A Walk in the Park (Jane Doe Flash Fiction)

Away from her musty tent, the park by the bay is crowded. Cool breeze off the water. Maybe the heat will break, and she’ll sleep tonight.

Jane lands an open spot under a tree and slides her backpack off to realize she’s holding a leash with only a collar at the end, tags jingling.

She swivels, looking around frantically. He’s off being friendly, but — maddening! She’s about to abandon her shady spot to search when she feels a cold nose on the back of her thigh.

Troubles smiles up at her.

“You escape artist, you,” she scolds, hugging him.

Photo: Kamracik

Each week at the Ranch (the Carrot Ranch Literary Community, that is), Charli Mills hosts the Rough Writers and Friends flash fiction challenge. This week’s prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write about an escape artist. Fun flashes from other writers are at the link. Come join us!

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (Reading Challenge Book Review)

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find ThemFantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by Newt Scamander

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Amusing sidenote: When I was Googling editions of this book, instead of “fantastic beasts” it somehow entered “magical breasts” and turned me on to something entitled “The Magical Breasts of Britney Spears,” a book of poetry that intrigues me. The concept, not Britney’s actual ta-tas. But since the library copy closest to me is several states away in Denver, I’ll be missing out.

On to Fantastic Beasts:

I’m a bit miffed.

I’ve tried to read this book twice now. The first time I thought it was a mistake, that the library had given me the wrong book, a battered-looking volume authored by some flake named Newt Scamander (that should have been a clue, I admit that) and that didn’t even have Rowling’s name on it, and I didn’t catch on until it was time to return it. When I checked it out again, I got a newer volume that turns out to be missing the “notes” scribbled by Harry and Ron and Hermione.

So, I must have gotten a later edition second time around, evidently for those who want a pristine copy like it’s an actual textbook, shiny and new and freshly delivered by owl from Flourish and Blotts, rather than what I assume is Rowling’s original creative process. Many reviewers found the scribblings to be their favorite part of the book. My low rating reflects my disappointment at missing out, once due to my own fault, the second time due to whatever, and is not an aspersion on either Rowling’s writing or of the whole world of Harry Potter itself, which I would love to have grown up in and let’s face it, if I’d attended Hogwarts I might have actually attended and not been the chronic class-cutter I was.

So, missing the first edition scribbles, it was meh enough that I didn’t finish it, and I probably won’t bother to check it out a third time.

I find it fun that although this book was #17 on my 2017 Reading Challenge as a book involving a mythical creature, it also could have served as a book written by someone who uses a pseudonym and that position was also held by Rowling using her pseudonym of Robert Galbraith. I like that all profits are going to Comic Relief and to Lumos, Rowling’s own foundation.

And it’s not a loss. I still haven’t seen the movie, which I fully expect to enjoy.

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What the Dead Know by Laura Lippmann (Book Review)

What the Dead KnowWhat the Dead Know by Laura Lippman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was gratified to enjoy this book as much as I did. I started with Baltimore Blues but put that aside when it started getting improbable and silly and I worried it was moving into Janet Evanovich/Stephanie Plum territory, which can only end in disappointment. (I liked the first two Stephanie Plum novels but after that they just got progressively, ridiculously inane.) Other reviewers had expressed similar disappointment, but raved about Lippman’s stand-alone novels, so I gave What the Dead Know a shot, and I’m glad I did. Excellent mystery here. Tightly plotted, nicely obfuscated* clues spread around liberally, excellent use of multiple pov’s which I particularly love, and a well-done reveal. I was gradually pulled in and couldn’t put it down for the second half.

There was one thing, though: The use of “police” as a singular noun, such as “I am a murder police” or talking about “a fellow police.” What in the heck am I reading here? So I researched it a little.

According to the grammarphobia website, the “a police” usage is insider lingo, used by those who work in or adjacent to law enforcement, and the Oxford English Dictionary calls it a “count noun,” used as either singular or plural with the instant usage regional to “America” (and as a resident of the United States, I do not consider “American” to be a very regional designation, but context is everything and everything is relative).

Stack Exchange, a website for those learning English as a second language, says otherwise, that if the noun is singular, then “police” is an adjective: “the police department” or “a police officer.” It does not include “I am a police” in its list of correct usages. However, this website also cites the HBO show “The Wire,” which has characters saying “a police,” and notes that the show is set in Baltimore, just as What the Dead Know is set in Baltimore and author Lippman is from Baltimore. So perhaps the regionalism referred to by the OED is specifically Baltimoreon** rather than generally American. That doesn’t make it grammatically correct, though.

I have worked directly for law enforcement, for attorneys involved in criminal prosecution and criminal defense, and for agencies regularly utilizing law enforcement services, for more than thirty years. I have been reading police procedurals longer than that. With all that, I have never seen this usage before reading this book. My verdict is that it is awkward, the kind of writing that draws attention to itself in a “Hey! Look at me!” way, and jerks me out of the smooth flow of story. I thought it was a typo every time I tripped over it.

Still a good read, though. I’ll be reading other Lippman stand-alone novels.

* My five-dollar word for the day.

** This is correct. I looked it up.

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The Bone Collector by Jeffery Deaver (Book Review)

The Bone Collector (Lincoln Rhyme, #1)The Bone Collector by Jeffery Deaver

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I figured it out. I don’t want to read about unrealistically extraordinary people. I want to read about realistically ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

Bookshelves: oh-puhleeze, the-movie-was-better, crime, detective, mystery, ugh, mary-sue-and-gary-stu, everyone-loved-it-but-me, abandoned, dnf

It starts out with several bangs, impressive feats of deduction and lots of cop-like pizzazz, but quickly settles in to lots of Lincoln Rhyme ordering people to “Do a scale count and medulla pigmentation comparison” and “Check for cellular compression” and “Get a polarized shot of the cellophane” and very little else. And that’s not even consistent. This brilliant criminalist sends a whole bunch of guys around the city buying veal shanks out of their own pockets to make a comparison, but sets an unusual knot aside for later like it’s not important? It doesn’t read like the author thought up a clever crime story and set about having his hero solve it. Rather, it reads like the author gathered together every high-hat forensic analytic test and piece of lab equipment known to man and then cobbled together a series of events to include each and every one of them. Being this impressed by all this amazing crap gets tiresome.

I’m going to make a confession now, and perhaps this is blasphemous for a lover of detective and mystery novels, but – gasp! – I never liked Sherlock Holmes all that much. He was so far above everyone and made so many deductions that were impossibly cerebral (and was so damned arrogant about it too) that I couldn’t connect with Holmes or the solution of the crime. I didn’t participate, didn’t try to figure it out myself; I just read about two geniuses, one good and one evil, pitted against each other, with the force of good winning in a way poor little uneducated and stupid me could never hope to identify with.

Same thing here. Pah.

And then there’s the unbelievability. Lincoln Rhyme has amassed three or four fancy college degrees, risen to the top of NYPD and solved thousands of cases, created a vast database of technical stuff like types of dirt and paint chips and tires, given himself a complete self-education about the history of all of the botanical, chemical, geological, zoological, engineering, and cultural aspects of New York City, written a couple of books, and spent the last three years learning how be a C-4 CSI patient, all before the age of, what, forty? (I know. I cannot suspend my disbelief enough to buy the entire New York City Police Department kowtowing to one retired criminalist and filling his bedroom with every million-dollar piece of equipment in existence and every staff member he asks for so he can single-handedly solve one kidnapping/murder, but I readily buy griffins and wizards and prophecies of The One. Yes, it is funny.) Pah again.

Lincoln Rhyme seems to be the only character who is at all developed, but I have to wonder how realistic he is, given the idiocy that was JoJo Moyes’ Me Before You. The supporting cast of captains and detectives and deputy commanders and whatever are interchangeable. Then we have the oh-so-clichéd saucy-and-obviously-gay personal assistant/nurse (so gay and saucy, apparently, that they made him a woman played by Queen Latifah in the movie) and the undiscovered-genius-and-sultry-beauty (a failed model, even! I am so freaking tired of the women in stories always being devastatingly beautiful) obviously-soon-to-be protégé/love interest. Pah the third.

DNF-ing at 36%.

I do like the references to Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks. Not sure what it has to do with the story, and it doesn’t necessarily have to have anything to do with it, but that’s one of my favorite paintings. I just found it online and spent fifteen minutes or so immersed in it yet again, so that was nice.

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Divorcée Dearest (Jane Doe Six Sentence Stories)

Torrey storms up and down the sun room, her friend’s amused sympathy fueling her pique.

“Oh…my…God, I can’t believe I still have to put up with this crap from him. I never should have divorced him. I’d have come out of this a lot better if I’d just killed him.”

“But then you’d have that whole murder trial thing to deal with, and it’s so hard to dress for those,” Leslie quips.

“Coulda just dropped him down an old mine shaft. No body, no crime.”

jennifer 1051
Photo: jennifer1051

Each week at Uncharted, Ivy hosts the Six Sentence Stories flash fiction linkup and blog hop. This week’s cue was “mine.” Fun sixes from other writers are at the link. Come join us!

Farmer’s Market (Jane Doe Flash Fiction)

Crowds jostle, fish tossers call, children beg for ice cream, candy, a Starbucks. Pike Place Market bustles and hums, smelling of flowers, fish, peaches, damp. Gulls scream and music threads through it all. Jane wanders the stalls, assimilated.

Two dollars gets her an iced bottle of tea and a basket of blackberries. With no way to store them, she’ll have to eat them all. Back out on the cobblestones she finds a seat on the curb, in the sun, near the busker with the violin, finds another dollar for his case.

In the words of the Bangles – Sunday, Fun Day.

Photo: bull1961

Each week at the Carrot Ranch Literary Community, lead buckaroo Charli Mills hosts the Rough Writers and Friends flash fiction challenge. This week’s prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), include music and berries. (This week’s challenge might have been too easy!) Flashes from other writers are at the link. Come join us! It’s fun!

The Scarlet Pimpernel by Emmuska Orczy (Reading Challenge Book Review)

The Scarlet PimpernelThe Scarlet Pimpernel by Emmuska Orczy

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A good read, especially if you’re looking to bump up your classics cred and get into the original Batman.

No, really. The Baroness Orczy is credited with creating the very first masked hero, the idle millionaire who spends his time and infinite resources fighting the forces of evil from behind a clever disguise. Or if you’re not turned on by Batman, think of Sir Percy Blakeney as the French Revolution’s answer to Schindler’s List — although Sir Percy got here first, rescuing other idle rich from the rapacious Madame La Guillotine during the Reign of Terror.

This particular hero first crossed my radar in movie form. I seem to remember being fairly young, early teens, which would make it the 1934 version, but I also remember color, which would make it the 1982 version, although I could be getting an impression of color from the word “scarlet.” (I was also young enough to pull the “pimp” out of “pimpernel” and snicker at it.) Anyway, a few years ago I downloaded the book free from Project Gutenberg, a noble operation indeed, making electronic versions of the classics free for anyone who wants them (although donations are much appreciated and deserved). The book holds two positions on my 2017 reading challenge, #2, a book that’s been on my TBR list for far too long and #9, an espionage thriller.

I have trouble with classics. I feel that in order to be a well-read, literate sort of person I should have read/be reading a fair number of classics, but so many of them are so stilted, so plodding, so booooooring that I never finish them. (Anna Karenina, I wanted to love you, I really and truly did.) The Scarlet Pimpernel is a good one, though. I can’t remember the last time I read such a pure romp, complete with romance and heartbreak, miscommunication and misunderstandings, intrigue and betrayal, silk gowns and courtly manners. The language is surprisingly fresh considering the book was published in 1905. Yes, it got a bit overdramatic, especially toward the end, and I was disappointed that there was no duel, but I still enjoyed it.

Also note that this was considered historical fiction when it was published, so now it’s like historical fiction inside of historical fiction. Or something.

Anyway, recommended.

Bookshelves: classic, spy-vs-spy, i-am-an-anglophile, brit-lit, merry-old-england, french-revolution, adventure, this-is-all-the-romance-i-can-take, thriller

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Scratch (Jane Doe Six Sentence Stories)

“And I know that’s only a couple of jobs for you to check out this week, but something’s better than nothing, right?” the Job Source woman says brightly.

“Here, let me get all of my worldly possessions out of the way,” Jane says, seeing the people waiting their turn.

“Oh, ha-ha, well I’m sure there’s a certain freedom in starting over from scratch,” the social worker titters.

Jane shoves her spiral notebook firmly into her pack and pins the woman with her two-dollar stare. “I get that the whole homeless thing is uncomfortable for you, but there are some things you should never even try to platitude away,” she says quietly, and hoists her pack up. “There’s very little freedom in my choice to sleep in the hostel I was lucky enough to get for tonight, as opposed to on some sidewalk somewhere.”

Photo: cocoparisienne

Every week, Ivy at Uncharted hosts the Six Sentence Stories flash fiction linkup and blog hop. This week’s vignette, from The Life and Times of Jane Doe, is in response to the cue “scratch.” Fun Sixes from other writers are at the link. Come join us!

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion (Book Review)

The Rosie Project (Don Tillman, #1)The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Bookshelves: chick-lit, humor, fluff, rom-com, love-story-not-a-romance, poking-fun-at-serious-stuff, funny, this-is-all-the-romance-i-can-take

Well, I absolutely loved this sharp bit of fluff (I know that’s an oxymoron, but it fits), this laugh-out-loud love story that’s basically “Sheldon Cooper Searches for a Wife.” I mean, it is a howl.

And I sat down and wrote that and a little bit more, and then I checked a couple of negative reviews, because I like to see what the detractors are saying about something I love, and now I just backspaced over a bunch of what I originally wrote because I’m not sure if I should be pissed off instead at a story that is mocking people with Asperger’s Syndrome. I mean, I can see both sides of it. I would certainly not want people with Asperger’s to be laughed at. I wouldn’t laugh at a book that turns the ugliness of racism or rape or religious persecution into a joke.

But on the other hand. This is why we have two hands.

From what I’ve read about Asperger’s (which is limited, I admit), protagonist Don Tillman is not very typical — he ticks off virtually every box in the list of behaviors, which is not common at all. So, do I decide Tillman is a caricature and get even more righteously PC pissed? Or do I realize that this is a really good learning opportunity, and that perhaps this character was created and written exactly the way he is to give the rest of the world a taste of what it’s like to navigate the world as an Aspie? I loved the book The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which did a bang-up job of showing us the world through the processing of someone with autism. Someone spun me a good story, and I learned a few things. I never felt that I was laughing at him, and I particularly never felt that the author wrote the book as a way of mocking autistic people.

I’ve decided not to be pissed. I’ve decided the author did a great job creating an entertaining character and an entertaining story, one that you can read in one lazy afternoon and that will make you laugh out loud in places and learn something at the same time (flounders’ eyes–who knew?). I would perhaps not marry Don Tillman, but I wouldn’t mind if my best friend did.

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The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware (Book Review)

The Woman in Cabin 10The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Drinking game! Take a shot every time Lo whines about how tired she is. On second thought, no. Our heroine can drink you under the table in any case and you don’t want alcohol poisoning before you finish chapter 2.

Bookshelves: whodunit, mystery, thriller, chick-lit, brit-lit, pop-fiction, unreliable-narrator, ugh, wannabe, bad-dialogue

This wants to be The Girl on the Train crossed with Murder on the Orient Express, with the unreliable narrator/unbelievable witness solving a locked-room mystery. Now, I love an unreliable narrator, and I love locked-room mysteries, and this book almost gets there. Ware did a decent job with the mystery, but unfortunately, she took Paula Hawkins’ Rachel Whatsherbucket a step too far.

We have wannabe investigative reporter Laura I-insist-you-call-me-Lo Blacklock, suffering from long-term anxiety attacks and short-term PTSD* from a recent home invasion, who lucks into a press junket on a luxury cruise, combining blackout drinking with psychotropic medication, convincing herself she heard a scream and a body hitting the water (because that is the only possible explanation for a splashing sound at sea), bumbling around “investigating” and being bitchy to pretty much everyone and growing increasingly pissed off that no one believes her.


With the way this woman throws back pills and booze and never does a shred of journalistic interviewing or writing, I wouldn’t have believed her either. For the first two-thirds of the book I was like, for God’s sake woman, step away from the mini bar, stop eating seaweed and have a bowl of chicken soup, see a doctor for some Ambien and get some goddamned sleep, act like a professional and maybe, I don’t know, read the fricking press packet for the job you’re being paid to do, and you just might stop hallucinating. I know we’d have no story then, but still. If I’d been standing in front of her as I read one more time about her stabbing headaches and pounding skull and cramping stomach and nausea and vomit and claustrophobia and sleep deprivation, I would have pitched her overboard myself.

And I know I sound unsympathetic, and I feel bad, but I can’t help it. I had my first panic attack when I was 18, and have suffered them, as part of chronic anxiety and panic disorder and PTSD ever since then (I am now 55). I recently went through a period of horrific insomnia where I got anywhere from 10 minutes to 2 hours of sleep a night, every night, for seven years. And through that I managed to show up for work, do my job, earn a college degree, pay the bills, just generally be a credible grownup. So I know what it’s like. I really do. By the time I found a doctor who didn’t dismiss me outright as an addict pillseeker and was willing to experiment to find what would help me actually sleep, I was close to full-on suicidal. That I can be so unsympathetic toward the intrepid Lo is a measure of just how obnoxious she is.

Aside from that, the mystery was good. A little way in I remembered I’d given only two stars to the other Ruth Ware book I’ve read and wondered why I’d even checked this one out, but I finished it because the story itself was just that compelling. I couldn’t not know how it ended, and a writer gets a lot of credit for that.

Verdict: Two stars for a clever little mystery, dragged down by a protagonist I wanted to choke but who did draw my attention away from the repetition and unrealistic dialogue, with a bonus star for unputdownableness. So if you find Lo bearable, you might love this book. A lot of people do.

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OK, you’ve been warned, so if you read this CLEARLY MARKED SPOILER it’s your own fault:

*I just got done reading a discussion board (which I came across entirely by accident when I was Googling literary tropes in general), which pointed out the actual reason for the burglary at the beginning of the story. I thought it was there to give Lo the PTSD that has her so annoyingly overwrought through the whole book, but nope. The bad guys needed to steal her passport so she couldn’t go on the cruise in the first place, which would have made this The Woman in Cabin 9 and eliminated our heroine entirely. So that burglary does actually have something to do with the plot, but a reader who is a lot smarter than I am had to make that clear to me because it was left out of the criminal-makes-full-confession-and-explains-everything-to-the-imprisoned-protagonist denouement trope. (It had a twist though.)