon, disappears (see! that’s where the title come from). The local police don’t trust Armstrong, who is an outsider in this Irish village and has a very funny name for an Englishman. He is arrested, and mayhem ensues. The setup is all very nice, and the humor is great. My biggest problem with this mystery? It couldn’t decide whether or not it was cozy or hardboiled. One instant, Israel is dressing in disguise and trying to decipher the local dialect, the next, he is dropping the C word (very bad) and pissing me off. Eh. I may try another, and I certainly don’t hope to dissuade you. It just didn’t make me an instant fan.

Agatha Raisin and the Case of the Curious Curate by M.C. Beaton

Don’t be fooled. Beaton may be the same author of this series and the Hamish Macbeth series, but they are definitely distinct series. I enjoyed them both, even though the cozy mystery is not usually my cup of tea. Agatha’s husband has left her for the monastery – except he never makes it to the monastery. Her pride is just a bit hurt until the new curate, a devilishly handsome younger man, asks her to dinner. However, shortly after their dinner (and a goodnight kiss), Tristan the curate, is found murdered. Agatha and her handsome mystery writer friend take on the investigation themselves, traveling to and from London with several near misses, red herrings, all while a cold-blooded murderer is on the loose. The murders are actually quite vicious, which I didn’t expect for a cozy mystery, and the ending was satisfying. What more can you ask for?

I do hope you’ve enjoyed these short reviews. As I mentioned before, if you’ve reviewed any of these or possibly other mysteries, let’s link up! Anyone else feel like winter is perfect cozy mystery weather? If so, what’s on your list?


Texas Book Festival – Part Dos

Saturday night, I was exhausted. Like, too tired to read, and I’m never too tired to read. I guess dancing at The Broken Spoke until midnight Friday night and then traipsing across the capitol ALL day on Saturday was a bit much for this gal. I mapped out Sunday’s events, watched some HGTV in the hotel (I don’t have cable, so this was thrilling) and crashed. Sunday found me refreshed and excited to get to my two panels:

Literature on the Lam

Moderated by Skip Hollinsworth of Texas Monthly and filmed by BookTV, I was really excited about this panel. Criminals fascinate me, and I was practically fused to my seat I was so enthralled. Malcolm Beith, Jonathan Eig, Hampton Sides, and James Swanson were all panelists.

Each has a new book out dealing with infamous criminals. James Swanson, who wrote Manhunt about John Wilkes Booth, has a new book out called Blood Crimes, which is about Jefferson Davis. Patricia Cornwell deemed Manhunt to be one of the top two true crime novels along with Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. Hampton Sides writes about James Earl Ray in Hellhound. Jonathan Eig’s new book Get Capone posits new theories of the life Al Capone. Finally, Malcolm Beith wrote The Last Narco, a book about El Chapo, organized crime leader in Mexico.

The panel started on a light-hearted note as Hollinsworth asked Eig how he switched from writing about baseball players to Al Capone. Eig said he thought long and hard and asked himself: “Who else used baseball bats?” Eig’s sense of humor was welcome on the panel, and I’m curious how much humor comes across in his book. He says Capone was really “a product of Prohibition” who otherwise may have driven a truck or stocked store shelves. He had a chance to rake in money, though, and he took it. The odd thing about Capone, according to Eig, is how willingly he accepted the infamy. He asked “what kind of person welcomes that sort of attention” and ended by saying, “We’ve all got a little bit of larceny in us.”

Sides and Swanson were much more serious, tackling topics of national sensitivity. When asked how easily they could shake off the people of whom they wrote, all the authors said they could not. Sides and Swanson are left with questions as both John Wilkes Booth and James Earl Ray left many unanswered questions.

I particularly felt for Malcolm Beith, as he seemed genuinely disturbed by El Chapo. He answered he would never shake the man off because of the horror of his crimes, at one time killing 300 people in a vat of acid. El Chapo owns 23,000 square miles in Mexico and has enormous amounts of power. Beith, a former Mexican journalist, now resides in America and relates that at least 45 journalists in Mexico have died trying to bring to light the corruption.

Spanning cultural differences and huge time gaps, all the authors were interesting and obviously passionate about their books. I have added Manhunt, Hellhound, The Last Narco, and Get Capone to my reading list.

I can’t embed the video, but the link is here. It’s long-ish but worth the watch.

Swanson, Sides, Hollinsworth, Eig, and Beith at Literature on the Lam

Wickedly Funny Noir

This was a quirky bunch. Harry Hunsicker moderated a panel of authors including Lou Berney, Jonathan Woods, and Mark Haskell Smith. I haven’t read any of these authors, but the panel itself sounded interesting. Each was laidback and humorous and focused mainly on writing itself and not individual books. Hunsicker asked if there is any pressure to be funny, but each responded in the negative, Burney saying he writes characters “who aren’t funny but have a good sense of humor.”

How do you make sex funny? Woods, Berney, and Smith all agreed sex just is sort of funny. In fact, Berney doesn’t like writing sex scenes: “It embarrasses me; it embarrasses my Golden Retriever.” He relayed a couple of humorous scenes from his book. Smith said sex is just plain awkward, and he starts with that. He, though, apparently doesn’t shy away from these scenes, instead writing every gory detail. (My mom went to another panel the day before and said it was the closest thing to porn she’s ever heard. Apparently people with children there walked out as there was no warning and a children’s author was on the panel. Odd)

All agreed, as Burney said, “You have to learn to love killing things.” There is not a lot of humor in crime, but as Smith said, often the people with the best sense of humor are in law enforcement. The gist was, if we can’t laugh at something, we might as well “put a collective gun to our collective head,” Woods said

The audience here definitely felt more like a bunch of amateur writers. You know the type. They are really there for validation of their own work as opposed to really listening to what the authors have to say. Not all amateurs are like this, but many are. I did ask a question, though, to see if any of these guys knew any other funny noir other than Dashiell Hammett who wrote around the same time. They gave me some more current names, but that wasn’t really what I was looking for. It was a fun panel, though, and I will likely pick up Burney’s book Gutshot Straight. Mark Haskell Smith has written several books, Baked, Salty, Delicious, and Moist. Woods has a new collection of short stories Bad Juju and Other Tales of Madness and Mayhem.

Hunsicker, Berney, Woods, and Smith at Wickedly Funny Noir

 

The weekend was fabulous, and I can’t believe I have to wait another year to go back. I will definitely have to find some bookish events in the meantime. I hope you, dear reader, have something fun and bookish to look forward to – any great events happening near you?


You were right about romance novels; I was wrong (sort of)

Dear Sommer, bestest friend in the www (whole wide world):

I know I can be a joykill. When you talk about your new issue of Romance Digest (is that the title?) and all the new romance novels coming out, I know you can practically hear the gagging in my mind as I envision old-school romance bodice-rippers and lovely euphemisms like “sheathe his sword.” Oh yeah, I went there. You know the ones I mean:

Now I don’t plan on picking up any titles like this any time soon. Can you imagine?! I read all over the place. Would men walk up and, thinking I’m game, rip my low-cut corset that barely covers my breasts off me? Can’t take that chance.

However, I know not ALL romance novels are like this – and hell, every once in a while? Why not? This particular cover made me think of a Friends episode where Joey finds a copy of such a book under Rachel’s pillow and follows her around asking to warm coffee up on her red-hot loins.

A couple weekends ago, I read/listened to three romance novels: Something Blue by Emily Giffin, Vision in White and Bed of Roses by Nora Roberts. And whaddyaknow? I loved them. In fact, I won’t tell you how in between my Vicodin-induced nap because of my poor hurt shoulder, I read like a maniac. Or that I took one of them to a football game, only to get laughed at by the security guard when he checked my bag.

I also won’t tell you how reading these books has spawned a desire to read more of these books in the future. Because that would be like sort of admitting I was wrong, and I wasn’t wrong. They were fun to read. They were engaging. Might have even made me wish I owned a diamond. Just a little one. And maybe a Prada bag. I may have even dreamed in Tiffany blue…

But. (Of course there has to be a ‘but’ – we’re best friends. You should know me well enough by now). As addictive as these books were, there were parts of each that drove me insane.

Darcy Rhone in Something Blue made me want to slap a baby (no, not your baby. I love that sweet baby girl). Ok, so maybe I shouldn’t say it made me want to slap a baby. That’s rude. And violent. Darcy, though, was rude. Maybe not violent but certainly rude. Chick sleeps with her fiance’s best friend, gets pregnant, and is then furious when she discovers her best friend and fiance have been bumping uglies. (I swear I’ve heard that somewhere… probably in a book). Plus, she lies to everyone about the circumstances of her breakup and leaves everyone behind to mooch off her writer friend in London (all while shopping daily and not paying a dime of rent). Even though she has some sort of near-religious conversion; well, not at all religious, her friend straight up tells her she’s rude and self absorbed… even then, I couldn’t get past disliking her strongly.

Nora Roberts, at least, handles her characters a bit better. They are likable. You feel as though you know them. She also writes a lot of series, and I like series. The books can be a bit hard to believe (four friends grow up, each perfect for one-fourth of a wedding-planning business: a photographer, pastry chef, florist, and bossy bitch-I mean-planner. Really?) But I liked them. In fact, they brought me back to my college days when I read Nora Roberts after my mom would pass them on to me. No wonder I was obsessed with Martha Stewart Weddings and kept a scrapbook of nice wedding invitations, floral arrangements, and magazine rip-outs of dresses. I was the target audience for Nora. She was brainwashing me, and I was all in, veil, strappy satin off-white shoes, and all.

The biggest problems I found with Ms. Nora Roberts’ books were the tie-ins. The florist is a true romantic, with a wonderful family, parents celebrating an anniversary. She falls in love with Jack, a commitment-phobe, and when he walks into a room, her smile “blooms.” Subtle hint, there, right? Blooms – like a flower – like a florist – like EMMA, our main character. That got old fast.

The other issue is Roberts really works to write independent female characters who are only really independent when faced with a man ordering them around. Then – Miss Independent, Miss Self Sufficient – the character battles with her lover, telling him in no uncertain terms, she won’t be ordered around. Almost every main character was like that. I just finished listening to the audiobook of Red Lily, another of her novels. Same thing. It’s not that I think these types of women don’t exist; I just wish romance novelists would include different types of women.

Ah well.

In the long run, I’m pleased I picked up so many romance novels this month. Of course, that may have been why I consumed more chocolate this month than in the last 6 combined. Let’s not even talk about how many Oreos have been eaten in this house.

And I guess that’s the best part of romance novels; they are pure girlish fun. Candlelight dinners. Suites at the Waldorf Astoria. Champagne. Chocolate. More champagne. Kisses that make your knees weak. I can handle that. In fact, I may pick up a few more at the library tomorrow evening. I blame you – 100%.

Now, when are we going to go catch the newest chick flick? I’m waiting. You get a babysitter – I’ll stuff the Junior Mints in my bag.

jenn

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Any other romance readers out there? Any must-have titles? Why do you like romance novels? Or why do you hate them?


Review: Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

A few weeks ago, at the library, I saw a really interesting book cover: Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld. I didn’t pick it up as I have been insanely busy, and my book bag was already overflowing. However, when I saw the Texas Book Festival site and got so excited about the author list, I knew I had to go back and pick up Leviathan as Scott Westerfeld will be in Austin in October! There are also other bloggers whose opinions I respect (like Amanda at The Zen Leaf) who rave about Westerfeld’s series, The Uglies.

Leviathan is set during World War I, and much of it is historically accurate. Westerfeld’s genius, though, is in changing how these events take place, and I was fascinated pretty much from page one. I’ve learned since reading this, the technique is called ‘steampunk.’* The major dividing line between the two sides is not simply political. Instead, the Germans, Austrians, and Russians are Clankers – they create and depend on huge metal, industrial machines to defend themselves. Alek, the son of the assassinated archduke, is thrust from a cush life with simple defense training in a mechanical Stormwalker into defending himself and several servants bound to protect him. Alek’s questionable lineage makes him a threat to the forces wanting to take the place of the archduke. Running from his own people, Alek is forced to look at life in a much different way, made unbelievably clear to him when he comes into contact with the outside world.

The British, not yet in the fight, believe themselves to be more enlightened. Termed the Darwinists, the British rely on new crossbred animals to defend themselves. Scientists look to animals to find strengths and abilities and then use these  to create super animals, such as the leviathan (have I mentioned my love affair with this word? I love it). Filled with hydrogen by other smaller working animals, the leviathan is an air ship, similar to a blimp. Deryn Sharp, a young woman whose father was obsessed with flight, is determined to be in the British Air Service. Young women are not allowed, however, and Deryn must disguise herself and prove she is capable enough to man the ship. When Leviathan comes under attack and crashes in Switzerland near Alek’s secret hiding place, both Alek and Deryn come face to face and forge an unlikely alliance, as the two sides with distinct ideologies (Clankers and Darwinists) are distrustful and skeptical of one another.

This story was fascinating to me: the Darwinist animals and their purposes were interesting (although the implications were somewhat troubling), but the descriptions of them were beautiful as well. The book is illustrated with beautiful work by Keith Thompson and though I loved the illustrations, Westerfeld’s words truly built these creatures in my mind. The mindset of the two sides was evident and understandable – the Darwinists are seen as intervening where they should not be, creating “beasties” for the sole purpose of exploitation. The Clankers are seen as wasteful and unimaginative. Both sides have excellent points, which I think will further be explored in the sequel.

Which brings me to: THE SEQUEL!! I didn’t know anything about this book when I picked it up and certainly didn’t realize there was a sequel, scheduled to appear in October, until I got to the end – a total cliffhanger. When I went in search of the sequel, I realized it wasn’t out yet and was more than a little miffed that Westerfeld would leave me in such a bind. In other words, I LOVED this book. It is an excellent, fun read, and I would recommend it to adults and children alike.

Last and not least, I loved the female roles in this book. Deryn is a feisty, spunky character with great dialogue and an inner drive that is admirable. Plus, she likes science. In fact, she gets totally wrapped up in it:

How old Darwin figured out how to weave new species from old, pulling out the tiny threads of life and tangling together under a microscope. How evolution had squeezed a copy of Deryn’s own life chain into every cell of her body. How umpteen different beasties made up the Leviathan – from microscopic hydrogen-farting bacteria in its belly to the great harnessed whale. How the airships creatures, like the rest of Nature, were always struggling amongst themselves in messy, snarling equilibrium.

Deryn makes no apologies for her preferences and passions, but she certainly gets a kick out of one of Leviathan’s passengers. Dr. Barlow, a female relative of Darwin, makes a surprise appearance on the airship, shocking Deryn, who thus far has only seen that a woman must hide her true identity to do what she loves. Dr. Barlow is stubborn and intelligent and a leader in her field. It was exciting to see such strong female characters, even if one is in disguise. I trust Westerfeld will address this further as the series moves along. Leviathan is an action novel, fun for all ages; pick it up, and watch for my review of Behemoth, the next book of the series.

*Steampunk is really quite fascinating, with origins in many familiar classics authors. I once wrote an essay on the marriage of science and fiction in Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. The beginnings of the idea are there. Alternate history is really what it’s all about, but it’s also about the scientific discoveries during the late 19th century and early 20th century, which allowed writers, inventors, and artists to open their imaginations to a world previously unknown to them. Another aside: I heard on NPR this morning that Charles Babbage actually invented the first computer in the mid 1800s. Who knew? (If you did and think I’m really lame, please don’t tell me in comments. Thanks.) 🙂

Other reviews:

The Book Smugglers

The Zen Leaf


Ah, my man Jeeves

P.G. Wodehouse. I wanted to read him for years. You know, on Twitter, there are frequent conversations about authors who intimidate us, authors we know we should read but don’t, etcetera, etcetera. I’ll be perfectly honest, I can’t stand Dickens. Nope, not even a little bit. No, not even that novel you love that you think I should just give a second chance. There are no second chances with Dickens. Life is short; Dickens is always long… winded, that is. However, I can also admit when I am wrong: I thought the Jeeves books would be a total joke, which in all fairness to me, they sort of are.

However, to call the genius that is Jeeves a total joke is the equivalent of comparing a 3-year-old’s knock-knock joke to Margaret Cho. (And that chick is fu-nny.) For those not in the know, this is Jeeves:

He’s thoroughly British, full of common sense, and 110% competent. He is valet to Bertie Wooster. Mr. Wooster…not so competent. Bertie is young, wealthy, and a bit of an airhead. He is constantly engaged to some woman or another, and usually, the engagement is either a ruse or the result of some verbal altercation with a beautiful but slightly crazy female. Jeeves is there to save the day, however.

I have now read two Jeeves stories: The Catnappers and How Right You Are, Jeeves. In both, I felt supremely sorry for Jeeves, who was attempting to visit relatives or take a small break from his exhausting boss. Alas, there are no holidays for valets. Instead, Bertie manages to ruin these mini-breaks, and Jeeves once again steps in to save Bertie and his surrounding cast of characters from disaster or at least, social disaster. The other recurring characters are Bertie’s aunts, whom he treats with loving disdain, referring to them as “aged relative” or “battle-ax.” The aunts are often as inane as Bertie but are also endearing and entertaining.

The plots are fast and funny, as is the dialogue. Wodehouse is a peach for knowing his grammar well enough to use it and misuse it well. Bertie will dangle a modifier and then humorously correct it. He is also one for malapropisms, and they are littered throughout the books. I highly recommend these social parodies; Wodehouse’s biting sarcasm equals the humorous social commentary Jane Austen was quite famous for. He just jazzes it up a bit.


Review: Bad Boy by Peter Robinson

A bad boy is unreliable, and sometimes he doesn’t show up at all, or if he does, he’s late and moody; he acts mean to you, and he leaves early. He always seems to have another iron in the fire, somewhere else to be…. it’s exquisite agony … He goes to bed with your best friend, and still you forgive him, still you want him.

Thank heavens I was never into bad boys. Because you’ve got two types: the moody, slightly-depressed version and the really, really bad dangerous ones. In Peter Robinson’s newest book, Bad Boy, out Tuesday, August 24, DCI Banks’s daughter, Tracy aka Francesca, has fallen for the latter. Tracy lives with her best friend from childhood, Erin, in a posh part of Leeds. They drink a lot and do a little drugs. Tracy’s career hasn’t taken off as she planned; she didn’t get the best marks in school, and she feels overshadowed by the success of her brother Brian’s band. In short, she’s feeling pretty damn sorry for herself. One night at a club, intoxicated, Tracy kisses Erin’s boyfriend Jaff. Erin and Jaff have a big blowup later that night, and Erin goes to her parents’ house, taking something from Jaff that doesn’t belong to her, something Jaff desperately needs to have in his possession.

Meanwhile, Banks is in absentia. His last case has left him with horrific images; his latest love affair is over; his career is in tatters. He is in California, following in the footsteps of Sam Spade, the fictional detective in The Maltese Falcon. Back at home, Juliet Doyle, Erin’s mother, walks into the station asking to see DCI Banks. DI Annie Cabbot takes her into Banks’s office and draws the situation out of the woman. Apparently, the Doyle family were neighbors to Banks, and Ms. Doyle has come to him for help: Erin has a gun. In the UK, possession of a handgun is a serious offense, and the police begin crawling all over the Doyle’s home as well as the house Erin and Tracy share. Tracy, sensing trouble, runs to Jaff, and the two take off for her father’s cottage in Gratly. Tracy is excited and feels she is on an adventure; however, once Jaff discovers she is the daughter of a DCI, Tracy’s life is in danger.

This book is not a traditional mystery. There’s no major whodunit. We know whodunit; what we don’t know is how it will all end. In this sense, I felt Bad Boy was a turning point in the series as well as in Alan Banks’ life, forcing everything into focus. In the desert, Banks finds a little of what he’s been searching for:

For so long he seemed to have been struggling in the dark, and in that desert night, when the motel’s blinking red neon was nothing but a dot on the horizon, he found an epiphany of a kind. But it was nothing momentous. No road to Damascus, no lightning strike of revelation or enlightenment, as he had hoped for….The epiphany, when it came, was nothing more than a simple fleeting ripple of happiness that went through him as a light cool breeze might brush one’s skin on a hot day….He remembered thinking he was a long, long way from home, but, oddly enough, he didn’t feel so far away at that moment.

When he goes home to find chaos, it seems that moment is what allows him to hold firm. Literally exhausted, he delves into the darkness of the dales to find Jaff, a cold, narcissistic character if I’ve ever seen one. Paced more like a thriller than anything else, Bad Boy is also grittier than any of the Banks mysteries up to this point. It’s messy.

Tracy, who has always been a minor character, comes to the foreground here, but I wasn’t glad about it. She pissed me off royally. I try not to be judgmental, generally, but I’m pretty judgmental about stupidity. Tracy made one stupid move after another, and a lot of it was pretty unbelievable. However, I’ve also never taken drugs, and I am not sure how much that ups the “stupid factor.” When Tracy initially runs to Jaff, I thought, ok. There are several points after that, though, where major sirens would have sounded in my head.

Another troubling aspect of the book was PC Nerys Powell. She’s a newbie to the series. Part of the arms squad, Powell forms an unlikely allegiance to DI Cabbot, and her actions throughout the novel are questioned because she is a known lesbian. The quick (one-way) bond seemed a bit forced and too convenient for some of the later plot developments as did the reemergence of Dirty Dick Burgess. I can handle one rogue figure. Two? I don’t know.

As always, Peter Robinson wrote an enjoyable book, and though I appreciate his attempt to allow the series to mature, I missed his typical writing style, typified by In a Dry Season. With the ending of this book, I am curious as to where Robinson plans on taking Banks and Cabbot and how much longer Banks will keep pounding the pavement. Are you planning on getting this newest addition? If so, I’d love to hear your thoughts on it pre or post reading!

*Thanks to LibraryThing Early Reviewers and Harper Collins for my first ARC.


Review: In a Dry Season by Peter Robinson

As I sat there remembering, time went by …. Then a full moon rose, scattering its bone-white light, in which I fancied I could see clear through the water to the village that used to be there, like an image preserved in water glass. There it was, spread out below me, darkly glittering and shimmering under the barely perceptible rippling of the surface

As I stared, I began to feel that I could reach out and touch it. It was like the wold beyond the mirror in Cocteau’s Orpheus. When you reach out and touch the glass, it turns to water and you can plunge through it into the Underworld.

Peter Robinson’s In a Dry Season revolves around Hobb’s End, a Yorkshire village flooded and turned into a reservoir in the early 1950s. In a particularly hot summer, the reservoir dries up, and a young boy playing in the detritus discovers a body buried under an outbuilding. DCI Alan Banks is on the outs with his boss Jimmy Riddle and is given the case as punishment. Riddle should know better as Banks sinks his teeth into the decades-old case, determined to find the killer if he or she is still alive.

Robinson interweaves the present with Banks’ marriage and career in tatters with a country in similar plight: 1940s Hobb’s End, complete with blackout curtains, RAF dances, rationing, death, and suffering. Gwen Shackleton, the shopkeeper’s daughter, cares for her ailing mother and minds the shop. One day, Gloria comes into the store, and Gwen the quiet, bookish girl compares Gloria’s eyes to Hardy’s novel A Pair of Blue Eyes. When Gloria asks for cigarettes out of the store’s ration, Gwen tells her no.

I was lying, of course. We did have cigarettes, but what small supply we had we kept under the counter for our registered customers. We certainly didn’t go selling them to strange and beautiful land girls with eyes out of Thomas Hardy novels.

Gloria is enigmatic – loved and hated for her beauty. Gwen’s brother walks in, and their fortuitous meeting forever links Gwen and Gloria, through war, through loss, and through love.

I find Robinson to be at his best when he melds two storylines from different time periods, both inside the minds of the victim/victim’s family and friends as well as the detective seeking justice for these people. The scenes of Yorkshire during World War II were really interesting; the quiet desperation amid a hopeful, fearful people was heartbreaking.

Banks is a quiet detective. If you’ve had no exposure to him before, he likes his Laphroaig, but he likes it with a side of opera. He’s flawed but fascinating with a deep sense of right and wrong, whether right and wrong is inside police procedural or not. In a Dry Season is one of his best, and I’m looking forward to reviewing his newest book for LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer group.

If you have never read any Robinson, I urge you to look him up (as well as Ian Rankin). If you’ve read any Robinson, what are your favorites? Have you read this particular novel? Are you looking forward to his latest?


Review: What Came Before He Shot Her by Elizabeth George

It should come as absolutely no surprise to anyone here that I am extremely picky about audiobook narrators. I can’t even remember which book it was now, but a couple weeks ago, I turned one on, and within five minutes, I punched the eject button. The woman was an overachiever when it came to character intonations: her “kid” voice was so grating, I couldn’t stand it a second longer. Charles Keating, on the other hand, is superb. Let me just get that out of the way; he is perfection. I’m already on another audiobook narrated by him, and it is fabulous as well.

What Came Before He Shot Her is written by Elizabeth George. Mystery readers may recognize her name, but do not be fooled: This novel is no mystery. Mysteries do not divulge what happens in the title. Mysteries do not (typically) focus on the perpetrator of the crime. Instead, this book is a sociological, psychological exploration of a cast of characters I won’t soon forget.

The book opens with three children of mixed race – Ness, Joel, and Toby – being shuffled off to the stoop of their Auntie Kendra’s house in South Kensington, London. Their Gran is going back to Jamaica with her boyfriend, George, and the children are not part of the picture. Ness is a teenager, angry and bitter; Joel is kind and compassionate and ever-watchful of his brother; Toby has developmental problems and is totally devoted to his older brother. The three have been shuffled around since the murder of their father, who was shot in the street, and the institutionalization of their mother. Kendra comes home to find the boys waiting for her; Ness has already run off looking for drugs. What follows is a tale so wrenching, I felt my chest tighten at several points throughout the book.

While Kendra deals with this sudden alteration to her life, Ness finds a dealer, Blade, and offers herself to him in exchange for a steady supply of drugs. Naive and foolish, Ness doesn’t understand the full extent of Blade’s enterprise or power. When she finds out Blade has other girlfriends, there is an ugly brawl – and Blade is shown up by Kendra’s boyfriend Dix.

Joel is on the straight and narrow. He knows how best to mollify Toby and watches out for him constantly. A gang of boys, on the lookout for the newbie – the one with the weird brother – quickly target Joel and Toby. Neal Wyatt and his gang are out to get them, and no amount of “sorting” will deter Neal’s determination to get to Toby and through Toby, Joel. As the pranks become more and more deadly, Joel knows what he has to do in order to save his small, patched-together family.

Watching, or rather, listening to this story filled me with dread. I knew exactly what would happen. I knew Blade would not live and let live after being shown up. I knew Joel would go to him for help, and I knew Joel was innocent enough to believe the Blade would help. The buildup was excruciating, but the interplay between the characters hooked me. It is horrific on many levels, no less so because of the outside forces trying to do good but failing miserably. These children don’t live in the type of world where poetry and art can lift them above violence. Adults don’t always equal safety, and sometimes your worst enemy is the only symbol of safety.


Review: The Dawn Patrol by Don Winslow

Boone Daniels is a surfer, a beach bum, a PI, and probably the most unlikely character to make me sit up and take notice. Working out of a surf shop that doubles as his office, Boone reminds me much of a friend who, in college, called me at 2 a.m. to drive from Texas to California. When I asked him where we would sleep, his answer was “the boards, covered with a blanket in the sand.” I passed. Boone would love this. He’s got a van that doubles as a changing room; instead of one loyal sidekick who drinks a bit too much and says “bloody” an awful lot, Boone is surrounded by The Dawn Patrol: Sunny Day, High Tide, Johnny Banzai, Hang Twelve, and Dave the Love God. This gang surfs together and is always watching the others’ backs. To be honest, my mystery reads trend to British, Irish, and Scottish detectives where the weather often fits the nature of the crime. I’m no California girl. I’ve been to L.A. and didn’t particularly like it. But PCN recommended this book, and after following her the last few months, I take her advice seriously.

The book opens as a wave Winslow describes in surfer lingo as “epic macking crunchy” makes its way toward the California coastline. Surfing careers are made and broken with these waves, and The Dawn Patrol is ready for the action, but even more trouble is looming in the form of attorney Petra, who brings a case to Boone at the most inopportune time. He wants to catch that wave, damn it, but he also needs to eat, as his friend-cum-accountant chides him. He takes the case, and Boone’s assignment is to find Tammy, a stripper who was witness to arson. No biggie, right? Wrong. Petra needs Tammy to testify for the insurance company against a local thug, Dan Silver. There’s just one problem: Tammy doesn’t want to be found. Soon, Boone is chasing after a killer and a missing little girl, still haunted by his time on the force where he messed up big time, and as the story develops, Boone must come face to face with his own past as The Dawn Patrol’s ties thin and each must look out for him or herself.

In the background, the wave builds, and it’s no wading pool:

[This] kind of wave is the subsurface wave, which starts, duh, under the water. If surface waves are your middleweight boxers, dancing and shooting jabs, the subsurface wave is your heavyweight, coming in flatfooted, throwing knockout punches from the (ocean) floor. This wave is the superstar, the genuine badass, the take-your-lunch money, walk-off-with-your-girlfriend, give-me-those-fucking-sneakers, thank you for playing and now what parting gifts do we have for our contestant, Vanna wave…. It’s heavy, my friend; it ain’t your brother.

Normally, I’m turned off by this no-holds-barred, newfangled sort of writing. Charlie Huston’s writing was absolutely unbearable (for me), but Winslow’s good. He’s on top of his game, and the more I read, the more I admired his style. As the action built, the chapters were shorter and shorter, to the point that the last 50 pages had me, literally, breathless. With any good mystery, I want that buildup. I want to have a good idea of what’s going on (which I did), but I loved the way Winslow brought me there. At the end, I was washed up on the shore, tired and breathless, but ready to read more about the adventures of The Dawn Patrol.