More Mysteries (To Read!)

No technological enigmas today, just three very readable mystery novels.

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Maggie Doyle is back in a new adventure in Zara Keane’s The 39 Cupcakes. She’s settling into her new life as a private investigator on Whisper Island, just off the coast of Ireland, and into her growing relationship with Garda Sergeant Liam Reynolds (at least until his outspoken eight-year-old daughter comes to visit). The Movie Theater Cafe is hanging on (with a showing of Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps) despite the opening of The Cupcake Cafe right across the road. And Maggie’s cousin Julie has recruited her to help chaperone thirty summer camp kids on a tour of an archaeological excavation.

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The 39 CupcakesPeople may call Maggie a Corpse Magnet, but it’s actually one of the kids who discovers the first body. Bones do turn up in archaeological sites, but not with modern dental work. With Reynolds technically on vacation, Maggie and her unofficial assistant Lenny are off and running on the investigation.

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The 39 Cupcakes brings back many of the characters from Maggie’s previous cases and adds a few new ones. The cast and the setting of these books is so much fun, and Maggie works her way through the mayhem around her with great humor, seeing her father’s country with American eyes, struggling to pronounce Irish names, and waiting for those official divorce papers.

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Fortunately we won’t have to wait too long for Maggie’s next case: Rebel Without a Claus, coming this holiday season.

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Marcia Muller’s Sharon McCone mysteries never spend much time on my TBR shelf. I’ve been a fan of the series since the first book, Edwin of the Iron Shoes, came out in 1977. Over the years we have met more and more members of Sharon’s large and increasingly The Color of Fearcomplicated family, and a number of them figure prominently in the latest installment, The Color of Fear. When Sharon’s visiting Shoshone father is attacked and beaten on a San Francisco street, the incident appears at first to be a random hate crime, perhaps related to other recent crimes against minorities. But when Sharon and her colleagues investigate, it appears there’s a lot more going on—and someone will go to any lengths to stop Sharon from finding out the truth.

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Sue Grafton also has a new mystery on the shelf, Y Is For Yesterday. I haven’t picked that one up yet, because I’m three behind—V, W, and X are still waiting for me. I’ve been reading Grafton’s Kinsey Milhone novels since A Is For Alibi (1982), and I will catch up. These are two series that will stay on my keeper shelf.

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I missed David Handler’s Stewart Hoag mysteries completely when they were published in the 1980s. I picked up the first one, The Man Who Died Laughing, when it popped up on an ebook sale email recently (I get far too many of those). How could I resist a mystery starring a one-hit wonder writer conned into trying his hand at ghostwriting? Not to mention the basset hound, Lulu.

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The Man Who Died LaughingIn The Man Who Died Laughing, Hoagy heads to California to ghostwrite the autobiography of famous comic Sonny Day. Much of Sonny’s story comes out in the form of interview tapes, but he’s reluctant to answer the one question everyone asks—what caused the public fistfight which ended his partnership with straight man Gabe Knight. That question seems to be at the heart of a whole string of drastic events: death threats, vandalism, arson, and finally murder. Someone clearly does not want the answer to become public.

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The book is set in the early 1980s, and many celebrities of the day wander in and out of the story (perhaps to assure the reader that Day and Knight are not based directly on any real people), lending considerable atmosphere to the setting. There’s quite a bit of wry humor, but the mystery is a bit darker than I expected. Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I have another Handler tale (The Woman Who Fell From Grace) waiting on my Kindle. I’ll be watching for others in the series.

 

Recent Reading

I’ve been enjoying Marcia Muller’s Sharon McCone mystery series for many years, since it began with Edwin of the Iron Shoes back in 1977. When I noticed that Muller had published the first in a new series, written with her husband Bill Pronzini, I bought a copy and quickly misplaced it in my fear-inspiring collection of unread books (so many books, so little time). When I learned that two more books have come out in the series, I found The Bughouse Affair on my mystery shelf and read it.

“Carpenter and Quincannon, Professional Detective Services,” has been in business in San Francisco for The Bughouse Affairthree years when The Bughouse Affair opens in 1894. Sabina Carpenter is a former Pinkerton investigator, widowed when her husband was killed on a case. John Quincannon is a former Secret Service Agent. Their partnership is strictly business, although Quincannon would like something more to develop (and perhaps it will, in time).

While an Englishman who claims to be Sherlock Holmes meddles in their investigations, Sabina and John find that their separate cases, involving burglars, pickpockets, and murder, are actually related. But the real charm of the book for me is the detailed and very believable description of life and business in the San Francisco of 1894. If you enjoy the setting, you will enjoy the book.

Also set in the late nineteenth century, but not fiction at all, is Evan Schwartz’ Finding Oz: How L. Frank Baum Discovered the Great American Story. As the subtitle suggests, this is less straight biography than a portrait of the society and political events that influenced Baum. I picked the book up because, although I Finding Ozam a life-long Oz fan, I knew little about it’s creator. I learned that Baum dabbled in a variety of business ventures, most of them less than successful, lived in a number of places, and married the daughter of a well-known crusading feminist. I also learned a great deal about the life and times of the period.

I found some of Schwartz’ conclusions a bit far-fetched (he did not convince me that the massacre at Wounded Knee was reflected somewhere in The Wizard of Oz), but the book was definitely entertaining. I have a couple of anthologies containing the first ten Oz books on my shelf (Schwartz shows little interest in Baum’s career post-Wizard) and I may just reread them one of these days.

Howard Blum’s American Lightning: Terror, Mystery, the Birth of Hollywood, and the Crime of the Century is the story of the terrorist bombing of the Los Angeles Time building in 1910. Like many “crime of the century” events, this one has been largely forgotten. I’d never heard of it, and when I mentioned it recently to a friend who grew up in L.A., she didn’t know about it, either.

American LightningBlum’s narration mostly follows the efforts of William Burns, known in his day as “the American Sherlock Holmes,” to identify and track down the bombers, but he also brings in D.W. Griffith, who finds inspiration in the case as the movie industry moves from New York to Hollywood, and the attorney Clarence Darrow, who was involved in the defense of the accused bombers. Griffith’s involvement seemed a bit tenuous to me, but I enjoyed the descriptions of the early movie business.

American Lightning gives an interesting picture of the U.S. (and Los Angeles in particular) a century ago, and reminds us that terrorism is nothing new.

Another Box of Books

When I got home from work last night, I found a lovely box of books on my doorstep. Now, you might think, with all the (mostly free) books I brought home from the RWA conference, that I wouldn’t need to be book shopping again any time soon. (Well, no, if you stop by here often, you wouldn’t think that at all.)

most books 2Ha! I always need books. I’m a book junkie. And the August release of books in two series that I never miss sent me mousing over to Amazon a couple of weeks ago to order them: Paw And Order, the latest Chet and Bernie mystery from Spencer Quinn, and Death, Taxes, and Silver Spurs, the latest adventure of Tara Holloway, Diane Kelly’s intrepid (and armed) IRS Special Agent. Chet, Bernie, and Tara are among my very favorite book people (well, Chet’s a dog, but he’s still a favorite character) and I never miss their stories.

As long as I was there (and making sure to order enough for free shipping—I have yet to succumb to the lures of Amazon Prime, for fear I would never be able to tear myself away from all those videos), I ordered Kate Parker’s The Counterfeit Lady (the second installment in the Victorian Bookshop Mysteries) and Lauren Christopher’s The Red Bikini, a contemporary romance set on a California beach.

I’d heard through the RWA grapevine that the writers who went to Lisa Cron’s workshop were raving about it, and about her book, Wired for Story, so I ordered that, too. Haven’t cracked it yet, but a friend who has been reading it assures me that she’s gotten a lot of ideas from it. The subtitle, The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence, is a bit intimidating (Brain Science? Really?), but I’m always up for a few nuggets of inspiration.

I wanted one more book from a series I’ve loved since its beginning, Marcia Muller’s The Night Searchers, the latest Sharon McCone mystery, but when I pulled it up on Amazon, it was listed at full price and with a possible two-week delay. Aha—published by Grand Central and caught in the ongoing feud between Amazon and Hachette.

So I moused on over to the Mystery Guild. I’ve belonged to the Mystery Guild and the Science Fiction Book Club since the pre-Internet days of the early 1970s, when I lived in a small town in Louisiana, thirty miles from the nearest book store (and short of money at that). Over at the Mystery Guild, I not only found The Night Searchers, but they were running a sale, so I preordered another series favorite, Margaret Maron’s latest Deborah Knott mystery, Designated Daughters, and Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ new release, Heroes Are my Weakness.

Then last weekend I went to a West Houston RWA meeting and bought three new books by chapter sisters: Sophie Jordan’s A Good Debutante’s Guide to Ruin (first in a new historical romance series), Shana Galen’s Love and Let Spy (third in the Lord and Lady Spy trilogy), and Heather MacAllister’s Taken By Storm (Harlequin Blaze romance).

Clearly, I’m still devoted to the paper book, but I’ve added several novels to my Kindle since the conference, too, some by friends, some through BookBub (even more temptation than the Kindle Daily Deal!). As soon as I find another day or two in the week to devote to reading, I’ll put up some more reviews.

Meanwhile, what are you reading?

Abibliophobia

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.

 

Abibliophobia Strikes Again

Abibliophobia

I’ve suffered from abibliophobia all my life, but until recently I had no idea some kindred soul had coined a name for the problem.  Mind you, there’s no chance of running out of reading material in my house.  Along with the shelves of book I Really Want To Read, there are whole walls of books I can’t give up because I might want to read them again one day.  But I never go anywhere that might involve a waiting room or a meal eaten alone without a book (or these days my Kindle).

The truth is, I’m an incurable bookaholic, and I have no desire to change.  There are far more dangerous (or anti-social) addictions.

A couple of weeks ago I stopped at the local Barnes & Noble, armed with a Christmas gift card, and bought one book, a lovely large volume called Steampunk: An Illustrated History of Fantastical Fiction, Fanciful Film and Other Victorian Visions by Brian J. Robb.  I’d spotted the book on line and bought it brick and mortar; on the same trip I spotted several books at the store to order on line.  I have gift cards for Amazon, too, and they stretch farther.

Yesterday I made another stop at Barnes & Noble, gift card balance in hand, but I didn’t buy anything.  The particular book I was looking for hadn’t hit the shelves yet, and I knew that the box of books I’d ordered from Amazon was due to arrive.  And sometimes I find a bookstore the size of B&N overwhelming.  So many, many books that I would like to read.  So many, many books that I will never have time to read.  So many, many books that I should be writing myself.

book pileWhen I got home from my errand-running rounds, the big box of books from Amazon was waiting on my doorstep.  Four of the books are recently released romances by my Firebird sisters (that group is beginning to make me feel like a serious underachiever!):  Highland Surrender by Tracy Brogan, Midnight Shadows by Carol J. Post, and two by Kim Law, Caught on Camera and Sugar Springs.

Beguiled, by Deeanne Gist and J. Mark Bertrand, is a romantic suspense novel set in Charleston.  Dee used it as an example in her workshop on research, and it was the only one of her books I didn’t have, so when I saw it on sale at Amazon, I clicked it into my cart.  Darynda Jones’ latest tale, Fourth Grave Beneath my Feet is the latest release in her series.  I’m running behind on those; I’ve read First Grave on the Right (a Golden Heart winner), but Fourth Grave will be joining Second and Third on the TBR pile.

For pure mystery, I’d ordered Aaron Elkin’s latest Gideon Oliver novel, Dying on the Vine.  I’ve been reading this series since the beginning.  I’ve also read Marcia Muller’s Sharon McCone novels since the beginning (the latest is wating for me), so I couldn’t resist The Bughouse Affair, the first in a new historical mystery series set in 1890s San Francisco by Muller and her husband, Bill Pronzini.

I should be able to hold off the Heartbreak of Abibliophobia for a good while yet.  Say, the next twenty-five years or so.

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

Recent Reading: A Little Bit of Everything

I’m in no danger of getting ahead of my To Be Read shelves, but I keep trying.  The biography of Queen Elizabeth still sits on my coffee table–it’s a good book, but I don’t have time to pick it up very often.  Today I’ve been reading on my Kindle, Ghost Writers in the Sky, a mystery set at a down-scale writers’ conference.   I ran across this novel by Anne R. Allen while blog surfing one night.

A few weeks ago the ad campaign for the movie John Carter reminded me of the many Edgar Rice Burroughs books I read long ago.  Sadly, the movie seems to have been a colossal turkey.  The generic-sounding title can’t have helped, but maybe the studio was afraid boys wouldn’t want to see a movie called A Princess of Mars, the original novel written in 1917.  Of course if the princess looked anything like the Frank Frazetta cover paintings I remember from the editions I once owned, I’m sure anyone with a Y chromosome would have bought a ticket.

I knew I had none of Burroughs’ novels in my library now.  If I had hung onto all the books I’ve owned over the last (mumble mumble) years, my house would look like the set for one of those shows about hoarders on cable TV.   Browsing through the Burroughs novels available on Kindle (which is most of them), I was reminded of The Land That Time Forgot and its two sequels, The People That Time Forgot and Out of the Abyss, three short novels that I enjoyed long ago.  Never mind Barsoom, I decided, I want to revisit Caspak.  So I downloaded the trilogy in one ebook, complete with the original pulp magazine covers, and thoroughly enjoyed it.  The narrative is old-fashioned, the “biology” ridiculous, the sentiments often sexist and/or racist in a rather innocent early-twentieth-century sort of way, but the adventures are still fun to read.  And still available, after almost a century, which is more than one can say for most novels written in 1918.

I wonder if the same will be true of Catching Fire, the middle book in Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy.  I read this one in the wake of the publicity for the movie, found it not quite as compelling as the first, haven’t read the third book yet despite the cliffhanger ending.

For a change of pace, I picked up Deeanne Gist’s charming Love on the Line, a sweet romance set in Brenham, Texas in 1903, and featuring a very independent female telephone operator and an undercover Texas Ranger posing as a “troubleman” for the phone company.  Deeanne’s novels are delightful not only for their characters and plots but for the wonderful details of their thoroughly researched settings.  Love on the Line is a finalist in this year’s Romance Writers of America Rita® contest.

Marcia Muller has been one of my favorite mystery writers since I read her first novel about investigator Sharon McCone, Edwin of the Iron Shoes, back in 1977.  I recently enjoyed her latest, City of Whispers, which continues McCone’s adventures and the stories of her friends and family.  Sharon has been through a lot through the series, but she has not aged those thirty-five years.  What a shame that only works in fiction.

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