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I read the eBook version and moved through it at a good, steady pace over a week. The writer has a casual, easy style. I really liked the line when Callahan is sitting at a traffic light with her mind wandering and she writes, "I looked up from my brother's past to see that my future had started to move." (p. 143) I also liked the way she wove in pop-culture details to make it authentic such as, "The Christmas Eve traffic was the worst I'd ever seen. Worse than the Olympics, worse than the traffic around the stadium the year the Braves won the World Series." (p. 297)
On a scale of 1 - 5 (5 being a lot of examples/instances):
Sex - There are a few instances with very little details. Given the types of some characters, it would be weird if there were no references. "The players were the only things of real interest. Shay, in a black lace teddy, was doing a drunken bump-and-grind to some raunchy Janet Jackson song, oozing around a man dressed only in baggy plaid boxer shorts and some kind of science fiction-looking headgear." (p. 296)
Religion - There are instances of church attendance, especially for religious occasions, but there are equally as many examples of derogatory religious comments. "Since my father died, we've been a family of lapsed Catholics, but two years ago, my mother had brokered some kind of private deal with God. She goes to mass now, but not at any one specific church. Doesn't want any uppity priests trying to tell her how to live her life. She goes just when she feels she needs it. And she does her laps on the beads. Religiously, you might say." (p. 186) "Of course, I'm Catholic, so snappy isn't exactly part of my church music experience." (p. 220)
Gruesome - For a murder-mystery it was remarkable un-gruesome.
Suspense - Most of the book felt like a Sunday drive through a state park. For me it got suspenseful around page 293 when it seemed like a character was going to get away and others were chasing them. The suspense was still going on ten pages later when Callahan got attacked and then passed out.
Morality - Many characters are concerned with the welfare of one child and try very hard to do the best thing for her. Some characters have made poor choices in life - some are trying to overcome their choices.
Traditional - references to hookers and johns and a "fat readheaded transvestite with a black teenager so stoned she had to pull him along to get him to walk." (p. 214) Overall the family of characters is very normal in the way that families are messy, not picture perfect.
The story centers around a lady who goes by the name of Callahan like coaches call jocks by their last name. She used to be on the police force and had earned the rank of detective but for reasons that are hinted at but not entirely explained she is no longer. She quit the force seven years ago and got a Private Investigator license but instead she runs a cleaning business. This is one in a series of "Callahan" mysteries so I get the idea that she often gets mixed up in solving crimes and playing the role of detective. In this edition the crimes happen to center around her brother (Brian) who has been estranged from the family for a number of years.
The family tree is lightly sketched but not overly essential. Callahan Garrity lives with her mother, Edna, in Candler Park. Callahan has a sister named Maureen who is married and has a couple of boys and lives near Roswell. Her (good) brother, Kevin, is also married but we never meet him.
Callahan apparently has a boyfriend named Mac. We don't get much history but he suddenly just shows up one day and it is implied that there is some sort of history between them. A lawyer named "Ferd" is also brought onto the canvass. He is an old friend of Callahan's father.
Little hints are dropped here and there but it is never clear what happened to Callahan's father. He is no longer living but it is unclear if her parents divorced before he died, maybe from lung cancer (ref. p. 166). On page 93 Ferd says, "Jack stayed with me through three divorces", which, to me, is unclear whether the divorces were Ferd's or Jack's. Regardless it sounds like Mr. Garrity was quite a character and probably responsible for shaping Callahan into the tough woman she is. She quotes one of his favorite sayings on page 156, "Better to be pissed off than pissed on". It is also implied that Edna's husband might have cheated on her with one of the unsavory characters of the novel. (ref. p. 181)
Did you have "a real dime store when you were a kid"? "Not a Kmart or a Target but a Woolworth's"? (p. 1)
Tell a favorite memory of the dime store. Did you have any favorite snow globes when you were young?
Callahan says her family has set menus (p. 5) for Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, etc.
What occasions have set menus in your family? What are the traditional foods on the menu?
Why did Edna think green velvet was okay for Maura's elf suit but not black velvet for a funeral dress? (p. 133)
Callahan described "Fun Town" as "...before Six flags. Before DisneyWorld. We didn't know it was cheesy and third-rate." (p. 214) Did you have any cheesy parks growing up? Callahan recollected the Tilt-a-Whirl. (p. 215) What were your favorite rides?
Did Maura end up with the right people? (p. 319-320)
Callahan remembers buying her mother a plastic snow globe. (p. 1) Make your own snow globes.
Include snow globes in your decorations.
Sing (off-key) Christmas carols (p. 58)
Watch "White Christmas", Mr. Garrity's favorite movie. (p. 278)
with an "Elvis Presley 'Blue Christmas' decorating motif this year, with yards of silver garlands and festive strings of blue chasing lights and a spotlit portrait of a pre-Vegas Elvis". (p. 3)
with red candles on the mantel like Edna (p. 117)
English trifle like Callahan was making (p. 2)
"Tom and Jerrys...along with the fruitcake and the pound cake and the Coca-Cola baked ham and the ambrosia made with real, honest-to-God fresh-grated coconut" (p. 2)
Edna's famous sweet-and-sour meatballs (p. 36) with chopped onion and green pepper, chili sauce and grape jelly.
Honey-baked ham (p. 45)
"Sloppy tots" (p. 57) like Neva Jean brought to the Christmas party. She explains her recipe on p. 57:
You just take the big bag of frozen Tater tots. Ore-ida. Lay it out in your pan. Then you get a pound and a half of hamburger meat. Fry that up real good, drain it on paper towels, put it back in the skillet+. Mix the meat up with two cans of sloppy joe stuff, and pour that over the Tater Tots. Now you sprinkle two cups of grated cheese over the sauce. Top with two cups of crushed up Fritos. Bake it for thirty minutes and...You could put dollops of sour cream on top,...after it comes out of the oven.
Dry roasted mixed nuts (p. 58)
Homemade vegetable soup and corn bread like Edna served Ferd. (p. 94)
Spam sandwiches on Wonder bread with Fritos and Pabst like Brian had when Callahan went to his apartment
"Steak and eggs and hash browns and cold beer" (p. 233) like Mac offered Callahan
Biscuits with butter and honey like Callahan liked them (p. 238)
Mountain Dew in honor of Neva Jean (p. 239)
Claxton Fruit Cake (p. 295)
Cinnamon-pecan Coffee Cake, Brian's favorite (p. 316)
Perry Como - "Home for the Holidays" (p. 2)
Perry Como, Andy Williams, Nat King Cole and Bing Crosby like Edna and Callahan's CD collection (p. 4)
Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer like Maura sang on the dining room table. (p. 57)
soft, instrumental Christmas CDs (p. 117)
Ben Folds Five (p. 213)
a snappy version of "We Three Kings" (p. 220)
"Adeste Fideles" (p. 278)