What I’m reading now: The Handsome Man’s Deluxe Cafe

The Handsome Man’s Deluxe Cafe is the latest in the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, by Alexander McCall Smith. I’ve loved these books from the beginning – they are cozy mysteries, yet entirely unique. The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency is owned by Precious Ramotswe, a “traditionally built” (I LOVE that phrase!) lady in Botswana. She employs Grace Makutsi, who has risen from secretary to partner. In this book, Mma Makutsi has decided to open a restaurant, the Handsome Man’s Deluxe Cafe, which will cater to the elite of their town. Naturally she runs into difficulties. Meanwhile, Mma Ramotswe is dealing with the mystery of the book – a woman has turned up in town claiming to have amnesia, and the agency has been hired to uncover her identity.

The mystery in this one is pretty thin, but that’s okay. These books are entirely driven by the characters, and my enjoyment of them is based on the fact that I care about these folks and want to see what happens next in their lives. If you like cozy mysteries and are tired of the cats-in-bookstores trope, you should try these books.

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The soundtrack for Talked to Death

This was a tough one. There aren’t that many songs about library conferences. Who’d have thought? :) But I put together a list that I thought matched up with some of the scenes in the book. CAUTION: Spoiler alert!!!

 

On the Road Again – Willie Nelson: As Jamie and Liz are driving

Shouting in the Library – Popple: When Creighton is arguing in the lobby as Pete and Jamie go to dinner

Something to Talk About – Bonnie Raitt: When Pete and Jamie shower together before bed

Jive Talkin – Bee Gees: When Pete is telling Jamie that the police want them to sit in on the questioning

Librarian – Haunted Love: When Avery Roth is telling the police about Creighton and Renee Jubelirer

Low Budget – The Kinks: When Grant Schaeffer is talking about cuts to the library’s databases at the reception

Sympathy for the Devil – Rolling Stones: When we first see Haywood Kern on Jamie’s laptop

Getting Away With Murder – Papa Roach: When Autumn reports on the sidewalk conversation she overheard

Dirty Work – Steely Dan: As Kern is being led from his home by Detective Rinaldi

Everybody’s Talkin’ – Harry Nilsson: When Rinaldi is telling Pete and Jamie about Amanda and Gwen

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What I’m reading: Flesh and Blood by Patricia Cornwell

Flesh and Blood is the latest book by Patricia Cornwell featuring medical examiner Kay Scarpetta. Kay and her husband, FBI agent and profiler Benton Wesley, are about to leave for a much-needed vacation when a murder happens a half-mile from their house. Things get complicated very quickly; I’m through Chapter 38 (of 48) and they still haven’t made it out of town because the bodies keep piling up.

There is no one who weaves complicated threads of plot together more skillfully than Cornwell. It’s the reason I still read her books. As I’ve been reading, though, I am reminded of why I don’t rush to read these books as soon as they’re released, as I do with other authors. The atmosphere in her books is unrelentingly bleak. No one ever laughs. Two of the main characters, police detective Pete Marino and Kay’s niece Lucy, “genius hacker millionaire sociopath etc.,” have to be two of the most unlikable main characters in any long mystery series. In real life, someone would have shot Marino after he mouthed off to them one too many times, or he would be in jail himself for his anger management issues. Lucy is one of the most improbable characters ever, in what is supposed to be a reality-based world. In real life, she’d be in jail too.

In this book, Kay is beginning to suspect that Lucy is the killer. One can only hope.

My other objection is that none of these characters seem to change or grow. The span of the series covers several years now, and the personalities of all the protagonists are pretty much the same as they’ve always been. No new insights have been gained, in spite of Kay’s continuous self-examination. It’s tiresome.

But if you like a well-written, tight, complex mystery plot, Cornwell is your woman.

If you’re new to the Kay Scarpetta series, I’d recommend beginning with the first book, so you’ll understand how the characters came to be where they are.

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Do you want to know what characters look like?

For some of the characters I write, I have a very clear picture of their looks in my head. For some, I don’t know what they look like until I see a picture of them. Obviously I feel as if I know these characters well! But for some of them, their looks were still a little foggy to me.

Over the weekend I put together a gallery of pictures on Pinterest, after searching on Google Images for people that I thought resembled the characters. There’s a link to it now, in the comments below. (I tried to make it a widget over to the side, and couldn’t get it to work.) IF AND ONLY IF you want to know what I think the characters look like, you can click on the link. If you’d rather keep your own image in your mind, DON’T LOOK!  :D

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Happy birthday, Jamie Brodie!

Oddly enough, the time span of a Jamie Brodie book has never included Jamie’s birthday, which is May 17. In the Jamie universe, he’s turning 35 today, and he’s in between the events of Avenged to Death (the next book to come) and Played to Death.

What would Jamie do on his birthday? I think he would have spent yesterday, Saturday, hiking with Pete and whatever other friends were able to come, then the gang would gather at Ali and Mel’s house for a cookout-style birthday party. Today, Sunday, he’d go to Oceanside to celebrate with the family. His dad would make shrimp and grits, his favorite meal, and Val would bake a couple of pies rather than a cake. There would be presents – mostly books – then Pete and Jamie would go home for their own private celebration.

A wonderful weekend, if you ask me. :D

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What I’m reading: The Ladies of Llangollen

Wales end-01

The river Dee flowing through Llangollen, Wales (my own photo)

In the summer of 2008 I made my second trip to the UK – two weeks in Wales. We began in the southern part of the country then moved north. On our next-to-last day in the country, we spent a couple of nights in Llangollen, a beautiful little town in northeast Wales on the river Dee.

One of the attractions there, not far from town, was Plas Newydd, a house now kept as a museum to its two most famous occupants – the Ladies of Llangollen. I didn’t get much of the story on that trip as we were running out of time, but determined that I’d learn more some day.

Last week I finally got around to doing that! The book is titled The Ladies of Llangollen: A Study in Romantic Friendship, by Elizabeth Mavor, published in 1971. There have been several books written about the Ladies, but this is the definitive one, as it is the best-researched and taken from the Ladies’ own letters and diaries.

Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby were born in Ireland in the mid-1700s, both in less-than-auspicious circumstances. Eleanor was the third daughter of a family with a title but little money, and a younger brother that would inherit everything; Sarah was orphaned at a young age and raised by various family members. They met when Sarah was still a teenager and Eleanor was nearly thirty – they were 13 years apart in age. They became close friends almost immediately and, over time, created a plan to “retire” from society. Both of them were educated and forward-thinking for the time, and neither cared to live the restricted lives available to women at the time. So they decided to run away.

The first time they left, they were caught and returned to their respective homes. Sarah took to her bed and refused to eat, becoming nearly delirious; Eleanor’s family made arrangements to send her to a convent, but Sarah’s family begged Eleanor’s to reconsider. Making a long story short, finally the two were allowed to leave together. They moved to Wales and rented a small cottage outside of Llangollen, then a very small town, and developed a “system” by which they would live, consisting of gardening, improving their home, and reading to each other in the evenings.

Richard James Lane [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Richard James Lane [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

They became celebrities of a sort, mostly because of their unusual living arrangements. At the time there were rumors that they were lesbians, of course, but no one dared confront them directly about it. There was a concept in the early 1800s known as “romantic friendship,” where it was considered acceptable for two women to be very close friends and refer to each other in terms usually reserved for romantic partners. Sarah and Eleanor referred to each other as “my love,” “the beloved of my soul,” “the delight of my heart,” “the joy of my life,” “my tender, sweet love.” Mavor, the author, suggests that their words were either “the only permissible expression of a yet more intimate relationship; or as the unconscious expression of the desire for such a relationship.” (p. 105)

Were they lesbians? As Jamie Brodie said in Stoned to Death, “It seems likely, doesn’t it? But there’s no proof.” The Ladies shared a bed for nearly fifty years. But naturally they never wrote about anything “improper.” All we have is the language that they used to refer to each other.

It’s a fascinating story. I had to get the book through interlibrary loan, but there may be used copies of it out there that you could find. I definitely recommend it.

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Talked to Death is here!

Finally! :D http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00X882CW0

Librarians gone wild! It’s a typical state library association conference – presentations, networking, receptions, drinking, strangers appearing in Pete and Jamie’s room in the middle of the night… What’s atypical is murder. A lot of people hated library director Hugo Creighton, most of them librarians. Can Jamie help the police solve Creighton’s murder before the conference ends and the suspects go home?

Includes a BONUS short story – “Hearts”Cover 960x1280

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