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Monday, September 28, 2009

Fall Winter Mystery Reading Challenge

Welcome to my first hosting of a reading challenge and boy am I excited! Since I love reveling in the seasons I thought a reading challenge that at the same time helps us to get into the seasons we tend to rush through would be nice.

*  This reading challenge runs October 1 - February 28

Suspense or police procedures and the entire menagerie under the mystery genre are all available for the challenge.

1 Paranormal or gothic mystery for Halloween (level of spookiness up to you)
2 Autumn/harvest/Thanksgiving related mystery
2 Winter/snow/Xmas//Hanukah etc related mystery
1 resolutions/new begininngs related mystery
1 Romantic mystery/Valentine's related (chocolate, February...) (level of romantic up to you)

Total of 7 books in all over 5 months for 1.4 book per month.  Hopefully not a burden of a reading challenge while adding a little seasonal fun.

 * Cross overs / overlaps to other challenges are okay and the more you can utulize your TBR stack the better.

*  Sign up below with Mr Linky, if you like. If you don't have a blog then post your list of books here in the comments and return to share what you finished.

*  If you have given the book you chose a good chance and you just can't finish it, feel free to pick a new one.

*  Those who complete the challenge get a Badge of Completion that can be posted on their blog or website and entered for a random drawing for one of ten Challenge winners bookmarks to be given away!!

*  Prize restrictions - bookmarks will only mailed within the U.S.
Random drawing winners will have 2 weeks from prize notification to provide a mailing address.  If a mailing address is not provided then a new person will be drawn and notified.

*  The books I am planning to read for the Fall Winter Mystery Reading Challenge are:

1. Dead Girls Are Easy by Terri Garey  DONE
2. Milwaukee Autumns Can Be Lethal by Kathleen Barret The Fall Hunt by Joanne Clarey DONE
3. The Thanksgiving Day Murder by Lee Harris Hail to the Chef by Julie Hyzy  DONE
4. In the Dead of Winter by Nancy Mehl  Death at Wentwater Court by Carola Dunn DONE

5. Holiday Grind by Cleo Coyle  The Oxygen Murder by Camille Minichino DONE

6. Dying to Be Thin by Kathryn Lilley  DONE
7. A Catered Valentine's Day by Iris Crawford  Death of a Valentine by M.C. Beaton DONE
As you can see I have revised my list already

Feel free to use the graphic in this post for your blogs and please link it back to this post as well.  I am looking forward to hearing from all of you on how you are doing in the challenge.  Let's enjoy the season together!

 Comments are coming in as to how everyone did.  It looks as though Jo read all 7 (plus some extra credit.)  I will give (3) handmade bookmarks to be awarded to the top participants in the challenge.  Of course I will need to get mailing addresses to send the bookmarks to. 

Badge for Jo and anyone who read all 7 out of 7 in the challenge:

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Review: Snake Dreams by James D. Doss

In honor of Native American day coming up on Oct 12, I am reviewing the latest in the series of mysteries all taking place in or around the Ute Indian reservation in Southern Colorado written by James D. Doss. During the month of October we will be reviewing paranormal mysteries to get us “in the mood” for Halloween. So this review is appearing now.

If you are a regular reader, please become a member and join this blog. It heartens the soul to know who is following my efforts.

Snake Dreams by James D Doss

This is the thirteenth book in the Charlie Moon Mysteries (first in the series was The Shaman Sings.) Charlie Moon started out as a Ute Tribal “Policeman” in Southern Colorado, but he has become a rancher with his own spread and cattle while being a tribal investigator on the side.

In this installment, we see the seven-foot tall Ute Indian planning on asking his ladylove to marry him. But things go south quickly, as they tend to do for Charlie. One of the continuing storylines is Charlie’s aunt Daisy, who is an elderly and cranky shaman (or medicine woman) and her schemes. The ghost of a Ute woman, Chiquita Yazzi who had lived on the Reservation but took off (gossip said with another man) has visited Daisy. She has been viciously murdered and is worried about her daughter, Nancy Yazzi, that she had left behind. And that is the extent of that murder. It isn’t investigated. It was just the entry point to get the focus on the daughter.

The murder of Chiquita’s husband (Mr. Wetzel) who is the stepfather to the teenage Nancy, is the crux of the story. The vast majority of the book is various activities of Aunt Daisy, her charge Sarah Frank, and a new conspirator in Aunt Daisy’s schemes - Millicent Muntz. The book is full of Doss’ characteristic humor but short of an actual mystery. This installment is more a delightful tale than a coursing mystery screaming to be solved. It seems the series has changed and I am longing for the older books when Charlie Moon and his best friend Scott Parris actually investigated crimes more.

The strong point in this book is the humor and the characters. Used to be Charlie Moon and his sense of humor was the source of laughter, but now the omniscient narrator leads the reader with wry humor.

Here is a sample of the humor and writing style. We pick up the story with Charlie finishing a phone call with his love interest.
 Time to say, “Goodbye Charlie.” To this, she added a kissing sound!

Did this make an impression on Mr. Moon?

Here he comes, out of the kitchen, deep voice booming “I Walk the Line” with so much heart and soul that the most diehard fans of the Man in Black would sit up and expect to see Mr. Cash appear around some dark corner. But can out man sing and dance at the same time? You know he can. Hot-footing it along that well known Line, Moon is doing the best takeoff of your classic buck-and-wing that could be expected of a big, lanky fellow wearing heavy cowboy boots who has never had any formal training in classic ballet. Look at him go! He bops all the way across the dining room – and the performance does not end there. Charlie Moon’s hard heals and sharp toes echo across the hollowness of the parlor, where juniper flames snap and crackle in the stone fireplace. Has our hoofer shot his wad? Not a chance. Up the stairs he boogies, to the second floor, down the long hallway and through his bedroom door…
It is a fun read, no doubt about it. I just miss the old style I got in The Shaman Sings or The Shaman Laughs that were a blend of tribal police procedural and Ute mysticism. That was a potent combination and built the series. While Snake Dreams is a good tale it wasn’t the heady mix I was looking forward to.

Doss is expert at character development and you really come to know the characters. Doss’ ability to integrate humor throughout the entire story is practically an art form in itself. There was a twist at the end that was surprising since the reader believes all along that they know who murdered Mr. Wetzel, but did they really? 

For your convenience you may purchase this book here

Until Monday when meet again for another "My Musings" I wish you many mysterious moments.

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Monday, September 21, 2009

Interview with Brunonia Barry, The "Original" Lace Reader

Progress on my suspense novel, The Society, from last week – 1244 words written, although my goal was 1750. Still that was 1244 words I wasn’t getting done before, so I am still pleased. I wrote the scene with the significant character that the reader doesn’t know if he is friend or foe and I believe I kept his true motivation hidden. I told it from his viewpoint interacting with my heroine, which had its challenges. But I like the result. This scene accomplished giving my heroine a push to investigate further. Next my heroine, Elizabeth, will take her first tentative step into finding out what happened in the looming mystery while the reader knows she is being closely watched.

For my Musings this week, I wanted to interview Brunonia Barry the author of The Lace Reader, but since this is a new blog and I had a few days only, I found an interview she had already done. The wonderful people at Writer Unboxed ( were gracious and sanctioned me to provide  parts of the interview here.

I felt this was particularly interesting since The Lace Reader was initially self-published before the big New York publishers ever got it. The interview covers story development, how a major concept for the book came from a dream Ms. Barry had and how the setting was more a character than a location.

BB = Brunonia Barry
TW = Therese Walsh of Writer Unboxed
     ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

TW: You worked on your book for seven years.

BB: True.

TW: Once you finished, you decided against sending it to a single publisher or agent and self-published it, but in the back of your mind you’d hoped that a big publisher would hear about your grass-roots success and publish you anyway.

BB: Yes. True.

TW: What’s your process? How much do you know going in about the story arc, about the chararcters, etc…?

BB: I just spent the worst weekend on my next book, not knowing who anybody was! I think that’s the point you get to, when you rethink everything.

TW: It’s interesting, isn’t it? You think you know what you’re doing, but then the characters decide that you’re completely wrong.

BB: Exactly. That’s what happened with the first book, too. I do work from an outline, but then the outline changes because the characters always change.

TW: And the characters have a loud voice when you’re writing, don’t they?

BB: For me they do. They will not shut up. They won’t be directed, either.

TW: They’re driving the car.

BB: Absolutely, they’re driving the car. And the more work I do on their backstory, the stronger they become.

TW: So you have an outline that you revise as you’re writing?

BB: I probably do the first 100 pages without an outline, but I also throw away at least 60 of the first 100 pages. I’m just trying to write about a setting and about a character and see where it goes. And then at that point I decide a little bit of where it’s going, and I probably do a one-page outline. And then as I’m actually writing it, I really try to structure a chapter-by-chapter outline with a step outline—a paragraph for each chapter.

TW: Like beats?

BB: It is the beats, along with any notes that I need to include. Say in The Lace Reader I need a note to myself like, “Eva knew Towner went to Cambridge.” Just a note for myself about who knew what and when, what the characters know, that sort of thing. Moments you want to highlight. They’re beats, too, but they’re more subtle. And it’s like a three to five act structure. For me, it’s easier to structure the outline that way. But then sometimes the outline falls away and I’m left in a nervous state for a while before the outline really comes together. I don’t have the paragraph for each chapter at that point—maybe just a sentence. Then it really starts to kind of fall into the structure that it will be in. Then I can outline chapters more fully. The reason I outline chapters initially with paragraphs is that if I get stuck I can move past it and go back to it. I often have to do that because otherwise I would probably have writer’s block; I think the reason that I don’t have it is because I jump around. But in order to jump around you have to have a bigger outline, even if the outline changes.

For the books I’m writing it’s so important to keep track of details. In the rewrite for The Lace Reader, I got very mixed up for a while. I had index cards all over the walls and the floor, and I would go running crying from the room—“I can’t do it!” And then one day, as if by magic, a pattern emerges as if through the lace. One day it starts to make sense, and generally you’re on your way.

TW: All hail the subconscious mind.

BB: Oh, yes, and I rely on it. I’m in the process of changing the step outline for the second book now because I realize that some things are happening in the wrong places. This seems to happen particularly if there are flashbacks involved. With both of my books so far there’ve been a lot of flashbacks, and I have to really step back and think on it for a while before it comes together.

TW: Flashbacks used throughout a story can be tricky, don’t you think? Deciding when and how to weave them in isn’t always obvious, and reordering scenes can make you crazy.

BB: I agree. I’ve done this for both books. I write them where I think they belong in the book, but… Yesterday, I broke out one of the stories and put it in a separate place thinking I’d figure out where it goes later, because it’s really slowing me down. I don’t quite know who knows what when anymore, and I have to figure that out first. If I break it out, at least I can complete that part of the story, even if it changes. Sometimes when things are segmented through the book, you just have to pull pieces out and see where they fit best later. There’s a lot of structural work that I do once I get to the middle point of the book.

TW: …I know a lot of writers write first thing in the morning to kind of pull some of that dream state into the work.

BB: That’s exactly what I do. Three a.m. is a really good time, too. I tend to wake up at 3:00 a.m. and always have. Since I’m awake then and wanting to go back to sleep, writing is a good thing. Reading is great, too, because you’re moving your eyes and it can be a little hypnotic, but writing’s good, too. You never know until morning just what you’ve come up with, but it’s interesting.

TW: You’ve said that you wrote The Lace Reader as the hero’s journey for women. Can you explain how the journey might be different for men and women?

BB: Well, a hero’s journey for women might be more collaborative than a hero’s journey for men—at least the traditional male hero’s journey we see often, where a lone hero saves the town. There are always helpers, but for a hero’s journey for women, those helpers are different, more important. In The Lace Reader, Towner couldn’t make this journey if people hadn’t come along to help her each step of the way—people who were alive, people who weren’t alive, people from California, people from Massachusetts, relatives, friends, everyone. So I think it becomes very collaborative and the outcome depends on her interacting with these people. Of course she’s very solitary in the beginning, so partly she needs the reflection of other people to understand who she is. I would also say that the hero’s journey as a structural device is not complete because there’s the idea that you have to go back to the world and teach what you’ve learned, and I didn’t quite get there with The Lace Reader.

TW: Did the idea of the hero’s journey inform your outline from the beginning?

BB: Not the very beginning. In this case, The Lace Reader started as a short story, but I always held in mind the idea that I should try to do a hero’s journey from a woman’s point of view; I was reading so many scripts in Hollywood and what was happening to strong female protagonists is that they were either killing them off or marrying them off or getting them pregnant, because they didn’t know how to end the story. I mean, I didn’t know how to end the story either, but I thought that would be very interesting to explore, so very early on this turned into that structurally.

TW: You’ve also said that you wrote the book three times. Can you talk about that? What was going on? How did you get beyond it?

BB: Different things influenced me and that changed the direction of the story. For example, I went to see a demonstration about the history of Ipswich lace making by a woman named Marta Cotterell Raffel who wrote a book called The Laces of Ipswich, and got some great ideas there. Then we moved to Salem, and Salem fit the description of the world of the hero’s journey story, almost to a T—because it’s very surrealistic, it’s a place where the history is so much a part of the town, like the witches who live here.

TW: This idea of a women’s circle is an important idea in your book. Is that something you introduced to explore the idea and the shame of gathering as women?

BB: I did, and I thought it was interesting for the lace makers to call themselves “The Circle.” People already think they’re weird out there on the island. There were a lot of ideas that I wanted to explore that had to do with perception and prejudice.

TW: Let’s talk a little more about Salem. Setting was a major player in the book.

BB: Yes, a character, really.

TW: Do you think the story could’ve been set anywhere else? Would it have been a completely different story?

BB: Well, I do think that the story could’ve happened elsewhere; in fact, it’s unlikely that Salem would have the kind of cult that I described—that might happen somewhere else. But I think the story takes on a certain resonance backed with the history of Salem that it wouldn’t have had elsewhere. For me, setting is the main thing, actually. The islands in this case, that kind of isolation, is interesting and useful, too. I think having that kind of isolation together with a town like Salem, which is anything but isolated and has been about community for forever, creates a kind of opposite feeling, a tension. And of course it’s real.

TW: Let’s go back to the first incarnation of your story. You’ve said that it started not in Towner’s but in May’s point of view, and that you realized partway through that May was not the true protagonist. Do you want to speak to that a bit?

BB: Yes. The story started, and it was a short story about a haircut, inspired by lace reading. I’m not sure how one got to the other, honestly, but it was about May taking her daughter, Towner, for a haircut. And it was a very intense mother-daughter scene where Towner is very angry at May, and she wouldn’t be quiet about it. She was the more interesting character to explore, and I kept coming back to May, but Towner took over every chapter as the story grew. I meant to set the book more on Yellow Dog Island and less in Salem, but as Towner took over the story it became obvious that Salem was a bigger part of the story. May’s story was recessed a bit.

TW: Which came first: The short story or the “lace incident?”

BB: The lace incident.

TW: Tell us about the lace incident.

BB: We had bought a house in Marblehead, and we were renovating it to enlarge the kitchen. One big wall was being knocked out. I didn’t unpack much, but I had our bedroom set up, and I’d unpacked a little piece of lace that my Irish grandmother had given me, which was made by nuns. This was all I’d had from my grandmother. She’d given it to me as a bit of a joke because sometimes I acted up and she would say, “Guess who made this lace? The nuns, and you can do this, too!” I lost my grandmother when I was in my twenties, and so this is all I’d had of hers. I’d had it on my bedside table forever in New York, Chicago, LA, all the places I’d lived.

On this particular night, I unpacked the lace along with a few other things, and went to bed, and dreamed—in the logic of dreams—that I was looking through the lace to see what the kitchen would look like when it was enlarged and finished. It didn’t make sense in the waking hours, but in my dream it made sense. And what I saw, instead of a finished kitchen, was a field of horses. We were on a main street in a town devoid of horses, and so it didn’t make a lot of sense. It was also an anxiety dream for me, because I’m really allergic to horses and all of a sudden I had a field of horses in my kitchen. It woke me up and I couldn’t get back to sleep. The next day, the contractor came in to knock down the wall and put on his mask and started to complain: “I hate this old horsehair plaster. It gets in the air and you can never get it out.”

So that was my first lace reading. I assumed at that time that it was something that was real and that people did, and that I’d just heard about it at some point and stored it away and dreamed about it. But then I was looking for eight years for people who did lace reading and didn’t find anyone. Now they’re popping up, and that was kind of the bet that after the book came out they would. I still don’t know if it was real, but I’d love to know. I’ve talked to people who read all sorts of things, from tarot to the bumps on your head, and they say there’s no reason that people wouldn’t read lace and perhaps they did but they just didn’t hear of it.

TW: I love that you’re the original lace reader.

    ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Thank dear friends for joining me for another edition My Musings.

See you again Thursday for a book review.  Until then I wish you many mysterious moments.
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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Book Review: The Lace Reader

The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry

The Lace Reader, recently released in paperback, was originally self published but caught the eye of the big publishing houses due to glowing reviews in key places. HarperCollins won the subsequent bidding war with a multi-million dollar deal. Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus and dreams do come true!

The Lace Reader is told mostly from Towner Whitney’s viewpoint. Towner has come back to her hometown of Salem, Massachusetts because her Aunt Eva, who can read a person’s future from Ipswich lace, has gone missing. Towner left Salem when she was seventeen (around when her twin sister Lyndley died.) This is her first time back after fifteen years. Towner has struggled with mental illness and a troubled past and is recovering from recent surgery. Towner stays at aunt Eva’s and believes there must be a mistake since Eva is there, has even spoken with her.

Shortly, aunt Eva’s body is discovered and her drowning seems very suspicious.  Towner realizes her Aunt's ghost is staying at the house and communicates with her.  Before long another death occurs and it is clear something is wrong in little old Salem. The atmosphere of re-enactments of the old Salem witch trials is the backdrop while a modern Calvinist preacher of a cult-like following is stirring up negative sentiment towards Towner and her newly deceased aunt. Towner’s mother, May, lives on Yellow Dog Island where she runs a battered women’s shelter. Towner’s past is slowly revealed as Salem’s past and present are finely drawn.

The main character never makes any bones about herself. Early on Towner tells the reader "Never believe me. I lie all the time. I am a crazy woman…. That last part is true." From there you are on a journey through Towner’s eyes and memories. Towner grows on the reader easily. It is deceptively slow starting out, but valuable information is building up – much like a classic Christie mystery. If you are like me, once you have finished the story you will go back and review key parts.

The characters are well done. May is a hard and eccentric woman living on the isolated island where wild dogs roam. The woman’s shelter she runs does play into the overall plot. The policeman investigating becomes entangled with Towner and her family. His character seems a bit stiff at times or perhaps that distinguishes him as a reserved man. The old flame from Towner’s traumatic teens even enters the picture.  This short quote is an example of the familar, even chatty writing style while giving a glimpse at Towner's mother.

You’ve probably heard of my mother, May Whitney. Everyone else has. I’m sure you remember the UPI picture a few years back, the one with May leveling a six-gauge at about twenty cops who had come to her women’s shelter on Yellow Dog Island with a warrant to take back one of her girls. That picture was everywhere. It was even on the cover of Newsweek. What made the photo so compelling was that my mother looked uncannily like Maureen O’Hara in some fifties western. Cowering behind May in the photo was a terrified-looking girl who couldn’t have been more than twenty-two, with a large white bandage on her neck, rescued from a husband who’d gotten drunk and tried to slit her throat. Her two little children sat behind playing with a litter of golden retriever puppies. It was quite a scene. If you saw it, you’d remember.
The writing style does shift from chatty to a more flowing prose. This shifting may not appeal to every reader and even be distracting to some.   Following is an example of the prose that Ms Barry has crafted like a fine wine.

Old houses catch threads of the people who have lived in them in the same way that a piece of lace does. For the most part, those threads stay quietly in place until someone disturbs them. An old cleaning woman reaching for cobwebs reveals the dreamy dance of a girl home from a first cotillion. Dance card still dangling from her wrist, the girl closes her eyes and twirls, trying to hold the moment, the memory of first love. The old cleaning woman knows the vision better than the girl herself does. It’s the one she has longed for but never lived.

In the web of threads, it is possible for the two worlds to come together. For the girl who lived it, grown now, all but the feeling is forgotten. She cannot recall the name of the young man. Her memories hold other things, things more important to her, finally; the man she married, the birth of a child.

But for the cleaning lady, the thread is stronger. It is part vision, part the fulfillment of a wish long gone but never forgotten. She find herself breathless and has to sit for a minute on the girl’s bed. Eva’s bed.

The place where the treads connect has tied the two women together. The cleaning woman has no way of knowing that the young girl was Eva, now middle-aged. The woman is not from here. She did not know Eva as a girl. But even without this knowledge, something has changed between them. When the cleaning woman finishes and comes down the stairs, for the first time ever, Eva offers her a cup of tea. The old woman doesn’t take it, of course; it wouldn’t be proper, and even if it were, she is a shy woman and not given to conversation. It would be uncomfortable, if not impossible, to change their relationship this late in their lives. Still, something has changed, and they both know it.

This is an atmospheric tale, as you read - it creeps up and seeps into you, takes hold of you. Before long you are thinking about the book when you aren’t reading it, at work or at the dinner table. Similar to a Hitchcock film, the tension is built up for the climatic revealing clincher. The ending had me on the edge of my seat and completely took me by surprise, not often done. Yes, the story is finely crafted and told that well.

The author’s strong point in my opinion is the ability to weave a story that had all the clues presented to the reader without the reader seeing it. I believe I may have even spoke aloud “No way!” when I reached the great reveal. Once you arrive at the surprise twist, you start remembering all those clues and realize how they fit together. The author also created several vibrant scenes that are so real and memorable they will live on in the reader’s memory. That is a feat.

This book will make you laugh and possibly even cry. It takes you on an emotional journey that you don’t even realize you are on until the end. And the end is a roller coaster ride.  I recommend this book if you like the mystery or fiction in general. It is an experience not to be missed.

For your convenience, you may purchase a copy here

Until next Monday when I will have a new "Musings", I wish you many mysterious moments.

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Monday, September 14, 2009

Mysteries – What is the attraction?

First, my writing progress on The Society, my suspense novel, for the past week has resulted in aproximately 1200 words written.  My goal for the next week is for 1750 words total.  I managed to get a significant scene written from a character about to be murdered, her last scene actually.  For a first draft I am pleased with how it went and am moving on to write a scene with a charcter whose status as good or bad will be a hidden until later in the book.  This is a rather crucial character so I have been mulling over how best to approach the scene with my main character.  Thank you for holding me accountable in my writing and now to my musings over the mystery genres continued popularity.
Mysteries – What is the attraction?
Eric over at Pimp My Novel ( shared that, “based on 2008 sales data, mystery sales account for almost a quarter of all adult sales (units).” That is a testament to how popular the mystery genre is. I am very tickled about that since I am writing in that genre. Eric believes that escapist fiction is doing well and I surmise that is because folks want to escape the onslaught of bad news from foreclosures and jobless rate to personal financial struggles. But I suspect there is more that just simple escapism in play.

I believe mysteries fulfill different needs for different people. The mystery genre is far reaching and you can find something for most everybody within it. Mysteries range from the gritty detective novel; Legal thrillers, medical murders, the heart pounding suspense story; the comfy cozy book; the romantic mystery romp; the amateur sleuth adventures and the themed tales. Themes relate to us via common interests, everything from hobbies, travel, pets, age, and occupations to the setting being your town or state. With all this variety, how can you not discover a book or series that you can connect with? Not that I am biased here in the least.

One of the great aspects of mystery stories I suspect sustains the genre’s popularity is flirting with danger – safely. It is a vicarious thrill. The reader is behind locked doors snuggled up with a cat sipping tea while following a murderer. For several moments the reader is on the heels of a killer, becoming the main character they feel the adrenaline rush of peril themselves. For so very many of us life is largely about routine, responsibility and yes - financial burdens thus mysteries let us be just a smidge reckless, a dab brave and daring, even a trifle shady.

The next factor in mystery’s enduring status, I think, is mysteries always deliver justice. In a world with AIG, Bear Stearns and Enron pillaging the average person, turning to a fictional world where justice is the goal of the tale is important. No matter how close the “bad guy” was to pulling off the perfect murder, he is exposed and carted away when all is said and done. That is encouraging and renews our faith in karma or fairness. That just feels good and for a few moments the world is functioning properly again. Even the murder victim is typically found to be dishonorable or a guilty person who played with fire in some way – no random and senseless violence.

A common element of mysteries is the main character is instrumental in, or the catalyst for, justice being served. In the world of mysteries one person can and does make a difference. That is one of the mainstays of mysteries. Occasionally it is more than just an individual. But even in the case of a team or a group of friends (I am thinking of the Women’s Murder Club now) it is still the few against the criminal and the one or few are victors. I surmise this keeps hope alive that we can make a difference.

Yet another aspect I believe keeps mysteries so popular is that the main character typically is strong – no victims. Since the reader lives vicariously through this focal character they feel stronger and more in control. Their personal world might be falling down around them, but while reading that mystery they are strong and taking charge of their realm. I would like to think that maybe it inspires them to find that solution or way out of a problem.

Somewhat of an added bonus is that a mystery provides a puzzle to be solved. It allows the reader to match wits with the author in a non-competitive manner. Multitudes of people file into work everyday and perform often-mindless jobs, repetitive or just down right boring work. They look forward to that brainteaser, that conundrum of whodunit and why or how. The extra challenge comes into play when situations and people are not as they might seem on the surface. How exhilarating. Bring it on!

Mysteries lend themselves easily towards a series perhaps more than other genres and that is an advantage. When a reader finds a series with a main character they like, a supporting cast that delights and a writer whose style sparkles for them they have entered reader nirvana. For this person has found friends that they are fond of and look forward to their company. These friends are always there when you need them and they don’t hang around past their welcome. Isn’t that nice?
And there you have it, my musings on why mysteries remain so popular. They provide us much more than mere escapism. Readers probably don’t consciously consider these elements when reading. I just know these elements are part of why I like mysteries – when I stop and consider it. How about you, why do you think mysteries are so popular and enduring?
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Thursday, September 10, 2009

Book Review: Angel's Advocate by Mary Stanton

For the very first book review I chose Angel's Advocate.  It is the second in the Beaufort & Company Mystery series and was recently released.  If you have not read either this release or the first Defending Angels, this review may be what helps you decide to give it a chance.

Angel’s Advocate by Mary Stanton – Move Over Matlock

Brianna Winston-Beaufort is a different kind of lawyer with a unique clientele. She represents dead people in the Celestial Courts of Justice. It is a job she has inherited and is still learning the ins and outs of. She was schooled as your regular everyday lawyer specializing in corporate tax laws, so this is not what she had expected for her future. She expected paying and living clients, even an office that the living could find would have been nice, or employees who were not angels. Nope, she is stuck with this gig along with the bickering angel employees.

This is the second book in a imaginative paranormal cozy series set in Savannah Georgia. This story revolves around a troubled wealthy family whose patriarch recently died in a car accident – but he insists from the grave that he was murdered. Brianna is also representing the disturbed daughter who stole a girl scout’s box of cookie-selling money.

The reader follows Brianna as she starts from square one and has to figure out why her dead client is looking at Hell and the charge is treachery – against his own daughter. Secondly she is trying to prove in the here-and-now that he was murdered. Third she just knows the troubled teen daughter is acting out and that there is more than meets the eye in this family. Throw in some dark forces attempting to keep her from being successful at her celestial duties and it is a great ride.

I like Brianna as the main character. She is spunky and has her self-doubts at times which I can relate to. Brianna’s family is nicely done and adds to the story. Her sister is the one not living up the parent’s expectations with her interest in theater and there is a refreshing dynamic between Brianna and Antonia as sisters. I enjoy the family element in this series.

From the summary of the story you can tell there are a few story lines all being worked simultaneously in the story. Where that might have caused confusion, it was handled deftly and kept the pace moving in this case.

One of the aspects of the novel that I enjoy is the dialog. It is well done and flows smoothly and gives you character nuances. I am taking notes! I had to share an example of this. This is a daughter talking to her mother.

Madison reached forward and patted her hand. “I’m sure. I’ll come and tell you all about what’s going on in a bit. Have you done your Pilates yet? You go on and start. I’ll be in to, like, work out with you as soon as we’re through here.” She watched until her mother went through the swinging doors that led to the dinning room. As they closed behind Andrea, she got up, crossed the kitchen floor on silent feet, and put her ear to the door. She sighed noisily. “Mom!” She cocked her head, waiting until she heard her mother move away from the door, and then trailed back to Bree.
“My goodness,” Bree said. “There’s more to you than meets the eye, isn’t there?”
Description of the evil “forces” trying to stop Bree in her investigations are scary good and will give you goose bumps.

A strange, furnace glow sprang to eerie life in the depths of the open grave. And then, with the sly, stealthy movement of a creeping snake, a path of filthy green light crept over the lip of the hole and onto the ground.
…A figure jerked horribly up the path. The shape was manlike, but distorted, as if she saw it through the shield of a scum-filled pond. It seemed to be made of flesh and bone, but a pallid, dead white flesh that crawled with corpse-mold. The man, Bree saw, or what had once been a man, raised his arms in a dreadful summons.
Descriptions of Savannah itself make me long to go there for vacation – now.

In the three hundred-some years of her history, Savannah had been burned to the ground, ravaged by hurricanes, and bombed by pirates. A hodgepodge of architectural styles was intrinsic to the city’s heritage. Queen Anne, Georgian, Victorian, Greek Revival, Spanish, and Art Deco homes existed peaceably cheek by jowl.
…The exteriror was blue-green stucco. Scarlet bougainvillea wound its way across the wrought-iron porches and balconies and the last of the hydrangea bloomed like puff-balls against the wrought-iron fence.
Every scene is important and I found myself mulling over everything after I finished the book. There were not any wasted scenes that didn’t have a purpose and move the story along.

I enjoyed how animals, unsuspecting dogs, are presented as the bodyguards sent to protect Brianna. This is just one aspect of the occupational hazards she now risks, she needs protection and it comes in the guise of dogs.

The solution to all the multiple storylines was satisfying and even though pieces may have been suspected I was not anticipating how everything tied together. Kudos.

Mary Stanton has a winner on her hands. She has a solid heroine and finely crafted plots with a growing cadre of interesting supporting characters. I eagerly await the next installment in this series along with the expanding fan base.

For your convenience you may purchase a copy here.

Thank you for joining me today, see you next Monday for more musings and a writing update.  Until then I wish you many mysterious moments.

Part of the Book Blog Carnival

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Monday, September 7, 2009

Mystery Family Tree - Debut

First, I wish you a great labor day.  Are you enjoying the last of the warm weather with a picnic or grilling?  Smelling the air for any hints of autumn arriving and feeling the change of the season creeping up on us?

Secondly, welcome to the debut of Mysteries and My Musings Blog!  I had put off doing a blog - the idea of a blog made me feel so exposed.  But I am taking the plunge now and am a bit giddy over my premier issue.  I truly hope you like it.

I am using this blog to also keep myself accountable in the writing of my suspense novel.  The working title is The Society and I am  6783 words into it.  I wrote approximately 870 words last week.  I will report in next Monday with how many words I write this coming week.

Now on to the main topic.  After tossing and turning over what my very first blog should be about, I finally settled on my family tree - my mystery family tree that is.

My Mystery Family Tree

It is important to know your roots, your heritage, the stock you are descended from, even as an author. The Mystery Family Tree in my case. There is a sense of completeness in knowing where you come from. As the saying goes “If you know whence you came, there are absolutely no limitations to where you can go.” So as a mystery author what legacy have I inherited, where did I come from?

Every family has the kooky member, the loud drunk, the embarrassing black sheep and even the uptight buttoned-up stuffed shirt. But when we start talking about a mystery family tree anything can surface! Have you ever noticed that families can disagree among themselves, but don't anybody else attack or disparage somebody in the family? With that in mind, I am giving you a peek inside my family with some trepidation.

Many mystery aficionados already know that Edgar Allan Poe is considered the father of mystery fiction. It is no different in my case. Thanks Dad, you have left a tough reputation for all your children to live in the shadow of. The “locked room” puzzle moved mystery into an exploration of the criminal mind. Father Poe (this is perhaps the only public figure that it feels odd to not use the full name when referencing) challenged his progeny to make the mystery not only a good tale but a brainy ride.

If Poe is the father of my mystery family then Dame Agatha Christie is my mother. Ms. Christie gave to me the cozy style mystery with the beloved Miss Marple. Hercules Poirot is equally as important and everlasting with his exotic ways and “consultant” status. I still stumble over how to pronounce his name after all these years of practice!  The gene pool got quite an infusion from Mother. I am forever thankful and somewhat in awe of her talent. 

Anna Katherine Green “The Leavenworth Case” (1878) was the first woman to write a detective novel. I honor and bow to Ms Green, my predecessor. Before Dame Agatha ever set pen to paper Anna Green charted new territory for women. She was a pioneer, a bestseller, and wrote forty books in her time. She left a tremendous legacy for a woman in the late 1800s in a male dominated industry. I see her as my older sister who blazed some rough trails before me. The younger sibling always benefits from the efforts of the older brothers and sisters! Thank you so much Anna, big kiss.

Most everyone has heard of Father Poe and Mother Christie, a few may have heard of Anna Green.  But they were not the authors who took hold of me when I was young and made me a true mystery child. You know how it goes, kids don’t appreciate Mom and Dad until they mature and older sisters are hard to live up to. Phyllis A Whitney is the favorite aunt of my Mystery heritage. I devoured her books. She received the Mystery Writers of America Grand Master award in 1988 and wrote for both teens and adults. I could read two or three Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys/Three Investigators a day, but I savored Ms Whitney’s books like premium chocolate milk or a hard earned Little Debbie.

The Secret of Haunted Mesa, The Secret of the Spotted Shell and Step to the Music are still in my memory. Visit Phyllis A Whitney’s official website for a listing of her books ( if you wish to be nostalgic. Looking over the young adult book covers is somewhat like rummaging through a box of old family photos – look at those clothes! Did they really style their hair that way – on purpose? Like a favorite aunt, she heavily influenced my view of the mystery world. She spoiled me with a taste for the gothic touch and heart-pounding suspense.

I have a favorite uncle as well, Ellery Queen. I confess that I first was introduced to Ellery through the old television shows starring Jim Hutton then read the books. This amiable and likable sleuth won me over. As uncles go he was fun, fascinating and quirky.

Some family members I am closer to than others and some I need at certain times. When I have had a hard day who do I turn to? A cozy sister or two just takes the edge off. They are comforting with a cup of tea. I can throw myself into their world with their wacky neighbors and friends and tension just disappears - like some of their acquaintances!

But when I want to spice up my life, need to feel my blood pumping a bit there is nothing better than a visit with a suspense black sheep member. They are always walking with danger and flirting with bad influences. Family reunions are never dull with these guys around. James Patterson and Dan Brown are the successful black sheep cousins that the family is talking about. Whispers of “I heard they got a huge advance and are already talking a movie deal!” can be heard. But Jeffery Deaver is the quiet one that I sit in the corner with talking.  He tells me stories I can't get out of my head.  How much have these black sheep shaped this little mystery child's psyche other than just with a smidge of envy? I have learned from them and taken away what lessons applied to me. Shhhh, don’t let on I have taken any lessons from such rapscallions.

There are a few family members that I only talk about in hushed whispers. They are the brothers and sisters know...see and hears things the rest of us don't. The paranormal members of the family are fascinating and I can't get enough of them. I have heard it said they were left on the doorstep late one night or that they are changelings the faeries have swapped babies with. But no matter – they are part of my big family now and I love them and spend plenty of time getting to know them.

Growing up their have been many friends that have shaped my mystery life and view. Mary Higgins Clark was a positive influence, the kind that parents approve of to drive to the movies. James D Doss and Tony Hillerman expanded my universe like college classmates do. Hillerman/Doss were more like brothers to me. I mourned when I and every other mystery child lost Tony.

Now I have multitudes of associates, friends and co-workers in the mystery world and they continue to challenge me and expand my mystery world, enriching my life.

I am sure I am not the only one with a rich mystery family tree. Please take a moment to share. Who was your favorite aunt or uncle or maybe the black sheep who influenced you as a young person?  Who were the “friends” that started expanding your mystery universe?

Thank you for visiting this blog – I am grateful for your stopping by and spending some time with me. See you Thursday for a book review.   I wish you many mysterious moments until them.

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Thursday, September 3, 2009

Christening of the Blog will be...

This blog will officially open with its debut blog on Monday Sept 7, 2009.

I am excited and have been sprucing up the place, getting everything in order, stocking the punch and snacks. I am a little nervous too, but it is the excited good nervous.

Wish me luck!

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