Pamela Kopfler’s Better Dead

We had a weather day today: the temperature dropped, the rain turned to sleet, the schools were closed, and everyone with any sense stayed off the roads. So I sat down with a good book—well, actually, I ran down the charge on my Kindle, but it hung on long enough for me to finish.

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Better Dead is the first in a new cozy mystery series by Pamela Kopfler. Holly Davis has Better Deadturned her ancestral home on the bank of the Mississippi, Holly Grove, into a B&B in a desperate attempt to keep it, but prospects don’t look good. Business is slow—and changing the place from a residence to a business has doubled the tax bill. But the worst of it is the ghost of her late and unlamented husband, Burl. He crashed his plane before Holly could serve him with divorce papers, and now he’s back, although only Holly and her faithful Yorkie, Rhett, can see him.

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So Holly makes a deal with Burl: she’ll try to help him settle the unfinished business that’s keeping him out of heaven (as if he ever deserved to get in!) if he’ll haunt Holly Grove through the October Haunted Plantation Tour season.

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As if Burl weren’t enough trouble, who should show up but Holly’s long gone high school sweet heart, Jake McCann, returning to the little Louisiana town of Delta Ridge to sub for the local newspaper editor and—unbeknownst to Holly—to investigate the drug smuggling going on at Holly Grove.

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Holly can’t tell Jake about Burl’s ghost—who would believe that? And Jake can’t tell Holly that he’s an ICE agent—she may well be running Burl’s smuggling ring!

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Throw in the local bridge club, with its fearless leader Miss Alice, Jake’s missing (and probably soused) father, an unhelpful sheriff and a very cranky dog, and you have a thoroughly delightful read. (And a few recipes at the end.)

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I’ll be looking forward to Holly’s next adventure, Downright Dead, coming in September.

 

Into the New Year

I’ve missed my annual “book report” by a week or so, but here it is. In 2017 I read 67 books: 11 romances, 33 mysteries, 5 science fiction novels, 9 general fiction, and 9 nonfiction books. 39 of those (I think) were ebooks, about the same (almost 60 percent) as last year. I have at last count 525 digital titles in my Amazon cloud. I don’t even want to guess at the number of paper books, read or unread, on the shelves holding up my house. Here are two books from the general fiction category.

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Daisy Goodwin’s Victoria was written in parallel to her screenplay for the BBC Victoria Victoriaseries, and it covers only the first part of the story, from Victoria’s ascension to the throne to her proposal of marriage to her cousin Albert (as a reigning queen, she had to pop the question herself). The novel is light, readable, very entertaining, based on Goodwin’s research and her reading of Victoria’s own journals. I suspect that the Lord Melbourne of the novel (and the TV series) may be a bit more attractive and romantic than the real man, but one can sympathize with Victoria, going from sheltered girl, controlled by her loving but overwhelming mother, to Queen of England when she was barely eighteen.

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I enjoyed this so much that I have picked up copies of Goodwin’s previous novels, The American Heiress and The Fortune Hunter. Just what I need, more books To Be Read.

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Michael Crichton’s posthumous novel Dragon Teeth sounded like something I’d love: the great nineteenth century fossil hunting rivalry between Professors Cope and Marsh, Dragon Teethadventures in the Wild West. I have a couple of Crichton’s novels on my shelf, but I haven’t read his work in years. Alas, I found Dragon Teeth only mildly entertaining. It’s written in an omniscient viewpoint that really doesn’t engender any deep connections with the characters. Even the main (and fictional) character of William Johnson remains at arm’s length from the reader; Crichton often falls back on “had he but known” and “later he would write” descriptions. The pace didn’t pick up until the last third of the book, when Johnson falls in with Wyatt and Morgan Earp. Crichton was always known for his story telling rather than his writing; in Dragon Teeth even the story telling is rather slow.

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According to the Afterword, the novel goes back to the 70s. There is a three page bibliography, and the setting and descriptions are clearly well researched. But one suspects why Crichton chose not to publish it a long time ago.

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In 2018 I hope to read another sixty or seventy books. I’ve set my Goodreads goal at sixty again this year. Happy New Year, and Happy Reading to all!

 

Resplicing the Cord

On October 16 I came home to find my cable service was out. A few days later the technician who came to fix it was unable to fight his way through the bamboo to reconnect the cable, which had come loose from the tap (Nature vs. Technology).

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Thanks to a number of domestic distractions (the check engine light in my car, requiring a new set of fuel injectors; the onset of cold weather, requiring not one but two visits from the furnace repairman and several very cold nights) and the difficulty of finding someone willing to cut down the necessary bamboo, the cable remained unattached until December 21.

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I didn’t go entirely without video entertainment over those two months. Several shows I enjoy on CBS were available on line the day after they were broadcast. I discovered the Comcast streaming app, which allowed me to watch most cable shows on my Fire tablet (but not the local or broadcast channels, which require the user to have Comcast Wifi—my Internet and Wifi are provided by my phone company). I made considerable use of Amazon Prime and watched the second season of The Man in the High Castle on my tablet. I did not dip into my fairly extensive DVD collection except to watch a couple of old movies (Breaking the TV Habit).

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So many weeks of no activity on my TV boxes may have triggered something in the Comcast computer system: a week or two into December the streaming app stopped offering me anything but random college athletics, and the web sites for TNT and the History Channel stopped recognizing my Comcast log in.

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That’s when I finally got serious. Through a friend, I found a handyman willing to help me cut the bamboo (amazing how much bamboo landed on the ground in my back yard—twenty or so 55-gallon bags of the stuff have been chopped up and disposed of, and we’re only half done with that). That’s when I found out that the utility pole actually is in my yard; there’s a fence and a large tree blocking it on the other side of my fence, and it serves at least three houses.

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Bamboo 2

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A Comcast technician came out a couple of days later. Between getting his ladder into position, replacing several ancient connectors, and using his tablet to reset all three of my TV sets (why one person needs three TVs is a question for another day), he spent about an hour and a half on my problems, but when he left everything was working as it should.

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That was almost ten days ago, and I find that much of my habit breaking has stuck. I’ve caught up on a couple of shows On Demand, but on the whole I’ve been much more selective about my TV use, reading more, going to bed earlier, listening to the radio more. I’m glad to have the Music Choice Smooth Jazz Channel back—I’m not a person who thrives on silence, I need background noise.

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Other habits have changed as well. I used to do the Houston Chronicle puzzles every evening, apparently while I was ignoring something on TV, because I now have over a month’s worth of puzzle pages piled up on my coffee table. I used to fall asleep watching TV in the bedroom—now I rarely turn that one on.

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Am I thinking of cutting the cord on purpose? Not any time soon. I like the convenience of cable service. I don’t want to have to manage several different sources for the shows I want to see. But I’m definitely keeping my Internet and Wifi with Frontier. I’ll keep those eggs in multiple baskets for the foreseeable future.

 

Veronica Scott’s Sectors SFR

If you like your Science Fiction Romance toward the Science Fiction end of the scale, you will surely enjoy Veronica Scott’s Sectors series. Set in the human-dominated Sectors, this collection of novels, for the most part loosely connected, generally focuses on military heroes and strong heroines. The Sectors are at war with the Mawreg (the mere site of a Mawreg can drive a human mad) and their client races, including the insectoid and nearly indestructible Shemdylann.

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Star SurvivorStar Survivor is the sequel to Scott’s Wreck of the Nebula Dream (think Titanic in space) and focuses on Twilka, the Socialite who demonstrated her inner strength in that book. Star Survivor picks up when Twilka runs into Khevan again, five years after he apparently left her without a word. Needless to say, that’s not quite what really happened, and the two find themselves on the run from Khevan’s D’nvannae Brothers.

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Star Survivor not only lets us know what has happened to Twilka, Khevan, Nick, and Mara in the years since the wreck, it also explains a lot about the mysterious Red and White Ladies. Although most of Scott’s Sectors novels can be read as stand-alones, this one is best read after Wreck of the Nebula Dream.

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The Fated Stars puts something of a gender twist on the military hero—in this tale it’s the heroine, Larissa Channer, retired from the Sectors service and now a mercenary with herThe Fated Stars own small ship, the Viking Queen, who is the Warrior. The hero, Samell, is far from a wimp, but he’s definitely in distress, held captive as a fortune teller in a shabby carnival traveling from world to world. When Larissa sees him, she knows something is wrong, and when he manages to pass her a mental message, she takes it upon herself to rescue him.

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Easier said than done, and even when accomplished, Larissa and Samell face escalating problems, while finding that the psychic abilities of Samell and his people, now a band of ragtag refugees, may make huge contributions to the war against the Mawreg.

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I have more Sectors tales waiting on my Kindle. If only I had more time to read . . .

 

Jennifer Weiner: Hungry Heart

Jennifer Weiner’s Hungry Heart carries the subtitle Adventures in Life, Love, and Writing, which pretty much describes the scope of the book, composed of memoir, essays, and a few articles from Weiner’s career as a journalist. I enjoyed it thoroughly. I picked it up in the writing section at Half Price Books, thanks to the subtitle, but it’s not a writing craft Hungry Heartbook at all. The sections about Weiner’s writing career are interesting, but the tales of her life and family are even better. Weiner has fought her weight all her life, but if you’ve felt like an outsider for any reason, you’ll identify with her. I’ve read several of her novels, and reading this sent me out to pick up a couple more, including her first, Good In Bed, now that I know how she came to write it (and the stunning advance she got for it, something pretty much unheard of in the current publishing market).

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Weiner is, as she says, a “proud and happy writer of popular fiction.” She is also something of a campaigner for gender equality in, say, the New York Times, meaning that women writers, and the fields they dominate, deserve equal treatment by reviewers, and she addresses those topics in the book.

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She also discusses her family: her ill-matched parents, her wandering and sometimes abusive father, her mother who came out as a Lesbian in her fifties, and her quirky siblings. “It is a truth universally acknowledged among writers,” she says, “that an unhappy childhood is the greatest gift a parent can provide.” I’m not sure I’d take that literally—I had a happy childhood with parents who were voracious readers and taught me to love books—but I have to agree that our childhood traumas, large and small, follow us through life. Weiner has built a successful career as a novelist on her own experiences, and it’s fascinating to look behind the pages at her adventures.

 

Spellbound Mysteries

Doom and Broom is the second installment in Annabel Chase’s charming Spellbound series. Emma Hart is settling into her new life in Spellbound, a mysterious town populated Doom and Broomby a wide variety of supernatural sorts trapped there by a curse so old no one really remembers the details. Emma, who didn’t even know she was a witch until she wandered into town and found she couldn’t leave (in Curse the Day), now has a house, a vampire ghost roommate (the previous owner), and a job as the local public defender.

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Her first court case involves defending a teenage Berserker accused of vandalism, but the real news in town involves the suspicious death of a soon-to-be-married female werewolf. Did Jolene commit suicide, or is there a more dastardly explanation?

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While investigating that, Emma also deals with her remedial witch training, especially the broomstick course, not easy for someone with a fear of heights. And then there’s harp therapy, ladies poker night, a sexy vampire named Demetrius, and of course Daniel the depressed fallen angel.

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The third book, Spell’s Bells, is every bit as entertaining, as Emma defends a lovesick Spell's Bellsbrownie on burglary charges and tries her hand at speed dating to meet a wereweasel (that dates goes about as badly as one might expect), all the while investigating the mysterious glass coffin holding a comatose dwarf named Freddie. She goes for a hike with a werelion named Fabio and visits a hilariously demented witch in the local retirement home.

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Lucky CharmLucky Charm is another delightfully funny entry, fourth in the series. While searching for a cure for the spell that has the town council behaving like children (and requiring constant supervision), Emma finds new ways to deal with her sometimes scary paranormal neighbors and learns a bit more about her own background. Chase continues to add new and interesting characters to her “cursed” town.

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There are five more books in the series. I think I’ll go download the next one.

 

Sally Kilpatrick’s Bless Her Heart

I’m not a Southerner by birth, but I’ve lived down South long enough to know just what a double-edged sword the phrase “bless your/her/his heart” can be. If you don’t already understand this Southernism, here’s a novel that will tell you all you need to know.

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Bless Her HeartSally Kilpatrick’s delightful Bless Her Heart begins with its protagonist, Posey Love, stuck in a ten-year train wreck of a bad marriage to a man who embodies everything wrong with the man as head of household, woman as submissive and obedient wife branch of conservative religion. In fact, Chad Love started his own ministry largely to take advantage of others.

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Posey, who wants a baby more than anything, has put up with her domineering husband for years, at least partly in reaction to her own mother, who has raised three children by three men to whom she was never married at all. But when Posey discovers in quick succession that Chad has been cheating (adultery and hitting are deal breakers even for Posey), run off with another woman, failed to make the car payment, and sold the house, she begins to take back her own life and finds out that hard as that is, she’s up to the challenge.

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As Posey grows into the person she was always meant to be, she takes some adventurous steps. Encouraged by her free-spirited younger half-sister, she sets out to not only give up something important for Lent (church!), but also to sample the Seven Deadly Sins, with generally hilarious results. Along the way she finds out that wishes can come true in very surprising ways.

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Bless Her Heart handles some very serious issues, ranging from emotional abuse to Alzheimer’s, with sympathy, understanding, and humor. Especially humor. The characters, from Posey’s rediscovered best friend Liza to her unconventional but wise mother Lark, are well developed and supportive, and Chad is a man the reader will indeed love to hate. It’s a joy to watch Posey climb out of her self-imposed shell and blossom.

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This is the fourth of Kilpatrick’s loosely related novels set in and around the town of Ellery, Tennessee. Don’t miss The Happy Hour Choir (with its heroine, Beulah Land), Bittersweet Creek (”Romeo and Juliet with cows”), and Better Get to Livin’ (the funniest love story ever set in a funeral home).

 

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