The Notebook

The reason it hurts so much to separate is because our souls are connected. Maybe they always have been and always will be. Maybe we’ve lived a thousand lives before this one and in each of them we’ve found each other. And maybe each time, we’ve been forced apart for the same reasons. That means that this goodbye is both a goodbye for the past ten thousand years and a prelude for what will come.

I will always have a soft spot for The Notebook. It was the first adult book that I ever bought for myself, without even really realizing it, at a small booksale at a church fair. I tore through it and just fell in love with the story of Noah and Allie; I would go back to reread parts of it from time to time, and it remains one of my favorite romances. I think I read some of his other books as well (or maybe they were by James Patterson).

I was a total sap at heart back in the day, and loved the ideas of soulmates and childhood sweethearts and a fairytale happily-ever-after love that surmounted all obstacles. Now that I’m an adult myself I don’t really believe in any of that anymore. A good relationship is a combination of chemistry, respect, lots of work, and luck; there’s no destiny or Cupid involved, no guaranteed happy ending.

Every once in a while, though, I’ll get in the mood for an old-fashioned romance. For example, I pulled The Notebook off the shelf this week just to look up the passage above. Then I reread the ending, and the part where Allie reads Noah’s letters, and before I knew it I had pretty much reread the entire book (albeit somewhat out of order). It’s just that good.

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Published in: on September 28, 2011 at 5:06 pm  Comments (1)  
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Design for Murder

I followed up with Carolyn Hart’s next Death on Demand mystery relatively quickly after reading the first one. I don’t know why I waited so long to read these; they are well-written, great fun, and a wonderful tribute to the mystery genre.

In this volume, Annie Laurance, proprietor of the Death on Demand mystery bookstore, has been asked by the frosty Corinne Webster to plan a Mystery Night for the Historical Preservation Society’s house tour in nearby Chastain. Though president, Mrs. Webster makes it pretty clear she does not support the idea, and makes a quick enemy out of Annie, who has to try hard to bite her tongue. Nevertheless, she is thrilled at the opportunity to plot a fictitious crime.

The week before Annie will present her plan to the Board of the Historical Preservation Society, she receives a plot in the mail signed by Corinne Webster which she is instructed to use, about the murder of a woman in which motive abounded. When she reads this at the meeting, however, all hell breaks loose; everyone present recognizes the victim as Corinne, who accuses Annie of creating the plot and threatens to call the whole thing off.

Annie’s fiancé Max Darling, who has recently set up a small investigation practice to pass the time, strongly advises her to have nothing more to do with matter, but Annie is determined to see her Mystery Night through. The other board members are ready to play their roles and are counting on her to make it a success. It look like it will be when tickets begin selling quickly. On opening night, however, when Annie makes a final check at the scene of the crime, she finds Corinne killed for real with her own murder weapon prop.

With this circumstantial evidence it doesn’t take long for the local policeman to hone in on Annie as a number one suspect, especially because she is an outsider to town and had lost her temper with Corinne earlier in the day. If she wants to clear her name it’s up to her and Max to present a credible alternative suspect. Luckily, the revelations in the false plot letter give them a great starting point. Corinne is thwarting the career of a promising young artist by claiming his painting are the property of her family’s museum, which gives the town vixen Sybil another reason to hate her. She has done everything in her power to prevent her timid neice Gail from seeing the brusque young reporter she loves. She has the potential to hurt the marriage or career of two town professionals, and her own husband the mayor might be having an affair. Even her closest friend was once in love with Corinne’s brother and had that relationship broken off. It’s no secret that all those close to Corinne had reason to kill her; the only important question remaining is who actually carried it through.

In a 300-page mystery the murder didn’t occur until almost halfway through, and I didn’t even mind or notice. In the end we do get a double mystery because of Annie’s own plot. Carolyn Hart also spent the time leading up to the murder in a worthwhile manner, setting the stage for the crime and building a general sense of antagonism towards Corinne. She really was a very nasty person. On the other hand, Annie and Max continue to entertain me. They are very likable and well-rounded characters, each with a distinct set of traits and flaws; though different, they complement each other and work well as a team.

It’s so refreshing to find a series with a police protagonist that remains realistic. For so many cozy series I have a hard time believing that the amateur sleuths stumble upon so many bodies, and that the police allow them to participate to the extent that they do. Both Annie and Max have plausible backgrounds for their abilities to solve crimes and plausible reasons for doing so. I like that Carolyn Hart gave them one crime to work with rather than separate interlocking ones, as might have been the temptation. I grew up on the Boxcar Children and Nancy Drew and can suspend my disbelief with the best of them, but I also like having a series where that’s not necessary. I do hope that in the future Max will get more business for his “Confidential Commissions,” though, other than just keeping Annie out of trouble.

Carolyn Hart also continues her myriad of mystery references. I consider myself relatively well-versed in the genre, even if not yet well-read, because my relatives are all aficionados. I recognized a lot of the authors and detectives mentioned, but many were also unfamiliar to me. I’m curious if anyone’s ever made a list of all the references; I did a search but didn’t seem to find one. A few reviews I came across said the habit got annoying, but I actually think it suits Annie’s character. It’s part of her job to be able to spout off authors at will or come up with the title from a customer’s sketchy description. Most of the references were confined to the plot devices of various novels when she was devising her Mystery Night, or characters she thought of when in certain situations. For example, at the Mystery Ball at the end of the tours, everyone must come dressed as a favorite sleuth. I love that Annie chose Nancy Drew and Max was Joe Hardy. It certainly mixes things up a bit. I wonder if Ned doesn’t count as a sleuth, or if Max just didn’t want to bother with a wig over his blond hair.

Part of me wants to keep going in the series right away, but another part wants to actually read more of the mysteries mentioned. A lot of our mysteries were packed up while we redid the spare room. Now that they are out again, they look tempting as the perfect quick reads for weekends.

Published in: on September 27, 2011 at 10:16 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Nancy Drew, Girl Detective

There is news in the series  book world that Simon and Schuster is finally dropping the Nancy Drew, Girl Detective series. After a short break, she will return in a new series called the Nancy Drew Diaries. I responded in the comments section of that post, but I wanted to record my thoughts here as well.

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I’m glad to see something is finally being done about the Girl Detective series! I, too, was excited about them at first, but agree that there were too many changes and the books have drastically gone downhill. I’ve been following the new releases but have only read the first 25. I wonder if this is tied to the revamp of the graphic novels. There seem to still be titles planned in the Clue Crew series, so I’m guessing that will continue even though it is in the same universe as Girl Detective. I hoping that the Hardy Boys will get a similar makeover as well, though, since the Undercover Brother series is even more maligned than Girl Detective.

If I had the ear of someone at Simon and Schuster, here’s what I would say.

The Good about Girl Detective:

~fleshed-out secondary characters: Bess, George, and Ned have more interests and family background

~a well-built world : I really liked seeing minor characters and places show up more than once, like the mayor, the Rackham family, the coffee shop, and Charlie Adams. They gave a sense of consistency to the books. And Dierdre in moderation actually works for me. I don’t want another Lettie, but she provides humor and conflict, almost like the Tophams. Unfortunately, this seemed to largely disappear in the later books.

~Nancy and Ned’s relationship: for me, this series had surprisingly the best balance of them all. Their relationship had more sentiment that the classics without the angst of the Files.

The Bad (most of which has been mentioned already in other responses):

~drastic and unnecessary character changes: after six years I still cannot believe Bess as a mechanic. Make her fluent in three languages or an antiques expert, but not something that requires getting dirty. Chief McGinnis may not like Nancy’s assistance, but he shouldn’t come across as incompetent.

~scatterbrained detecting: the Nancy we admire doesn’t need to be perfect, but she should be confident, capable, and composed. She should not completely lack fashion sense, and she should be aware enough to make sure her cell phone and car will be ready when she needs them. As written, I don’t blame the Chief for not trusting her.

~repetitive and irrelevant plots: after over 400 Nancy Drew books, I understand that coming up with fresh ideas is probably tough. However, in the same series we’ve had multiple Hollywood/movie plots, fashion plots, bike races, etc. In addition, some of the recent more ostensibly “girly” plots seem like they are chasing a subset of all the girls who love Nancy Drew. I was appalled that the latest features a take-off of “Keeping up with the Kardashians,” because that is not my idea of something appropriate for the target ages. Why would Nancy ever want to hang out with them?

~short books/too frequent/trilogy format: all this contributes to poor writing and thin plots. I know that anyone Nancy suspects in the first two thirds of the book will not be culprit. At this point I almost have more respect for the plots in the Clue Crew books.

My suggestions:

~Please go back to longer books with better writing and more intricate plots (aka if you think it would make a trilogy, condense it into a 250 page book). Nancy doesn’t have to have every case mysteriously match up with Carson’s, but the investigations could benefit from being less linear, similar to the computer games. Space out the publishing. This might not make sense for short-term profits but will make the series more sustainable. The books will have a higher quality, and readers might actually anticipate the new releases with excitement. I don’t think anyone was ever counting down to when the next GD was released, even with the trilogy format. In addition, with fewer but more distinct title, new readers might be more likely to buy previous volumes in the series.

~a mix of gothic and original plots: Jennifer is absolutely correct that Her Interactive hits the nail on the head with this. In addition, they manage to have historical and educational aspects. Not every mystery needs a haunted house, but the plots could involve past crimes coming to light, or missing heirlooms. Troubled Waters actually stood out to me as a great plot in the Girl Detective series because it included multiple storylines, an original situation (Habitat for Humanity), a tie-in to an old crime, and a creative use of modern technology (using a cell phone to record the crook’s confession). Several of the early books (3-15 or so) also had good plots.

~Nancy does not need to be perfect, but she should be intelligent and capable. Nancy can certainly make miscalculations, or ask a suspect a question that makes him or her clam up, without losing her ability to be a role model. None of the protagonists on all the mystery/law shows on TV make hare-brained mistakes. When they get called Nancy Drew, let’s keep it a compliment.

~Keep a well-rounded supporting cast, where the characters have larger defined roles but are not arbitrarily different from the originals. Continue to keep the vibrant River Heights that has been set up, with its industrial history and friendly residents.

~Above all, Simon and Schuster needs to take this seriously, and keep an active interest in the quality of the series. The more reincarnations of Nancy we are given, the less likely they are to take hold with the target audience. If the Nancy Drew Diaries are not a success I will be sincerely worried.

Published in: on September 20, 2011 at 1:31 pm  Comments (1)  
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Murder on the Set (Nancy Drew Girl Detective #24)

I had some rough news at work this week at decided a little mystery binge was exactly what I needed this weekend. Murder on the Set was actually the third one I finished, but the easiest to review because it was such a quick read. And, of course, because I never have trouble finding something to say about Nancy Drew!

This one is the 24th in the Girl Detective series, from way back in 2007.  I try to buy them as they come out (they’re pretty much the only books I’m willing to pay full price for), but I’m so far behind I don’t think I’ll ever catch up. They’re already up to 45. It’s also been quite a while since I read the last one. It doesn’t seem like it’s been two years!

In this volume Bess is super excited that Hollywood will be practically in their own backyard. After an accident on the set of his last film five years ago, Gordon MacIntyre is back in the director’s chair for a blockbuster filmed in River Heights and starring two of Hollywood’s hottest names, Brett Harley and Fiona Gibson. Even better, he will be casting locals as extras, so Bess jumps at the chance to get close to the heartthrob. Nancy’s not so much into the glitz and glamour, but she is into mysteries, and when she hears from her dad that Gordon and Brett have received threatening notes she decides that being an extra is the perfect cover for an investigation. Unfortunately, events don’t go as either Nancy or Bess would like. Soon, Nancy realizes that danger just might be afoot, if only she knew who to warn and who is responsible.

First off, why is there NO mention of the film that took place in River Heights for books 5 and 6? Nancy keeps going on about how she gets stage fright, and can’t act, unless it’s for a case, but she already played the lead role of Esther Rackham in the movie about River Heights. I read it before I started writing about the books so I don’t recall if it was actually a Hollywood film or if Bess was an extra. I understand that it would be a nightmare to have continuity with all Nancy Drews ever written, so I’ll overlook that all three girls were extras in Double Horror of Fenley Place in the classic series, but to ignore two books in the same series is a little much. I guess they just wanted a Hollywood tie-in for the real Nancy Drew movie.

There were other contrived inconsistencies as well, such as having George suddenly driving a 1978 bucket of bolts simply so she could be asked to use it in the film. Nancy doesn’t want to tell George and especially Bess about the case, because she doesn’t know if she can trust them. Never mind the hundreds of cases they’ve helped with in the past. Bess is now five inches shorter than Nancy’s 5’7”, and even more so than George. She apparently suffers extreme mood swings between glumness and euphoria, and just for good measure is described as being cheap and never wanting to spend money. I’m pretty sure the Bess I know loves shopping.

The plot was okay, but not great. It seemed more about characters than anything else. And while I liked the longer length in this one, I felt like it really needed more substance to make it worthwhile. As I tried to write the summary above I realized that most of what happens is movie set filler, drama not related to the crime, or red herring filler. Nancy flirts with movie stars, fights with Deirdre, picks a lock, placates Bess, and talks about explosives. And repeats. We had enough handsome movie star romantic tension that at times it read like a Nancy Drew File. If this is for ages 8-12 I’m not sure why they have Nancy making out with the male lead as a stand-in actress and going on a date with a man fifteen years her senior. At the same time, it looks like her eventual reconciliation with Ned is taken for granted because those events were beyond her control, and is not a priority on either side. The author doesn’t even write a “kiss and make up” scene until the end of the book at the movie premiere, which was probably some time after the filming ended. I like the easy relationship the couple has in this series, and Nancy was definitely worried about hurting Ned, but I never thought I’d say that it was too casual.

In other relationship news, the relationship between Chief McGinnis and Nancy seems pretty official at this point. He’s an idiot who either refuses to let Nancy be involved, blocks her investigation, or takes credit when she does succeed. And, apparently, is jealous because she still succeeds with more regularity than he does. I’m still not sure whether I like the dynamic, but it does add an element of humor.

This is not one of my favorites in the series, but from what I’ve heard of later volumes I guess it could be a lot worse.

Published in: on September 10, 2011 at 8:09 pm  Leave a Comment  
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