Lately I've been having trouble finding fiction that I want to read. After spending several days skimming the first few chapters of book after book and then casting it aside, I gave myself a project: to find works of fiction that mention birds in the title, read them whether they're good or bad...and then tell everyone about it. It's a bonus if birds are actually relevant to the story.
You know that expression, "Don't judge a book by its cover?" Unfortunately, on my fourth selection for my Entitled to Birds project, Cockatiels at Seven by Donna Andrews (Thomas Dunne Books, 2008), that is exactly what I did. Seriously, just look at that cover! It's so cute, it's like a bucket of squee!
I mentioned in a previous review how I don't really like cozy mysteries, but I was hoping this book would be the one to prove me wrong, since the author has a whole series of bird-titled whodunnits with cute covers. Alas, no. With apologies to all the cozy fans out there, I just can't get into the forced wackiness of the characters, the way the "investigating" is propelled by gossip, the implausible plots, or the fact that some amateur is not only able to solve so many crimes (unlike the bumbling police force), but that their small-town lives involve so much mayhem to begin with. (Sorry, that sentence got away with me.)
As I know that plenty of people really do like this sort of story, and this series seems to be quite popular, I'm not going to do an in-depth discussion of the book. I really couldn't fault the writing or story itself, so my opinion is probably about as relevant as someone who hates science fiction complaining about all the spaceships and aliens. Instead, I will focus on the two things that really killed this book for me.
One, there are no cockatiels to speak of in the story! If you call your book Cockatiels at Seven, with an adorable cover to match, I expect cockatiels!
Two--and this was the real kiss of death--instead of cockatiels, the bulk of the novel (I didn't do a page-by-page count, but I would guess at least half) is dominated by an extremely annoying toddler. Now, I don't dislike children in general, or even in fiction. (Heck, I loved The Nanny Diaries, although at least that title gave me a bit of a heads-up.)
But this particular fictional toddler...*shudder*...was overkill and a half. To back up a bit, the story begins when Meg, the heroine, is asked to babysit young Timmy by a friend she hasn't seen for a while, Karen. She agrees. By the following morning, when Karen still hasn't returned to pick him up, Meg suspects something fishy, and runs off to gossip with Karen's coworkers. (Sorry, I meant to say begins investigating her disappearance.)
I felt as if I'd settled down at the Barnes and Noble cafe with a stack of books and a cappuccino, just as a mother shows up with an unruly child. The kind who runs screaming around the cafe, bumping into people and grabbing things from people's tables, pausing only to cram enough sugar in his mouth to fuel his rampage. Meanwhile, the mother glances up indulgently now and then, convinced that everyone else must find her hellion just as cute as she does. Maybe this makes me sound like someone's disapproving spinster aunt, but I really didn't like Timmy's prevalence in the story.
For page after page, I was subjected to his bedtime tantrums, his diaper emergencies, his "cute" baby-talk and childish lispings, his stuffed animal melt-downs and attempts to ride sheep like they were ponies. Maybe someone reading this is thinking, "Well, that sounds adorable, far better than some scruffy cockatiels...what a cute idea for a mystery!" If so, I guarantee that you will love this book.
As for me, I hope it will be a long, long time before my reading involves mention of sippy cups or carseats.
And finally...the bird tie-in:
While cockatiels were barely mentioned, there was a scene involving some Gouldian finches.
When we reached the second floor hallway, we met a flock of Gouldian finches coming down from the third floor. To judge by the number of droppings they were producing, none of them were too happy about the situation.
"Birdie! Birdie!" Timmy called, and jumped up and down, trying to reach the brightly colored finches.
"Keep running," I said.
Our arrival spooked the finches, and they wheeled and headed back up toward the third floor. Timmy gave chase and I followed.