Five Stars for MAIDS OF MISFORTUNE

My five-star pick this week com­bines two of my loves—mystery and his­toric fic­tion. Maids of Mis­for­tune takes place in 1879 San Fran­cis­co. A young wid­ow sup­ports her­self as board­ing house own­er Annie Fuller, and, in dis­guise, as psy­chic Sibyl who gives per­son­al and finan­cial advice to clients. As a woman, she knows that no one would ever accept such advice from her, but they will accept it as com­ing from the stars. When one of her clients dies, sup­pos­ed­ly by sui­cide, she knows his finances weren’t in the sham­bles the police claim. When the police real­ize it was mur­der, they look to his fam­i­ly. Annie pos­es as a serv­ing girl for the fam­i­ly to find the truth.

The author, M. Louisa Locke, seam­less­ly puts the read­er square­ly in that time and place. While we are engrossed in the plot we notice the work involved to keep up a house, the atti­tudes of every­one toward a Chi­nese cook, Annie’s belat­ed real­iza­tion of what her laun­dry girl does, and the prob­lems of trav­el and com­mu­ni­ca­tion in an ear­li­er age.

Maids of Mis­for­tune is the first of a series (the ebook is now free). There are sev­er­al short sto­ries as well. The fourth full-length mys­tery in the series will be out this month.

Of inter­est to the writ­ers among my read­ers, M. Louisa Locke’s blog shares her ongo­ing mar­ket­ing plans for an inde­pen­dent writer. (Next week I’ll revis­it the upcom­ing Agatha awards with anoth­er good read.)

What is it about Grandmas?

I remem­ber, when I was a lit­tle girl, my grand­moth­er was a police matron. This was in the 1930s, way before women were in the reg­u­lar police force. She was there for ques­tion­ing female pris­on­ers. Once she even arrest­ed a man she rec­og­nized from a local want­ed poster. She walked up to him, told him she had a gun in her purse, and request­ed that he walk with her to the police sta­tion. He did.

Some­how, I don’t think that would work today. But grand­mas have a sur­pris­ing amount of author­i­ty. Think about it. They’ve raised chil­dren, and raised them well enough so those chil­dren are now par­ents. I think it’s that voice and look of The Moth­er. The child knows exact­ly what it means.

So, I was not sur­prised at all to hear about a grand­moth­er who is a bounc­er at a local high-end restau­rant. When asked, What do you do when peo­ple get unruly? she replied: I can sit there and not say a word, and I don’t know how many times peo­ple say to me, “You scare me.”

To see the rest of the sto­ry, and view a pleas­ant-look­ing woman, go here.

I would not be sur­prised if, among any group, and espe­cial­ly among writ­ers, there are quite a few grand­mas with amaz­ing sto­ries. Am I right? Is/was your grand­moth­er one of those amaz­ing women?

Agatha Nominee-CIRCLE OF INFLUENCE

My five star pick today is a two-fer—five stars plus Agatha nom­i­nee for Best First Nov­el!

It’s win­ter, the snow is pil­ing high, and Zoe Cham­bers, para­medic and deputy coro­ner in rur­al Penn­syl­va­nia is on the road with the emer­gency vehi­cle, try­ing to save lives. But some­one is mur­dered, and in a small town where every­one knows every­one else, there are a lot of secrets and con­nec­tions.

I read Cir­cle of Influ­ence last May with love­ly warm sun­shine, but author Annette Dashofy made me feel every bit of icy pre­cip­i­ta­tion as I set­tled down to read one great mys­tery, with unex­pect­ed rev­e­la­tions on almost every page.

If you haven’t yet read Cir­cle of Influ­ence, snug­gle into a blan­ket before a roar­ing fire and set­tle down to read one great not-quite-cozy mys­tery with an excel­lent plot and mem­o­rable char­ac­ters. And, if you attend Mal­ice Domes­tic in May, con­sid­er vot­ing for Cir­cle of Influ­ence.

Quilts and Barns

How do quilts, a hand­made bed­cov­er, and barns, a large build­ing forquilt-barn cows, go togeth­er? Answer—when a barn sports a quilt­ed dec­o­ra­tion.

It’s a nat­ur­al for the place where I live, Lan­cast­er Coun­ty, Pennsylvania—the home of Amish quilts, dairy farms, fields of hay and corn. But we are sort of a John­ny-come-late­ly. Quilt trails are found in 48 states and Cana­da. A local quilt­ing farm woman saw her first barn quilt in Ohio which inspired the one pro­filed in our local news­pa­per.

Some 7,000 wood­en or Mylar quilts were cre­at­ed by groups such as the Grange (a farm­ing orga­ni­za­tion I belonged to as a teenage farm girl). They can be found fol­low­ing quilt trails, and they aren’t all on barns.

Here is the arti­cle from our local news­pa­per. And, of course, some­thing so pop­u­lar has its own Face­book page.

I had nev­er before heard of quilts on barns, or quilt trails. In the sum­mer, we have corn mazes, tours of dairy farms, and Her­shey can­dy fac­to­ry. Do you have sim­i­lar activ­i­ties where you live? I’d love to hear about them.

Five Stars for LOWCOUNTRY BOIL

I read Low­coun­try Boil two years ago, short­ly after it was pub­lished by Hen­ery Press. Then I went to my first ever Mal­ice Domes­tic in 2013, and vot­ed for it to win as Best First Nov­el of 2012. Of course, I was sure I’d picked a lot of oth­er win­ners as well, but Low­coun­try Boil was the only win­ner I picked. Since I was sit­ting at one of the Hen­ery Press tables, I got a front row seat as the oth­er Hen­ery Press authors helped Susan Boy­er cel­e­brate.

Susan Boyer-Agatha winner

Susan Boy­er-Agatha win­ner

To do jus­tice to this book, I’m reread­ing it now, and enjoy­ing it just as much as I did the first time. Some things come back to me imme­di­ate­ly. I remem­bered the ghost (I love ghosts). When the lock­et turned up, I thought, aha! Oth­er plot points had slipped my mind. Oh, yes, now I remem­ber, I thought as a new dan­ger unfold­ed.

But this isn’t telling you about a great read. A Great Win­ning Read! Not only did it win the Agatha, but it won the 2012 Daphne du Mau­ri­er Award for Excel­lence in Mys­tery Sus­pense.

The low­coun­try of the sto­ry is a South Car­oli­na island along the Intra­coastal Water­way (Did I pass it on one of sev­er­al boat­ing trips, I won­der?) It’s a close-knit com­mu­ni­ty of friends, rel­a­tives, and often, ene­mies who may be both friends or rel­a­tives.

Liz returns to the island home­stead after her grand­moth­er dies. She learns it was mur­der. So, why would any­one kill a sweet old lady? There are con­spir­a­cies afoot, and a ghost who con­fers with Liz, look­ing to save the island from the bad guys.

Are the prob­lems bro­ken mar­riages, land grabs, long remem­bered slights? Or, none of the above? Although Liz runs her own pri­vate inves­ti­ga­tion agency in the city, her broth­er, the local police chief, does not want her help in solv­ing one mur­der and try­ing to pre­vent fur­ther may­hem.

Oth­er review­er com­ments: “I can see why this debut mys­tery is get­ting a lot of buzz.”

The para­nor­mal aspect adds to the sto­ry rather than tak­ing it over, strik­ing the per­fect bal­ance.”

A South­ern Mys­tery to be Savored!”

I agree with all of them.

A Writing Room

A room ded­i­cat­ed to writing—that’s an ide­al for any author. Or not. Some authors pre­fer tot­ing a lap­top or pen­cil and paper to the local cof­fee shop, or out­doors where there’s a love­ly view and pleas­ant weath­er.

Years ago, when I was a twen­ty-some­thing and liv­ing in Seat­tle, I did not aspire to be a writer. I thought I’d be a singer. My broth­er had a beau­ti­ful voice, my sis­ter played the piano. I had illu­sions of a fam­i­ly trio—for a few months. I took singing lessons. Since I lived at a board­ing house with a land­la­dy who said, “No prac­tic­ing at MY piano,” I rent­ed a prac­tice room sev­er­al days a week. All around me, oth­ers behind oth­er doors prac­ticed voice, clar­inet, bas­soon, or piano. But, for an hour, I had my own room.

When I start­ed writ­ing, with teenagers in the house, I heard about writ­ers who rent­ed office space, set it up with type­writer (before most peo­ple used any­thing resem­bling com­put­ers), and escaped into anoth­er world. I set up my type­writer in the base­ment. After a while, I, too, had a com­put­er.

Fast for­ward a lot of years, and my hus­band and I are liv­ing in retire­ment. Our chil­dren have chil­dren, and even a grand­child. I have my writ­ing space in the retire­ment home base­ment. I don’t need to escape from a hec­tic house­hold. But a cou­ple of days ago, I read about a local free-lance writer who has his own small office space in a local build­ing, a restored tobac­co ware­house divid­ed into indi­vid­ual offices.

Gee, should I con­sid­er that?

Nah. I look out my win­dow, and think—drive through weath­er like that, every day? Then I look at my desk, piled high with arti­cles I must save, my desk­top com­put­er, my print­er, my rolling chair, the full book­cas­es sur­round­ing me. Move all that? You think? Of course, if I had Kait Carson’s very neat office, maybe… Nope. Why change per­fec­tion?

I’ve always wondered—does tak­ing your work to a new place, one with­out a dish­wash­er to emp­ty, a dirty clothes ham­per full to over­flow­ing, and dust on every shelf—make for more time spent writ­ing?  Or, does tak­ing one­self away from dai­ly life also take away the inspi­ra­tion? Some­how, I think that answer changes by indi­vid­ual, and per­haps, even by the moment. What do you think? Have you ever tried mov­ing your work to a new space?

Five Stars For JUST ADD WATER

I did­n’t have to dig very deeply into my favorites list to come up with 5 star A Just Add Water by Jinx Schwartyz. I under­stand that this author is as at-home on boats as she is in front of her com­put­er writ­ing about Het­ta Cof­fey.

Het­ta does­n’t have a boat as the book starts. She has women friends, an ex fiancé, and a dog named RJ. Let’s just say, boy friends come and go, and their com­ing isn’t always good. Could be fatal, as a mat­ter of fact. But, oh, that does make for good read­ing!

The dead body does­n’t appear right away, but the action is non-stop. Het­ta is after a man, any man. Per­haps buy­ing a boat is the way to go. Then, again, per­haps not. But Het­ta has a boat, and she is intends to learn how to use it. (That’s a quote, more or less, from the author’s tweets, “Het­ta has a boat and she’s not afraid to use it.”)

This is my first Het­ta Cof­fey Mys­tery and won’t be the last! I read Jinx Schwartyz’ Land of Moun­tains before giv­ing it to a grand­daugh­ter and absolute­ly loved it. It is semi-auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal. I don’t think Just Add Water is, but it cer­tain­ly could be, if the child in the ear­li­er book grew up to get involved in mur­der instead of just into boats.

I’d like to quote from a few oth­ers who liked this book:

First, I must say this book was a chuck­le a minute—except for the parts not designed to elic­it chuck­les, of course.”

Whether you’re a fan of mys­tery, chick lit, or humor, you’ll be a fan of Het­ta Cof­fey and author Jinx Schwartz.”

Het­ta is brash and bold with a mouth that doesn’t have much of a fil­ter.”

There are many more reviews, but that gives you an idea. Almost all of them are pos­i­tive.

Just Add Water is avail­able here.

Cloud Nine

Cloud Nine

Of course, I know a lit­tle some­thing about boats as well. Just for kicks, I’ll add a pic­ture of the boat my hus­band and I sailed for a good many years. We did­n’t find any killers, but we did run into a few killer storms. And, know­ing a lit­tle bit about boats myself, only made me appre­ci­ate Just Add Water even more.

Does knowl­edge of the sub­ject affect your read­ing? I know, if an author does­n’t get some­thing right that I do know about, that does affects my read­ing plea­sure. It down-right destroys it.

A Bionic Hero

This is a sto­ry that unites recov­ery from the Boston Marathon bomb­ing, my mem­o­ries, and a young man who lost his legs to moun­tain climb­ing while still in high school. Hugh Herr was the boy’s name, and I fol­lowed his progress in the media. He attend­ed a neigh­bor­ing high school; I met his par­ents, and even a sis­ter at one time or anoth­er. His first ambi­tion was to get back on the moun­tains, climb­ing. And he did. He learned how bion­ic legs work, invent­ed his own bion­ic feet to help him climb, and con­quered impos­si­ble moun­tains.

Of course, that’s not the end of the sto­ry. He left the moun­tains and returned to bion­ics. Togeth­er with oth­er experts at MIT, he now works to help amputees return­ing from war as well as the dancer who lost her foot in Boston. The local arti­cle that remind­ed me of this amaz­ing man is “Hugh Herr and ‘the heal­ing pow­er of high tech­nol­o­gy’.” From that arti­cle, I found the site and video (at the end) with Hugh Herr’s talk and Adri­anne Haslet-Davis’ dance. Mr. Herr includes videos of his teen-age climbs, explains the progress of bion­ics, and shows a vari­ety of exam­ples as he walks on his bion­ic legs. The dancer grace­ful­ly demon­strates the ful­fill­ment of her dream. Both are tru­ly inspir­ing.

This post is noth­ing about books, but one that’s inspired me for years and one that I want­ed to share. There are many such peo­ple, even though we writ­ers focus on the evil and dan­ger­ous to amuse our read­ers. Of course, each sto­ry must include a hero, one to bring the world back into bal­ance. Just for today, I want to focus on those heroes in life.

Five Stars For A Cutthroat Business

I’ve read a lot of books that I rate five stars. A Cut­throat Busi­ness by Jen­na Ben­nett is one I’ve just fin­ished read­ing. Now, I must admit, it has been on my Kin­dle for quite some time. (I tend to cap­ture way more e‑books than I can pos­si­bly read.) Last week it was “eenie, mee­nie, miney, mo” time, and I’m glad this one got the fin­ger. Even bet­ter, I dis­cov­ered that this is the first of a series, with sev­er­al more to read.

5 star ASavan­nah Mar­tin is a new­com­er to the real estate sales busi­ness. She is a prop­er south­ern belle who always remem­bers what her moth­er says. On a date, a prop­er lady does­n’t eat too much, or ever eat dessert. There’s a few oth­er things a prop­er lady does­n’t do, and, unfor­tu­nate­ly, Savan­nah falls a bit short on some things. Like, I’m sure, it isn’t prop­er to find a dead body, even if it is in the house she’s show­ing and it just hap­pens to be her hat­ed boss. And one def­i­nite­ly should­n’t be attract­ed to that bad boy, Rafe. Of course, Savan­nah is most polite to the ques­tion­ing police, and that could be a good thing.

All that is good and well, but exact­ly why do I pick this is one of my favorite books? For one thing, when I real­ized I was way over half way through with the book, I stayed awake until 2 A.M. to fin­ish it. For anoth­er thing, there’s a con­sid­er­able amount of sex­u­al ten­sion, but it’s light­ly played, and a kiss is the ulti­mate thrill. (I’m sure that suc­ceed­ing books will go a tad fur­ther, but I do like the fun of this approach.) And, while this is not the first fic­tion­al real estate agent I’ve read about who finds a body in the vacant house, there’s a lot more going on in this book that war­rants applause.

As I write this brief review, I see that the e‑book is avail­able for free. How lucky can you get? A Cut­throat Busi­ness avail­able here. (Don’t know if it will be when you read this.) Read all about the author Jen­na Ben­nett here.

Now a word from your spon­sor (me). Leave a note here if you wish. Sug­gest a favorite book of your own. Check out my book page, or my web page. And come back on Thurs­day for a blog that is yet to be determined—but it will be dif­fer­ent. And, next Mon­day, I’ll tell you about anoth­er of my favorite books.

 

New Year Outlook

Today, when I think of all the new things a year can bring, I real­ize some would have been quite unimag­in­able in the not too dis­tant Air­planes, sure—but a tiny drone planned to deliv­er pack­ages? Even famil­iar items get an unex­pect­ed twist as inno­va­tors do their thing.

I’m think­ing the tele­phone here. When I was young (a cen­tu­ry or ago), a tele­phone was firm­ly attached to the house by a cord, or even secured to the wall. I picked up the receiv­er and a voice said, “Num­ber, please.”

My answer was, “Three, four, five, oh, J,” and present­ly, my grand­moth­er answered.

I don’t remem­ber those ear­li­est phones specifically—not until we moved into a farm house when I was in sev­enth grade. That phone was a wood­en box, about a foot and a half tall by maybe ten inch­es wide, mount­ed on the wall at adult eye lev­el. A large mouth­piece stuck out in front. The receiv­er was on a hook at the left. On the right was a crank. To place a call, I lift­ed the receiv­er, gave one long crank and wait­ed for the oper­a­tor. Of course, first I had to be sure no one else was on the par­ty line using their phone. There were quite a few oth­er fam­i­lies, each with their own ring. Ours was two shorts, a long, and a short. Each fam­i­ly heard all those rings, and most­ly, ignored them. But, since peo­ple did­n’t call any­one unless it was nec­es­sary, (and noth­ing secret as any­one could lift their receiv­er and lis­ten in), there weren’t too many rings to ignore dur­ing the day.

Par­ty lines. Do you remem­ber them? After I was mar­ried with chil­dren in high school, we still had a par­ty line. There were only two homes, and we did­n’t hear each oth­er’s ring, but we had to check to be sure no one was on the line by lis­ten­ing in before mak­ing a call. As hap­pens, some­times the oth­er par­ty does­n’t want to relin­quish their turn. That hap­pened once when our kids had the high school musi­cal cast par­ty in our base­ment. Two of the kids had to call home to get par­ents to col­lect them. You guessed it—that was when our par­ty would not hang up. My hus­band had to dri­ve them home instead. And, when we request­ed a pri­vate line, they turned us down—not enough free num­bers or free lines or some such.

What?

I mean, two homes using one line and two num­bers. With today’s pro­lif­er­a­tion of phone use, our fam­i­ly with two par­ents and five chil­dren would have had sev­en cell phones plus one house phone.

Oh, yeah—cell phones. Wire­less phones they used to call them when we got our first one. It was as big as a large wall phone and looked the same. (Need­ed room for those bat­ter­ies.) But we were boaters, our grand­son was expect­ed, we want­ed to hear the news. We did—and he is now fif­teen. My, how time flies.

Now hub­by and I each have a cell phone that does­n’t do any­thing but take and answer calls. But all our kids and grand­kids have the phones that do every­thing but wash the dish­es. They can’t get along with­out them.

Which is some­thing I read in the lat­est Forbes with their pro­files of thir­ty busi­ness peo­ple under thir­ty who are chang­ing the world. One young woman said, “If we lived in a world that some­how did­n’t have cell phones, I’m not sure how I would have been able to do it.” But, look­ing at her pro­file and busi­ness, I think she’d have man­aged. Her busi­ness is chang­ing every-day objects into pow­er sources to light up her par­ents’ native coun­try of Nige­ria. If you can imag­ine it—a soc­cer ball, kicked around for an hour will pro­vide three hours of light. Fif­teen min­utes of using her jump rope pro­vides two hours of light.

Now, that sounds tru­ly remark­able, pos­si­bly impos­si­ble. But stop to think—twenty years ago, did you ever expect to take pic­tures with your tele­phone? Read e‑mail? Even play games?