Thursday, December 27, 2007

Holiday Bash

Last Thursday evening was the joint Mainly Mysteries/Chili Pepper Readers Book Club Bash, writes Jeannine. Even though I was off that week, I still planned to be at the meeting, but was sidelined with a migraine. Trust me, you do not want me at a party with a migraine; you might as well spike the punch with motor oil – ew! So instead I have the official report from “the third string quarterback” (her words not mine). She doesn’t mention if she used the bell though – I wonder what other important details she left out….

So here is the mistranslation of her notes with (my) unsolicited commentary. Any mistakes are hers, and all profound points and humorous remarks are, naturally, mine. And Happy Holidays to all.

Sixteen readers from both book clubs met to discuss their old holiday favorites and share new “adventures in reading.” There was a variety of cookies and some hot dishes, including a delicious homemade soup. My, er, her favorite was the deviled eggs. Crunchy stuffed celery and apple salad rounded out the food groups. The decorations were, um, food. Who needs pretty pretties when you can eat the decorations? And decorations seldom smell this good.

On to the books (munching all the way)! Our first member tried several holiday romances, but they “just didn’t thrill her.” Then she found a mystery her father had left at her house called Beacon Street Mourning (2007), a Fremont Jones title by Dianne Day. She enjoyed the character, the mystery (not gory), and the Boston setting, and intends to read others in the series.

The next reader had been in the process of moving, so didn’t have time to read, but was looking forward to all the suggestions. Then a Chili Pepper member talked about a romance called The Mommy Quest (2006) by Lori Handeland. Mommy Quest, "Book 5 in the Luchetti Brothers Series," received the 2007 Romance Writers of America award for Best Long Contemporary Romance. This is a feel-good story featuring a young boy who decides he needs a mother. How he achieves this goal makes for a very hilarious story. This book is part of a series that includes a soldier quest, a daddy quest, brother quest and husband quest as well.

Now we come to a holiday mystery by Mary Higgins Clark, All Through the Night (1998). The reader says it’s predictable, but has a nice feel-good story.

From mystery we return to another holiday themed romance, No Place Like Home by Fern Michaels. It was said to be a fun read, but not a very “likely” story (I thought that was standard for romances, but that may be why I’m not popular at Chili Pepper meetings).

Next is a Lassie story, A Child’s Christmas in Wales (1955) No, that can’t be right. Oh, classic story. A classic story, A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas. This is a wonderful traditional read for the holidays.

Then farther north there is M.C. Beaton’s A Highland Christmas (1999). Main series character Hamish Macbeth is always entertaining in the warm, village cozy mysteries. The books were turned into a BBC Scotland TV series, starring Robert Carlyle, televised between 1995 and 1997. Cozy mysteries are great around the holidays – there are still dead bodies, but you really don’t have to pay much attention to them, and the “victim” is usually mean and nasty and had it coming anyway. Merry Christmas!

No Christmas list would be complete without The Gift of the Magi (1906) by O. Henry (pseudonym of William S. Porter), and several readers brought it to the table. Others suggested books by Richard Paul Evans, like The Christmas Box (1993) which became a 1995 TV movie with Richard Thomas and Maureen O'Hara. Then there is Nicholas Sharp. I’m sure these notes should read Nicholas Sparks. (But aren’t Sparks’ sad? I don’t want tearjerkers for Christmas; what are you trying to do to me? I’m definitely not coming to Chili Pepper meetings).

Another M.C. Beaton (pseudonym of Marion Chesney) title was offered, Kissing Christmas Cookies Goodbye, featuring Agatha Raisin. What do you mean there’s no “cookies” in the title? With a character named Agatha Raisin? There should be cookies involved, and you know they’re disappearing. Okay, if you’re going to get fussy, it’s really Kissing Christmas Goodbye (2007). No one wants to give the plot away, but the snow machine was a great idea! That’s okay; I don’t know what that means either.

And they’re just as mum about the next one: Comfort and Joy (2005) by Kristan Hannah. It’s supposedly a romantic mystery “that has to be read to be enjoyed – no spoilers for this book.” They’re just toying with us, aren’t they?

Ah, now we get to one with an actual description – Dahlia’s Gone (2007) by Katie Estill “takes the broken pieces of a family, a town, and three different women’s lives and combines them into a beautifully told story.” That sounds quite promising.

Moving now to the guy side of the table. Here’s a cheerful holiday title – The Reckoning (1986) by David Halberstam. This is a non-fiction expose of the auto industry that our reader says has as much or even more importance today. Something tells me there will be no new car keys in anyone’s stocking this Christmas.

Well, evidently guys don’t do holidays. Our next gentleman went the science fiction route with Mendoza in Hollywood by California SciFi author Kage Baker. He’s very good at bringing visual aids. This particular title is “a time travel story with several twists, even a bit of romance in a cyborg thriller which begins in the 24th century and returns to other eras in fascinating leaps with mysterious circumstances.” Or something like that. And there is even a bit of Christmas in one of the novels, shared by Mendoza and her three lovers (one now a husband, the other two "sons," which through the joys of time travel can actually share nuptials without any of that yucky incest stuff...). Eh?

And I thought he’d pick Hell for the Holidays (2007) by Chris Grabenstein, or at least The Stupidest Angel: a Heartwarming Tale of Christmas Terror (2004) by Christopher Moore. Well, at least you Bah Humbugs know what to read now.

Bubbles Unbound (2002) by Sarah Strohmeyer, a lighthearted romantic mystery featuring Bubbles Yablonsky. Now the notes here say “a different kind of Valley Girl,” but honey, she’s a JERSEY GIRL – opposite side of the continent. “Think Barbie with ambitions, hilarious situations and unbelievable adventures.” I seem to recall a crazy older female relative as well. And a hunky police detective. Hm. Who does this sound like? That’s okay, the author admits it! Yes, it is a happy rip-off of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum. Only Bubbles goes the journalist route instead of bounty hunting (journalism = asking questions = gossip. There’s the job meant for her). But sorry, sigh, no Ranger.

Last but never least, are the selections of our fearless quarterback (did they let you ding the bell at all?). She started in October and managed to read 5 different Christmas mysteries. Drum roll please:

1. The afore-mentioned Kissing Christmas Goodbye by M.C. Beaton. Agatha Raisin is NOT the most warm and cozy English detective.

2. The Last Noel (2007) by Heather Graham is “to me a horror story involving snowstorms, power outages, family bickering and bad guys with hostages. The spirit of Christmas prevails and the bad guys get what they deserve.” I bet it was the family bickering that gave her nightmares. Listen to the NPR review here.

3. Cat Deck the Halls: a Joe Grey Mystery (2007) by Shirley Rousseau Murphy. Some people do not like cats who talk like people, but our number one quarterback happens to think Joe Grey and his kitty friends are great at sleuthing, at being cats, and helping their humans catch the bad guys (and I like them too).

4. The Christmas Beginning (2007) by Anne Perry is a big plodding at first, like her English detective, Superintendent Runcorn. But it’s not about the mystery, it’s about the detective, so why not be as plodding as the detective’s personality? A nice Christmas message makes the ending quite satisfying.

5. Candy Cane Murder (2007) by Laura Levine and Leslie Meier, edited by Joanne Fluke. This includes three cotton candy, fluffy and sweet mysteries with recipes that make your mouth water. But does not include the recipe for Snickers/Mars Bar cookies that one member brought – “come on, E-----, they were sooo good!”

Oh dang, now I’m hungry. Those virtual calories are murder.


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