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review 2018-12-11 22:26
Book for Door 7 Mawlid An-Nabi - "On Turpentine Lane" by Elinor Lipman
On Turpentine Lane - Elinor Lipman


"On Turpentine Lane" sat on my TBR pile for eighteen months. I bought it in a fit of enthusiasm after reading "Isabel's Bed".  I've looked at it a few times since then and gone, "I want to read that but not today." I finally picked up because it qualified as my book for Mawlid An-Nabi in the 24 Festive Tasks challenge,


It wasn't the kind of book I'd expected. It was a light, mildly amusing comedy of manners kind of book but I found myself struggling with it because I found it hard to empathise with a privileged white middle-class, university educated woman in her thirties who was so hapless.


Her haplessness was fundamental to the humour of the book so letting it irritate me was self-defeating. Her haplessness is quite plausible. She's conflict-averse, trusting, committed to her job and looking for a quiet life. I'd probably like her if I met her. Yet I find myself irritated by her inability to use the advantage she has, which says more about me than about Elinor Lipman's writing.


About a third of the way through the book, the lights went on - flashing LED lights - spelling out IT'S A ROMANCE, DUMMY.


That explains why the heroine is intelligent, well-educated, slightly bland and completely hapless - so she can come into her own by getting together with the right guy.

Suddenly, it was all clear. 


The contract with the reader is that the woman should be nice, maybe too nice for her own good when it comes to dealing with her self-absorbed, hippy-boy-man-at-41 boyfriend, so that the reader can root for her and hope she'll smell the coffee and find someone worthy of her.


I got distracted by the bullying sexism or her employer, the apparently dark history of the house she's recently bought and my underlying lack of empathy for a woman so used to be being loved and protected by her family that she lacks basic survival skills.


I felt like someone reading the start of a werewolf novel and wondering why the characters, who seem prone to physical aggression when resolving status-related conflicts, are stressing about how close the next full moon is.


Once I settled back and let the romance roll with the appropriate level of readerly collusion. with what the author is doing, I started to enjoy myself more.


"On Turpentine Lane" is an odd mix of ingredients that never quite come together convincingly. Crises are triggered around apparent financial improprieties at work, mysterious deaths in the heroines house and a mid-life crisis separation between her parents. These crises stand side by side like plates spinning on poles rather than building to anything. There is no character development to speak of but there is a slow, sometimes enjoyable slide towards happy-ever-afterdom.


I never did get to feel any empathy for the heroine but my reflex-animosity for her lessened as I understood her family dynamic.


"On Turpentine Lane" was well-executed entertainment that I'm now certain I'm not the target demographic for.

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review 2018-12-10 00:16
24 Festive Tasks: Door 7 - Mawlid, Book
Candy Cane Murder - Leslie Meier,Laura Levine,Joanne Fluke,Suzanne Toren

Well, let's just say that none of these three ladies is anywhere near Donna Andrews's league when it comes to cozy mysteries, plotting, character creation, dialogue, and a writer's craft in general.  And if I thought Joanna Fluke's entry was disappointing (mediocre plotting and dialogue, character responses that felt forced / didn't make sense, and one of my no-go TSTL behavior tropes as the "big reveal" cue (though I have to hand it to Fluke, the setting and overall scene of the final confrontation with the murderer was inspired)), I'm sorry to have to say that Leslie Meier's contribution did even less for me -- you could scratch off the Hallmark sugar coating with a shovel, virtually NONE of the characters' actions and responses bore even the slightest semblance of realism,  and she managed to make 1980s rural Maine come across as more backward than it probably was even in the 1940s and 1950s (while also looking more dripping-with-saccharine-style-homely than any Norman Rockwell picture -- and for the record, I like Norman Rockwell.  Or at least I like his Christmas pictures.)


Laura Levine's entry fared a bit better (I'd call it the book's highlight if such a term were appropriate for a muted glow in the midst of two seriously dulled lights); at least she took me right back to L.A. inside my head and the plotting was halfway decent.  But her story seriously suffered from an overabundance of quirky characters, not-very-subtle hints at the MC's padded waistline and her resolutions to do something about it (in which she predictably fails on every single occasion -- and yes, I know this actually is an L.A. thing; been there and would have bought the T-shirt, too, if I'd found it funny then, but the last thing I want is to have this sort of fad jammed up my nose with a sledgehammer in a book) -- and an equal overabundance of wannabe hipster slang and coloquialisms ... everything from repeated exclamations like "ugh!", "oh golly!" and "drat!" to "bet my bottom cupcake" (and yes, even there she goes again with the calorie stuff).  Oh, and the MC's conversations with her cat and said cat's female-Garfield act got old pretty soon as well.


Oh well.  If nothing else, this has made me appreciate the consistently high quality of Donna Andrews's writing even more -- I'll happily be returning to her for my cozy contemporary Christmas mysteries (I just hope she'll reliably continue to produce them for the foreseeable future).


I may try some of the recipes included in this book eventually, though.


Since the audiobook I listened to has a green cover, I'll be using this as my book for the Mawlid square.

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review 2018-11-26 18:53
Pumps Fist in Glee!
Towards Zero - Agatha Christie

Counting this towards Mawlid An-Nabi because it has a green cover!


I read this book four times over the holidays. It was so good! Why didn't we get more Superintendent Battle books?! I don't know what else to say, but prepare for a glowing review.


So "Towards Zero" starts off with a retired lawyer Mr. Treves notes something odd when he reads something and is off somewhere unknown. An unknown figure hatches a plan and laughs. A man is hospitalized after a suicide attempt. And then we have Superintendent Battle going to his daughter's school to deal with an accusation of stealing. This plays into the later part of the book, but I loved Battle calling the teacher out for filth before departing with his daughter.


Image result for sit down gif


Then the book moves to follow Nevile Strange. Nevile is newly married to a second wife (Kay) and they are making plans to visit his former guardian's widow, Lady Tressilian. Lady Tressilian loved Nevile's first wife Audrey, and Kay is arguing against visiting her. When it comes out that Audrey suggested that they both visit Lady Tressilian in September (during her normal visit) Nevile is happy that they can maybe finally be friends. Kay is angry about the visit and exclaims that Audrey still wants Nevile. 


The book countdowns to September. We don't know what is going to happen, but we have a lot of people afraid about Nevile coming together again. Christie introduces other characters into this, Mary Aldin who is Lady Tressilian's maid. And Thomas Royde, who is a childhood friend of Audrey's. 


When all parties come together at the house, we get scenes of jealousy, anger, and the feeling that someone is plotting something. Of course we get a sudden death and another death that is definitely murder. Battle is on the scene due to vacationing, and he helps out his nephew Inspector Leach on the case.


I loved all of the characters, even the ones that you are supposed to despise because of the way that Battle paints them. Nevile seems foolish and is hung up on Audrey. Kay is jealous and shouldn't have married him at all. Mary Aldin I thought had a keen eye for human behavior and I liked her and Thomas Royde's interactions together. I am perplexed by the character of Mr. Treves though. If you think someone is a murderer, how are you going to just announce it to said person (in a room of people, but still) and think that is going to go well for you? 


When the murder occurs, all signs points to one person, but Battle quickly unearths that it can't be this person and starts to slowly peel away who the guilty party is. I loved how Battle references Hercule Poirot too which cracked me up. 


The writing was good and the flow worked. I did have to go back and re-read a few lines here and there because I got a bit confused when we read about what the murderer did. That said, the book was really good. 

The setting of the book is primarily Gull's Point near Saltcreek. I wish that Christie had included a drawing of the home and rooms, because until the reveal, I was still perplexed how the murder took place. It was definitely a case of tricking the mind in this one that could have worked out, if only. 

The ending was a bit much though. I know I gave this 5 stars, but the ending made me roll my eyes a bit. I just felt like saying, really to one of the characters and hoping for the best for them. 




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text 2018-11-25 22:02
24 Festive Tasks: Door 7 - Mawlid, Task 4 (Characters Who Made a Career Change)
A Rare Benedictine (Chronicles of Brother Cadfael) - Ellis Peters
Poirot: The Complete Battles of Hastings, Vol. 1 - Agatha Christie
Washington Black - Esi Edugyan
Trial and Error (Arcturus Crime Classics) - Anthony Berkeley
The Fabulous Clipjoint - Fredric Brown
Miss Silver Comes to Stay - Patricia Wentworth

1. Brother Cadfael: A career change can hardly get any more radical than going from crusading soldier to herbalist monk (with a sideline of detection).


2. Captain Arthur Hastings: From soldier in WWI to London detective (of sorts) to cattle rancher in "the Argentine".


3. Washington Black: From child slave on a sugarcane plantation to explorer to painter (supporting himself by working as a delivery boy) to scientist and scientific illustrator -- all in the space of barely 20 years.


4. Mr. Lawrence Todhunter: From philantropist and occasional literary columnist to murderer (which btw is not a spoiler -- it's the book's explicit premise).


5. Ed Hunter: From printer's apprentice / assistant to amateur detective to "carnie".


Special mention:


Miss Maud Silver: From governess to private investigator.


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text 2018-11-25 20:23
24 Festive Tasks: Door 7 - Mawlid, Task 1 (Book-Related Prophecies)

My two prophecies for 2019 are:


1. Audiobooks have become an indelible part of my reading life in the past couple of years, and have greatly contributed to the amount of books I have consumed per year.  I'm very much enjoying the ride, and discovering more and more great audiobook narrators.  I predict that this trend will continue in 2019.


2. Book hoarder that I am, I will likely continue to acquire more books over the course of 2019 than I can possibly read in that same year.  And each new book acquired is likely going to bring new pressure on my shelving situation ... not that that is going to stop me from buying them anyway, however.


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