Happy Thanksgiving

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HardBoiledHard-Boiled contains mystery short stories from the 1920s through the 1990s. While I picked it up primarily to read the pulps from the 1920s – 1940s, I figured I’d read the rest while I’m at it. Bill Pronzini has edited several books of mysteries and knows what he’s doing.

For the most part, Hard-Boiled reinforced what I already knew–I like the pulp mysteries the best. The editors included stories by such pulp luminaries as Paul Cain, Raoul Whitfield, Dashiell Hammett, Frederick Nebel and Raymond Chandler. They also included several authors I was not all that familiar with like Brett Halliday and William Cole.

In the post pulp era, the authors included were Elmore Leonard, Ross Macdonald, Mickey Spillane, Ed McBain (Evan Hunter), and Lawrence Block along with unknowns (to me) Leigh Brackett, Helen Nielson and others.

I found the latter stories to be more morbid, more depressing, and less inclined to focus on atmosphere. The pulp mysteries were gritty and some had a more ‘noir’ feeling to them. The language in the pulps seemed to be more descriptive and thought out as well.

The editors included a little bio of each author, noting their best known works, anthologies and those that were made into films. Many of the authors had short careers, some moved into script writing and editing and some veered away from mysteries altogether.

Hard-Boiled is a well rounded anthology of crime stories and one that should be in every mystery lover’s library.

What are the chances of reading two consecutive books with a character named Trent as a prominent character? Well, that is neither here nor there.

Mardi and Molly, sixteen year old twins, beautiful, spoiled, rich witches used to clubbing in Manhattan’s TripleMoonhot spots have been banished by their father, Troy, to the sedate little East End hamlet of North Hampton for the summer when their names become linked with the deaths of two students, Parker and Samantha, after a penthouse party. In an attempt to rein in their use of magic and to teach them ‘values’, the girls are babysitting Troy’s friend, Ingrid’s two children and are forced to get summer jobs like ‘normal’ kids. However, that’s like putting the fox in the chicken coup because they are exposed to two gorgeous guys who happen to be warlocks.

As the summer progresses, things get worse instead of better. The White Council of witches is seeking to censure (or worse) the two teens because of their visible use of magic which will cause attention by mortals to the existence of witches. The use of magic has been curtailed for the past ten years when mortals became suspicious of witches’ existence. In addition, there are witnesses who have come forward to say that Mardi and Molly actually pushed Parker and Sam in front of the oncoming number 6 subway train and therefore criminal charges are being contemplated against the twins. The problem is the twins have only vague memories of that night’s happenings.

However, getting their memories back and finding out who killed Parker and Sam takes a back seat in Triple Moon behind the girls hooking up, borrowing expensive stylish clothes, hooking up, drinking expensive wines, eating caviar, being jealous and secretive with each other and did I mention hooking up. Mardi races up and down North Hampton in her vintage red 1972 Ferrari. Molly rides Ingrid’s bike in stylish espadrilles or designer heels.

Ingrid and her sister Fryda, also witches, understand the seriousness of the matter and have even called in help from New Orleans in the form of Jean-Baptiste Mesomier, who specializes in regaining memory. However, the twins still remember little and do not take it seriously.

I do remember reading one of Melissa de la Cruz’s early books and liking it, however I don’t remember which one. Quite honestly, if I didn’t have to read Triple Moon for a journal review, I wouldn’t have read past page 2. I found the book truly mind-numbing and while I’m all for getting kids to read anything as long as they read, I would put Triple Moon at the bottom of the wish list. Not even the chapter names which are song titles (many of which her audience would not know) make this book palatable.

Mardi and Molly could care less about others, only thinking of themselves. Mardi drives a vintage Ferrari. Molly has a closet full of clothes. The boys in the story are gorgeous, blue-eyed, ribbed and rich…of course, rich. The girls think nothing of ‘hooking up’ and ‘removing clothing’, reneging on promises to babysit so that they can be with boys, drinking, etc. And while I don’t think every book has to have a moral, Molly and Mardi are no role models and surely project the wrong image for teens. If this isn’t offputting enough, it almost appears that Ms. de la Cruz got tired of reading her book because it hastily draws to a close with an improbable ending, even for a book about witches.

While I realize that Ms. de la Cruz is a prominent YA author and teens love to read her books, I could not in good conscience recommend Triple Moon to any reader.

InfiniteInfinite In Between by Carolyn Mackler is getting starred reviews. Jake, Mia, Whitney, Zoe and Gregor are grouped together at high school orientation in rural upstate New York. They must think of a project that will bond them together and be accomplished that afternoon. They decide to write a letter to their future selves, hide it somewhere in the school and meet after graduation under the basketball hoop in the school yard to read their letters.

Infinite In Between follows the quintet through four years of high school, going their separate ways and coming back together. The teens run the gamut: a gay guy, a biracial girl, an Asian girl, a daughter of a movie star (constantly in rehab) who is living with her aunt and a stereotypical teen guy. Their experiences run the gamut from illness to dating complications to sexual identity to college applications to getting drivers licenses to getting pregnant to alcohol consumption. As a matter of fact, I can’t think of any issue Mackler left out. (That could be one of my issues with the book.)VeganVirginValentine

The story is told by month over the four years with short chapters about various quintet members.
As with other Mackler titles, (I’ve read The Earth, My Butt and Other Big Round Things, Vegan Virgin Valentine, Love and Other Four Letter Words, and The Future of Us co-written with Jay Asher) her current title is extremely readable. It’s a fast read despite its 400+ pages. Each and every character, with one exception, is likable (possibly another issue I have with the book).

TheEarthMyButtIf a starred review means you like a book and want to read it to find out what happens, then Infinite in Between earned its stars. However, if a starred review means it’s a fantastic, well written, can’t see how it could have been much better book, then it falls short. As I said earlier, Mackler packed virtually every teen issue into this book. That might, and I said might, have been OK if she’d tackled the issues, but 90% of them turned out happily-no muss, no fuss, no bother. What’s more, she treats a high school girl getting pregnant and the father having no responsibility with equal weight as getting a drivers license. If she got shit from her parents, we don’t know about it. If she confronted the father, we don’t know. The only thing we do know is that she decided to give birth. Is she giving the baby up for adoption? Is she going to keep it? What is she going to do about college and child care? All important questions that should be addressed, even though it does not happen to one of the quintet.

As for every character being likable? Come on, there has got to be at least one unlikable bully in high school. That’s just a fact of life; someone who would make the life of a gay guy, a biracial girl, an Asian girl or the daughter of a movie star totally miserable. To gloss over this is unrealistic.

Listen, I’m not saying every Young Adult book must be as issue driven as those of Patricia McCormick, Laurie Halse Anderson or Dana Reinhardt. But, hey, even characters in Sarah Dessen, Emery Lord and Morgan Matson novels have significant(?) issues they need to overcome before they get to the happy ending and how they got there is apparent (and part of the reading enjoyment, I think). In Infinite In Between, the one big issue is ignored and the quintet’s minor issues (because truly they all are minor) are expounded.

Since I don’t give numerical ratings on this blog, I will merely say that I must be jaded by something because in my humble opinion Infinite In Between does not warrant a starred review. It is a nice, feel good read, however, and well worth your time.

X by Sue Grafton

Any time we return to Kinsey Millhone is a treat and X by Sue Grafton is no exception. XIn some of this alphabet series books, the neighbors play an important role and some Millhone’s family plays a big part. In X, there’s no family (other than references to them every now and then) and some neighborly stuff.

There are three stories going on in X.

It is the 1989 drought in California and Kinsey’s neighbor and landlord, Henry Pitt is concerned about water consumption. Despite all his water conservation measures, his water bills are rising. Along with this, Henry and Kinsey appear to have needy, clingy new next door neighbors.

In early March, a woman contacts Kinsey. She’s being rather secretive and private and would prefer to meet at her home rather than in Kinsey’s office to discuss her services. However, she is also leaving the next morning on an extended trip. So in early evening, Kinsey takes the half hour drive along windy roads to meet Hallie Bettancourt in what can only be described as a mansion. Hallie wants to find the son she gave up for adoption many years earlier.

If you recall from other books, a fellow (somewhat slimy) detective, Pete Wolinsky was killed in a robbery attempt. His widow, Ruthie, is contacted by the IRS who is looking at Pete’s records as well as his former employer, Byrd-Shine Investigations, which ceased operations 15 years earlier. Ruthie has looked through whatever she has and come up empty handed and has asked Kinsey to look through the one box she has. While not finding any financial records, Kinsey did stumble across a sheet with 12 rows of numbers, each with 8 columns of 4 numbers, tucked into a folder. Additionally, underneath the bottom flap of the storage box was an envelope containing a rosary, a bible, and two greeting cards from a Lenore Redfern, who died a dozen years earlier. Apparently the envelope was meant for her daughter, who was four at the time of her death.

In X, nothing is as it appears to be, which of course, is why we like reading Sue Grafton mysteries. Other than the clothing Ms. Grafton describes, there is nothing that would set the book in 1989 vs. 2015–well maybe no cell phones and laptops. Her neighbors, Henry, William and Rosie play minor roles, as do her previous dalliances. Her new characters are interesting and the plots are new.

With only two more letters to go in the series, I’m hoping Ms. Grafton will think about doubling up on letters, AA is for Accidental Asphyxiation or start using numbers. I hate to think at she would stop writing. That would be T is for Tragic. Anyway, I’m sure there are many of you out there who have invested the time to read the 23 previous novels in the series. It would be silly to stop now. Go for it.

And don’t forget one of my favorite books by Grafton, Kinsey and Me. It is some of Grafton’s best and most interesting writing.

While there have numerous biographies of Dashiell Hammett, TheLostDetectivenone of them try to relate his writing to his Pinkerton detective days. Until now, that is. In The Lost Detective: Becoming Dashiell Hammett, Nathan Ward’s primary goal is to describe how being a Pinkerton shaped Hammett’s writing. While there is some general biographical data, the majority of the book is dedicated to Pinkerton.

DashiellHammettWard describes how Pinkerton had a standard, concise format for reports that detectives filed, which infiltrated into Hammett’s fictional writing. He also discusses both cases that Hammett might have been on as well as ones he would have heard about, which also impacted his writing.

It appears that all Pinkerton files relating to Hammett have disappeared, so much of Ward’s descriptions and conclusions are suppositions. But that doesn’t negatively impact the story he is telling.

Ward spends a good deal of time trying to determine who Hammett’s ContOpunnamed Continental Op detective  and his boss are based on. Hammett himself varies the story, at times saying the boss is James Wright (which is actually a name regularly used as an alias by operatives themselves) or a composite of several people. Ward speculates that the model for the Boss is James McParland, head of the agency’s Western division who apparently resembles the man Hammett describes as the Boss, “A tall, plump man in his seventies, this boss of mine, with a white-mustached, baby-pink, grandfatherly face, mild blue eyes behind rimless spectacles, and no more warmth in him than a hangman’s rope.”

TheThinManHe also speculates on the source of the Thin Man, portrayed by William Powell with Myrna Loy as his wife. He makes note that the dog was changed from a schnauzer in the book to a terrier in the film.

Ward provides many interesting morsels of Hammett’s life. He touches on Hammett’s relationship with his wife and with Lillian Hellman. He talks about Hammett’s contracting tuberculosis during World War II and how that affected him.

However, it is the snippets of his writing that make this great book even more worthwhile. Each chapter starts with a quote from a letter or book, such as this from Hammett in 1929, “I decided to become a writer. It was a good idea. Having had no experience whatever in writing, except writing letters and reports, I wasn’t handicapped by exaggerated notions of the difficulties ahead.” There are samples of Hammet’s writing, footnotes at the bottom of most pages, extensive notes and a selected bibliography, so Ward really did his work. At a mere 168 pages (before addendums), it’s a fast read. But you might want to slow down and savor it.

I’ll leave you with this 1934 quote from Hammett, for all you budding novelists, “The contemporary novelist’s job is to take pieces of life and arrange them on paper. And the more direct their passage from street to paper, the more lifelike they should be.” I think we can say Hammett mastered his craft.

Clare and Aiden have 12 hours before she departs for Dartmouth in HelloGoodbyeNew Hampshire and he jets to Los Angeles to attend UCLA. The question that so many teens face but hasn’t been written much about in YA literature is what do they do. Having been dating for 2 years Aiden is of the impression that long distance romances can work and there are so many folks who have married their high school sweethearts. Clare, on the other hand, thinks that they should break up now, while on an up streak, rather than wait until it fizzles out over time and seeing each other on college breaks becomes awkward. However, Aiden, always the joker, hasn’t been keen on discussing this subject.

So, on their last night together in the suburbs of Chicago, Clare the anal one and list maker in the relationship, has created a list of places of importance to their relationship that they must visit before leaving for separate coasts. Aiden, the unromantic one of the duo, isn’t quite sure what occurred at some of these spots but he’s going along with Clare.

In the 12 hours from 6 PM to 6 AM the next day, Clare and Aiden come to a decision. Along with this, readers get a glimpse of both Aiden’s and Clare’s parents, who play a major role in how the teens react to their situation. Additionally, they get to know their best friends, Scottie and Stella, who also impact their decision.

ComebackSeaspmHello, Goodbye and Everything in Between is a great title because the book is a 12 hour roller coaster of emotions. Should they? Shouldn’t they? Saying goodbye to friends and family is tough even if it isn’t permanent.

I’ve been a fan of Jennifer E. Smith from The Comeback Season, to StatisticalProbabilityThe Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight to Hello, Goodbye and Everything in Between. While at the beginning of the book, it wasn’t my favorite, by the time I got to the end, it was high on the list (I think The Comeback Season will always be my favorite since it was my first (and her first) Smith book). You know what to expect with Smith. A great story. Great characters. A great ending. And possibly a teary eye at the end.

I’d put Jennifer E. Smith up there with Sarah Dessen, and new favorites Emery Lord and Morgan Matson.


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