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Guilt-free reviews

November 23, 2011

Guilt-free because I’m not feeling bad about not doing a post yesterday.  It’s not like I was keeping up, and I definitely didn’t have any content to deliver, not with my exhaustion.  I’m only halfway through NaNo and I really truly believe I can pull through if I just buckle down.  We’ll see.

Until then: reviews of books I read this year:

Alice in the Know (Alice #18), Dangerously Alice (Alice #19), Almost Alice (Alice #20), Intensely Alice (Alice #21)  by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

I have loved Alice since the first time I read her–when I was in grad school, doing a class on children’s lit and banned books.  As I said before, Alice getting older comforts me rather than scares me, even though she and her friends are doing things that I wouldn’t necessarily approve of my child doing.  The reason for this is that Naylor’s talent is capturing real life and making it entertaining.  Some authors do fantasy well, and some do real life well but real life isn’t inherently readable (which is why there aren’t biographies for every person who ever lived).  When Alice and her friends screw up, I remember me and my friends screwing up in high school, and it helps me put things into perspective for the next time (or really, the first time) my kid screws up like that.

There are, I believe, only two Alice books left, and for that I am sad, but I’m also pleased.  Mining a character for all you can get out of her isn’t a sign of good writing, it’s a sign of constant paychecks.  Alice has been allowed to progress naturally, for the most part, with little strain on the author’s part to make her relevant.  There are times when the “issues” in the books get a little heavy-handed, but Naylor’s continued to get better with them over and time, and if they’re obvious…well, so is life.

Highly recommended for any child, but be warned that your child may grow faster than the character (depending on reading speed), and that the books stay age-appropriate in every way, including sexually, whether that’s being horrified by the idea, being intrigued by the idea, or actually experiencing sex.

My book club did food-themed mysteries one month…copying comments from there.

SUPER SPOILERS AHEAD.

Catering to Nobody by Diane Mott Davidson and Crime Brulee by Nancy Fairbanks

I didn’t like it. At all.

My first issue was with the characters. I found them all unlikable. Goldy is irritating, The Jerk is horrifying, the ex-FIL is creepy (she describes him as flirting with her? ewww), the ex-MIL is annoyingly pathetic, Marla is grating, the kid is bizarre (and gets more bizarre as the book goes on), Trixie is abrasive, Pom is off-putting, Schulz is sexist and condescending, and omg, Patty Sue doesn’t even seem human.

Which is my other problem: Everyone does exactly what they need to do to move the story along. They say just enough, piece by piece. No one talks about anything that makes sense. Goldy’s insanely disconnected from her kid under the guise that, you know, he’s at that age, which makes her look like a crap parent. I can’t imagine being married to someone for years and not knowing they had a sibling. If you’re going to name your baby “something French,” why would you give it the wrong pronunciation? Even the dead woman doesn’t make any sense in her actions. “You raped a kid! But I’ll just sit on that info for years and years until you have sex with a consenting, if batty, adult.”

WHY DON’T GOLDY AND MARLA MOVE?? Goldy has her father in NJ, and Marla’s got money. Why would you purposely live in the same town with your abuser when he’s a well-respected member of the community and no one would believe you? Why would you subject your son to your and his father’s utter loathing for one another?

If Pom is such a great guy, why doesn’t he politely shut down all the women who keep macking on them rather than stringing them along?

And finally, and this is going to be my issue with everything, I think, I HATE PEOPLE WHO THINK THEY’RE ABOVE THE LAW. Goldy breaks all sorts of laws and Schulz just puts up with it because it may or may not get results? She is SUCH a jerk through the whole thing, I just wanted to get the book over and done with.

And yet it was nowhere near the crapfest that was Crime Brulee by Nancy Fairbanks, a book that was apparently written by a one hundred and sixty year old woman, because that’s how her “forty-something” heroine acts. The book was published in 2001 and yet everyone acts like it’s 1981, and oh my God, could the narrator be more condescending? First she’s like “Oh FEMINISM” and then she’s all “Oh I SUPPOSE I could try some soul food” and she lectures a black man on taking care of his skin, you know, because as a black man he may think he’s immune from skin disease, and I swear to God, there isn’t one time she refers to a black character as attractive. They’re all described as ugly. Oh, and she’s all “I don’t know what those people call themselves now,” basically. You know, those colored people, always changing their minds like little kids who insist one day to call them by their middle name or something. RARRRRRRRRRRR

She’s a pseudo-academic (she went to school for medieval history but then decided to raise her kids and “give charming dinner parties for my husband’s colleagues, both foreign and domestic”) but apparently the Ivory Tower is, um, quite high, because NO ONE IN THE BOOK ACTS LIKE ANY PROFESSOR I’VE EVER MET. They’re all completely snobby and ridiculous. No one has ever cursed, and saying “balls” is the height of crudity (and needs quotation marks). Apparently the missing woman was wearing jeans, which omg, she would NEVER do, nor would she wear jeans with heels, or have an affair, or secretly adopt her mentally unstable brother’s child without telling her husband–which, by the way, wtf?

The first hundred pages of the book are basically the narrator driving herself, and the reader, crazy worrying that her friend, who basically stomped off in a huff during a dinner party fight with her husband, is dead in a ditch, raped and dead in a ditch, sold to white slavers, eaten by alligators, has amnesia…oh my God, listening to this woman’s thoughts is like watching paranoid fishermen on television–it’s boring AND off-putting. Even when she finds that her friend stayed overnight with a colleague and was seen around New Orleans, she still keeps pushing at everyone, rather than letting it go until the next reasonable thing happens.

She pretty much stays within the law but she still has that sense that she’s better than the cops, which the author makes sound ridiculous, immoral, stupid, or all three. :/

Did I mention that one of her “recipes” was like “Mix alcohol with this mix you can buy at this place”? OH MY GOD, that’s worse than Goldy’s desire to put mayo in everything.

I haaaated this book. Haaaated it.

Glazed Murder by Jessica Beck

I don’t really get what the pun is supposed to be there, but then I realized all the other ones have stupid names too, so maybe there isn’t supposed to be one at all. “Glazed over” is the only thing I can think of. I have to admit, clever puns make me happy, but of course they don’t mean the book is going to be any good (I’m lookin’ at you, Crime Brulee).

Speaking of stupid, the lead in these Donut Shop mysteries is Suzanne Hart, who owns and runs Donut Hearts, and actually wakes up ridiculously early in the morning, which pleases me. (Hannah Swensen gets to work at 7:30 but owns a coffee shop; I’m not sure how that works, especially since there’s another book with “muffin” in the title.) Suzanne witnesses someone dropping a body in front of her store. The killer did not plan on her turning on the front lights when the car came up, and now it’s possible s/he thinks that Suzanne saw more than she did.

Suzanne is something we’ll discuss more in-depth next month: TOO STUPID TO LIVE (or TSTL, in romance-novel terms). Although I generally liked her, and the book, her inability to make even one good decision in this whole thing drove me utterly bonkers. First she says because the body turns out to be one of her regulars that she’s going to get involved because of their friendship, she doesn’t even know the dude was going through a divorce AND she’s too busy being Nancy Drew (an incompetent Nancy Drew) to attend his memorial service. Yeah, what a friend. You guys were so close.

But then she says “Well, it involves me!” Yes, that’s actually true. But she doesn’t even give the cops a nanosecond to do their job. She immediately rushes headlong into everything and basically lies her way through everything. One moment she’s pretending to be a reporter, the next she’s pretending to be the assistant to a secretive high-powered man. She lies, lies, lies and gains little information and just comes off as far too eager to fight with everyone so she can do things that endanger her life. “Well, yeah, there’s a killer out there who’s threatened me, but I’m going to go for a walk in a dimly-lit park because, guess what, I’m headstrong!” Uh.

The other thing that bugs me is that right off the bat, she gets a call from the killer telling her to back off her “investigation” and she blows it off and is like, “Well, it’s not like we could figure out who was calling anyway.” Really? Is that how the phone system works? I’m pretty sure the police would disagree with that.

There are like two chapters where she boringly tries to tell everyone it’s too dangerous for them to help, except that through the rest of the book, there aren’t any signs she recognizes danger at all, so that was weird. And also, at one point, she goes to this diner to have a talk with someone there and they barely say anything at all. It’s really odd.

I don’t know; it was just a poorly-done book.

There was one recipe that could be vegan, I think, but I don’t have a fryer anyway.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder by Joanne Fluke and Candy Apple Dead by Sammi Carter

The first Hannah Swensen book was probably the best-written so far, with actual police sanction and systematic knocking out of possible suspects. Unfortunately, I find Hannah incredibly condescending, and the author does a heck of a lot of telling rather than showing. :/ There were a couple of snotty comments about overweight characters, and a lot of Hannah isn’t fashion-conscious, which makes her cool!, but she’s sure willing to gossip and mentally chide overweight women for wearing prints.

Eh.

Finally–FINALLY–I read Candy Apple Dead, the first Candy Shop mystery. I was expecting to like it, and I sort of liked it, but after a while, the main character grated on me because her investigation style is a lot more like gossiping then, you know, investigation. And then her brother acts like a dick to her through the whole book (and to everyone else, I guess), and she’s all “I must save him from himself!” He’s a grown-up, jeez.

So yeah, my original opinion stands: I don’t like when characters try to take the law into their own hands, and I’m not really a fluffy mystery person. I like a good pun as much as the next person, but you’re creating an expectation of cleverness! Or maybe that’s just me, because I married a punster.

*

I also reread the Superman/Batman titles, which, unsurprisingly, are pretty all over the place.  I read the first six volumes, because the library doesn’t have the seventh, I suppose, and I didn’t care enough to continue.  I was sad, because the first one has such promise, and then Jeph Loeb’s all, “My daughter’s my inspiration for Supergirl but we’re using Paris Hilton’s body” which was JUST CREEPY, and then it got crazy rather than epic, and then Verheiden took over, and I checked out.  Maybe I’ll get back to it one day but maybe not, you know?

*

I reread the first three Ultimates trades, and I found they didn’t hit as hard as they had the first time, but I still found them interesting and enjoyable, definitely the second-most interesting title of the Ultimate line (after Spidey, OF COURSE).  We didn’t have V2#2 for a long time, but apparently we do now, so I put myself on the list for that.

I have to say, especially after watching the Captain America movie, I understand but don’t particularly love the whole “racist, sexist Cap” thing.  It pretty much ignores the whole Steve Rogers 98-pound-weakling thing, wouldn’t you say?  Because Steve is supposed to be a nice guy, not a Nice Guy.  So it doesn’t sit right anymore, I suppose.

*

Okay, that’s enough for now.  Next time: knocking out more entire series with only a few lines, and Sweet Valley Confidential!

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