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]

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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

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Fiction: “The Ring and the Crown” by Melissa de la Cruz

ring and the crownJust before Christmas, I requested two books from the library – this one, and one I’d end up finishing in January 2018. Here’s the problem – I honest to god thought this was a different book when I requested it.

I had put this on my “Want to Read” list on GoodReads back in June, and I must have gotten it confused with A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas, which is also on my “Want to Read” list. In the end, I’m kind of glad I read it, but I was expecting something a bit darker, and not … royal Gossip Girl on steroids and also ~magic~.

No. I’m serious. This book is like if Gossip Girl involved royalty (not counting that one prince Blair ended up marrying for like, half a season) and also ~magic~, and then the whole thing got turned up to 11.

This book is crazy.

It takes place in a weird alternative history – it’s pre-WWI, Britain and France are one united empire, Prussia is still a thing, and also, Merlins are real but a title and not a single person. And the entire place is overrun by horny 17-year-olds.

Let’s start off with Princess Marie-Victoria of England. She’s the only daughter of Queen Eleanor, who happens to be a sprightly 150 years old. That is not a typo. I can’t remember who Marie’s father is supposed to be, but it really doesn’t matter. What does matter is that a) Marie is suffering from the “wasting plague” (my notes describe that as “pretty consumption, like what Nicole Kidman had in Moulin Rouge“), and b) Eleanor wants to throw a ball to announce Marie’s engagement to Prince Leopold of Prussia.

Except Marie is in love with Gill, a commoner in the Queen’s Guard! (I had to double-check Gill’s spelling – I had taken notes longhand and looking back on them, I wasn’t sure if I had misspelled his name. But no, according to this amazing review by Goodreads user Khanh, his name really is spelled Gill.)

[Oh my god it’s so hot I’m typing this part on July 5 and I have not been able to get my apartment below 91° in more than 24 hours FUCK YOU SCOTT PRUITT I hope you live with rancid swamp ass for the rest of your miserable fucking little life]

[Note From the Future: Oh, July 5th!Alaina: honey, you have not lived the absolute hell that was the first weekend in August. Or last week. Or ANY OF THE NIGHTS BETWEEN JULY 5 AND AUGUST 31, because I don’t think my apartment dropped below 80° AT ANY TIME THIS SUMMER]

[Also, that punishment is entirely too light for Scott Pruitt. You can do better than that.]

ANYWAY. Prince Leopold has been having an affair with Isabelle of Orleans for a while. Isabelle thought he was going to propose to her, but instead, he breaks up with her so he can go marry Marie.

My notes remind me that, while reading the book, I had high hopes that Leopold was actually a Manchurian candidate-type character; no such luck. Leopold’s just a horrible person. An asshole, if you will.

Around the same time that Leopold’s breaking up with Isabelle, Marie’s childhood friend Aelwyn Myrddyn returns to the palace. Aelwyn, the daughter of Queen Eleanor’s Merlin, Emrys Myrddyn, was one of Viviane’s apprentices on Avalon. Aelwyn was sent to Avalon after she accidentally set Marie’s bedroom on fire, but she’s back now. Mainly because Emrys called her back, but also because she was in love with Lanselin (this book’s version of Lancelot) and needed to get out of that situation. It’s understood that Aelwyn will take over as Marie’s Merlin when Marie ascends to the throne.

However, Aelwyn doesn’t really contribute anything to the plot. She makes Marie prettier than she already is — seriously, the ~*magic*~ in this book is basically all the glamours and Sleekeazy potions from Harry Potter and none of the other spells. She does end up with a crush on Leopold, but it doesn’t really add anything to the love triangle between —

Well wait, it’s not a triangle. Because Marie loves Gill, Gill loves Marie, but Marie has to marry Leopold, who doesn’t give a shit, and Isabelle loves Leopold, until she realizes he’s a complete and utter asshole, and we haven’t even talked about three other people.

(Also – Jesus, poor Isabelle. Her parents are dead; she’s the ward of her horrible, molesty guardian, Lord Hugo; her best friend seems like he might have a crush on her, but once she gets over Leopold and decides to go after her friend, he’s dating some other chick. She may have also ended up pregnant by Leopold, but I cannot remember.)

Then there’s Ronan Astor, the best character. FIGHT ME. In this version of events, America is still a colony, and the Astors are destitute. Apparently, Daddy Astor invested in Science and Innovation, but ~*magic*~ didn’t go away like he thought it would and now Science is stupid, and now the Astors are broke. But they’re still rich enough to send Ronan off to England, where hopefully she can wrangle a rich, landed dude into marrying her.

When she reaches the boat, she’s embarrassed that she’s basically in steerage. But she meets this dude who’s name is Heath, and he trades her his luxury suite for her steerage tickets, and then hangs out with her the entire time. And they really, genuinely like each other!

But Heath is actually Wolf – and he happens to be Leopold’s brother! Wolf (short for Wolfgang, naturally) had been traveling across America because he doesn’t like being a member of royalty, but now he’s required to go back home for Leopold’s engagement. I think he proposes to Ronan but she turns him town, because she maybe didn’t know it was his luxury suite she ended up with? She needs to marry someone rich and she thought he wasn’t? It was a stupid reason, that much I know.

So all of these people converge on London for the ball for Marie and Leopold! Leo flirts with Aelwyn, who has agreed to pretend to be Marie via glamour so Marie and Gill can escape and be normal people! Ronan is surprised to see Heath, but really interested when she learns that he’s a prince!

You think that everything’s coming up Milhouse, and then —

[SPOILER ALERT]

Emrys Myrddyn manages to SHOOT LEOPOLD, who DIES.

AND IT WAS ALL PLANNED BY ELEANOR AND EMRYS FROM THE BEGINNING

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Yeah. I AM disappointed. Because not only is Leopold dead (which actually is totes okay), but now, WOLF has to marry Marie. And because Marie can actually stand Wolf a bit, she AGREES, leaving Gill. AND THAT MEANS RONAN IS ALONE AGAIN.

Like, what the shit is that?!

This was supposed to be the start of a series, but apparently the publisher dropped it? So the second book, The Lily and the Cross, was self-published for Amazon. I do not think I’m going to read it, unless Wolf decides to leave Marie and be with Ronan. (Which I’m pretty sure won’t happen.)

Grade for The Ring and the Crown: 1.5 stars

Title: “A Test of Wills” by Charles Todd

test of willsAfter the high crazypants babytown frolics of The Tea Rose, I reverted to form and neglected to take great notes for the next book I read, A Test of Wills.

The Ian Rutledge series is one of the few series that the Yarmouth library owns in its entirety, it feels like. (Y’know, the more I bash the Yarmouth library on here, the more I wonder if they’re ever going to stumble onto this blog and learn how much they disappoint me. Then I remember that they can’t even add an Interlibrary Loan Request button to their website and I stop worrying.) So, phone in hand (to check on Goodreads for the first book in the series), I picked up A Test of Wills because I wanted to start a new mystery series.

I am not sure if I’ll continue with it.

Inspector Ian Rutledge of Scotland Yard is back on the beat following his tour of duty during World War I. He has been released from the hospital and allowed to return to work, but he hasn’t told anyone that he’s been hearing the voice of a soldier he executed for insubordination mocking him in his head.

That’s … awkward.

Rutledge’s first case is the murder of Colonel Harris of Upper Streetham. Colonel Harris died from shotgun blast while riding his horse that morning. He ventures to the quiet town and starts investigating, with the assistance of Sgt. Davies, the local constable in Upper Streetham. Wherever Rutledge goes in his investigation, he meets resistance from the townspeople – they refuse to answer his questions.

The prime suspect in the murder is Captain Mark Wilton. And here’s where I got confused – because of the Britishness of it all, there were constant references to “the colonel” or “the captain”, and I wasn’t always able to tell them apart. Yes, I know that one was dead and the other alive, but when a third party is talking about an argument the two men had and it’s “colonel” this and “captain” that – I lose track of who’s who.

Anyway, Captain Wilton is engaged to marry Lettice Wood, the ward of Colonel Harris. Wilton and Harris got in a loud argument the night before the murder, and were seen arguing in the lane the following morning. But since Captain Wilton is also the close friend of the Prince of Wales, everyone in town is concerned about the fallout if Captain Wilton were to be named the prime suspect. Can’t embarrass the royalty, after all!

So the townspeople are all pushing Rutledge toward a couple of scapegoats: Hickam, the town drunk. But Rutledge learns that Hickam also suffers from shell shock, and sends him to the hospital to dry out and essentially clears him of all wrongdoing.

Option B is Mavers, the town anarchist. I see Mavers as a better-spoken Gabby Johnson. But he happens to have a shotgun, and he never locks his door.

To add to all this mess, there’s also Catherine Tarrant, Captain Wilton’s former lover. Rutledge learns that she fell in love with a German soldier who later died of influenza, and because this takes place right after World War I, it’s not cool to love a German. She is ostracized from the town’s society. Maybe she was jealous of Captain Wilton’s new love, and maybe she mistook Harris for Wilton?

But then, Rutledge learns that Harris had fallen in love with his ward, Lettice (who I want to be very clear – there is no familial relation between the two of them, Lettice isn’t like a cousin or anything). Maybe Wilton did kill Harris out of jealousy?

Here’s like, the one note I wrote down (after the character descriptions):

Rutledge is sent to Upper Streetham to find out who killed Col. Harris. Everyone suspects Captain Wilton, but everyone hopes it was some scapegoat, like Hickam or Mavers. No one will tell him anything, and he needs his intelligence to suss out the killer. Turns out it was … I don’t know, let’s say Moe.

I wasn’t really taken with the story. Maybe it’s due to the very Britishness of it all, but there didn’t seem to be any strong emotional stakes with the investigation. Rutledge was very diligent, and there’d be the occasional moment where he’d be hearing Hamish and responding to Hamish as if he were really there, but the moment passes, he shakes himself off and he goes back to work. I wasn’t kidding when I wrote “I don’t know, let’s say Moe” did the murder – I can’t remember who actually did it.  I have no idea if the rest of the series is going to be like this (and Goodreads claims that there are at least twenty more books oh god). I might try the next one and see if I like it any better, but if I don’t? I may quit this.

A couple of quotes, then I’m done. This one is Rutledge’s perspective on Mavers (remember, the town anarchist), but it almost sounds like it could be used in a New York Times article about the “forgotten man” (although I’m not sure why they’d crib from a mystery novel, they pretty much just take talking points issued by the White House and refuse to do any real investigative reporting anymore anyway, the spineless asshats):

He’d met men like Mavers before. Hungry for something they didn’t have, and ignorant of how to go about getting it, hating those who had had life given to them easily. Lost men, angry men, dangerous men … because they had no pride of their own to bolster their self-esteem. [p. 90-91]

SERIOUSLY, just shoot Mavers over to Iowa, and NYT reporters will be shitting themselves to get a quote about why they voted for the orangutan who learned how to talk the best words.

(I’m sorry; that’s incredibly disrespectful. I took that a little too far.

I’d like to apologize to the noble race of orangutans for my impulsive words. I did not mean to compare your intelligence to that of … that. You have my utmost respect, orangutans.)

The final quote is from Catherine Tarrant, talking about why she signs her painting “C. Tarrant”:

“Yes, I know, no one expects me when the artist is introduced. Everyone thinks C. Tarrant must be a man. Or one of those masculine women who wear trousers everywhere and smoke strong Russian cigarettes. I’ve considered wearing a patch over one eye and walking about with a trained ocelot on a leash.” [p. 130]

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Well, at least I got to make a reference to the greatest ocelot of all time; that’s worth half a star.

Grade for A Test of Wills: 1.5 stars

Fiction: “Ross Poldark” by Winston Graham

ross poldarkOh, good – another book from the library where I only wrote down the characters’ names. (*eyeroll*) I swear to God, Alaina …

Well, okay. This one will be quick, then.

There is a BBC television series (currently airing on PBS) on the Poldark series of novels by Winston Graham. I had never read them or watched any episodes of the series, but I had put the TV show on my Prime watchlist. And one summer day, I was loading my arms up with books to read and saw one of the books on the shelf, and as luck would have it, the first book in the series was also there, so I checked it out.

Here are the notes I made on the characters in the book:

Ross Poldark: Captain from Cornwall, who fought in the Revolutionary War (for the British), came back to run his derelict farm.

I cannot remember if Poldark was an army or navy captain; I think navy? And he didn’t just come back to run the farm – he came back because the war was over, he wanted to return to a normal life, and he hoped to wed his neighbor Elizabeth.

Elizabeth: Ross’s girlfriend before the war; [Poldark] came back to find her engaged to his cousin.

Leslie whaaaat

Elizabeth thought Ross had died in the war. Because remember, this is the Revolutionary War – there ain’t no telegrams or anything. And because this is the late 1700s and women couldn’t be independent, she did the next best thing and get herself engaged to Ross’s cousin (because also, there aren’t a whole lot of people around).

Francis Poldark: Marries Elizabeth; childhood friend of Ross; gambler.

So Francis, if I remember correctly, was a bit of a dick. He grew to be very jealous of the friendship between Elizabeth and Ross, even though Ross made no attempt to drive Elizabeth away from Francis. Elizabeth and Francis have a child, whom is doted on by Elizabeth; but Francis either wants Elizabeth to have another child and she’s not ready, or Francis’s dickishness just explodes everywhere … I can’t remember, but he’s not cool. Also he’s a gambler and nearly bankrupts the family.

Demelza: The waif Ross adopts/conscripts into service as his maid; quick to learn, devoted to Ross – becomes his wife.

One day, Ross goes to the nearest village to purchase something or maybe sell something, and he meets Demelza, a young, teenaged waif who was getting into trouble in some way. When he stops her from whatever it was she was doing, she says her only option is to return to her Da, who will beat her. He takes Demelza back to his house (he has two servants, who are terrible and lazy) and turns Demelza into a jack-of-all-trades scullery maid and servant. Over the years (because this book really does cover a few years), Ross and Demelza become attracted to each other, and they end the book married.

Verity: Francis’s sister, good friend to Ross and Demelza

Verity visits Ross a lot when he first returns to Cornwall and his land. She lives with Elizabeth and Francis, and wants to make sure Ross doesn’t isolate himself after Francis’s marriage.

Captain Blamey: The captain Verity falls in love with, who accidentally killed his first wife while he was drunk

*snickers* Captain Blamey … oh man, that’s a nickname I need to keep in my back pocket…

Verity also spends a lot of time at Ross’s house because he sort of understands the romance between Blamey and Verity. Make no mistake, he’d prefer that she didn’t love him, because he doesn’t trust Blamey not to fall back into alcoholism and he worries about Verity’s safety, but he understands the attraction between the two people.

Charles Poldark: Ross’s uncle, Francis’s & Verity’s father

I think Charles dies in the novel? I think? There was also some sort of bad blood between Charles and Ross’s father, but it’s dispensed with quickly.

Jud Paynter and Prudie: Ross’s servants

When Ross returns to his land, it’s been in the hands of “caretaker” Jud and his wife Prudie. They are terrible people, in that they are completely lazy and give no shits. When Ross comes home the house is a decrepit mess, with I think only one horse and no crops to farm? He spends a lot of time fixing up the place and whipping Jud and Prudie into shape. Adding Demelza into the mix helps to inspire Prudie to at least mediocrity.

Jinny & Jim: lovebirds who worked in the mines, later married, and lived on Ross’s land; Jim gets caught poaching and goes to jail for two years.

The biggest “plot” in the book is Ross getting the ol’ family mine started up again. He hires some people, including Jinny and Jim, to help mine the copper (or was it tin? *checks Wikipedia* Copper. A copper mine). When Jim wants to marry Jinny, Ross offers to let them live in an old cottage on his land rent-free (essentially, “you work for me, now because I provide housing you can’t leave.” CAPITALISM) (tone it down, Patterson, this was written about miners in the late 1700s, communism is still a red herring at this point).

But in order to get food, Jim poaches on some hoity estate and gets caught. Even after Ross vouches for Jim in court, Jim still gets sent to jail for two years. At the end of the book, Jim is still in jail.

And those are all the notes I took. No quotes, nothing else. Overall, the plot of the book was very … like, “slice-of-life” stuff. How can I explain this …

Instead of telling a single story – or maybe one primary story with a few B-plots – Ross Poldark tells the goings-on of one man over the course of a few years. Some stories escalate and resolve, some stories are just brief vignettes, and others don’t even resolve in the timeframe we’re watching.

And that’s okay, but it wasn’t what I was expecting. It wasn’t quite a picaresque novel (where instead of a plot with a through-line throughout the novel, the novel is a series of adventures starring a low-class individual [typically a thief or some other rogue] and the character doesn’t undergo any development), but it felt like it at times. However, characters do develop, Ross and Demelza especially.

I’ll probably watch the TV show (eventually, at some point), and knowing me, I’ll probably pick up the next book in the series, but it’ll probably be a while. I guess I was hoping there’d be a little more suspense or action than there was, that’s all.

Grade for Ross Poldark: 1.5 stars

Fiction: “Lady in Waiting” by Nicole Byrd

lady in waitingWhat’s this? Two reviews in as many days? And a state-sponsored holiday tomorrow wherein I can get my car inspected AND post a third review? What’s happening? Have I fallen down a wormhole where I actually finish tasks that I assign to myself? Will tomorrow be the day I finally clean my kitchen?!

No. Tomorrow’s not that day. I’m telling you that right now. It’ll happen – it has to happen, and soon – but tomorrow, even more than my inspection appointment and anything else I might decide to do, my number one A-plus top priority is: SLEEP. IN.

Forget Mulder/Scully, Luke/Lorelai, or even Hannibal/Will Graham; my number one ship that I ship — my one true pairing, if you will — is me/my bed.

Speaking of ships and pairings and romantic notions and shit like that, let’s talk about this silly little romance novel that I read over the course of six months!

Okay, so, apparently, the first romance novel I ever read to review for this site was A Lady of Scandal, also by Nicole Byrd. (“Nicole Byrd” is also a pseudonym for a mother-daughter writing team made up of Cheryl Zach and Michelle Place; for ease of use, I’ll be referring to the team as a singular person.) Ms. Byrd uses a lot of the same tropes, and now that I’ve read two books by her, I’m slightly interested to see if these are things that carry through the rest of her novels. (True confession: after reading A Lady of Scandal, I did find a whole bunch of Ms. Byrd’s novels in a used bookstore. This … this is the first one I’ve pulled out of my romance bookcase. In almost six years. No, wait – in precisely six years. Jeezum, six years?! And now Sydney, my Trusty Laptop, is playing “Pride and Joy” by Stevie Ray Vaughn, and according to the “Last Played” column in iTunes, I haven’t heard that song since 2009 either?! WHAT IS HAPPENING)

ANYWAY. Like in Lady of Scandal, the main heroine has a sister, and they both have rather ostentatious names; Scandal‘s names were taken from Shakespeare’s tragic heroines Ophelia and Cordelia (appropriate, since that book deals with a supposedly-unsavory career in the theater); in Lady in Waiting, the names are Circe and Psyche. And apparently, I read that entire book without looking up who exactly Circe was in Greek mythology. Here I thought she was one of the Sirens; nope, Circe was the one who turned Odysseus’s soldiers into pigs. (Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m getting a serious feeling of nostalgia — wasn’t that an episode of Ducktales or something?! With Magica De Spell? HOLY SHIT YOU GUYS I WAS RIGHT)

Man, that Ducktales!Circe only knew two spells. She’s not a very good witch.

SO ANYWAY, AGAIN, the main characters in Lady in Waiting are Circe and Psyche. Psyche is married and expecting her first child; Circe, just 19, has returned to England from a few years abroad studying art and painting. Circe’s eccentricity is a desire to be an artist of note, which isn’t really a career for a woman in Regency Britain. As a tender young girl of 19, she should be enjoying her first Season – as in, Husband Hunting Season. Because that’s all girls did after they reached their majority – marry. And because Circe wasn’t brought up a proper young lady, she has to be careful about how she acts and reacts to certain situations. She’s bolder than the typical Regency miss, and tends to stand out in a crowd.

Circe attracts a few different men – there’s the sinister Count von Freistadt, who definitely has ulterior motives (spoiler alert! It’s stealing a lost Titian painting); there’s Sir John, a shy botanist who I kept imagining as Archie from Once Upon a Time, for some reason; and then there’s her childhood friend, David. David doesn’t have any feelings for Circe aside from the familial at the beginning of the book, but after he asks her to pretend to be courted by him so he can keep his mother off his back (read: actually keep himself unattached so as to better investigate Count von Freistadt’s shady dealings, without telling Circe what he’s doing), he starts to realize that he does love her, even as she frustrates him with her eccentricities.

Another thing that carries forward into this novel from A Lady of Scandal is that there are two romances; the main one between Circe and David, and the second one is between Sir John and Psyche’s friend Sally. Sally and Sir John are both older than Circe and David, so I suspect that plotline might belong to the mother of the mother-daughter writing team.

I … really don’t have anything else to say about it. Circe is plucky and caring, getting involved in things she shouldn’t be, but doesn’t let David boss her around or keep her from putting her nose in those aforementioned things. Overall, this is a very sedate romance novel; not too much hanky-panky to be found, so if that’s what you’re looking for, you will most likely want to look elsewhere. If you like sweet stories that don’t require a lot of thought or effort to follow pretty staid plotlines? Then, this one is for you.

Not gonna lie, I’ve been sitting here for thirty minutes trying to find a last random thing to throw into this, and … I just can’t. So instead, I’m gonna hit ‘post,’ go get into my jam-jams, and pop open a bottle of white wine and watch Casino Royale, because WHY NOT, I don’t have to work tomorrow!

PS THANK YOU SYDNEY FOR DECIDING TO PLAY ME OUT WITH THE BEST BOND THEME SONG OF ALL TIME

OH DO YOU HAVE A DIFFERENT OPINION

I REGRET TO INFORM YOU THAT YOU ARE WRONG

WHAT YOU’VE JUST SAID IS ONE OF THE MOST INSANELY IDIOTIC THINGS I HAVE EVER HEARD

I AWARD YOU NO POINTS

AND MAY GOD HAVE MERCY ON YOUR SOUL

NO DON’T DOUBT ME

DON’T DOUBT ME ABOUT THIS

I WILL FIGHT YOU

I NOW HAVE A WINE BOTTLE AND I KNOW HOW TO SMASH IT

I HAVE ARMED MYSELF BECAUSE NO ONE ELSE HERE WILL SAVE ME

CLEARLY I HAVE A LOT OF FEELINGS ABOUT CASINO ROYALE AND ITS THEME SONG AND I WILL WRITE ABOUT THEM AT ANOTHER TIME

BUT THE DESIRE TO FIGHT IS STRONG IN THIS ONE

“THIS ONE” BEING ME

… I really needed this day off, you guys.

Grade for Lady in Waiting: 1.5 stars

Fiction: “Redwall” by Brian Jacques

Okay, so I’m going to try and write this in-between my daily tasks at work, because dudes, this program we use?  Super-slow.  I hate it.  I can write entire paragraphs in the time it takes to look a customer up.  Also, the boss is out of the office.  I love when the boss is out of the office, because that means when I do decide to work, I can get all sorts of shit done (for the record, I started writing this at 8:30 a.m.  I’m writing this half of the sentence at 12:55 p.m.  In that span of time, I’ve written about a third of this entry and solved approximately seventeen problems.  I haven’t had lunch yet.  And now the phone’s ringing!).

(1:00 p.m.: Eighteen problems solved!)

If the theme song isn't stuck in your head, I don't know what you're even doing.

I was finally able to finish Redwall on Sunday, and last night Erica and I had our Tweetversation about it.  She liked it much more than I did, which is fine; and I’m not saying I hated the book, the length of time it took me to complete it notwithstanding.  At the end, I found that there was not enough suspense to propel me through the book as fast as I would have liked.

redwall

Redwall is a young-adult fantasy novel, and the first book in a very long series, first published in 1986.  The cast is made up of woodland creatures, ranging from mice and squirrels to stoats and sparrows.  They all live in the peaceful area known as Mossflower, and they live in Redwall Abbey.  Matthias is … for lack of a better term, the “Maria” of this Abbey – he’s a novice, but doesn’t quite fit in.  He has big dreams that don’t fit within the Abbey’s walls.

But then, Cluny the Scourge – a bilge rat with an eyepatch – and his horde of marauders come upon Redwall Abbey, and because they’re evil and pirates and just want to conquer everything (much like Alexander the Great, only more evil and less blond), they decide they are going to attack the Abbey.  Matthias goes against the Abbot mouse and wants to defend the Abbey, much like Martin the Warrior Mouse, the mouse that founded Redwall Abbey.

But Matthias needs the sword of Martin the Warrior in order to truly defend the Abbey!  So he sets off on a quest to find the lost sword of Martin, and along the way he makes friends with Basil Stag Hare, a jackrabbit that talks as fast as he runs; Warbeak, a Sparrow warrior princess; and Log-a-Log, the head of the Shrew Army.

Dear God, I am not making any of that up.

And look, the book is very well-written; I am not denying that.  My main point is that, for me, there was no suspense and there were no surprises.  I knew what was going to happen going into it (SPOILER ALERT: ANDY ESCAPES SHAWSHANK AT THE END OF THE MOVIE) and I’d never read any of it before:

– Young character goes on a quest of discovery: ostensibly to find [the MacGuffin; in this case, a missing sword of a warrior {a totem, if you will}], but ends up discovering his true character;
– He meets interesting people on his journey, who he must either band together with or outwit in order to continue on his quest;
– Meanwhile, the villain shows how he is surrounded by idiots and he has much hubris that we know is going to be his downfall;
– And in the end, the hero defeats the villain, there are a couple of casualties to make the victory bittersweet, but everyone (except for the dead ones) live happily ever after.

I just … I couldn’t get into it.  I read it because I vowed to Finish! Everything!, but if I hadn’t taken that vow and was reading it on my own, I would have put it down.  As I read, I kept wanting to put this on the Murtaugh List:

murtaugh

The Murtaugh List is a list that Ted Mosby makes on How I Met Your Mother, and it is a list of things he’s too old to do.  Some of the items on that list include: get his ear pierced; crash on a friend’s futon; and help a stranger move in exchange for pizza.  I am adding “reading a book involving anthropomorphized mice” to my Murtaugh List.

And again, that’s not a slight to the book.  And, hopefully, not a slight to my imagination.  The book is, again, wonderfully written – I’m just above its comprehension level.  While I don’t want to be too old to read about warrior mice, I couldn’t enjoy it like Alaina at 12 probably would have.  I kept going, “Are they walking on their hind legs or all fours?  Is the sword really that dangerous, or is it more like a splinter?  How do the animals all speak the same language?  Are all hedgehogs drunks, or just Ambrose Spike?  How do they get medals?  Who makes the medals? How did they build the Abbey, were there mouse slaves like in Egypt?”

That’s probably an exaggeration.  [1:57 p.m. – Three more problems solved, but the boss walked in.  Crap.]  I mean, it’s not that I don’t have imagination – I just couldn’t lose myself in this fantasy world where mice could talk.  And I feel like I might have been able to if there was any weight to the story.

[And here’s the part where my boss actually let everyone go home early because there’s a blizzard dumping quite possibly a literal fuckton of snow on the Northeast quadrant, so I hastily hit publish so I could get the fuck out of there, and now I’m finishing this at 9 p.m. and I still haven’t shoveled because it’s cold out there and have I mentioned the possibly-literal fuckton of snow?  I AM SO OVER WINTER I AM NOT EVEN KIDDING]

For me, the characters didn’t have nearly any depth.  And before anyone gets their knickers in a twist, I don’t mean to say that the characters weren’t fully-formed within their universe; I just didn’t feel that there were any underlying stakes that propelled the characters forward outside of the needs of the story structure.  (Matthias as the hero needs overcome obstacles in order to fulfill his quest; enter Recapturing the Banner, Defeating the King Sparrow, and Working With the Shrews to Kill Asmodeous.  Or: Cluny the Scourge is the Villain; Therefore, He Must Kill Without Empathy or Discretion.)

Again, these feelings I have towards Redwall do not mean that I outright hate the book; far from it.  If I hated the book, you’d be hearing a whole different rant up in here.  What I’m trying to say is that, for the right reader, the story is going to be fantastic: full of swordfights and different animals working together towards a common cause; enough humor and pathos thrown in to keep the emotions balanced; and a struggle against pure evil.  I just know I didn’t get what I wanted from this book, and I feel it’s because I’ve grown past its age bracket.

That’s not a slight against Erica, who loved the book – she was able to let everything go and she jumped right into the story and fell in love with it.  That’s awesome – I’m very glad you enjoyed the book and want to continue reading the series!  I will not be joining you.  I’ll be at home, playing Donkey Kong 64 and reading about Hannibal on the internets.

(What?  It’s a snow day and HOLY CRAP TEN MORE SLEEPS UNTIL NEW HANNIBAL OH MY GOD)

Erica and I did agree, however, that for a book that focuses on a typical male struggle (hero vs. villain; hero on journey of self-discovery), many of the supporting characters are not only female, but contribute enough to the story that if they were not there, the hero would not have succeeded.  Jess the Squirrel, Constance the Badger, and Dunwing and Warbeak the Sparrows (I might be wrong on Warbeak’s mother’s name, but the book is in the other room and I’m saving my strength to go shovel so I’m not looking it up right now) were all very integral to Matthias succeeding in his quests and saving the Abbey.  It was refreshing to me to read a young adult novel that had a male protagonist, strong female supporting characters, and no love triangle.

HOWEVER.  This brings me to the final point I want to make.  Throughout the book, Matthias has flirted with another mouse, Cornflower.  At the end of the book, after Matthias has defeated Cluny the Scourge and has been named the hero of the piece, the Abbot pretty much gives Cornflower to Matthias as his bride.  And actually, I am going to go get the book for this, because I feel people won’t believe me unless I quote it:

“Now, Cornflower.  Where is little Cornflower?”

The young fieldmouse came.  She stood by the Abbot waiting upon his word.

“There you are, dear Cornflower,” the Abbot smiled.  “A warrior needs a good wife.  You are the beauty that will grace Redwall and rule the heart of our Matthias.  The old gatehouse will be extended into a proper home.  It belongs to you both.  Guard our threshold wisely and well.” [348-349]

WHAT THE HELL.  I almost wish Cornflower had pulled a Princess Jasmine and stormed out yelling I AM NOT SOME PRIZE TO BE WON, but I again have to guess that this book wasn’t written with me in mind.

Tune in in the next six weeks for our next Collaboration – and I do believe it’s my turn to choose.

OH GOD HE'S SMILING AT ME I'M GOING TO BE MADE INTO A VERY FANCY DINNER

Grade for Redwall: 1.5 stars

Fiction: “Dead as a Doornail” by Charlaine Harris

dead as a doornailSo the next two seasons of True Blood are going to be winging my way through the US Postal Service as soon as I take a break from Breaking Bad and actually finish the last three episodes of Firefly; it’s time to read the next Sookie Stackhouse mystery so I’m all caught up.

This book starts off with Sookie dealing with Jason’s first night as a werepanther. Again, if Jason does get turned into a shifter in the TV show, please don’t tell me, I’m not sure that’s a thing I want to happen. Luckily for Sookie, Jason loves turning into a panther. Apparently shifting isn’t nearly as painful as it’s made out to be on The Vampire Diaries. Okay. But then someone starts sniping shifters, and it starts right after Jason becomes one, so fingers are starting to point at Jason. So now it’s up to Sookie to help prove his innocence.

When someone shoots Sam (and luckily only wounds him, doesn’t kill him, because I like Sam and I would be sad if Sam was killed off), Sookie goes to Eric for a temporary bartender so Sam can heal. Eric sends her a pirate vampire (no, I’m serious, eyepatch and all) named Charles. And then Sookie’s house burns down, so she moves into a duplex owned by Sam temporarily, and then she gets shot, and …

This entry in the series left me a little colder than the previous. Primarily, I couldn’t feel the beats of the story. Y’know how in a mystery, there is a problem, and then there are clues, and then investigating, and then maybe after every third clue, the protagonist gets into a scrape until the confrontation, and then once the mystery’s solved, there’s a denouement? I didn’t feel that with this title. It was more of, “My name’s Sookie, and let me tell you about my brother. And then this person got shot, but I went to work because that’s what I do. And then my boss got shot, and I felt guilty for no reason whatsoever, so I asked Eric for a bartender. Then my house burned down, and while I’m sad about it, I still have to work. And then Alcide came over and he wanted me to go to this werewolf pack funeral, so I went. I don’t like that he’s involving me in pack matters, but I guess I have to go. When I got back home, I visited Jason’s new panther friend, and then I got shot.” There was no active investigating. It felt almost … rote. And not that I’m looking for this in a mystery novel, but there also wasn’t any romancing going on with Sookie.

I don’t know if it’s a slump – I hope it’s not, because I enjoy Sookie Stackhouse as written. I’m only three seasons into True Blood, and the rumors going ’round is that TV!Sookie becomes less enjoyable as the series goes on; I hope that isn’t true.

I guess, I hope that Ms. Harris has more of a concrete plot-slash-investigation in the next book. Because this felt almost … slipshod? And I’ve liked these books before; I don’t want to give them up.

There has to be something to hold them all together. Like in the J.D. Robb/Eve Dallas series: the crimes and mysteries may change, but the relationship between Eve and Roarke is constantly changing, evolving, and maturing. I didn’t feel that there was any emotional growth with the characters. There was no regression, which is great; don’t get me wrong, characters staying the same is always something I enjoy. (*cough*Kay Scarpetta*cough). But … I needed more this time. Or, I expected more, and became disappointed when there wasn’t more.

Grade for Dead as a Doornail: 1.5 stars