books read: 2007

I tried and failed once again to complete the 50 book challenge last year. However, I did a little better than the year before, and probably would have read at least two more books if I hadn’t made a cross country move.

  1. The Empty Chair by Diane Duane (fiction)
  2. A Librarian Is To Read by Betty Vogel (non-fiction)
  3. Wordplay: The Official Companion Book by Will Shortz (non-fiction)
  4. Death in Winter by Michael Jan Friedman (fiction)
  5. Puss ‘n Cahoots: A Mrs. Murphy Mystery by Rita Mae Brown (fiction)
  6. So Say We All: An Unauthorized Collection of Thoughts and Opinions on Battlestar Galactica (Smart Pop series) edited by Richard Hatch (non-fiction)
  7. Solstice Wood by Patricia A. McKillip (fiction)
  8. Gauntlet by Michael Jan Friedman (fiction)
  9. Progenitor by Michael Jan Friedman (fiction)
  10. Reunion by Michael Jan Friedman (fiction)
  11. The Valiant by Michael Jan Friedman (fiction)
  12. Three by Michael Jan Friedman (fiction)
  13. Oblivion by Michael Jan Friedman (fiction)
  14. Enigma by Michael Jan Friedman (fiction)
  15. Maker by Michael Jan Friedman (fiction)
  16. Journey Between Worlds by Sylvia Louise Engdahl (fiction)
  17. Orphan’s Quest by Pat Nelson Childs (fiction)
  18. The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde (fiction)
  19. Towards Zero by Agatha Christie (fiction)
  20. At Bertram’s Hotel by Agatha Christie (fiction)
  21. Nemesis by Agatha Christie (fiction)
  22. Ordeal By Innocence by Agatha Christie (fiction)
  23. First Have Something To Say by Walt Crawford (non-fiction)
  24. Social Software in Libraries by Meredith Farkas (non-fiction)
  25. Beer & Food: An American History by Bob Skilnik (non-fiction)
  26. Guinness – The 250-Year Quest for the Perfect Pint by Bill Yenne (non-fiction)

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crazy busy – an update

Read some stuff, reviewed some stuff, and I’m still working until late at night.

I’ve been swamped at work and at play, leaving little time for blogging. For anyone who is keeping score, I read two more books towards my goal of 50 this year, thus bringing me up to 22 total. Those two were Nemesis and Ordeal By Innocence, both by Agatha Christie. I re-read them before watching the new film adaptations of them. My review will be published on Blogcritics this week.

Speaking of which, I had two more music reviews published. Sweet Honey in the Rock’s Experience‚Ķ101, which was released last week, and Amy Grant’s Greatest Hits, which was released today. I have been fans of the music of both for many years, so it was a nice change to review something… familiar.

The insanity will continue. I have tons of committee and seasonal work in my day job to keep me busy for quite a while, and my Blogcritics work is increasingly consuming even more time in the evenings. There’s still enough of it that I enjoy to keep the balance, but I fear that it may one day tip and something will have to go.

#5

Mrs. Mallory Investigates by Hazel Holt is the first book in a modern cozy mystery series featuring a middle-aged widow in a seaside English town. I saw it recommended in A Common Reader last year. I recently found a copy of this book, so I decided to give it a whirl. Earlier this fall, I had read a later book in the series, but without the back story on the character, it was hard for me to get into it. This one was a little more accessible, but still not quite as entertaining as I had hoped. The whole thing is told in first person, so that’s at least something different from my usual reads.

murder, she wrote

Murder and mayhem on the coast of Maine

image of DVD set In 1984, TV viewers were introduced to Jessica Fletcher, mystery novelist and amateur sleuth. “Murder, She Wrote” ran for twelve years before going off the air in 1996, and the mark it left on the American public cannot be denied. Although the formulaic nature of the program and the disturbing volume of murders that occurred around the central character left it open to criticism from audiences eager for more hardboiled mysteries such as Law & Order and CSI, the show filled a niche for a generation that grew up on cozy mysteries by authors like Agatha Christie and Ellery Queen. The appeal has remained strong enough that twenty years after the original broadcast, Universal has released the second season on DVD.

There were few central characters besides Jessica Fletcher, so each episode had a handful of guest actors ranging from the very-well-known to never-seen-again. What does “Murder, She Wrote” have in common with early 1980s TV favorite “WKRP in Cincinnati”? WKRP actors Frank Bonner, Gordon Jump, Richard Sanders, and Howard Hesseman all appeared as guests in the second season of “Murder, She Wrote”. However, you wouldn’t know this from the episode descriptions on the box set. A full listing of guests can be found at the Internet Movie Database, if you’re interested. Some notables not mentioned include Brock Peters, Robert Culp, and John de Lancie. John Astin is in three episodes as a re-occurring character of note.

To me, this is indicative of the lack of care and attention paid to the creation of this box set. There are no extras or frills to entice buyers, and the episodes still have that slightly grainy quality prevalent in 1980s television filming. One must also be careful in handling the discs themselves. They are double-sided so as to hold eight episodes on two discs and six on the third disc.

One thing this collection has going for it is the script writing. Season two of “Murder, She Wrote” had the advantage of fresh ideas and mostly realistic plots. Locations alternated between Cabot Cove (Fletcher’s home) and someplace else. The murders were complex and the identity of the murderer wasn’t quite yet obvious from the start. The set is well worth getting if you’re a fan wanting to wander down memory lane and re-visit the show back in the golden years. Just don’t expect anything else from it.

hearing voices

chick lit disguised as a cozy mystery — a pleasant but unsubstantial read

My Very Own Murder by Josephine Carr takes place in an upscale and venerable Washington apartment building. Aside from mentions of retired Senators, nothing particularly distinguishes the inner-beltway setting, and it could be any major American city with a sizeable international population. The focus is entirely on the protagonist and her worldview from the eighth floor. Recently divorced at fifty and living off of a generous inheritance, Anne quickly grows bored with the usual time fillers. It is at this point in her life when she is seeking direction that a message comes to her. A voice in her head tells her that a murder will be committed in the building within thirty days and she must prevent it. Deciding to take it seriously, she enlists the aid of her ex-husband, two grown children, and the cleaning lady to sleuth out the murderer and prevent the murder. Between the sex, drinks, and shopping, a bit of sleuthing occurs, but this is definitely in the cozy mystery category or borderline chick lit.

The author seems to have spent more time on Anne’s relationships than on developing a solid mystery. Through the events of the story, Anne rediscovers herself and grows in ways she was unable to in her failed marriage. In and of itself, that aspect of the story is quite compelling. However, the problems occur when Carr attempts to wrap this into an armchair detective story. At times, it is difficult to tell if the red herrings are red herrings or if in fact they are the fumblings of a not-very-well-thought-out plot. Sinister or suspicious characters are introduced and then never fully explained away. In the end, and almost paranormal science fiction explanation is given for the voice heard by Anne — an explanation that seems out of place. The author would have done better to leave this as a self-discovery coming of age story, rather than attempting to use the mystery genre for that purpose. Still, it is a pleasant escape from reality for a few hours, and likely to be popular with the chick lit crowd.