-One plucky, down-on-her-heels heroine making a new start? Check. Betts Winston dropped out of law school and slunk home to help her grandmother run her country cooking school. Why she dropped out is never explained, but it's implied that Betts just wasn't fulfilled as a law student and only found peace and meaning when she came home to find herself in tiny Broken Rope, Missouri. Fulfillment is the go-to excuse for these cozies when the author needs to explain why Our Hero(ine) decides to leave the big city and settle in a town that time forgot. It's more glamorous than admitting that the plot mule to which our narrative wagon is hitched for the next three hundred pages was an incredible dullard who couldn't hack their chosen career path and washed out after a semester-and-a-half to live with their disappointed parents, who aren't even getting rent out of the deal.

In this case, Betts is the school's resident gofer, though she tries to dress it up by saying she's her grandmother's assistant. Assistant. Uh huh. She stocks shelves, cleans, and does some half-assed shopping, and even those arduous duties fall by the wayside as she "investigates" the mystery at hand. However will her seventy-eight-year-old grandmother--who does all of the actual teaching and student evals--survive without her incalculable contributions?

-One cantankerous secondary character designed to act as an anchor and/or font of homespun wisdom to be spouted forth when the heroine gets insufferably boring? Check, and boy, does this character get a workout, because Betts is bland as institutional gruel. Gram, a.ka Missouri Winston, a.k.a Miz is Betts' crusty, septuagenerian grandmother who runs the cooking school. She's set in her ways and feisty and, according to Betts anyway, the best cook EVER. We'll just have to take her word for it, though, because the only time we see her cook, she sets a chicken breast on fire and nearly burns down the kitchen when she doesn't immediately call the fire department. But totally the best cook. The best.

Because this is a cozy mystery and we have to have a reason for Our Heroine to get involved in the plot and take center stage, Gram is arrested for murder when her friend, Everett turns up dead in the school supply closet. Thus, it's up to Betts to don the cape and save the day. Oh, goody.

-One hunky love interest for which Betts can pine? Check. As a bonus, the hunky love interest is Betts' first love, Cliff Sebastian, The One Who Got Away, and he's also the new deputy, which means he'll be shoehorned into the plot at every opportunity and thereby produce ample grist for Betts' overworked and unceasing angst and self-pity mill, whose machinery should be smoking from gross overuse thirty pages in but somehow chugs along for another two hundred and thirty. You lucky reader, you.

On his own, Cliff would be a good character, a bit one-note, maybe, but this is a cozy mystery, not Othello and one note can make a delightful ditty in skilled hands. Alas for us, Cliff isn't allowed to exist or act beyond Betts' petulant pining or the lens through which she sees him. Despite the fact that Betts left him, and that ten years have elapsed since their last contact, Betts pouts like a preteen when she learns that poor Cliff had the audacity to build a life for himself without her in it. He's married? OH, NOES! HOW CAN SHE CONTINUE TO LIVE IN THE SAME TOWN WITH HIM WHEN HER HEART HAS BEEN POISONED BY THIS KNOWLEDGE!!! He might've had children? OH, GOD, THE SELFISH, UNRELENTING CRUELTY OF IT. WHAT HAS HER LIFE BECOME?

Bear in mind that Betts is thirty years old and has dated several men since their doomed love affair. But never mind that. Somehow, the fact that Cliff moved on with his life is a horrible betrayal. Apparently, Betts, a grown woman ostensibly living in the really world, honestly believed that the man she cast aside in pursuit of her dreams all those years ago would wait for her. This isn't inference, by the by. She says this to her brother at one point(we'll get to him later). And she believes it. I just-

Look, I'm all about the One Twu Wub trope. I've written it. It's emotional catnip for me, and I don't blame anyone who eats it up with a double-fisted spoon. But I've never seen a lovelorn character resent the object of their desire for daring to have a life once they were pushed aside. Yet here we see it on full display and without apology. A grown woman acts like a ten-year-old eno queen at the merest hint that her lost love isn't drinking his life away without her lurve to nourish his languishing soul. It's jarring and repulsive, and as relieved as I was when it was revealed that Cliff was divorced, and that the little girl in his company was his niece, I was also angry because that meant Betts' creepy, inappropriate mooning and stropping was going to be rewarded.

And it is, of course. By the story's end, we learn that Cliff never really loved his wife and has been holding a torch for Betts for all these years. She's pettish, judgmental, stupid as a box of hair, and mercurial. What wouldn't crank up a guy's rheostat? Methinks that two years from now, Cliff will be headed across the county line in that patrol car of his to hide from the paranoid succubus who thinks he's flirting with every woman in town, and who wakes him up in the middle of the night in her room at her parents' house to nag him about why he doesn't taaalk to her. Just eat the gun, Cliff. It's faster.

-One quirky best friend? Check. His name is Jake, and he runs the town historical society, because they've got to have someone in these ideal-life fantasies with access to historical records. Jake is a convenient info-dump repository and sounding board, but has no personality beyond his utility to Betts as a prop for her distorted self-image as a a Good Person.

-One sibling designed to make the protagonist look better by comparison? Check. His name is Teddy. Betts describes him as the family flake and a rake, but I'd rather hang out with affable, flirtatious Teddy than Betts. At least Teddy doesn't think his paramours should never date against after a taste of that heady, incomparable Winston love. And for all her carping about Teddy's purported irresponsibility, he shows a remarkable knack for teaching and organization, and he's not the one who deserts their grandmother during the most important event in the school's calendar to play TBI Nancy Drew with a ghost in the old theater.

-One quaint locale? Check. It's called Broken Rope, Missouri, and it trades on its past as an Old West town as a tourist attraction wherein they run faux old-time saloons and stage gunfights. Everything is modern-day Mayberry in Broken Rope. Everyone knows everyone except when they don't, and since this is a visit to Shelton's own private, wistful Idaho where idiots solve mysteries by accident and get lauded as the hero, there's neither hide nor hair of chaw-chewing rednecks in diesel-spewing pickups with Confederate flags and gun racks in the back or of ratty trailers cum meth labs parked on the edge of some weed-choked lot.

-One dash of the supernatural? Check. Betts and her grandmother can see ghosts. Why? Because Shelton has books to sell. Because why not? Because some part of Shelton must've have realized how deathly dull Betts was and sought to spice up this plodding trudge of inanity with a pinch of the whimsical and otherworldly. Whatever the reason, she gives us Jerome Cowbender, the ghost of an outlaw, who turns out to be the true hero of the piece. Since he isn't the author's avatar, however, he'll fade into eternity and leave Betts to bask in the credit.

-One mystery? Check. As previously mentioned, Everett ends up dead in Gram's supply closet. Turns out he was searching for the treasure of Jerome Cowbender as a lark and half-heartedly searching for a daughter he'd given up for adoption years ago. Unfortunately for him, someone else was looking for it and did him in. So imaginative, I know, but if that doesn't twinkle your toes, we get the tragic tale of Jerome Cowbender, who only became an outlaw to support his love and their unborn child. He had cancer, you see, and wanted to provide for an unwed mother before he carked it and shuffled off this mortal coil. But the sheriff was a better shot and plugged him in the back as he rode out of town with his loot. Woe.

Bonus angst: Shortly after the birth of their love child, Cowbender's lover dies of a broken neck after a fall through a trapdoor during her contortionist's act, and the child is raised by relatives. WOE!!!

I've read worse, but I'm in no rush to read more.
I tried reading Thr3e by Ted Dekker. I had no idea it was a God-Squadder mystery when I picked it up. Still, I decided to give a whirl. Maybe Dekker was talented; maybe his religious beliefs would be relatively unobtrusive and not affect the story proper.

Ha. Ha. Ha ha. The writing was bad, so very, awfully bad. Stilted, unbelievable dialogue no human being would ever say. Terrible characterization delivered in the the kludgy, self-conscious style of a middle-schooler writing his first super-keen story. Constant, ill-timed mentions of God and His wisdom. Clumsy, intro-level musings on the nature of sin delivered via unrealistic discussions between a seminary student and his twinkling, paternal dean. Oh, and the main character is not only a marvelous, intuitive student who impresses everyone around him, but he's also Innocent with a capital I.

And the good guys are all Christians. All of them. The women all dress modestly and think chaste thoughts, and the men are all manly men men who exude confidence, intelligence, and nobility like Aqua Velva.

The bad guy puts ice cubes on his eyeballs.

I threw in the towel when the modest yet driven FBI agent took one look at the mild-mannered Hero and decided she must protect him from the bad guy to preserve his meek, virtuous innocence. After she left, the godly hero revealed that he'd never had much luck with women because they'd never really seen him and blah, blah, blah, wounded dove bloo bloo bloo, and I hurled the book into the charity-bin tote under my table and started Michael Chabon's The Yiddish Policemen's Union instead.

The best part about that joke of a thriller? It won awards for Christian fiction. Of course it did.

Tomorrow, I will write Priest porn to balance the universe.
One thousand and twenty-four words today.

While waiting for the dryers at the laundromat today, I finished my latest book, The Torso in the Town by Simon Brett. If you're looking for a book with dense prose and three dozen subplots, most of which will ultimately prove irrelevant in the big reveal, then give this book a pass. The prose was quite spartan and utilitarian and irrepressibly English, but this worked in the story's favor. It felt like someone was spinning the tale over pints and a plate at a pub, and the overall effect was cozy and comfortable, like slipping into a favorite tatty robe and sipping hot chocolate on the porch.

The central mystery wasn't terribly challenging or novel. It was a bit of light, frothy gossip-circle intrigue with just a whiff of sordid scandal to keep you reading. The two self-appointed investigators were Frick and Frack with a rack and menopausal woes, and though the cast of supporting characters were stock, most of them were surprisingly likeable and sympathetic, especially the hapless Roddy Hargreaves, the local sot and amenable barfly, and James Lister, the henpecked husband of the local society matron.

It was perfect light reading, and I'd definitely read others in the series.
[personal profile] surreal_44 sent me a pretty, sweet, blue dragon on February 24th, but I only noticed it tonight when I checked my profile page. So thank you! She is such a lovely lady, and she brightens my profile page immensely.

I finished Sue Grafton's S Is for Silence last night. I didn't buy this book; it was given to me by my grandmother several years ago, and it has gathered dust and accrued disinterest since. I got tired of seeing it on the shelf and decided to give it a go. After all, the Kay Scarpetta and Bones Brennan series have turned out to be entertaining reads. Maybe this one would be as well. The more good books to read, the merrier the Guera.

If you ever have the chance to read a Sue Grafton novel, then pass it up. Though written in 2005, the events of the book were set in 1987. Why? No idea. Presumably because Grafton thought it would add to the tension if her heroine couldn't just consult Google whenever the need arose. And it would, I suppose, if there were any tension of which to speak, but there wasn't. Until the killer put in his necessary appearance at the climax, the worst thing to happen to the less-than-intrepid investigator is a set of slashed tires, and even this wasn't very suspenseful. No, Ms. Grafton, there is no way your heroine could have failed to notice four flat tires until she tried to drive the car. And a car with four flat tires doesn't waddle. I recently had one flat tire, and the poor car did a great deal more than waddle. It shuddered and thudded and made ominous flapping sounds. If your heroine didn't notice anything amiss for several yards, then she is a terrible detective, and I would never engage her l33t sleuthing skills. I certainly wouldn't pay her $2500 in 1987 currency. If I were going to waste money like that, I'd take it to the chimpanzee cage at the zoo and watch them wipe their asses with it. At least that would be money well spent.

The story was insipid, bland pablum spooned out to lonely grandmothers whose lives revolve around their cats and canasta clubs. To them, hours with a microfiche reader is high-tension stuff, not to mention a brush with modern technology. And those index cards on which Kinsey Milhone organizes her information? Oooh, shrewd and disciplined. And she carries a portable typewriter with her, too. Hot damn. What a slick setup. It's antiquated even by 1987 standards, and it's painful to read.

It doesn't help that Kinsey Milhone, the ostensible heroine of the series is lazy, dull-witted, and thoroughly unlikeable while trying so hard to be hip and badass. She whines incessantly about having to earn the money she's paid by doing such inconvenient things as sleeping on someone's couch for free, returning clients' calls, and driving to various locales in pursuit of a lead. If such things don't appeal to you, Ms. Milhone, then mayhap you should choose another line of work, one more suited to your personality. Like DMV clerk. She's thirty-seven going on eighty and reads like a much older woman. When I was reading the book, I thought, This sounds like a younger woman as imagined by someone in their seventies. Lo and behold, Wikipedia revealed that Ms. Grafton was sixty-six at the time of the book's publication. Doubtless she believed she was rendering herself as she was at that age, but in truth, she was stuffing an old soul into a younger body, and the incongruity was jarring.

The mystery itself was muddled and hampered by a lazy conclusion by a bored writer. The killer is dispatched, but the motive is never explained, even obliquely, though a motive can be pieced together if you care to give it some thought. I didn't, but I figured it out anyway because I was determined that the time invested in this abuse of fine tree pulp not be an utter waste. It was your standard, "If I can't have her, then no one can, and while I'm here, I might as well help myself to your money" chestnut. Wow. I time-warped to 1987 for that.

PROTIP: If your characters, including the victim's daughter, don't give a rip about the victim, then neither will readers.

A waste of precious time and paper, and I will never read another Sue Grafton book. Not when my time could be better spent passing kidney stones coated in lit kerosene.
laguera25: Dug from UP! (Default)
( Jan. 27th, 2012 03:00 am)
I should be writing, but at the moment, it's simply more comfortable to drift, to sit in my patch of living room and read. Yesterday, I polished off Deja Dead, and tonight, I read Bobby Singer's Guide to Hunting in one sitting. Granted, it was so much brain fluff, and brief at two hundred and seventy-five pages, but I haven't finished a book in a single sitting in years. It felt good. I might resume writing tomorrow, but it's more likely that I'll read my way through the weekend, the television a distant, pleasant drone in my ears.

Deja Dead acquitted itself well. It veered into screaming melodrama in places, usually whenever Book!Brennan was being menaced by the unseen killer or was engaged in an internal struggle between self-preservation and her Unyielding Pursuit of Great Justice, but there was palpable suspense, and Book!Brennan was refreshingly human. She got angry, lonely, confused, uncertain, and even horny. She made stupid decisions and paid for them.

Deja Dead--SPOILERS )

All things considered, though, the intensity of the mystery outweighed the story's stylistic and narrative flaws. I've got the second book in the series on my bookshelf, and I'll get to it as soon as I finish the first Kay Scarpetta novel.
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo(book)--Major SPOILERS )

It wasn't Great Literature, but it kept me invested, and I was intrigued by Larsson's brief critique of social services for the mentally disabled in Sweden. It's a theme he promises to revisit in the other volumes in the series, and I'm interested to see where he takes it.
There was some excitement in Rammfen when it looked like the Rammgents had joined the Twitter hordes, but after some of the more skeptical fen scrutinized the tweets, it appears they've been debunked as fake accounts. While it would've been hilarious to see Richard post every scrap of brain lint to his account, I'm not surprised the accounts weren't genuine; for the most part, the band members seem to prize their privacy when they're not onstage with their dick cannons and ass-flattering lion jeans and leather booty hosen.

There isn't much going on at Camp Guera. I've written my ass off on my Rammstein/NYC adventure and part XV of Sprache, but mostly, I've been watching Silent Hill video game walkthroughs on Youtube. Watching them is much less frustrating than playing them and being thwarted by my spastic hands and inexact motor skills. I get all of the pleasure of watching the drama and mystery unfold without the childish temptation to hurl my controller through the television when I've been pummeled by the same boss for the sixty-third time.

I also read Full Dark, No Stars, by Stephen King.

Review of Full Dark, No Stars--SPOILERS )

If it hadn't been for "A Good Marriage", I would have called it an average collection, but the inclusion of "Marriage" elevates it to "must-read" status.
OMG, Uncle Stevie is releasing a new collection of stories on November 9. Excuse me while I shamelessly embrace my inner Daffy.

It's MINE! ALL MINE!! DO YOU HEAR ME? MINE! MINEMINEMINEMINE!!

Ahem. Sorry. Just had to get that out of the way. God bless you, Amazon, for alerting me to this imminent glut of manna from heaven.

Book Review: Horns--Minor SPOILERS )

Joe Hill is a good writer now. He'll be a great one when he stops trying to prove that he belongs in the room with the other writers and just writes what he knows, just stoppers his ears to the outside world and takes dictation from the voice in the unlit basement of his brain.

A solid effort hampered by a writer who doesn't trust his voice yet. B-
Before I proceed to the review proper, a preamble:

I like most of Keith R.A. DeCandido's work. It's not Great Literature, but it doesn't profess to be. He writes solid, entertaining yarns for hire and earns his shillings and pence admirably. I might not think his books are the greatest stories ever told, but I don't feel cheated when I close the cover, either. After reading Heart of the Dragon, I will continue to buy his work if it involves a fandom in which I am interested.

Supernatural: Heart of the Dragon--SPOILERS )

C-
Occasionally, my computer has a seizure wherein it resets my hard drive parameters and reassigns my COM ports. It's easily fixed by resetting the default parameters and ports in Safe mode, but it never fails to send my blood pressure into orbit because I'm convinced that this will be the time it doesn't come back.

It had a seizure last night right after I'd written 1300 words on Et Tu IX, right after I'd written what I considered some of my best work in months, if not years. Thankfully, I'm paranoid and save every half-page and use Autosave every five minutes, but I could only imagine the horror I'd've felt had I not. Computers are both a boon and a curse to modern writers; one the one hand, they've revolutionized editing. On the other, they hold the promise of catastrophic failure that could, at any time, and with any keystroke, send their life's work and pontential Pulitzer into the abyss. At least your old IBM Selectric would never go berserk and delete the only copy of your manuscript while simultaneously printing thirteen copies of the "fuck you" letter you wrote to your mother after a fantastic row over your housecleaning skills or lack thereof. It's a trade off, I guess. Lord knows I'd be nothing without the immediate succor of Backspace and DEL.

And yes, I burned my latest babies to CDRWs posthaste.

Four Walls, a CSI:NY Novel--Minor SPOILERS )

A-
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