Tag Archives: Miranda James

January 12, 2015

Books of the Week:

  • The Professionals, Owen Laukkanen
  • Bless Her Dead Little Heart, Miranda James

Let me make a confession. When I began The Professionals, I knew nothing about Owen Laukkanen, and I vaguely assumed he was one of the Scandinavian writers making a big splash in the mystery community these days. This debut novel is definitely hard-boiled and American, so don’t start it with false assumptions as I did. The basic premise is that four recent college graduates can’t find jobs, so they begin kidnapping people for very modest sums of money, which they feel will keep them under the law enforcement radar. The combination of kidnapping the wrong victim and the possession of a gun suddenly blows their scheme apart. This book hits a lot of American issues: the bad economy, gun control, corruption in law enforcement and dedication in law enforcement, and the bond between working comrades.

Miranda James’s Bless Her Dead Little Heart couldn’t be more different. Many of you have enjoyed James’s Cat in the Stacks books, and you’ll enjoy this one, too. Diesel the Maine coon cat is visiting the Ducote sisters, elderly spinsters in Athena, Mississippi, which his owner, Charlie Harris, is away. The Ducote sisters are old-style ladies, which means they’re tough as nails when they feel they’re doing the right thing. In this entertaining traditional mystery, they’re rather reluctantly trying to help a former sorority sister of theirs, who feels someone is “out to get her.” She’s absolutely right! But Miss An’gel and Miss Dickce are a match for a murderer.

Blog

I used to be the person who could debate for ten minutes over which pair of hose to wear. Of course, that was back when women still wore hose, which I understand is no longer the case. I could also fall into a fog of uncertainty over which dress to wear to what event . . . back when I wore dresses.

A lot has changed since my late teens and early twenties, when I went through those agonies of indecision. I’ve learned to make quick decisions. What taught me this skill? Writing.

Yes, writing, ladies and gentlemen. Because writing is all about making a thousand decisions – let’s call them choices — a day. Think about it. Will your protagonist be brunette or auburn-haired? Will you protagonist be a tax accountant or a nurse? Will the motive for the murders be an inheritance or a long-buried secret? What kind of gun will your villain use to shoot the first victim?

So over thirty-six years of writing, I’ve learned to make choices . . . you bet!

After you look at the writing trade as a series of choices to be made, you have to ask yourself, “How do I make the right one?” Ah, there’s the issue. Because each choice you make must be based on several factors: (1) What’s the most entertaining option? (2) What choices are consistent with the characters as I’ve established them? (3) What choices will lead to the furtherance of the plot?

See? Simple, yet complicated. Should Mandy go to bed, or go down to the kitchen to make herself a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich? If she goes to bed, that clears the way for Ralph to use his old key to enter the house. But if she goes to the kitchen, she can have a long talk with Mack, during which she’ll discover that the old will might be in the barn!

Or maybe we’ll discover that she’s allergic to peanuts.

If you’re a writer, the choice is all yours.



Charlaine Harris

March 9, 2014

Books of the Week:

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Blog: The Instrument

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Charlaine Harris