New Books from Phillips and Flagg

Two authors I can always depend upon for a thoroughly enjoyable read are Susan Elizabeth Phillips and Fannie Flagg, both of whom released new books in the past few months.

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Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ latest entry in her Chicago Stars series (#8) is First Star I See Tonight, the story of first-star-i-see-tonightCooper Graham, retired Stars quarterback now running his own night club and thinking about expanding to run clubs for other players, and Piper Dove, who has bought her late father’s detective agency back from her wicked stepmother and landed a job trailing Cooper for the investor thinking about financing his expansion.

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Piper annoys (and impresses) Cooper so much that he hires her to analyze the security at his club, while both of them, in true romance fashion, find reasons to resist their attraction to each other. Not content with one job, Piper finds herself driving for truly annoying Middle Eastern princesses and looking for her elderly neighbor’s dead husband. Along the way she manages to drag Coop into her adventures, and into her heart.

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I’ve read several of Phillips’ previous books (what romance lover hasn’t?) but this was my first Chicago Stars novel. I immediately went out and found the previous entry in the series, Match Me If You Can, to find out how two of the supporting characters in First Star got together.

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Fannie Flagg’s latet novel is The Whole Town’s Talking, an oddly structured novel about the town of Elmwood Spring, Missouri, from the establishment of a hilltop cemetery in 1889 through its last interment in 2016. A the-whole-towns-talkingfour-hundred-page collection of vignettes about the people who established, built, and lived in the town, the novel centers around the strange goings-on in the cemetery (not, I assure you, the least bit frightening).

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I’ve read several of Flagg’s books, too, most recently I Still Dream About You and The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion (which I loved to the point of forcing it on several friends), but I did not know that she wrote three previous books set in Elmwood Springs. Now that I’ve met the folks there, I want to read more about them. I’ve rounded up Standing in the Rainbow and Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven, but I still have to find Welcome to the World, Baby Girl.

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Sigh. So many good books, so many authors with back lists, so little time to read. I’ll keep you posted. (Join me on GoodReads, if you like.)

A Tale of Two Gothics

When I was a girl, [mumble mumble] decades ago, Gothic romance was very much in style. Two of the leading practitioners of the form were Victoria Holt and Mary Stewart, although numerous other writers contributed. Many of my friends remember those books fondly, while admitting that they haven’t actually read one in a very long time. Gothic novels usually featured frightened heroines (often governesses or poor relations) trapped by circumstance in isolated (and sometimes crumbling) manors dominated by aloof and dangerous lords (usually harboring some tragic secret). Readers loved them. But the appeal of the Gothic faded over the decades. Authors turned to more contemporary romantic suspense, and readers followed.

Now and then an adventurous author puts her own twist on the Gothic tradition. Not long ago I happened to read two such modern twists on the Gothic romance in quick succession, two very different books with shared literary DNA: Dark Angel by TJ Bennett and Heroes Are My Weakness by Susan Elizabeth Phillips.

Dark Angel is subtitled A Gothic Fairy Tale, and that is a very good description indeed. The story blends the tale of Beauty and the Beast with folklore and history in lush and elegant prose, producing a most unusual and remarkable paranormal romance.

Dark AngelWhen young widow Catherine Briton is swept onto the shore of a dark, foggy island, the only survivor of a shipwreck in the Irish Sea, she is determined to return to London and her duties there. When her rescuer, the Master of the mysterious island of Ynys Nos, tells her that no one ever leaves, she is determined to discover the secret—or the curse—that holds the land and its people in thrall.

Both Catherine and Gerard, the arrogant and imperious Master, are burdened with secrets and guilt. Catherine soon discovers that the people of Ynys Nos pay a terrible price for what might appear to be a wondrous gift. She finds herself locked in her room in Gerard’s castle, wondering why Gerard only appears at night. When she visits the village, where no one is quite what they would wish her to believe, she learns even stranger secrets. And although she feels duty-bound to return to her old life, both the island and her growing feelings for Gerard may make that an impossible dream.

Heroes Are My Weakness, on the other hand is a totally contemporary novel, but Phillips had me at the dedication—to Mary Stewart, Anya Seton, Charlotte Bronte, Daphne du Maurier, Victoria Holt, and Phyllis Whitney. Despite the fact that the Heroes Are My Weaknessheroine, a ventriloquist, holds conversations with her puppets, there’s nothing paranormal about Heroes. But Annie Hewitt is trapped on an isolated island, in the dead of winter, with no job and no prospects, by the terms of her inheritance. The owner of the mansion on the island, Theo Harp, is no stranger. In fact Annie has known him since they were kids, and can’t imagine ever forgiving him for what he did then. But it’s a small island, and she can’t avoid him for long. There are secrets from the past, nosy townsfolk, a creaky crumbling mansion—and quite a bit of Phillips’ trademark humor.

Dark Angel was nominated for an RWA RITA Award in 2014. I will be amazed if Heroes isn’t nominated this year. These two very different Gothic tales are both delicious books.

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