Friday, May 23, 2014

Gods and Grafton St.--Marianna Roberg's "Toasted"

So, I had so much fun with "What Is Hidden" that I signed up for another blog tour.  That will be hosted on Monday, when I've returned from my long weekend in San Francisco, and it's about "Southern Haunts 2."

Meanwhile, I was talking to Ms. Roberg about the publicity that can be gained from a blog tour.  I said that, even though she's self-publishing, she should let people rave about her book for fun and do a blog tour for the second book in her series.  She decided to pass on that idea, but she did say she would let me to a little raving on my blog.

I talked in my last review about having known the story since the edited-manuscript pages.  My fandom of the Broom Closet Mysteries is a little more involved than that.  Yes, I got the final draft in my inbox a few weeks ago, but I've heard her read excerpts from the series out of a little notebook while we were waiting for our food to come at some restaurant where we went after I got off of work.  I've read earlier versions, not completely, but enough to know mostly what's going on.  I contributed ideas for names of an annoying character when asked.  The acknowledgements in my draft thank the Irish gardai in one paragraph and me in the next and that just makes me happy.

Most importantly for me, though, I provided the excuse for the research trip.  This book is set in Dublin and I'm the person who whined one night that I'd buy a ticket to Ireland if I had someone to go with me.  A few months later, we were off on our week-long trip to Dublin.  I went because I just love Irish things.  She went for the same reason, but also so she could get some home-court perspective.  This makes it slightly awkward for me when half the funny things in the book are memories from our trip, with me replaced by a guy who likes to swing an ancient sword around while standing shirtless in the back yard.  Try replacing the guy eating in Christchurch Cathedral's crypt cafe with a mousy, freckly Bostonian and you'll understand why it's sometimes weird.  But it would be horribly out of character for Peyton Reynolds (the protagonist) to go anywhere interesting without the beefier Irish version of Ian Somerhalder.  Frankly, I might be like that if I had an Irish Ian Somerhalder to myself.  But that's why the book is about Peyton and Milo and their adventures in Dublin, not Peyton and her very quirky best friend Meagan running around in search of claddagh rings.

There are a lot of things that I enjoy about this book.  I do have a habit of reading books where I know the setting.  I recently re-read Elizabeth Kostova's "The Historian" because I've now been to Istanbul.  I read a lot of British chick lit because I have been to London several times.  When talking about the third book in Marianna's series, she said she could write Boston without needing to go on a vacation there, whereupon I said that I'd spend the entire time forgetting about the murderer and correcting her Boston.

Having been to Ireland, what do I think of the setting in this book?  I'm glad you asked.  It takes a lot to impress me with a portrayal of a real place.  There's another book series set in Dublin that I've read and I have to laugh at one chase scene because she goes into great detail about the main character taking refuge in this one church in the capitol.  Anyone who's been to Dublin should be able to pick out which one she means.  Except if you've actually been past the front doors, you find a shopping center, not a church.  Before doing proper research on Philadelphia, I put my blonde protagonist for "The Deserter" in a western part of the city, where she would be surrounded by African-Americans.  I've also had issues with people who write stock character types that everyone's heard of, not bothering to write British characters who don't sound like Donna Noble or Australians who don't sound like Sandy in Grease or, worst of all, people who write Bostonians with a generic PahkthecahinhahvahdyahdBostonRedSoxMasshole personality.  (This is an excerpt from my rant entitled "YOU CAN'T UNDERSTAND A CULTURE BASED ON TUMBLR AND UPWORTHY!")

There are plenty of Irish characters in the book, whether Milo, the person who moved from Dublin to be the token druid in Provo, UT, or DI Byrne, the garda who handles the murder case (and threatens to interrogate a sheep).  We get to see an authentic Galway girl (yes, her hair is black and her eyes are blue), businessmen, barmen, bridesmaids...  And none of them feel like stock characters.  These are not people who I expect to see in a Dublin-based story because every Dublin-based story has to have them.  They are like the Homies action figures that I collected as a missionary for their resemblance to real cholos in the San Fernando Valley.  They're familiar faces.  And some are admittedly based on real people, like the nice guy in the heraldry gift shop or the idiot doing the Ghost Bus Tour or the person soliciting money to help families of alcoholics.

So, enough about the general characters.  Let's talk about Peyton and Milo.

Peyton reminds me of Hermione Granger.  No, not in the run-off-to-the-library know-it-all sense.  I remember being utterly exasperated by Hermione for a while before I realized how much her pesky habits are the other characters' saving graces.  I liked "Pasted," but liked the redheaded best friend better than the main character because I'm weird that way.  The main character had a fondness for making pop culture references that will someday go right over the heads of everyone who picks up this book on Kindle 973rd Edition and I can get that any time I sit down with friends, but tolerate it less in a murder mystery.  In this book, Peyton has equal amounts of sass and a much more developed sense of adult responsibility--the author attributes it to a bit of a life-changing event in book 1 and that makes sense.  She has a broader range of character shifts, whether helping someone cope with a death of a loved one or acting as a medium or being the designated driver at a hen's night.

Milo consistently seems even now to be there as the Irish guy of everyone's dreams, who has a hot accent, rippling muscles, cool tattoos, Gaelic terms of endearment and money to spend on the love of his life.  And then he chews out deities, worries constantly about doing the right thing for his sister and is man enough to stand up to one of his oldest friends.  While Peyton's character development made me think, "Yes, yes, I like you more than I did before," Milo's just made me sit up and announce, "Go on.  I'm listening."

Wait, wait, I intended to write about something other than characters.  Oh, right!  There's a plot!  The murder has twists.  The villain is not necessarily the murderer and the murderer is not necessarily a villain.  At the end of the book, with the resolution written out, I wanted to wave my arms in the air and ask when we were going to see the actual bad guy again.  That doesn't usually happen to me.

I'd post a link where you can buy this, but it just so happens that it's been delayed by formatting issues.  I'll do a follow-up on that when the situation changes.  In the meantime, maybe you should catch up with the first book in the series, "Pasted."

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