Book in a Minute: The Burning Girls

The Burning Girls by C.J. Tudor

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was annoyed and skeptical when I read a blurb about The Burning Girls by CJ Tudor. Middle-aged lady priest and precocious teen daughter are sent to the hinterlands of the UK where they encounter supernatural phenomena. As a devoted fan of Phil Rickman’s Merrily Watkins series, I was mightily offended on his behalf. While building your story around characters similar to another author’s is most definitely NOT plagiarism, it did feel a little, I don’t know—thievish, maybe?

And the first third of the book seemed to bear out my preconception that Tudor had decided to lift Merrily out of Rickman’s rich pagan-Celtic landscape of Welsh borderlands and instead plunk her down in a more anonymous, action-packed generically rural setting.

But at some point, Tudor’s lady priest, Jack Brooks, begins to diverge sharply from any resemblance to Merrily Watkins. The first hint comes when she gives a teenage girl the finger on relatively slim provocation. By the end of the book, there is absolutely NO mistaking Jack for a carbon copy of the more contemplative, gentle, angst-ridden Merrily Watkins. Ultimately, whatever inspired CJ Tudor to create this character, she definitely took it in a different direction from Rickman beloved Deliverance Minister.

As to the actual story of The Burning Girls: it’s a fast read with a lot of action. There are two big twists near the end—one I saw well off because ample clues were planted along the way. The other felt a little over the top but certainly helped propel the plot forward and tie all the disparate storylines together.

The marketing materials I’d read talked up the supernatural angle, but truthfully there is very little supernatural going on, and what’s there is more window dressing than central to the plot.

As other reviewers have pointed out, there’s a distressingly high percentage of bad stereotypes in the secondary characters, but if there’s a second book about Jack, I’d be willing to check it out.

If you enjoy this book, but want something that really does offer more of a supernatural element, along with a fantastically evocative setting, do check out Phil Rickman’s Merrily Watkins series.

Burning Girls Trigger warnings: child abuse, rape, mental illness, suicide.

Burning Girls Generally annoying warnings: Yet another British murder mystery where all the gay characters are deceitful , dangerous, mentally ill, or all of the above. (What is up with this?! I’ve seen this in the last 3-4 British novels I’ve read!) The only characters of color are minor but magnificently negative stereotypes. Persons with disabilities (both mental and physical) don’t come off too well either.

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Greetings from the end of the world!

Okay, maybe things aren’t quite that bad. But there are certainly days when it feels that way.

So it turns out it’s been nearly a year since I posted an update or review here, and there’s a simple reason for that: I got bored. The truth is, my blog has never exactly caught fire, you know? I’m no Bloggess, after all. And I’ve decided that’s okay. For a long time, it wasn’t okay, but as I approach nearly 60 winters on this planet (if I’m lucky!) a lot of detritus has begun to fall away. Like competitiveness and jealousy. Unfortunately (or fortunately), this blog is also one of the things falling away.

I started the blog to promote my fiction and freelance writing, and since I’m no longer doing much writing for public consumption, a lot of the motivation is gone. Publishing two novels was a disillusioning experience, to put it mildly. Writing fiction for a very small publisher is even less lucrative than it is for the big pubs. And even freelance journalism is a hard gig these days, at least as far as income generating work goes. So I moved sideways into working in libraries. There’s a lot that’s good in libraries, but much of what makes them good is also what makes them a germaphobe’s nightmare. There will be a lot more to worry about in libraries in the post-COVID world when it finally gets here (and despite what all you fools frolicking on beaches without masks think, we’re a long way from POST-COVID). I, for one, do not envision myself trying to sanitize books (assuming any libraries will even have the budget to do something like that). Nor do I want to be the library associate who hears a customer utter those words I so often heard in the pre-COVID world: “She was too sick to go in to school, so I brought her to the library!”

My other recent gig has been acting as communications coordinator for a small defense contractor. Since most of our business involved traveling great distances to facilitate meetings and present workshops on information too sensitive to be shared via conference platforms like zoom, that biz is a lot less active now too.

So what to do next?

I’ve thought frequently about writing a new book, and that may yet happen. But in two months of semi-quarantine, it has yet to make it to the top of my things to do list. So don’t hold your breath waiting for that next chick lit suspense novel from me.

What have I been doing instead of writing? Here are a few things that have been keeping me busy. Maybe you’ll want to check some of them out.

  • READING. In the beginning of this semi-apocalypse, I truly could not concentrate well enough to read anything. It’s still a bit of a struggle. I found that revisiting some old favorite books was a great solution to Quarantine Brain. Short stories have also been a great option, since they don’t require sustained concentration. Two wildly different old faves I reread were: The Crystal Cave, the first in Mary Stewart’s absolutely stupendous retelling of the legend of King Arthur, from Merlin’s POV; and Bright Lights, Big City, Jay McInerney’s masterful example of second-person narration, ending with one of the two* best last lines in all of fiction: You will have to go slowly. You will have to learn everything all over again.
  • WATCHING YOUTUBE. But not just any YouTube. There are so many good free things on YouTube, especially right now. You can watch all the great theatre companies of the world for FREE! Take your pick from Shakespeare’s Globe, the National Theatre of Great Britain, or Canada’s Stratford Festival. You can watch The Solitary Rambler, an adorkable salt-of-the-earth British guy who takes you on tours through small towns and scenic rural bits of Great Britain. All free. Oh, and there are great workout videos there too!
  • PAINTING! Yeah, no one is more surprised than me that this made it onto the list. Blame Jim Parsons. I follow him on Instagram, and he casually mentioned he was keeping busy by doing an online drawing class via zoom. Two months and four courses** later and I’m actually producing stuff like this:

* The other great last line in literature is this, of course.

**If you too need a new hobby that makes a tremendous mess and gives you an excuse to spend money on a whole new category of stuff and say things like, “I think I need gesso for this,” visit The Art Studio NY. They have wonderful teachers who are doing an amazing job of teaching art from a distance.

So that’s all the news from my tiny corner of the universe. I hope those of you still sticking around to read these very occasional posts are all  keeping safe and healthy, and I hope we will all still be here on this messed up, wonderful, infuriating planet a year from now, when I might get around to updating again.

These days, everyone is saying “Stay safe, stay healthy,” but I prefer the Vulcan version of this. Live long and prosper, everyone.

Book in a Minute: I Have Sinned

ihavesinnedmcdonnellI Have Sinned by Caimh McDonnell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Caimh McDonnell is back with another tale of the legendary Bunny McGarry in I Have Sinned. The brawling Irishman made his first appearance in A Man With One of Those Faces, the first book in McDonnell’s Dublin crime trilogy. Bunny’s a temperamental, hard-drinking cop who should definitely be played by Brendan Gleeson in the film. Bunny masquerades as a hard-hearted cynic, but in Dublin, he made time to coach a kiddie football team, so we know his heart can’t be too hard. On the other hand, Bunny has been known to disarm criminals using only a pot of hot coffee, a fork, and his sparkling Irish wit. So we know he’s both genuinely a tough guy and also hilariously entertaining.

In the course of the Dublin series, we learned that Bunny had and lost one great love, an American jazz singer named Simone. For reasons that would give too much away, I can’t tell you how the two lovebirds parted–but part they did, and Bunny’s been carrying a torch for her ever since. When he learns that Simone is in grave danger, he makes his way to New York City to find her, warn her, and (probably) win back her heart.

Bunny arrived in NYC in the first book in the Bunny McGarry Stateside Series, Disaster Inc. , and although he found some new friends, he did not find Simone. Hence the need for Book Two.

Even though Bunny doesn’t disarm anyone using coffee and a fork in I Have Sinned, it’s still a grand rollicking adventure. Bunny’s new American friends, the chronically underemployed actors Smithy and Diller, are on hand to aid Bunny in his quest to find Simone. Attempting to stop Bunny is an order of reclusive nuns known as The Sisters of the Saint, who have been guarding Simone ever since she left Dublin. These are some fantastic kick-ass nuns, with drone technology the U.S. Army only wishes it had. In fact, if nuns had been this kick-ass when I was in Catholic school, I probably would have joined up.

In any event, Bunny and his friends eventually catch up to the Sisters of the Saint, only to be tasked with helping the Sisters protect a do-gooder priest with a mysterious past. Will Bunny succeed in the mission the Sisters have assigned to him? Will they reward him by revealing Simone’s location? And will Sister Zoya share her brilliant drone technology with the military or just sell it to Google Earth for an exorbitant amount of money?

The answers to most of these questions and a few you haven’t even thought of will be found within the highly entertaining pages of I Have Sinned. It’s a great read, but you’d do well to start with Disaster Inc., the first in the Bunny McGarry Stateside series. You might even want to go all the way back to the very beginning and check out A Man With One of Those Faces.

A good read-alike for fans of Mick Herron’s Slow Horses Series or Elmore Leonard’s Get Shorty.

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