Author: Roberta (page 1 of 25)

#BestsellerCode100: A Writer’s Review of Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good

Let’s take a look at our next novel from The Bestseller Code 100 challenge listSomewhere Safe with Somebody Good by Jan Karon, from a writer’s perspective

This post does not contain spoilers.

Somewhere Safe With Somebody Good by Jan Karon (2014)

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary: Father Tim Kavanagh has returned to Mitford, North Carolina with his wife Cynthia. He’s retired, but feels his life is missing something. He can’t seem to figure out what he wants to do about it.

This is the twelfth novel in the Mitford series, which features the multiple generations of the Kavanagh family. The fourteenth novel in the series came out in September, 2017.

****

Because both Karen (see her review) and I failed to finish reading this novel, it might be informative to try to figure out why.

Characters

Ever been to a gathering where everyone else had known each other for a long time, such as the first time you met with all your in-laws? Or go to the company softball game when you’ve just been hired and they’ve been playing together for years? People who know each other well, and have history together, often speak in shorthand or code. You feel left out because you have no idea what they are talking about.

Because this is the twelfth novel in the series, the characters are old friends to people who started the series at book one. The author apparently expects new readers to understand the characters the same way as old fans and makes little effort to introduce us. By jumping in at book twelve for this challenge,  we are left standing on the outside.

Genre and Pacing

Although writers try to reach a general audience, realistically they often must gear their writing to the expectations of a subset of readers who prefer their genre.  For example, cozy mystery writers avoid a lot of violence. Their books focus on restoring order to a community that is basically good. The pacing is moderate with a good distance between conflicts or incidents.  On the other hand, thriller writers pile on the violence and often the central question is whether the villain is going to get away with the mayhem. The pacing is fast and distance between conflicts is short.

As Christian Fiction, Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good is supposed to have a gentle touch with no violence  and a relatively slow pace. As a person who reads mysteries and thrillers for fun, I like my novels to feel like I’m in a race car plunging down a hill. This novel felt like I was on a very rickety bicycle that meandered a lot. I didn’t like it. It is a personal preference, however, and many people probably find the slow pace refreshing.

Little Mysteries for Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good

A good novelist provides little mysteries in the story. Those are questions put into a reader’s mind to keep them turning pages. To be effective, the answers should be revealed within a few pages, hence “little” mysteries.

Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good  starts out with the question whether Father Kavanagh will be able to fit into his tux. When he can’t, he and his wife (mainly his wife) go in search of an alternative. The last mention of their search is around page 19 or 20, then that thread pretty much disappears. We never learn what happens until an oblique mention on page 63:

‘There we were, two of three misfits who didn’t show up as penguins…’

So, about 40 pages later we learn that apparently he didn’t wear a tux. If you had forgotten the question, the answer was so subtle you would have missed it. If you had remembered the question, it was a long time to ponder such a trivial mystery that apparently had no bearing on the plot except to send the main characters to visit a friend. The author promised a reward, but never fulfilled it.

Too Slow

In fact, the novel is way too slow in providing  the solutions to the little mysteries throughout. Another example:  On page 19 we learn that Irene is missing and her front door was left open. That sounds alarming. Has something bad happened to her? On page 38, they check again. Irene still isn’t home, but this time the police show up. When do we find out what happened to Irene? Not until page 90, where we learn she was in Georgia with her new grandson. She was never in danger. The reader is left wondering why such good friends, who knew so many other details of her life and felt comfortable rummaging through her house, didn’t know she was expecting a new grandson.

Again and again the author has failed in her promises to the reader by either holding out too long or hiding the answers to the little mysteries, if she gives them at all (see quote in Karen’s review). When they arrive, the answers are often anticlimactic or serve no purpose. It was enlightening to me as a writer to realize how frustrating that was. I will definitely make a big effort to make sure any little mysteries I include will fulfill their promises to my readers in a timely way.

Setting

The setting is the fictional small community of Milford, North Carolina. Although there was a map in the front, I never got a strong impression of place. In contrast, Alice Sebold, for example, never names the setting in Lovely Bones, and yet it seemed much clearer and much more concrete. Perhaps the setting has been described in detail in some of the earlier novels in the series? Again, jumping in at novel twelve was frustrating.

Discussion

In summary, some of the issues we had with the book were due to it being the twelfth in a series and others were issues with the author’s choices about plotting and storytelling. Perhaps the inability to connect with the characters and the settings would not have been a problem if we had read the novels in the order intended. Given the popularity of the books, that is likely the case.

Have you read Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good by Jan Karon? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Join us on social media:

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 57.  Fifty Shades of Gray by E. L. James (2011) – Discussion begins June 25, 2018

#BookBeginnings The Temptation of Forgiveness by Donna Leon

Today we have The Temptation of Forgiveness: A Commissario Guido Brunetti Mystery by Donna Leon for Book Beginnings on Fridays.

Book Beginnings is a fun meme hosted by Rose City Reader blog. To participate, share the first sentence or so of a novel you are reading and your thoughts about it. When you are finished, add your URL to the Book Beginnings page linked above. Hope to see you there!

 

book-beginnings-button-donna-leon

The Temptation of Forgiveness: A Commissario Guido Brunetti Mystery by Donna Leon

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:   A friend of his wife’s implores Commissario Guido Brunetti to look into her son’s drug use, but before he starts the woman’s husband is found with a severe head injury. Brunetti must find out if the two problems are connected.

This is the twenty-seventh novel in the Commissario Guido Brunetti  police procedural series. The novels are set in Venice.

First Sentence:

Having left the apartment smack on time so as to arrive at the Questura on time for a meeting with his superior, Brunetti found himself seated towards the rear of a Number One vaporetto, glancing idly through a copy of that morning’s Gazzettino.

Discussion:

I like how the novel starts with the beginning of Guido Brunetti’s day. It is relaxing, but with a hint of things to come.

Donna Leon adds a few specific words that establish both the tone and setting. The Questura is the police station in Venice. The vaporetto is a water bus, which is something so specific to Venice. Plus, the newspaper is called the Gazzettino.

Whenever I read this series, I just want to hop on a plane to Venice.

What do you think? Have you read anything by Donna Leon?

#BestsellerCode100: Number 58. Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good by Jan Karon

Time to start the discussion of our next novel from The Bestseller Code 100 listSomewhere Safe with Somebody Good by Jan Karon.

This post does not contain spoilers.

Somewhere Safe With Somebody Good by Jan Karon (2014)

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary: Father Tim Kavanagh has returned to Mitford, North Carolina with his wife Cynthia. He’s retired, but feels his life is missing something. He can’t seem to figure out what he wants to do about it.

This is the twelfth novel in the Mitford series, which features the multiple generations of the Kavanagh family. The fourteenth novel in the series came out in September, 2017.

Mitford is a fictional place, but there’s a map of the town in the front of the book.

Have you read Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good by Jan Karon? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

 

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

You can also join us on social media:

Do you have suggestions for ways to improve this reading challenge? We’d love to hear them.

Have you written about Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good by Jan Karon? Feel free to add a link to your review in the comments.
__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 57.  Fifty Shades of Gray by E. L. James (2011) – Discussion begins June 25, 2018

#amreading #mystery: The Falls by Ian Rankin

After having read the first in the Inspector John Rebus series by Ian Rankin, Knots and Crosses (previous review),  let’s compare it to the twelfth in the series, The Falls.

 

The Falls* by Ian Rankin

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:  Art history student Philippa “Flip” Balfour goes missing and her rich parents immediately pull strings to make the case a priority. When the new Chief Super Gill Templer assigns Detective Inspector John Rebus the task of checking out a doll found in a casket, he’s pretty sure it isn’t important to the case. Or is it?

What is similar between the two books:

Ian Rankin knows how to write a perfect first line. The first line of Knots and Crosses was eerie:

The girl screamed once, only the once.

For The Falls, it is intriguing:

‘You think I killed her, don’t you?’

As to be expected, both novels are set in Edinburgh, Scotland and the surrounding countryside. Also, both novels give a detailed picture of the inner workings of Scottish police departments.

Once again John Rebus is only one cog in a much larger investigative machine. Once again others, particularly his female colleagues, point him in the right direction or dig up pertinent clues.

Another similarity between the two novels is that there are puzzles to figure out, which makes sense because the main character’s last name “Rebus” is a type of word puzzle. In Knots and Crosses the names of the previous victims is a puzzle/clue. In The Falls, the puzzles — part of a role-playing game — are a central thread of the story. Regardless of his last name, in both novels it isn’t Rebus who works out most of the puzzles, but other characters.

What is different about the two books:

An obvious difference between the two books is the length. Knot and Crosses is a respectable 256 pages.  At 399 pages, The Falls is significantly longer.  Much of the difference in length is due a substantially more complex plot (details would be spoilers).

Some of the differences may be due to the fact that the two books were by different publishers. In Knots and Crosses, there are double quotation marks around the dialogue. In The Falls, the dialogue is set off by single quotations marks. Single quotation marks are more common in British novels.

Another difference is the theme of promotion and retirement within the police department. When Chief Super Farmer retires, John Rebus visits him. He notices how tidy Farmer’s house is and realizing he might be at loose ends, asks Farmer to help out with small pieces of the investigation. An older Rebus looks ahead and is a bit frightened about what his own retirement might look like, whereas in the first book he looked back on what had happened when he was young.

Discussion

Keeping a mystery series moving ahead is no small achievement. Ian Rankin does a wonderful job creating compelling, complex characters and a multi-layered plot. As Rankin and his characters mature, we can only imagine what lies ahead.

#BookBeginnings Somewhere Safe With Somebody Good

Today we’re starting the next book in The Bestseller Code 100 challengeSomewhere Safe With Somebody Good by Jan Karon for Book Beginnings on Friday.

Book Beginnings is a fun meme hosted by Rose City Reader blog. To participate, share the first sentence or so of a novel you are reading and your thoughts about it. When you are finished, add your URL to the Book Beginnings page linked above. Hope to see you there!

 

book-beginnings-button-hurwitz

Somewhere Safe With Somebody Good by Jan Karon (2014)

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:   Father Tim Kavanagh has returned to (fictional) Mitford, North Carolina with his wife Cynthia. He’s retired, but feels his life is missing something. Will he figure out what it is?

This is the twelfth  novel in the Mitford series, which features the multiple generations of the Kavanagh family. The fourteenth novel in the series came out in September, 2017.

First Sentence:

His wife was determined to march him to the country club this Saturday evening. Worse, he’d have to stuff himself into his old tux like a sausage into a casing.

Discussion:

For the rest of the first page, the husband and wife go about getting ready. In the meanwhile, we find out his first name is Timothy and he’s a priest (actually an Episcopal priest.) They’ve also just returned from County Sligo, which is in Ireland.

Karen and I are always concerned when The Bestseller Code computer picks a novel that is later on in a series. A couple of the reviews I read, however, suggested it was safe to read them out of order. Each novel apparently does work as a stand alone. We hope so.

What do you think? Have you read any books in the Milford series?

#BestsellerCode100: A Writer’s Review of The Next Always by Nora Roberts

Let’s take a look at The Next Always by Nora Roberts from a writer’s perspective.

This post contains spoilers.

 

The Next Always by Nora Roberts

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary: Clare Brewster returns to her hometown of Boonsboro, Maryland after losing her husband. Running a bookstore and taking care of her three sons keeps her busy, but somehow she finds time to check out the renovation of a local inn, and also the architect in charge of the project, Beckett Montgomery. He is also a busy man, but not too busy for Clare.

This novel is book one of the Inn Boonsboro Trilogy.

Karen has really already said it all in her review, which you should read first.

Where’s the Hook?

If you are a popular and prolific author like Nora Roberts, you don’t have to start your book with an obvious hook for the first line. Instead you can start with exposition about stone walls.

The stone walls stood as they had for more than two centuries, simple, sturdy, and strong.

Even though she does manage some nice alliteration, somehow I don’t think a beginning author could get away with that first sentence.

If you are a popular and prolific author, you can also get away with featuring your own businesses as most of the setting.

Characters

Nora Roberts is great at developing characters. Each individual  in The Next Always is unique. I was particularly impressed with her male characters – the guys can often be cardboard cutouts in romances –so I located an interview with her to find out how she does it.

It turns out Nora Roberts has four older brothers and two sons. She has had plenty of experience with how men act. That is why the three Montgomery brothers and Clare’s three sons are so authentic.

Nora Roberts is also the queen of dialogue. Every character is not only unique, but also has their own agenda. The characters are often at cross purposes, just like people are in real life.

“What’s up?” Owen demanded. “We’re just knocking off.”
“And I want a beer,” Ryder added…

{Beckett shows them a sign he made.}

“This is it, Anybody doesn’t like it, I’ll kill them with a sledgehammer. I’ll feel bad if it’s Mom or Carolee, but I’ll still do it.”
Ryder studied it, said, “Huh.”
“What font is that?”
“The one I picked,” Beckett told Owen, “I can kill you. I have a spare brother.”

 

 

Plot

The plot is straightforward. Beckett has loved Clare since school. Clare married someone else and has three young sons, but now has moved back because her husband died. The central story problem is whether the two will now find true love.

The story moves along quickly because it is mainly dialogue. In fact there is very little exposition. Opening randomly to pages 220-221, 7 lines out of 63 are exposition. The rest of the lines are all dialogue.

A side story is a thread of the plot that does not solve the main problem, but adds depth to the novel. In this case the side story involves a stalker who is obsessed with main character Clare. It is clearly the weakest part of the book. The stalker isn’t developed well enough to be believable. Apparently the side story was thrown in as an afterthought to add some tension, but Roberts heart wasn’t in it.

The stalker side story also involves an obvious Deus ex machina (which is when a problem in a story is solved by an unlikely device). In this case, the ghost tells everyone to get over to Clare’s house and rescue her from the stalker. Really?

Discussion

Overall, although it is an easy, frothy read, I did not enjoy The Next Always as much as Karen did. I won’t look for the others in the series. I haven’t, however, given up on Nora Roberts completely. I am going to look for the futuristic romantic suspense/police procedural series she writes as J. D. Robb.

Have you read any novels by Nora Roberts or J.D. Robb? What did you think?

Join us on social media:

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 58.  Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good (2014) by Jan Karon  – Discussion begins June 11, 2018

#amreading Mystery: Knots and Crosses by Ian Rankin

With an opportunity to meet some great mystery authors coming up in September, I’ve been doing some background reading. Up today is Knots and Crosses: An Inspector Rebus Novel (Amazon affiliate link) by Ian Rankin.

There may be a few minor spoilers.

 

This is the first Inspector John Rebus mystery novel, originally published in 1987.

Summary:  A serial killer is strangling young girls in Edinburgh, Scotland. As one of the detectives assigned to the case, John Rebus is battling his own demons, which include debilitating flashbacks and mysterious anonymous notes. Can he figure out how all the puzzle pieces fit together in time?

Mystery Novel Dissection:

The novel starts out with an excellent hook, from the first line:

The girl screamed once, only the once.

That certainly sets the tone and grabs the reader’s attention.

From there, Rankin introduces the characters, starting with Detective John Rebus, the main character. Rebus was in the army, and trained with the Special Air Service (SAS) before becoming a police officer. He also suffers from flashbacks to memories that he has repressed, in many ways making him like Detective Rob Ryan in In The Woods (previous review). In fact, I did wonder if Tana French was influenced by Rankin’s writing.

John’s younger brother Michael is a hypnotist who uses his talents for entertainment purposes. At first it looks like Michael is a side character, but later we learn he is a form of Chekhov’s gun. His ability to hypnotize others helps solve the crime.

Jack Morton is another detective and John’s friend. In one of those funny things that happen when writing, Jack Morton on page 37:

…was thirty-five, six years younger than Rebus.

On page 38,

Morton had been a policeman for two decades…

Doing the math, Jack Morton had become a police officer at a very young 15 years old! Oops… Perhaps “nearly” two decades?

Rather than portrayed as a superhero who does it all, John Rebus gets a lot of help from others along the way, including from a female public information officer (love interest)  who figures out the significance of the anonymous notes. In fact, the help from other people goes a little too far at times, making Rebus seem the passive recipient of information rather than an active investigator. It does make him seem believable and human, though.

In the end, author Rankin makes good use of the “ticking clock” to build suspense towards the climax. Will Rebus be able to find the killer in time, before he kills again as he has promised?

Discussion

For what I’ve read Ian Rankin was 25 years old when he wrote  Knots and Crosses, so he did a magnificent job creating the older, grizzled character in John Rebus. It is a riveting mystery that is well-paced, with a nicely-detailed setting and believable plot. Rankin doesn’t provide a lot of red herrings or overt clues, but it builds logically to a suspenseful climax. I can’t wait to read more of the twenty-some novels featuring Inspector John Rebus.

The next mystery novel in the series is Hide and Seek: An Inspector Rebus Novel by Ian Rankin.

 

Photograph from PublicDomainPictures.net

Thriller Set In Arizona: Blood’s Echo by Isabella Maldonado

After looking at three mystery series set in Arizona last week, let’s take a look at a thriller/police procedural set in Phoenix, Blood’s Echo by Isabella Maldonado.

Blood’s Echo* by Isabella Maldonado

 

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:  The leading force behind the Phoenix Police Drug Enforcement Bureau’s campaign against a powerful drug cartel, Detective Veranda Cruz is on the brink of finally bringing in a powerful drug lord. When the operation goes wrong, however, Cruz finds herself battling her own bosses as well as the cartel. Will her secrets prevent her from getting the upper hand?

This is Isabella Maldonado’s debut novel in a planned series.  Although it has some of the rough edges one might expect in a debut novel, it also has some bright spots.

Bright Spots:

Maldonado is a retired police captain, and her experiences give the police procedure portions real depth and authenticity. Aspiring mystery authors should pick up a copy just to see how she uses police jargon and vocabulary. I found myself underlining terms, especially in the first scene or two. How the various organizations within the police departments fit together is also enlightening.

In addition to police procedural, this novel is a clear thriller. The bad guys are revealed right up front and the question isn’t who did it, but will they win. Maldonado’s plotting is tight, which isn’t always easy to do. She also spends time with her villains, showing scenes from their point of view. This makes the stakes even higher, because we can see them as fleshed-out characters with goals and motivations.

Even though it is part of a planned series (with threads set up for the next book), the ending was satisfying and clean.

Needs More Polish:

The place where the novel falls down is a common one. Even experienced authors tend to write clichés, or overused ideas and phrases in their first drafts. The trick is to find the tired old phrases and rework them to make the ideas and words fresh for the reader. For example, “stomach churning,” “eyes cutting,” and “sweat running in rivulets” are commonly-used phrases that could have been upgraded.

Conclusion

Overall, Blood’s Echo is a tightly-drawn thriller with a strong female protagonist and well-crafted setting. It was a fast and enjoyable read. I will definitely check out the next one as well.

 

The second novel in the Veranda Cruz series:

Phoenix Burning* by Isabella Maldonado

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

#BestsellerCode100: Number 59. The Next Always by Nora Roberts

Time to start the discussion of our next novel from The Bestseller Code 100 list, The Next Always by Nora Roberts

This post does not contain spoilers.

 

The Next Always by Nora Roberts

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary: Clare Brewster returns to her hometown of Boonsboro, Maryland after losing her husband. Running a bookstore and taking care of her three sons keeps her busy, but somehow she finds time to check out the renovation of a local inn, and also the architect in charge of the project, Beckett Montgomery. He is also a busy man, but not too busy for Clare.

This novel is book one of the Inn Boonsboro Trilogy.

 

Have you read The Next Always by Nora Roberts? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

You can also join us on social media:

Do you have suggestions for ways to improve this reading challenge? We’d love to hear them.

Have you written about The Next Always by Nora Roberts? Feel free to add a link to your review in the comments.
__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 58.  Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good (2014) by Jan Karon  – Discussion begins June 11, 2018

#BookBeginnings The Next Always by Nora Roberts

Today we’re starting the next book in The Bestseller Code 100 challenge, The Next Always by Nora Roberts for Book Beginnings on Fridays.

Book Beginnings is a fun meme hosted by Rose City Reader blog. To participate, share the first sentence or so of a novel you are reading and your thoughts about it. When you are finished, add your URL to the Book Beginnings page linked above. Hope to see you there!

 

book-beginnings-button-hurwitz

The Next Always by Nora Roberts

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:  Clare Brewster returns to her hometown of Boonsboro, Maryland after losing her husband. Running a bookstore and taking care of her three sons keeps her busy, but somehow she finds time to check out the renovation of a local inn, and also the architect in charge of the project, Beckett Montgomery. He is also a busy man, but not too busy for Clare.

This novel is book one of the Inn Boonsboro Trilogy.

Curious, I looked up Boonsboro, Maryland. Turns out not only is it a real place, but also there’s an actual Inn Boonsboro owned by Nora Roberts and her husband.  Wow!

First Sentence:

The stone walls stood as they had for more than two centuries, simple, sturdy, and strong.

Discussion:

When I was writing the summary, I kept thinking the plot sounded very familiar. The book came out in 2011. Nora Roberts is a prolific author, so perhaps I picked it up at an airport or read it while on vacation. It will be interesting to see if it turns out to be what I remember.

One reason I started this blog was so I’d have a better record of the books I’ve read. Perhaps I should have started sooner.

Have you read The Next Always? Have you ever picked up a book and realized you’d read at least part of it before?

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