A Summer in Europe

A Summer in Europe

It’s been three years since I read this book, but I remember it fondly, so obviously, it was memorable. At the time I reviewed it this way:

“This is a simple story told in a wonderful and complex style. It’s long, but there isn’t an extra word anywhere. The author, Marilyn Brant, leads the reader in a journey through Europe with Gwendolyn Reese and a group of American and British tourists. You know how you see description of tourist spots and your eyes tend to jump, or glaze over? NOT in this book, because each description is so ingrained with emotions that the very street (or canal) becomes an integral piece of the story. Now, that’s writing talent! At the bottom, it’s a romance, but also a ‘coming-of-age’ (at thirty!). And definitely a story of adventure, mystery, every-day-life, age differences—but that’s what I brought to it. Maybe you will bring something else.”

Okay, I loved this book. And so did almost all of those who reviewed it on Goodreads.

One of my favorite reviews starts this way: “Oh this book is like sitting in the sun in the middle of a Roman piazza while eating a big scoop of gelato. It’s lovely and something to be savored. Just about the only thing I didn’t like about this book is that Gwen got to go to Europe for a month and I didn’t. Yeah, I’m pretty jealous of this fictional character!”

I discovered this reviewer is Meg and she’s a book blogger. I had to look up her blog. It’s one I want to follow.

Another review by Meredeth (another book blogger) starts this way: a”*yawns and stretches* Sorry, please excuse my sleepiness, I’ve just returned from a fantastic sojourn in Europe and I’m just a teensy bit jet-lagged…

“During the summer she turns thirty, Gwendolyn Reese – an unsophisticated and inhibited middle school math teacher that passionately loves listening to musical soundtracks – expects to be trying on wedding dresses, picking out flowers, and planning a wedding with her boyfriend of two years. But instead she is being shanghaied by her aunt’s S & M Club (S for Sudoku, M for Mahjongg – had you shocked there for a moment, didn’t I?) to travel on their five week tour of Europe.”
That’s two blogs I want to follow. Perhaps you will too.


Anteater coverNow, you have to admit—The Anteater of Death is an unusual name for a mystery story. Okay—crazy! But I truly like it. It’s got a lot going for it.

A. The name attracts attention. (Always good.)

B. The story lives up to the title. (Also good.)

C. The anteater (in a zoo, thankfully) is not only a suspect in murder, but has a devoted advocate in the heroine of the story—Teddy, the amateur detective.

This was how I put it a couple of months ago when I read The Anteater of Death:

The plot is full of unexpected twists, the characters are mostly known to eah other (for generations) and quite individual. The suspense is right up there, along with enough humor to fit the title. But there is also suspense to keep the reader on the edge of her (or his) seat. The book starts and ends with a chapter in the anteater’s viewpoint—quite a bit different than a human viewpoint. In between it’s Teddy’s story. She’s related to the wealthy zoo donors and working at the zoo. And yes, there is death. Great story for those looking for the unusual subject. Spiced with zoo and animal information.

Right now the Kindle ebook is $.99. Betty Webb is the author. She has two other zoo books, and a desert series of mysteries.

New Writers’ New Book

5-25-5th grade coverI’m one of the retirees who have been helping ten fifth graders who want to write. (When other kids see us passing through the school halls, they ask, “Are you the grandmas?” Yep, that would be us.) This week we will deliver their finished book. They will each get two copies—one to keep and one to give away to a favorite person. (Or, two to keep—their choice.)

All of the children wrote one, or more stories, we edited them, made suggestions, they learned that writing is also rewriting. Some illustrated their stories. One created the cover. One boy was definitely writing a book, but he managed to make a story out of the first two chapters. One of the girls seems destined to take Steven King’s place, but since she was also prolific, we encouraged one of her sweet stories.

They accomplished quite a bit in a half hour a week, especially since 5-25 5th grade kidsthere were several late days for snow that seemed to always happen on our Tuesday morning at the school. They did their writing on a computer easily using a hunt-and-peck system they had each worked out for themselves. (Although it was easy to transfer their work, I really do think it might be better to teach typing skills before using the keyboard. But I’m definitely of the old school—learned how to type in high school on a manual typewriter.)

But, enough of that. I enjoyed working with the kids. I’ve got to say, at least one inner city school is giving the children lots of choice in their education, for we could not have done this without some cooperation from the overworked teachers.

A Five Star Read-Under Any Title

Original Cover

Original Cover

The book is the first of the Persephone Cole Vintage Mystery Series taking place in the early 1940s. The author is Heather Haven. I read this mystery a couple of years ago. Was it called Persephone Cole and the Halloween Curse (the original title) or The Dagger Before Me? I don’t remember. Was the cover the original one (pictured left) or the new one? Think it was the original, but, I read the book on my Kindle, so I’m not sure.

As I remember the story, I like the first cover the best. Persephone (Percy for short) is big and beautiful—extra large size. She’s a single mother, living with the extended family (space was a problem) and helping her father in his detective business. She’s determined to succeed at her first solo case. It’s in the theater, which is an added complication—since she doesn’t know that much about theater. But, she’s a good faker (she hopes). And so does the reader—pulling for Percy with every page.

There are so many great reviews of this title, I’d like to quote from a couple of them:

Second Cover

Second Cover

Percy is certainly not the stereotypical mother of the 1940s. She’s a tough woman with an attitude big enough to match her 5’11” frame. She possesses a sharp mind and an even sharper tongue. I love the way she handles people, men in particular, who doubt her abilities as a detective. Though she can be brash at times, Percy also knows how to turn on the charm when she needs to. I can just as easily picture her buttering up a potential witness with free food or roughing up a hostile one.

Here’s what another reviewer had to say:

I found Percy engaging. I liked her moxie. Not exactly feminine, people “often remarked that between her wild hair, thin body, and daffy personality, she reminded them of a Dandelion caught in a windstorm.” (I like that word-picture.) Percy does things like: “she popped a nut into her mouth and separated the meat from the shell with her teeth.” Haven offers delightful and “punny” prose: “What color the interior was supposed to be was difficult to say. I’m going with drab.” Or how about this one—when Percy looks up at a man, we read: “It was novel, looking up to someone not standing on a stepladder.”

And here’s my review:  Persephone Cole (Percy for short) is a female detective in early 1940s New York during World War II. There’s great historic atmosphere (sweaty because it’s a non-air-conditioned heat spell) dealing with strange accidents in the theater district. She detects undercover as a manager who doesn’t really know that much about managing, but she’s right up there with detecting, including gun-handling. The nicely convoluted plot kept me guessing, and the ending was wholly satisfying. Definitely recommended for readers of historic mystery (with sassy women).

I’m wondering, why the title and cover change? I understand an author wishing to present the best face to her readers. And, since I do love this series, I hope it was a good choice. But I have to ask, which cover and which title do you like?


Does My Book Need a Vocabulary List?

5-14 Paper and penOkay, that’s a question I seldom ask myself. I write mystery (mostly) taking place in the current time, and in the country where my books are sold. I don’t have any characters speaking a foreign language.

Other books, often ones I read, are set in past centuries or other countries. They might have a list of names, or words that are unfamiliar. That’s handy. There are other instances that necessitate word lists—often involving unusual occupations, or even hobbies. But cozy, or almost cozy mysteries? Most readers know enough of the words used to describe recipes, needlework, antiques, pets, and the various occupations of our favorite amateur sleuths.

Now, back to my question. One of my mysteries involves boating. The following is a paragraph that may have non-boaters thinking I must have missed a few grammar lessons in elementary school.

“The coiled anchor rode smelled musty, even though it was 5-14 anchorcompletely dry. Little colored plastic tags lay, woven into the fiber to measure off the feet as the line payed out. Would I have to remove all that line to see if there was anything underneath? Not tonight. Too much trouble. I flashed around the interior one last time. There was a small piece of paper stuck low, under a few coils of the rope. I pulled it out.”

Did I misspell something? I checked a boating site from the Great Lakes. This is a sentence describing how to anchor a boat. “When all the rode has been payed out, gently back down on the anchor to set it in the bottom.”

RODE – anchor chain or line (rope) that attaches the anchor to the boat

TO PAY OUT, or PAYED OUT – to allow the rode to uncoil and leave the anchor locker so the anchor is lowered

Or, is that just too much? Personally, I think so. I don’t mind reading a book with a few things I have to infer from context. What do you think?

Book Party for THE CLIENT’S WIFE

cover-The Clients Wife2Yes, I went to a book party last week, and I tell you—Thomas Wiggin knows how to party. Big room with chairs set up—check. A showing of a full movie—check. Cookies and popcorn—check. Adult beverages—yeah! Coffee and tea, sure—but choice of wine as well as martinis, both gin and vodka—check! And, icing on the cake—the reading of a scene by the author who made it come alive. (After all, he had a long stint as a starring actor of both daytime and nighttime TV—not to mention writing episodes of the daytime drama, then performing a one-man show he wrote.)

Of course, that’s beside the point. The important part of a book party author signing 2is the book. And, getting a new slant on the where, why, and how of the author’s inspiration and carry-through of that book.

Thomas Wiggin was inspired by his parents, the Gershwin music they loved, and the Nick and Nora Charles movies of the 1930s. So how did those things all come together?

Mr. Wiggin had an answer for that. In those old movies, Nick and Nora had a son, Nick, Jr. What we didn’t know is that Nick, Jr. was not into the detective scene, but his daughter Emma was. Yes, Emma Charles spent time with her grandparents. She learned to love Gershwin, investigations, and martinis. As the book, The Client’s Wife begins, Emma has left her job with the police department and has begun her own detective agency. All she needs is to find a man who appreciates the finer things of life. Gershwin, good English, and the kind of relationship her grandparents had. (All this, of course, while solving crime cases.)

I’ve only started reading my new, signed copy of The Client’s Wife. It’s heading toward my five-star category.


Agatha Winners

Hank Phillippi Ryan

Hank Phillippi Ryan

For writers of cozy, or almost cozy mysteries (think Agatha Christie), Malice Domestic is the conference to interact with their readers. Of course, the Agatha award—a teapot—is coveted. I was there in spirit only. Naturally, I awaited the final word from Saturday night’s award banquet. And, I wanted to see how my picks fared.

Since I mentioned all short story authors, I can claim a victory for that! (Art Taylor won.) I scored again with my write-up of Writes of Passage. It won for best non-fiction. I’m wondering, since I was one of those who contributed an essay, can I claim one sixtieth of an Agatha? (Good question.) The editor who did claim the teapot, Hank Phillippi Ryan, also won for best contemporary novel. Another of my favorite authors, Rhys Bowen, won for best historical novel.

This is the official line-up of Agatha winners:

Best children’s / YA: Code Buster’s Club, Cast #4 by Penny Warner
Best short story: The Odds Are Against Us, by Art Taylor
Best nonfiction: Writes of Passage, edited by Hank Phillippi Ryan with Elaine Will Sparber
Best first novel: Well Read, Then Dead by Terrie Farley Moran
Best historical novel: Queen of Hearts by Rhys Bowen
Best contemporary novel: Truth Be Told by Hank Phillippi Ryan
In addition, Cynthia Kuhn won the Malice Domestic Grant for Unpublished Writers.


Rainaldi Quartet coverWish I could give this book six stars! That would be five stars for the story and the sixth star for the physical book. Sure, I love to read e-books as well, but I do love to hold a well-designed, superbly crafted trade paperback, turn the soft pages that lie flat, feel the texture of a lovely cover, and read the unique sans serif type font to follow an entrancing story.

On to the story. The Rainaldi Quartet refers to the four men who meet weekly to play in their hometown of Cremona, Italy. Two are luthers (those who make violins) as well as violin players. Rainaldi is one, the other is the narrator of the story, Gianni. A priest plays the viola and the younger, chief of police plays the cello. But it is Rainaldi, in good spirits, who chooses what they will play when the story opens. And it is Rainaldi who is murdered late that night.

The plot follows Gianni and the chief of police as they try to determine why their friend was killed, what secret he knew, what papers he had been working on, what amazing event he looked forward to. Their search takes them to the English countryside, to Venice, and to the ruins of a house burned a century ago looking for documents, then looking for a rare violin that may or may not exist.

Besides pouring over the mystery of the book, the reader will absorb bits of history, bits of the making and restoring of rare violins, and especially, the day to day life of an Italian gentleman of a certain age (as they say). Gianni’s musing on his grandchildren visiting, the changing light on the canals of Venice, and his emotions over sudden death are, surprisingly, every bit as engrossing as the search for the perhaps mythical violin and the reason behind murder.

Although this is placed in current times, history underlies the plot. And, as an American reader, I marvel at families who “remember” ancestors of a hundred or more years ago, and live in the same home, looking at the same portraits on the wall, and may not be all that impressed by the fame of the violinist in their family tree.


Indi Authors And Libraries

Most independently published authors have heard of J. A. Konrath. They follow his blog and his progress with his independently published books.  He took his traditionally published books back from the publisher and successfully published them himself. Others joined him. He’s the first true guru to many indi authors.

Now he’s going a step further. He has started a program that’s still in beta form, one to supply e-book manuscripts to libraries. It is called EAF-Ebooks Are Forever. Instead of a library buying a manuscript for a limited number of borrows, it will buy a copy that is good forever. (The same way libraries buy physical books.) And, just as with physical books, the e-book can only be loaned to one person at a time. For a popular book, a library would buy multiple copies, just as they do with physical books. Sounds like a good idea to me.

A full-size book would be purchased for $7.99, no matter its price on line, even if it is offered for free. It would probably already be available for sale everywhere, not locked into one venue, such as KDP.

Konrath envisions eventually offering every interested independent author’s books to libraries. I’d like to join. I tried, but the site doesn’t seem to be accepting other contributors yet. But I’ll watch for any updates. Meanwhile, to learn more, click highlighted words to see Konrath’s blog explanation. Find EBooks Are Forever here.