Category Archives: ugh

It’s a mystery! edition 2

2011, my fellow readers and bloggers, has sucked. Yes, I realize it’s only Day 19, but from Day 1, spent at the ER with my Dad, it has sucked. Then there was Week 1 with Dad in the hospital, and work literally being the most insane. Ugh. Not to say there haven’t been a few good moments. I’m grateful I am employed. I am grateful my Dad is *mostly* ok and on a regimen to strengthen his heart for surgery. All in all, my daily mantra has become “Get glad in the same pants you got mad in” because it can always be worse, and I know it.

How does this relate to mysteries? Mysteries are, to me, like therapy. I hibernate with mysteries. There is some healing property in them, as you may be able to discern looking at the sidebar. Yep, every read in 2011 has been a mystery. So how were they? Let me tell you:

Dead Politician’s Society by Spano*

Funny, quirky, a little bit naughty and not a lot nice. This debut is about a young-ish policewoman, Clare, who is eager to prove herself as an undercover cop. She bristles around her handler and isn’t the most perceptive cop, so she gets in trouble. A lot. Like, murders happen with her in the same room. However, she isn’t grating. Here’s the deal: a politician gets killed, and an organization, The Society for Political Utopia, not only takes responsibility but also writes the local newspaper an obituary, explaining why. As the murders continue, everyone is a suspect, local university students who follow cult-like after their leader; the professor himself, who thinks he’s a maverick but who is, in reality, a stereotype, sleeping with his students; the mayor’s wife who has lived, as a lesbian, separately from him for years. All the while, the killer messages Annabel, a reporter for the local paper who wants to stay close to the story, but the story may come just a little too close. There were a few moments where I had to really suspend my disbelief, but all in all, this was a fun read.

*Read on my mom’s Kindle when Coffee and a Book Chick advertised Robin Spano was offering her ebook for a limited time at $1.99.

Deadly Dance by M.C. Beaton

Love from Hell by M.C. Beaton


The Terrible Tourist by M.C. Beaton


I read this trio quickly and enjoyed every minute. Agatha Raisin is a middle-aged former publicist-turned-detective who is quite a bit vain and helplessly dependent on the idea of love, specifically when it comes to James Lacey, a man who, in all appearances, seems to want nothing to do with her. In The Terrible Tourist, Agatha chases after James to Cyprus, where all sorts of hijinks occur. Agatha meets an odd group of tourists while on a boating trip. She is alone, and there are two other trios, each a married couple and an older gentlemen. One group appears to be old money, while the other is a bit crass. The nouveau riche woman is murdered, and Agatha is in constant danger of being murdered. She is also in danger of leaving Cyprus broken hearted. In Love from Hell, Agatha and James are married, cannot abide one another, and argue constantly. That is, until James disappears, and a woman (with whom he has been sleeping) is found murdered. Agatha must, with the help of her friends, clear James’s name and determine whether or not she has any love left for her husband.

The Deadly Dance is the first novel where Agatha sets up her agency. The local constabulary isn’t happy with her amateurish investigations, but she quickly proves herself with the help of her ever-growing staff. The agency gets its first big “case” and what initially appears to be a horrible mistake, turns into a case bigger than Agatha bargained for. With the help of her friend/lover Charles, she must track down a fiendish, cold-blooded killer.

Death of a Village by M.C. Beaton

If I had to choose, I would most likely pick Hamish Macbeth over Agatha Raisin. The novels still have quite a bit of charm, but the stories don’t jump around like the Agatha Raisin series. In this episode, Hamish Macbeth decides to take a trip to ease his discontent. He drives to the hamlet of Stoyre, but the small village does not restore Macbeth the way he would wish. Instead, he finds a village somewhat different than what he remembers. The villagers are not welcoming; in fact, a fire destroys the home of the only outsider in Stoyre. Macbeth tries to investigate but is stopped at every turn by closemouthed, fearful villagers. Macbeth must make a chink in the village’s armor and figure out what the crime is with the help of reporter Elspeth and an elderly couple – Mrs. Docherty and Mr. Jefferson.

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Each of these is a great read, and I could certainly recommend them for light reading. What about you? Any mysteries lately? What have you been reading?

happy reading – jenn aka picky girl

P.S. If you want to know about the two Winspear’s I read, stay tuned. I plan to write full reviews of each because they were fantastic!


Where are the editors, or Why all the damn similes?

Note: I do not use red pen on student papers as I have found red ink makes them feel they did worse than they actually did. Like employees given pink slips, students are immediately on the defensive.

Pop Culture Nerd and I had a brief exchange on Twitter last night wherein we discussed our picky astute observations regarding grammar-ly matters. (Yes, I totally made up “grammar-ly” so as not to sound incredibly high-handed). I was bemoaning the overuse of similes, she, adverbs, i.e. he demanded forcefully. You see, when you read as much as I do (and as much as most book bloggers do), certain trends begin to stand out. PCN has a great post up about the tics that bug her the most.

Today, I want to go into a full-fledged rant on the simile. Similes are great. “A comparison using ‘like’ or ‘as.'” Excellent. Fourth graders often employ similes in poetry. Adults, however, tend to have a greater grasp of the English language and should not need to rely as heavily on them for description. Notice, I use the word should in that last sentence. Unfortunately, everything I read lately seems to have an overabundance of the darn things. The one that stands out the most: They folded into the booth “like two spoons in cake batter.” Ugh. I get it; they were tired or comfortable or whatever. I really didn’t need the foodie image. Really. Now I’ll tell you, this came from Adriana Trigiani’s book Rococco, but I’m not picking on her alone. This afternoon, while teaching a class, we were discussing paragraph organization, and here’s a quote directly from the textbook: “… the line of thought in paragraph B swerves about like a car without a steering wheel.” I honestly had to pause to let that one take effect. Like moths to a flame, writers seem to be drawn to similes, and if even the textbook uses these (in my opinion) ridiculous analogies, who am I to complain?

My academic background is in English and technical writing and editing, so these choices get my back up. Once or twice, I guess they’re ok. Any more than that, and the writing is lazy. The opening to Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits is one of my favorite, so let’s look at it in all of its simile-free glory:

Barrabas came to us by sea, the child Clara wrote in her delicate calligraphy …. Barrabas arrived on a Holy Thursday. He was in a despicable cage, caked with his own excrement and urine, and had the lost look of a hapless, utterly defenseless prisoner; but the regal carriage of his head and the size of his frame bespoke the legendary giant he would become.

How different would that phrase ring if we changed it:

Barrabas came to us be sea, the child Clara wrote in her delicate calligraphy like filigreed gold …. Barrabas arrived on a Holy Thursday. He was in a despicable cage, caked with his own excrement and urine, and had the lost look of a hapless, utterly defenseless prisoner like the image of Jesus walking to Golgotha. Like a king, the regal carriage of his head and the size of his frame bespoke the legendary giant he would become.

Like a fly in the ointment, Allende’s lovely passage is, well, less lovely. The imagery and the symbolism in the real excerpt are certainly there (interpret as you wish), but if you make it explicit, the words lose their impact. No more interpretation. Less beauty.

So why are authors still doing it? In PCN’s post comments, many blame the writer, and yes, the writer should be held accountable. However, as an editor (in name only, not career), I cringe to think that a professional editor lets manuscripts slide from her desk with these sorts of stylistic choices. The job of an editor is to take what the author created and make it better – grammatically and stylistically. One of my categories on this blog is “where are the editors,” and I’ve started using the tag whenever appropriate. I mean, I get it: Writers tend to use similar words and word phrases and may not always pick up on them. Editors should.

Stay tuned for more “Where are the editors?” posts…


Picky Boy’s Review of Winter’s Bone

Picky Boy in New York City here! Thanks to Picky Girl for asking me to jump in and contribute a post here and there this summer.

There has always been a reverence in my filmlover heart for independent film. When I saw Jim Sheridan’s In America, I experienced my first involuntary standing ovation in a movie theater. I still gush over Junebug (starring Amy Adams) & rave about Lonergan’s You Can Count on Me as though it came out this year.

Before you read on, let it be known…let it resound from the New York City rooftops: I love independent film.

So when I heard whispers of a small film receiving accolades and awards (It won the 2010 Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, for goodness sakes!), I knew I had to see the movie. I called a couple friends, hopped on the 1 train to Lincoln Center and bought a ticket for Winter’s Bone.

If you are one of those people who can’t get enough of a monochromatic color scheme or if watching boots traipse through a leafy forest for roughly 20% of a film really does it for you…then by all means, see this film. I, for one, wish I could turn back the clock, take that $13 (ridiculous, I know) and redistribute it for a plate of General Tso’s chicken across the street at Ollie’s…ah, well. Choices.

Winter’s Bone, based on the novel by Daniel Woodrell, centers around a 17-year-old girl named Ree Dolly (played by newcomer Jennifer Lawrence) on a backwoods odyssey trying to find her meth-cookin’ deadbeat father. If you’re a clinically-depressed individual without the will to live amidst the civilized and you’re looking for a place to summer but the Hamptons seems a bit too trendy or Fire Island just isn’t your style…try the Ozarks. Director Debra Granik paints a picture of possibly the worst place to reside in America. I’m pretty sure the zip code is just some fingernail scratches and a blood smear.

From the opening shot of two children jumping on a trampoline in a yard peppered with old toys and rusty farm equipment to the horrific climax, Winter’s Bone is saturated with an unrelenting bleakness that left me exhausted, not impressed…frustrated, not empathetic.

Jennifer Lawrence in Winter's Bone

For a film steeped in grit and extremely realistic subject matter (Yes, Virginia, there is a real Underground Meth-lab Circuit), it somehow came across as dramatic and borderline ridiculous. Some of the language was laughable and contrived. Though the motley crew of sallow-cheeked haggard people Ree visits during her search are undeniably and horrifyingly accurate;  even they seem to be playing dress up in an ill-fitting Mafia-like subculture. I am not that familiar with meth but if no teeth, a severe cheek implosion and an unexplainable craving for Mountain Dew is a result…I say Thanks, but No Thanks. (What drug makes you crave Sunkist and Haribo Gummie Bears?…because I must be doing a lot of it right now.)

A notable performance in the film is Dale Dickey’s intense portrayal of Merab. She aptly straddles the line of affectionate matron and crazy, Deliverance-esque monster as the wife of the meth circuit ‘boss’, Thump (who looks more like a leather daddy, decked out in leather and chains, than an intimidating Don of Meth).

Side Note: How has PETA not focused their crosshairs on this one yet?! There is a scene where you literally watch someone tear a squirrel apart. Tear it. Apart.

If you’re a positive review chaser, then you’ll probably end up seeing Winter’s Bone. But in my humble Picky Boy opinion, this film evokes a big lateral shake of the head and a slight shoulder shrug. I left the movie theater that night in need of a real pick-me-up, so I picked up some ice cream and popped in The Shining.