DNF: The Crazy School and Hearts and Bones

Alas, I have recently had a couple of did-not-finish (DNF) books.  Let me preface my thoughts on them by saying that I am not the type of reader who feels compelled to finish books.  This means that I do not feel guilty about ditching what may be perfectly decent reads for others.  If it’s not a good fit, it’s not a good fit.

Okay, with that caveat out of the way, I will proceed:

The Crazy School by Cornelia Read was a book I had picked up from the library for the Readers in Peril (RIP) Challenge.  It is a sequel to Read’s first novel, Field of Darkness.  I remember having mixed feelings about Field of Darkness when I read it years ago, particularly regarding my feelings about the aloof protagonist, Madeline Dare.  And yet, when I read the premise of The Crazy School, where Madeline Dare is a teacher at a school for troubled kids in the Berkshires, I felt that I should give the author and the character another go.  Unfortunately, when I picked up The Crazy School, Madeline still felt distant from me as a reader – almost inaccessible.  I had also hoped for more atmosphere with the school, but that didn’t quite materialize.  About 70 pages or so into the book, I decided to call it quits.  That said, I do appreciate that Madeline is married.  Married protagonists seem rare in mystery/suspense series.

Hearts and Bones by Margaret Lawrence is a library book I just abandoned today.  It is the first of a mystery series featuring a midwife in post-Revolutionary War Maine.  (1786 is the year at the start of the story.)  I’m originally from Maine and I like mystery series that have unusual settings, so I had hopes for this series.

The book is not shy of gritty details and it is clear that Lawrence did research about how people lived back then.  But then she committed one of my pet peeves in historical fiction: she made Hannah Trevor, the midwife protagonist, into one of those unimpeachable ahead-of-her-time characters.  The other characters in the book may see Hannah as unusual, but I just found her stereotypical of the historical fiction genre: Hannah of course wears practical clothes even if thought immodest or unladylike and does not care what society thinks of her.  Hannah has an illegitimate child and . . . does not care what society thinks of that.  Hannah practices good medicinal habits, contrary to most other medical professionals of the time.  Hannah is not racist.  Hannah is not particularly religious.  Hannah speaks her mind to all, no matter their sex or station.  And on and on – it didn’t take me long to find that Hannah was insufferable as a character.

It reminded me of how in the show “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman”, Dr. Quinn was always the uber-tolerant, forward thinking one, while the townspeople had to stolidly take their roles as backward-thinking foils episode after episode.

I got about 65 pages into Hearts and Bones.  I think that there are readers who will like this book for the details of its historical setting.  A number of mysteries are presented: a central complex and grotesque murder mystery, and then the narrative also alludes to secrets from characters’ pasts.  And there are no doubt readers who will either not mind or even like Hannah.  However, for readers who desire historical protagonists that are more tainted by their times, Hearts and Bones may be one to skip.

**Edited to add links to others’ reviews of these two books**

Other Reviews of The Crazy School:

A Gaggle of Book Reviews – “There are twists and turns in this novel that left me completely surprised”

All about {n} – “Ms. Read gives her characters this funny, ironic, and even cynical humor that I just can’t help but to love.”

The Book Zombie – “Maddie makes my list of top ten characters”

In Search of Giants – “Cornelia Read, who was herself a New England debutante, precisely encapsulates the ethos of the late 1980s. ”

My Random Acts of Reading – “The action begins early and continues non-stop to the conclusion.”

Reading Rants – “This bitterly funny mystery by Edgar Award-nominated author Cornelia Read has a great cast of teen characters, but the best voice is that of jaded, wickedly witty slacker sleuth Madeline Dare herself.”

Semi-Colon – “References to the first book in the series abound in this the second, but they’re unexplained.”

Reviews of Hearts and Bones

Shalee’s Diner – “It is a bleak, realistic look at a woman’s life in the late 1800’s surrounded by gossip, anger and despair.”  [Note: I liked this quote from the review, but the book is actually set in the late 1700’s.]

And apparently, the character of Hannah is not the only anachronistic element of the book:

You’re History! – “Much is made of protagonist Hannah, as well as some of the other women characters, as being patchwork quilters. The problem is . . . most textile authorities agree that patchwork as a quilting form did not begin in this country until around 1820, when printed fabrics were becoming available and affordable to the masses due to industrialization. Ordinarily, I’d regard this as a small flaw, but in this book, it’s a pretty important theme.”

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “DNF: The Crazy School and Hearts and Bones

  1. I hate it when, in historical fiction, the protagonist is just too modern. If I’m reading historical fiction, I think I can take the attitudes and mores of the time period, especially so-called progressive views that can be patronizing. It really destroys suspense of disbelief.

  2. one of my biggest reading faults is that i cannot break up with books. i read them to the bitter end, even if i loath them. it’s such a waste of time and i recognize this, but my genetic makeup doesn’t allow me to cast them aside! lol.

    as for historical fiction…i just can’t get on board with that genre. i’ll read one or two every once in a while (excluding classics) but beyond that, i stick with more contemporary stuff.

    thanks for being honest with your assessments. also, i LOVE how you include quotes from other reviews. very nice idea. 🙂

  3. katknit

    Thanks for the pingback for my review. (You’re History). Your review is spot on.

  4. Lit Omnivore – Agreed. I sometimes feel the author is not trusting that the reader will like a character, if the character exhibits any outdated ideas. But it’s so human to have at least a few outdated ideas that to not have them stretches credibility.

    Nat – I don’t tend to read a lot of historical novels either, but I do get intrigued by mysteries set in the past. Thanks for the feedback on the comments – I hope to continue that format. 🙂

    katknit – Thanks for your review and the insight on the anachronism!

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