I read this book because my dog managed to purchase the third volume from Amazon when I left my ipad unlocked on the couch. I have to say, the jury'sI read this book because my dog managed to purchase the third volume from Amazon when I left my ipad unlocked on the couch. I have to say, the jury's very much out on taking book recommendations from dogs, but the intial results aren't looking good.
This book sounded awesome. Genius 11-year-old girl solving crimes in historical England! Unfortunately, Bradley isn't really up to the challenge of writing or plotting something that awesome. The solution to the mystery was painfully obvious from early on. (Pro tip for mystery writers: do not write a book so depopulated that there is only one character who could, by genre conventions, have done the crime; also do not make that character behave so bizarrely that he's basically toting around a large sign saying "Pay Attention to Me, for I Am the Killer.") The rest of the characters were mostly of the deliberately eccentric type you find only in mystery novels. The book's pacing is off all the way through, and Bradley makes it worse by committing one of the more serious pacing mistakes: having a gigantic wad of exposition in the middle of the book. But all of those were, while major problems, minor compared to the biggest one.
Writing a brilliant eleven-year-old girl's first-person narrative is challenging. It's especially challenging when you yourself are not, and have never been, brilliant, eleven, or female. Or, okay, maybe Bradley was eleven once, but he's forgotten all he knew of it. Flavia has moments when she acts like an eleven year old, yes, but there are also an awful lot of moments where her voice is precisely that of a middle-aged man. Like, a LOT of moments. And, unfortunately, in a first-person novel, there's no way to recover from an inauthentic narrator's voice.
I really wanted to enjoy this book. I did not actually enjoy it very much. It's unsatisfying, ersatz, without substance -- basically the opposite of what I want in my mysteries. But I can't blame my dog for this. After all, she bought the third one. Maybe that's the point where the series gets good. Sadly, since I started with this one, I have very little desire to read on and find out. ...more
It's odd to write my first review of a series four books in, but up until this one, the series is very much exactly what it says on the tin: a fun, clIt's odd to write my first review of a series four books in, but up until this one, the series is very much exactly what it says on the tin: a fun, clever update of the classic Holmes and Watson mystery in a girls' school setting, with likable characters and quite good, though totally solvable, puzzles.
In this book, though, it's all that, but its's much more.
It's rare for an author to allow serious character development in a long, open-ended series; it's even rarer, for some reason, when it's a mystery series. But in this book, Stevens begins carefully deconstructing a lot of the classic tropes of the Holmes and Watson style mystery, and she does that to allow the characters to grow and progress -- and to develop their relationship. (view spoiler)[I really don't think that my queer eyes are reading too much into this; by the end of this book, Daisy and Hazel's relationship has changed from friendship to attraction, although the changes are cued subtly, as they have to be, given that the point-of-view character is, as yet, clueless. (hide spoiler)]
It's also rare for an author to begin to correct some of the flaws of her earlier books, but again, Stevens surprised me here. I don't want to go too much into what she fixes, because it spoils earlier novels, so I'll just say that her plots have always struck me as being carefully planned and developed, but now Stevens is bringing the same thought and care to her characters, and to the issues her books raise.
This series has gone from being fluffy fun to being fluffy fun with a good heart and a real soul, and I'm very much enjoying it.
And now I'll begin impatiently waiting for the release of book five. COME TO ME, BOOK FIVE! ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
This is the first real Nero Wolfe I've read in the chronological-with-gaps reread. Archie's character is solidly in place, the mystery is a more typicThis is the first real Nero Wolfe I've read in the chronological-with-gaps reread. Archie's character is solidly in place, the mystery is a more typical one, and Stout is solidly in his wheelhouse here.
The plot is pretty simple: a model is poisoned, and a dude with White Knight Syndrome and a repressed to desire to marry his rich first cousin hires Wolfe. Wolfe actually leaves the brownstone in this one, always a notable occurrence, and Archie gets cut out of the information loop, a much less notable (but always fun) one.
Stout's wife was a fashion designer, so he knew the world of fashion well; he's writing a story set in his milieu, with no vague or ill-informed references to gold prospecting or Argentina or whatever. It makes a difference. (And it's fun to note the differences between the modern fashion world and the one of almost a century ago.)
Basically, the first three novels are skippable for everyone except Wolfe fanatics. This book is a decent starting point for people just getting into the series. ...more
Oh man. This is the second book in the series, and compared to the first, it's definitely more of what I think of as a typical Nero Wolfe book, but itOh man. This is the second book in the series, and compared to the first, it's definitely more of what I think of as a typical Nero Wolfe book, but it is not all that fun to read. We are still deep in overt, awful racism territory, plus some deeply gross ableism that included (among many other things) the idea that physical disabilities lead to psychopathy AND an derogatory epithet I've never heard outside this book. Just, wow.
This reread is REALLY driving home to me how much beginning at the beginning is a terrible idea with the Wolfe series. Read the best ones first! Don't start here!...more
I'm doing a reread of the Wolfe series -- instead of just rereading favorites, I'm actually reading all of them in order. Or trying to. And, wow, I noI'm doing a reread of the Wolfe series -- instead of just rereading favorites, I'm actually reading all of them in order. Or trying to. And, wow, I now remember why this is one of the few Wolfe books I've only read twice.
First, it's not exactly a Wolfe novel, not yet. It has the scaffolding in place, but Stout hasn't quite figured out the characterization of either Wolfe or Archie, let alone the secondary characters. (This book, for example, doesn't have Lon Cohen -- in his place there's WASPy McWhitebread. And Saul Panzer...well, his signature quote here is "Lovin' babe," so.) It's disorienting.
Second, and worse, oh my LORD the racism. I mean, yes, this book is a product of its time, but holy SHIT. This is not so much a bingo on the racist tropes bingo card as a complete blackout.
This book is still read only because it's the start of something great; if the series had ended here (or in the next book), it would be justly forgotten. ...more
I really wanted to like this. I *still* want to like it. In fact, I suspect it's actually a two-star book for me and I gave it an extra one because itI really wanted to like this. I *still* want to like it. In fact, I suspect it's actually a two-star book for me and I gave it an extra one because it's just depressing to give such an awesome concept two stars. But the fact is: I found reading this book either mildly entertaining or straight-up disengaging. Damn it.
Part of the problem is that I didn't know what I was getting into. The summaries I'd read made it sound like a sort of steampunk-and-magic-and-vampires detection duo. And that is not the case. First, this is, for the most part, a book of short stories with the same protagonists (mostly) but no connection between them. (Except just as I'd adjusted my expectations to that, the stories did start being connected. Inconsistency kills this book in so very many places; that's one of them.) I didn't get the sense they were written with any planning, so there's some minor retconning and recharacterizing as the stories progress, and also some tonal shifting. It's nothing so major it'd be noticeable, unless you read one story right after the other. Which is what this book has you do. So, yeah, I noticed. It made the reading experience bumpy and uneven, and each story became slightly less tempting to read than the last had been.
Also, I went in expecting a speculative fiction-mystery hybrid. It isn't. The mysteries, such as they are, are simply framework. They don't work as mysteries -- they don't follow the classic Detection Club rules at all -- and they aren't difficult to solve; they're pretty much at the level of Encyclopedia Brown. (Except the first one, which is a step above that: just interesting enough to mislead you about what's coming.) And, look, maybe it's just me, but when you give me a character billed as the Great Detective and another character who is a magical investigator, I expect actual detection to take place. It doesn't. Bear doesn't appear to be capable of delivering on the mystery half of the hybrid at all, and that's a serious flaw given that it is the entire plot of the stories.
Also, I hated the last story in this book, which features both (view spoiler)[major character death and animal harm in BUCKETS (hide spoiler)]. Thanks to that story, the book ended on such an incredibly down note that I switched from "yeah, I'd try another in the series for the sake of the characters alone" to "um, probably not, unless I get assured things get MUCH better."
It all comes down to: I loved the idea. I loved the concept. I wanted to love the books. But I didn't, and I couldn't, and I'm sad. I deeply, deeply wish to see this concept in the hands of a writer who can write it. Write this, someone else! Please! And write it better!["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I stopped reading you a while back, when it seemed like you were floundering and had no clue what to do with your series and it wDear Janet Evanovich,
I stopped reading you a while back, when it seemed like you were floundering and had no clue what to do with your series and it was really getting pretty embarrassing. But this week I've needed something that was all candy, no brain, and you were there. And - well. It seems like you've found something to do with your series. But it's obvious that you don't understand what that is.
I know! I know it can be hard to pay attention to all the subtleties, the subtext of what you're writing. I know it's easy to miss things. That's why we have friends who read our books and help us see the things we don't.
Except apparently you don't have very observant friends. So I'm going to help you out.
Here's the thing: I know you think you're writing a protracted love triangle, but in fact, you are writing a threesome. There. Doesn't that make more sense?
It's totally understandable that you got to this point. It's hard to write an extended love triangle; for one thing, after about the first three books, your readers tend to be snapping, "Oh my god, would you just CHOOSE?" at the character who is in the middle, or else, "Oh my god, GET OVER IT" at everyone (or both!). Also, in your case, you had two choices: either you could take the route that ends up with Morelli and Ranger killing each other (hint: not really appropriate for your neck of the genre) or you could take the route that ends up with Morelli and Ranger kind of buddies. Except then they start working together. To protect Stephanie. And also spending a lot of time, you know, bonding. Over their mutual craziness, to be all het up over a woman who is, frankly, a walking Bermuda Triangle with a strange addiction to pastry. (I mean, she's funny, no doubt, but more in the oh-my-god-no way.) And then they're sort of handing off Stephanie and negotiating the boundaries of their relationships with her and - do you see where this is headed?
Maybe you don't! Maybe you totally don't. So I will help out. This is another one of those decision points, and here you can go one of four routes:
1. Kill either Ranger or Morelli. (Hint: not really appropriate for your neck of the genre.)
2. Have Stephanie, Morelli, and Ranger come to an arrangement, which would probably look something like: Stephanie lives with Morelli but sleeps over at Ranger's occasionally and what happens there in no way counts as cheating.
3. Have Stephanie choose Morelli, which I think is where you're trying to go, except you've written yourself into a corner on this one. Ranger is a big part of her life, and she's demonstrated many times she can't be around him and not want him, so that kind of leaves you nowhere.
4. Have Stephanie, Morelli, and Ranger hop into bed with each other and see how it goes. (Hint: it will be hot. Also, you're obviously really tired of writing het sex scenes now; this will give you many new avenues to explore.)
I myself would go for option 4. You could also consider option 2, although I think there's less opportunity for a) hilarity and b) hotness there.
This is an interesting read, mostly on a meta level; it's fascinating to see how structurally different these stories are from Westlake's full-lengthThis is an interesting read, mostly on a meta level; it's fascinating to see how structurally different these stories are from Westlake's full-length Dortmunder books. Basically, this book is an excellent education in how to craft short stories as opposed to novels.
So on that level, the book is awesome. Unfortunately, a lot of the things I truly love about the Dortmunder series don't work as well in short form; there can't be any complicated plotting, for example, and the partners in crime mostly don't appear in these stories. So mostly these are - well, vignettes, almost, little pieces of Dortmunderiana, if I can use the term. It's great if you're jonesing for a Dortmunder fix, but I'm not, not right now. In a way, I wish I'd saved these stories for a while.
Still, there are some stories that stood out for me. The last one is probably the most interesting - and, again, this is mostly a meta level. Westlake at one point thought he'd lose the rights to the name "John Dortmunder" to a movie studio, so he started looking for another name for the character. He came up with John Rumsey. He never had to use the substitute name, but he did write a short story using Rumsey and co (Algy, Stan Little, Big Hooper) just to see how it would go. It's like a perfect little canonical AU, and it's also a great story.
Basically, I'd consider this collection well worth reading for fans of the series. Anyone else won't find much to appreciate here....more
It's sort of hard to rate this one fairly; I understand that there's another Dortmunder book coming out in 2009, but this still feels like the end ofIt's sort of hard to rate this one fairly; I understand that there's another Dortmunder book coming out in 2009, but this still feels like the end of an era, given Westlake's death. So there was something of a nostalgia factor at work here.
But, overall, this is just another middling Dortmunder novel - which means it's fun, yes, but not laugh-out-loud funny, the way some of the earlier novels are, and not as complex and devious as most of middle ones are.
Part of the problem is that the formula is starting to show. (No, part of the problem is that there is a formula; the early and middle books lacked that.) It's easy to predict the plot; you take threads A, B, and C, and if you've read other books in the series, you know exactly how it will end up. Part of the problem is that these last books just don't have the edge that the early ones did.
But still - Dortmunder and company are good companions for an afternoon, and this book is fun and engaging, if not exactly off the charts. I'd recommend it for people who have read all the books before Bad News and still aren't satisfied - and for anyone who is sad that with Westlake gone, Dortmunder is now a very limited commodity. ...more
In my opinion, this is a standout among the later Dortmunder novels. That doesn't make it nearly as good as the classics - Don't Ask, What's the WorstIn my opinion, this is a standout among the later Dortmunder novels. That doesn't make it nearly as good as the classics - Don't Ask, What's the Worst That Could Happen? - but it definitely means that this is a fun light read.
Westlake handles the plot much better in Watch Your Back! than in the earlier The Road to Ruin - here, he's up to his old tricks, knitting several plotlines together so that they are one joyous snarl by the end of the book. He's got the same old characters, and I for one am always happy to spend more time with Dortmunder, Kelp, Tiny, and Murch. He also introduces a new character on the criminal side; I found him interesting enough to want to read more about him. And, of course, Westlake's got his latter-days obsession: the vile, scheming, absolutely unredeemable rich guy target, who is probably the most vivid character in the book.
All in all, the ingredients for Dortmunder heaven are here. What's missing is the - I don't know, verve of the earlier novels. Somehow, this manages to be amusing without ever quite becoming truly funny. Still, I'll settle for amusement. This is worth reading for anyone who has read all the earlier Dortmunder books and loved them. ...more
This book feels like half a Dortmunder novel. But half a Dortmunder novel is still a decent read.
This is by no means my least favorite novel in thisThis book feels like half a Dortmunder novel. But half a Dortmunder novel is still a decent read.
This is by no means my least favorite novel in this series, but I had some problems with it - the science facts kept getting in the way (one of the central elements of the plot made no sense at all, for example). And then I realized I was nearing the end (three dots left on my Kindle), and Westlake was still adding plot complications, and was nowhere near resolving any. And then the book just kind of ended, at what felt like the halfway point. If I'd been reading a print copy, I would have been checking to see if some pages had fallen out of the novel.
But all the same - Dortmunder books are generally fun light reads, and this one is no different. The same familiar characters and elements are there, which can be a good thing or a bad thing. (I realize it's too late for this, but I do think maybe Westlake should have just written a book about a really evil rich guy; that seems to be his primary interest in the later Dortmunder novels, and he spends more time building a delightfully detestable rich target than he does on the actual caper. The thing is, I read Dortmunder novels for the capers and the criminals, not the targets.)
Basically, this one is for Dortmunder completists, and for anyone sad that there will never be another Dortmunder novel....more