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Charlaine Harris blog

September 17, 2013

Books of the Week:

  • The Buzzard Table, Margaret Maron
  • Chosen, Benedict Jacka
  • Murder of a Stacked Librarian, Denise Swanson

Variety is definitely the spice of my reading life. I visited with an old friend this week. Any time I read Margaret Maron, I hear her voice. We have known each other a long time, and I have an extravagant respect for her and her work. The Buzzard Table is one of her Judge Deborah Knott books. If you haven’t read any of these, this is your chance to indulge yourself in a 17-book series. And there’s another bonus in The Buzzard Table; Maron’s other series protagonist, Sigrid Harald, appear in this book with Deborah Knott. This would be a fine introduction to both characters at once, and you will want to read more. The Knott books are set in North Carolina, and the setting and the people of Colleton County are clear and present. Maron was elected Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America, and it’s very easy to see why.


Benedict Jacka likes to take chances. His lead character, Alex Verus, a diviner in the magic community, is not a hero. In the past, Verus has done very bad things . . . but he is seeking to become a better man, if he is allowed to be. Unfortunately, in Chosen, his past reputation and associations just won’t let him go. First and foremost, Verus is a survivor, and he’ll do what it takes to stay on his feet. I really love this series (this is the fourth book), and the world Jacka has created is so rich and solid that it rings true.


I always enjoy Denise Swanson’s books, and Murder of a Stacked Librarian is a Very Special Book in the Scumble River series. Skye Dennison, Swanson’s school psychologist, actually makes it to the altar and has the wedding of her dreams — AFTER she and her fiancée, Chief Wally Boyd, solve a murder, of course! But there are ominous forebodings in place for the next book.


Waiting has never been my best thing. Some people are great at saying, “There’s nothing I can do about it. So I’m not going to worry.” And I say, “More power to you, resolute ones!” But I’m not made that way. I fret and fume, and refigure the problem from every angle, until I find a solution or a way to be at peace with myself. It’s probably good that my husband can be absolutely patient (at least, on the surface), because I have a terrible time maintaining my cool.


At least I get a lot done while I’m waiting for the phone call, or the letter, or the email, or whatever method of tension-ending comes first. And at least, as I’ve gotten older I’ve gotten better at dealing with my impatience. Experience does teach you something, apparently.


Grocery stores have always been my black holes. I can come home with four or five stories about things that have happened to me on any one trip. Maybe this is because I work alone all day, so any interaction has more weight. But maybe all human conduct can be boiled down to the time you spend in a grocery store! Now that I am not in charge of young children any more, every now and then I find the time spent in a store with a child– whose screams can be heard on every aisle — is extraordinarily trying. Though I usually manage to put myself in the place of the beleaguered mother (and believe me, I’ve been there), there are occasions when I’ve thought, “Mom, if this kid wants to be out of this store so badly, please take him out!” Then I remind myself of the times I’ve been in the same situation, and how badly I wanted to complete the shopping I had to do.


And seniors in carts. I don’t know how it is where you live, but here, many older people get into the store electric carts and buzz down the aisles, having a very hard time reaching what they need. Generally, I think, “Someday I’ll be there, and I hope someone’s patient and nice to me.” But some days, one of those twitchy days, I simply get exasperated when there’s cart blockage in the aisles and I can’t get through. Those are the days when I practice deep breathing, and I tell myself repeatedly, “Someday I’ll be in one of those carts, someday I’ll be in one of those carts.”


It’s always a war of my better side vs. my toe-tapping side. Thanks to the excellent example of my wonderful mother and father, my better side always wins, but the conflict rages on . . .


And as a disclaimer, in this day of people-who-have-no-humor, I love many children and many elders.


I’m just impatient.


Charlaine Harris

September 10, 2013

Books of the Week:

  • A Skeleton in the Family, Leigh Perry
  • Omens, Kelley Armstrong
  • A Matter of Blood, Sarah Pinborough
  • Codex Born, Jim Hines

It took me some time to realize that aside from recommending Leigh Perry’s new book, I had neglected to review it; I’d read it so long ago. By now you know that Leigh Perry is the new pin name for my friend and co-editor Toni L.P. Kelner, and A Skeleton in the Family is the first book in new series. I’m not going to ruin any of the surprises in this delightful mystery by over-explaining it, but the premise is that Georgia Thackeray moves back into her family home with her daughter Madison, a teenager. Georgia, a college professor, is delighted to reunite with her childhood friend – Sid, an animated skeleton, who lives in the attic. Sid wants to find out how he died, and Georgia is just the woman to help him solve his own case. Perry’s book is a charming traditional mystery with a colorful picture of academic life, and it’s a page-turner.


Kelley Armstrong took a bold stance with her Women of the Otherworld series – telling her stories from the viewpoints of different women, rather than sticking to the most popular female, the werewolf Elena Michaels. It’s not any surprise at all that she makes an equally interesting choice with Omens, the first Cainsville novel. Olivia Taylor-Jones, a child of wealth and privilege, finds out she is actually the daughter of a notorious serial killer duo. Her birth name is Eden Larsen. This devastating discovery would level most fictional women, but Eden/Olivia is a very resilient and tough young woman with many inner resources. Though she doesn’t realize it at the time, she’s steered by a series of “chance” encounters to the town of Cainsville, whose inhabitants know her birth parents, and she is connected with her mother’s lawyer, a charismatic and cold man named Gabriel Walsh. Then the omens start popping up, and the plot starts popping, too.


I met Sarah Pinborough in Harrogate at the Orion dinner. You can’t meet her without wanting to read her books, and I hurried to by A Matter of Blood. Detective Inspector Cass Jones is a police officer in a depressed England. The police force is largely corrupt, though Jones is not, and life seems incredibly difficult for Jones; his wife is distant, he’s too busy to call his brother back, and the bloody cases just keep on falling his way. When Cass receives the call that his brother has murdered his own wife and son, Cass is devastated . . . and then he becomes the main suspect in that killing. This is a complicated and dark book, full of twists and turns, very compelling.


Jim C Hines’s Codex Born has the coolest premise ever. Isaac Vainio can reach into books and manifest items he reads about. Since he has this ability, in common with a few other people, he is a part-time librarian and also has a part-time magical research assistant job. He’s dating a dryad, Lena. Lena also has a relationship with another woman. It’s complicated, but they’re making it work. Then the werewolves of Michigan contact the team to say that wendigos are being murdered. Is this just a monster slaying gone brutally wrong? Or is it a deeper plot? The investigation leads to serious complications and near-death for everyone involved. Jim Hines is an engaging writer who is also greatly entertaining, and I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys superior world-building.


Recommending books is easy and natural. Picking a topic to write about is hard. Right now, I’m breathing a sigh of relief that the dogs are all out of the room. It’s rare that I don’t have one at my feet or right behind me on a pillow, since we have four rescues and have had for many years. The two oldest are very old, we figure fourteen and twelve, Oscar and Rocky. The two youngest are approximately five and three, Scrunch and Colt. And, at the moment, we have our daughter’s two English bulldogs, Jackson and Jillian.


Jackson and Jillian are used to a lot of attention and to being indoor dogs. In fact, they are high-maintenance, and they are not suited to being out in the heat. If you’ve ever spent time with an English bulldog, you’ll have noticed that they breathe like steam kettles, drool a lot, and grunt. Even when they’re asleep, they snore quite loudly. These are not subtle dogs.


Our dogs, on the other hand, spend hours outside every day (except Oscar), can actually sneak up on us (if they understood the concept of sneaking), and are usually quiet when they one of their fifty daily naps. They all like a little one-on-one time when they can get it – especially Scrunch, who is a small sort of terrier. She is our lap dog. She does not want to share anything.


As you can imagine, often this clash of different dog families does not always go smoothly or well. There are snarling and snapping episodes between the two camps. At least they sleep a lot, which is a blessing.


But if our daughter isn’t here, the bulldogs follow every step we take. Whichever one of us is on the move is the target. It is easy to see where the term “dog” comes from, as in, “He dogged my every step.” I think this term was coined about bulldogs.


I have to say that our canine visitors are very sweet-natured. Our Scrunch tends to be a bit (excuse me) bitchy, but Jackson and Jillian are like large sweet bumblebees unless they feel a gauntlet has been thrown down. Even then, Jillian would rather wander off to hide rather than leap into the fray.


When our Beautiful Daughter moves on to her own abode, we’ll miss Jackson and Jillian, too. But not the rumbling, mumbling, and bumbling. Or the occasional spats with our dogs. We’ll miss the uncomplicated affection a dog offers. A pat on the head or a tickle under the chin, and you feel like you’ve done something great for another being on this planet. And that’s a great feeling.


Charlaine Harris

September 3, 2013

Books of the Week:

  • Undead and Unsure, MaryJanice Davidson
  • Skinner, Charlie Huston
  • Blood of Tyrants, Naomi Novik
  • The Wolves of Midwinter, Anne Rice

I apologize for the long lag between columns. I was finishing a book, myself. And I’ve read some good ones; it’s going to take me a couple of weeks to catch up. This selection is all over the spectrum in tone and genre.


As many people who read my books already know, MaryJanice Davidson is one of the funniest people I’ve ever met, and her books are just as funny. Queen Betsy has darker adventures these days, but they’re still great reading. I felt I got to know Sinclair, Betsy’s king, much better, in this book. Zombie Marc gets a chance to use his doctoring skills as he delivers . . . . well, I’ll leave that surprise for the reader. And Betsy goes back to Hell. Undead and Unsure is an absolute must-read for those who have followed Betsy’s adventures from the beginning, as I have.


Charlie Huston is a great American writer. Maybe his work is not quite as accessible as that of James Lee Burke or Robert Crais, but I would put him on their level. Skinner was a slow start for me, until I fell back into Huston’s elliptical dialog and spare style. The plot is mind-boggling – a nuclear bomb in India, a genius, and a semi-retired protection agent. I really couldn’t put this book down, and as usual with Huston, there’s surprise after surprise . . . or shock after shock.


I get so excited when I get a new Naomi Novik in the mail! Happily, in Blood of Tyrants Novik is back at full strength. Captain Will Laurence has been cast ashore in Japan following a shipwreck, and he has lost his memory. Meanwhile, his dragon Temeraire is fighting the overwhelming belief that Laurence is dead, which the other Englishmen and dragons believe must be the truth. When the two are reunited, Laurence is still suffering from memory loss, but the political situation demands that Laurence cover this up. Through all kinds of travail, the dragon and his man end up in Russia facing Napoleon.


Luckily for me, and thanks to Anne Rice, I was able to get an advance copy of The Wolves of Midwinter, her second Wolf Gift Chronicle novel. As rich in detail and vision as The Wolf Gift, Rice’s newest book is just as full of movement and startling developments as the previous one. Reuben Golding is facing his first Christmas as a werewolf, and he is learning more and more about his new world from the elder werewolves, the Morphenkinder. They are all living together in the amazing house he inherited in Gift, and at first, all seems harmonious – at least, until Reuben discovers he is about to be a father, courtesy of his discarded human fiancé. A chain of events follows that affects Reuben’s whole family; not only his human family, but his wolf family. Events reach a crisis during the best Christmas party ever. This book will be available in October, and it’s Rice at her best.


I approached World Science Fiction Convention (this year held in San Antonio and called LoneStarCon) with some anxiety, since urban fantasy is not held in high regard by science fiction purists. This may be changing. Despite a rocky beginning (I found I was not scheduled for a signing, and the first volunteer I approached about this was rude and unhelpful) I hit gold with my second query. Sara Cooper not only made sure I had a signing, she helped to publicize it, and was charming in the process. And the only other negative thing I have to say about the con is that some writers did not get panels, which was very startling: Dana Cameron and Kevin Hearne, two of the left-outs that I know personally, are not exactly unknowns. Dana has won multiple awards, though admittedly many of these are in mystery. Kevin’s books are enormously popular. At the same time, I appreciate the complexity of scheduling appropriate panel time for such a large and diverse community of writers.


But issues such as these aside, there were microphones that worked, plenty of volunteers to let you know how your panel was doing on timing, other reliable volunteers to organize the signings, and a lovely green room for panelists. I had a great time on my panels, and was blessed with three moderators who really knew their jobs backward and forward: Darlene Marshall on “I Married a Werewolf: Paranormal Romance,” Melinda Snodgrass on “When Hollywood Comes Knocking,” and Seanan McGuire for “When Will Zombies Die?” All three were good-to-stellar at stating the purpose of the panel, keeping the panelists on topic, and sticking to the rules. That makes a huge difference in the success or failure of a panel. I was in very good company on all of them.


Most happy-making was the time I got to spend with three of my best buddies: Toni LP Kelner (now known as Leigh Perry), Dana Cameron, and bff Paula. Enhancing that was the companionship of two of my board moderators, Aislyn and LindsayB. We had a great evening out, and I can’t tell you how heartening it was to see familiar faces in the audience.


Adding something about science fiction con audiences: THEY KNOW THEIR STUFF. You cannot fake knowledge at a science fiction con. It’s better to confess ignorance and wait to be enlightened. Especially if you’re with Seanan McGuire . . . because she knows everything. I’m not kidding. She was nominated for about a hundred Hugos. Seriously, I think five. She won one, but I would not have been surprised if she’d come away with all of them. Come the zombie apocalypse, I will head for her. She can probably churn butter and make rifles.


Just to end on a happy note, two of my favorite people have new books this week: Denise Swanson’s newest, MURDER OF A STACKED LIBRARIAN, and Leigh Perry (nope, not Leigh Evans, though she’s great too), who has written the first book in a new series, A SKELETON IN THE FAMILY. For those of you who like traditional mysteries, this is a bonanza week.


— Charlaine

August 10, 2013

Books of the Week:

  • Broken Homes, Ben Aaronovitch
  • Cold Shot to the Heart, Wallace Stroby
  • My Friends Call Me Moon, James Morrow Walton

It’s work pointing out that inspired by our trip to the UK, I’ve also been brushing up on my Agatha Christie. The godmother of mystery was not what we would call a great writer: her characters in any given book were often indistinguishable from her characters in other books. But she was the queen of plotting, and her mind must have been amazing. The vigor and originality of her solutions still has the power to astound.


Ben Aaronovitch and I have the same British agent and publisher, but I didn’t know that when I became a fan of his. I’ve been waiting for Broken Homes for forever, and I was delighted when my publicist in the UK handed me a copy. Though I think the books would be richer if I had a better understanding of the geography of London, that’s no reason not to plunge into Aaronovitch’s world. PC Peter Grant and his co-worker Lesley, two of the few policemen in London who can practice magic, are still working under Nightingale, who must be the oldest police officer in England . . . not that he looks it. A low-income housing tower gone awry, an old enemy with a bone to pick . . . and a shocker of an ending – Broken Homes is a delight.


Wallace Stroby writes noir, as black as noir can be. Cold Shot to the Heart is set among the community of criminals. Crissa Stone, career robbery artist, is trying to get her lover, Wayne, out of jail in Texas. She also wants to buy a house and set down roots. But when a heist in Florida goes wrong, her little house of cards collapses in a series of disasters. This is an unstoppable novel. I wasn’t able to put it down.


My Friends Call Me Moon is James Morrow Walton’s first novel, and there’s maybe too much story for one book; there’s the story of the reporter who’s being threatened in 1958 (Jack Ward), and the long back story of the man he’s interviewing (Will MacMorogh), and the entwined histories of the Jackson family (people of color) and the white MacMoroghs. So there’s a lot going on in Moon, but it’s all told in a genial, intelligent, southern voice, and it’s all interesting. This is a natural choice for readers who enjoy family sagas and slices of history.

Beyond This Point Be Monsters

After reading Facebook this morning, which is maybe not the best way to start the day, I had a mélange of thoughts. One posting (by CJ Redwine) about America’s rape culture made me sad and despairing, and reading the many postings about our loss of the great Barbara Mertz, known to literally millions of readers as Elizabeth Peters and Barbara Michaels, also dampened my hopes for the day.


I thought about Barbara and the unforgettable characters in her books . . . and her own unforgettable character. I thought about the prejudice against female mystery writers which she had to confront early in her career, and the fact that we’re still fighting that battle against being considered less than our male peers. Barbara was more than. Always. She was smart, concise, educated, talented, opinionated. It seems that CJ Redwine is, too.


I imagined Barbara’s comments about the prevalence of rape culture, about how simply appalling it is that young men thought grabbing women up from behind and carrying them away was a harmless prank. How they thought the anxious laughter of the women excused this behavior – if they’re laughing, they must think it’s funny, right? So it’s okay. But not so. People laugh the same way dogs wag their tails – not only to express amusement, but to express anxiety. “If I pretend this situation is okay, maybe it will BE okay.”


Barbara was never afraid to speak out. She was never hesitant about expressing her opinion. She was never one to back out of a healthy argument. I don’t pretend I was a close friend, but I was a friendly acquaintance . . . and I knew that about Barbara, even on our slim experience of each other. She was a pioneer, and a great example.


Here’s what gives me hope: we’re addressing the monsters and not letting them stay under the bed any longer. If you shine a strong light on them, they shrink. If you study them, they acquire context. Monsters are diminished from the undefeatable to the conquerable through examination. I’m heartened to know women who are doing this, and optimistic that someday the monsters will be the size of peas. But this process takes the courage to turn on the flashlight.

July 31, 2013

Books of the Week:

  • A Stranger in the Family, Robert Barnard
  • Hunted, Kevin Hearne
  • Disturbance, Jan Burke
  • The Painted Girls, Cathy Marie Buchanan

Robert Barnard is one of the noted British crimewriters of the past two decades, and he continues to be a fine read in A Stranger in the Family. Kip Philipson, a young Scot, discovers when his mother is dying that he was adopted. He further discovers that he was not only adopted, but abducted, and that his real name is Peter Novello. He finds his birth family, and much, much more. The story behind his life begins with his father and his father’s sister getting out of Germany just in time, sent to England as part of the Kindertransports. As Kit investigates, the monstrous truth emerges. This is one of Barnard’s quieter books, but it has plenty of moments that are startling.


I really enjoy Kevin Hearne’s books, and he’s quite consistently entertaining. Hunted is the sixth novel about Druid Atticus O’Sullivan and his hound Oberon. And now Atticus has apprenticed Granuaile, who becomes a Druid in her own right. But a peaceful life is not in the cards for Atticus and Granuaile, who are always on the run and always ready for battle. Luckily, Atticus is beyond tricky, and Granuaile is gaining her own skills at a great pace . . . and they’ll need all of their talents to survive.


For many years, Jan Burke has been a writer of excellence. I’m not happy that Disturbance is the first book of hers I’ve mentioned here. Irene Kelly, reporter and wife to Frank, a policeman, has been recovering from PTSD after her last traumatizing encounter with serial killer Nick Parish. Just when her job at the Last Piernas newspaper seems in danger, Irene receives the worst possible information: Nick Parish has escaped. And he’s coming for her. I won’t detract from the genuine suspense and tension of this fine novel by unfolding more of the plot, but if it’s a Burke novel you can be sure it’s a good one.


The Painted Girls is a reach for me, but I’m glad I was interested enough by a review of this book to include it on my reading list. If you’ve ever looked at one of Degas’s paintings of young girls in ballet classes in Paris, you’ll want to give Cathy Marie Buchanan’s book a try. In 1887, three sisters struggle to survive when their father dies and their mother, a laundress, resorts to drugs to get through her existence. All three have been or are enrolled at the Paris Opera school of dance, so they can receive a trifling salary every month. This is a book which fully immerses the reader in a time and place very different from our own, but Buchanan makes it live for us.


I admit that I was nervous when I went to the UK on a trip with a multiple purpose: I’d been invited to Harrogate to the famous annual crime festival, and my UK publisher (Orion’s imprint Gollanz) wanted to tour me for DEAD EVER AFTER while I was in the UK. Due in part to my daughter’s graduation from college, I didn’t tour the US for my last Sookie novel. (After the huge storm over the book, I could only be relieved I hadn’t.)


Happily for me, since I am not at heart a confrontational person, my UK readers attending the signings were absolutely wonderful. I could not have asked for a more pleasant and heartening audience at each and every stop. The Harrogate festival itself was a lot of fun: I got to meet Ian Rankin and Kate Atkinson. I got to talk to old acquaintances Lee Child and Val McDermid — and to say hello to a great favorite of mine, G.M. Malliet. I also had dinner with some other Orion authors I hadn’t met before, and I really look forward to reading their books. My publicist, Jon Weir, made smooth my path and was generally wonderful.


After all my professional events concluded, it was a lot of fun to sit back and enjoy touring as a . . . well, a tourist. My husband and I saw: Blenheim, one of the chalk horses, Avebury, parts of Cornwall, the Harry Potter studio tour, the Pompeii exhibit at the British Museum, and the London production of “The Book of Mormon,” which was just as funny as the Broadway version. We had dinner at The Trout Inn, frequented by writers as diverse as Lewis Carroll and C.S. Lewis, and enjoyed the food and ambience very much. We just had a great time.


Now that I’m home and settling back into my routine, finishing “Midnight Crossroad” has moved to the top of my list of things to do. I’m sadly behind, but I had some ideas while we were being driven around England that may really help the book come together. Now to put all these ideas on the computer to see if they work . . .


Sigh. Vacation’s over. Nose to the grindstone.


Charlaine Harris

July 5, 2013

Books of the Week

  • The 5th Wave, Rick Yancey
  • The Cases of Susan Dare, Mignon G. Eberhart
  • The Twelve Clues of Christmas, Rhys Bowen

I did read a few more books, but one is a very early ARC of a book that I’m going to blurb, and I didn’t like another one. So here’s my pleasurable reading of the past couple of weeks. Rick Yancey’s first book, classified as young adult, has made a huge splash, and I have to add to that chorus of admiration. The 5th Wave is yet another dystopian teenage survival story, but I think the first fifty pages are some of the most gripping reading I’ve experienced in months. Later in the book, the point of view shifts several times, and the book lost a little of its traction . . . though I think this was a necessary strategy. There’s lots of death, but lots of courage, in this story in which young Cassie, living alone in the woods, decides she must set out to find her little brother. And the surprises are multiple. I highly recommend this book.


I reverted to my mystery roots and settled back with an old Mignon G. Eberhart. There’s a reason Eberhart was so popular and that her books continue to sell, though of course they seem very dated now. Eberhart is a master of conveying a sense of place. Susan Dare, a mystery writer, is sent into houses in which a murder has taken place (or will take place), and somehow the reader is willing to believe this could happen. Her friend and later suitor is a newspaper reporter, and his willingness to leap into action when she calls is nothing short of charming.


The Twelve Clues of Christmas is Rhys Bowen’s most charming “Her Royal Spyness” mystery yet. It’s set in an English country village, the telephone wires are down, there’s snow, it’s Christmas (of course), there’s a country house full of guests . . . well, the book’s just a barrel of fun. Lady Georgiana Rannoch’s love life takes a great leap forward, and she hasn’t yet fired her hapless maid, Queenie. I’m not quite at the end of the book, but I can certainly say this is my favorite of a series I’ve really enjoyed.


This will be a rambling blog, because my mind is too scattered to produce anything like a coherent essay on one thing. June and early July should have been more of a working time for me, but instead I’ve been preoccupied with visitors for happy occasions: our grandson’s baptism, his first birthday, the birthday of our second son . . . and of course, the Fourth of July, or (as I call it) the Day Dogs Spend in Hell.


It’s not surprising that more dogs go missing over the Fourth of July than any other holiday. Nine dogs out of ten are miserable when the fireworks start going off, and if ours weren’t contained by a fence they’d scatter to the winds to try to find a safe place to hide from all the noise. We don’t have enough laps to hold them all, and we’re always relieved when the explosions stop around midnight. I love to watch fireworks, and the noise doesn’t bother me, but it’s becoming hard for me to enjoy the show when I know how frightened they are.Now the reign of terror over, until New Year’s Eve, at least.


That means I need to start thinking about our trip to the UK, only a bit over a week away. It’s going to be cooler (yay!) and rainier (I’ve forgotten what rain looks like). I’m looking forward to the signings my English publisher has booked, to the Harrogate festival, and then to some sight-seeing time with my husband. We don’t get to vacation a lot, and we are really glad when we get to see something different. We’ve been to the UK before, and we’re delighted to be returning.


When we return, the book will be due, and that’s terrifying, because I have a lot left to write. Writing in the third person and from multiple points of view has led to some false starts and some back steps, and I think I’m getting the point where I’m ready to re-launch into new material. Unfortunately (only from a writing aspect) I’ll be in England. Well . . . it’ll get done. I’ve never written a book that wasn’t down to the wire or slightly behind it, and I’m afraid this one will be no exception.


I won’t be blogging again until I return, so stay safe over the summer.


Charlaine Harris


June 16, 2013

Books of the Week:

  • Splintered, A.G. Howard
  • The Testing, Joelle Charbonneau
  • Affliction, Laurell K. Hamilton

A.G. Howard’s Splintered is a reimagining of the story of “Alice in Wonderland,” and it’s a dark and unexpected version of the story that enchanted so many of us when we were young. Alyssa’s great-great-great grandmother, Alice Liddell, told her dreams to Lewis Carroll, who was inspired by them to write his classic – and Alyssa, in her teens, believes that her mother’s life in an asylum is due to that circumstance. Alyssa’s always concealed the depth of her secret life, even from her good friend Jeb . . . but when she’s caught up in Wonderland for real, he follows her in. This book is blessed with good writing and a great cover, and though it’s classified for young adults, I thought it was well worth reading.


While we’re talking about young adult books, if you can stand to read one more YA dystopian adventure, let it be Joelle Charbonneau’s The Testing. I read this book far in advance of its publication date, but I’ve been waiting to talk about it because I didn’t want anyone to forget to put it on her list. Teen Cia Vale is chosen for The Testing, the process that determines whether or not you get into college, in a society in which returning the earth to useful production after a war is the main occupation of every citizen. Cia is not only intelligent, but observant and logical; she may not be a weapons specialist, but she knows her surroundings. Less violent than the instant classic The Hunger Games, there are nevertheless big challenges and unpleasant realizations about human nature in The Testing. I galloped through this excellent read; I was in suspense the whole time.


Affliction is Laurell K. Hamilton’s July 2 Anita Blake book. Anita and her boyfriends Nathaniel and Micah must hurry to Micah’s father’s bedside after he’s been bitten by a new kind of zombie, which puts him on the brink of an awful death. While Micah keeps a deathwatch, Anita hunts for the mysterious new zombies who are terrorizing the area. There is a higher proportion of action in this book, which will please many readers of this long-running series. I have always envied Hamilton’s endless energy and inventiveness, and she shows no signs of flagging in this book, which has surprises aplenty for those who’ve followed Anita through so many changes.


I’ve written about my adventures in Hollywood on my Monday Femmes Fatales blogand for Ace’s website, and today I’m thinking (as so many people are) about my father.


My father, mother, and brother, are all gone. Naturally, when I think of growing up in Tunica, Mississippi, I think of them since I am the only one remaining to tell the story. (I am not trying to sound like Little Orphan Annie. I am blessed to have a husband and three children of my own, and a handful of cousins.) My father was a farmer for many more years than he wanted to be; his father had died young and his brother had other career goals, so that left my dad to run the farm for my grandmother. It took me many, many years to realize that he never wanted to do that. I don’t think he had a very happy time of it. When my grandmother passed away, he rented the land, went back to school, and became a teacher.


I believe he was the happiest he’d ever been in his life. And he was a good teacher. But that was a drastic year in Mississippi, and in the wake of integration, and while students in both schools in Tunica County were still trying to figure out what to do, my father was offered the principal’s job at the newly formed junior high school. At least partly to keep me in college, he accepted the better-paying job.


This was a very, very difficult position in those tumultuous years. The principal was the liaison between the parents, the school board, the high school principal, and the teachers. It was a nearly impossible situation, yet my father held it for many years. And I think (it’s hard for a kid to judge) that he was well-liked and respected by both blacks and whites. It was a job that taxed his skills as a mediator and administrator, and he came to know the people who worked both below and above him better than he ever could have imagined he would know people of another race in the era in which he was born. Those years of transition seem almost impossible to believe, now.


I was never as proud of my father as I should have been. It took years of being a parent, myself, to see the sacrifice he had made for me. He was the best father he knew how to be, at some cost to his own happiness. Of course he had failings. We all do. But he never complained. He brought me up to read and love reading, to write and to revere writers, to attend church and live by its moral codes. And though he had trouble saying the words, he loved his family.


I don’t think I could say anything better about Robert Ashley Harris Jr.


Dad, I remember you.


Charlaine Harris

June 25, 2013

Books of the Week:

  • The Reckoning, Alma Katsu
  • The Thing About Weres, Leigh Evans
  • Tracking the Tempest, Nicole Peeler
  • Free Fall, Chris Grabenstein

The Reckoning is the second book in Alma Katsu’s trilogy about the misfortunes of love and the mistakes we make when we try to mold our loved ones in our own images. Her characters have a lot of time to make these mistakes, since they’re immortal. Lanore, who needs every year of the century she has to mature, has walled Adair, her maker, into the wall of an old house in the first book (The Taker). You can bet he gets out in this book, since the title says it all. Even Adair can change, as the ending of The Reckoning shows, but there are enough unpleasant events to bear out his previous character. These are interesting characters, and I want to know what happens to them, but they’re not exactly lovable.


Leigh Evans is one of our own here on this website, and her second book, The Thing About Weres, is just as fascinating as her first. Hedi Peacock is waiting for her lover, Robson Trowbridge, to return from the land of the fae where she sent him when . . . well, it’s a long story. He does return, but time has passed differently in Merenwyn, and he’s now fifteen years older than Hedi instead of five. And he brings back Hedi’s brother Lexi, who was stolen away when the twins were small. Lexi, having spent most of his life in Merenwyn scrabbling to survive, is not exactly the boy Hedi remembers. And in Trowbridge’s absence, his pack has grown uppity. There are a lot of woes to remedy in Hedi’s world, and she’s just the impulsive young woman to do it.


Nicole Peeler has a lot of ardent fans, and it’s easy to see why. Her protagonist, the Halfling Jane True, is loved by the very handsome and very rich vampire Ryu, and she is nuts about him. In Tracking the Tempest, the second book in the series, Ryu wants to move their relationship to a different level, one Jane isn’t sure she’s ready for. While she’s visiting him for a weekend of fun ‘n games, all hell breaks loose, and they learn a lot about each other in the ensuring mayhem.


I’ve known Chris Grabenstein for at least a decade, and he’s always one of those people I’m glad to see at any conference. It’s an honor to know someone who used to write for the Muppets! And I’m always delighted to read one of his Ceepak/Danny books, too. Free Fall is just as good as any of the others, and it’s the eighth in the series. John Ceepak is a policeman on the Jersey Shore, and all the books are named for amusement rides. Ceepak acquired an apprentice, Danny Boyle, in the first book, and Danny, in whose voice the books are written, has grown with his admiration for John Ceepak, the world’s most consistent honorable man. In Free Fall, there are several crises in the community of Sea Haven, which is recovering from Sandy. A nurse is accused of assaulting a relative of her patient, John Ceepak’s alcoholic father returns despite his promise to stay away, and the community must recoup its losses from the hurricane or face more economic woes. These are wonderful mysteries, and Grabenstein writes great books for kids, too.


Okay, here’s my current thing to puzzle over; creating memories. Since this concept first gained popularity a few years ago, it’s been a stunner to me. “Let’s go out and make some memories,” people say, beaming, cameras in hand.


Aren’t memories just images that you retain as your life progresses? Are they something you have to create? Will taking multiple pictures of some event make it happier, or more important, than it otherwise would have been?


This is one of those ideas I just don’t get.


I am much more likely to remember the time our middle child smeared blueberry pie on my drapes than I am to recall a vacation we took. Sure, vacations can be fun, but with three little kids, there’s an inevitable recollection of screaming toddlers who don’t like salt water, sand in swimming trunks, sunburn, and overall exhaustion. The blueberry incident still seems wonderfully funny to me, drapes or no drapes. And I didn’t prompt the incident (create the memory!) by handing Middle a piece of blueberry pie and telling him to go for the gold.


Surely memories are organic, not sponsored, as it were? Do you ever recall a day, or an hour, because you told yourself you were doing (whatever activity) in order to remember it later? Isn’t that sort of . . . cheating?


Probably this is just me having an Andy Rooney moment.


Charlaine Harris

June 3, 2013

Books of the Week:

  • Blood and Silk, Carol McKay
  • House Rules, Chloe Neill
  • Appalachian Overthrow, E.E. Knight

Carol McKay’s Blood and Silk is a thoroughly-researched novel published by a very small press. If the premise of the book (that Mary Magdalene was married to Jesus of Nazareth and had a child by him) is off-putting for you, this may not be your book. And there have been other books written on this topic. But art historian McKay has done a tremendous amount of research, and this first-person narrative (written from Mary’s point of view after Jesus’s death) is colorful and challenging in its voice and detail. The picture of life in Mary’s time is really eye-opening.


House Rules is another Chicagoland vampire novel by Chloe Neill, and for those of us who’ve gotten hooked on finding out what happens to attacked-and-turned vampire Merit it’s a must-read. Merit, now the significant other of the head of her house, Ethan, is faced with an array of challenges. Cadogan House is seceding from the vampire hierarchal system, she is about to be inducted into the secret vampire society Red Guard, and Ethan’s former lover is arriving to “help Ethan” get through the transition from company man to independent. To add to this bag of troubles, an absolute vampire hater has just been appointed to the mayor’s staff. And two rogue vampires, unaffiliated with any house, have disappeared. This is a passle of trouble for any vampire Sentinel, but if anyone can handle it, it’s Merit.


When I opened Appalachian Overthrow, I was temporarily disappointed to find it wasn’t a David Valentine book; David’s voice and adventures have grown so familiar through Knight’s Vampire Earth series. But after the first few pages I was absolutely caught up in Knight’s story, this time from the point of view of Ahn-Kah, a Golden One and a good friend of David’s. He’s been captured by the enemy, and he’s forced to serve as the driver of a drunken and dissolute member of a prominent collaboration family; and from there, he’s sent to the coal mines. This book has all the adventure and excellent plotting of previous books, and Knight’s fictitious history is as fully-realized and chocked with detail as a book set in our own past . . . or future. If you haven’t read the Vampire Earth books, I highly recommend starting at the beginning and continuing on.


Here’s another weird trip down memory lane. Old cookbooks. Since I’ve been planning the menu for a large family event, I’ve been leafing through my modest collection of cookbooks in search of inspiration. My home-town cookbook, which was not new when I was a girl, is a port of first call when I’m searching. I was looking at salad recipes, and one of the first things I noticed was that in the older cookbooks, all the salad recipes which contained fruit also contained Jell-O. No one in those days (late fifties, early sixties) seemed interested in serving fresh fruit; it was all supposed to be encased in Jell-O. I suppose that was at least partially because not everyone’s house was air-conditioned then, and Jell-O dishes got to stay in the refrigerator. And superior food distribution now ensures that most grocery stores have a much wider range of fresh produce than forty or fifty years ago.


I’ve also noticed terms in the older cookbooks that younger people don’t seem to understand. Lard, drippings, bacon grease cans, crackling, fritters – those don’t seem to be in common use today, and I guess I can understand why! No one seems to sift flour twice, either, which in my mother’s day was a rule. You sifted it before you put it in the canister, and you sifted it again before it went into the recipe.


I’ve come to feel that the overwhelming amount of preserved foods listed in the older recipes was a kind of backlash against a previous era, when ingredients might be limited, but they were fresh as a matter of necessity. Of course, fresh means a certain amount of prep work is in order. I’m sure housewives then thought, “Oh, great! Canned! I don’t have to snap them or preserve them. I can just open a can!” Now the emphasis on “fresh” has swung back the other way.


I have one reproduction of one small community cookbook, with such offerings as Pea Pod Wine, Scripture Cake, and a homemade cream for chapped hands. This is a British cookbook, I believe. The recipes range from 1881 to 2009; something for everyone!


Do you have old family recipes you treasure, or do your mother’s favorites start with, “Open a can of Cream of Mushroom soup”?


Charlaine Harris

May 26, 2013

Books of the Week:

  • Don’t Ever Get Old, Daniel Friedman
  • The Shake, Mel Nicolai
  • The Magistrates of Hell, Barbara Hambly
  • Criminal Enterprise, Owen Laukkanen

I had the pleasure of meeting Daniel Friedman at the Edgar awards ceremony; Daniel was up for Best First Mystery. He didn’t win, but he was certainly in excellent company in that category. Daniel and I are from the same part of the south, though he is much, much younger; it was a real pleasure to talk to him and his family. But best of all is the book he gave me, Don’t Ever Get Old, about a retired ex-policeman, Buck Schatz, who happens to be Jewish. He is married to the long-suffering Rose, and he has a very smart grandson, nicknamed Tequila. Buck is almost ninety. He bruises easily, his arm doesn’t pack a punch any more, and he sometimes forgets his destination when he’s driving. But Buck is still mean and clever and determined, and that counts for a lot. Friedman’s story opens when Buck is called to the bedside of a man he never liked, a man who has a deathbed confession to share with Buck, and Buck alone. This story of Nazi gold and duplicity has everything going for it.


The Shake is a slim novel by Mel Nicolai, and as far as I can tell it was self-published. That having been said, Kirkus Reviews, which doesn’t like anything, gave it a “Best of 2011” star, and Paul Goat Allen recommended it in his list of best vampire novels. This is a thoughtful, unloving vampire novel about Shake, a vamp who sees very little point in his existence, so he has to create one by investigating a death which no one seems to care about. In the process, he meets with surprising people on both sides of the “death” coin. Karla, whom he recruits as his driver, is a strong woman in a brutal occupation; and the other vampires are just as individual and surprising. Well worth the reading.


I think now I’m caught up on Barbara Hambly’s Asher/Ysidro series. The Magistrates of Hell (like the book I reviewed a couple of columns ago) is a hardback published by Severn House in the UK. I have a hard time believing these wonderful books don’t have a US publisher; maybe I’m really missing something, which is certainly possible. Magistrates is set in China after the Boxer Rebellion, in the foreign compound where all the legislations have their compounds. Asher and his wife, the wonderful Lydia, accompany Asher’s old companion Dr. Solomon Karlebach to China in their pursuit of the tale of an unusual kind of vampire sighted in China. Don Simon Ysidro, centuries-old vampire, is there, too, which makes for a lot of conflict; Ysidro is their ally, insomuch as a vampire can be, and Karlebach is a hate-ridden vampire killer. They are all after the same thing, but frequently they get in each other’s way in their attempt to discover the lair of the vampires who are attacking people more and more boldly. Since this is a Hambly book, I enjoyed it very much.


Owen Laukkanen’s Criminal Enterprise is a crime novel buff’s dream. It’s got two law enforcement professionals who have an uneasy relationship, a criminal who is determined to stop at nothing, the man in the middle who is utterly broken by the end of the book, and a relentless pace from beginning to end. FBI Special Agent Carla Windermere and Minnesota Investigator Kirk Stevens have worked together before, and they have an undeniable tie; at the same time, they are really nothing alike on the surface. Stevens is married, white, set in his course with the Minnesota criminal justice system, and older than Carla. She’s an African American star in the FBI, and she’s single. But they have the same relentless pursuit of the truth, and that makes them incredibly potent together. This is a thriller/crime novel/buddy book, and it’s the second with these characters.


Theoretically, I can read the same number of books year-round. There’s nothing seasonal about it. But since I was a kid in school, summer has been my reading time. Sure, I had swimming lessons and the occasional modest family vacation, but to me getting out of school meant more time to read. Yeah, I was one of those kids! I might be reading outside, I might be reading in the car . . . but I always had a book with me. As anyone who has read this column knows, I’m the biggest fan of the written word.


I wasn’t the world’s happiest child, or the world’s best-adjusted child, but I always had something to feed my mind, and my parents always accepted my reading as a very good thing. They were readers, too, and so was my brother. There were always books around our house, in every stage of being consumed. If I misplaced my book, I might find four or five before I tracked mine down. We couldn’t afford to buy many books, but we went to the library and my parents swapped books with other readers.


I have long suspected that one big source of my parents’ mutual attraction was the fact that they both loved the written word.


In the summer, I didn’t have to put my book away when the teacher began our math lesson, or English lesson, or health. It was a happy time for me. When the fall would draw close, I would look forward to seeing my friends (we lived WAY out in the country, at least in those times), I would look forward to ordering new clothes from the Sears and Roebuck catalog, and I would regret that I would have to forego pleasure reading to concentrate on school work.


Enough for my walk down memory lane, but you see that summer doesn’t mean surfing and beach volleyball to me . . . it means reading.


Hey, somebody’s got to do it.


Charlaine Harris