Sunday, March 3, 2013

Killer Frost: Reader Comments V.

Orchid and Daffodils from Early March 2012.  This March the orchid, again on my dining table, has five flower stems, and the daffodils persist despite many frosts.


Here are more reader comments on Killer Frost:  I'm still open to more comments.  Send them along.



Larissa Bavrina (Russian friend, in a letter of Dec. 1, 2012):

I fully agree with the comments from Margaret Stephens and Pam Kilby (see Reader Comments II, blog for Sept 21).  I imagined the classroom where Penny taught, the students--their characters are vivid and real, then the room at Penny’s home where her friends gathered to discuss the college problems, the scenes in the garden and the orchard.  Though it’s not clear about love–why it struck Penny unexpectedly (it I can understand) and suddenly finished (this I cannot understand).  Maybe it was friendship, spiritual intimacy, but not love?  By the end of the book, I felt like I was in a circle of people about whom I cared much and would have liked to learn how they’d live after the mystery had been solved. ... 

So this book is number 6 in the series.  Maybe there’s a description of Penny in one of the books?  There’s no information why they were in Wales?  Maybe it’s also in the previous book?  One thing is certain.  I really wonder what happens next to Penny, Oscar, and the college administration, and the students.

Review from mystery author Denise Weeks (in email 2-17-13):

I really enjoyed this book and the issues that the author explored via her setting, characters, and plot events.  It was more literary than most cozies and contains a few literary allusions (which just made me like it all the more), but you can figure those out.  Because there’s no gore or gratuitous sex/blood/violence, it’s perfect for younger readers as well as adult mystery fans.

Penny Weaver is hired to replace a fired professor in the middle of the semester at St. Francis College in Raleigh.  The school has many students who aren’t properly prepared for college (and at least one with a learning disabilities and a possible diagnosis of brain damage) because this gets them state and federal grants and perks.  She’s immediately attracted to her department chairman, Oscar, who seems intensely attracted back–and this creates tension in her mind because of her passion for her husband, Kenneth, and her fear that something will happen between them.  First the school provost and then a professor are murdered, though more important concerns come to everyone’s minds.

The characters were well drawn and believable.  I can’t resist saying that one character here (in fact, two of them, one of each gender) reminded me of Lennie in Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men.  The solution of the crimes turned out to be a surprise to me.  I enjoyed the portrayal of campus life, and especially appreciated the author’s knowledge that many educators are in the business of helping and saving the students who are struggling–their reward is to help students succeed despite the odds against them. (Of course there is always the unscrupulous teacher and/or administrator, and these are illuminated here as well.)  The pressures in academia now work against the traditional role of the university, which was always to teach students how to think.  Now the concerns of the administration is elsewhere.  This makes the task of a teacher ever more challenging.

I’ll note that one reason some reviewers might be upset with the book (someone mentioned the dialect spoken informally by many of the characters–I’ll get back to this) is that it reveals what’s happening in much of academia and not exclusively at traditionally Black/African American colleges, but there as well.  So very many students come unprepared and functionally illiterate/empty of study skills and unable to catch allusions and references.  This is the fault, in my opinion, of the test mentality caused by “No Child Left Behind” and also by the emphasis of the entire culture on popularity and youth/beauty instead of knowledge and strength of character (integrity).  Our youth culture may claim it is big on education, but to be “smart” in school is to be “uncool,” and celebrity worship leads children and older students to emulate dangerous and unwise behavior.  No longer is a professor held in high esteem and respect (remember in the original film “The Day the Earth Stood Still” how the little boy took the visitor to the professor as a high authority?).  This novel exposes the way that many athletes are brought to college and left on their own to cope with the more stringent requirements of their classes, and told only that they have to pass or else.  It exposes the difficulty of catching up when you have basically been passed forward without learning to read, to reason, or to put together a coherent essay (not to mention the innumeracy and lack of mathematical intuition).
It’s happening all over, so I’m sure it is happening at the traditionally black colleges as well.  If this is a hot button for you, then this won’t be the book for you.  Others with open minds will be better able to cope with these ideas.

In the book, many students and friends of the sleuth speak a dialect or form of Black English.  This is bound to offend some readers, even though it’s probably fairly accurate as a portrayal of the way some people still speak causally to their friends and those they trust.  It lends flavor and color to the setting.  It is also another indicator of how these students are not equipped to deal with college and the world beyond, to me, because they don’t use formal or business English when they’re in class, as I would.  I didn’t take offence, and in fact it enriched my understanding of the characters.

I’m looking forward to the next book in this series.  Recommended!

1 comment:

  1. Nice reviews, Judy. I found the 2nd one interesting and right on. My daughter in California is quite upset because someone she's worked with is from Korea and has a poor grasp of English. She's had trouble passing English exams.. Another friend of both Mary and this girl, wrote her entrance essay for Nurse Practitioner. Mary thought this was dishonest and the girl will struggle trying to take these advanced classes.