Book Review – Murder in Miniature

Murder in Miniature

Margaret Grace

Paperback, 2008

 

Okay, my wonderful boyfriend and I were out and about last week and we stopped in my favorite bookstore, Mysteries & More just outside of Nashville, TN.  (Hey, they’re the best parts of the review – I have to give them a plug!)  He bought an armload of stuff.  I, on the other hand, saw one book that caught my eye, but it was the more Halloween themed Monster in Miniature, and I decided that I should start from the beginning of the series if I was going to pick up a new author.  No, cozy mysteries don’t usually require that, but it just seemed like the thing to do.  The fact that there’s a quote on the end of one of the bookshelves about starting a series at the start might have had something to do with it.

This is one of those mysteries-with-a-theme that are somehow all the rage.  In this case, the theme is the world of miniature dollhouse making.  It seemed like a weird pairing, but again, Monster looked good, so I grabbed the first one in the series to start with.

In this book, a lot is going on.  The main character, Geraldine, starts the book by running a craft show at the school.  Then her so-called-friend Linda goes missing from her neighboring table, clutching some sort of miniature desk as she did so.  And, really, I could give you a synopsis, but there’s not much of a point.

I’m just going to give you a list of what I don’t like about the book’s main character.

  • Geraldine is 60, and the book is only 5 years old, so she shouldn’t be some sort of old fuddy-duddy moron, especially being a well-traveled east-coast-to-west-coast transport and retired teacher.
  • But she is a fuddy-duddy moron who seems to hate everything.
  • Her son and daughter-in-law, for instance, can’t even manage to give their daughter a girls name, and name her Madison.
  • Shouldn’t everyone be proud that she’s managed to send emails on her dial-up computer?!
  • How will she ever figure out how to take “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” from her cell phone?
  • Her husband died of cancer.  (And she tells us this like a thousand million times)  In fact, I know more about Ken than I know about some of the characters that are actually *alive* in the book, and he has nothing to do with the story at all!
  • Every time she talks to or about anybody, we’re once again reminded of who they are or what they are – LPPD soon-to-be-detective nephew… annoying friend Linda… adopted son of Linda, Jason… former A student… former not-quite-A-student…  etc
  • Nothing about her grandddaughter – who she loves oh, so much – is good enough for this woman.  Aside from her name, we also have to hear complaints about her eating habits, choice of hobbies, tomboy behaviors, etc.  And from description alone, if we didn’t know the kid was 11, you’d be hard pressed to put her anywhere between the ages of 6 and 17 with any level of conviction.

As a side-note to this argument against the MC, my step-mother is exactly the same age (not quite 60 five years ago…).  And she has no issues with a cell phone (with separate ring tones for everyone), a computer, including email, facebook, etc, or her tablet.  And my niece, who just started middle school (when did that happen?!) is totally a tomboy and that’s totally okay.

So, the book feels like it’s about 50 years behind the time it’s supposed to be in.  The character names are either all timeless or nicknames or antiquated to a couple decades before the character in question was born.

And the book goes on and on and on about how Abraham Lincoln is the founder of the town of Lincoln Point and blah blah and there are quotes everywhere from him and references to him every few pages and – there was no point to it and it got really freakin’ old.  Because first of all, the state of California came into being in 1850, so Lincoln had nothing to do with that, especially since California was pretty much because of Polk and Tyler expanding west and pissing off Mexico.  Most of the expansion into the area had more to do with the gold rush than the statehood, and that was 1848.  Lincoln opposed war with Mexico, and thus would have been against pretty much anything that had to do with it (like the annexation that led to the war) as a member of congress, and he took office just six weeks before the attack on Fort Sumter in 1861, so anything he did as president was civil war and slave related.  Thus, the chance that he would have anything to do with a small California town?  About zero.  But yet, the author felt the need to make up this town and put in a million references to an overused president.

And I haven’t even bitched about the mystery yet.  So somewhere by about page 100, we’ve established most of the mystery and what happened.  And solved most of it.  So the next 150 pages are pretty much pointless and deal with the same crap over and over again – her issues with Maddie, about a dozen really out there bad ideas about the case that she has no reason to really be a part of at this point, a local election that has nothing whatsoever to do with the book…  And the, I dunno, red herrings? in the story are about as obvious and stupid as a three dollar bill.

The miniature theme is somewhat related to the story, but also somewhat stupid, and a lot out of place.  For instance, Linda’s desk is important to the story.  Being told that Geraldine pulled into the driveway with Maddie of her not-miniature house wasn’t even a cute detail to the book.  Working on a miniature scene with Maddie was an acceptable way to give us conversation without just a boring blob of text.  Telling us what fabrics you’re pulling out for your friends projects was a waste of paper.

Also, there are some things that the MC decides on that are such ridiculous jumps of logic that I sat there going WTF for a minute.  Yes, I understand whodunnit, but I feel like I’ve somehow missed two pages of explanation telling me why or how.

I’m going to stop here.  I could spend a lot more words complaining.

 

Here’s the bottom line.

The story had potential, but the author was too preoccupied with telling us about dollhouse miniatures and how the main character was related to everyone and what she thought (negatively) about them.  There are very few good comments about anyone in the book, and the main character’s lack of being able to think about anything nice was really unappealing.  My grandmother may have told *me* she wished I’d change my hairstyle or wear a dress once in a while, but she wouldn’t have told anyone who could listen, and I really wanted to slap Geraldine for the way she talked about her granddaughter by the time the book was done.

While some of the characters are developed somewhat, it’s a weird pick and chose of who matters – why do we know more about Ken than we do about the two dead people they spend half the book collecting gossip about?!

The pacing sucked.  If the last 150 pages were paced like the first 100, it would have been a lot better.

 

I’m going to give the book a 2/5.  If you like cozy mysteries with silly themes or you’re so into miniatures that nothing else matters except that silly little desk, go ahead and pick it up when you’re out of anything else, but I just don’t think you’re going to get enough out of it to want to go out of your way with this one.

Book Review – Lost at the Con by Bryan Young

I should probably start this with some sort of a NSFW warning, even though I’m going to try to behave myself… especially since the book is.

Here’s the thing about this review.  I don’t have a clue what to say about it.  No a clue. So if the rest of this review feels like I’ve been babbling, well, you’ve been warned.

I met Bryan Young at a convention a couple months back, and he gave me his book to review.  I had heeded the warning from Janine Spendlove (check elsewhere on our blog for reviews of her stuff) about how this book wasn’t “age appropriate” (meaning illegal stuff happened), but I was also told by both of them that it was a funny book and I should read it.

I feel the need to throw in there that Bryan is her best friend and they’re label mates (or however you phrase that in the publishing world) aside from this book, which Silence in the Library will not publish.

So here’s the gist of the book.  Cobb (I’ve already forgotten his first name, and I finished this book less than a day ago) is a washed up journalist and poor excuse for a man.  He’s really good at booze, not so much at keeping his sort of girlfriend Laurie out of the pants of men that weren’t him, and really just a piece of shit.  So when his editor sends him on a trip to Griffin*Con, a geek con in Atlanta, instead of to some political assignment, which is his beat, the shit hit the fan, but he went because he wanted to keep his paycheck.

So fast forward to getting to the con, and all he’s done so far is bitch about the local geek population, drink – a lot, and whine about his poor miserable excuse for a life.  The problem is that up to this point I didn’t feel a damn bit of anything for this guy, except a bit of bile in the back of my throat.  Unlike the sympathetic bad guys that we love to hate, hate to love, or a little bit of both, this guy is just a jackass.  He drinks because he’s too much of an asshole to do much else. He screws up with Laurie because he’s too much of an asshole to do much else.  He puts up with his boss because he’s too much of an asshole to do much else.

You see my point.

It’s not like… Loki, who we can all feel a little bit sorry for because Odin’s not actually his dad, or Jabba the Hut, who is at least funny looking.  It’s just an arrogant waste of humanity.

But the funny thing is that, even with no redeeming quality whatsoever, I found myself on page 50 before I realized what had hit me.   And the next time that I touched the book, I was suddenly on page 100… and it was page 170 before there was *any* redeeming quality that would make me give a shit about this guy.

Even moreso, the MC *knows* he’s a waste of humanity – and doesn’t care to do all that much about it.

So, the book starts with Cobb getting the assignment and having a fleeting thought about how much he probably should love Laurie if he cared to think about it.

– side note – if I were Laurie, I’d hate the prick, too –

He went to Atlanta, followed some of the freaks that he made fun of most of the time, befriended a homeless guy who became his only friend in life, and went into the con.

Now, keep in mind that this guy is a journalist on assignment, so the book is part book and part his articles.  The first article he writes is about price gouging and how the homeless are exploited for the con.  His homeless buddy Sylvester spawned the article, saying that he helps set stuff up for money.

The next incident includes a panel where they’re talking about slash fic.  We hear Cobb thinking about ways he’d love to slash somebody (it’s written in first person), then he learns what slash fic really is, then he’s outraged that some fat woman would write about Harry Potter and Snape and then…  well, then there’s this moment of moral outrage when he screams at the woman for peddling porn to minors (later he pukes on her, cause it seems like the thing to do).

Have I mentioned yet that I don’t know why I kept reading?  So here’s a bit of background on me.  Being a writer and all, I’ve been to lots of cons.  So I know what goes on there, and I know what this guy’s seeing, and it’s not some weird-ass seedy underbelly of the world that only freaks who live in their mother’s basements will ever find interesting.  And Bryan Young is part of this world.  So I’m confused about why he’d want to portray us as a bunch of losers.  Even if it is a bit of satire and humor and whatever else.  Are we *really* that bad to outsiders?  Do they really think we’re the dredges of society who have no hope at ever being awesome?  Cause my friends who do that stuff are engineers and lawyers and teachers and scientists and whatever else.  And it’s because of geekdom and fandom that we know multiple languages, create and act and do, and actually have a place to belong.

Oh, and expect lots of Star Wars references, because apparently the MC is an arrogant prick who hates geekdom but he knows what Star Wars is.

Maybe Bryan thinks because the MC is such a piece of shit, nobody’s going to care about what Cobb blows out of his pie hole?

The book has its moments.  I mean, at the beginning of the con, Cobb – drunk, of course – finds somebody cosplaying as Steampunk Abraham Lincoln, although he doesn’t know what steampunk is, or cosplay, and I’m impressed he could manage the Lincoln part.  So he’s convinced that Lincoln is a robot back from the dead and out to kill him, which makes some funny moments in the book; in his drunken stupid, he even introduces himself as Jeff Davis, which furthers his paranoia.  At one point, Lincoln gives a speech that’s totally worth reading.   And “Abraham Lincoln, a homeless man, and an asshole…” have a hell of a moment thanks to some jocks and women dressed up as anything skimpy and sexy.  And booze.  Have I mentioned that there’s a lot of booze in this book?  (And drugs at one point…)

It’s just hard to get through the start of the book (and by start, I mean 170 pages of the book).  Also, I don’t know if its because of first person or what, but I had a lot of trouble feeling the MC.  I mean, all we establish about him is that he’s an asshole.  It doesn’t exactly leave much for us to feel warm and fuzzy about, or to relate to while we’re reading.  I didn’t feel the MC *or* the writer, which is (IMO) a flaw of most people who write in first person.

The weirdest part of this whole thing is that even though I don’t have a lot good to say about the book, I am ending the review with the following statement.  I’m rating this book on the lowest possible end of four stars.  I just don’t know why.

[end note – if you think the author sounds interesting, you may want to check out some of his other work *before* this.  I’ve read a bit of his other stuff and it’s nothing like this…]

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