Margaret Maron: Designated Daughters

I’ve been a mystery fan since I was a kid (we won’t go into just how many decades that covers), and I’ve gone through series after series over the years. If I had hung onto all the mystery novels I’ve collected, I’d have something between a dedicated library and an episode of hoarders.

There are series (and authors) I’ve read in their entirety, others I’ve gotten bored with and abandoned. There are quite a few that I continued to enjoy even if the newer novels spend some time on the To Be Read shelf. And, sad to say, there are a few on the To Be Read shelf that I may not get around to—how long is too long in limbo?

Designated DaughtersThe latest in Margaret Maron’s Deborah Knott mystery series never stays on the shelf more than a few days. I’ve enjoyed Deborah’s adventures since her first appearance in Bootlegger’s Daughter (1992), and the newest novel, Designated Daughters, is as good as ever.

Deborah Knott is indeed a bootlegger’s daughter, although her eighty-something father has long since retired from that game. She is also a District Court judge in Colleton County, North Carolina, and one of the facets of the stories that I enjoy (and miss when Deborah occasionally travels out of her home territory) is the parade of loons and lost souls through her courtroom. Deborah, the youngest sibling and only daughter in her family, also has eleven older brothers who, along with their various wives, ex-wives, children, and grandchildren, often supply background information in Deborah’s investigations.

Designated Daughters revolves around the murder of Deborah’s Aunt Rachel, a woman already on her deathbed in the hospice wing of the local hospital. Why would anyone smother a woman only days, perhaps hours, from a natural death? Perhaps the explanation lies in the long silent Rachel’s sudden semi-conscious chatter about long ago events. Deborah and her husband, Sheriff’s Deputy Dwight Bryant, set out to unravel Rachel’s rambling remarks, uncovering long-buried secrets and motives.

The novel’s title refers to the caregivers, most but not all of them women, who devote so much of their lives to the care of elderly loved ones, and in this story band together to help one of their own.

Deborah has so many brothers, sisters-in-law, nieces and nephews that trying to follow their connections sometimes becomes confusing (Maron generally includes a family tree), but the mysteries are laced with humor, charm, small town and farm life, and I’ve enjoyed every one of them.

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?


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

Recent Reading: Old and New

There’s been no pattern to my reading lately–maybe it’s too early in the year for patterns.  Not that I’ve found much time for reading, but I keep trying. 

One night when I found myself staring in semi-panic at the proliferation of unread books in my bedroom, I snatched up something close at hand:  The Chrysalids, by John Wyndham.  First published in 1955, and known in the US as Rebirth, this copy was a replacement for the worn and yellowed 1969 paperback on my shelf.  Wyndham is largely out of print in the US, but his books are available through The Book Depository.

Told in Wyndham’s favorite first-person narrative, The Chrysalids is set in an unspecified future, long after The Tribulation, a mystery to the book’s characters, but clearly a nuclear holocaust of some sort.  In the 1950s that meant radiation and genetic mutation, and the central conflict in the book involves the fanatical efforts of the local leadership to maintain mankind, as well as the animals and crops, in pure form.  David, the protagonist, is a telepath.  He and the handful of others with the same gift appear to be perfectly normal, but in time it becomes clear they are not.  When others reach the same conclusion, the telepaths run for their lives.  Always the philosopher, Wyndham wonders which is more valuable, stability or change, regimentation or chaos?

Margaret Maron’s Three-Day Town is the latest in her Judge Deborah Knott mystery series.  Deborah and her husband venture away from their home in North Carolina to visit New York City, where they cross paths with Sigrid Harald, the NYC detective protagonist of Maron’s earlier series.  I enjoyed another visit with Deborah, but I didn’t find Sigrid particularly compelling (I haven’t read her earlier stories), and I missed Deborah’s enormous family and the often hilarious cases that pass through her courtroom.  I trust she and Dwight will be back home when we meet them again in Maron’s next mystery.

Meanwhile on my Kindle, I was reading Three Days at Wrigley Field, by K.P. Gresham.  Disclaimer here:  Kathy Gresham is an old friend and one-time critique partner of mine who decamped a few years ago to Austin.  When I heard that she had independently published this novel, which I had heard about but never read, I jumped at the chance.  I’m not much of a sports fan, but Kathy is, and her love and knowledge of baseball permeate this story of the first woman to try out for a major league team.  The book is about much more than baseball, of course, and well worth reading.

I half-read, half-skimmed my way through The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Facebook a couple of weeks ago, and frankly, I still don’t understand.  Why would I want to keep the friends of the friends of my friends posted on my activities?  Why would I want to follow theirs?  I have friends (actual in-the-flesh friends) who practically live on Facebook, and others who have pages there but only look at them every few weeks.  Just the other day my dental technician told me about someone who found her through Facebook–and she really wishes he hadn’t.  I guess I’m just not ready to join the party, spend the time, or invest that much effort in keeping up with the ever-changing privacy settings.  I feel a whole lot more secure here on my blog.