Tag Archives: Carol O’Connell

Stat monkeys astound me

KBIt’s January 1, 2013, and the stat monkeys at WordPress have issued my blog’s annual report.  Literary Lunchbox has grown exponentially this year, to my delight and astonishment.  The nitty-gritty details are fascinating to me, “meh” to you, so here are just a few highlights.

I’ve had over 22,000 page views in 2012.  The busiest day of the year was October 9, for no discernible reason whatsoever.  My post for that day featured Breakfast Club actress Molly Ringwald and called her book “better than expected.”

My reviews of the Harry Potter book and movies have attracted the largest number of visitors, followed by MWA Edgar nominee reviews/rankings.  Edgar smack-downs, if you will.  Posts about Laura Lippman, Christa Faust, Carol O’Connell and Libby Fischer Hellmann all generated lots of visits to my blog, as well.  (Thank you, ladies!)

How are they finding me?  Tons through Google.  Google UK, Google France, even.  Facebook and Goodreads also account for a good number of visitors, as does She Writes.  Linked In, not so much.  Pinterest is making headway, considering that I just started using it for this purpose!   I have a couple of dozen followers – people who have signed up to get my blog via RSS feed.  Some of them are even people I don’t know personally.  I’m grateful to all.

Whence came they?  Mostly from the United States, but 135 countries in total were represented, and the U.K. and Canada were pretty big.

Is the conversation two-way?  Um, not so much.  I don’t get a lot of comments, and when I do get one, it really gives me a thrill.  Even when they’re nakedly plugging own web site.  As in “Great post, Karen, you might be interested in my thoughts on a similar topic, nude sumo wrestling!  Just click here.”  Because I tend to respond positively to comments, I am my own #1 commenter.  Sad, really.

What’s ahead for 2013?  I’m giving some thought to a second blog… not that this one doesn’t suck up a lot of time and energy!  Topic?  Business, organizational behavior, marketing, consumer behavior, etc.   Still pondering, though.

So to all Literary Lunchbox visitors, thanks so much for your interest and support this year!  The community of readers is a wonderful one and I’m proud and happy to be a part of your community.  Happy 2013!

new year

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Reviews: Relatively random, recent

As always, I’ve been reading.  But due to big doings in the land of dentists, I haven’t been doing much reviewing.  So here’s an effort to get caught up, with quickie reviews of several recent reads.

The End of the Wasp Season by Denise Mina:  Mina’s a Scottish crime writer with a psychological bent.  I love her series about journalist Paddy Meehan, which are a thick stew of family ties, misguided loyalty, and criminal undertaking.  The End of the Wasp Season features Detective Inspector Alex Morrow in a twisty tale of crime and family tragedy.  You see it all coming, but are fascinated anyway.   Well worth reading.

Headhunters by Jo Nesbo:  I liked Nesbo’s Harry Hole series and reviewed Nemesis here.  Alas, I cannot say the same for Headhunters.  Meant to be darkly humorous, I found it to be an unpleasant story of a criminal who works as a highly successful executive recruiter by day and rips off his clients by night.  He’s shocked to realize that the latest executive he’s recruiting is his wife’s lover.  I bailed on the book when he’s being chased by even worse bad guys than he is, hides in an outhouse, and is shat upon by his wife’s lover.   Farvel, Jo.

A Death in Summer by Benjamin Black:  This was on Julia Keller’s top books of 2011 , and reading her write-up reminded me how much I enjoyed his previous work featuring Quirke and Hackett, Elegy for April.  Once again, the writing is keen and lovely, the characters well-drawn, and the relationships are interesting.  The only down side for me was the cliche upon which the plot turned – evil, self-centered  rich man has a charity involving small children in orphanages.  How surprising is it that perversity is at the heart of his murder?  Still, it was a quick, engrossing read.

Bone by Bone by Carol O’Connell:  I mentioned in this blog post that I chatted with a fellow reader on the el – she was reading Bone by Bone as we sat side by side, and I had The Chalk Girl in my backpack.   Upon further reflection, I realized that I had missed this standalone mystery and got it from the library.  Bone by Bone has a lot in common with    O’Connell’s series featuring Kathy Mallory, the former feral child cum detective savant:  quirky characters and a mystery rooted in the past.   Despite its somewhat convoluted plot, Bone by Bone is ultimately a more linear book than the Mallory books.  I’d give this one a middling thumbs up.

Carol O’Connell’s The Chalk Girl: fascinating entry in Mallory series

On my way home on the el tonight, I sat next to a nice woman reading Carol O’Connell’s Bone by Bone.  I know she was nice because she didn’t mind when I interrupted her to comment that I’d just read the ARC for O’Connell’s new book, The Chalk Girl.  She was happy to meet another fan and eager to hear there was another Mallory book on its way.  She’s one of the readers who like a little challenge in their reading.  Not surprisingly, she was smart, too – a professor at DePaul.

Families, good, bad, and self-made, are at the heart of the new Carol O’Connell book featuring the oddly compelling progatonist Kathy Mallory.  The eleventh book in the Mallory series, The Chalk Girl is a welcome return after her successful standalone that my el-mate was reading, Bone by Bone.  I’m an O’Connell fan, and it was with eager anticipation that I opened the Advanced Reading Copy I received in my goody bag at Murder and Mayhem in Muskego.  It did not disappoint.  The Chalk Girl‘s pub date is January 17, but you can preorder now.  I recommend you do so.

The book opens with a bang, when a Manhattan private school outing to Central Park is over-run by rats, thanks to a over-zealous exterminator.  In the chaos thus created, the NYPD deals with the natural-but-gory death of the schoolteacher while Mrs. Ortega, housecleaner of Mallory series regular Charles Butler, notices a pervy guy stalking a small, grubby girl with bright red curly hair.  She deals with him and sets the police searching for the girl.  Finding her, they also discover  an almost-dead body hanging, cocoon-like, from a tree in the Ramble.

Who is the man in the tree?  What is his relationship to Coco, the little girl?  The story gets more complex with each page, with the discovery of more victims, intimations of past crimes and childhood cruelty that reverberate into the present.   Who is the man they call the Hanging Artist?  Only Coco saw him.

It’s a compelling read and although it helps to have read previous Mallory books, it’s not required.  (Feel free to spend the next six weeks reading O’Connell’s backlist, though!  Your local librarian would love to see more of you.)

Adopted as a child by police detective Louis Markowitz and his wife, Helen, Kathy was a feral child who grew up to be a fiercely intelligent sociopath who channels her energy into solving crimes while keeping the world – especially those who would love her – at bay.   Returning in The Chalk Girl are her deceased dad’s poker buddies, Lt. Riker, and the heartbreakingly lovable giant of a savant, Charles Butler.

The little homeless girl, subsequently found to have been kidnapped by “Uncle Red,” one of the Hanging Artist’s victims, is a compelling character.  O’Connell has given Coco Williams’ Syndrome, a genetic abnormality that causes short stature, unusual facial features, and an overly friendly, boundary-less nature that puts her at risk.  Williams’ Syndrome individuals have a strong affinity for music, and Coco’s musical insight helps Mallory solve one of the intertwined mysteries in The Chalk Girl.

She fastens onto Mallory as a baby duck imprints on Mama duck.  Mallory uses the girl’s affection, hard-heartedly playing the girl to get the information she needs to solve the mystery and subverting  Charles’ efforts to protect her.  Or does she?  Coco is convinced that Mallory loves her.  And we begin to wonder, as well.  Other compelling characters include:

  • the Bledsoe family – thank your lucky stars you were not raised in their home!
  • ex-musician/ex-con/sad guy Toby Wilder – did he commit the crime he did the time for?
  • socialite/head case Wilhelmina Fallon – picture a sadistic Paris Hilton
  • Annie Mann – agoraphobe, detective’s wife, why does no one know she exists?
  • Ernest Nadler – perpetually 13, hands in his pockets, and always by Phoebe Bledsoe’s side.  He speaks but she never answers.

O’Connell is a master of pacing, spinning the story web out, drawing it back, weaving the strands in a way that both advances the plot and reveals the characters.  It’s a compliment to her that after 11 books, the reader has not tired of the Mallory enigma.   How is it that a woman who never shows love is loved by so many?  Is she even capable of love?

The key is that the books are not all about Mallory.  We don’t know Mallory’s thoughts, and the reader often discover what she’s done long after the fact, when it comes to the attention of another character.  Writing in third person, O’Connell reveals the mysterious Mallory through her actions and how others see her, while giving us plenty of other interesting characters and a twisty, complex plot to unravel.

Like cozies?  You probably won’t like this book.  Like police procedurals?  You’ll be drawn in to this book.  Like flawed protagonists?  You’ll love this book.