Elizabeth: Author Squee – Judith Flanders

When my son was little we had a rule when trying new foods:  you can’t say you don’t like it until you’ve tried it three times.  That meant a number of foods that were disliked right off the bat because they were “different”, actually wound up getting a, “hey, not bad, I like it”, by the third try (mushrooms, I’m looking at you!).

While I don’t have a 3-time rule for reading, I have found that sometimes it pays to give a new book or author a second (or third) try before writing them off.

A case in point would be Dogs and Goddesses by Jennifer Crusie Lani Diane Rich, and Anne Stuart.  The first time I read it, I didn’t like it at all and may have envisioned dropping it in the wood-chipper.  In hindsight, it wasn’t that the book was bad rather that it differed from what I had been expecting.  When I read it again (for school) sometime later, I really enjoyed it, because I knew what to expect.  If I hadn’t given the book a second chance, I would have missed a good story (thank goodness it didn’t wind up in the wood-chipper).

Fast forward to a few months ago I when was browsing the mystery section at a local independent bookstore looking for something to buy (I love Amazon, but try to do my part to keep independent bookstores in business too).  I had just finished binging on Georgette Heyer’s mystery titles and was in the mood for something vaguely similar.  The cover of Judith Flanders’ A Murder of Magpies caught my eye and, when I saw that it was set in London and featured a smart, funny heroine and a Scotland Yard detective, I was ready to give it a try.

Well, not ready right that minute.  Honesty compels me to admit that the book may have languished on my TBR pile for a period of time after purchase.

Coincidentally, it turned out I already had two books by Flanders on my shelf at home, though I think I could be excused for not realizing that straight away.  She is a journalist and acclaimed social historian, and the two books I have are reference books on the Victorian period, acquired when I was studying Victorian literature and detective fiction at Oxford.

Eventually A Murder of Magpies, which is the first in a series, made it to the top of my TBR pile and I gave it a read and . . . it was okay.

I wasn’t completely sure how I felt about the book but, my local library had the third and fourth in the series, so I decided to give them a try.  I was still kind of on-the-fence, but then, curiosity about what I missed by skipping book two (A Bed of Scorpions) drove me to head over to Amazon and click “buy”.

I”m so glad I did.

I’ve read the series of four books twice now (in a short space of time) and they’ve definitely earned a place on my keeper-shelf.

I think part of my slow-to-warm response was because of the “different” factor.  The books are mysteries.  Not romances.  Not mysteries with romantic elements.  Mysteries.  The books I had been reading previously all included a heavy helping of romance and I think I was instinctively looking for that in these books, though nothing in their back cover blurbs or descriptions should have led me to think that.

The series features Sam (Samantha Clair), a forty-something editor at a London publishing house, who finds herself involved in some criminal investigations alongside Jake Field, a Scotland Yard detective.  Fortunately, unlike some of the cozy-mystery heroines I’ve read in the past, Sam is not stupidly involved in the crimes in a way no sane person would be.  What she is, is very clever and very persistent.   The crime portion of the stories is fun, as is the glimpse into the publishing world.

Flanders’ writing is smart, witty, and funny.  Her characters don’t take themselves too seriously, the plots are intricate (but not unbelievably so), and the stories are sprinkled with interesting tidbits of information and a dash of social commentary.  Although the books are written in first person point of view – not my favorite, because it can read like a lot like I, I, I – I didn’t even notice after a while, possibly because what was going on in Sam’s head (the POV character), was so entertaining.

Sam and Jake who, as expected, get together partway through the first book, are good foils for each other.  This quote is from early in their relationship:

I sat staring at the table.  What I wasn’t sure I could live with was that Jake was a reasonable man, with thoughtful, measured responses, and that I would lose most of our arguments.  Wild exaggeration and sarcasm, my weapons of choice, weren’t going to be much use.

Sarcasm is my weapon of choice too, so I could definitely relate to how Sam was feeling at that point, though being in a relationship with an observant partner has its advantages, like when she came home drunk from a publishing party:

Jake was already home when I got in the evening before.  Being a police detective gave him superskills, and he only looked at me for a moment before he opened the fridge.

‘Pasta,’ he said.  ‘It’ll soak up some of the alcohol.’

I starred at him severely.  ‘Have you been drinking?’

‘No, sweetheart, I haven’t.  You have.’

True.  ‘But I don’t need to soak it up.  I ate at the party.’

‘Crisps are not food.’

They weren’t?  I’d have to revise my whole food pyramid.  As would the rest of my profession.

The books are full of characters that I could see being neighbors or friends with (excluding the criminals, of course) and there is a great feeling of community.  I’m glad I didn’t give up on the series in the beginning and I hope there won’t be a long wait for the next book.

So, have you read any books or authors that it took you a little while to warm up to?

11 thoughts on “Elizabeth: Author Squee – Judith Flanders

  1. Books it took me a while to warm up to–I’m still working on some. Jilly loves Ilona Andrews books, and the Kate Daniels series in particular. i read the first one and liked it but felt no particular pull to read the next. About a month ago I bought it and finally started reading it this week–and wound up staying up much too late because of it.

    So that’s a yes.

    I love Sam’s interior monologue–I’ll have to look for the series!

    • Jeanne – sounds like one more thing we have in common :-).

      Glad you liked Sam’s interior monologue. There is a lot of that in the books and the ones relating to the publishing industry are particularly amusing.

  2. I tend to use the same try-it-a-few-times rule, although generally only when the person making the recommendation has some credibility points in the bank. The opposite happens more often, where a person makes a couple of rave recommendations that I truly despise (“Seveneves”, I’m looking at you), which causes me to skip their future recommendations.

    Outlander was a case where I had tried the series once before and not enjoyed it, then tried it again many years later and loved it.

    • Louise Penny falls into the “person making the recommendation has some credibility” area. I’ve read two of hers and am still on the fence. Perhaps the third, once it is available in the library (I’m #35 in line) will tip the scales in the positive direction.

      Generally, there are very few people whose recommendations typically work for me, especially when they’re for “Everybody loved xxx” books. I don’t know if I just have very particular tastes or the fact that “everybody loved” a particular book makes me inclined to dislike it.

  3. My problem is that if I try something (a book, an author) and don’t like it, I tend to move on, because too many books, too many authors. What I see in myself is more of the reverse: something that I liked a while back, but when I try to reread it, it no longer works for me.

    Case in point: back in the last century, I found a sale of books published by Virago Press and bought them all. I think Virago still exists, but I don’t know if they still have the same publishing mission. At the time, they published only reprints of “forgotten” female authors, women who’d sold well in their time but had fallen out of sight. I read all those Virago Press books, liked them, and kept them. They often were challenging or somewhat dated, but I thought they were all well-written and had a lot to say about the time in which they were written, carried through to the present day.

    So last week, looking for something to read that would take me out of my funk, I pulled out a Virago Press edition of “The Sugar House” by Antonia White, which was published originally in 1952 and republished by Virago in 1979. I didn’t remember the plot about a young woman who loves an inappropriate man a lot more than he loves her, and then consequently makes a… complicated marriage to a second man. The plot was really man-centric for my general taste (it would never pass the Bechdel test), but I loved the first page, in which the heroine was described as having a relationship in which her main duty was to comfort, support, and amuse the inappropriate first guy. This resonated with me, so I read on. And then 75 pages later I put it into the bag to go to the resale shop. No. Just no. Way too dated now. It made me impatient. It felt like it was written in the Dark Ages, not 1952, which certainly was the Dark Ages in a lot of ways, but I didn’t think relation-wise it was that long ago. But yes. Yes, it was.

    I know a book I should try again. Jilly gave it to me, and it’s a mystery that takes place in space, or another galaxy. I couldn’t finish it at the time, but I might be ready now. I’m looking to reprise my space opera for my next project, and I think it would be good to see some other viewpoints. Also, 3rd Rock from the Sun is on in reruns these days, that’s another good one. 🙂

    Also, these Judith Flanders mysteries sound like they might be fun. I’m going to check them out.

    • Kay – I have had that very problem of going back to a book I really enjoyed and finding that either it hadn’t aged well or I had outgrown it. I have some favorites that I just won’t re-read, just for that reason.

  4. I normally read books with at least some romance in the mix, but I really like the sound of Judith Flanders, Elizabeth. Thanks!

    What Kay Said about books I used to like that no longer do it for me. Earlier this year I re-read a couple of authors I’d loved, and couldn’t see what I’d liked in them. The characters were cardboard cut-outs, the hero was an alpha jerk, and the heroine was emotional, impulsive, reactive and altogether TSTL. The setting and the heroine’s community were so saccharine they made me want to clean my teeth. I had about a dozen books by the same author, so that was a win for the charity shop and made a little space on my bookshelves 😉

    My candidate for second (or third) chance author would be Dorothy Dunnett. Years ago, in the dark days before e-books, a friend whose taste I trust recommended the Lymond Chronicles. I read the first book, A Game of Kings, enjoyed it, but did not feel inspired to read on. A while later I had a long haul business trip and couldn’t find anything at the airport I fancied, but I did see books 2 and 3 in the series. I bought them both, because you can’t risk running out of reading matter, right? I read them, then binge-read the remaining three. The fifth book I read on a flight to NY; it has some powerfully moving bits, and I sobbed for about three hours solid, while the person sitting in the next seat edged further and further away. The books aren’t perfect but I daren’t re-read them unless I have a week to spare, as I can’t dip into them. If I start, I have to read all the way to the end.

    • I did that once on an airplane—sobbed through the whole flight reading a book. If planes weren’t always to capacity now, I’m sure the people in my row would have asked to switch seats. Can I remember what book it was? No. All I remember is my sympathy for the people I was sitting next to.

  5. We bring our baggage with us when we read. Sometimes it’s only day-baggage. When I first started the Ilona Andrews books, I had just read some really awful girl-with-sword fantasy, and the “poor me, getting drunk on the porch with hard lemonade” beginning just seemed like more of the “woe is me, my pathetic situation should be enough to keep your reading” genre. Fortunately, a couple of years later I was in a better place when I picked the book up for a second try, and got past that first sentence to find a wonderful series (I binged half, then stopped to give myself an emotional break, and never started up again).

    Sometimes, we take on baggage that makes us understand the world better. The first time I saw Renee Zellweger’s *Down With Love*, I hated it and thought it was a huge mess. Then, I took on some different books and media, which included a few Doris Day movies and a little more appreciation for fashion. The second time I watched it (I think it was for The Popcorn Dialogues), I loved it!

    And sometimes, that baggage we take on permanently makes us look at a loved book from a different standpoint that turns our heroes into jerks and our heroines into saps. I loved the Xanth series when I was a kid, but re-reading even the first three books in my thirties, I had a very different experience.

  6. Pingback: Elizabeth: Publishing Parties, Guinness, and Cake – Eight Ladies Writing

  7. Pingback: Elizabeth: Publishing Parties, Guinness, and Cake – Eight Ladies Writing

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