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March 9, 2014

Books of the Week:

 

  • After I’m Gone, Laura Lippman
  • The Silence of the Library, Miranda James
  • Murder of Crows, Anne Bishop

 

In the interests of being thorough, I’m re-reading all the Rex Stout books and the Agatha Christie ‘Miss Marple’ novels on my e-reader as I travel. They make for good company!

 

But at home, I read actual, physical books. I had the pleasure of reading three really good ones since my last column. Laura Lippman is one of the best mystery writers in America; it’s easy to say that with qualification. After I’m Gone is a story of love gone wrong, at least in some ways. Cold case investigator “Sandy” Sanchez is investigating the case of Julie, the mistress of Felix Brewer, who fled prosecution twenty-six years before. Though everyone, perhaps including Brewer’s wife Bambi, has assumed that Julie went on the lam with Felix, her body has been found. A lot of history has to be reviewed and reinterpreted.  Did Bambi kill her old rival? Or are Bambi’s daughters guilty? There’s a lot of bitterness, and a dozen secrets, to wade through before the determined Sanchez can get to the bottom of what really happened to Julie Saxony.

 

My long-time friend Miranda James has a hit with her cozy “Cat in the Stacks” mysteries, and deservedly so. The Silence of the Library is another adventure of mild-mannered librarian Charlie Harris and his Maine coon cat, Diesel. Set in Athena, Mississippi, these entertaining and charming books always contain a satisfying mystery and plenty of character development. In Silence, Charlie, a great fan of the Nancy Drew books, gets to meet the author of another series he loved as a boy, the Veronica Thane series. Electra Barnes Cartwright is not in good physical shape, but she’s willing to participate in the library exhibit honoring her and other early writers of YA mysteries. Charlie is thrilled to meet such an icon of his youth, and the passages from one of the Veronica Thane books that punctuate the modern-day narrative provide a fun counterpoint. As Cartwright collectors swarm Athena, one of them is murdered, and Charlie and Diesel have to find the culprit and save the library’s event. You’ll enjoy this, and it’s suitable for all ages.

 

I’d been waiting for what seemed like forever for Anne Bishop’s new “Novel of the Others,” Murder of Crows. The previous book, Written in Red, was one of my 2013 favorites. Murder of Crows continues expanding the world of the Others, one in which humans are a minority and often regarded as food. Meg Corbyn, who has escaped from a secret compound where young female seers are cut to produce a prophecy, is learning to use her built-in talent to benefit her new community. They, in turn, are learning to live around Meg. But it’s an uneasy and uneven process, and the human world is reacting to the increasing tension among the Others and fanatic humans determined to kill them. It’s a much more divided world than we saw in the previous book, but just as intriguing. I really liked this book . . . and now I  have to wait for the next one.

 

Blog: The Instrument

 

My old PC had gotten balky, and I had been having uneasy twinges about it for some time. I kept promising myself that after I’d finished my current book, I’d consider buying something else. I did that for three books.

 

The decision was yanked from my hands when my computer decided to stop recognizing my keyboard. Of course, at first I thought it was the keyboard, and I bought another one. I use the ergonomic Logitech, and I love it, so I had to order that. In the meantime, I got out my laptop and set it up in another location, so I could answer email and so on.

 

But when the new keyboard came, the old computer wouldn’t speak to that one, either. When your machines won’t recognize each other, it’s a scary feeling. There they are, cheek by jowl, refusing to give each other a nod.

 

I had to go off for the weekend, and my husband bravely volunteered to try to reconcile the two by the time I returned. Since I am an optimist, I was blithely certain that all would be well by the time I returned. After all, this month and next month were on my schedule as the big push on the next book. My office had to work in unity.

 

Sadly, all my optimism was for nothing. I returned with food poisoning, after a flight cancellation necessitated another overnight stay, to the wretched news (everything was pretty wretched by then) that the two still weren’t speaking. Hal took the old, sick computer to a repair shop to loosen its tongue, and I looked forward to getting it back in a mood to communicate.

 

It was Not To Be. Poor computer! Its motherboard was fried. It would never speak again.

 

Now I have a shiny looking chrome computer sitting on my desk, and it’s beginning to warm up to the other office machines. So far so good.

 

I didn’t realize how my attitude to work was affected by the machine I was using. I feel quite jaunty with this new computer, and (once again) optimistic about how great a writer I’ll be now that I have something so up-to-date. It’s kind of ridiculous how “new” makes an emotional translation as “better.”

 

So far my printer and keyboard seem to like their new comrade just fine . . . so I’m optimistic.

 

Charlaine Harris

NEWS: Dead But Not Forgotten from Audible May 13th

NEWARK, N.J., Mar 04, 2014 (BUSINESS WIRE) — Audible, Inc., the world’s largest seller and producer of downloadable audiobooks and other spoken-word content, today announced the forthcoming release of Dead But Not Forgotten: Stories from the World of Sookie Stackhouse. An audio-original anthology edited by Sookie creator Charlaine Harris along with Toni L. P. Kelner, the collection includes 15 new stories featuring Eric, Pam, Quinn and other characters familiar to fans of Harris’s best-selling novels and True Blood, the HBO series they inspired. Audible will release Dead But Not Forgotten on May 13, 2014; the audiobook is available for pre-order now at www.audible.com/DBNF .

 

“I’d seen the Sookie Stackhouse novels adapted by others for True Blood, but that was an entirely different medium,” said Harris. “It felt a little like leaping without a net when I embarked on Dead But Not Forgotten, even with getting to hand-pick the contributors and my co-editor Toni L. P. Kelner. But the results have been astonishing, a rich variety of characters and approaches that I can’t wait to share with my readers and listeners.”

 

Along with Caine, Davidson, Maberry and McGuire, participating writers in Dead But Not Forgotten include Dana Cameron, Bill Crider, Leigh Evans, Christopher Golden, Nancy Holder, Miranda James, Leigh Perry, Jeffrey J. Mariotte, Suzanne McLeod, Nicole Peeler, and Jeanne C. Stein. Dead But Not Forgotten is narrated by Johanna Parker, the longtime voice of the Sookie Stackhouse audiobooks, with introductions read by Charlaine Harris.

“Like all Sookie fans, we can’t get enough of the rich world Charlaine has created,” said Audible’s executive producer for the project, Steve Feldberg. “If Dead But Not Forgotten proves anything it’s that while Sookie’s story may have ended, there are still so many corners to explore and a wealth of memorable characters with their own tales to tell.”

Charlaine Harris first introduced Sookie Stackhouse with the publication in 2001 of the Anthony Award-winning Dead Until Dark. By the time the 13th and final novel, Dead Ever After, was published in 2013, the series had become a mainstay of national best-seller lists, and inspired the hit HBO series True Blood. The Sookie Stackhouse novels have sold more than 29 million copies and have been published in 35 languages.

Dead But Not Forgotten is produced by Audible Studios, the production arm of Audible.com. Audible invented and commercialized the first digital audio player in 1997, and has since been at the forefront of the explosively growing audiobook download segment. In 2013, Audible members downloaded an average of more than 17 books over the course of a year.

 

 

February 19, 2014

Books of the Week:

 

  • Up from the Grave, Jeaniene Frost
  • Dead Harvest, Chris F. Holm
  • The Nero Wolfe books, Rex Stout
  • The Girl with all the Gifts, M.R. Carey

Jeaniene Frost ended her hugely popular Cat and Bones series with a great bang. Up from the Grave contains revelation after revelation, a loose end or two, and a satisfyingly happy ending for Catherine, the Red Reaper, and her handsome vampire sire and lover, Bones, who literally sail off into the sunset with . . . but I’m  not going to give away any spoilers, here. There are moments of great tension, and of course a lot of bloodshed and explosions, before Cat and Bones make their world as right as they can.

 

Dead Harvest (Chris F. Holm) has an unusual premise, which is not uncommon for an urban fantasy novel – the protagonist collects souls. That’s his job. He does this in payment for a debt, and he never doubts that what he does is necessary. But when he’s sent to collect the soul of a girl, he believes her to be innocent and the collection a mistake. Sam Thornton defies authority and refuses, and (almost literally) all Hell breaks loose. In a complicated and grim plot, Sam jumps from body to body in his attempt to keep the girl free. This is the first in a series.

 

Everyone who loves mysteries knows the name Rex Stout. Stout, the son of Quakers and a mathematical genius, turned to writing mysteries at an early age. The character of the eccentric private detective, Nero Wolfe, is iconic.  Wolfe, an orchid fancier, never leaves his brownstone unless there’s a terrible crisis, and he’s proud of his quirks and unashamed that he’s fat. His cook, Fritz, and his gardener, Theodore, live in the brownstone, too, along with Archie Goodwin, the younger, active, and brash private eye who does the legwork and interprets women to the misogynistic Wolfe. You can’t read just one Rex Stout – when you begin, they go down like potato chips. I read four in quick succession, and enjoyed every word. I read Three Men Out, The Rubber Band, and The Red Box.

 

The Girl with all the Gifts will be out here in JUNE. You should pre-order this book. It’s my literary grandchild, and I am bursting with second-hand pride. Toni Kelner and I asked M. R. Carey to contribute a story for the anthology, “An Apple for the Creature.” He sent us “Iphigenia in Aulis,” and I don’t think we changed a word of it. This story was nominated for several awards, and though it didn’t win any, Carey got a movie offer. He wrote a full-length book based on the characters in the story: Melanie, a little girl in a unique internment camp, her school teacher, Miss Justineau, and Sergeant Parks, who is in charge of keeping Melanie and the other pupils restrained. Melanie is a genius. She is also other things. I won’t reveal any of the other surprises about this brilliant book, but I HIGHLY RECOMMEND it.

 

Blog

 

After being so indignant about Isabel Allende and bad announcers, I seem to have gotten over being angry for a while. And high time. I went to Boskone last weekend, a long-running science fiction convention held annually in Boston in February. Yes, Boston in February – doesn’t sound logical, does it? And sure enough, I had to fly in a day early to avoid a possible blizzard. So in the Riverfront Westin, I watched a snowfall the likes of which this southern girl has never seen. To add to my entertainment, it also sleeted and rained. I had a wide variety of weather events to choose from.

 

Boskone itself was very well organized and run by excellent people (and in a very comfortable hotel with a great staff). I had a great time on my several panels, and met some people I’d only heard about before, like Melinda Snodgrass, who knows so much about television writing and so many other mediums that it’s simply incredible. I also got to reconnect with friends, including Dana Cameron, Toni Kelner (Leigh Perry), Brendan DuBois, Seanan McGuire (Mira Grant), and Nancy Holder, as well as talk to my long-time agent, Joshua  Bilmes, and my long-time editor, Ginjer Buchanan.

 

Not completely to my surprise, but to my dismay, Ginjer told me she has plans to retire. I hope she has great fun creating a new life not built around work. She and husband John Douglas will have a fine time visiting relatives at their own leisure.

 

For me, this means change is in the offing. I’ve had Ginjer longer than any other editor. Change is the only thing that’s permanent.

 

I came home from 22-degree Boston to 72-degree Dallas, and the head cold from Hell. My husband had bought me pink roses for Valentine’s Day, and to my astonishment, a new television set for our room. A combination of the romantic and the practical. What a surprise. I hope all of you had pleasant surprises on Valentine’s Day.

 

Charlaine Harris

January 31, 2014

Books of the Week:

 

  • Jane and Prudence, A Few Green Leaves, An Academic Question, An Unsuitable Attachment, Barbara Pym
  • The Cat and Bones books by Jeaniene Frost
  • Indexing, Seanan McGuire

As you can see, I continued my Barbara Pym binge. There are minor characters who pop up in many of the books, and they are fun to meet over and over; and some of the main characters from a previous book also are glimpsed in later books. Pym is at her funniest and most honest when she reveals peoples’ true reactions to the same events. I wonder how she saw the future of her most unlikely couple, Ianthe Broome and John Challow. Pym books are a series of small delights.

 

The Cat and Bones books are far steamier fare, but they’re written with style and verve and an attention to being true to character. Many, many people have enjoyed this series about Catherine, the Red Reaper, and her vampire lover, Bones. I could never stand Cat’s mom, Justina, and I’ve always had issues with her, but the irony of her becoming the thing she hated most – a vampire – and then being such a good one, is not lost on me. From being a damaged child and an endangered teenager, Cat becomes the strongest woman around, which is absolutely satisfying. I’m still reading the earlier books before I read the last one in this excellent series.

 

Indexing, which Seanan McGuire originally presented chapter by chapter, proved hard for me to get into at first. McGuire is a mistress of world building, but I had only a tenuous grasp of this one in the opening of the book. McGuire gives us a world in which fairy tales come true over and over, where a small task force must keep the narrative contained to avoid the general populace being swept up in the consequences. Or simply to keep it secret? I wasn’t sure. The main character, Henrietta (Henry), is a potential Snow White, and her muscle, Sloane, is a potential Evil Stepsister. Like all McGuire books, there are touches of humor and not a little suspense and outright fear, as Henry gets caught up in a place where all the previous Snow Whites are trapped in a snowy wood. Any McGuire is worth reading!

 

Blog

 

Isabel Allende, originally from Chile and now living in San Francisco, is a bestselling literary author. I know many, many people who admire her intensely, and I am sure this is deserved. By all accounts, she is a great writer. But as far as the mystery community is concerned, she put her foot into her mouth in a major way.

 

She thought she would write a mystery “as a joke.” Though I don’t want to put words into Allende’s mouth, to me this translates: I’m so amazingly ‘literary’ that condescending to write a genre novel is incredibly funny.

 

This is a quote from her NPR interview:

 

“The book is tongue in cheek. It’s very ironic … and I’m not a fan of mysteries, so to prepare for this experience of writing a mystery I started reading the most successful ones in the market in 2012. … And I realized I cannot write that kind of book. It’s too gruesome, too violent, too dark; there’s no redemption there. And the characters are just awful. Bad people. Very entertaining, but really bad people. So I thought, I will take the genre, write a mystery that is faithful to the formula and to what the readers expect, but it is a joke. My sleuth will not be this handsome detective or journalist or policeman or whatever. It will be a young, 16-year-old nerd. My female protagonist will not be this promiscuous, beautiful, dark-haired, thin lady. It will be a plump, blond, healer, and so forth.”

 

There are a lot of factual errors in this statement. There are quite a few mysteries with young protagonists (can you say “Flavia de Luce”?) There are many, many mysteries that do not have promiscuous thin women as protagonists. And most mystery protagonists are NOT bad people. They are driven to solve problems, to seek justice, to right wrongs, to save the innocent. Admittedly, they may do bad things in the course of achieving their goals. But many do not. In limiting herself to bestsellers, Allende left untouched a huge body of work that would have informed her vision more fully: because the mystery genre is ALL about redemption.

 

Allende’s book is Ripper, and before I read the interview, I considered buying it. But having devoted my professional life to genre literature, I don’t think I will. So, am I coming down too heavily on Isabel Allende? As a writer who’s been misunderstood a lot(!), maybe I should have more tolerance for her poor choice of words. And probably, after a week, I’ll just shrug and forget it. After all, it’s not like my opinion will make any difference to Isabel Allende. But I still don’t think I’ll buy the book.

 

Charlaine Harris

January 14, 2014

Books of the Week:

 

  • The Last Minute, Jeff Abbott
  • Fiend, Peter Stenson
  • Winter’s Bone, Daniel Woodrell

I went on a Barbara Pym reading binge right around New Year’s Day. I’ve talked about her books here before, so I won’t now at any length: but I read “No Fond Return of Love,” “Crampton Hodnet,” “Less than Angels,” “Excellent Women,” and “A Glass of Blessings.” It is always wonderful to revisit this much underrated English novelist. Her people are still waters who run very deep, and I love watching how Pym reveals them. And she’s funny, smiling-to-yourself funny.

 

Jeff Abbott’s The Last Minute is very much a thriller. It’s the second Sam Capra book. The first, Adrenaline, was aptly named and a great bestseller. I’m afraid you really need to read Adrenaline  to get the most out of The Last Minute, but that’s not a bad thing. They’re both excellent, heart-pounding thrillers with engaging characters, an international cast, and plenty of action. Sam is a great protagonist; he’s driven to the most extreme edges of his character when his pregnant wife vanishes in the first book, and in the second, he’s searching for his baby. In this search, he’s yoked himself with the most dubious of allies, a ferocious woman with no qualms at killing.

 

I got a strong recommendation on Fiend, or I don’t think I would have picked it up. Peter Stenson’s book is about addiction, in the guise of a zombie novel. I believe for the first time I understand the irresistible compulsion that drives drug addicts, since I’ve read the dreadful and despicable things Chase Daniel will do when the world falls apart around him. Chase has good impulses: he is loyal to his friend, Typewriter, and he still loves his former girlfriend, KK. He retains some beautiful memories of his childhood. But nothing can stand in the way of his need for crank.  This is an adventure and an education AND a zombie novel.

 

Daniel Woodrell is a great writer. Winter’s Bone is a great book. And to top off the accolade, Winter’s Bone was also a great movie. Woodrell’s novel was treated with reverence and intelligence in its screen adaptation; fortunately, it is a slim novel, so nothing was left out and not much added in the amazing movie. The novel, set in the Ozarks, is about Ree Dolly, a teenager who must take care of her two younger brothers and her mother, who has retreated into a mental haze and cannot be reached. Ree’s immediate crisis (as opposed to the permanent crisis of how to keep this family fed) is that her father has not appeared in court, and the bail bond company can seize the house and land – all the Dollys own – if he is not found. No one wants Jessup Dolly to be found, including some very nasty people involved in the meth business; but Ree must search for him nonetheless. It’s not surprising that this book is “taught” in many writing classes, because it’s simply excellent.

 

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Sharing good news is one of the purest pleasures we can experience. There’s a certain guilty pleasure to sharing bad tidings; the hushed voice, the “can you believe it” overtone, the shocked expression. But good news? Passing that long just elevates your spirits. It’s easy to believe human beings are mostly all right, when we take joy in sharing happiness. I’ve had two experiences with that lately.

 

This past year, I was president of Mystery Writers of America. Each year, the board votes on who will be named as Grand Master, which (in my opinion) is the ultimate accolade a writer in the mystery/suspense field can achieve. Some years, no one is nominated. Some years, three or more people are. This year, two Grand Masters were elected: Carolyn Hart, my long-time friend, and Robert Crais, whom I know slightly, a writer I’ve admired for years with an almost embarrassing fervor.

 

The executive vice president, my buddy Dan Hale, told Carolyn, for whom I am very, very stoked, that she’d been chosen. When Dan was about to call Robert Crais, he asked if I’d like to be in on the call. Ohhhhh . . . yes, I would! Nothing’s lovelier than to tell someone you revere that he’s getting an honor that he fully appreciates. Far from being blasé about the news, Bob was truly stunned. Really, I glided along for days on the happiness.

 

This week, my daughter (a volunteer for the Make-A-Wish Foundation) got to tell a family that their child’s wish had been granted. Since this is confidential, I will not give any details, but the child’s mother and the child were beyond happy; they were in some stratosphere of giddiness I can only imagine.

 

So with my faith in humanity all geared up, I hope I will refrain (at least for a while) from relaying bad news, and instead stick with the positive.

 

It makes me feel so good.

 

Charlaine Harris

January 7, 2014: Cemetery Girl Signing Event in Houston

Charlaine will be appearing with Christopher Golden at Murder by the Book in Houston. They will be having an 11:30 lunch event (held at the Junior League, reservations required) to talk about and sign CEMETERY GIRL, and a signing event at 6:30 that night at the store with other contributors to the DARK DUETS anthology. Customers should call the store (2342 Bissonnet Houston, TX 77005 / 713-524-8597 / 888-424-2842) for information.

December 27, 2013

BOOKS OF THE WEEK:

 

  • Nothing to Envy, Barbara Demick
  • The Last Minute, Jeff Abbott
  • Curtsies and Conspiracies, Gail Carriger
  • The Cuckoo’s Calling, Robert Galbraith
  • Daughter of the Empire, Lady Pamela Hicks
  • Written in Blood, Anne Bishop

Since David Sedaris was generous enough to tout Barbara Demick’s book, I was glad to buy it. It’s everything he said it was, and amore. Demick’s account, built from many interviews of people who’d escaped from North Korea to South, is a unique book about a country that prides itself on keeping secrets. Under Communist rule, North Korea has ground to a halt, the economy so depressed that factories don’t run, so people don’t work, so . . . they starve to death. Nothing to Envy is shocking and touching and unforgettable.

 

The Last Minute is a Sam Capra suspense thriller from my friend Jeff Abbott. If you read the first one, you’re sure to enjoy the second book about this government operative, who is searching for his stolen son with some very dubious help. This is a turn-the-pages-fast book full of plot twists and adventures.

 

The finishing school in Gail Carriger’s Curtsies and Conspiracies is the kind of school all of us would like to attend if we couldn’t get into Hogwarts. Sophronia, a proper young lady, is more adventurous than most, and going to a school that meets in a dirigible, a school that will teach her to be a spy, suits Sophronia down to the ground. If you read the first book in Carriger’s series, you’ll definitely want to continue with this one.

 

Famously, The Cuckoo’s Calling turned out to be written by J.K. Rowling. I think I would have enjoyed it anyway, but I’ll never know for sure. “Robert Galbraith” has written a private eye novel featuring Cormorant Strike, who is down to his last pound when he gets a lucrative case and a temporary secretary, Robin Ellacott. He is luckier than he knows. He’s hired to investigate the death of Lula Landry, a model, a high profile case that may change his fortune for good, and Robin Ellacott turns down a much better job because she develops a taste for detective work. This is really a good book, no matter who wrote it.

 

Lady Pamela Hicks was a Mountbatten, and her memoir, Daughter of the Empire, is a fascinating account of growing up in an unconventional household. Both her parents were extremely good-looking, and they both had numerous lovers, but despite that Lady Pamela has an upbringing of privilege, if not opulence. Her mother would forget to send money for new clothes for Pamela and her sister, and they would appear very poorly dressed. And once her mother forgot at what obscure town she’d left them with their nanny, and they’d run out of money by the time their mother tracked them down. But she also became a friend of Gandi and received 11 proposals before she found the man she eventually married.

 

Last but hardly least is one of my favorite books of the year, a book I have inexplicably not mentioned until now. Anne Bishop’s Written in Blood is a fabulous piece of imagination. There are certainly supernatural creatures in Bishop’s world, but they live in compounds to keep themselves to themselves, and when humans intrude there are problems that range from aggravating to severe. But desperate young woman begs for a job in that compound, because she’s fleeing from the unspeakable. When her pursuers try to snatch her from the compound, all hell breaks loose, almost literally. Though there’s an element of Mary Sue-ism in the attachment most of the supernaturals feel for her very quickly, there’s also some amazing story-telling. Don’t miss this book.

 

NEW EXPERIENCES, NEW CHALLENGES

 

Before I actually began getting older, I was comfortable in a rut. The everyday uproar of bringing up three children and trying to keep a career on track, a house running, and definitely took up all my time and energy. Learning something new seemed impossible; in fact, undesirable. I was too occupied with maintaining some friendships; in fact, running in place.

 

running in place

I kept putting off a lot of things until my life settled down. Then my kids were out of the house, but by then I was busier than ever since my career was in an upturn.

 

I turned down some opportunities I shouldn’t have, because I felt I didn’t have the time to learn anything new. But all that came to a halt. . . not abruptly, but gradually. I realized that there never would be a time to sample a new experience if I didn’t make it. If I didn’t say “Yes!” to some of the open doors that were in front of me.

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So I sat on a bar stool in an episode of “True Blood.” I went to a premiere. I began editing anthologies with Leigh Perry, aka Toni L.P. Kelner. I wrote a graphic novel (out this January!) with Christopher Golden. I switched my Hollywood representation. I did pitches (unsuccessful) for other books of mine I thought might make great movies. I was a guest judge on “Halloween Wars.”

 

Most of these ventures turned out just fine, and no one told me I was too old to do them. And every new attempt energized me. What’s the worst that could happen? Someone would say “no.” Is that so awful? Not if you keep trying to get someone else to say “Yes.”

 

Charlaine Harris