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Thursday, May 18, 2023

Four books coming out this summer that I'm looking forward to reading...

Do many of you remember that weekly event entitled 'Waiting On Wednesday'?  I don't think it's available any more except for bloggers who do their own weekly post.  Tina from Tina Says... still posts her picks each week and I always watch for the book she shares.  There may be more.  I used to share books through that as well, but I haven't done it for quite a while.  Anyway, I have several books being published this summer that I'm 'waiting on..'.  Here are four of them (and I reserve the right to share more in upcoming days - ha!).

The first two books are coming out on June 20th and Ruth Ware pens one and Sarah Stewart Taylor the second.  The second set of books will be published on July 11th and the authors are Linda Castillo and Carol Goodman.  Here's the scoop on all four:

Zero Days by Ruth Ware

Hired by companies to break into buildings and hack security systems, Jack and her husband Gabe are the best penetration specialists in the business. But after a routine assignment goes horribly wrong, Jack arrives home to find her husband dead. To add to her horror, the police are closing in on their only suspect – her.

On the run and out of options, Jack must decide who she can trust and how far she’s prepared to go. Can she figure out the truth, before her pursuers find her?

International bestseller Ruth Ware returns with this adrenaline-fueled thriller about a woman in a race against time to clear her name and find her husband’s killer.

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A Stolen Child by Sarah Stewart Taylor - #4 in the Maggie D'arcy series

After months of training, former Long Island homicide detective Maggie D’arcy is now officially a Garda. She’s finally settling into life in Ireland and so is her teenage daughter, Lilly. Maggie may not be a detective yet, but she’s happy with her community policing assignment in Dublin's Portobello neighborhood.  When she and her partner find former model and reality tv star Jade Elliott murdered—days after responding to a possible domestic violence disturbance at her apartment — they also discover Jade's toddler daughter missing. Amidst a nationwide manhunt, Maggie and her colleagues must look deep into Jade’s life—both personal and professional—to find a ruthless killer.

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An Evil Heart by Linda Castillo - #15 in the Kate Burkholder series

On a crisp autumn day in Painters Mill, Chief of Police Kate Burkholder responds to a disturbing call. An Amish man has been killed with a crossbow and abandoned on a dirt road. Aden Karn was only twenty years old. Who would commit such a heinous crime against a young man whose life was just beginning?

From an upstanding Amish family, Karn was well liked and looking forward to getting married. But as Kate delves into his past, she hears whispers about a darker side. What if Aden Karn wasn’t the wholesome young man everyone admired? Sensing an unspeakable secret no one will broach, Kate pursues every lead with a vengeance. All the while, her own wedding to Tomasetti draws near…

The case spirals out of control when an Amish woman comes forward with a horrific story that pits Kate against a dangerous and unexpected opponent. When the truth is uncovered, Kate comes face to face with the terrible consequences of a life lived in all the wrong places.

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The Bones Of The Story by Carol Goodman

The twisty locked-room mystery from two-time Mary Higgins Clark Award–winning author Carol Goodman, about a group of former classmates trapped on their college campus—with a murderer among them.

It’s been twenty-five years since the shocking disappearance of a female student and the distinguished Creative Writing professor who died while searching for her. The Briarwood College community has never forgotten the double tragedy. Now, the college President is bringing together faculty, donors, and alumni to honor the victims from all those years ago.

On a cold December weekend after the fall semester has ended, guests gather on the vacant campus for the commemoratory event. But as a storm descends, people begin to depart, leaving a group of alumni who were the last ones taught by the esteemed professor. Recriminations and old rivalries flare as they recall the writing projects they shared as classmates, including chilling horror stories they each wrote about their greatest fears.

When an alumna dies in a shockingly similar way to the story she wrote, and then another succumbs to a similar fate, they realize someone has decided at long last to avenge the crimes of the past. Will the secret of what they did twenty-five years ago be revealed? Will any of them be alive at the end of the weekend to find out?

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I think I've read almost all the books that each of these four authors have written.  They are each on my 'excited to see a new book' list.  Will you be trying any of these when they come out?  And do you have other authors with new books to come that I should check out?  Let me know!

Saturday, May 13, 2023

An early 'Happy Mother's Day' to everyone and, no, I haven't disappeared completely...ha!

 


I'm stopping by for a minute to wish everyone out there 'HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY!!'  My own mother, greatly loved, greatly missed, has been gone for almost 13 years.  However, I am still so very grateful for the love, kindness, and caring she shared with me - her oldest adopted daughter.  She was truly the best!

No, I've not disappeared completely and, yes, I've been reading your posts and thoughts even though my commenting has been almost nil.  Sorry about that.  I seem to go through these periods of not feeling 'inspired' or whatever about keeping up with this blog.  I don't seem to be able to let it go, however.  Do you think that blogging is winding down?  I heard a comment on a podcast recently that said that 'blogging' was not something that younger people wanted to deal with or keep up with.  Quicker things that take less time are more in favor or so it was said.  Ah well.  I notice that several of us post less than we did, but I think for me, blogging 'seasons' come and go.  What do you think?  Are we 'winding down'?  

What's going on with me?  Well, today, I am helping out with and attending a 'mystery writers panel' at my local library.  Three mystery authors will be talking to us and to each other about their craft of writing mysteries.  I will definitely be back next week at some point to share a few pictures and tell about what they talked about.  The three authors are Skye Alexander (who lives here in Kerrville), Laura Oles (from Austin), and K.P. Gresham (also from Austin).  More to come on this!

I won't make this post too long today and that way I'll have more to share in upcoming posts.  However, I'm grateful for over an inch of rain we got last night.  We can definitely use it!  Also, almost all our house renovation is completed and we were able to have family come a couple of weeks ago to take a tour and share our new area.  That was a lot of fun.  Our daughter and son-in-law came last weekend and we had a great time with them.  We've got a couple of trips planned for summer and one planned in the fall.  Life goes on and it's been pretty good lately.  I'll talk more about reading and book groups later.  

Hope everyone has a good weekend!!  See you soon!

Saturday, March 4, 2023

A glimpse of spring and three debut books I've read lately...

 


Hello book friends!  Hope you are all well and already enjoying or looking forward to spring.  I share a picture above of the first glimpse of spring in our yard.  Lovely, right?  The wildflowers are not quite out yet, but I'm hoping for a good season this year.  I did have someone say they had seen a few bluebonnets already, but if we don't get more rain I'm afraid this will be a sparse season yet again.  Come on, rain!  

In my reading life, I've recently read three books that were all debut novels.  They are not alike, but I was pleased with all three.  Oh, and I also attended the historical fiction book group here, though I hadn't read the book.  Enjoyed that anyway and getting to see that group again.  My book group attendance has been a bit hit and miss in the last few months.  The book discussed was The Last Train To Key West by Chanel Cleeton.  Have you read that one?  Most seemed to really like it.  The books I read are:

The Minuscule Mansion of Myra Malone by Audrey Burges - Did you ever have a doll house with little furnishings as a child?  I did and I liked it a lot.  Mine wasn't anything fancy, but I enjoyed moving the parts around and playing with it.  In this book, Myra Malone lives in the mountains of Arizona and she writes a blog with stories about the little mansion that was given to her by her step-grandmother when she was a little girl.  Her grandmother had furnishings for the 'mansion' and also taught Myra how to create new and different types of rooms and settings.  Across the country, Alex Rakes is part of a family of custom furniture sellers and he hears about Myra's blog and stories, checks them out, and is shocked to recognize the 'mansion' setting and some of the furniture.  He writes to Myra and the story goes from there.  There is more than a bit of magic realism in this book and I thought it was fun.

The next book I opened was The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner.  This book is the March selection for the Austin Mystery Book Group that I keep up with.  I must say that Gayle is doing a great job of bringing new book selections to this group.  Set in both the late 18th century and also the present day, The Lost Apothecary tells the story of a woman named Nella who 'helps' women out of predicaments.  Nella's mother was also an apothecary that helped women, but Nella has added to the definition of 'helping' by including poisons in her stock of items.  In this time period, women often had no recourse for life situations with men who abused them or their children.  Nella can 'help'.  The present day story is about Caroline who has come to London for her 10th anniversary, but she's left her husband at home in the US.  Right before the trip, she is shocked to find out something awful about him and she takes their planned trip on her own.  Caroline finds an item that will relate back to Nella and her time and she goes on a quest to solve the 'lost apothecary' mystery.  I did like this book, though I wouldn't necessarily have made some of the choices that Nella did.  She had her reasons.  I'm also not a big fan of the time period - somehow, I like the late 19th century better.  However, I was quite absorbed in the story.  Sarah Penner has a new book coming out next week called The London Seance Society.  I hope to read that one too.

The third debut book I read was another 'cold' one - City Under One Roof by Iris Yamashita.  This book was more of a 'normal' mystery than the other two.  Set in Alaska, in Point Mettier, based in part on Whittier, a town that is approached by trains and cars through a 2.5 mile tunnel.  This is the longest highway tunnel in North America and it's one lane!  A little scary to think about.  All the residents of Point Mettier live in a condo/apartment complex of several stories - 'under one roof'.  It had been a military complex in the past, but an earthquake in 1964 caused vast damage and the military left the area.  Our story starts with a teenage girl finding a hand and a foot washed up on the shore and an Anchorage detective named Cara comes to investigate.  Cara has her own issues and hidden reasons for being there, but she works with the Point Mettier Police to identify the body parts.  Lots of people living there have things to hide (that part of the story almost reminded me of the Rockton books that I talked about recently) and there are criminals that enter the story.  On a cheerful note, there is a 'pet' moose named Denny.  Ha!  The author comes out of a screenwriting background and I think that shows a bit, but it didn't take away from the story.  I liked it.

Hope this post wasn't too, too long.  I'd love to know if any of these appeal to you.  And I'll be back soon to talk about what I'm reading.  Have a good weekend!  

Thursday, February 23, 2023

Murder At Haven's Rock by Kelley Armstrong

Murder At Haven's Rock by Kelley Armstrong

Blurb:

Haven’s Rock, Yukon. Population: 0

Deep in the Yukon wilderness, a town is being built. A place for people to disappear, a fresh start from a life on the run. Haven’s Rock isn’t the first town of this kind, something detective Casey Duncan and her husband, Sheriff Eric Dalton, know first-hand. They met in the original town of Rockton. But greed and deception led the couple to financing a new refuge for those in need. This time around, they get to decide which applicants are approved for residency.

There’s only one rule in Haven’s Rock: stay out of the forest. When two of the town's construction crew members break it and go missing, Casey and Eric are called in ahead of schedule to track them down. When a body is discovered, well-hidden with evidence of foul play, Casey and Eric must find out what happened to the dead woman, and locate those still missing. The longer Casey and Eric don’t know what happened, the more danger everyone is in.

My Thoughts:

After having enjoyed all of Kelley Armstrong's Rockton series (7 of them), I was delighted first to find out that she was taking those characters and doing another series and, secondly, happy to know that I am going to like the spin-off.  The Rockton books were very well done, or that was my opinion, and this reader got very fond of most of the people who lived in the 'hidden' town.  Most of the people - not all were good.  In any case, Casey Duncan, detective, and her now-husband, Eric Dalton, sheriff, are building a new town and calling it Haven's Rock.  I enjoyed reconnecting with both of them and a few other characters from Rockton.  Enjoyed meeting a few new people that might or might not be staying around in Haven's Rock.  

I do think that this book was definitely setting up the new town, new way of handling things (mostly), and telling us what life might be like here as we are still in the Yukon and still trying to be hidden.  There were people who eventually reappeared, but I'll be glad to see more familiar faces in the next book.  There were hints of things to come and also crimes to solve in this book.  Hoping that the next 'Haven's Rock' book will be coming in 2024.  Oh, I don't think you have to read the Rockton books first.  You could start here as a lot of things are mentioned that happened before.  However, for the best experience, start with City of the Lost and see what you think.  Have you 'visited' Rockton yet?

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

What The Walls Know by Skye Alexander

What The Walls Know by Skye Alexander

First Paragraph:

'Are you sure Dracula doesn't live here?' Melody asked as they approached Halcyon Castle.  The pretty blond musician peered nervously out the window of Sidney's Buick, like a child watching a horror movie through her fingers.

My Thoughts:

I very much enjoyed this second book in Skye Alexander's Lizzie Crane series.  The time period is again the 'Roaring '20's' and the protagonist, Lizzie, and her musical group, The Troubadours, have been hired to provide music and entertainment for the 50th birthday celebration of Duncan Fox, owner of Halcyon Castle.  It's the end of October and friends and family of Duncan Fox have been invited to celebrate in a variety of ways, as many of them, including the host, are somehow connected with occult practices.  There is an astrologer, a tarot card reader, and even a man who dresses like a wizard.  Lizzie and her friends are surprised and a bit 'spooked' by the things they see.  And on the first night, a woman dies and our mystery begins.

This book had a lot more Gothic feel to it, not only because of the time of the year, but also the setting, the descriptions of the characters, and also some of the 'spooky' activities that go on at this 'castle'.  Remember, it's the '20's and Prohibition is in full swing, but it's also the time that drugs that had been used for various ailments were starting to be made illegal, like heroin.  Lizzie is curious about a lot of the things that happen and she and her friends are once again in the midst of a crime that needs to be solved.  I will say that Lizzie is the sleuth and the police, while part of the story, are not as 'on the scene' all the time.  Lots of mentions of popular music and other things contemporary to the time.  The author is a good researcher and she shares her finds with us.  As I said, I enjoyed this one a lot and know that #3 in the series will be on the way later this year.  Skye shared a guest post here on my blog last week.  Hope you'll think about reading this series before long!    

Blurb:

In October 1925, four New York City jazz musicians known as The Troubadours travel to the neo-Gothic Halcyon Castle near Gloucester, MA, home of occultist Duncan Fox, to perform a week-long series of entertainments. Halloween is Fox’s fiftieth birthday and he’s invited twelve family members and friends––including an astrologer, a tarot card reader, and a wizard––to celebrate with him.

The activities at Halcyon Castle, however, prove to be anything but what its name suggests. On the first night a Ouija board predicts the death of Fox’s longtime friend Natalie Talbot from a heroin overdose. Her husband insists she never used drugs and suspects foul play.

Lizzie Crane, The Troubadours’ beautiful and talented chanteuse, begins snooping into the unexplained death after local police place her and her colleagues under house arrest. She learns the deceased was a medium, who swindled many grieving people by pretending to communicate with their departed loved ones on the Other Side. Natalie Talbot also made enemies among some of the guests gathered at the castle. Soon the list of suspects grows to include the medium’s lover, her cuckolded husband, and several others with vendettas to settle.

Natalie’s death isn’t the only mystery at Halcyon. The castle also has eerie voices emanating from its walls, a resident ghost, peculiar blinking lights, and secret passageways. As Lizzie pursues her quest into the strange goings-on, she discovers a plot to reap vengeance––and risks her own life in the process.

Friday, February 17, 2023

A Good Place To Die - Guest Post by Skye Alexander

Hello book friends!  Today, I have a guest post authored by my friend, Skye Alexander, sharing how the setting of books can be so important to the tale.  Hope you enjoy it and will think about reading one of Skye's mysteries.  I'm going to try to have a review of the second one, What the Walls Know, very soon.  

Note:  Skye also shared this article on the Ladies of Mystery blog here.  I'm always happy to know of a new-to-me blog featuring mystery writers.  Take a look!

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A Good Place to Die by Skye Alexander 

The real estate agent’s axiom about the importance of “location, location, location” holds true for me, too, as a mystery writer––usually the setting is the first thing I establish in a novel. The place where a story occurs provides a backdrop for the action and creates ambiance. It also grounds the tale in a time/space framework with a history, culture, and physical features that dictate what can or cannot happen there. A crime that transpires in a seventeenth-century French chateau, for instance, will be different from one that takes place on the mean streets of Al Capone’s Chicago or in a California mining town during the Gold Rush. 

Sometimes the setting assumes a life of its own and becomes a character in the story, such as the marsh in Delia Owens’s Where the Crawdads Sing and the Four Corners in Tony Hillerman’s novels. In some cases, the setting serves as an antagonist, like the Dust Bowl in John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath and the Parisian flood in Sarah Smith’s Knowledge of Water. The environment challenges the protagonist and either helps or hinders her efforts to solve the crime––or to stay alive.

Much as I enjoy reading about Louise Penny’s fictitious town of Three Pines, Quebec, and Susan Oleksiw’s Hotel Delite in Kovalam, South India, I didn’t want to limit my series to only one setting. Consequently, I created a cast of New York Jazz Age musicians whom wealthy people hire to perform at special events. Each stint takes the entertainers to a different location where they’re presented with a unique set of obstacles and opportunities. 

The most recent novel in my Lizzie Crane mystery series, What the Walls Know, is set in a spooky castle in October of 1925. When the musicians accept an invitation to perform at a Halloween party there, they have no idea they’ll be trapped on an isolated peninsula with real-life wizards, witches, ghosts, fortune-tellers––and a murderer. The actual neo-Gothic Hammond Castle in Gloucester, Massachusetts inspired me, and I incorporated its magnificent pipe organ and some other notable features into the story. The oceanside estate of the plumbing magnate Richard Crane prompted the first book in my series, Never Try to Catch a Falling Knife. Two future novels in the series, The Goddess of Shipwrecked Sailors and Running in the Shadows, take place in Salem, Massachusetts. This city’s colorful history offered up intriguing plot elements, including the clipper ship trade and the notorious smuggling tunnels that once ran beneath the old town.

For the sake of authenticity, I physically visit each place mentioned in my novels––every house, store, hotel, restaurant, church, library, museum, park, railway station, and cemetery. If it ever existed and still does, I’ve been there. In Never Try to Catch a Falling Knife, my characters eat lunch at a resort that unfortunately burned down in the 1950s, dashing my hopes for a site visit. Luckily, though, I located an elderly gentleman whose family owned the resort when he was young and he kindly spent an evening recounting the “good old days” with me. 

What are some of your favorite story locations? How do you feel they contribute to the tale? Does reading about a particular setting make you want to go there? 




Book Blurb:
Halloween 1925, Gloucester, Massachusetts: Jazz singer Lizzie Crane thinks ghosts in a creepy castle are her only worry, until a woman dies of a suspicious heroin overdose and Lizzie becomes a murder suspect––or maybe the next victim.

Author Bio:
Skye Alexander is the author of nearly 50 fiction and nonfiction books. Her stories have appeared in anthologies internationally, and her work has been published in more than a dozen languages. In 2003, she cofounded Level Best Books with fellow authors Kate Flora and Susan Oleksiw. The first novel in her Lizzie Crane mystery series, Never Try to Catch a Falling Knife, set in 1925, was published in 2021; the second, What the Walls Know, was released in November 2022. Skye lives in Texas with her black Manx cat Zoe. 

Buy links:

Monday, February 13, 2023

The joy of reading the two latest books in two favorite series...authors are Deborah Crombie and Elly Griffiths

One thing that helps me get my reading back into the 'normal' zone is to have the joy of diving into the latest books in two favorite mystery series.  And that joy was mine in the last few days.  I'll tell you about it in just a bit.  I also want to invite everyone back here on Friday of this week to enjoy a guest post by my friend (who is also a mystery writer) Skye Alexander.  Her latest mystery is What the Walls Know - more about that later. 

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I have enjoyed all 19 of Deborah Crombie's books featuring Scotland Yard detectives Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James.  Truly, truly loved them.  The latest (#19) is called A Killing of Innocents.  This book starts with a trainee doctor, Sasha Johnson, hurrying across Russell Square, on her way to meet a friend.  Unfortunately, Sasha doesn't make it to her meeting because she is very quickly stabbed and then dies.  Detective Superintendent Duncan Kincaid is called to the scene and he and his partner, Doug Cullen, begin the investigation.  Duncan contacts his wife, Gemma James, who along with her partner, Melody Talbot, have been assigned to a special task force on knifing crimes.  And we, the readers, get to follow along as we learn more about the victim and whether her death was targeted or if she was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.  

Deborah Crombie is a master at developing characters that the reader wants to know and follow along.  She's also a great crime writer, so the puzzle to solve is also interesting.  I have enjoyed all her books and learning about London (she does her research admirably there), other parts of England, and finding out the who's and why's and how's.  However, as I said, the characters, their lives, how they grow and change - definitely a master.  Well done, Deborah, and by the way, when will the next be ready?  Ha!  A highly recommended series. 

The second series favorite that I was able to enjoy was #15 in Elly Griffiths' series featuring Ruth Galloway, forensic archaeologist, and DCI Nelson, representing the police.  The title is The Last Remains and I once again 'cheated' and ordered this book from the UK.  Well, it comes out in February there and won't be out until April 25 here.  You see my dilemma.  Ha!  I have linked to the US copy and will be showing that cover as well.  In this book, a skeleton is discovered in the wall of a cafe that is being renovated.  The police are called (DCI Nelson) and Dr. Ruth Galloway is brought in to examine the bones and determine the age and possibly how the person died.  There turns out to be connections to other favorite characters (Cathbad) and the trail also leads to some Neolithic flint mines.  

I said that the author above was a master at character development and I believe that Elly Griffiths is another that is so, so talented in this area.  I have loved Ruth and Nelson since the very first book, The Crossing Places.  As the series has progressed, we have learned more and more about Ruth's profession of archaeology and more and more about Ruth herself, Nelson, his team, their families, and other characters that have been included.  Each book lets us catch up with the whole 'family' and solve a crime as well.  

I don't think it's a spoiler to say that this one may be the last in this series for a while.  Elly Griffiths has not said it's the end, but other reviews have said this.  I think she said - the last...for now.  The crime-solving here is good, the updates and appearances of characters from all over the series are good, and the references (not by name but by small tidbits) to previous books are good.  I don't think a reader would catch all of those references had they not read the previous books - just saying.  I loved the book and I love this series.  Finishing it made me want to start at the beginning and read them all again.  If you haven't read this series, it is highly recommended by me.  Elly Griffiths has been writing a couple of other series lately and also done some middle grade mysteries.  She's busy.  My request to her is to please let us see a bit more of Ruth and Nelson as time goes by.

Have you read either of these series or parts of them?  What are your favorite mystery series?  I can always use another one, right?  LOL   

Friday, February 10, 2023

The Drift by C.J. Tudor

The Drift by C.J. Tudor

First Paragraph:

They circled the body in the snow.  Scavengers.  Looking for anything they might strip from the corpse.

My Thoughts:

What do you think about that first paragraph?  More than a bit creepy, right?  Let me tell you, this book definitely continues on with the creepy, icy, scary, cold, and sometimes icky scenes.  Maybe get a nice hot cup of tea or cocoa and then settle in for a really wild ride.  

I thought I had read several books by this author, but I think I've only read one.  C.J. Tudor's first book was called The Chalk Man and I liked it quite a bit.  This one was told from three points of view - Hannah, Meg, and Carter.  It's got an apocalyptic feel to it - sort of end-of-the-world stuff.  There is a new sickness and it's been bad, really bad.  People are either 'nice guys' or survivors.  With the three protagonists, it's tough to see how they all relate to each other.  It took me most of the book to get a glimmer of an idea.  Even the title has a 'secret'.  Lots and lots of twists and then there was the ending.  Wow!

I did like this one.  Some might not be ready for this sort of book yet.  I have seen several of my blogging friends sharing positive reviews.  I will continue to read C.J. Tudor's writings or maybe find and read more of her backlist.  However, I think now I need a 'nice' murder mystery - maybe set in the hot summer.  Ha!  If you've read this one, what did you think?  If not, are you intrigued?  

Blurb:

Hannah awakens to carnage, all mangled metal and shattered glass. Evacuated from a secluded boarding school during a snowstorm, her coach careered off the road, trapping her with a handful of survivors. They’ll need to work together to escape—with their sanity and secrets intact.

Meg awakens to a gentle rocking. She’s in a cable car stranded high above snowy mountains, with five strangers and no memory of how they got on board. They are heading to a place known only as “The Retreat,” but as the temperature drops and tensions mount, Meg realizes they may not all make it there alive.

Carter is gazing out the window of an isolated ski chalet that he and his companions call home. As their generator begins to waver in the storm, something hiding in the chalet’s depths threatens to escape, and their fragile bonds will be tested when the power finally fails—for good.

The imminent dangers faced by Hannah, Meg, and Carter are each one part of the puzzle. Lurking in their shadows is an even greater danger—one with the power to consume all of humanity.

Monday, February 6, 2023

One book read and an ice storm - sigh!


Hello to all my book friends!  How are you this Monday?  I'm doing well and so, so happy that the ice event that Central Texas 'enjoyed' last week is over and done with.  OK, we've had ice events each of the last three years and I am ready for them to go away and not come back.  Maybe once every 10 years or so.  That's about how often Central Texas sees snow that is actually pretty and sort of deep, etc.  Ice is not fun at all.  Power outages and all those things are not fun.

I really shouldn't complain because our area fared much better than the Austin area.  We had friends and family sending us picture after picture of the damaged trees with limbs all over the ground and fallen on cars and power lines.  Power outages in Austin are still continuing and hopefully will be solved in a day or so.  Our daughter had to stay at her hospital for 'only' 3 days this time.  The big 2021 winter storm had her there for 5 or 6 days as I remember - until my husband could get his big pick-up through the snow and ice to get her home.  It also wasn't as cold this time, just below freezing, but the moisture made lots of ice and tree limbs just could not take it.  The picture above is one that my brother-in-law sent us from his neighborhood in Austin.  We will hope spring is coming soon - March, please!

Our house renovations are almost finished.  Yay!  So, so happy.  Just a few little things to finish up.

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In the reading area, I have finished one book and enjoyed it.  It is The Violin Conspiracy by Brendan Slocumb and the Austin Mystery Book Group will be discussing it tomorrow evening.  I just sent my thoughts to Gayle so she could share them with the group.  This book is about a Black classical violinist, Ray, who grows up in North Carolina and is incredibly gifted.  His mother wants him to stop wasting his time and go to work so he can help out with the bills.  His grandmother loves the fact that he plays the violin and tells him the story of her father who also played a 'fiddle'.  As Ray gets older, his grandmother gives him her father's 'fiddle' and amazingly changes Ray's life completely.  There's lots of story here - the violin is stolen and held for ransom - Ray discovers a lot about his family and their history - there are crimes of all kinds depicted.  The author, Brendan Slocumb, is a music educator and violinist himself and this debut was a good one.  His next book is out in April, Symphony of Secrets, and I hope to read it as well.  Have you read this one?  I think it ought to come with a soundtrack - lots of wonderful classical pieces mentioned.

Currently, I'm reading C.J. Tudor's new book, The Drift, and liking it, but Deborah Crombie's new book, A Killing of Innocents, comes out tomorrow and I have it ordered.  May have to read two books at once!!  What have you been reading lately???     

Friday, January 27, 2023

Writing Twentieth Century Fiction - A guest post by Joanne Easley

I'm delighted today to share a guest post by a local author, Joanne Easley.  I went to an author event in the fall of 2021 where Joanne spoke and also saw her at the writer's conference that I mentioned in late August, 2022.  Please enjoy 'hearing' about Joanne's journey 'writing twentieth century fiction'.  Thank you, Joanne!!

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My tagline is “fiction about complicated, 20th Century women.” I yearn for simpler times when instant communication didn’t exist. Young people today will never know the agony of waiting for their sibling to end a long conversation so they could make a call on the wall-mounted rotary-dial phone. They won’t know the thrill of pulling that twenty-five-foot-long cord down the hall to seek a little privacy. How many people remember waiting to receive a hand-written letter from a pen pal or a loved one overseas serving their country? Those days are gone, and unless a writer commemorates those experiences, they will be forgotten.

Because I lived through most of the latter half of the twentieth century, I have personal experience to draw on, although research is also needed for historical accuracy.

And I do like to be accurate. Researching can send me down a rabbit hole, but I never consider the time spent doing it as lost.

Here are my three favorite quotes about research:

“The man is most original who can adapt from the greatest number of resources.” - Thomas Carlyle

“I am a part of all I have read.” -  John Kieran

“The more research you do, the more at ease you are in the world you’re writing about. It doesn’t encumber you; it makes you free.” - A.S. Byatt

My multi-award-winning debut novel, Sweet Jane, begins in 1957 Odessa, Texas. In my research, I was lucky enough to find a blog about life there in the 1950s. I met face-to-face with the blogger and learned a great deal about the setting. For this book, I also had to study the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, life in the Haight in the late 60s, and Austin in the 70s and 80s. Although I lived in Austin in the 90s, I wanted to make certain the details of the earlier Austin timeline were correct. For example, I planned to use the name of my favorite bakery in Sweet Jane but learned it hadn’t opened until a few years after the timeline in the book. That research saved me from an error.

Just One Look, my second novel, takes place in the neighborhood where I grew up on the Southside of Chicago. While the plot is fiction, the setting is historically true. For all my novels, I want the referenced historic events to be precise. The Vietnam war, the 1968 Democrat Convention, and the 27 club—the deaths of iconic rock stars at that age—are just a few of the topics I spent some time investigating. Fashion and music are also themes in my books. One of my favorite fashion sources for this novel is the Sears  Roebuck catalog. As I scrolled through the online version, memories of ordering clothing over the phone, painstakingly reading the lengthy catalog number to the clerk, resurfaced. I even found several outfits I wore back in the day.

While my first two published books are primarily set in the 60s and 70s, I expanded the timeline in I’ll Be Seeing You to 1938-1985. The extra time spent on learning details about life in the thirties, forties, and fifties, both in Texas and Manhattan, was well worth it. As I reviewed World War II history, I came to understand how much I’d forgotten. Several prominent battles in both the European and Pacific theaters had a great impact on the characters in my novel, so it was imperative for me to know the details of those engagements.

The character is the driving force behind my writing. My novels begin with the idea for a protagonist. Novelists are often put into two camps—pantsers and plotters. I am a pantser, which means I allow the character free rein, and the plot emerges from her actions, some of which surprise me. I want my complicated, 20th Century women to have depth, so I must learn everything I can about them. Appearance, quirks, habits, family life, friends, and personality gradually come into focus, and only then can I begin writing about their trying circumstances. My novels deal with real-life problems and cover tough topics such as alcoholism, suicide, and miscarriage.

My talented niece designs my beautiful book covers and brings my characters to life. I am grateful to her.

While I was published with a small press for my first two novels, I did not renew my contracts. This year, I applied the knowledge I gained over the past years and self-published my third novel and re-released my first two under my imprint Red Boots Press, named for Sweet Jane’s love of red cowboy boots. My novels are widely available in eBook and paperback.