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review 2017-11-18 05:42
Grace to the Finish (Manor House Mystery, #8)
Grace to the Finish - Julie Hyzy

I always enjoy Julie Hyzy's mysteries; as a writer, she doesn't burn a series out with a spectacular book or two, with mediocrity dragging the remaining books down.  Her writing, character development and plotting are even and steady and her series' arcs are a slow burn, rather than a flash in the pan.

 

Grace to the Finish was actually slightly less about the murder mystery (although that was good too), than it was the resolution to a series long arc concerning her sister.  Hyzy's solution was clever, if a little bit convenient.  The actual mystery was ok, but less a puzzle for the reader to solve than the narrative of the mystery's solution.

 

With cozy series one can never be sure if the titles aren't a indication of the series' status, so Grace to the Finish could very well be the last book; if so, it ends in a pretty good place without a lot of loose threads left dangling.  But if there's a ninth book, I look forward to it with pleasure.

 

Book themes for Las Posadas:  Read a book dealing with visits by family or friends, or set in Mexico - Grace has to deal with her sister's return and a visit from her long absent Aunt.  These two are major players in the plot.

 

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text 2017-11-14 17:25
Reading progress update: I've read 331 out of 474 pages.
Heresy (Giordano Bruno #1) - S.J. Parris

 

Well, that went to hell in a handbasket (or close to it) pretty fast -- and it had such a promising beginning!

 

But either there is a major flaw in the plotting, or it's clear ever since page 95 who was responsible for the death occurring on pages 91-94.

 

Shades of Arthur Conan Doyle's Silver Blaze.

(spoiler show)

 

And yet, this fictional version of Giordano Bruno, an eminent scholar and scientist who in real life would, himself, eventually come to be burned at the stake for heresy, has spent the majority of the last 235 pages traipsing around Oxford like a headless chicken, ignoring even the most blatant clues -- and all the while I can't shut up the voice of Sherlock Holmes in my head:

 

 

And it certainly also doesn't help that in the very first scene following the first death the guilty party is getting rid of a witness (of sorts) in the same way that the murderer does

in Ellis Peters's fourth Chronicle of Brother Cadfael, St. Peter's Fair.

(spoiler show)

  Nor that this person is conspicuously absent during one of the novel's key events, where they should have been present along with all of their peers -- and during which time, in fact, a second murder is committed.  Nor that for this second murder, the murderer is providing himself with an alibi

in the same way that it's done in Agatha Christie's The Murder at the Vicarage.

(spoiler show)

  Nor that the whole "forbidden book" subplot has distinct overtones of Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose.  (I know forbidden books were a dime a dozen in the Middle Ages and the Tudor Era, but dear God, can we please have something more inventive than

allegedly nonexisting / destroyed books being secreted away by a librarian of a closed community (a monastery in Eco's book, an Oxford college here)?

(spoiler show)

  C.J. Sansom showed in Lamentation that it can be done ...

 

So no, Mr. Iggulden, contrary to your laudatory blurb, not only can Brother Cadfael easily hold a whole chandelier to this -- he'd also have solved this case in a fraction of the time it's taking this book's fictional version of Giordano Bruno.  So would Miss Marple.  So would William of Baskerville.  So would Matthew Shardlake -- don't anybody tell me that this is anywhere near legitimate competition for that particular series, either. (Looking at you, cover blurb writer Sam Bourne.)

 

And did I mention Sherlock Holmes?

 

Merken

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text 2017-11-10 13:08
Reading progress update: I've read 42 out of 474 pages.
Heresy (Giordano Bruno #1) - S.J. Parris

 

Started last night; I'm reading this for Square 2, Guy Fawkes Night:

"Any book about the English monarchy (any genre), political treason, political thrillers, or where fire is a major theme, or fire is on the cover."

This seems to tick off all the categories -- Tudor Era political and religious conspiracies; even on the first pages, the Inquisition and the notion of burning heretics has already reared its ugly head ... and it's even got fire on the cover, too!

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review 2017-11-08 09:41
Grave Errors (Witch City Mystery, #5)
Grave Errors - Carol J. Perry

When you read enough books in one genre, you start to get a feel for the different styles of different publishers, and I've definitely read enough cozies to recognise patterns.  Kensington, for instance, tends to publish authors with creative stories and strong characters, but are almost always too light-handed with the editing.  Just enough to notice it but mostly not so bad you can't enjoy the story anyway.  

 

Grave Errors is a good example.  Lee is a strong, independent, likeable female protagonist with intelligence, who has an unwelcome gift for scrying that she can't control.  Instead of going all woe is me! she takes steps to deal with it.  She gets along with all the other characters and isn't TSTL.

 

The book (and series) has no love triangles, just a nice, subtle sub-plot romance that makes Lee's involvement in mysteries feasible and lends an additional air of well-adjustedness.  The story is set in Salem Massachusetts, which lends its atmosphere to a variety of plots.  And finally, the mystery is decently plotted.  Even though I think it was pretty obvious who the villain was from almost the start, the story behind the motive was, to me, so much more interesting. 

 

But man, this could have been so much better if it had been more tightly edited.  Small things, like red-lining blue-lining* the author's tendency to mention Pete's (the BF) discomfort with Lee's visions every time she tells him about one.  There were at least 6 visions in this book, and I'd gotten a clear idea of Pete's discomfort with them after the first 2.  

 

At one point she refers to a hurricane heading their way named Penelope, with top sustained winds of 60mph.  Storms aren't categorised as hurricanes until they reach a sustained wind speed of 74mph.  I get that as a Florida girl, that's something I'm going to pick up on more than a lot of readers, but it's a simple google search - you don't even have to leave the results page to find it.

 

I'm not trying to discourage cozy readers from reading this - it's a good story and I really enjoyed it.  But at a time when I feel like most cozies are turning into completely vapid crap, Kensington shows so much promise, publishing stories that are both cozy and interesting to readers that value intelligence in their fiction.  If only they weren't quite so stingy with their red blue* pencils.  

 

*Editors actually use blue pencils.  I did not know that.  But I googled it.  ;-)

 

I read this for Task 1 Calan Gaeaf:  Read any of your planned Halloween Bingo books that you didn’t end up reading after all, involving witches, hags, or various types of witchcraft.

 

(I originally said in my status update I was going to read this for Dios de Muertos, using my Book Holiday Joker card, but then realised it totally fits the Calan Gaeaf category without burning the Joker. Duh.)

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review 2017-11-07 18:25
Investigative Journalism and True Crime Writing Masquerading as Science
Forensics: The Anatomy of Crime - Val McDermid

I had long rants going through my head on pretty much every page of this book while I was reading, but bottom line, it just doesn't deserve the attention of my detailing them.  I like McDermid's crime fiction (most of it, anyway) and I'd very much wish she'd stick to that in the future.  There is enough writing "for the effect", garnished with sweeping (moreover: repeatedly dead wrong) generalizations about the justice system and legal history in here to last me the next several years at the very least -- and the fact that this is the way she is writing about the one area that I know personally and in-depth only enhances my doubts about her writing concerning the areas with which I am less deeply familiar, and about which I would very much have liked to learn more.

 

As I said in my one and only status update, this isn't science writing -- not even popular science writing.  McDermid lists a number of science books in the bibliography at the end of this book, but there is no indication -- neither in foot- or endnotes nor in any other way -- how, if at all, the contents of those or other books, or other forms of research, personal knowledge and experience actually impacted her writing, are reflected therein, or would provide further information on specific topics that she addresses (by which I don't mean general areas and disciplines such as entomology or toxicology as such but individual aspects of these disciplines that she touches on). 

 

The only thing we may reasonably be assured of is that she talked to a number of scientists and (hopefully) renders the salient contents of their answers with a modicum of faithfulness.  Nevertheless, it is their statements she quotes, not her own independent research and knowledge, and obvioiusly, their answers only cover the topics she asked about, leaving plenty of questions both unasked and unanswered.  Hence, the actual scientific contents of this book is never more than skin-deep.  The vast majority of the book's chapters are a mixture of true crime writing à la Ann Rule and David Wambaugh on the one hand (including lavish, detailed, tabloid-style descriptions of the victims and their suffering), a journalist's description of the physical attributes of her interview partners on the other hand, and a historical and general introduction to the various areas of forensic science that, in any university program, wouldn't merit more than a few minutes' discussion and a recommendation for further reading at home.  Mind you, I'm interested in history, so I did enjoy the individual chapters' paragraph-(or-two-)long introductions dealing with the origins of the respective disciplines, but I most certainly could have done without the plethora of lengthy true crime narration and I also didn't need to know what McDermid's interviewees looked like.  With very few exceptions, I've learned more about forensic science in law school and by reading forensic accident reports in civil cases and pathologists' statements in criminal cases -- and, more specifically, about forensic anthrophology also by reading Kathy Reich's Tempe Brennan mysteries -- than from this book by Val McDermid.

 

On more than one occasion, there is not even any indication how McDermid selected her interview partners in the first place (what exactly do the attributes mean that she uses to characterize several of her interviewees in lieu of detailing their professional background, such as "eminent": who awarded these people those attributes, and on what basis precisely?).  Indeed, in several instances, there is every reason to believe that these just happen to be people she has come across in her day job as a crime fiction writer.  The Professor Bernard Knight she references, for example, is very likely the mystery writer and, according to his own standard short biographical blurb, former Home Office pathologist and professor of forensic medicine who since the early 2000s publishes the Crowner John mystery series and is one of the authors of the "Medieval Murderers" round robins (the first of which appeared in 2005); and the scientists she references from the University of Dundee were involved, last year, in an open university forensics project that used McDermid as a figurehead.  That doesn't mean, of course, that these people don't know what they're doing as scientists (in fact, the frequently plodding nature of Knight's fiction writing makes me suspect that he is probably a better scientist than fiction writer, and from what I saw of the Dundee open university project before I had to drop it due to other commitments, it looked both fun and informative) -- but if McDermid's book had the least bit of claim to being a genuine contribution to (if only: popular) science writing, she would openly state her connection with these sources.  (As an aside, it is not good journalism, either, not to have done so.)

 

Final note on the visuals of the specific edition that I read: I was initially pleased because the cover of this edition seemed to promise a relatively matter-of-fact approach without any recourse to showy effects.  Unfortunately, that proved to be the case with regard to this particular print edition as little as it is with regard to the book's substantive contents, as the fly making an appearance as the cover's sole illustration also makes an appeareance on the book's every single page, for purely "ornamental" purposes and without the slightest reference to the actual contents of those pages:

 

(Scans from the final 2 pages of the chapter on facial reconstruction.)

 

Can you possibly get any tackier -- in a book aspiring to a scientific contents, no less?

 

I read this as the November group read of the Flat Book Society and was planning to use it as my "16 Festive Tasks" book for the "Newtonmas" square: I'm going to leave it on that square provisorially on the basis of the occasional scientific bits contributed by McDermid's interviewees, but will very likely be replacing it by the December rogue Flat Book Society buddy read, The Science of Discworld.

 

 

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