Callahan’s Gold by Mary Tate Engles
Tory Talbot never knew her father, Sharkey Carsen. Needless to say, she’s surprised when she receives a letter requesting she show up in Tombstone, Arizona for the reading of his will.
Tory Talbot took a step back in time to dusty old Tombstone to claim her rightful inheritance. She was her own L.A. woman, not ‘Sharkey’s Little Girl,’ who he left behind. Trekking in the rugged Dragoon Mountains looking for gold wasn’t her idea of a trip of a lifetime. But it turned out that way. Did the yellowed treasure map lead to fool’s gold? Or the motherlode?
Along the way, she fell in love with Dodge Callahan, a man too much like the father she hated. He was after gold, like the rest of them. But who was after them? Was their heated liaison as rocky as the mountain terrain and doomed to tumble with the first rain? Most importantly, did Sharkey die naturally – or was he murdered?
In the course of the search, lives changed or were lost for a few gold nuggets. Tory doubted everyone and everything, even love, until she realized happiness was about making the right choices, not getting what you deserve.
Unfortunately, this was one of those books that I remembered very little about a week after I finished it. It was a pleasant enough read, and since it’s a romance, there was never any doubt about how it would end, but it never grabbed me. I’m not driven to read another book by this author, even though there is one sitting on my Kindle ready to read.
The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal
I enjoyed this alternate history of the beginnings of the space program, although there were some things that bothered me.
Primarily, these had to do with, on the one hand, a conscious effort to use characters of varying ethnic backgrounds, while providing a constant reminder that society was prejudiced against not only women but people of color. I think the author got tangled up in diversity.
The main character, Elma, is both southern and Jewish. While her Judaism fit naturally into the story, the author seemed to periodically remember the southern part and remind the reader by using phrases like “Bless her heart” and “My mother would be proud” over and over.
I’d contrast this with how Heinlein, who was considered a right-wing bigot by many, more naturally wrote characters like Juan “Johnny” Rico in “Starship Troopers” and “Podkayne of Mars”, a young girl with dreams of being a starship pilot. I never felt hit over the head with diversity in his books. Then again, the times were different in the 1950s.
I enjoyed this enough to want to read the sequel, but it may be a while because of the price of the ebook. “The Calculating Stars” was available in ebook form from my library, but the sequel is not.
Hollywood Homicide by Kellye Garrett
Amateur Sleuth Mystery
This book won every best first mystery novel award given out in the US in 2018, so it was a natural choice for the first book to read for the Mostly Mystery Book Club a few of us started this year.
And since it was for the book club, I did finish it. I have a feeling I might have abandoned it for something more to my taste long before it ended otherwise.
I had a lot of trouble identifying with the main character, Dayna Anderson. It wasn’t that Dayna is black. The problem for me was she’s young, superficial, and never seems to take a practical course toward solving her problem, i.e., her lack of money due to losing her job as the star in commercials for a fast food chain. She’s a wannabe actress (retired) who doesn’t seem to have a goal in life. In the beginning, we see her applying for a job as a barista, which of course she doesn’t get. That’s about the total of her job search.
When her parents are faced with foreclosure on their house, her solution is to try to collect the reward for information leading to the arrest of the killer. This is what starts her on her amateur sleuthing career.
Meanwhile, she accompanies the friend who’s letting her stay in her “bloset,” a small bedroom turned into a shoe closet, on a series of shopping trips. The girls gush over all the expensive designer names, the friend buying a ton of stuff while Dayna just wishes she could buy the clothes and shoes. These scenes are totally lost on a person whose primary shoe brand is New Balance and who orders jeans and cheap shirts online. That would be me.
Then there’s the humor. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that my sense of humor is not that of most people, particularly those of the younger generation. But stupid does not equal funny. About a quarter of the way into the book, Dayna comes up with her first suspect. She doesn’t remember the number for the tip line, so she calls the regular police number. The guy on the other end gives her a hard time and insists that she call the tip line if she wants the reward. She finally gets the number and calls the tip line—only to have the same guy answer the phone. I can see where that’s supposed to be funny, but to me, it’s just stupid.
The fact that she has no idea that the authorities aren’t going to just write her a check is naive beyond belief. Those rewards are always phrased as “information leading to the arrest and conviction.” It’s clear a trial has to take place and the suspect has to be convicted. Knowing that in our court system, it can be months, if not years before a case comes to trial, it’s obvious to anyone with half a brain that she’s never going to collect a reward in time to save her parents’ house from foreclosure, which destroys the primary motivation for her investigating the murder in the first place.
It seems to me that fiction has become too self-conscious over the past couple of years. I think it’s true that authors of color have been discriminated against by traditional publishers. If they were published at all, their books were shunted into a special imprint where only black writers writing about black characters appeared. On the other hand, Kristine Kathryn Rusch has written about how hard it was to sell her Smokey Dalton mystery series featuring a black main character written by a white woman.
In response, professional writers groups have emphasized the need for diversity, encouraging people of color to join them and creating special opportunities (Sisters in Crime has a separate grant for writers of color) for them. We’ve seen white writers both encouraged to include diverse characters in their novels and chastised for “cultural appropriation” when they do.
Two of the three novels I read this month suffered because of trying too hard to adapt to the changing climate. I can only hope that this trend will smooth itself out as both writers and publishers get more practiced at their jobs.