Thursday, July 21, 2016

Bibliovile: Law and Hors d'Oeuvres

Never forget that we have a podcast, which can be found here and on iTunes once they get off of their fat fannies.

An Appetite for Murder, Lucy Burdette
              An Appetite for Murder is perfectly analogous with its main McGuffin, a key lime pie. It’s fluffy, too sweet, and if you try to lift it off of the plate it’s presented on, everything sort of falls apart. Yeah, sure, it tastes good and goes down easily (kinda like your mom), but you wouldn’t want to eat it for dinner every day.

              We open in Key West, Florida, as author Lucy Burdette demands you acknowledge fifty times a chapter. To be fair, Ms. Burdette must have more than a passing acquaintance with the town, as landmarks are referenced and an actual geographical pattern begins to emerge with a consistent community feel. Unfortunately, that motif is if Jimmy Buffett and San Francisco had a baby; tacky flamingos and high cost of living everywhere.
              Hayley Snow is our protagonist and narrator, because all light and breezy mysteries have to be first person. She lives in a borrowed houseboat room with a college friend due to one hell of a month. She moved to Key West during a whirlwind romance from New Jersey, found the boyfriend cheating on her, and got kicked out. She uses this time to have overly-efficient phone conversations with several people, including a best-friend psychologist. What is this, The Room? Oh hai, murder mystery!
You will never convince me this isn't what the book character looked like, too
              Yeah, so the woman her boyfriend was sleeping with turns up dead weeks after the whole fight goes down, Haley’s the main suspect, it’s a whole thing. Not only was she the other woman, the corpse was also shaping up to be her prospective new boss at a lifestyle magazine where Haley wants to be a food critic. That’s also a whole thing.
              Honestly, at this level of inspection, the plot functions well. We’re introduced to a shapely little who-dun-it, with appropriately paced clues, false leads, and danger to the people around Haley. It’s like a Raymond Chowder novel. Get it? Popular mystery author, eh what do you know about funny.
              Haley’s a food critic, right, so the whole murder thing sometimes takes a back seat to her going to restaurants and eating things and then typing on her phone. She doesn’t bring a pad and paper because she wants an honest meal, which I can appreciate. But dawg. Your phone? Typing anything longer than “yep” or “damn I’m out of Pokeballs again” is impossible.
              If your favorite part of the Game of Thrones books was the weird descriptions of the suppers they ate, you probably still shouldn’t read this book. It even ended in recipes!
              I can’t give the whole plot away, cause it’s a mystery and all. It’s pretty well done, all in all, and unlike a steak, that’s a good thing. So, I thought I should give in to that Key West kitsch and review this book based on taste.


              SWEET
              Overall, the basic feeling of the book. Even ugly crying, our heroine always manages to be nice and maybe get an “aww, cute” remark out of it. She’s not super witty, no one is super witty, but you always take her side on things even though my “reasons not to like” list was much longer than my “reason to like” one. Overall, the characters in this book are quite well written, especially our main character. I was super afraid of her being not too bright, babbly, all sorts of poor character elements. But then, she ran into others who called her out on it, and it clicked that this was an intentional choice, not an author writing their best person and coming up short. It was really great!
              The writing, as well, harnesses a bit of that island life motif, easily flowing from incredibly awful experience to something smelling good and making her hungry. Sometimes, though, it can get a bit disorienting switch moods so quickly and so often.
             
              SALTY
              Like I said at the top, the major problem about this book is that it begins to fall apart with investigation. The murder weapon was a poisoned pie, and the police immediately barge over to her houseboat to question her. Most of the first half is spent with Haley trying to prove an alibi. I’ve got a lot of questions.
              She’s renting this houseboat off the record, and she’s new in town. The police manage to find her immediately. How? The alibi thing; if the murder was done with poison, why does she need to be there to have done it? Poison keeps, it’s not like a knife which needs to be applied? Also, if your motive is jealous rage, a pre-planned poison plot (nice) is not the way it goes down. Her lawyer doesn’t believe her, and says “okay, maybe it wasn’t premeditated, which, how is a poisoning not premeditated? In a fit of passion, you threw a vial of poison directly into someone’s mouth? Not likely, says the man who didn’t do any research.
             
              BITTER
              I want to write a breezy island mystery and nobody will let me.


              SOUR
              There are some things that just plain didn’t work, and I feel kinda bad because they’re good ideas. The whole food critic thing is a neat gimmick but buddy writing about food is like listening to a painting be described. It’s literally the furthest away we can get from the subject matter. We can’t actually see, smell, or taste the food. It gets a little skippy whenever she visits restaurants.
              There was also this really weird subtext about the property values and income inequality on the island. Maybe in the future the author will dive into this more, and maybe on the podcast, I’ll go further into it. By the way, you read that right; there’s more books in the Key West Food Critic Mystery, world’s most specific Netflix section.

              OOH, MOMMY
              The book contains lots of references to other couples doing it and the murdered lady apparently is quite the seductress. No sex unfortunately, except for the drooling over a cleft-chinned cop. By the by, if you want to marry Lucy Burdette for the sweet residuals from this book, you better have a cleft chin and a big butt. Never trust a big butt and a smile, I say.

              Anyway, I rate it 1 out of 3 palm trees, a real rating system our character comes up with. Good for Bibliovile, but I’m not going back for seconds.

BAM. TIED IT BACK. NAILED IT.
 
Seconds, get it?

Cover Me, Catherine Mann

 This is why we have genres
When Catherine Mann sat down at her computer to begin writing Cover Me, I imagine that she had a lot of different ideas about how this story could go. “It would be a lot of fun to write an action novel,” I imagine she mused, “with a little bit of political intrigue slipped in for good measure.” “Or a mystery novel would be fun too,” she pondered, “maybe something with a cyber theme. That’s hip with the kids these days.” “But I just love writing romance novels so much,” she sighed, “Especially with handsome, muscular men.” Instead of doing what any sane author would do, and picking one goddamn genre, Catherine Mann just said screw it, and we’re left with the tangled disaster that is Cover Me.

This book tries to be three genres all at the same time, and this results in the most complex and convoluted plot that you could ever imagine. It practically puts George RR Martin to shame. Books belong to genres for a reason: different types of stories have very different structures, plot arcs, and climaxes, and it doesn’t work if you try to cram all three versions of those things into 324 pages. Or in this case, you can, but it just doesn’t work. There’s just so much going on in this book that it becomes ridiculous. I’m going to try to give you the condensed version of the plot, and I’m guessing it will take up half a page. Here I go.
A man named Brett has gotten involved with a Russian terrorist organization trying to smuggle operatives and weapons into the United States through the Alaskan wilderness. As a distraction to cover up their movements, Brett orchestrating the destruction of a power plant. Brett is using a remote Alaskan town to accomplish his schemes, and so he is communicating with a young woman named Misty through an online dating site for information about the town. Misty thinks that Brett loves her, and she plans to leave her isolated community to join him, but she can’t leave until her sister, Sunny, returns from escorting other people from their community down the mountain. Sunny gets caught in a storm and is rescued by a parajumper named Wade Rocha. While trying to get back to Wade’s team, Sunny and Wade get shot at by the deputy sheriff from Sunny’s hometown, and then they find a lot of dead bodies, including those of the people that Sunny just escorted off the mountain. Sunny and Wade fall in love. Brett’s scheme is unraveled. Danger ensues. Nothing makes sense. There are lots of sentence fragments.
Nope, I'm out.

Even more than the four-genre thing, the thing that annoys me the most about this book is the way that the author writes, which is a pretty significant thing to be annoyed about in a book. Catherine Mann is a huge fan of sentence fragments stacked on top of each other with a lot of unnecessary page breaks. Here are some examples so you can see what I mean:

Example #1
“No damn way. She wasn’t giving up on life. She wasn’t giving up on a future. A future
with Wade. Her rock-headed, stubborn, honorable lover. The only man ever to move her all the way to the core of her being. She wanted his body. She admired his integrity.

And just flat out loved Wade, the man.” --> WHY DO WE NEED THAT LINE BREAK? AND ALL OF THOSE PERIODS?

Example #2
Someone was, no kidding, parachuting down through the blizzard. Toward her. That didn’t even make sense. She patted her face. Her body. Checking to see if she was even awake. This had to be a dream. Or a cold-induced hallucination. She smacked herself harder.              

The action components of this book are just so over-the-top it’s ridiculous. At the climax of the action-novel section of this book, Brett’s wife Andrea alerts the authorities to his plot to blow up the power plant, Wade and his team lead the efforts to track down and disarm the bombs in the power plant, Wade and Sunny get in a fight because he wants her to leave the power plant so she is safe, immediately following this conversation, Sunny gets kidnapped by her sister-in-law who for some reason is there with a boat? Then Brett shoots her sister-in-law and another guy, who is the twin brother of the guy that Sunny’s sister is sleeping with? And then Sunny stabs Brett in the stomach with her survival knife and everything is good, except the boat runs into an iceberg.

This is a prime example of what is wrong with this book. So many things are happening that nothing makes sense, and then something comes SO OUT OF LEFT FIELD that it barely makes any sense! The worst part is that the crazy, out-of-left-field thing (in this case, the iceberg) often isn’t even relevant. What comes out of the iceberg scenario, you say? NOTHING. The boat barely starts to sink before Wade rescues her. And I get that that’s literally his job, but for the sake of the plotline and the drama, couldn’t you have made him wait a little longer?
All of the different genres that are packed into this book really exist at the expense of the characters. There is so little character development in this book that I keep having to look back to remind myself of the names of the main characters. When I was writing the above paragraph, I literally forgot the name of one of the main characters. This was literally my thought process, “It was an s-name, right? Sarah? Shelly? No... Sammy? SUNNY! That’s right.” If the author had picked one, maybe two, things that she wanted to do with this book, I think it could have been pretty okay, maybe even moderately enjoyable. But instead, there is so much happening that I felt like I had whiplash after finishing this book. My head hurt from trying to keep all of the plotlines straight. So, moral of the story, Ms. Mann, books have genres for a reason.


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