Category Archives: 2013

Charlaine Harris blog entries of 2013

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

May 19, 2013

Books of the Week:

  • The City, Stella Gemmell
  • Kitty Rocks the House, Carrie Vaughn
  • Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls, David Sedaris

I don’t believe I could have read three more diverse books if I’d picked them out of a hat. The City is a multiple POV science fiction novel, faintly reminiscent of the George R.R. Martin “Thrones” novels. Carrie Vaughn’s latest Kitty Norville novel is a worthy entry in a very entertaining series. And David Sedaris’s latest book is, well, typical Sedaris… a collection of sardonic, bitter, and amusing essays. As always, Sedaris pokes most fun at himself.

 

I was anxious to read Gemmell’s book after I read the synopsis. This is Gemmell’s first solo book. She has previously written with her now-deceased husband, fantasy novelist David Gemmell. The City has layers upon layers, much like the structure of the city itself. From the wretched people who live in the sewers under the city to the wealthy and powerful rulers who live in the most rarefied surroundings, Gemmell ties a complex story together with characters that age and change (and sometimes die in awful ways) over the course of the novel. Gemmell has a point to make, and it’s not subtle. This book is well worth reading. A fascinating example of world-building.

 

I always enjoy Carrie Vaughn’s books. This is one I liked quite a lot; Kitty is back in Colorado after her travels of the last book, and she’s surprised to find a stranger wants to join her pack. She has confused feelings about him, and the way he gloms onto a needy pack member arouses her suspicion. Her vampire friend, Rick, faces a personal challenge when another vampire from the mysterious Order of Saint Lazarus challenges Rick’s way of life. And Kitty’s buddy Cormac screws everything up royally, at least partly due to the passenger he carries within him, a witch. You can see the next set of challenges coming up for Kitty Norville.

 

David Sedaris is more fun than a troupe of dysfunctional monkeys. I love his collections, and though Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls may not be his funniest, anything Sedaris writes can make me laugh out loud . . . and that’s something I value more than I can say, especially in recent weeks.

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Writers have to be prepared to take their knocks when they put their work before the public, and some of the knocks are pretty hard. Some of them are sucker punches. There’s a line (and it’s not so fine) between constructive criticism and rabid attack.

 

I don’t intend to keep harping on the controversy surrounding the last book in the Sookie series, because I’m gradually putting the tension behind me, but I am thinking about issues that arose. I wonder if it’s even possible to offer constructive criticism about a 13-book series that’s at an end. Surely such criticism would only have been helpful if it had been offered earlier, so that if I felt it were valid I could implement it. I’ve read comments about past books that I really found insightful and helpful . . . but not this time, not about this book.

 

I tried to read the Facebook comments on my professional page, and I’m still trying to thank readers who were nice enough to say they read the book all the way through before they disagreed with me . . . because what really rankled was the hatred expressed by some readers who hadn’t read the book. They didn’t care about the thought process or the plot points that led to the conclusion of the book. All they wanted was an ending they had chosen. They ignored all the signs I’d planted so carefully to indicate where I was going. Then a vocal minority declared that the whole series was worthless if Sookie didn’t end up with the suitor they favored.

 

And an even smaller group demanded I explain and defend myself.

 

I considered that for 30 seconds.

 

Nope. Not gonna happen. At some point, I realized that nothing I did or said would even make the most virulent haters pause for a moment in their hating to consider any words of mine.

 

In the end, my sales went up. I would rather not have had to endure what I did, but did the controversy really hurt the book? No, it didn’t. It hurt my pride, and it hurt my feelings, and it provided me with some moments of anxiety. But I’m a grownup. I’ll recover.

 

So, friends and readers, onward! New books to write, new projects to consider, and new characters to create!

 

Charlaine Harris

May 8, 2013

Books of the Week:

  • The Vampire Tapestry, Suzy McKee Charnas
  • Under the Hill: Bomber’s Moon, Alex Beecroft
  • Blood Oranges, Kathleen Tierney
  • The Last Policeman, Ben Winters

Suzy McKee Charnas wrote The Vampire Tapestry in 1980, and I’m sorry to say I read it for the first time last week. I thank Paul Goat Allen for publishing his list of vampire novels that everyone should read, because this book came straight from that list. An unromantic and detailed account of one segment of the life of Dr. Edward Weyland is probably truer to what the “real life” of a vampire would be like. I don’t want to spoil any of this book for the reader, but I really admired it.

 

Alex Beecroft’s Under the Hill: Bomber’s Moon is the first part of a story, though I don’t know how many subsequent books he plans. His main characters, Ben Chaudry and Chris Gatrell, meet when Ben is attacked by elves. He is pretty sure no one will believe him, so he calls the Paranormal Defense Agency. Chris, retired from the RAF (on grounds of insanity) arrives to defend Ben, and the two feel an immediate attraction. Through a complex plot, their adventure continues, and there are other characters to meet who add to their story. Ben is not the only one in danger; there’s a plot to take over the world! These are pretty scary elves, and this is a really interesting book.

 

Blood Oranges is another book from Paul Goat Allen’s list, and it’s the story of junkie Quinn, who has a talent for killing supernatural creatures and an equally great talent for lying. Through a series of misfortunes, mostly set in motion by herself, Quinn becomes both a vampire and a werewolf. This is not a happy combination, though it does make her extremely notorious in the supernatural world. This is not a desirable thing, but Quinn is determined in her bad-assery.

 

Ben Winters won an Edgar award for The Last Policeman, which has the novelty of being a PRE-apocalyptic novel. Newly made Detective Hank Palace knows that an asteroid is going to hit the Earth in mere months; everyone on Earth knows that. So why does he keep on investigating crimes in a society that has largely disintegrated? This is a high-concept book, obviously, and it’s the first of three about Hank Palace. The premise is riveting and the writing is excellent.

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It’s hard to know where to start. The past two weeks have been tumultuous, but I’m beginning to emerge from the roller coaster ride more or less back to normal. (By the way, I hate roller coasters.) I’ve seen lots of ugliness, and even more kindness. I’ve seen lots of irrationality, and lots more sense. Some virulent hatred, and much more love.

 

I’m going with the love.

 

I’ll be happy to put this behind me and go back to doing what makes me happiest: writing the best books I can. This has been my pattern for 32 years, from way before the Sookie books, and I hope it’ll be my pattern for a few more.

 

Being alone with a computer (or a typewriter, or a pad and pencil) can ill-equip a writer for the strong and widely-assorted reactions of readers. I think I’d written four books before I ever met anyone who’d read one of them! It astounded me. It still astounds me.

 

I’m turning away from the controversy to face the remainder of a very busy year.

 

There are two family events, a graduation and a birth, that are more important than any professional developments. There are new writing projects that demand my attention and my focus. There are always books to read and recommend.

 

Yep, going with the love.

 

Charlaine Harris

April 22, 2013

Books of the Week:

  • Perfect Scoundrels, Ally Carter
  • Etiquette & Espionage, Gail Carriger
  • The Boyfriend, Thomas Perry
  • Blood Maidens, Barbara Hambly

Two fairly light-hearted young adult novels this week, both with female leads, left me feeling pretty optimistic about the reading choices of kids these days. Perfect Scoundrels raised a few issues with me, because it’s about a crime family who resorts to some big cons to help the very rich young man who has become part of the family (and the boyfriend of Kat Bishop, the protagonist). It’s a well-written, entertaining book, and there’s no doubt Kat is resourceful, a quick thinker, and a bold planner. And she’s loyal and loving. The downside is that – well, she’s a thief and a con artist. I haven’t read the other books in this series, but I feel sure almost any girl would enjoy them without fear of that girl becoming a career criminal.

 

Probably quite a few of you have read some of Gail Carriger’s adult series, the Parasol Protectorate, which are set in the same world as this YA novel, Etiquette & Espionage. Carriger’s charm is abundant and fully on display in E&E, in which young Miss Sophronia Temminnick is sent by her despairing mother to what her mother (and Sophronia) think will be a conventional finishing school. This is far from the case, and Sophronia, hitherto a social misfit, finally comes into her own. It’s delightful.

 

Thomas Perry has been a very successful thriller writer for many years, and The Boyfriend shows he’s still at the top of his game. Private investigator Jack Till, formerly with the LAPD, is hired by grieving parents to find out who killed their daughter, a prostitute. Till discovers that there’s a pattern of murdered prostitutes in cities around America; all the girls look very similar, and they all acquired a boyfriend shortly before their murders. But there’s another layer of complexity in this excellent book; the prostitutes are killed to cover up other crimes.

 

Barbara Hambly’s Benjamin January mysteries have always been at the top of my list of excellent reads, and her James Asher/Don Simon Ysidro books are some of my favorite vampire novels. I was startled (and angry with myself) to discover there’s another Asher book, apparently published only in the UK. Blood Maidens is every bit as good as Those Who Hunt the Night and Travelling with the Dead. I am chiding myself for my ignorance in not having known this earlier.


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Where the Bodies are Buried

 

I sent an email to a friend last week, telling her a reporter wanted to talk to her about me, and I added, “Just don’t tell her where the bodies are buried.” Of course, this was a reference to the saying, “Friends will help you move. A real friend will help you move bodies.”

 

Just to clear the air on that issue, I’ve never buried a body, and unless my friends and readers are much more adventurous than I am, I’m willing to believe none of you have, either. So why are we so fond of that saying?

 

I’ll tell you where the real bodies are buried: in our memories. All of us remember something painful, something we should feel remorse over, something shameful, or some incident that evokes all three of those reactions. I’m not going in for true confessions, here, but I’m willing to bet that something popped into your mind just then, something you’d rather not have in your memory bank.

 

Perhaps you can’t even absolve yourself of something: but your best friend can do it. You don’t have to be a hero to your true friend. I think your true friend will see you, warts and all, and still stick to you.

 

Maybe we should say, “Friends will help you move. A real friend will help you move a body. And the best friend will still like you afterward.”

 

My favorite movie illustration? “Grosse Pointe Blank,” where John Cusack’s hit man is assisted by his high school buddy (Jeremy Piven) at their high school reunion, in disposing of the body of another hit man Cusack has dispatched with a ball point pen. (Maybe I have a macabre sense of humor, but that’s my favorite touch, the ball point pen.) (Oh, and I guess there’s no maybe about my sense of humor.)

 

So I wish all of you a friend close enough to absolve you of your less-than-noble moments, because I assure you . . . we all have them.

 

And by the way, if you need a body buried . . . I have a shovel. Just saying.

 

Charlaine Harris

April 8, 2013

Books of the Week:

  • Gun Machine, Warren Ellis
  • Twice Tempted, Jeaniene Frost
  • Six Years, Harlan Coben
  • Lover at Last, J.R. Ward
  • No Hero, Jonathan Wood

Long airplane trips are a perfect opportunity for me to get some reading done, and on the way to and from Los Angeles I made the most of my time.

 

We have two police protagonists this time, New York City Detective John Tallow inGun Machine and Oxford (UK) Detective Arthur Wallace in No Hero. Gun Machinesurely falls into the “high concept” category. During a violent confrontation with a naked man, Tallow’s partner is killed, and one of the man’s shotgun blasts tears a hole in the wall of an apartment. In side that apartment is a deadly and complete decoration created from all manner of guns . . . and each one has been used in an unsolved crime, though the crimes are spread over decades. There is a high level of conspiracy, the determination of a cop to find the man who has murdered so many, and two whacked-out CSIs who are willing to help him. Arthur Wallace of No Hero is not nearly as jaded and world-weary as his New York counterpart, and his world is not as grim . . . if you have a peculiar sense of humor. After watching an unbelievable crime, Wallace is conscripted to a tiny government depart on the verge of being phased out. He meets twin seers immersed in tanks, an amazing killing machine of a woman, and nearly as many wacky people as John Tallow. But Wood has a freaky sense of humor, and when things are darkest in Arthur Wallace’s world, that humor rises to the surface.

 

I’ve known Harlan Coben for a long time, and he’s made a huge name for himself in the years we’ve met at conferences. If you like classic thrillers, Six Years is for you. College professor Jake Fisher has been mourning the loss of the love his life to another man for six years; when he sees the man’s obituary, he doesn’t know what to think. He attends the funeral where he sees the man’s wife and children . . . and the wife is not Jake’s ex-girlfriend. Jake doesn’t know it, but he’s tripped a wire that will cause more trouble than he’s ever seen. This book propels you through at a fast clip, because you’re so curious about what will happen next.

 

Twice Tempted is the latest Jeaniene Frost book, and that’s almost enough to say. This is the second book about Leila and Vlad, and in this book we see Vlad telling Leila the truth about himself; that he rules through fear and terror, and that he’s an expert in dealing them out. She has to accept this if she’s going to stay with him. Despite the troubles the couple has (and Leila getting kidnapped is one of them), can you doubt they’ll come to an understanding? But the adventure of getting there is a lot of fun.

 

J. R. Ward’s Lover At Last is her long-awaited novel about the relationship between Blay and Qhuinn. Qhuinn’s one-time lover is expecting a child, and Blay has a relationship with his cousin, but they truly love each other. However, making that relationship public and permanent with all the mayhem going on around them is another issue. For readers worried about the m/m sex, Ward is writing love scenes, not sex scenes, and the troubled characters can only be applauded when they become open about their love.

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It’s that funny time of year where everything’s off balance. It may be warm enough to turn on the air conditioner; it may be cold enough for the heater. It’s still cool outside most days, but the lawn needs mowing. It can be wonderful to sit outside in the afternoon, but that indulgence can lead to a stopped-up head and sneezing. Do I wear a sweater, or a Tshirt? Sandals, or loafers? A dozen decisions to make every day. Some days I’m just not up to so many demands!

 

On those days I don’t really want to talk business with my east coast agent or my west coast agent. Or my publicist. Or my assistant. Or my website maven. Or my editor. Or any of the dozens of people who contact me out of the blue to ask me for a favor, or a story, or a donation. Despite my good luck in having all these great people who help me in more ways than I can count, I Vant to be Alone. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but it’s really, really hard to achieve that these days. The computer has us trained to jump through hoops. Hear a bing? Check your email. See a new message? Check Facebook or your website. Cell phone beeps? You’ve been messaged.

 

Writers love what they do more than anything, but they are also experts at avoiding work. This is a paradox I haven’t fathomed yet. I know for sure I’m not the only writer guilty, and that gives me some comfort, though it shouldn’t.

 

I’ve tried different strategies to use my time more wisely, but so far not one has worked. I need to shore up my will power and exercise some iron will.

 

After I check my Facebook page.

 

Charlaine Harris