Culls and Keepers

Last weekend I did a fairly ruthless culling of the bookshelves in my bedroom and living room. Romance, mystery, and science fiction, mostly. I’m a bookaholic and always have been. Always will be, I’m sure. But from time to time I have to deal with reality, and overflowing shelves.

I’ve been meaning to do this for quite a while, but I think the tipping point came when I wandered into the local Half-Price Books looking for something they didn’t have. Came out with three books anyway, two historical romances and Steve Berry’s latest thriller. I’ve downloaded a few books to my Kindle lately, too. And then there’s Amazon Prime, encouraging me to preorder books, pay no shipping, and find them in my mailbox on Tuesday. Yep, it’s been nearly every Tuesday lately, and I’ve got two more coming in August.

So I spent a good chunk of last Saturday and Sunday going through books, pulling out ones I have enjoyed but will probably never read again, and books I really thought I’d read, but haven’t. Let’s face it, there has to be a limit to how long a book sits on the To Be Read shelf. Sooner or later you have to admit that it’s just not gonna happen. When you realize you’ve fallen six books behind on a series you once read eagerly, it may be time to put those books back in circulation.

I didn’t touch the shelves of non-fiction and research books. Occasionally I have to hit those, too, but perhaps not as often. I look things up. I sort of, vaguely, know what’s there. Last week I went to a meeting of the Houston Bay Area RWA chapter. The speaker mentioned two books in her talk on gender differences in writing (referring to characters, not writers, but the audience that night was all women): You Just Don’t Undertand, by Deborah Tannen, and Fiction Is Folks by Robert Newton Peck. I’ve read those, I said to myself on the way home, but not recently. Searching the non-fiction shelves (in the hall and the unused office), I found Tannen’s book (must reread) but not Peck’s. Not yet anyway, although I did turn up two copies (two different editions on two different shelves) of Dwight Swain’s Creating Characters.

Don’t worry: I still have a lifetime supply of books on my shelves (and my Kindle) and no intention of boycotting the booksellers in the future. (Probably just as well I didn’t make it to the RWA National Conference this week—all those free books are impossible to resist.)

Here’s one that’s earned a place on my keeper shelf: Sally Kilpatrick’s debut novel, The Happy Hour The Happy Hour ChoirChoir, is a pleasure to read, treating some serious subjects with humor, well-developed characters, and a warm small town setting. Beulah Land is content playing piano at a honky tonk, with a jazzed-up version of her namesake hymn as her signature piece, until she’s maneuvered into playing piano for County Line Methodist Church—and its attractive but stubborn new minister. This is a wonderful story about what family really means—you may not be able to pick your relatives, but if you’re lucky you can build a family from scratch. Beulah has a lot to deal with in her estrangement from her family, grief for her past, the deteriorating health of a dear friend, and an unexpected bond with a new friend, but she handles it all realistically, touching the reader’s heart as she does. I really loved this book.

Writer Wednesday: Natural Disasters

I have lived in hurricane country since I was ten years old, and have sat, slept, and occasionally cowered through more hurricanes and tropical storms than I can remember. The prompt for this month’s Writer Wednesday post sent me to Wikipedia, where I picked through several lists of storms (in Florida, Texas, and Louisiana) to find the ones I remember most.

WW JulyAs with many things in life, “firsts” have a special place. My first hurricane was Donna, which hit southern Florida on September 10, 1960, my birthday. (My birthday is often cited as the peak of the hurricane season in the Gulf of Mexico, although I celebrated this one in the suburbs of Miami.) My mother, used to life in Wisconsin, was terrified. My brother, who was seven, slept through it. My dad and I thought it was an adventure. When the storm passed, and the electricity did not return (I don’t remember how long it was out), my dad made a valiant attempt to bake me a birthday cake on his charcoal grill. It didn’t look much like a cake, but served with melted ice cream, it tasted just fine.

In the summer of 1969, when I was attempting to move from Tallahassee, where I had just graduated from Florida State, to New Orleans, where I would attend grad school at Tulane in the fall, the central Gulf Coast was hit by Hurricane Camille, a nasty killer that closed the coast highway for weeks, forcing us to travel inland and hope we could find gas stations with electricity often enough to make it across Mississippi. The coast road was open again in the fall, and I remember seeing huge commercial ships on the beach.

In 1974, Jack and I sat out Hurricane Carmen in our house outside New Iberia, Louisiana. Although Carmen was a serious storm along some of its path, it didn’t hit us too hard, although it made our tin roof rattle something fierce. On the other hand, I remember looking out the window and watching a cat, oblivious of the weather, wander across our lawn. Somewhere around that time, I had my closest encounter with a tornado, as we ducked behind the refrigerators in a New Iberia appliance store while a twister roared down the street out front.

We moved to Seabrook, southeast of Houston between the Space Center and Galveston Bay, in 1976. In 1979, Tropical Storm Claudette dropped 42 inches of rain on a nearby weather station and overflowed an open garbage can in my yard. No flooding in the house, but we were on an island for a day or two. Claudette was followed by Hurricane Alicia in 1983—lots of damaged vegetation, which all grew back in a couple of years, and a power outage that lasted a week or so—and Hurricane Jerry in 1989, a smallish, late season storm that went right over our house, the only time I’ve experienced the Eye of the Storm.

Hurricane Andrew, in 1992, scored a catastrophic hit on the Florida Peninsula, and scared Jack so badly he insisted we evacuate inland. The storm went to Louisiana, but we did have a nice visit with Jack’s uncle in Austin. Tropical Storm Allison in 2001 was the storm that refused to go away, circling around and causing severe flooding and a number of deaths in Houston, but the worst of it missed us and we watched it on TV. That was the last storm I shared with Jack, who died the next year.

By the time Hurricane Rita reared her head in 2005, only a few weeks after Katrina devastated New Orleans, local authorities had become a lot more emphatic on the subject of evacuation, and I had no desire to stay home, so I packed up my cat and dog and we went to Houston to stay with my friend Jo Anne, the day before evacuation was made mandatory for my zip code. That was a good move, because the storm caused such panic that people who tried to flee west were stuck on the highways for hours, sometimes twenty or more, while the storm went east to the Beaumont area, and Houston seemed deserted—and perfectly safe.

In 2008 we had a visit from Ike, a massively destructive storm. This time people not in the flood prone areas were urged to stay home. My cat and I went to Jo Anne’s, where I stayed until my neighbor called to say she was home and the power was back on—twelve days later. My yard took another beating, but my house was okay.

Since then the hurricane seasons have been quiet here. Last month Tropical Storm Bill paid the area a visit, bringing more rain than we needed but not much damage. If Bill is our storm for this year, we’ll be happy.

Every storm has its own set of stories, but I still have fond memories of that first adventure in 1960, and my lop-sided, crispy-edged birthday cake served with melted ice cream by candlelight. Thanks, Dad!

For tales of more natural disasters, check out the Wednesday Writers in the sidebar to your right. Two of our merry crew have new releases this month: Carol Post’s Hidden Identity, a suspenseful tale of blackmail and murder is available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Natalie Meg Evans’ The Milliner’s Secret is available for pre-order at Amazon and Amazon UK.

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Cheryl Bolen’s Countess by Coincidence

As its title would suggest, Cheryl Bolen’s latest Regency romance opens with wild coincidences and foolish behavior, all of which combine to throw the hero and heroine of Countess By Coincidence into that favorite entertaining (for the reader!) predicament, the Marriage of Convenience.

Countess By CoincidenceMargaret Ponsby, sister of the Duke of Aldridge (the hero of Bolen’s Duchess by Mistake) has harbored a girlish crush on John Beauclerc, the Earl of Finchley, for years, although she has never actually spoken to him. His grandmother is her neighbor, and she has watched him coming and going from her window. When she stops at a local church one morning and finds herself swept to the altar by the earl, she assumes she’s been recruited to act as bride in a proxy wedding.

Finch, as the earl is known to his friends, is a good-hearted rake who has concocted a ridiculous scheme to marry a stranger and pay her to go away, thus proving to his wealthy grandmother that he has matured enough to handle the money she has been too cautious to settle on him. (Finch’s grandmother, mind you, is far too intelligent to fall for this nonsense.)

Determined to make the best of her unexpected lot, Margaret persuades Finch to let her move in with him and take up her formal position as his countess (much to the bewilderment of her family) while he continues to lead a life of freedom with his trio of equally rakish friends. Margaret would love to have a proper marriage and family with Finch, but she tries to convince herself that she’ll settle for a home of her own and friendship with this oddly endearing (and very handsome) man.

Finch, meanwhile, has absolutely no use for a wife or marriage, or so he tells himself and his friends—over and over again. But Maggie would be such a perfect wife. If he wanted one. Which of course he doesn’t. Does he?

Countess By Coincidence is a sweet, heartwarming story of two people who are perfect for one another, if only they can see past the nature of their accidental relationship. The third installment in Bolen’s House of Haverstock series (which began with Lady By Chance) also continues the story of the home for war widows and orphans established by Margaret’s sister-in-law Elizabeth and provides happy endings for several supporting characters. If you love traditional Regency romance, you will certainly enjoy this series.

Recent Reading: More Mysteries

Here are three more mysteries I’ve enjoyed recently, two set in Texas and one in Florida, all quick and entertaining reads.

Katie Graykowski’s Rest in Pieces is the first in a new humorous mystery series, the PTO Murder Club, set in the Austin, Texas, area. Mustang Ridges, the first person narrator is funny and snarky and goes off on Rest in Pieceshilarious tangents, all while trying to hold together her life as a recently divorced mom. She doesn’t really need to be investigating the death of the local kindergarten teacher, unlikely as the verdict of death by heroin overdose may seem, but she and her fellow PTO board members, Haley and Monica, just can’t leave it alone. Add the suspicious attentions of TWO attractive men, a bit of breaking and entering, and a midnight manicure, and you have quite an adventure. Graykowski leaves enough loose ends to fuel the next installment; I hope it comes soon!

Murder at Veranda House is one of Cheryl Bolen’s Texas Heroines in Peril romantic suspense quartet, but it is a stand-alone novel. Annette Holcombe is a young widow, opening the historic Galveston Island homeMurder at Veranda House she inherited from her late (but not particularly lamented) husband as a Bed and Breakfast. Her first week as hostess at Veranda House brings a lot more than she counted on: murder, guests who may not be who they claim to be, a possible missing treasure, and a tropical storm that can’t seem to make up its mind. Annette can’t make up her mind, either, about the handsome guest who charms her young daughter and has designs of his own on her.

This tale of romance and mystery will be especially entertaining to readers who are familiar with Galveston Island, featuring as it does historic houses and island charm. All in all, Murder at Veranda House is a quick and suspenseful read.

Killer BlondeKiller Blonde is a novella entry in Elaine Viets’ Dead End Jobs series, a long-time favorite of mine. Fans will enjoy hearing the voice of Marjorie Flax, colorful (mainly purple) septuagenarian owner of the Coronado apartments, as she tells Helen Hawthorne the story of a perfect murder committed forty years before. The tale is especially entertaining if you remember the office politics (and fashions!) of the 1970s. A must for Helen and Marjorie’s many fans.

Sarah Andre: Locked, Loaded, & Lying

Sarah Andre’s debut novel, Locked, Loaded, & Lying is a fast-paced, page-turning tale of romantic suspense.

Locked Loaded LyingLock Roane, known on the professional ski circuit for his Bad Boy persona Lock and Load, doesn’t remember if he killed his girlfriend, Tiffany van der Kellen, almost a year ago. He knows he was found, covered in blood, with her body, and he knows he’ll be standing trial for her murder in a few days, but there’s an essential blank in that terrible evening he hasn’t been able to fill in. Even his lawyer believes he did it, and Lock is afraid it’s true.

Jordan Sinclair is a free-lance reporter searching for Lock, who has been successfully hiding from the public and press since making bail (under questionable circumstances) after the murder. A tabloid paper is offering a huge reward for a photo and article on the skier’s whereabouts, and Jordan desperately needs the money to pay off a dangerous blackmailer from her past.

 Lock and Jordan collide when she runs off the road while searching for the cabin where she suspects he is hiding, and he rescues her from a snow bank. Once safe in the cabin Lock shares with his brother Leo, Jordan claims she’s a private investigator out to prove his innocence.

Both Lock and Jordan are running from the past, Lock from guilt, Jordan from fear. Solving the mystery of Tiffany’s murder may be the only way for either of them to reclaim their lives—but will Jordan ruin Lock’s in the process?

The mystery central to Locked, Loaded, & Lying is deep and complicated, and Andre handles it beautifully. Sparks fly between Lock and Jordan from the moment she wakes up in his cabin, and burst into flame even as they try to hide their personal truths from each other. Will they discover the truth behind the murder before the past overtakes them? You won’t put the book down until you find out.

Writer Wednesday: Summer Vacations

When I was a kid, we had bicycles instead of cell phones. I’m truly grateful I did not grow up on an electronic leash. I lived a couple of blocks from Lake Michigan, in the suburbs of Milwaukee. There WW Junewere half a dozen kids or more on my block, two of them girls my age, Elizabeth and Alice. Alice’s mother, a doctor, let us ride sitting on the back of her VW convertible, which says something about parenting in the 1950s right there. We spent our summer riding our bikes, usually with playing cards stuck in the spokes (one of my mother’s cousins owned a bicycle shop, so I had a better bike that I probably would have otherwise), playing softball and tag amid the oak trees on the boulevard, and reading. The library was right around the corner. Our parents only asked that we be home for supper, or before it got too dark, which was pretty late in the summer in Wisconsin.

I was one of a group of eight cousins, five of us girls fairly close in age, and we spent a lot of time together. My dad’s family owned a summer cottage on Round Lake in central Wisconsin (my cousins still do) and we spent part of every summer up there, often my mom and aunts, me and my cousins, while our dads stayed in the city during the week. We swam, fish, fell out of the canoe, and wondered what was going on at the Campfire Girls camp on the other side of the lake. When I was very young we had an outhouse and a pump, but my uncle in the plumbing business fixed that in the mid fifties. We had to drive our trash to the nearest town from time to time, but the trip was fun. I still have a little wooden trinket box, with Wild Rose, Wis on the lid, that I picked up on one of those trips.

Here’s a somewhat embarrassing picture from very early on at the cottage. I don’t believe I’ve been photographed in bathing attire since, and this photo may be the root of my reluctance. According to the caption, that’s my mom in the background, but it’s hard to tell.
Kay at cottage

We moved to the suburbs of Miami when I was ten, but I spent a couple more summers with my cousins in Wisconsin  before I settled into life as a junior high and high school kid. The weather was better in south Florida, but those summers in Wisconsin were hard to beat.

Hop over to the sidebar to visit the rest of the Writer Wednesday blogs, and join us again next month when we reminisce about natural disasters (let’s see, I’ve spent most of my life in south Florida, southern Louisiana, and coastal Texas—how could the weather possibly go wrong?).

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Recent Reading

No particular theme today, just three more books I enjoyed. I’ve been lucky so far this year—I’ve enjoyed just about all of the books I’ve read.

The Tropic of SerpentsMarie Brennan’s The Tropic of Serpents is the second volume of Memoirs by Lady Trent, although our heroine remains Mrs. Isabella Camherst, widow, mother, and dragon naturalist. In the first book, A Natural History of Dragons, Isabella and her fellow explorers made their way from their home in Scirland to the mountainous pseudo-Balkans of Brennan’s wonderfully developed world. In Tropic Isabella, leaving her toddler son behind and wondering if she is the worst mother in all of Scirland, leads her party to the world’s pseudo-Africa in search of snakes and swamp-wyrms. Once again, Isabella’s first person narration and Victorian style, as well as Brennan’s fabulous world building, captured me completely.

The preface to Tropic is signed “Lady Trent, Amavi, Prania, 23 Ventis, 5659,” reminding us just how totally not-ours Isabella’s world is. The next volume, Voyage of the Basilisk, is waiting on my shelf.

Checked Out is the latest case in Elaine Viets’ Dead end Jobs mysteries. I love this series. I’ve been following Helen Hawthorne’s adventures since she first appeared in 2003 in Shop Til You Drop. The Checked Outsettings are always fun and well researched, and the characters – Phil, Margery, Peggy, and Pete the Parrot, along with numerous less permanent visitors, continue to hold my interest.

In Checked Out, Helen goes undercover as a volunteer at a small, upscale library, searching for a John Singer Sargent water color (“Muddy Alligators,” signed on the back by Clark Gable, who lost it in a poker game in 1924) accidentally left in a donated book–somewhere in 300 boxes of books. And there appears to be a ghost, or at least a squatter, hiding in the library. Meanwhile, Phil is courting sunburn as an undercover gardener Peggy is worried about Pete’s personal life, and the new tenant at the Coronado Tropic Apartments is showing off his mojitos.

If you enjoy humorous mystery, you can’t do better than Elaine Viets.

Born With TeethOkay, so I’ve been a Star Trek fan since the original series (when I fell in love with Mr. Spock—c’mon, I wasn’t the only one), and I was delighted when Voyager came along with a female Captain. I couldn’t resist when I learned that Kate Mulgrew, Kathryn Janeway’s alter ego, had published a memoir, Born With Teeth. The book is well written, often funny, sometimes sad, always enjoyable. It ends rather abruptly around 1997, but I’m hoping (and the acknowledgments at the end suggest) that Mulgrew has another book in the works.

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