Three Good Mysteries

Kate Parker’s Deadly Wedding continues the adventures of Olivia Denis, begun in Deadly Scandal. Set in London in the late 1930s, the series combines mystery with a touch of cloak and dagger adventure. When Olivia agrees to help out with the wedding of a distant cousin, she doesn’t expect to find herself investigating a deadly-weddingmurder. And two attempts and another murder. As Olivia probes the family’s secrets, she has more and more reason to be glad that these people, with whom she spent much of her childhood, are only distant relations. Along the way she learns things she never knew about her father (they’re working together to investigate the murders, but Sir Ronald still doesn’t want to acknowledge Olivia’s job as a journalist), she sees some terrible sights on a trip to Vienna shortly after the Nazis move in, and the coming war colors everyone’s future. Olivia is a determined, independent woman, surrounded by a range of interesting characters, and her instincts for mystery solving are strong. I hope we’ll be seeing more of her Deadly adventures.

.

Send In the Clowns is another (#4) thoroughly enjoyable Country Club Murder from Julie Mulhern. This time Ellison Russell witnesses a murder in The Gates of Hell—a haunted house attraction where her daughter Grace appears to have overstayed her curfew. Of course the body disappears send-in-the-clownsbefore the police get there, but when it does turn up it opens a whole can of worms for Kansas City society. Ellison deals with her snobbish mother, her goodhearted but old fashioned father (who thinks Ellison needs a man to “manage” her), and struggles with her up and down feelings for police detective Anarchy Jones and lawyer Hunter Taft. I love the characters in Mulhern’s series, and the 1970s setting is spot on.

.

Janet Evanovich’s Turbo Twenty Three is the latest in the long-running series about Stephanie Plum, accidental (and accident-prone) bond recovery agent. I still love this series. Stephanie and Lula still make me laugh out loud. If Lula’s turbo-twenty-threedescription of going into a public men’s room (her idea for a new reality series, after Naked Bungee Jumping didn’t work out) doesn’t make you laugh, you should probably be reading something else. This installment features an enraged clown, murders at an ice cream factory, Grandma’s new boyfriend (a tattooed biker, but age appropriate), Randy Briggs (the three-foot-tall naked bungee jumper), Joe, Ranger, Rex the Hamster, a slimy booby trap, several fugitives, and another wrecked car. All in a day’s work for Stephanie and Lula.

Books: Mystery With Humor

Corrie Locke, the heroine of Lida Sideris’ Murder and Other Unnatural Disasters, is a newly minted lawyer who has just landed her dream job as a contract attorney for a motion picture production company. Murder and Other Unnatural DisastersUnfortunately for Corrie (but not for the reader), Keith-Ameripictures appears to be staffed entirely by lunatics. And while all Corrie wants is to live a fairly normal life and hang on to her new job, her reputation, or rather her father’s, haunts her.

Corrie spent her teen years helping her private investigator dad solve cases, even cracking a few herself. And word has gotten around. One of the security people at her new job quickly pulls her into the mystery of a recent suicide that might have a more sinister explanation, a pro basketball player insists she hunt for his missing lucky (and extremely bad-tempered) cat, and a barely coherent rap star brings her a case of alien abduction.

Murder and Other Unnatural Disasters is a wild roller coaster ride, full of loony characters, snappy dialog, and at least one ruthless murderer. Fans of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series will certainly enjoy the ride, and will spot a few common notes: Corrie’s self-appointed sidekick, Veera, reminds me of a better educated, better behaved, and definitely better dressed Lula, and Corrie finds her attention split between two attractive men: her long-time best friend Michael Parris and snarky, quick-thinking ADA James Zachary.

There are a lot of characters to keep track of, and abrupt transitions sometimes had me wondering where the characters were and how they got there. But the dialog is snappy and funny, and Corrie is an entertaining and sympathetic heroine as she navigates the perils of her new job, the temptations of investigating crime and craziness, and the dangers of raiding her mother’s padlocked and nanny-cammed closet for wardrobe emergencies. I hope this is the beginning of a new series and that Corrie, Veera, Michael, and James will be back. Put up your shingle, Corrie, and make your own dream job.

Speaking of Janet Evanovich, Tricky Twenty-Two is the latest in the long-running adventures of Stephanie Plum, the world’s most accident-prone bond enforcement agent. I can’t say worst, because Tricky Twenty-TwoStephanie usually gets her man (or occasional woman) in the long run, but along the way she destroys cars, gets beat up, goes to pre-funeral viewings with her gun-toting grandma, and wavers between two men, cop Joe Morelli and security ace Ranger Manoso.

I see a lot of snarky reviews from people who swear they’ll never read another book in this series, they’re terrible, they’re repetitious, etc. So, okay, don’t. (Like the people who want the TV shows they hate canceled, instead of just turning to another channel. Better yet, turn off the TV, folks.) Meanwhile, this installment hit Number One on the New York Times Bestseller list.

Yes, in Tricky Twenty-Two a few cars are destroyed (one of them by geese–now that’s different). Yes, Grandma takes her gun to a viewing or two, Lula eats her way through the book, Stephanie and Joe get crosswise, Stephanie moonlights for Ranger. Yes, if I were Stephanie I would have married Joe a long time ago.

These are comfort books. I know what’s coming–that’s why I buy them year after year. That’s why I enjoy them. I love the characters. I love the crazy messes Stephanie gets into. I’ll keep reading them as long as Evanovich keeps writing them. I’ve gotten bored with other mystery series and characters, but I still love Stephanie.

And More Books

When I cut my work schedule back to three days a week a couple of months ago, I was hoping to catch up on reading.  Well, not catch up, really, since I continue to buy books faster than I read them, but at least read more.  It’s been slow.  But I’ve kicked a few other projects off the virtual sticky notes on my computer screen.  I resurrected, edited, and submitted a favorite manuscript to the 2014 Golden Heart contest.  I’ve gotten back to my work-in-progress.  And I’ve just about finished up my term as president of West Houston RWA.  It’s been too cold to do yard work, but my Christmas cards are ready to mail.

The last book I finished reading was Death, Taxes, and Peach Sangria, another Tara Holloway novel by Diane Kelly.  Tara Death, Taxes, and Peach Sangriais a gun-toting IRS Special Agent with relationship problems.  She spends much of this book tracking down fraudulent tax preparers and money transfer businesses, trying to break up with her boy friend so she can date the fellow agent she’s been crushing on (since she rescued him from exile in Mexico), and drinking peach Sangria.  Only Tara would declare her intentions to that fellow agent in the middle of a shoot out with a taxidermist/part-time tax preparer.  Diane Kelly writes very funny books, and I highly recommend them.

Now I’m reading the latest adventure of bounty hunter Stephanie Plum, Takedown Twenty by Janet Evanovich.  Stephanie and her sidekick Lula are hunting for a gangster, but they catch more glimpses of a giraffe running loose in Trenton, New Jersey, than they do of Uncle Sunny.  Stephanie also has two men in her life, Joe Morelli and the mysterious Ranger, constant car trouble, and a loony grandma.  I love the series for the characters, whether they solve a mystery or not.

I’ve been fairly restrained about buying books lately, at least partly because we had no West Houston RWA meeting (with accompanying book signing/sale) to tempt me.  I did go over to Barnes & Noble a couple of weeks ago for the latest Tara Holloway novel, Death, Taxes, and Green Tea Ice Cream, and The Vanishing Thief, first in a new series of Victorian Bookshop Mysteries by my fellow Golden Heart finalist Kate Parker.  (The women I have met through the Golden Heart are keeping my bookshelves and Kindle full!)

Recent downloads to my Kindle include Tales from the SFR Brigade, a free collection of eight stories.  If you’d like to sample some science fiction romance, this is a good place to start.  Thrown is a new contemporary romance with anThrown equestrian background from Colette Auclair, also a Golden Heart finalist.  And I downloaded Orange Is the New Black, by Piper Kerman.  I haven’t seen the Netflix series based on the book, but I heard an interview with the author on NPR the other day, and it sounded too interesting to pass up.  Who knows, it might even inspire me to subscribe to Netflix.  Just what I need, more TV.

Speaking of Golden Heart finalists, the Firebirds (class of 2012) have restarted our blog.  Today’s post is a very funny interview with Colette Auclair about Thrown.  I’ve promised to post on January 13, so I guess I’d better think of something to say.  Hmmm, maybe I’ll write about . . . books.  And now I think I’ll go read one.

 

Shopping on Black Friday

For years I’ve said, rather smugly, I’m sure, that I wouldn’t shop on Black Friday.  Of course for the last ten years or so I’ve been at work on Black Friday, making the point moot.  But our work schedule has changed, and I was home today, and yes, I went shopping.  But not at the mall or the big box stores.

Two of the friends that I had Thanksgiving dinner with yesterday were going shopping last evening, which I never even considered.  (Their two top destinations were Victoria’s Secret and Toys R Us, which I thought was an interesting combination.)  But this morning, after several days of very cold and very wet weather, was cool and sunny, perfect weather for getting out and doing something.

I don’t do much in the way of Christmas shopping, but I had some things I needed.  I was running low on cat food, I have a friend with a birthday next week, and I always need something at the grocery store.  So I set out with my shopping list and coupons, only to discover that the vet clinic (where I get the diet food that doesn’t seem to causing any noticeable reduction in Nutmeg’s weight) was closed for the weekend.  But by then I was out and about, so I went on to Office Depot.

Office Depot was not crowded.  I bought a supply of pens, one of those folding cardboard science fair display boards (Jo Anne and I use them to hide our jigsaw puzzles from the cats, and the current one is falling apart), and a stuffed panda wearing a red and white muffler.  Okay, so I’m a sucker for stuffed animals, even at the office supply store.  And then the lady at the check out offered me an 800-sheet package of paper for $4.  Couldn’t turn that down.  No writer ever has too much paper.

Office Depot is next door to Half Price Books, as if I needed an excuse.  And I had a coupon.  So I came out with  Charlaine Harris’ Dead Ever After, the last Sookie Stackhouse novel (I haven’t read the previous one yet, but I’ll catch up), Janet Evanovich’s Takedown Twenty (I’m up to date on Stephanie Plum’s adventures, and this one will go on the To Be Read Soon pile), and two collections by David Sedaris, whom I always enjoy when I catch him on NPR.  And a stuffed Frost Dragon.  Told you I couldn’t resist stuffed animals.  Half Price Books was fairly busy, but no more so than usual.

Next stop, Bed Bath & Beyond, which was probably the most crowded store I hit today.  I found a birthday present and some kitchen stuff–I don’t cook much, but I like gadgets.  No stuffed animals.  And then on to Barnes & Noble, which Fixing to Diewas not as busy as I expected.  I bought another birthday present there, and one book for myself, Fixing to Die, the latest installment in Elaine Viets’ series about mystery shopper Josie Marcus.  I’m a couple of books behind on that series (and a lot of others!), but I’d never pass up one of Viets’ books.

Finished up at the grocery store, which was crowded (I thought everyone was eating leftovers today), for a few things, which somehow cost me another eighty bucks.  But I remembered the birthday cards I needed and a few cans of non-diet cat food to tide Nutmeg over, and succumbed to temptation when I spotted the half-price sale on Dreyer’s ice cream (I bought mint chocolate chip, my lifetime favorite).

Tomorrow is small business Saturday, and I’ve been trying to think of some independent shops in my area.  Once upon a time there were lots of small books stores, selling both new and used books, but sadly they’re all gone now.  Maybe I’ll have lunch at a non-chain restaurant.  Or maybe I’ll stay home and read.

Recent Reading

A couple of weeks ago, when the Romance Writers of America RITA® nominations were announced, I was about halfway through reading The Welcome Committee of Butternut Creek, by Jane Myers Perrine, and I was delighted to see it listed as a nominee in the category Novel with Strong Romantic Elements.  I looked for it first in the Inspirational category, because it was published by Faith Words, the Inspirational Divison of the Hachette Group.  But I think the book is right where it belongs.

I had picked Welcome Committee up one night when I wanted something warm and comfortable to read, and it just filled the Welcome Committee of Butternut Creekbill.  It tells the story of a very young, newly-minted minister who arrives in a small town in Texas to take over a church, not knowing what to expect from the congregation or his new life.  Oh, he’s taken classes in church management at the seminary, but that’s not the same as real experience.  And he’s in for some new experiences, particularly at the hands of the Widows, a couple of ladies of the congregation who believe, among other things, that a minister should be married.

The Widows don’t give up on their new minister, but they set meddling in his life aside to concentrate on a damaged war vet and his physical therapist, two characters who have the reader pulling for them from their first appearance.

Jane Perrine, who is an ordained minister herself, never preaches.  She writes about life in a small town church, and about people who try to do the right thing and care about one another.  The next book in the series, The Matchmakers of Butternut Creek, is at the top of my Books To Buy list, and The Wedding Planners of Butternut Creek will be out in the fall.

Earlier this year I read another of Jane Perrine’s books, Miss Prim, a Regency romance written several years ago and published by Avalon, recently resissued on paper and for the Kindle by Amazon.  Miss Prim is the story of Lady Louisa Walker, whose staid and well-regulated spinsterhood is turned completely upside down by an old flame who pulls her into wild adventures involving French spies, a race across the countryside, and a mysterious baby.

I haven’t managed a lot of reading time since the first of the year.  Busy at work and with RWA activities, and far less writing than I’d like to claim.  I’ve read three good mysteries, Janet Evanovich’s Notorious Nineteen (who really cares about the mystery when the characters are so much fun?), Marcia Muller’s Looking for Yesterday (I’ve been following Sharon McCone’s cases–and life–since she first appeared in Edwin of the Iron Shoes in 1977), and Margaret Maron’s The Buzzard Table (Judge Deborah Knott is another series character I have followed from the beginning).

Currently I’m enjoying Colleen Thompson’s Passion to Protect, an edge-of-the-seat romantic suspense novel.  The Steampunk book is on my coffee table, with a book mark very near the beginning.  The book on The Searchers is there, too, without one.  On my Kindle I’m following a serial, Falling for Frederick by Cheryl Bolen.

Yesterday I stopped at the local Barnes & Noble to look for a copy of my Starcatcher sister Amy Raby’s first release, Assassin’s Gambit.  I found it on the New In Paperback kiosk in the middle of the store and stopped to take a picture of the book “in the wild” to send to Amy.  There I was, on one knee with my camera, when I realized a man was watching me.  “My friend’s first book,” I explained.  “Wouldn’t it be more help to buy it and read it?” he asked.  “I will,” I promised, “but I also want to send her a picture.”  Apparently satisfied, he nodded and walked away.  Without reporting me to store security.

 

Welcome, 2013!

The weather has been grey today, the temperature dropping from a morning high of 57 degrees.  I went out to get my newspaper at 8:30 and haven’t been out the door since.  I spent a chunk of the morning (after reading the paper and watching an old Perry Mason episode) dithering over all the Productive Tasks I thought I should accomplish on my day off.  I have lists of them, on my computer monitor, on scraps of paper, in my head.  Pieces I need to write, tasks for my RWA chapter, sections of the house to clean and declutter, and so on.  I’m not very good at relaxing.

I finally convinced myself that this was a Day Off, for heaven’s sake, and I settled on the couch with Nutmeg the cat, a Mysteries in the Museum marathon running on the background TV, and Janet Evanovich’s Notorious Nineteen.  Stephanie Plum’s insane adventures kept me entertained all afternoon, as she and Lula tracked down a few bad guys, blew up a few cars, and made me laugh out loud more than once.

I haven’t had (or given myself) too many chances to sit down and read a book for a while.  I used to read a hundred or more books a year easily, but it’s harder to do that when you work full time at a paying job and take up writing as your other job.  Doesn’t leave a lot of time, and it’s way too easy to fall asleep over even a good book late at night.

This year I read 39 books.  Yes, I keep a list (you mean not everyone does?).  Ten romances (six on paper, four on Kindle), ranging from Regency (Cheryl Bolen) to steampunk (Zoe Archer), paranormal (Darynda Jones) to inspirational (Deeanne Gist), mostly contemporary settings.  I would read more romance–I have stacks of them To Be Read–if I wasn’t writing romance myself.  I suppose I’m afraid of seepage.  And, of course, if I had more time, because I love other genres, too.

I read nine mystery novels (only one on Kindle) this year, mostly on the humorous end, by Diane Kelly, Elaine Viets, Joan Hess, Susan M. Boyer, and Spencer Quinn, with Marcia Muller on the more serious side and Margaret Maron in the middle.   I only read five science fiction novels (one on Kindle), although it’s not easy to draw a line–Zoe Archer’s romance titles are also science fiction, and Sharon Lynn Fisher’s Ghost Planet is also a romance.

I also read four uncategorized mainstream novels, two on Kindle and two on paper, and eleven non-fiction books (six on Kindle, five on paper).  Of the non-fiction, four were on writing topics and three on social media.  The others included a gorgeously illustrated book on all things steampunk and a massive (but fascinating) biography of Queen Elizabeth II.

Here on my blog, WordPress tells me, I published 81 posts in 2012, with 91 pictures.  I had 21,000 page views (I stand amazed!) by visitors from 96 countries (most of them from the US, with significant numbers from Canada, the UK and Australia).  My most-read posts all concern the TV show Hell on Wheels;  that was hardly my goal when I began blogging, but I do find the show fascinating, and I’m looking forward to the next season.

On the writing front, I’m afraid I’ve been more involved in RWA activities than in actual writing.  I’ve served as president of the West Houston chapter (that’s a chunk of the To Do list on my computer monitor right there), been a finalist in the Golden Heart contest for the second year in a row, and traveled to the RWA national conference in Anaheim.  I’ve written columns and articles for my chapters’ newsletters.  I’ve done quite a bit of editing/revising/polishing, begun a new novel, and I’m learning to use Scrivener.

So, in short, I always have two or three bookmarks in play, even if I don’t get through the books as fast as I used to.  I’m building my “Internet platform,” but only as fast as I enjoy doing so.  And I’m pretty much always planning, plotting, or writing something.  I hope to continue all of this through 2013.  Maybe I’ll even manage to clean the rest of the house and hire someone to do something about my yard.  And remodel the bathrooms.  Maybe.

Happy New Year 2013

Dark Moments and Cliffhangers

Last week at lunch after the monthly West Houston RWA meeting, the conversation turned to a comparison of the Dark Moment in novels and the Cliffhanger Ending in series television.

Nobody wants to invest the time and effort of reading three or four hundred pages only to find an unresolved ending, with the possible exception of fans of long fantasy series.  ( I don’t include Janet Evanovich here–her cliffhangers only involve Stephanie Plum’s sex life, not the outcome of the novel’s plot.)  The television industry, however, often uses that Dark Moment, when every important character is in some sort of deep trouble, as a hook to bring the audience back for the next season.

That doesn’t always pay off.  The example my friend brought up, The Finder, won’t be back for a second season, so we’ll have to use our own imaginations to get the characters out of trouble.  A couple of years ago Stargate Universe ended with the crew going into stasis to attempt the crossing to another, safer galaxy.  But they were one pod short, and Eli Wallace stayed out in hopes of fixing one more pod before the oxygen ran out.  I prefer to think that he succeeded, and that the ancient ship found them a safe and habitable planet to settle, but we’ll never know what the show’s writers had planned.  I’ll bet if I looked, though, I could find plenty of fan fiction on the subject.

I probably watch too much television.  The box is usually on when I’m home, although right now it’s playing the smooth jazz Music Choice channel.  I like to tell myself that well written TV gives me insight into character and story structure.  Truth is, I enjoy it.  But I often find myself discussing some show or another with writer friends, so I’m not the only one.  This season several of the shows I follow have ended in cliffhangers of one sort or another.

Spoilers Ahead:  If you’ve missed any of these shows, be warned.  (I’m still catching up with House and Smash myself.)

Once Upon a Time, a show impossible to describe to anyone who has not watched it, ended with everyone getting what they wanted–for a moment.  But one character dropped that suspicious magic vial down the well, and here comes the purple cloud, bringing . . . well, we won’t know that until next fall .  Dark moment, happy resolution, new disaster.

Bones ended with nobody getting what they wanted, with the possible exception of the computer genius who framed Brennan for murder.  Now Brennan’s on the run with baby Christine, leaving Booth behind.  We know Brennan didn’t do what she’s accused of, despite a mountain of evidence.  We know who did, and how, and how hard it will be to prove.  But we also know the Jeffersonian team will solve it.  The question hanging here is How?

NCIS ended with everyone in dire physical danger as a car bomb blew in the front of the building, with most of the crew inside.  Even Ducky was in trouble, the victim of an apparent heart attack on the beach.  (I’d be more worried about him if I hadn’t read on several entertainment news sites that David McCallum has signed a contract for two more seasons.  I’d really hate to lose Ducky.)  NCIS has been known to kill off important characters more than once (Kate Todd, Mike Franks), but I hope the team will all be back in the fall.

There was an explosion on Hawaii Five-O, too, but that was only the dark moment.  The cliffhanger saw Kono sinking into the Pacific, her hands and feet bound with duct tape, while Chin raced home to find his wife barely alive.  As if that weren’t enough, there’s Steve opening a door in Japan and meeting . . . his long-dead mother?

I’m beginning to see odd patterns popping up.  On the finale of Grimm, another hard-to-explain series, Nick’s comatose fiancee (victim of a magic potion delivered via cat scratch) opens her eyes in a very scary manner, his police partner sits in his house clutching a shotgun and close to a nervous breakdown, and the woman who rescues Nick from an attacker claims to be . . . his long-dead mother.

Good heavens, what a fountain of disasters!  My own stories never involve explosions (wait, there was the potting shed incident in Paper Hearts), but sleeping beauty spells, magic potions, and missing grandmothers are all grist for my mill.  Someone on the run from a false accusation, that’s a good one.  Give them what they want, and then snatch it away–works every time.  See?  It’s all story structure.

How do you feel about cliffhangers?  Do you worry all summer?  File them away until the next season starts?  Or do they annoy you so much that you never watch the show again?

Previous Older Entries