Fiction: “A Royal Pain” by Rhys Bowen

Royal PainSo this one’s going to be short.

This is the book I wanted to read when I read Murphy’s Law instead, and was super disappointed. I really enjoyed Georgie when I read Her Royal Spyness – I liked her lightness, and wit, and humor, and she – Georgie is like champagne, whereas Molly Murphy is like whisky. And in general, I don’t prefer whisky. I’ve drank it before, and there are a couple of drinks that I’ll have again where it is a component, but it’s not what I reach for first.

(Actually, if you know me at all, you know my hard liquor preference is gin over all else, but – look, I’m trying to make a metaphor and y’all know those don’t always work for me.)

So I was very happy when A Royal Pain came in from my inter-library loan (which is WAY EASIER now that I frequent the Auburn Library!) and I was able to read the next book in the series.

The reason this review will be short is because I took no notes 

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So here’s what I remember.

Georgie is still in London. At the behest of the Queen, Georgie is to play hostess to a Bavarian princess – and let the princess cross paths with Prince David, who is growing increasingly fond of That Simpson Woman.  But Georgie’s still broke. So, to appear posher than she is, she hires her granddad and his neighbor to be her butler and cook.

The princess is a handful – she doesn’t speak English well, but she wants to do all sorts of things that princesses aren’t supposed to do. Like shoplift, for instance. The princess’s companion, the Baroness, hates English food and all things English, setting Georgie off.

Georgie is attending all of these parties, and trying to avoid getting paired off. And she sees Darcy O’Mara off on the sidelines, and her jealousy spikes. At one of the parties, Georgie and the princess run into a guy who’s involved in the Communist party, and when the princess wants to meet him at his bookstore, they instead find a dead body.

So now Georgie and the princess are involved in a murder mystery, where neither of them should be.

My instagram post when I finished the read says, “Not enough Darcy O’Mara, too many Russian communist shenanigans.” And I feel like that’s a solid review. I think if there had been more flirting between Georgie and Darcy, I would have made the effort to maybe, I don’t know, write down the princess’s name?

It was good enough for me to continue reading the series. (Spoiler alert – I have not yet read the next book in the series, and I just had a part of my brain say, “Hey, you’re going to the library to pick up that next book you need to review, maybe you should check the online catalog to see if the next Spyness book is there too?” And I had to respond to that part of my brain, out loud, “You are currently reading four fucking books, you don’t need that right now.”)

(Technically one is an audiobook – but still.)

As for the Guster Reading Challenge, there wasn’t really a category for “reading a book about a princess who pretends to be someone else,” so I went with “Center of Attention” off of Lost and Gone Forever, for reading a book written in the first person.

Grade for A Royal Pain: 3 stars

Fiction: “Murphy’s Law” by Rhys Bowen

Murphy's Law

Eagle-eyed readers of the blog may remember the name Rhys Bowen from when I read Her Royal Spyness a couple of years ago and really enjoyed it. Murphy’s Law is the first novel in another mystery series by Ms. Bowen – this one starring Molly Murphy, an Irish immigrant who makes her way across the Atlantic to New York City, on the run from a murder she absolutely did commit.

The novel takes place in 1901, and Molly has just accidentally killed the landlord’s son. In our day, we’d call it an act of self-defense, seeing as how the landlord’s son was in the middle of attempting to rape Molly, and Molly merely pushed him into a counter, head-first. But since this book doesn’t take place in our day, Molly’s only option is to run away from home forever and never go back.

Her ticket on the boat to New York is her new friend, Mrs. Kathleen O’Connor. She was on her way with her two children, Birdie and Seamus, to meet her husband Seamus. But Kathleen has just been diagnosed with tuberculosis, and she will be denied passage. She gives Molly her ticket and her children, and tells her to bring the children to Seamus, who will help her get settled.

While on the boat, a Mr. O’Malley takes a liking to Molly/Kathleen. Or he is an asshole and Molly/Kathleen puts him in her place. Either way, Molly tries to avoid him as much as possible. Molly does make a friend called Matthew, who is very nice with the children.

On their last night on Ellis Island, Mr. O’Malley is killed. And because Molly was up and about out of the women’s quarters looking for Birdie (who sleepwalks), and a number of people on their boat knew that Molly/Kathleen and O’Malley were at odds, Molly/Kathleen becomes a suspect.

It is during her first questioning that she meets Captain Daniel Sullivan of the NYPD. She assures him of her innocence, and flirts a bit to him – he flirts back, even though she is, to him, Mrs. Kathleen O’Connor. He knows she wasn’t strong enough to have killed O’Malley (who may have been strangled? I can’t remember), so she and the children are free to go. But it looks like Matthew may have killed O’Malley (possibly in Molly/Kathleen’s defense? I can’t remember), so he is sent to jail.

Molly is determined to prove Matthew’s innocence. But first, she has to find employment. Seamus the elder allows her to crash in their tiny apartment, and offers a job at the fish market, but Molly refuses to work there, believing herself good enough for a governess position. Molly gets kicked out of Seamus’s apartment after another one of the tenants puts the moves on her – she’s fighting to get away when the mover-putter’s angry wife walks in and the mover-putter claims that Molly put the moves on him, so Molly gets kicked out, of course. She spends one night in a shelter but then finds a room in a very Bible-ey boarding house for women.

Meanwhile, during all of this, Molly has been trying to figure out who may have killed O’Malley in the attempt to clear Matthew’s name, and visits Captain Sullivan almost daily. Like many police detectives in his day taking ideas from women, he’s not happy about it and wants Molly to stay out of trouble, but he does appreciate that her ideas are good and full of leads, so he eventually relents and allows her to help with the case.

Molly literally stumbles across the murderer while she’s working as a serving maid at a fancy party thrown by a city Alderman. The murderer actually has ties to a bank robbing gang back in Ireland, so the murderer gets deported, I think? And Molly, Seamus, and the children find a better apartment to live in and Molly also tells Captain Sullivan that she’s not Kathleen O’Connor, so everyone lives as happily ever after as Irish immigrants in 1901 can – at least until the next book.

As I said above, I read Her Royal Spyness by the same author and really enjoyed it. And around the same time I was reading that, I was reading Deanna Raybourn’s novels Silent in the Grave, and then I read A Spear of Summer Grass, also by Deanna Raybourn, which I absolutely loved. I had also borrowed Murphy’s Law from the Yarmouth library no less than three times and returned it each time before actually reading it – so this time, when I saw it in the Auburn library, I decided I was going to finally read it.

So I don’t know if it was because I was so happy with Spyness and thought that, much like Deanna Raybourn’s novels, each series would be equally as good? But I did not enjoy Murphy’s Law as much as I’d hoped to. It is probably due to the fact that the book dealt with much darker themes (immigration, racism) than the Spyness series thus far (fake royals, roaring 20s). I also felt that Molly didn’t have the same spunk level as Georgie – and I get that they’re different characters in different settings with different circumstances, but … regardless, the book didn’t give me the same feeling as Her Royal Spyness had.

And that’s why, this book’s Guster Reading Challenge song is “Expectation,” off of Evermotion: for a book that didn’t meet my expectations.

Grade for Murphy’s Law: 1.5 stars

Fiction: “Maisie Dobbs” by Jacqueline Winspear

Maisie Dobbs[Note From The Future: This entry was written back in early October while I was attending a conference. I am not in a hotel currently.]

All right, let me try this again …

So I’m typing this on my tiny keyboard while in North Carolina for a conference. Much like my review of Girl Waits With Gun, I could have sworn that I had written at least a page worth of notes on Maisie Dobbs, but if I had, they got lost at the same time as the Girl Waits ones.

I have nothing. I *had* a quote from the book (which I saved into this draft before I flew to North Carolina), but thanks to a weirdness between the WiFi in the hotel and my Bluetooth keyboard I’m using, I hit something and the quote got deleted and I can’t retrieve it.

(And holy shit I think everyone in the hotel is on the WiFi right now because NOTHING is loading. I’m going to attempt to save what I have so far and if I’m still awake in a few hours I’ll try once prime WiFi Time is over.)

(UPDATE it is now the next day. I gave up last night and watched Big Mouth and crocheted instead.)

OKAY. So the point is, I can sort of remember what happened – which is impressive, considering I read this back in January and it’s currently October. I’m a little mad that I lost that quote I wanted to use – it was about cults! and the discussion about the cult sounded VERY SIMILAR to a CERTAIN SITUATION OCCURRING IN WASHINGTON, in January AND NOW – and I *also* lost the link to a Thing That I’m Doing With Books This Year (“This Year” meaning “the books that I read in 2019, not just the remainder of the calendar year 2019”), but hopefully I’ll be able to post this when I get home and can add it in later.

SO. Maisie Dobbs is a person.

She was some … downstairs person? Maybe a governess – no, not a governess … she was a maid at a school and someone caught her reading books? Look, she was underprivileged but taught herself to read and had a very apt mind for … learning things – anyway, she was planning on going to college when World War I broke out, so she went off instead to be a nurse because that’s what good British women did.

While in France, she and three other nurses become good friends with each other and some captains in the army. Maisie becomes quite friendly with one of the captains, whose name escapes me, and I’m unable to find his name on Goodreads, so … Captain. At one point, they get a weekend off together, and it’s very sweet – almost treacly – and it is understood that if they can survive the War, they’ll get together afterwards.

Consider this your spoiler alert. We are talking World War I, remember?

The book actually flashes back to Maisie’s origin story about a quarter of the way into the plot. When we begin the novel, Maisie is beginning her … I can’t remember if it’s a private detective business or a psychology business – I think it’s more of a “find lost things and people” sort of thing. She is putting up her shingle and then invited to dinner at her patroness’s house, and from there she finds that her case and her patroness’s case are the same case well, not right away, but it should have been obvious.

Maisie’s first case is to find out whether someone’s wife is cheating on him. So Maisie tails the woman and finds out that she spends Tuesdays and Thursdays at the grave of someone – I think it was her brother, but it may have been a former, pre-War lover. The dead brother (I’m gonna go with brother – no, it must have been a lover, otherwise her husband would have known – goddammit I’m so mad I lost my notes) ANYWAY the dead lover didn’t die in the war, but after. He couldn’t assimilate to post-War life, and went away to a —

GODDAMMIT THAT’S NOT RIGHT EITHER

Okay, this book had too many plots. I didn’t like that Maisie’s origin story took up half to two-thirds of the book. The plot of the possibly cheating wife I think led to Maisie’s plot with her patroness’s son, another ex-soldier who was suffering from what we would know as PTSD, but what happens is he joins up for this “retreat” where soldiers eventually sign over all of their funds to the Retreat and the Retreat lets them live there, and it’s basically militaristic in nature so the ex-soldiers never have to assimilate to post-War, civilian life.

Except the Retreat is run by a maniac who won’t let anyone leave if they feel like it, and manages to kill soldiers who want to leave the Retreat by making it look like an accident. Hence, the connection to the not-cheating wife’s dead ex-lover (although I can’t recall if that’s how the ex-lover died, or if just the fact that the cemetery is so close to the Retreat that that’s what spurs Maisie’s investigation).

Maisie herself could almost be a therapist for her clients. She knows enough to just listen to people – especially if they’re in the middle of an emotional episode, or in their feelings – and those conversations usually breed answers. The not-cheating wife was having a hard time keeping her emotions in regarding the dead ex-lover, and Maisie just … sits there and has tea with her, and lets her talk through her emotions. And Maisie’s not a private investigator in the same vein as, say, a Kinsey Millhone – she just listens to people.

I think, at the end of the book, she updates her shingle to read “psychologist and investigator”, to show she can do both. But I don’t know – maybe it’s me, and the fact that I used to watch a lot of crime shows, but I could figure out that the Retreat was shady from the get-go. I’m not sure how much mystery there was.

I didn’t hate it? I don’t think I fell in love with the book, but I think I enjoyed it for what it was. I do know that I’ve developed a distaste in general for books set during WWI or WWII – and is it just me, but is there a lot of them all of a sudden? It feels like every time I check out Goodreads’ New This Month list half of the historical fiction section takes place during WWII.

So The Thing I’m Doing For Books I Read in 2019: Goodreads has a Book Club that I’ve joined. And by “joined”, I mean “I clicked on the link when I signed up for Goodreads about a decade ago and never really paid attention to it at all, I even unsubscribed from the emails”.

But I *do* follow Guster on every form of social media, because Guster is my favorite band, hands down, I’m one hundred percent serious, I’ve seen them play 10 times, and I even flew out to San Francisco to see them in January with My Dear Friend Emily after she flew out to Portland to see GusterFest 2 with me in 2018.

Anyway, Guster retweeted or posted on Facebook, I can’t remember which, that This Book Club I Joined has a Band Reading challenge, where they take the discography of a band and assign a value to each song title and then when you find a book that matches that value/song title you check it off the list, and your goal is to complete the list – or, for a prolific band such as Guster, maybe a single album – in a given year.

So I love Guster, and I love challenges, and I especially love every opportunity to talk about Guster. So I’m doing this. I’m going to see a) how many I can accomplish with books I read in 2019, b) see if I can complete an album title or not, and c) will probably continue on until 2020 or until the list is complete.

(Unlike some readers on Goodreads, I am trying to assign one value to each book, rather than let a book use more than one value. Yeah, it’s an added layer of difficulty, but I’ve never been one to do things the easy way.)

For Maisie Dobbs, I chose “This Is How It Feels To Have A Broken Heart” off of Guster’s Evermotion album, for the value “Read a book that takes place during wartime.”

Grade for Maisie Dobbs: 2 stars

Fiction: “A Fatal Waltz” by Tasha Alexander

Fatal WaltzI just chipped one of my teeth on a Dorito. Since this night’s going great already, let’s get a review ready to post, huh?

(P.S., for my readers who come here via my Facebook page and realize, “Hey, wait, I thought Alaina chipped her tooth on a Dorito back on June 24, and here it is [ENTER DATE OF POSTING HERE July 6 {holy shit am I getting caught up? I mean, no, but that’s a way better spread of time!}] – did she chip a different tooth on a different Dorito!? What are the odds of that even happening?!”

And the answer, dear readers, is No – only a single tooth(*) has been felled by a Dorito.

(*) As of this writing, which is June 24th, 2019.

(**) I should also probably mention that I have previously broken the now-chipped tooth, back when I was a junior in high school. I think the filling or rebuild or whatever you call it has finally worn down enough to need to be replaced. It has been almost twenty years since I fell off that waterfall(***)…

(***) This is only a slight exaggeration. My family and I were hiking up Angel Falls in northern Maine, and my mother was in hopes of taking my senior picture for the yearbook.(****) On the way down the waterfall, I slipped and fell head-first into some rocks, breaking my bottom teeth. I am extremely lucky that that’s all that broke.

(****) My mother is still a bit mad that I eventually submitted a picture from a roller coaster for the yearbook. It is not what was distributed to the relatives.

But as for the time difference in the tooth-chipping and this review being posted: I have gotten into a [stupid] habit of trying to be at least three reviews ahead of my posting backlog. So for instance – I’m writing this blog on June 24th, but I’ve had the reviews for Luck Is No LadySweet Toothand Persuasion in my drafts queue for a while. Once I finish writing this post, I’m going to save it, and post the review for Luck Is No Lady. And when this post finally gets published, you can rest assured that I will have reviews lined up for at least … whatever the next three books in my queue are, I can’t tell, Excel won’t open right now.

“Okay, Alaina. Yeah, okay. Okay, Alaina. So – WHY DO YOU DO THIS?!” you ask.

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I DO WHAT I WANT LEAVE ME ALONE.)

Anyways.

As I think I said when I reviewed the last book in this series – though it could have been another book, who knows, I’m not going back to figure it out – I have to do a couple of things better. Number one, I need to do a better job about reading the next book in a series without waiting over a year, because it takes me a bit to remember who all the players are when I’m reading it. And secondly, I need to do better about either taking notes or marking pages in books that I own, because I have no notes or dogears in my copy of A Fatal Waltz so this might be an even shittier “review” than I normally do.

(Considering I’ve wasted nearly 600 words on a) a chipped tooth, b) how that tooth was originally broken, and c) how that affects my blog posting schedule, I apparently don’t have that much farther to slide on my “shitty” scale.)

Okay. So. Lady Emily – remember, she’s a widow, in 1890s Britain – has gotten engaged to Colin Hargreaves, her husband’s best friend. (It’s cool, though – read the past two books if you’re concerned.) And she is invited to a weekend garden party in the country by her best friend Ivy. Emily hates a couple of the people who are also there – including Lord Fortescue, the mentor of Ivy’s husband – but because Emily loves Ivy, she goes.

In addition to the awful Lord Fortescue, there’s also Kristiana von Lange, an Austrian countess, who used to “work” “with” Colin.

Oh shit. I never mentioned – Colin’s a spy for the War Office (or whatever they’re calling the War Office at this point in British history). So that “work” is “spy stuff”, but also, think about how James Bond “works” with Vesper Lynd.

However, Colin is extremely faithful to Emily. But a good portion of the plot (as I remember it, nearly nine months later) is made up of Emily trying to reason out of her jealousy towards Kristiana. And Kristiana is not a good sport, who stands aside when her former lover becomes engaged to another woman. Oh, no – she tries to take her lover back, even though she know she doesn’t want him forever.

So anyway. All those awful people are at this weekend garden party, and Emily is pretty miserable whenever she’s not hiding in the hallway, discreetly making out with Colin.

But then Lord Fortescue is murdered, and the prime suspect is Ivy’s husband, Robert.

Emily is determined to prove Robert’s innocence, and the clues take her and her entourage – consisting of Cécile, a friend of her husband’s and confidante, and Emily’s childhood friend Jeremy – to Vienna, to investigate a plot involving anarchists who may or may not have been attempting a coup.

Colin is also in Vienna, working alongside Kristiana, trying to find the same information. He is not happy that Emily has put herself into possible danger, but he also recognizes that even as her fiancé, he is powerless to stop her.

I really wish I had done a better job about taking notes. I know there’s a lovely subplot about one of the artists Emily meets in a coffee shop, and how he’s enamored of a young woman but I think he needs to win over her mother, who happens to be an empress (?) – and I’m not going to look it up, it’s almost midnight as I’m writing this and I really should be asleep by now. Anyway, I do recall that the artist is eventually introduced to the empress and his sketches do in fact win her over, so by the end of the novel, they’re happily in love.

Also happily in love is Emily and Colin, jealousy over Kristiana be-damned. There’s another small subplot – more of a running gag, almost – involving Emily’s conservative, traditional mother, who has instructed Emily and Colin (not advisedinstructed) to hold off on their nuptials until Queen Victoria has given them her blessing – or maybe it’s that they need to hold off until Buckingham Palace is available. I’m not sure, can’t remember, and I’m not looking it up. But at the end of the book, Emily and Colin elope while on Santorini. And if that’s not the pinnacle of a romantic elopement, I don’t know what is.

santorini-view.jpg

I mean — that is goddamned beautiful.

Overall, I’m giving the book 3 stars. I think it suffered from having Emily and Colin apart so much, but that might be my personal bias. And I promise to not wait another three years before picking up the next book in the series.

Grade for A Fatal Waltz: 3 stars

Fiction: “The Bookseller” by Mark Pryor

booksellerAnother library book, but hey – I took pretty good notes for this one!

The Bookseller is the first of a series staring Hugo Marston, a former FBI agent who now operates as the head of security for the U.S. Embassy in Paris. I had never heard of this series, but when the Yarmouth Library had the first book in a series, I felt obligated to check it out, because it was such a rare occurrence.

The novel starts with Hugo on a mandatory vacation. Not because he’s in trouble – but because he’s worked so much that he hasn’t taken a vacation in like, years, and the Ambassador feels like he should take a week off.

So Hugo takes a walk and goes to see his friend, Max Koch, an elderly bouquiniste – a book seller. The bouquinistes line one of the streets by the Seine, selling books and other touristy things. Hugo and Max have become friendly over the years. On this day, Max sells Hugo two books – one is a 1st edition Agatha Christie, and the second is another 1st edition, this one of “On War” by I Can’t Remember And Didn’t Write It Down.

When Hugo returns with the money to pay Max for his books, Max gets kidnapped right in front of him – kind of. I mean, the dudes don’t throw Max into a burlap sack and toss him over their shoulder and walk away, but they clearly coerce Max into leaving with them, thanks to the gun pointed at Max’s back. Hugo calls the police, but the responding officer, Capitaine Garcia, tries to make Hugo think that maybe Max and the other dudes were just old friends and decided to walk away like normal people. Garcia definitely doesn’t care what happened.

Which makes Hugo investigate on his own.

He starts by talking with some of the other bouquinistes. He learns that a lot of bouquinistes have retired or disappeared in recent months. That leads him to Gravois, the Head of the Union of Bouqinistes. He is … less than helpful, and it actually makes Hugo wonder if there’s something fishy about him.

Hugo even calls his former Quanitco buddy Tom, who has recently retired from the CIA (but still has access to a lot of CIA toys). Tom even comes out to Paris to help Hugo with the “case”, just for funsies.

One night, Hugo is approached at a bar by a pretty investigative journalist and police reporter, Claudia Roux. She thinks he might have some insight to the drug trade that’s been picking up, but he reassures her that he’s not involved in that. They begin using each other – he for her access to the police department, she for his access to high officials, and each other for sex.

Meanwhile, Hugo has sold the second book he purchased from Max at auction, and it sold for an extraordinary sum. Right after that, Hugo is invited to a fancy dinner party put on by Gérard Roussillon. Hugo assumes it’s because Gérard was the buyer of the book. But when he arrives at the house, Claudia (!) answers the door, and he learns that Gérard is Claudia’s father, and he wants to meet Hugo to see what kind of man he is.

All of these plot points eventually converge, with additional things I haven’t even mentioned. For instance, Max was a Nazi hunter! And during the war, Nazis would use books to send messages and orders to and from themselves and their collaborators. Gérard’s father was a Nazi collaborator, and he was using the Union of Bouqinistes to try and find some books that his father used to receive messages from his superiors. The Head of the Union of Bouquinistes is actually a drug lord, which gets Claudia closer to the answers for her story.

I think I’m going to cut my synopsis off there, leaving a few points unsaid (go me!), because while the plot was occasionally a bit slow, I felt it was a lot better paced than … whatever book it was I read last year where I said that Moe did it. GOD, I can’t even remember the title of that book, it was so boring!

A couple of quotes/scenes I really liked:

Hugo’s apartment gets broken into, and Tom shows up but gets his gun stolen by one of the assailants.

[Hugo] watched as the man’s finger crept tighter around the trigger.

“Tom. No!”

Tom ignored him. He took another step toward the thug, the barrel of his own gun two feet away from his chest. Hugo watched in slow motion as Tom took the final steps toward the intruder, who hesitated barely a second before he squeezed the trigger, once, twice.

No sound.

Tom reached out and wrapped his hand around the gun, twisting it up and out, wrenching it from the man’s grasp. In less than a second, Tom had the barrel pressed to the stubble of the man’s chin.

“You just met the latest in CIA smart technology, fuckhead,” Tom said. He kneed the man between the legs. “Don’t you just love having your own set of fingerprints?” [p. 167]

WHAT ABOUT A PALM PRINT

goddamn I love Skyfall I haven’t watched it in so long I SHOULD REMEDY THAT

And then there’s THIS, which makes me wonder if a certain friend of mine who abandoned his car in a parking garage for approximately 16 months should read this book:

“Start with the assumption that no one lies unless they have to. Or, put another way, if you lie, you have a reason to do so.”

“Liars have something to hide. You’re a genius.”

“Bear with me,” Hugo said. “My experience has always been that the lies about small stuff, why you wear a watch or got a parking ticket, those are the ones that trip you up. Trouble is, people don’t spot them because no one expects you to lie about those things.” [p. 247-248]

Grade for The Bookseller: 2 stars

Fiction: “Straight” by Dick Francis

straightI know I took this book with me to Fort Myers, along with Burnt Offerings. I am pretty sure I began reading Straight on my flight home, and finished it very shortly upon landing – maybe the next day. However, because I read it in one fell swoop and I’ve already read this at least once before in my life, I didn’t dogear any pages. So … this review will be fairly short.

Over the course of my life, I have read every Dick Francis mystery at least once. Any Dick Francis titles you see come across That’s What She Read are at least the second time reading it. The good thing about the Dick Francis ouevre is that the mysteries are all fairly similar in vein: the narrator is a man, trying to do his best, in whatever career that may be; the plot is somewhat tied, in part, to British horseracing; and the mystery gets wrapped up in a neat little bow at the end of the novel.

Straight‘s narrator is Derek Franklin, a steeplechase jockey, who has recently broken his leg or twisted his ankle or something – he’s injured, and he’s hobbling around, trying to recuperate so he can get back on the horse. But then his brother, Greville, dies in an accident. Derek is notified that he is the executor of Greville’s estate, which consists of a gemstone importing and trading business. Derek knows nothing about gemstones, but he also doesn’t feel that passing the business off to someone else would be the best way to honor his brother’s wishes. So, he starts learning the gemstone business.

Then Derek learns that, before the accident, Greville had borrowed a large sum of money in order to purchase some diamonds. Those diamonds are now missing, and the insurance company (or bank, or whatever) wants the payments to begin.

Additionally, the offices get broken into – everything’s rummaged through and tossed over, but there doesn’t appear to be anything missing. This leads Derek to believe that someone else is looking for the diamonds, too.

Also-also, it turns out that Greville had purchased a steeplechaser, by name of Dozen Roses. And Derek has to decide whether he’s going to sell Dozen Roses or keep him for himself. But there might be case of mistaken identity – there’s a chance that the Dozen Roses that won the Gold Cup last year might not be the same Dozen Roses running today …

Derek is a lot like the rest of Dick Francis’s narrators – good, earnest, a little tired, a little beaten up, but overall, optimistic. He doesn’t want to learn about Greville’s business – in fact, he refers to the office as “quicksand” and in the beginning of the book, regrets how quickly it’s sucking him in. But his need to “do right” by Greville overrules his desire to heal to get back to steeplechasing, so quietly optimistic he remains.

A Dick Francis mystery is a bit stronger than a cozy mystery, but it’s not as hardboiled as some of the other mystery series out there right now. There is going to be a little bit of violence (sometimes a good deal of violence – there’s one novel where the narrator/protagonist gets arrowed), there might even be some romance – but it’s not going to be over the top, and there (probably) won’t be a femme fatale. The narrator is a good person, usually in a situation reluctantly, and he tries to make the best of it.

As always, a Dick Francis novel is a good read – maybe not particularly memorable, and definitely not requiring an in-depth review; but worth the few hours it should take you to read it.

Grade for Straight: 3 stars

Fiction: “A Murder In Time” by Julie McElwain

murder in timeHello – and welcome to 2018! Or, at least, Alaina’s Reviews of Books She’s Read in 2018.

A Murder In Time was the other book I had requested from the library at the same time as The Ring and the Crown. The Yarmouth Library had the second book in the series (A Twist In Time) but not this title, the first; so an inter-library loan was requested. The plot, when I read the blurb on Goodreads, sounded like a cross between Outlander and an FBI procedural, and I was intrigued.

Reader, I was mightily disappointed.

Now, before I get into this, for all y’all who may be new to That’s What She Read, let me tell you a bit about my process. I have been reading a ton of library books in the past couple of years, which is great – it gets me out of my house, and for all my kvetching about the lack of first titles in series that Yarmouth suffers from, I have been able to find books I wouldn’t normally want to read, and in some cases, enjoy them.

However, as you’re probably aware by this point, I’m rather terrible at posting “reviews” “timely” – and yes, there are finger-quotes around both of those terms. I’ve also found that it gets harder to remember what the book was about the longer I wait to review it – and that includes any books that I’ve read that I own. So what do I do about library books, where I’m returning the book eight months prior to writing about it?

I found late last year that it’s helpful to me to take an evening – preferably at least one night before the book is due back at the library, though I’ve never been one to balk at overdue fees -, open a Word document, and type out at least the characters and some quotes I may have dogeared for later usage. If I have time or I’m on a roll, I may type up a brief synopsis of the plot as well.

“But Alaina,” you ask (and in this case the “you” is my friend Thomas, who has indeed asked me this question) – “Why don’t you just write the review before the book is due back at the library? Why do you take notes and then come back to it and rewrite it from scratch later?”

“Well,” says I, “first of all, that feels like cheating. Like I’m skipping ahead. Secondly, one of the things that sets my “reviews” apart from everyone else’s – besides the fact that my reviews tend to be of the finger-quote variety – is that I tend to take what’s going on around me and interject it into the review. In some cases, that provides context. In other cases, I let a weird event completely distract me from actually reviewing the book I’d read, but let’s be real, I’m not really “reviewing” anything anyway, so let me be me.”

So that’s where I’m at. A Murder in Time was a library book, and I can barely remember anything of the plot, save that it involved murder and time travel (I’ll get into that later). When I started to write this review, I went into my documents folder and sure enough, there was a Word doc waiting for me.

And this, dear Reader, is the entirety of that Word document’s contents:

Murder in Time

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Okay.

So – on the one hand, January!Alaina had a lot more faith in Future!Alaina than she ultimately deserved. On the other hand … for fuck’s fuckin’ sake, Alaina, get your shit together.

ANYWAY. I went to the review of the book over on Smart Bitches, Trashy Books to get familiar with the plot and the characters again, and I had taken numerous pictures of quotes from the book (because I was clearly so super-lazy back in January that I didn’t even want to take the time to type anything up), so in January!Alaina’s defense, she may have left enough bread crumbs to allow Current!Alaina to “review” A Murder in Time.

Here we go.

Kendra Donovan is an FBI agent. But not just an FBI agent – a super-young FBI agent, who was a child prodigy because she was – I KID YOU NOT – a eugenics test tube baby.

If he [Kendra’s boss, and no, I can’t remember his name] felt a little squeamish about dealing with her, he was careful to keep that hidden. It had been his decision eight months ago to pull her out of the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit, where she’d been using her profiling and computer skills to work on the country’s most vicious serial killer cases. It had given him a jolt to meet her in person, though. He put his reaction down to her age – only twenty-six, for Christ’s sake. But he’d read her file; he knew who she was. Hell, he knew what she was. The offspring of two scientists who advocated eugenics, she’d been a child prodigy, landing at Princeton when she was only fourteen. By the time she was eighteen, she’d gotten degrees in advanced computer science, psychology, and criminology. No wonder the Bureau had wanted her badly enough to circumvent their age requirement of twenty-three to get her in. Kendra Donovan was a capable agent, Carson knew. [Oh, his name was Carson. Whatever.] [p. 3]

What is it with me and books involving surprise!eugenics?

So Kendra’s super-smart, super-determined, and has major parent issues. As we see after her mission goes tits-up and her father has to visit her in the hospital:

“What’re you doing here?” She sounded a little breathless, but otherwise steady. “I’m the one with the head injury, but apparently you forgot that you disowned me.”

“Don’t be impertinent, Kendra.” Her father’s mouth compressed into a thin line. “I received a phone call from Associate Director Leeds, who suggested that if I wanted to keep doing my research, I should visit you.”

Kendra frowned. “I’m not following. What does your research have to do with me?”

“I’m working at the Fellowship Institute in Arizona—”

“On human genome research. I know.”

“Then you should know that the government is our largest donor.”

Kendra remembered the look of pity in the associate director’s eyes. “Ah. I see. Leeds blackmailed you. That’s why you’re here.” Not because her father wanted to see her. Heaven forbid that he actually cared. And odd how that hurt. She hadn’t seen her father in a dozen years, but he still had that power. [p. 34]

He’s a Bad Dad, yo.

After a few months of recuperation, Kendra is released from the hospital and physical therapy and now she’s ready for her next mission: revenge. (The last mission she was on didn’t just send her to the hospital – it also sent quite a few of her colleagues to the morgue.) She gets a lead on the culprit and follows him to Scotland, where the culprit (no, I didn’t write his name down, because he means absolutely nothing to the plot. I’mma call him MacGuffin) is attending a fancy period dress party for no other reason than to get Kendra into period clothing.

Kendra dresses up as a maid to blend in with the crowd and follows MacGuffin into a secret staircase. There’s a weird event – like she’s falling through a vortex, or maybe she feels like she gets shot; I can’t remember if she loses consciousness at all, but something weird happens in the stairway.

When she’s able to get to the top of the stairs she comes in contact with a scientist of some sort who’s very surprised to see her. He speaks very strangely and old-timey, and wants to know why Kendra is in the room, and what happened to her hair (it’s cut in a short bob). She manages to come up with a lie that she’s a lady’s maid and he buys it, so she is sent downstairs to get her tasks.

PLEASE NOTE: At this point, I, the Reader of this book, knew that Kendra had traveled back in time. (And not just because it was on the dust jacket.) Kendra is still figuring out what happened, though, so we’ve got a few pages of dramatic irony to get through.

She meets Rose, a tweeny maid (meaning she’s between downstairs and a lady’s maid, not that she’s a tween – although she is young) and Rose takes Kendra to meet Mrs. Beeton, who I’m assuming is the Mrs. Beeton.

The older woman flashed them a hard look.  “We’re a mite busy today, Rose,” she said, and handed the iron to her assistant, who immediately transferred it to the hearth to heat up again.

“Aye, Mrs. Beeton.” Rose nodded. “But miss ‘ere needs a dress.”

Mrs. Beeton wiped the sweat from her brow. “What kinda dress?”

“Maid’s dress.”

“We don’t have time to sew a new dress.”

“She can ‘ave Jenny’s old dress. Since she ran off to Bath with Mr. Kipper and all.”

“Ooh. And a right scandal that was. Not even a by-your-leave!” Mrs. Beeton sniffed, and gave Kendra a measuring look. “You part of the temporary help?”

“Well –”

“She’s been ‘ired on,” Rose put in.

“What happened to your hair? You been ill?”

“I—”

“She’s better now,” said Rose. [p. 124]

holy grail i got better.gif

Here’s the thing – maybe it’s because Outlander did it better; maybe it’s because Back to the Future is a real formative influence on me. But it felt like it took forever for Kendra to catch on that she had been sent back in time somehow. And unlike Claire Beauchamp Randall Fraser, Kendra Donovan is not great at blending in. Between the bob haircut and her need to get involved in a murder investigation that’s going on, she stands out like an extremely sore thumb.

So yeah – in addition to strange women getting thrown into time vortexes, there’s also someone going around slitting the throats of prostitutes from London. The Duke and his nephew, Alec Sutcliffe, are trying to figure out who the killer may be, and they are very reluctant to listen to a headstrong young maid who is talking about forensics and other un-ladylike things.

As I kept reading, the investigative plot started to feel more and more like a Catherine Coulter FBI thriller, and I wasn’t exactly pleased. I mean, y’all should know how I feel about Catherine Coulter FBI novels by now. (Is it time for me to read The Target? Should I write another verse of The Rant Song?) With A Murder In Time, I felt like Ms. McElwain relied on Kendra’s internal monologue to sort out Kendra’s character, and it wasn’t smooth.

First, there’s this, where Kendra is trying to tell her new 19th century friends about profiling:

“I’d need more victims, though, before I can identify it as a signature.”

“Signature?”

Kendra hesitated. She was giving them more information than maybe she should. Though in the latter half of this century Dr. Thomas Bond would offer up a profile on Jack the Ripper, she was introducing a lexicon that wouldn’t be part of criminal investigative analysis for another century, at least. Was she changing the future?

Dammit. She didn’t know. And she couldn’t worry about it. If she was going to do any good here, she needed to think and act like an FBI profiler. [p. 186]

Towards the end of the novel, the author makes Kendra realize she’d been kind of judgy:

The doctor, Kendra realized suddenly, wasn’t the only one who’d been hampered by prejudices. If she were honest, she’d thought little of her nineteenth-century counterparts. She’d judged them and, because they were different, had found them wanting. It shamed her. These people might not have the sophisticated tools of her era, but they were all intelligent. She might not be able to trust them with her time-traveling secret, but she could trust them in this quest for truth and justice. [p. 369]

But that type of characterization doesn’t feel earned to me – it’s like the author realized, “oh, wow, Kendra should have a realization about herself just before she gets kidnapped by the killer.”

I think the most egregious characterization of Kendra’s is the really out-there references thrown in around her. For instance – and please, remember as you read this, that Kendra is in her mid-twenties, in the second decade of the 21st century:

Kendra hadn’t known what to expect from a nineteenth-century detective, but Magnum, P.I. he was not. [p. 197]

Would Magnum, P.I. be your first choice for a detective from the modern era? I guess she felt weird comparing him to Sherlock Holmes, who admittedly was a nineteenth-century detective, but … I dunno, I guess Kendra never watched Veronica Mars, which is a damned shame.

Kendra has also apparently never dated anyone, ever:

[Kendra] shook off her sense of amazement, and tried to pretend she was watching a period play. There was a lot of flirting going on, plenty of fluttering of ivory fans and eyelashes. It was weird to to think that in another two hundred years people would flirt by pole dancing, twerking, and sexting. [p. 130]

Okay, so admittedly, I have been very open about the fact that I don’t have any idea when people are flirting with me. One of my friends asked me a while ago, if one of my other friends ever tried to hit on me, how would I react, and my actual response was “he’d have to be extremely blatant for me to get that he was actively hitting on me.” Friend: “But what if he was and you got it?” Me: “I guess my first reaction would be to ask him if he’d fallen down and hit his head on something hard.” Because my instinct tells me that someone’s more likely to be suffering from a concussion than possibly be attracted to me? That’s messed up.

Having said that – I do know that people do not flirt by pole dancing, or by going up to people in bars and twerking at them without at least saying “hi” first.

(I guess some people could say that strippers flirt by pole dancing, but MY DUDE, that is a paying job that a woman has sought out and her job is to make you think she’s into you, but SHE IS NOT. Tip her, but she is NOT YOURS. Also, remember: there is no sex in the champagne room, or in the lighting booth.)

Now, compare Kendra to Rebecca, Alec Sutcliffe’s younger sister. She is ready and rarin’ to go when it comes to investigating these crimes:

“This is about the girl who was killed, is it not?”

“Becca – “

“Oh, don’t look so Friday-faced, Alec! If Miss Donovan is allowed to stay, I don’t know why I should be sent from the room. I am not a child – I’m three and twenty.” She gave both men an arch look. “And I seem to recall you applauding my study of Miss Wollstonecraft’s work. You have always encouraged my artistic and intellectual pursuits.”

“For God’s sakes, Becca, we are not having a theoretical discussion in Duke’s study or the drawing room,” Alec argued impatiently. “This is not an exercise in women’s rights.”

“Oh, but that is exactly what it is, Sutcliffe!” She was no longer smiling, and her blue eyes narrowed. “For the first time, we can take the discussion out of the theoretical and apply it to the real world. Unless you were gammoning me.”

Kendra had to admire the woman. She’d neatly turned the tables on the men. If this were the twenty-first century, Lady Rebecca would’ve made a good lawyer. [p. 184]

Within a couple of lines of dialogue, I feel like I immediately know Rebecca’s character and how she and her brother get along. Maybe Ms. McElwain could write a book about her next?

One piece of dialogue that never fails to make me think of something else (similar to whenever anyone mentions something about catching someone red-handed):

“Of course, there’s another possibility.”

The Harry Potter glasses glinted in the sunshine as he looked at her. “What, pray tell, would that be, Miss Donovan?”

“She could’ve had the stain on her coat before she met the killer,” she pointed out. “We’re assuming it happened here.”

Aldridge beamed at her. “Excellent point, my dear! Post hoc ergo propter hoc.” [p. 373]

And we all know that post hoc ergo propter hoc means “after hoc therefore, something else hoc.”

Okay, two more things and then I’ll shut up about this book. First, Ms. McElwain plays to her strengths in at least one area. In her real life, Ms. McElwain is an editor for CBS Soaps in Depth, where she focuses on The Young and the Restless. In A Murder in Time, many chapters end on cliffhangers where characters have an exclamation of something, like this:

If possible, Gabriel seemed to pale even more. “No, Thomas is his manservant …”

Rebecca lowered her handkerchief and stared at Gabriel. “I beg your pardon?”

He raked a shaking hand over his hair, disheveling it even more. “God. I’ve been a fool. A bloody fool.”

Rebecca was taken aback by the look in Gabriel’s eyes: utter despair.

“If I had my wits about me, I might’ve saved the maid.”

“What are you saying, Gabriel?”

His mouth twisted. “Thomas isn’t the monster. But I know who the monster is.”

Rebecca put a hand to her throat, felt her pulse leap beneath her fingertips. “Who?” [p. 453]

That’s it; that’s the end of the chapter. Can’t you hear dramatic organ music whipping underneath that dialogue?

And please, let me reassure you: I have nothing against soap operas! I am extremely proud of my heritage of watching All My Children for years – for years!! I refused to watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer at first because I knew Sarah Michelle Gellar as Kendall Hart, illegitimate daughter of Erica Kane! Erica had Kendall at 14, following a rape; she put the baby up for adoption and completely forgot about it, only to have Kendall come roaring into Pine Valley looking for the silver spoon she felt she deserved! Kendall tried to seduce her stepfather, Dmitri, and when he rejected her she accused him of raping her, which made Erica have a flashback to her own rape, and in an attempt to defend herself and Kendall, she STABBED DMITRI WITH A LETTER OPENER!

Vintage All My Children was THE BEST, you guys.

The last thing that Ms. McElwain did that I have to mention is: she could not resist this line:

Kendra’s lips curved with an irony her audience would never understand. “I always say there’s no time like the present.” [p. 189]

facepalm 2

Great Scott – she had to make a time joke.

Look, overall, the book didn’t suck – there were just some parts that … could have been better. There’s a good chance that I’m probably going to read the next book in the series; but at least now I know what to expect.

Grade for A Murder in Time: 1.5 stars