Fiction: “Silent in the Grave” by Deanna Raybourn

silent in the graveI had heard many great things about the Lady Julia Grey mystery series – from the Fug Girls’ Afternoon Book chats, from other readers, all sorts of places. But damned if I could ever find a copy of them. I think I had the first one out from the Portland library when I still lived there, or maybe it was during that weird six months where I worked at that horrible office, but if I had checked this out at that time, I returned it unread. And god forbid that the Yarmouth library had this title in stock.

But good news, everyone! I was shopping at Bull Moose – record store of my heart, that has also expanded to DVDs, games, and bless them, books – and a hardcover copy of Silent in the Grave, the first Lady Julia Grey mystery, was on sale. And not only was it on sale, but it was on sale for $2.97.

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Now, the hardcover is heavy. It’s like, 500 pages. And I wanted to start reading it before going to My Dear Friend Sarah’s baby shower, but I also didn’t want to be carting around a 500-page hardcover book through airport security or on the Metro. I started reading this for real when I returned to Maine, and I read it super quick.

Lady Julia Grey is a widow in Victorian England. We know she’s a widow, because the first paragraph in the book reads:

To say that I met Nicholas Brisbane over my husband’s dead body is not entirely accurate. Edward, it should be noted, was still twitching upon the floor. [p. 13]

Edward dies shortly thereafter, for all appearances, of stroke or seizure. Edward had not been well, either, so while it is a sad turn of events, it wasn’t completely a surprise. Brisbane was invited not as a guest to the dinner party that was going on, but because Edward had hired Brisbane to investigate a threat Edward had received. While the doctor declares Edward’s death due to his longstanding heart condition, Brisbane tries to convince Julia that Edward was murdered. She dismisses Brisbane out of hand and tries to get on with her mourning.

About a year later, Julia finds one of those threatening notes left for Edward, and she starts to think that maybe Brisbane was right. Julia seeks Brisbane out and attempts to hire him to find her husband’s killer, but he rightly tells her that too much time has passed since the death for any evidence or trails to exist.

But that doesn’t stop Lady Julia! She does her own investigating, and asking the doctor some questions, and also there are gypsies and –

Look, again, sadly, this review is going to suffer for my lateness and lack of note-taking. I know I did not bother to take notes on this book because I own it and thought by skimming through the book when it finally came time to review it, I’d be able to be fine with it? But I’m writing this at almost 11 p.m. on the Tuesday night before I have to go back to work after a six-day Christmas break and I really don’t feel like re-reading a 500-page novel again just so I can do a decent job reviewing it.

Note From the Future: I maaaay have started writing these reviews like, three at a time, and then posting one a day. I’m posting this today because I’m back to having four reviews in the can, so to speak, and that’s a good amount to have able to post, so – new year new me maybe this book blog backlog can be eradicated before the Oscars!

So I’m not going to talk about the plot – mainly, because I can’t remember much of it, and what I can remember, I’ll spoil the ending for you, and I don’t wanna play you like that. Instead, I’m going to tell you the emotions I remember and some other things.

First, Brisbane is a curmudgeon. A handsome curmudgeon, but a curmudgeon nonetheless. He is short with Lady Julia, and he tends to exasperate her, but later he introduces her to Hortense de Bellefleur, a patron-slash-mentor of sorts to Brisbane. A former courtesan, she delights in her newfound friendship with Lady Julia, and Julia responds in kind, not caring about what other people in society may think. Hortense also tells Julia that one of the factors for Brisbane’s prickliness is that he suffers from – well, we’d call them migraines, in common parlance. Can’t remember what they call them in this time period, and while I will look up the name of Brisbane’s courtesan friend, I’m not searching through the pages to find the euphemism for migraines.

Julia also has some ties to gypsies – a band of gypsies used to park on her father’s land when she was a teenager, and one of her maids or housekeepers is a gypsy. Somehow Julia is concerned that the gypsies may have been involved with Edward’s death, which leads her and her brother to disguise themselves to sneak into a nearby gypsy camp, where she discovers Brisbane boxing and also he’s fluent in Romany and when he discovers her there he gets super mad and also super protective and oooohhh, I see what you did there, Ms. Raybourn, it’s Next Love Interest Time!

I realize I’m sounding super facetious, but at this point I think I’m mad at myself more than at the book. I know I loved the book – much like when I skimmed the reviews for a couple of previous books, I’m shocked at how many people on Goodreads hate this book, but I enjoyed it. I thought the romantic elements between Lady Julia and Brisbane were great – a nice, slow burn, which I enjoy wholeheartedly. There’s also a subplot with Julia’s brother, whose name escapes me, and how he managed to steal a raven from the Tower of London and now the raven lives with Julia. There’s also Julia’s entire family, the Marches; her father is a Shakespearean nut, and all of the family members are named from Shakespeare characters. There’s a lot, and again, not looking it up, but I enjoyed that part of it.

I really did like this book. Unlike what some commentors on Goodreads thought, I didn’t think the multiple plotlines distracted from the story. I think this does something similar to the Lady Emily mysteries I’ve read: you have a strong, independent, almost-headstrong widow who’s determined to get to the bottom of something, but because she’s a Lady of Quality, she can’t devote every last second to mystery-solving. There are going to be subplots. Let’s face it; we all have subplots going on in our lives, we can’t devote every single second to the main action. In some cases, we may not even know whether the main action really is the main action.

The only page I dogeared in the entire novel was page 55, where Julia reminisces about her courtship with Edward. I felt that, through this paragraph, I felt akin with Julia:

I was not like the other girls; I had no frivolous conversation or pretty tricks to win suitors. I had forthrightness and plainspoken manners. I had a good mind and a sharp tongue, and I was cruel enough to use them as weapons to keep the cads and rogues at bay. As for the young men I might have liked to partner me, I was far better at repelling than attracting. I did not swoon or carry a vinaigrette or turn squeamish at the mention of spiders. Father had raised us to scorn such feminine deceptions. Like my brothers, I wanted to talk about good books and urgent politics, new ideas and foreign places. But the young men I met did not like that. They wanted pretty dolls with silvery giggles and empty heads. [p. 55]

Heeelloooo, Alaina! Like, FOR REAL. I do not know how to flirt. I am bad at it. I can’t tell when dudes flirt with me, which leads me to think that dudes aren’t flirting with me, which is also fine. But seriously: aside from literally screaming my head off at the sight of a garter snake (ask my sister, it happened, I’m ashamed but also, not apologetic for my actions), that paragraph could be describing one Alaina L. Patterson.

Again, that’s not the only reason I liked the story, and encourage y’all to read it given the chance. But it’s nice when a reader can truly relate to a character.

Grade for Silent in the Grave: 4 stars

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Fiction: “An Untimely Frost” by Penny Richards

untimely frostI spent one of my lunch breaks in early May at the local Barnes & Noble, looking for something to read. I was flying to D.C. to visit My Dear Friend Sarah for her baby shower, and I have a bad track record with bringing library books on trips (it was My Dear Friend Sarah who had to mail me back the copy of Amsterdam by Ian McEwan I had left at her house when she and I went to the midnight showing of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest). So I wanted something to read that I wouldn’t get pissed at if I accidentally left it behind somewhere.

I was scanning the mystery shelves, and this was displayed face out, I think. The tagline says “Solving crimes is not a dress rehearsal…”, and look at me, not complaining about ellipses!

(sigh. I have a friend who texts rarely, but when he does, he always ends his sentences with ellipses. Like, “sounds fun…..”. NOT THAT WAY, IT DOESN’T! It sounds like you’re eye-rolling at me, and that just adds to my anxiety about people not wanting to hang out with me. JUST HIT THE PERIOD ONCE, DUDE, THAT’S ALL YOU NEED)

(Also yes, this is the same person whose vehicle has been abandoned for at least an entire year at this point.)

(And yes, since I first saw the vehicle as abandoned on January 3, 2017, I am most definitely preparing to Jerry Maguire the shit out of that vehicle for an anniversary present of sorts.)

(wait, let me be crystal clear: an anniversary present for the car, not for the friend. If a friend can’t return a “merry christmas” text then maybe the texting friend should just keep the DVD collection of The Grinder for herself)

ANYWAY. The back of the book said this:

In 1881 Chicago, the idea of a female detective is virtually unheard of. But when famed crime buster Allan Pinkerton opens his agency’s doors to a handful of women, one intrepid actress with her own troubled past is driven to defy convention and take on a new and dangerous role …

Oh god, those ellipses again. But seriously, the mention of the Pinkertons sealed the deal for me buying the book. Every time I see anything about the Pinkertons, I hear Al Swearengen growling about the Pinkertons and get all happy.

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(Deadwood, guys – you have to watch Deadwood. And also The Grinder. But definitely Deadwood.)

I read this over the weekend-ish of My Dear Friend Sarah’s baby shower. I remember reading a chunk of it on the Red Line into D.C. and back, because the day after the baby shower, I visited the International Spy Museum and checked a thing off of my bucket list:

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I TOUCHED THAT MOTHERFUCKER. I am not kidding or exaggerating: I have loved that car longer than I’ve loved any man. My father can attest: I asked for a miniature version of that car every Christmas from the age of 10 to the age of 17. There were substitutes, but never the real thing.

So when the gift shop had this:

it's coming home with me

— you bet your ASS I took it home with me.

But the book! Right. So Lilly Long is married to Tim Warner, who’s an asshole. He takes all her money and hits her a couple of times, and then leaves her. She attempts to find him in the local pub, but while there, she learns that not only does he owe for drinking and gambling, but he’s also racked up a debt with a couple of prostitutes.

Lilly returns to her actor’s quarters with the rest of her troupe, Rose and Pierce, who took her in after her mother died. While reading the paper, Lilly learns that Pinkerton’s is looking to hire women detectives, and Lilly gets it into her head that she’s going to join the agency and become a detective. She manages it, by dressing up as three different types of women (spinster, flirt, etc.) and going to three different interviews. She reveals her disguise at the end of her second interview and Allan hires her on the spot.

Her first case sends her to rural Illinois – a preacher and his family have disappeared, and the owner of the house wants to sell it but can’t until they have the permission of any remaining family members. So she heads out to Vandalia to find out what happened to the preacher man.

Well, she stirs up shit, that’s for sure. As soon as the residents learn why she’s there, they clam up and refuse to talk about anything. Lilly sleuths on her own, actually runs out to Heaven’s Gate (the preacher’s house, and also, the name of that cult that all killed themselves on my birthday in the late 90s, so – subtle, Ms. Richards) to see if she can find any clues.

Meanwhile, there’s this dude following her around: a boxer with a bit of an Irish accent, he calls her ‘colleen’ which throws her back right up – Colleen was the name of one of the prostitutes her ex-husband frequented – and Lilly tries to avoid him at all costs. But he has a habit of showing up at the most coincidental of places – like, when a runaway horse and cart were careening down the main drag right towards her, or when she got herself locked into the attic of Heaven’s Gate …

SEE THAT’S HOW YOU USE ELLIPSES, to add to the suspense! Not just as regular punctuation! I swear to god

So that’s about all I remember slash can talk about without getting spoilery. This was a cute mystery with absolutely no stakes. Any sense of suspense was resolved very quickly. You never for one second thought Lilly was in any real danger.

What kind of ticked me off was that the boxer I mentioned? We don’t learn his name – Andrew Cadence McShane – until p. 247. This book is only 258 pages long. That’s – that’s not the best use of suspense.

So overall, I’m rating this 2 stars. However, I am going to read the next book, because the paperback gives the first chapter of the next book, and it looks like the next book is going to have the Fake Married Trope be a big part of Lilly’s next case.

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Grade for An Untimely Frost: 2 stars

Fiction: “Her Royal Spyness” by Rhys Bowen

Royal SpynessI follow Go Fug Yourself / @fuggirls on Twitter, and occasionally they’ll have a post called “Afternoon Book Chat” where people post comments about the books they’re currently reading. It’s great! And one afternoon, a whole bunch of people were raving about the “Her Royal Spyness” mysteries. Everyone was saying it’s so cute, and a fast read, and etc. etc.

I was intrigued! I went to Goodreads, and found out the first title in the series. (Shoulda known it was Her Royal Spyness, but that seemed almost too easy?) Then I went to the Yarmouth library’s website and … learned that they have almost every other title in the series, but not the first one.

What. Why. What.

So I look for a link to request an inter-library loan on the website. No dice. Nowhere within the website is there a link to the inter-library loan program. There is a link for “purchase request,” which makes me sad. But then I remember that Yarmouth is one of the richest towns in southern Maine and I also pay taxes, so fuck it, I request that the library purchases the book.

Like, three days later I get an email: Your request has been fulfilled. And I’m all impressed that they sent someone out to Barnes & Noble to buy a book just for me!

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When I go to pick up the book – it was an inter-library loan from the Portland Public Library.

What. Why. What.

WHY DON’T YOU JUST HAVE A LINK TO THE INTER-LIBRARY LOAN PROBLEM I MEAN GOD I’LL BET YOU COULD GET A PROGRAMMER TO FIX THAT FOR YOU POSTHASTE

Anyway.

Her Royal Spyness is the first in a series of quasi-“cozy” mysteries starring Lady Victoria Georgiana Charlotte Eugenie (known as Georgie), thirty-fourth in line to the British throne. She lives in a drafty Scottish castle with her brother, Rannoch (known as Binkie), and Binkie’s wife, Fig. Fig is trying to set Georgie up with a suitor so as to a) get her settled and b) out of the castle, and being fiercely independent, Georgie instead pretends to go visit friends in London and stay in the residence there.

The book takes place in the early 1920s…? (*checks the wiki*) Yes, the late 1920s – this is before King Edward VIII abdicates to be with Wallis Simpson and well before WWII. It’s still considered inappropriate for a young lady to be living in London unescorted; hence, the lying. Plus, Georgie’s cousin – the Queen – would most likely order her to be a lady-in-waiting, which is really just ‘waiting’ to be married off to some other obscure royal relative, and Georgie wants no part of that.

Georgie moves into her brother’s London residence, but because she ran away, there are no servants to make sure there’s food in the house or fires lit. She manages to fend for herself, including through the assistance of her good friend Belinda, an up-and-coming fashion designer. Georgie and Belinda go to quite a few parties, and Belinda hopes to see Georgie set herself up with a lover or three before the season’s out.

Georgie does have a few bantery exchanges with Darcy O’Mara, a titled (but penniless) peer who happens to be Irish Catholic – apparently making him inappropriate for someone of Georgie’s stature to ‘pal’ around with. (I think. I’m recapping this by the seat of my pants, to be honest – I read it back in March and, as evidenced by the first few paragraphs, was a library book, so it’s not like I can go back to the bookshelf and skim to make sure I’m remembering it correctly.) And every time Georgie thinks she likes him, something happens to make her suspect him for something.

Like, a dead body in her house.

Gaston de Mauxville visits her and Binkie in their house (once Binkie return to Town on business) and claims he has a letter from Georgie and Binkie’s father, giving de Mauxville Rannoch Castle to settle a gambling debt. And one day when Georgie comes home, the dead body of de Mauxville is lying in Binkie’s bathroom. And of course, Binkie is made to appear the chief suspect.

Meanwhile, Georgie needs to make money. When Fig tells her Binkie’s coming down to London and asks Georgie to make sure the servants get everything ready … there are no servants, because Georgie lied. So she goes about and gets everything ready and realizes that she could advertise to wealthy nobles as a maid whose only job is to open houses for the season – removing dustcloths, washing windows, turning the heat on, etc. So she starts a maid service and makes a few pounds without Binkie noticing.

There’s also Tristram Hautbois, a third-rate noble (again, I think, I’m going off my scant notes here) who Georgie used to know as a form of stepbrother or something? But they hang out a lot together and Georgie enjoys his company. Darcy O’Mara is part of Tristram’s group, and each gentleman warns Georgie about the other.

Look, I know I’m doing a bad job of reviewing this book. After reading it so long ago, I didn’t take a lot of notes regarding the details and intricacies of the plot. I didn’t jot down any quotes from the book, either. But what I can tell you is that Georgie is delightful, her courtship with Darcy is delightful, Binkie and Fig are stereotypes but no less delightful, and when Georgie finally gets her visit with the Queen, the Queen asks Georgie to attend a house party where the Prince of Wales will also be in attendance, and would Georgie be so kind as to keep an eye on His Royal Highness’s paramour, Mrs. Simpson?

I’m definitely looking forward to reading the next book. (To keep myself out of trouble with the Yarmouth Library, I’ve ordered it off of Amazon as an early Christmas present to me, from me.) And I promise I’ll do better with its review.

Grade for Her Royal Spyness: 3 stars

Fiction: “Killing Orders” by Sara Paretsky

killing ordersI am giving myself ninety minutes to write this review, and then I should do my homework (ugh) for my leadership training class tomorrow (double ugh), but I’m gonna give you a heads-up right now: I probably won’t.

I can’t remember if I packed this book as a backup to A Wrinkle In Time when I took my ill-fated (in terms of transportation debacles, not company) Washington, D.C. trip last September. As you will see (I’d say “shortly”, but y’all know how I roll on this here blog by now; ain’t nothing “short” about it), I ended up reading a romance novel I purchased at My Dear Friend Sarah’s (former?) place of work instead. And I can’t really remember the order of when I read this versus A Wrinkle In Time, the upcoming Pirate Bride, and the even-further-upcoming North and South, because around that time last year I got really bad with dates. My GoodReads 2016 shelf does not match my Book (Excel) Spreadsheet, things are out of order, human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together – mass hysteria!

But in the end, it doesn’t matter! Because I read it anyway, and time is a flat circle.

This is the third book in the V.I. Warshawski series. In this title, Vic is hired – then fired – by her awful Aunt Rosa, who hates Vic and Vic’s mother. Vic idolizes her mother, Gabriella, and while Vic doesn’t want to get back into Rosa’s good graces, she does want to find the truth about why Aunt Rosa was fired from her Treasurer position at her (Rosa’s) church. Turns out some securities the monks (they’re Dominican brothers, so friars? monks? it doesn’t matter) wanted to cash in so they could expand the priory (?) (I’m not looking this stuff up, you know that by now) were forgeries, and the only logical suspect is Rosa. The monks agree that if Vic can clear Rosa’s name, then Rosa would be hired again and all would be well.

So, out of familial duty, Vic looks into it – until Rosa gets all butt-hurt about something and fires her. But Vic then hires herself – or maybe her boyfriend, Roger, hires her because the securities are related to his firm? I don’t know. Point is, she investigates. And crosses paths with the Catholic Church, and the Mafia. Because this takes place in Chicago, don’t ya know.

Vic remains a tough broad – drinking Scotch, ignoring domestic duties like cleaning and washing dishes, wearing clothes she tossed on the floor the night before – aside from the Scotch part, I see a lot of myself in Vic. (For me, it’d be gin.) She finds herself, for the first time in the series, able to let her guard down around somebody – in this instance, Roger. Though when it looks like she’s definitely on a Mob hit list, she pulls away from Roger in order to keep him safe from danger.

At one point, Vic reaches out to her friend, Lotty, and asks to get in touch with Lotty’s uncle, a former forger. The uncle agrees to make additional copies of the securities, which results with the uncle landing in the hospital, and Lotty quite upset with Vic. Vic is absolutely remorseful for her role in the caper, and at the end of the book, she and Lotty have reconciled.

What else … uh, not much. In the end, this book is a fairly rote “female detective” novel – single gal who does tough things like drink Scotch and jog unwillingly takes on big corporations or evil entities to fight for the little guy. You see this (slightly) with Kinsey Millhone in Sue Grafton’s alphabet series, although Kinsey’s drink of choice is cheap white wine. While I have no evidence whatsoever to back this up, I feel the category of “female detective novel” has been dominated by cozy-type mysteries, so I appreciate Kinsey and Vic remaining strong and tough as nails. I should also point out, though, that this book was first published in 1986, so some of the attitudes within the book are directly tied to events and attitudes occurring thirty years ago.

I do like the V.I. Warshawski series – it’s just taking me a long time to get through a series lately. It’s taking me a long time to do anything, lately. But as I was able to get this published within my ninety minute timeframe, I’m going to … take a couple of Melatonin and go to bed, I guess.

When did I become an adult?

Grade for Killing Orders: 2.5 stars

Fiction: “The Apprentice” by Tess Gerritsen

ApprenticeThis was one of the last books I got from the library before beginning my huge (and as of yet, incomplete) task of trying to read the Ron Chernow biography of Alexander Hamilton. And for every disappointment the Yarmouth Library gives me, I get at least one-fifth surprise: they actually had the next book in a series I wanted to read.

(Does the Yarmouth library even participate in inter-library loan? Because seriously, their lack of shit is getting quite ridiculous.)

(Also getting quite ridiculous? The amount of time that spans between my reviews. But we’re not going to talk about that.)

The Apprentice is the second book in the Jane Rizzoli series by Maine resident, Tess Gerritsen. Of note, The Apprentice marks the first appearance of Dr. Maura Isles, so if y’all want to start reading this series because you love the TNT classic Rizzoli and Isles … I still suggest you read The Surgeon first, because The Apprentice takes a lot of its plot from the first book.

To be honest, I didn’t realize it had been so long since I’d read The SurgeonAs I got into The Apprentice, I found I needed to go back to my original review of the first book to hopefully fill in some gaps.

And Reader? Did I ever. But I’ll get into that in a bit.

In The Surgeon, Rizzoli goes after a serial killer that bonds their female victim to their bed, performs a hysterectomy on them while they’re still conscious, and then slits their throat. At the end of that novel, Rizzoli is able to save Dr. Cordell from The Surgeon and have him arrested, but not before Rizzoli is terrorized by him a bit.  The Apprentice begins with The Surgeon, William Hoyt, in jail, but there’s another individual running around Boston, and he’s graduated to couples and necrophilia.

The FBI is called in to the investigation, which gets Jane’s back up. She feels that she’s more than capable of handling the investigation; as the case wears on, she finds that her fears aren’t unfounded, as the FBI agent, Gabriel Dean, consistently shows up to crime scenes either before her or just behind her; in addition, he withholds information from her to suit his purposes.

But it’s not just Dean affecting her and throwing her off her groove: the once-cocky, overconfident detective was shaken to her core after The Surgeon. She returns to her apartment after a long day’s work at the crime scene, and before she locks herself in behind three different, extra-strength deadbolts and locks, she canvasses her rooms, gun drawn.

She dropped her head in her hands, feeling as though it would explode with so much information. She had wanted to be lead detective, had even demanded it, and now the weight of this investigation was crushing her. She was too tired to think and too wound up to sleep. She wondered if this was what a breakdown felt like and ruthlessly suppressed the thought. Jane Rizzoli would never allow herself to be so spineless as to suffer a nervous breakdown. In the course of her career she had chased a perp across a rooftop, had kicked down doors, had confronted her own death in a dark cellar.

She had killed a man.

But until this moment, she had never felt so close to crumbling. [p. 94]

See, Carol K. Carr? THAT’S how you create a strong female character! Instead of scoffing away the weakness she feels, Rizzoli gets mad at herself for showing weakness. That’s different! This adds layers!

So in the end, it turns out that the new killer is an apprentice of The Surgeon (see? see?), and Rizzoli and Isles gets their man, and The Surgeon escapes and kidnaps Rizzoli in revenge but she turns him into a quadroplegic so everyone wins! Except the Surgeon, but if you count “being alive” as “winning,” even he gets a participation trophy.

Some funny / weird / important things I want to just quickly throw up here before I get into my rant:

Here’s a scene with Dr. Isles’ mentor, whose name I did not write down:

He picked up a disarticulated rib, arched it toward the breastbone, and studied the angle made by the two bones.

“Pectus excavatum,” he said. [p. 124]

Sadly, no one mentioned what his Patronus was.

“Hey, Rizzoli,” [some detective] said.

“Hey, Mick. Thanks for coming out.” [p. 26]

THAT IS SO BOSTON I CAN BARELY EVEN. I MEAN, that phrase was immortalized in one of the best movies of my generation, The Boondock Saints:

Thanks for coming out

Finally, because reasons (this is from the diary of Dr. Hoyt, the Surgeon):

I tell them about my visit to San Gimignano, a town perched in the rolling hills of Tuscany. Strolling among the souvenir shops and the outdoor cafes, I came across a museum devoted entirely to the subject of torture. [p. 295-296]

Hannibal?

Okay, so – when I went back and re-read my review of The Surgeon, I was appalled. Not by my lack of review – even I’ve gotten used to this. No, it was something I said:

What rubbed me the wrong way in a couple of places was what I felt to be over-the-top feminism. Now, before I go too far, let me explain my personal stance on feminism: yes, it sucks that women make sixty cents for every dollar that men earn in the same position (blanket statement). Yes, it sucks that women are always being portrayed in the media as sluts, whores, and sexual objects. Yes, it sucks that women are rarely recognized for their intelligence and reasoning skills. Do I find myself fighting the status quo and the media machine due to those portrayals? … eh. Not really. Because I am aware of those portrayals, and they are portrayals I’ve seen all my life, and because I know that the media machine is now a near-unstoppable male empire of testosterone and jackassery, I’m going to spend my time fighting for things where I know I can make a bigger difference. Like, attending the Rally to Restore Sanity, or writing that comedy pilot that finally portrays people like ordinary people and not stereotypes. (Me, October 2011)

I was appalled at myself. I could not believe that I was once that naive and … and so fucking blasé about feminism and portrayal of women in media and … UGH!! Alaina!! How could you?!

Because look, I don’t know when (or if) my stance on feminism changed, but goddammit, I am a proud feminist. I demand equal pay for equal work! I demand that media begin to recognize that in our beloved media — well, fuck, no one’s said it better than Stella Gibson from The Fall:

The media loves to divide women into virgins or vamps, angels or whores. Let’s not encourage them. [The Fall, series 1, episode 3]

So I read my review of The Surgeon, and I am so sorry, Five-Years-Ago-Me. I’m sorry that your innocence was taken away, I guess. In the time since I’ve written that review, I’ve expanded my media presence, and a direct result of that has been seeing how many different ways women are portrayed (or not portrayed) in media.

From the past two weeks’ worth of sportscasters consistently touting the men who helped support the women winning the gold over the women themselves (see: the Chicago Tribune, who, while admittedly they were most likely attempting to call out the wife of a Chicago Bear, could have at least included her name in the headline), to all the shit that was poured out over Paul Feig DARING to reboot Ghostbusters with – gasp! – women in the roles?!, to – god, to JUST ABOUT EVERYTHING. How about Marco Rubio not thinking women should be allowed to choose to have an abortion when her fetus tests positive for Zika, a virus that causes severe birth defects and, in some cases, has been fatal for those infants? WHEN DID MARCO RUBIO GET A UTERUS AND THEREFORE ENTITLE HIMSELF TO HAVE AN OPINION AS TO HOW A WOMAN SHOULD MANAGE HER OWN BODY

Ahem.

(Please note, I’m not saying all women who are pregnant that, sadly, get infected with Zika should abort; I’m saying it’s their choice to do what they want with their body, not Marco Rubio’s – OR ANY MAN’S, FOR THAT MATTER.)

(Hi, somehow my tiny little book blog became a political hotbed. I AM SORRY. I’LL GET BACK TO HANNIBAL JOKES SHORTLY. DON’T @ ME.)

Feminism is the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men. I don’t want women to have more rights than men; I just want us to be allowed to have the same rights as men. The right to vote for who I want without having to explain myself, or to justify my choice. The right to have autonomy over my own body, the same as a man has autonomy over his body. The right to be called by my name and not my title, unless my title is how I choose to be acknowledged. The right to have the media portray my story, and not portray me as the Sidekick, or the Side Piece, or the Victim, or the Vamp. I am complicated. I am more than a trope. I want to see media portrayals that show all facets of women, and don’t just boil her down to a Strong Female Character.

I want to have media recognize that yes, she is the first Simone Biles, and not the next Michael Phelps or Usain Bolt. Fuck off, media.

Anyway. I apologize most of all to you, Feminist Character From The Surgeon Whose Name I Wrote Down As “Women’s Crisis Center Lady [Sarah].” You keep fighting the good fight, from inside your paper home, and I’ll keep fighting mine, out here in the Internet trenches.

As for The Apprentice? Eh — C+.

Grade for The Apprentice: 3 stars

Fiction: “I is for Innocent” by Sue Grafton

InnocentI almost just typed that I is for Innocent was written by Kinsey Millhone. That’s … that’s great, Alaina. It’s been almost a month since you posted here, bringing your book blog backlog back up to 9 reviews (plus one year-end review!), and you can’t even distinguish between the author and the main character? I mean, on the one hand, I guess kudos to Ms. Grafton for continuing to make a character seem real enough that these books could be an autobiography? But on the other hand, how are you so tired, Alaina, you slept nine hours last night and just woke up from an hour’s nap, you should have this straight by now! Also, the book is right by your elbow. Come on, son.

SO ANYWAY, we’re nearing the end of the 2015 backlog, and as December was closing out, I was chomping at the bit to get as many books completed as possible. (Lousy stupid Mysteries of Udolpho, throwing off my groove.) Apparently when I’m hitting that mark, I reach for Sue Grafton because a) I’m still at the point where I’ve read them before and b) they’re a quick read. I say “apparently” because that’s exactly what I did when I read H is for Homicide back in December of 2013. So, much like when I read Festival of Deaths, it had been at least two years in-between books of series.

I’d say I need to get better at that – and, spoiler alert, I do for one of the series I’ve mentioned before – but I just got the second book in a series from the library today where I read the first book back in 2011. So, five years. Great. Good job, Alaina; you practically have to read the first book all over again to get going.

Thank god I don’t have to do that with the Sue Grafton series; I’d never finish.

As I mentioned in my review of H is for Homicide, Kinsey gets separated from California Fidelity, the insurance company that provided her office space in exchange for investigative services. Before I is for Innocent picks up, Kinsey has found a new place to operate: in the office building of Kingman and Associates. She’d done some work for Lonnie before, and they have a good arrangement. The book starts off by Lonnie giving Kinsey some work: the murder of Isabelle Barney is being dealt with again, this time in a civil suit against the unproven killer, her ex-husband David Barney. The private investigator Lonnie originally hired to gather evidence has unfortunately dropped dead of a heart attack, and the trial begins in three weeks. Kinsey thinks it’s going to be a simple case of gathering depositions and reviewing Morley Shine’s PI files. As usually happens when Kinsey gets involved, it’s not easy at all.

Everyone hates David Barney, but he had an alibi for Isabelle’s murder, so he got off at the criminal trial. Now Isabelle Barney’s first ex-husband is trying David civilly in an attempt to get closure. And Kinsey’s learning all sorts of stuff about David and who else may be a suspect, when David Barney calls her and proclaims his innocence. And unfortunately, what he’s saying starts to make sense.

Kinsey follows the evidence through numerous twists and turns, and at the end of the book, Kinsey gets to show her bad-ass side off. Compared to other series I read, there really isn’t a lot of violence in the Alphabet series, and while Kinsey does put herself into dangerous situations, it’s rare that those situations become life-threatening. Without spoiling the twists and turns I mentioned, Kinsey gets into a shoot-out with a bad guy, and the difference between life and death is literally one bullet. It is a less funny, more tense version of the Who Killed The Chandelier bit.

Man, I haven’t watched that movie in forever.

The other thing Kinsey deals with in this book is near-crippling doubt. Getting fired, so-to-speak, from California Fidelity hit her harder than she had originally thought. Kinsey’s traditional attempt to deal with things is usually to throw off a sarcastic, self-deprecating remark and continue on her merry way. (I wonder if that’s where I get it from …) But being out of a work-home, and now having to forge a new version of a working relationship with Lonnie — she experiences doubt. Does she still have it in her to continue to be a private investigator?

Spoiler alert! This book is letter I. We haven’t even reached the halfway point of the series. Yes, she’s still got it.

But everyone goes through moments of doubt in their lives. And it’s comforting to know that a person that you admire (fictional or otherwise) can have the same experience as you, even when that person is a bad ass that can demonstrate the ability to count bullets in the middle of a firefight.

And … that’s about all I’ve got for I is for Innocent. One more book until 2016!

Grade for I is for Innocent: 3 stars

Fiction: “Festival of Deaths” by Jane Haddam

Festival of DeathsI guess I wasn’t really aware that it had been more than two years since the last time I read a Gregor Demarkian mystery. I became aware of that fact when, a couple of months ago, in the process of cleaning the apartment for a Christmas party, I decided to reorganize all of my bookshelves instead of, y’know, dusting. The upside? Although it is nowhere near the universally-accepted Dewey Decimal System, my books are now organized into a rhyme and reason of my own making. So, y’know; “madness.”

The downside is that, even after all of that, I need at least one more bookcase and one more wall for said bookcase. I can get the bookcase; it’s the wall that’s the hard part.

ANYWAY. I was also fairly proud of my ability to time the reading of Festival of Deaths in the same time-space as Hanukkah. But guys, I’m getting better – this time I’m only a month and a half delayed from when I finished the book? And I’ve only got two more books to review for 2015 before I can get into the 2016 titles? So, y’know; better.

I liked this one better than Dear Old Dead because the gang was back together. Dear Old Dead took Gregor out of Philadelphia, and without Bennis and Father Tibor and the backdrop of Cavanaugh Street, Gregor and the mystery became very bland and … well, boring. This book brings the mystery to Gregor in Philadelphia, so Bennis and the rest are able to tag along and offer their insights.

Dr. Lotte Goldman is a talk show host in the vein of Dr. Ruth meeting Oprah. Her topics usually discuss sex, and most of the discussions are either bringing habits that everyone has to the light, or unveiling deviant behavior. Gregor gets involved in two ways: first, Lotte wants him to be on the episode wherein “Sex and the Serial Killer” is discussed (Gregor would be talking about the serial killer aspect, as he worked with the Behavioral Sciences unit at the FBI; Gregor would not be discussing the sex aspect, because Gregor is, above all things, kind of a prude about that stuff). Second, Lotte wants Gregor to help explore the murder of one of the employees of the TV studio.

Festival of Deaths follows very the Gregor Demarkian formula very closely. The initial murder happens, then Gregor gets dragged into it after the fact. Father Tibor tells him he should totally investigate this murder; Bennis wants to help solve it too mainly because other stuff in her life is slowing down – her latest book has been sent to the editor, and now she’s faced with dealing with her empty apartment and the fact that her sister is on Death Row for killing their father. Once Gregor shows up – reluctantly; after all, he is retired – another body surfaces right under his nose, which forces him to get involved. Gregor usually identifies the murderer before the murderer kills a third person, and then in the epilogue Gregor explains to Bennis the murderer’s motive and the method.

I discussed this briefly in a previous title in the series, but the Gregor Demarkian novels are set apart from other mystery series I read in that the novels are told from third-person perspective of multiple characters. The prologue never contains Gregor; instead, Ms. Haddam introduces the cast of characters that will be involved in the mystery. One of them is the murderer; some of them are future victims. It’s an interesting way of tackling the narrative. (It’s also the reason my mother hasn’t read any of these; she started reading Not a Creature Was Stirring, the first novel, and really liked one of the characters. She then skipped ahead [it’s where I get it from!] and found out that the character she liked ended up the murderer. She put it down and never went back.)

When we view the plot from Gregor’s perspective, we learn about his Cavanaugh Street Regulars through his perceptions. We never hear Father Tibor’s inner thoughts; we can guess at Bennis’s thoughts because she’s the type of person to telegraph her every emotion onto her face.

Here are two examples of how we learn more about the supporting cast through Gregor’s perceptions. We have been told through multiple titles in this series that Tibor is a voracious reader of any and all genres. His apartment probably resembles mine, in that every available surface is covered in books. We get that reiterated in this book, along with:

[Gregor] got out of his chair and made his way back across the obstacle course of books, wondering when Tibor got the time to read like this when he spent so much time making Gregor Demarkian’s life resemble one of the wilder plays of Ionesco. [p. 73]

(Ionesco was, along with Samuel Beckett, one of the figureheads of the French absurdist dramatic period.)

And if you want to know about Bennis Hannaford and how she deals with people, there’s this paragraph:

What she got for herself was another cigarette, long and slim and taken from the sterling-silver Tiffany cigarette case her brother Chris had given her for her birthday a few years back. Bennis never took cigarettes from that case. She had a crumpled paper pack of Benson & Hedges Menthols in the pocket of her shirt. Gregor could only conclude that she had taken a dislike to Sarah Meyer equal to the one Sarah had taken to her. Bennis was pulling out all the stops. [p. 155]

Look, I don’t smoke, but that’s definitely one of the better ways to show people how much you absolutely hate them without saying a word. Luckily, I’ve perfected my withering glare; it’ll have to do.

Finally, the relationship between Gregor and Bennis is brought up again. Throughout the series thus far, Gregor and Bennis have maintained they are just friends. The rest of Cavanaugh Street is convinced that they should get married, but to date, there hasn’t even been the hint of any romantic love. This book takes about a page wherein Gregor reflects on his relationship with Bennis, and this is the first inclination the reader gets that Gregor may think about Bennis more than just platonically:

Even Gregor and Bennis didn’t have conversations of any formal kind. When he went down to visit her, or she came up to visit him, they talked about his work or hers or Cavanaugh Street, but mostly they talked about each other. Gregor knew everything about Bennis’s latest Zed and Zedalia novel. […] He didn’t know anything at all about the young man who had taken Bennis to dinner last week and didn’t want to know. Bennis knew all about Gregor’s last case – he always filled her in when the cases were over; he didn’t want her trying to be an amateur detective, but he did like to hear her comments once the coast was clear – but nothing about his visits to [his wife’s] grave. Gregor didn’t know if that was all right with her or not. Sometimes he worried that he didn’t do more talking to Bennis in the way men usually talk to women they are close to because he was afraid to. What would he talk about, if Bennis insisted? The fact that they now spent more time with each other than most people who were married? The fact that except for one minor technicality, they might as well be married? On second thought, that technicality wasn’t so minor after all. What was also not minor was the fact that he seemed to have wound his life around an extremely rich, extremely pretty, extremely impetuous, relatively young woman on whom he had no real hold at all. [p. 200]

I continue to enjoy these books – which is good, because I’ve got a lot of them. I will try to not let more than a few months go between this one and the next title in the series, but, y’know; no promises.

Grade for Festival of Deaths: 3 stars