December 09, 2008

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AND THE WINNER IS... Posted by Sheila Connolly and her trusty sidekick Sarah Atwell "Cozy" by a mile. The official results from the poll are: Cozy: 67.4% Cozy is silly: 13% Traditional mystery: 17.4% Classic mystery: 4.3% Come up with something better: 8.7% I'll be the first to admit that this was a limited statistical sample (a number of the loops on which I posed the question contain the word "cozy" in the title, so we might guess where they stand). However, I also posted on some larger and more diversified mystery-oriented loops, and I hope members there–some of whom are very vocal in their contempt for the word "cozy"–took a moment to record their opinion. Quite a few people came to the defense of the term. Most believed that if you call a book a cozy, people know exactly what to expect. If I may borrow someone else's words: "...to me it brings to mind...sitting in a quiet house, in a comfy chair by a fireplace, wrapped in a warm quilt, with my cat at my feet or on my lap, a cup of hot tea in one hand and a good (and gentle) book in the other, and plenty of uninterrupted time to read. What more could I ask for?" Exactly. Someone else said "it's like comfort food." That's not to say there weren't complaints. One person noted that often the community in which a cozy is set is too detached about the fact that one or more bodies have popped up in their midst; in a similar vein, more than one person wondered just how many bodies could show up in this same small town before the reader is forced to suspend disbelief altogether (the phenomenon generally known as the Jessica Fletcher effect). Another thought the recent craft gimmick has been overdone, and neatly skewered the required traits of the genre–the crazy family, the obscure hobby, the small town charm, and the love triangle–pointing out that this has become its own stereotype. (Shucks, she didn't even mention the recipes!) Yet another thought that insisting on a murder made the books cliched–why not look at other crimes? As I noted in the last post, it's the Thriller/Suspense category that gets the high-profile promotion, but I'm still not sure why. Can you imagine a NYT full-page spread with cats and teapots? (Admission: this week's NYT Book Review section opens with a full-page color ad for a holiday-themed book by Mary Higgins Clark and Carol Higgins Clark–but note that the header reads "Snow, sleigh-bells and suspense!" No mention of teapots or cats.) I've noticed the same trend in movie trailers recently: the majority of them feature things that blow up. You might see a promo for the occasional sweet love story or sensitive character study or even a thoughtful historical–and then it's back to blowing things up. I think it's worth taking a look at Mary Higgins Clark's own definition of the genre (set forth by Mystery Writers of America): The protagonist is a nice young woman whose life is suddenly invaded. She's self-made and independent, with primarily good family relationships. She has an interesting job. She is not looking for trouble--she is doing exactly what she should be doing and something cuts across her bow. She solves her problem by her own courage and intelligence. The story has no on-scene violence The story has no strong four-letter words or explicit sex scenes. We've already acknowledged the no violence/sex/profanity requirements. But what I find interesting in these guidelines is that the female protagonist is "self-made," "independent," with an "interesting" profession, and, perhaps most important, "she solves her problem by her own courage and intelligence." She's not a busy-body ("not looking for trouble") but gets involved only when she has to. This heroine sounds like someone I'd like to know (or be), and I think a lot of (women) readers agree. If you want blood and sex and explosions, go find a thriller. It's one form of escapism (the reader gets a vicarious thrill, then walks away saying "thank goodness it's not me!"), and it obviously has a lot of popular appeal. But cozies–sweet, simple mysteries with happy endings–are the bread and butter, or maybe I mean the cookies, of the mystery genre. You know what you're going to get, and you know it all comes out fine. You don't need to push that in the marketplace, because the public finds the books quite well, thank you. I think there's enough anxiety and uncertainly in the world without creating any more, even if it's only within the covers of a book. And I am grateful to all the unsung cozy readers who don't need blaring ads to locate the books they love. Here's what one of my other cats thinks about the genre. I think he's a thriller fan.
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Barking Up The Chocolate Tree Posted by Kate Flora 'Tis the season to be jolly. Also the season to be overworked, overwhelmed by lists and chores, and sometimes, sadly, to be overwhelmed by the task of so much socializing. It isn't that we don't want to see our friends. We do. And it isn't that we're not pleased to find that others want our company. It's just that it all seems to come at us at once, like an enormous wave, rolling over us until our heads spin and we're caught in the undertow of dressing, eating, drinking, and recovery. For those of us who aren't superbly organized or get absent-minded or frantic when we have too much on our plates, I offer the following suggestions for making the holidays go more smoothly. I hope you'll take these in the humble spirit of fellowship in which they're offered. They derive from experience, not expertise. Holiday survival trick #1: Take your special occasion make-up and put it in a bag and leave it where you can grab it in a hurry: the front of a drawer or by the sink. Then you can find it when you need it and you can drop that bag in your purse for quick touch-ups later. Holiday survival trick #2: Select one or two outfits that make you look good and feel comfortable. Put them together on a hanger, sweater or top, pants or skirt and jacket. Then gather the jewelry or scarf to accessorize, any special "foundation" garments, like the one bra that works with that slinky sweater or control top pantyhose, and the right shoes or boots, put them in a plastic bag, and slip the handle over the hanger. That way, everything is ready to go when you are, and you don't have fight dust bunnies crawling under the bed to find your shoes, create chaos on the bed trying to find the right sweater, or rush half-dressed down to flights of stairs to the laundry room to find your underwear. Holiday survival trick #3: Buy some colorful gift bags, a packet of bright tissue paper, some fancy teas or hot chocolate and packets of cookies. Make up some gift bags and leave them where you can grab one as you go out the door in case you need a last minute gift. And last, but not least, because we all know that chocolate fights stress, because taking something homemade is far cooler than Trader Joe's cookies or another bottle of wine, and because we're all in need of something quick and easy that will make others ooh and aah as we present it, I offer, this week, a selection of Chocolate Bark recipes for the quick and dirty cook. Jacquie Old's Chocolate Bark 1 lb of good quality bittersweet chocolate from some place like Whole Foods about 50 tamari almonds from Trader Joe's Cut up sugared ginger nuggets. They sell them at Whole Foods. Chop up chocolate a little and melt it in a double boiler or microwave Have a cookie sheet prepared with foil lining. Then sprinkle chopped up almonds and ginger nuggets randomly in an oblong. When chocolate is full melted spread it on top of the almonds and ginger. Let it harden over about 8 hours. Then break it into bark slivers. Alternative 1: Peppermint Bark Spread melted chocolate over crushed canday canes Alternative 2: Try regular almonds, or walnuts, pistachios, or pecans. Trader Joe's roasted and salted pecans are great with chocolate. Use dried sour cherries or cranberries. Spread your melted chocolate over trail mix. Red, White and Blue Bark Instead of dark chocolate, use a 12 oz. bag of white chocolate chips Melt and spread out on the baking pan and sprinkle with dried cranberries and blueberries. Dark Chocolate and Toffee Macadamia Bark A great treat that you can customize to your liking. Substitute with milk chocolate chips, those fancy white chocolate chips, pecans, walnuts, pistachios. note: the Dark Chocolate & Toffee Macadamia Bark takes 2 hours to chill. Yields 1 lb ½ box of graham crackers ¼ cup brown sugar ¼ cup sugar ½ lb butter (2 sticks) 3 cups dark chocolate chips (or your favorite chocolate bars, broked up in small pieces) 1 cup roughly chopped macadamia nuts (or other nut if you prefer) Preheat oven to 350F. Line a lipped baking sheet with a layer of tin foil. Arrange a single layer of graham crackers in the pan without overlapping. In a small saucepan, melt butter and add the sugars. Whisk to dissolve. Let boil and simmer for 5 minutes on low. Very carefully pour mixture onto the graham crackers, working quickly with a spatula to even out the layer. Bake 10 minutes. Remove and evenly spread out the chocolate chips and leave it to melt for 5 minutes. Using spatula, spread the melted chocolate evenly. Top with chopped nuts. Let cool. Refrigerate for 2 hours. Break pieces. Share with the world.

Lorraine Bartlett

Five women, five weekdays, many surprises.

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