So Many Books . . .

Have you ever roamed a library, unable to find a book you wanted to read? Thousands of books and not one that appealed to you? It sounds odd, but that’s what happened to me Saturday morning when I visited my home library. So many books and I couldn’t pick one!

I didn’t go home empty-handed, however. I stepped into an aisle in the mystery section, closed my eyes, and pulled a book off the shelf. I read the description on the inside flap and … wasn’t inclined to check it out. I went around the corner, closed my eyes again, selected a paperback, and discovered Death Takes Priority (A Postmistress Mystery), by Jean Flowers. With such a beautiful first name (I know, it’s a pseudonym for author Camille Minichino), how can the book not be a winner? The cozy’s premise is intriguing: postmistress Cassie Miller returns home to the Berkshires, becomes the town’s postmaster, and soon has a murder and the mystery of a stolen stack of telephone books to solve. I’m eager to start this first book in the series.

I also went home with Anne Tyler’s latest, Clock Dance. I’ve mentioned before that Tyler is one of my favorite authors. She won me over with Saint Maybe and made me a loyal reader with beautiful work such as Breathing Lessons, Back When We Were Grownups, and Digging to America. I started reading the book Saturday night and was immediately drawn into main character Willa Drake’s world. The jacket promises the book is “an inspiring novel of one woman’s transformative journey.” I expect nothing less from the masterful Tyler.

I won’t have trouble finding reading material at the library in the coming autumn weeks. Ellen Byron’s fourth Cajun Country Mystery, Mardi Gras Murder, was released last week. I love this Louisiana-set series featuring Maggie Crozat and a delightful cast of characters. Byron weaves colorful local details and regional history into her stories, making Pelican a town I want to visit again and again.

In Want of a Knife by Elizabeth Kane Buzzelli, is the third installment of her Little Library Mystery series. The tone of this series is more serious than typical cozies and the characters, led by main protagonist Jenny Weston, are more unique than quirky. They’re very well-drawn and have interesting depth, particularly Zoe Zola, Jenny’s neighbor and sleuthing partner. Buzzelli’s first two Little Library mysteries, A Most Curious Murder and She Stopped for Death, were inspired by Alice in Wonderland and Emily Dickinson, respectively. In her latest, she takes the lead from Jane Austen and writes about mothers, daughters, and rich husbands. This should be good!

I recently read this post on Margot Kinberg’s blog. I often think about how quickly Veronica Walsh should age in my series. It’s not a question of if Veronica grows older with each mystery she investigates. Veronica’s age (53) is an important element in the series’ debut (All Things Murder) and that she was middle-aged and not in her twenties or early thirties was appreciated by many readers. It would be a betrayal—of the character, my readers, and one of the inspirations for the series—if Veronica doesn’t age gracefully.

Leslie Meier’s characters also age with the passage of time in her wonderful Lucy Stone Mysteries. Through this long-running series, readers have watched Lucy progress from a young mother of four (her youngest arrives early in the series) to a grandmother. Though she gets older, Lucy’s character remains true and strong. This is the delight of reading a new offering from Meier: the family has grown (in age or size), but we always know Lucy will be the same “old” Lucy. This is a roundabout way of saying I’m looking forward to reading the twenty-fifth installment of Meier’s series in the aptly-titled Silver Anniversary Murder, which was released late last month.

What’s on your reading list this fall? What books are you looking forward to reading after you’ve raked the leaves, carved the Halloween pumpkin, and picked enough apples for your Thanksgiving pie?

 

 

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Big Magic For Writer’s Block

I’m always interested in advice on how to improve my writing and support my cozy mystery career. Through a subscription to Hiveword, I have access to over 40,000 articles on their Writer’s Knowledge Database. Name a topic of interest to authors and you’ll find it in the database: writer’s block, punctuation, grammar, how to create three-dimensional characters, how to write the perfect first and last sentences of your novel. Elizabeth Spann Craig curates the database and also tweets links to articles daily. Every Sunday she posts all the links on her blog. I receive an email from Hiveword every morning with links to a few new articles; with a free subscription you can, too. If you are interested in writing and publishing in general and cozy writing in particular, you’ll learn much from becoming a regular at Elizabeth’s blog.

I admit, however, the content becomes redundant after reading several articles on how to overcome procrastination or breakdown the wall of writer’s block. Whether it’s advice to set your kitchen timer for several minutes and write (fifteen minutes is often recommended), outline your story, turn off your internet access, change your writing style from typing to longhand, or take a walk (or a hike), I find the same nuggets in many blog posts. Not that the recommendations aren’t useful, they sometimes just don’t provide a spark of inspiration.

I’ve recently read two books that got me jazzed about writing and gave me that push I needed to finish my current project. Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat Pray LoveCommitted: A Love Story, and several novels) is a wonderful mix of personal stories of her writing life and practical advice to leading your own creative life. Her message: you have to do the work. There’s no way around it. It’s hard, it can be heartbreaking and disappointing, but you have to keep at it. Gilbert offers encouragement in every chapter.

In a chapter titled “Enchantment,” Gilbert gives her philosophy on ideas: they are “both magical and magic,” and are always “swirling around us, searching for available and human partners.” As evidence that ideas move from one person to another, without their knowledge, Gilbert tells readers the story of an idea she had for a novel. It had a unique plot which Gilbert developed and started to write until her real life got in the way. She never finished the book. The idea was gone. Some time later, during breakfast with author Ann Patchett, Gilbert discovered Patchett was writing a novel with a plot very similar to the one Gilbert had abandoned. Or had the idea abandoned Gilbert? Up and left her for Patchett’s pen? Big Magic, Gilbert calls it. A book well worth your time, I say.

Rosanne Bane’s Around the Writer’s Block:Using Brain Science to Solve Writer’s Resistance also inspired me to buckle down and do my writing thing. Bane’s thesis is that writer’s block isn’t caused by laziness, procrastination, or a lack of will power. It’s all in the head. It’s the brain’s fault! Bane walks us through the neurological process of what’s going on in our brains that keeps writers (her thesis can also apply to procrastinators of all stripes) from doing what we love. All we have to do is re-wire our brains by forming three habits.

Bane guides the reader through the habits: Process (which isn’t developing your book idea, but engaging in another creative endeavor such as drawing, knitting, or painting), Product Time (aka writing time), and Self-Care (meditation or exercise, for example). Bane promises anyone willing to spend a daily fifteen minutes on each step will conqueror writer’s block and progress in leaps and bounds. It’s all in the neurology, folks.

Have you ever hit a wall in your creative life? How did you get through, around, or over the obstacle? Did a well-timed email direct you to a helpful article or blog post? Or was it a book you noticed on a library or bookstore shelf (I scooped up Big Magic when I spotted it on a display table at my library’s entrance- thank you to the librarian who plucked it off the shelf, knowing it was just the book someone needed to read)? Please share, because I’m always open to good advice.

Have a terrific first week of October!

 

 

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Back to Blogging

Hi!

I’ve been a terrible blogger this year. Perhaps you thought I had fallen off the face of the earth. No, I just moved. I think falling off the face of the earth would have been more fun and less stressful.

Moving into a smaller home has been a learning experience. A few months ago I wrote about clearing out and packing up everything in my mother’s house, all the possessions that had spent decades in the closets and on the shelves and which held many memories. Now I’m unpacking a lot of this stuff and having tense conversations with myself. “Why did you keep this?” I keep wondering aloud. I don’t always get an answer. The memories were so strong in my mind while packing, I didn’t see the useless object in my hands that would gather dust in my new home.

My books, which are very difficult for me to part with, are now in stacks in the closet, on the floor, and on the hallway table. Now I’m looking at every novel and work of nonfiction and saying, “Jeanne, you don’t remember the plot of this book. You can’t name one character. You don’t even recall reading it. It did not change your life. Donate it!”

I have a lot of stuff to bring to the local thrift shop.

* * *

Last week I read a book by a bestselling mystery author. It was a good story (though I identified the murderer long before the main protagonist did-I rarely do that), but I won’t tell you the title or the writer’s name because there were at least a dozen typos in the book and I would feel like a snitch. Seeing misspelled and incorrectly used words in published work annoys me, the reader, and mortifies me, the writer (I can’t describe how embarrassing it is to receive a manuscript back from an editor and see all those red marks that indicate a word or punctuation had to be fixed or added). More annoying was that a previous reader (I borrowed the book from my local library) had crossed out the typos with a pencil and written the correct word above the line. That made the errors even more glaring and the markings distracted me from the story.

Do you think it’s right for a reader to play editor and mark up a library book? Does it bother you as much as it irks me?

* * *

I promise to be a better blogger in the fourth quarter of 2018! Have a great week, everyone!

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Summer Days

Happy Sunday! First, an update. I’m still promoting Cast for Murder to libraries. If your library does not have a copy of the book, please ask them to order it. Thank you to the librarians who have added the latest Veronica Walsh mystery to their collections!

Can you believe August begins on Wednesday? There are some important dates happening this month we all need to note so we can participate fully in the festivities.

Thursday, August 2 is National Ice Cream Sandwich Day. Whether you buy them in the store or make your own (I highly recommend a sandwich composed of homemade chocolate chip cookies and vanilla ice cream), enjoy the delicious treat. Any leftover cookies you have can be used to celebrate National Chocolate Chip Cookie Day a couple of days later, on the fourth.

August 5 is National Underwear Day. Does that mean we wear our best pair or give undies the day off?

Heads up – Book Lover’s Day is next week, on August 9. That’s us!

This one is no joke. Are you considering getting a pet? Clear the Shelters Day is August 18. If you’re able to adopt a homeless animal, stop by your local shelter and offer a forever home to a dog or cat (or another furry friend the shelter might be housing).

National Potato Day is August 19. Yeah for my favorite vegetable! So many ways to prepare them: mashed, fried, baked, roasted. All yummy.

Just Because Day falls on August 27. Oh, the possibilities. Make sure whatever you do that day, just because, is legal.

Another day with a literary bent is August 30, Frankenstein Day. We celebrate the birth of author Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley on this day, not the creation of her famous monster. So don’t put on green makeup and walk around that day with stiff legs and arms outstretched, moaning and grunting, “It’s alive!”

I read about this survey yesterday. What’s your perfect day?

My favorite days are fall Saturdays, with the sun shining down on trees decorated with leaves in beautiful shades of red and gold. These days offer so much. Cool temperatures that require the wearing of jeans and a sweatshirt. Lots of sports—the baseball playoffs and one great college football game after another (Go Notre Dame (my alma mater)!). A productive chunk of time for writing and leisure time for reading. For dinner, a hamburger done on the grill and fries. The wonderful anticipation of Halloween approaching and Thanksgiving and Christmas right around the corner. Ahhh. These days are coming soon.

I’ll end with an interesting story I saw on the news this morning . . .

You might not have had recourse when the dog ate your homework, but if your four-legged best friend ever makes a meal of your rent money, here’s help. And you might want to check on that money you’ve buried in your backyard.

 

And something that amused me . . .

I found this plate in my mother’s china cabinet. It bears the iconic image of an important event in the American Revolutionary War: George Washington leading Continental Army soldiers across the Delaware River on Christmas night in 1776. What did they do when they got to the other side? Pulled off a surprise attack on British-supporting Hessian soldiers in Trenton, NJ. When I looked at the back of the plate, I discovered I was holding a piece of irony. Notice it?

 

I guess all is forgiven.

 

 

Have a terrific week. Happy dog days of summer!

 

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Independence Day Memories

Happy Independence Day! July Fourth is one of my favorite days of the year, ranking right up there with Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. I love the patriotic music, reading of the Declaration of Independence, decorations, parades, twinkling sparklers, and spectacular fireworks. The Fourth holds many memories for me; I’d like to share my early remembrances of the day.

Many of my childhood July Fourths were spent at my paternal grandmother’s house in Greenwood Lake, New York. My family often took the forty-minute ride to visit Grandma at her two-bedroom home, which my grandparents bought in 1939 as a summer cottage (my grandmother turned it into her year-round residence after my grandfather died in 1958). I remember the New Year’s Days when we’d drive Grandma home after she spent the Christmas week with us. The October weekends when we’d do the fall cleanup of her yard and gutters. We’d stay the night, which was a real treat. I’d sleep in the kitchen, on a cot set up between the stove and sink (I’d love to tell you I woke in the morning to the aroma of cinnamon buns baking in the oven, but that perfect touch never happened). The house was so small, when my father’s brother, Marty, his wife, Lynn, and their five kids visited from Delaware every July Fourth week, my cousins Robin and Martin would pitch a tent in the backyard and sleep there every night.

On Independence Day, my parents, siblings, and I would arrive at the crowded house around lunchtime. After eating sandwiches and my grandmother’s potato salad, we’d pack into a couple of cars for the two-minute drive down to the marina where my uncle docked his boat. Once we were all aboard and settled, Uncle Marty would cruise through the arm of the lake at the mandated slow speed to avoid making waves. I vividly remember how long it seemed to take to get to the main part of Greenwood Lake and the moment when Uncle Marty could put the pedal to the metal and get the wind whipping through our hair. It only took two or three minutes to pass through the arm, but to a kid, it seemed like an eternity.

We’d motor around the lake for a couple of hours, always stopping at the sandbar for a swim. Then we’d head back to the house for a barbecue of hot dogs and hamburgers topped with slices of tomatoes from my grandmother’s garden and a Neapolitan ice cream dessert. After darkness fell, we’d return to the village for the fireworks show. Our family would join many others on a grassy incline beside the lake and watch the beautiful display light up the night sky and reflect in the tranquil water. A superb ending to a perfect day.

My dad had a favorite expression: “It doesn’t get any better than this.” It didn’t get any better than those July Fourths we celebrated at Greenwood Lake.

It was an idyllic place. An innocent time. A date that was special even before the red, white, and blue decorations, parades, and fireworks were added. I hope your memories of the Fourth of July are as sweet as mine, and I hope you are creating new ones today.

 

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A Perfect Day For Dads

Happy Father’s Day! Mother Nature has supplied a perfect day for the dads here in New York and I hope she did the same for you wherever you are celebrating on this Sunday. No matter what fun plans you have for the day – a round of golf, pool party, backyard barbecue- enjoy every moment with your loved ones. You deserve the spotlight shining on you!

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Cozy Reading For A Hot Summer

We’re closing in on the summer season, a time when many of us tuck a book or two into a suitcase and head out for a relaxing vacation. Others might stay home and enjoy a good book while stretched out on a chaise lounge on the deck or a float in the swimming pool. I have a list of books I’m looking forward to reading as I try to beat the heat of July and August. Here are a few new titles by my favorite authors.

Murder at the Mansion (A Victorian Village Mystery) by Sheila Connolly. It’s not often I get in on the ground floor of a cozy series, but I’m jumping into the first in Connolly’s new series with great anticipation. I’m a big fan of Connolly’s cozy work: the Museum Mysteries, County Cork Mysteries, Relatively Dead Mysteries, and Orchard Mysteries. Connolly is terrific at incorporating the history of her settings (Philadelphia, Ireland, and New England) into her storylines and taking readers on tours of local landmarks. I expect more of the same in this Baltimore-set series. Most of all, I know I’ll be treated to a well-plotted mystery with strong, intelligent female protagonists and a cast of endearing characters.

Claws of Death (A Cat Lady Mystery) by Linda Reilly. I read the first (Escape Claws) in Reilly’s series a few weeks ago and am glad I haven’t had to wait long for the second installment. Escape Claws introduced readers to Lara Caphart, an artist who returns to her hometown of Whisker Jog, New Hampshire after many years away and reunites with her aunt, Fran and best friend, Sherry. Yes, there are many cat characters, too, and one special feline in particular named Blue. The hint of romance in book one and murder mystery that kept me guessing until the killer was finally caught hooked me on the series. The plot for Claws of Death—an aging actress takes up residence in a mansion in Whisker Jog and becomes a suspect in a teacher’s murder—promises another involving mystery in this charming series.

Poisoned Pages (A Booktown Mystery) by Lorna Barrett. I discovered Barrett’s Booktown Mystery series about a year ago and have been catching up on its twelve installments since my introduction. I’ve been reading the books out of order, which is a mortal sin to many cozy readers, but the hopping around hasn’t affected my enjoyment of this New Hampshire-based series. The amateur sleuth is Tricia Miles, owner of the mystery bookstore Haven’t Got a Clue. She’s often joined on her adventures by her sister, Angelica, who is a successful businesswoman in their small town of Stoneham and a bestselling cookbook author. The pair has a realistic sibling relationship; they bicker and hold longtime resentments, but Tricia and Angelica are also deeply loyal to and supportive of each other. The likable supporting characters are well-developed and make the series a pleasure to visit again and again.

Claws for Alarm (A Gray Whale Inn Mystery) by Karen MacInerney. MacInerney’s Gray Whale Inn series helped introduce me to the cozy genre, so it has a special place in my writer’s heart. The series is set on the picturesque Cranberry Island in Maine and centers on Texas-transplant Natalie Barnes and her adventures as both innkeeper and amateur sleuth. MacInerney’s series is strong on romance, friendship, and intrigue and she always includes recipes for the tantalizing yummies Natalie bakes for her guests. There’s no need to book a reservation at the Gray Whale; there’s plenty of room for cozy readers. And who knows, you might fall in love and name Maine your vacation destination for next summer.

I also want to catch up on the latest from bestselling authors Cleo Coyle (A Shot in the Dark- A Coffeehouse Mystery), Adriana Trigiani (Kiss Carlo), Daniel Silva (The Other Woman), Stephen King (The Outsider), Nancy Atherton (Aunt Dimity and the King’s Ransom), and Alexander McCall Smith (The Quiet Side of Passion).

Though I have a lot of reading to do, I’m always eager to add to my reading list, so please share any recommendations you have!

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Memorial Day ’18

I wish you all a peaceful Memorial Day. Let us take time today to remember and honor the thousands of men and women who gave their lives in service to our country.

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Happy Mother’s Day & A New Review

Happy Mother’s Day! May all you mothers know how deeply loved and appreciated you are and may you enjoy every minute of this day with your families.

Yvonne at Socrates’ Book Reviews posted her review of Cast for Murder. Please take a few moments to visit her terrific blog and read the review and her thoughts on other recent releases. Thank you, Yvonne!

Have a terrific week, everyone!

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An In-Home Archaeological Expedition


I apologize for my absence from the blog. I’ve been on an archaeological dig. Well, sort of but not exactly. With my three siblings, I’ve been clearing out and packing up our parents’ house. We’ve swept dust off the relics of our lives, clutched them to our hearts, and taken a stroll down memory lane. We’ve found items we thought were already tossed in the garbage or donated to charity. Stuff that should have been thrown out or given away years ago. Records of our childhood achievements and milestones. Lots of photographs stored in shoe boxes and envelopes and hundreds of photo slides my dad loved slipping into his projector and showing on the living room wall. My dad’s shoe horns (I think he had more shoe horns than he had shoes) and a pair of x-rays of my mother’s lungs. Yes, x-rays. Mom didn’t have lung disease, so I’m guessing the scans were a routine part of an annual physical exam.

On some cleaning days I thought I was trapped in chapter twenty-six of J.K. Rowling’s  Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Have you read the book? In that chapter, Harry, Hermione, and Ron break into the Gringotts bank vault of the dastardly Lestrange family and discover a curse has been cast over the vault to foil thieves. Everything the three friends touch multiplies into worthless replicas of the family treasures. In my version, it was glassware, cookie tins, and bed linens that magically appeared all over the house. Or at least seemed to materialize. Just when I thought all the wine glasses, cocktail tumblers, and everyday drinking glasses had been packed, my brother Bob went into the attic and emerged with boxes of drinking glasses we used in the 1970s and fancy cocktail glassware that probably last held booze in the 1960s. Those five thousand people Jesus fed with a few loaves of bread and fish? I’ve got drinking glasses for the entire crowd.

And why all the cookie tins? I confess I contributed to the accumulation. I need tins for the Christmas cookies I give to family every year and I apparently kept every metal container that crossed the threshold since 1983, even those that would hold only a half-dozen cookies. They all got thrown in a box in the attic and were promptly forgotten. Out of sight, out of mind.

The abundance of bed sheets, pillow cases, and blankets went to the local shelter for all the dogs and cats to have soft beds. I’m glad we had so many to give them.

This clean up has also put us in the position of having to toss or donate items that hold happy memories for us. My brothers are good at letting things go (except for a few special mementos) to a new home or the dumpster but my sister and I have a tighter grip on some of the stuff. I’m a sentimental fool and find myself unable to say goodbye to a few things.

For example, my father’s toolbox. Dad spent many hours in his basement workshop, fixing, building, painting, and shellacking to his heart’s content. His toolbox contains every implement he needed to complete his jobs. I so identify these tools and the green metal box with Dad that even now, twenty years after he passed away, I still hear his voice whenever I rummage for a screwdriver, wrench, or hammer.

“Make sure you put that back where you found it!”

“Be careful, that has a sharp edge!”

“That is not a toy!”

Ah, the memories. Neither brother will take the box (they have plenty of tools in their own workshops) and Dad’s smaller set suits me fine, but I just cannot let go of this box and its contents. Come on, it’s a talking toolbox, for crying out loud. How many people have one of those?

There are many other things I’ve kept, but don’t think I’ve boxed everything up to store in another basement or closet. I’ve tossed plenty that I first didn’t believe I could ever release. My tactic has been to leave the item on a table for a few days until I get sick of looking at it and question why I think it’s necessary to my life. Then I grab the object and race to the garbage can, add it to the refuse pile, and give it a “thank you for your service” salute.

How have you managed a whole-house clean out? Were you ruthless in tossing stuff, or did you cling to it saying, “Just what I’ve been looking for!” We’re not done yet, so any tips will be very appreciated.

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