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April 14, 2014

Books of the Week:

 

  • Nightshifted, Cassie Alexander
  • Possession, Kat Richardson
  • Night Broken, Patricia Briggs
  • Sparrow Hill Road, Seanan McGuire
  • Derek’s Bane and Wolf at the Door, MaryJanice Davidson

 

Nightshifted was an unexpectedly appealing book. It sounded interesting, and I bought it on a whim. Paid off in spades! Cassie Alexander’s first book about Nurse Edie Spence is dark and energetic. Edie Spence works at much-despised County Hospital because she has made a deal with the Shadows who inhabit it; her addict brother’s life is safe as long as she works on ward Y4. Y4 has its own elevator, it’s so secret. This ward is for supernatural creatures with medical problems. Edie is new, and she makes mistakes. Mistakes on Y4 can have dreadful consequences. You’ll really enjoy this book; I’m looking forward to reading the others in the series.

 

Kat Richardson is long-time friend of mine, and I’m an admirer of hers. I think Possession is the best book in her Graywalker series in a long time. Not that any of them have been slouches, because Kat is a very good writer – but Possession is baffling and exciting. Three “vegetative” patients suddenly start exhibiting talents they’ve never had, with no awareness they are acting. Harper is called in by the sister of one of them, and as she explores this phenomenon she becomes more and more aware that something terrifying is going on, something that must be stopped at any cost.

 

I hesitated over reading Night Broken, because I personally dislike old girlfriend/first wife reappearing plots. But Patricia Briggs can make such a tired trope sing. Mercy’s Adam has a first wife that is so frustrating you want to scream, because Christy has a talent for making other people love her and want to help her. And she’s not evil. She’s “just” manipulative in the extreme, perhaps not completely consciously. There are pack members who still think Christy was a more desirable wife for Adam than Mercy is. Of course they’re wrong, and we proceed to find out in the course of a truly harrowing book why Mercy is the lead female in the pack, though she’s a coyote.

 

Sparrow Hill Road is Seanan McGuire’s May book. In fact, it comes out the same day mine does. This is a departure for McGuire, as “Midnight Crossroad” is for me. Other than that, they’re completely different. Sparrow Hill Road is about a ghost, Rose Marshall, and her struggles to live in the ghost world and to avenge her own death. It’s fascinating, the way anything by Seanan McGuire is, but it’s not as lighthearted as her Incryptid books. Enjoy the story of Rose and her tribulations in the afterworld.

 

I needed a dose of funny last week, so I reread MaryJanice Davidson’s Derek’s Bane (werewolf Derek is charged will killing Dr. Sara Gunn, whom a visionary werewolf believes is the reincarnation of the evil Morgan le Fay), and Wolf at the Door (werewolf accountant Rachel is sent to Minnesota to spy on the Queen of the Vampires, our very own Betsy, but in the process meets another accountant, Edward Batley, who is trying to make his life more interesting. He succeeds beyond his wildest dreams. Davidson is always fun, and somehow I feel more optimistic about things in general after I’ve read a book of hers.

 

 

THE WORLD IS WATCHING

 

While watching the news recently, I saw a few minutes of testimony in the Oscar Pistorius trial in South Africa. I’m sure most of you are familiar with this case, that of the Blade Runner and the young woman he shot to death, Reeva Steenkamp. Whatever your opinion of his state of mind at the moment of shooting (Did he truly think there was an intruder in his house, or did he knowingly kill Steenkamp?) you have to be aware he’s putting on the performance of his life.  So is the prosecutor.

 

How much does being watched change the event being watched? Do you think televising a trial make it a different event altogether? While theatrics in the courtroom are nothing new – lawyers have been summoning up the drama since there was such a profession – having a crowd of onlookers in a courtroom can’t compare with the thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions, who are passive participants in a televised trial.

 

Is it remotely possible to block that from one’s awareness?

 

Since the words said in that courtroom are echoing around the world, in effect, the defendant is on trial twice: once in the courthouse, and in secondly in the court of public opinion.

 

Sure, it’s always been that way, at least to some extent. I don’t imagine Lizzie Borden was a popular dinner guest after her acquittal – but most likely if she travelled, she would not be recognized. Reaching further back in time, probably no one was anxious to sip tea brewed by Scotland’s Madeleine Smith, who ended her days in America in secret. And these two were acquitted, as possibly (though not probably) Pistorius may be.

 

Now that we have such universal and instantaneous information networks, I don’t believe there’s any way for the verdict reached in a courtroom to be the final one. I think we’ve all joined in being judge and jury.

 

Charlaine Harris

March 24, 2014

Books of the Week:

  • Quiet Dell, Jayne Anne Phillips
  • Mariana, Susanna Kearsley
  • Would-Be Witch, Kimberly Frost
  • Half-Off Ragnarok, Seanan McGuire

Jayne Anne Phillips’s Quiet Dell is the fictional version of a real event, the murder of a family and certainly at least one single woman by the would-be Lothario Harry Powers. Powers, who used several names in his pursuit of lonely widows and divorcees in 1930-1931, must have had some charisma or source of mesmerism unconnected to his appearance. Asta Eicher and her three children (Grethe, Hart, and Annabel) were murdered by Powers, but the case for which he was tried was the death of Dorothy Lemke, whose remains were also found on land owned by Powers. Phillips’s central character, a woman reporter, is richly invented to convey the pathos of the women victimized by Powers. Emily Thornhill acquires an entire family from the beginning of the book to the ending, and if none of them is truly related to her, they become a family nonetheless. Using the language and social norms of the thirties, Phillips manages to make Emily come alive.

Susanna Kearsley’s Mariana is the story of Julia Beckett, illustrator of children’s books, who is compelled to buy a house she’s come across three times at moments in her life. Julia meets two men in the vicinity who seem also to have been drawn there, Iain Sumner, and Geoff, descendant of the lords of the manor. They’re both attractive men, and Julia feels she may have moved to the right place. But she begins to have flashes of the past, in which she’s wearing clothes that are not made any longer, and she opens the door to rooms which suddenly have old-fashioned furniture in them. Julia is seeing her past life as Mariana, and as she begins to find out more and more about Mariana, she learns more and more about herself. This is a lovely time-travel book.

Would-Be Witch is more of a romp. Kimberly Frost writes about Tammy Jo Trask, a Texan with flaming hair and a temper to match. Tammy Jo is half in love with her ex, and more than a little in lust with the very sexy magician Bryn Lyons. She feels she has never developed her “witch” genes (her absent mother and aunt are both practitioners), but she is a magnet for trouble. When the family locket holding the family ghost is stolen at a home-invasion robbery, Tammy Jo must go through hell and high water to retrieve it.

Half-Off Ragnarok is Seanan McGuire’s latest InCryptid novel, and it’s just as much fun as the first two. The main character in H-O R is Alexander Price, brother of Verity, who “starred” in the first two. Alex seems to be quieter, but his life is just as interesting as Verity’s. While he works at a Midwest zoo, Alex is actually studying the local incryptid population and taking an interest in another zookeeper, Australian Shelby Tanner, who is not what she seems. So many people aren’t, in a Seanan McGuire book! Even Alex’s assistant Dee has snakes instead of hair, and the child who sneaks into the zoo so often is actually a wadjet, there to cuddle with her boyfriend, a male wadjet who retains the form of a snake. This is as delightful as McGuire’s books usually are, and I had a great time reading it.

 

Blog

I might as well call this blog “What the hell?” or “I Throw up my Hands” because these are both things I said this past week. You know that feeling? When you decide the deck is stacked against you, and then one more thing happens to push you over the edge?

I had a little surgery, which was no big deal to anybody but me. And it turned out fine. But I was pretty nervous, and I walked out with a big bandage on my arm, and after a week, when I went back, the site was still sore and unpleasant. Finally, the surgeon was able to close it, which was an immense relief, and then . . . I turned out be allergic to the bandage his nurse put on.

This seemed to me to be adding insult to injury. Either I developed this allergy (presumably to Latex) because of the previous bandaging, or the new bandage had more of whatever I’m allergic to in it, because everywhere it touched my skin, I had swelling and redness and those little itchy bumps in a spectacular display.

Hardly life-threatening or disfiguring or even very serious, right? But while I was worried about other things to begin with, just enough to push me over the edge into paranoia.

Does it sometimes seem that Life, with a capital L, is taunting you? Or is this just a series of random events, a piling of misfortune upon misfortune? I’m reminded (in a more serious vein) of families who return from an interment to find that the house has been burgled. In a way, you can see that coming (lawbreakers can read the obituaries, too, just the same way that you can’t discover you’re allergic to Latex until you put some next to your skin and find out you are).

In another way, the tragi-comedic viewpoint of life has to kick in when the bad things start stacking up. Minor or major, it requires a great attitude adjustment to find the ridiculousness of it all, and to laugh at it.

So let’s pretend we’re at a bar together, and let’s belly up and have a drink, and laugh at life. There’s more to enjoy than not, and laughter is the best defense against misfortune pile-ups.

Of course, it can take good long while to get to the point where you can laugh.

Charlaine Harris

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!

 

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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