Feminist, Fictionista, Foodie, Francophile

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

May Flowers...Blood and Roses

"April showers bring May flowers" and I thought it might be interesting to blog about flowers this month and how flowers relate to dark fiction in general. Naturally, the first flower that comes to mind when I think of dark fantasy and flowers is the rose. I always liked "Blood and Roses" by the Smithereens (wonder what happened to them) and have a story in a collection of tales of the same name. (the collection is not available on Amazon.com, but the there are a slew of titles that use "blood" and "rose" in them.

There's also a "Blood and Roses" forum community that's connected to a series of paranormal books.  (roses are almost as integral to vampire lore as garlic and crucifixes, which is interesting because in religious iconography, the rose is Mary's flower. It's also associated with Muslim lore and poetry and is also the city symbol of  Islamabad, Pakistan.

I remember reading Margaret Truman's cozy mysteries set in DC an dfor some reason thought that she'd done a "Murder in the Rose Garden" title, but she didn't. (Here's a list of all her books.)  There's an Ellis Peters "Brother Cadfael" mystery called The Rose Rent. there's also a novel called The Blue Rose, that's part of an English Garden Mystery series.  there's just something very mysterious about blue roses, probably because they don't exist in real life. (There are breeders who are getting close but they're not there yet.)  But blood roses just seem dark and strange. Check out this blood rose image by Trivalia.




Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Z is for Zombie

From: World War Z
If you asked me what my favorite monster is, my answer probably would not be Zombies. And yet, I really enjoyed Zombieland and Warm Bodies, which are at the opposite ends of the zombie movie spectrum and could not be more different from each other if they tried. I've also tried my hand at writing a few zombie stories and Christopher Grant (of A Twist of Noir) indulged my taste in Z fiction by publishing a few of them on his zombie fiction blog, Eaten Alive.  One of the best stories from Eaten Alive was written by the late AJ Hayes. It's called "the End of Our Zombie Days." I was able to tell AJ (I didn't know him well enough to call him "Bill") how much I liked the story when I met him at Noir at the Bar. If you've never read it, it's heart-breaking and it's here.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Y is for Yoshimoto, Banana

I was glad to find out that "Banana" Yoshimoto is a pen name and not one of those unfortunate appellations bestowed at birth by parents who should really, really know better. The writer is pushing 50 now, but she still does teenage angst better than almost anyone, except perhaps S. E. Hinton. Her first novel, Kitchen, was published in 1988 (to wild acclaim and commercial success) and since then, she's been busy, with 12 novels and more than a few collections of essays. Her novel The Lake was published in English in 2010, but it was originally published in 2005. I wonder what she's up to now?

Sunday, April 27, 2014

X is for book titles that begin with X

I belong to Goodreads and one of the things I really like about the site and its community is the endless array of lists that the readers have put together. Just out of curiosity, I went over there to see what they had to say about X and I found this list of books with titles beginning in X.turns out the list was created specifically for bloggers doing the A to Z challenge, which I appreciate.  Ihad to go down to number 15 before I hit a book I'd read, Lynn Hamilton's The Xibalba Murders. the first in her series of mysteries about  Lara McClintoch, an archaeologist.  There were 11 books in the series, with the last one coming out in 2007, the year before her death.

As it turns out, the only other book I've read on the list (which includes titles from writers as disparate as Edith Wharton and Andre Norton) is #27, Walter Greatshell's Xombies

Why Ask Why?

My first foray into "indie publishing" was in October of 2010 when I put out a collection of short stories called Just Another Day in Paradise.  I was a total newbie at the time, but guided by the incredibly patient and helpful G. Wells Taylor (author of my favorite vampire novel Bent Steeple), It got it together and put it up for sale. I made some mistakes--the TOC isn't interactive, which it should be, and I paid, way, way, way too much for the awesome cover image. (I'd do it again, though. I saw the photo when it was first published in the newspaper and then tracked it down with the most intensive Google image search ever.)

The collection was never a big seller, so at some point, I made it "perma-free."  And as it turns out, there are a lot of people who wn't pay 99 cents for a collection of short stories, but are more than happy to pick it up for free. (Yes, I CAN give my work away.) So month after month, I've watched people "buy" the book.  Some of them have been nice enough to leave reviews (thank you very much) and in the intervening four years, the collection has rarely been out of the top 10 of free book collections. So I have to ask--why has there suddenly been an uptick in downloads of the book this month, nearly four years after it first became available?  So far this month, I have "sold" more than 300 copies of the collection and it is now rated #3 in athologies and collections/horor and #6 in anthologies and short stories in the fantasy/sci fi genre.

I'm not complainng, I'm just curious.  If you haven't read the stories and would like to, you can find the collection free here

Friday, April 25, 2014

W is for Woody Harrelson

Woody Harrelson kind of sneaked up on me. One minute he was in an endless loop of Cheers reruns, and the next thing I knew he was playing everything from a bad-ass zombie killer to a political strategist to a corrupt Louisiana cop. (I loved, loved, loved True Detective and it was mostly because even when the story got out of hand, watching Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey was an absolute pleasure. I liked them together in EdTV too.) Before True Detective, my favorite Harrelson role was in Game Change with Julianne Moore and Ed Harris.


I really admire actors who move beyond their comfort zone when they're choosing parts and try out new things and change things up. And Harrelson's done everything from Hunger Games to No Country for Old Men to Now You See Me.  His next project is a movie called Triple Nine, which I read when it was being shopped around to distributors. It's a thriller with a great cast (Casey Affleck and Kate Winslet and Chiwetel Ejiofor are just some of his co-stars). I can't wait to see it. And I can't wait to see what he does next.


Thursday, April 24, 2014

V is for Veteran

Illustration by Mark Satchwill
Just when I'm getting crankypants about CNN pandering to the lowest common denominator, they blindside me with a story that just about broke my heart. You may have seen it--a brief report about a homeless Air Force veteran wo died in his van and has been unclaimed ever since. A former waitress is trying to raise the money to bury him somewhere other than in a pauper's grave. (It's unclear why the military isn't stepping in to provide Michael John Pardalis a resting place in a Veteran's cemetery, but the woman who is trying to raise money to bury her former customer does mention she needs to get a copy of a particular form. I remember that form. When my father died, we found it in a trunk full of apers pretty much by accident and if we hadn't had it, my father would not now be buried in Arlington Cemetery.)

At any rate, it's a moving story, which you can see here. And with the story there's once again a light on one of America's most shameful secrets--the way veterans are treated when they return from serving their country. My father werved in the war before the war before the one we're in now and the one before that as well. He came home from North Africa and went to law school and then re-enlisted in the Army's Judge Advocate Corps, building a career as an Army lawyer. He was already married when he saw overseas service in the Korean War and by the time the Viet Nam war was heating up, he had three children. He was offered a promotion if he accepted a transfer to Saigon but at that point, he and the Army parted ways and he (and we) settled down while he worked as a consultant for private citizens with claims against the government. Turns out (and I know you'll be shocked by this) that the government often makes promises to people that they don't keep. A lot of those broken promises are made to the men and women who serve in the military.

At the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Washington, there's an inscription that reads, "Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God." There are a lot of soldiers out there and God knows all their names and so do a lot of people. And every one of those soldiers deserves to rest in honored glory and not in an unmarked grave where they'll be forgotten.

The illustration here is by Mark Satchwill, who created it as part of our NoHo Noir storyline inspired by the murders that were then taking place in Southern California. The victims were all homeless people, several of them veterans. The illustration has haunted me for years. I think it's the most powerful thing Mark has done.


Wednesday, April 23, 2014

U is for Ulin, David

David Ulin is a writer, a book critic and an editor. He edited one of my favorite books about Los Angeles, Writing Los Angeles, which brings together writers as disparate as Chester Himes, Simone de Beauvoir, and Christopher Isherwood. (And of course, Raymond Chandler.) The book has an elegant cover too, clean and graphically simple and yet evocative. 

David Ulin's book The Lost Art of Reading ("Why Books Matter in a Distracted Time") is based on this essay he wrote for the L.A. Times. Ulin used to be the Times' book editor and then became a critic in order to focus on his own fiction.)  I've never read any of Ulin's fiction, but I have several of the books he's edited on my shelves. This is a man who celebrates the act of reading. This is aman whose name writers should know.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

T is for Troubled...

I am troubled.
I came of age during the last gasp of printed news so I saw the rise of both local "happy news" and the birth of CNN.  From the very first, i was a fan of CNN because they seemed to value substance over style, and their anchors seemed chosen more for their skills than their appearance. I still got most of my news from newspapers, though, until about the middle of the first decade of this millennium when I cancelled my L.A. Times subscription in a cost-cutting measure because the WGA strike had cut my income considerably.

I get most of my news online now and mostly I turn to CNN.com. That means that along with reading the news, I have a choice of video content. And lately, some of the choices they've made for that content have been troubling to me. Today (it's Tuesday 4/22) there are two multi-media stories on offer that go beyond what I think of as the scope of a news story and into the realm of ,,,pandering to prurient interst. One is a video of a poison gas attack.  I'm not sure what the purpose of the story is--to act as evidence against the perpetrator of the crime? To show what happens when poison gas is used? To get more people clicking through?

The second story troubled me more though. It was a story about the people who called for help when the Korean ferry started to sink. "Audio reveals panic as ship sank."  How many people will click in hopes of hearing some of that audio? And what purpose will that serve? Here in L.A. it's long been news policy to release as many juicy details about celebrity deaths as possible, including 911 calls. Even if you're not looking for that kind of news, it's almost unavoidable. But inviting strangers to listen to calls made in what might be the last moments of a person's life....It's not news. And I'm not going to click.

T is for Tomlinson

I think a lot about my last name. Not so much because I'm egotistical, or just because my name is basically "my brand." But I was aware from an early age that the Tomlinson branch of our family tree was goning to die out if my brother Rob did not have, as they used to say, "issue."

My father was one of three brothers. My uncle Hubert died when I was three years old, not long after he earned his medical degree. He was my father's baby brother, and my father would have been only 33 at the time. His and Hubert's mother had died when they were children and his father died the year before Hubert did, leaving my father an orphan in his early 30s. My father's half-brother, Jim, worked the family farm and died a bachelor. His middle name was Lee, which is also my brother's middle name, a name they both inherited from our grandfather.  My father's younger half-sister is only eight years older than I am and she has a son, but of course, his name isn't Tomlinson.

Tomlinson isn't that uncommon a name. There's an English actor named David Tomlinson who was in Mary Poppins.  There's football player LaDanian Tomlinson who used to play for the San Diego Chargers, whch enlivened the football season for me. (Basketball is my game.)  there's the writer H.M. Tomlinson and when I was a kid, I bought a couple of his novels just because it tickled me to see the name "Tomlinson" on my bookshelves.  I'm not related to any of them. Nor am I related to Ray Tomlinson, who created teh @ separator that makes email possible.

There are 43 different Tomlinsons with a Wikipedia entry, and that doesn't count Tomlinson Holman, an American film theorist and audio engineer who developed the world's first 10.2 sound system. I don't actually know what that is, but I'm always impressed by people who invent the "first" of something and I can only hope Tomlinson did not get beat up because of his unusual first name.  (My father's friends called him "Tommy" which would probably have been a good nickname for Holman.)


Monday, April 21, 2014

S is for Shakespeare, who was born in April

They aren't really sure when William Shakespeare was born. He was baptized on April 26th in 1564, which makes next Saturday his birthday. It is known that he also died in April (April 23, 1616, which made him a man whose life spanned two centuries). That death date, 1616, sounds like a long time ago, but it was actually the 17th century, which somehow does not seem so distant. In his last play, The Tempest, there are references to the place that will become North America ("O Brave New World") and and the preiod known as the Renaissance was already coming to an end. (I was always taught that it ended around 1637.)

Here are some things they already knew in Shakespeare's time:

The earth revolves around the sun (1543)

the earth has a magnetic field (1600)

Galileo was already making detailed astronomical observations although he had not yet formuulated the law of falling bodies.  Johannes Kepler had discovered the first two laws of planetary motion. Shakespeare would have been aware of these studies in the same way that an educated person today is aware of important scientific discoveries. His plays are full of poetic references to stars and one speech from Romeo & Juliet is considered a test of how well an actor can handle the playwright's language.

“When he shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun.”

So Happy Birthday Will!

The illustration is from the Wiki quotes site. Don't know who created it, but it tickles me. Shakespeare would have fit right into the 21st century.


Sunday, April 20, 2014

R is for Ellen Raskin

One of my favorite books is Ellen Raskin's The Westing Game. It's a kid's book. Middle-grade, I supposed, but I read it as an adult and was totally charmed. It's a mystery of sorts. An eccentric rich man (Westing) invites a group of people to play a game. The winner will become Westing's heir, but what unfolds is a lovely, character-driven story about love and family and expectations and choices and chances.  Raskin died too young and I take that personally. she wrote several other books, many of them revolving around wordplay like The Mysterious Disappearance of Leon (I Mean Noel).

Between the Letters--The new sub-genres of romance

Used to be, there were just a couple of kinds of romance novels. There were contemporary romances, like the ones I devoured from Harlequin. And there were the historical romances that always seemed to star pirates, Vikings, or Scottish highland rogues which I didn't like as much. (Still, the best-looking man I ever saw in my life--and bear in mind I live in Los Angeles--was a kilt-wearing Scot in Glasgow.)  Paranormal romance wasn't yet a "thing" and what was then termed "spicy" was not yet what I call "clinical." (I'm not a prude, I'm really not. I've written things I would NEVER have wanted  my mother to read. (Although bless her heart, my retired Methodist minister aunt reads everything I write and is VERY supportive.) But I'm not a huge fan of what's called "New Adult,.  I really don't find all the intense description of the parts all that romantic. For me, romance novels were always more like fairy tals than anything else. You got your prince and you lived happily ever after (HEA).  But now you don't necessarily even get HEA, there's HFN (happily for now).  This is not news to longtime romance novel fans, but I was out of the loop for quite awhile and now that I'm back--I hardly recognize the genre. There are three trends that baffle me--
Alien Tentacle Sex.
Sasquatch Sex.
Forced Birthing Sex.

I'm curious enough about all three sub-genres that I'm going to have to check out at least one book in each category (because unlike some trolls who post on Amazon without actually, you know, reading the books they're reviewing, I like to know what I'm talking about.

I've also discovered that werewolf/shape-shifters and BBW books are a big thing in the paranormal
romance world too. Who knew? I celebrate that trend because it has always annoyed me that so many romance heroines were gorgeous girls (who mostly don't think they're pretty because their shiny brown hair isn't a dramatic raven color).  Real women aren't perfect and real women need the fairy tale too.

I'll keep you posted on the Sasquatch love.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Q is for Question

On August 7, 2011, I posted a story called "Stoway" on the blog. It was a story I'd written to submit to an anthology of stories inspired by Edgar Allan Poe tales. It was my sci fi version of "Masque of the Red Death." So here it is, more than three years later and yesterday andtoday, people have suddenly been visiting that page and reading that story. It's way, way too many people to have just stumbled across the story by accident. Is there a link somewhere I don't know about? If you've found the story, I'd love to know how you got here. 

Thanks and Happy Easter!

Q is for Quick, Amanda

Amanda Quick is one of several pseudonyms used by best-selling author Jayne Ann Krentz, who writes several kinds of fiction under her various names.  I like the idea of using different names to distinguish different genres of books and am always interested in why people choose certain names. Every once in awhile, I'll stumble across a name that really seems made for a pseudonym. Like actor Paul Blackthorne's last name. Blackthorne is a cool last name. "Katherine Blackthorne" sounds like someone who writes Gothic novels, doesn't it? Much more memorable a last name than "Tomlinson."

Before she turned to writing full-time, Krentz was a librarian and it's possible our paths crossed when I was in college because she worked in the Duke University library system. I hope I did. I was in and out of practically every library on campus at one time or another. (the Med School library was a great place to study because it was quiet and also you could meet a lot of cute med students. Not that I was that shallow.)

I love that Krentz genre-hops and also writes mashups. (Some of her books are described as "paranormal futuristic novels of romantic suspense." Sign me up!  I've read a lot of Krentz' stand-alone novels and really enjoyed them. A bunch more are on the TBR bookcase.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Q is for Ellery Queen

My mother subscribed to both Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine (EQMM) and Alfred Hitchock's Mystery Magazine and EQMM was the first market I started pitching when I began writing mystery fiction. I badly wanted to be selected for their "first mystery" story but I never made the cut.

Of the two magazines, I preferred EQMM and I eventually went on to read the Ellery Queen mystery series. Ellery Queen started appearing in movies, and eventually in a television series starring Jim Hutton, which I remember enjoying. Full episodes of the series are posted at imdb. In a way, the Ellery Queen series was a precursor of Castle. Queen was a mystery writer. His father (played by David Wayne) was a police inspector and he helped him solve mysteries. I'm surprised no one has rebooted the series yet. Ellery Queen has been around for a long time since being created by two writers who were cousins. It's one of the most successful mystery franchises/brands ever, spannign 42 years.

P is for Philip Seymour Hoffman

Philip Seymour Hoffman died in February and the movie with his last starring role, A Most Wanted Man, will be out this summer. The movie was adapted from a novel by John LeCarre, who pretty much wrote the book on Cold War and post-Cold War spy stories, and the trailer llooks pretty exciting.  It's got an incredible cast that includes Ellen Page and Robin Wright, Willem Dafoe, and Rachel McAdams. And watching Hoffman, who gets the last line in the trailer, it's just heart-breakign knowing that this talented man is gone.

And meanwhile, here's the trailer for the book, which features John LeCarre himself.



Thursday, April 17, 2014

P is for Mrs. Pollifax

Another of the mystery series I really liked were the "Mrs. Pollifax" books by Dorothy Gilman.  They weren't really mysteries so much as they were "cozy" spy novels. Emily Pollifax was a widow in her 60s who ended up recruited as a CIA agent. the series includes a delightful cast of recurring characters and there's a nice freindship that grows between Mrs. Pollifax and a young agent she works with.

Gilman was named a "Grand Master" by the Mystery Writers of America in 2010, two years before she died.  She also wrote a slew of other mysteries. I've read some but none of them engaged me as much as the Pollifax series. Rosalind Russell starred in a movie version of The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax, and Angela Lansbury starred in a TV-movie version. I think the series would make a dandy television series, kind of a Scarecrow and Mrs. King for an older audience.  (Or put it another way, Murder, She Wrote with an international setting.)  The books might be a little old-fashioned and cozy for today's readers but I loved them.

O is for Ophelia

Painting by John William Waterhouse
I am a Shakespeare geek. One of my friends once horrified me by saying he thought Aaron Sorkin was a better writer than Shakespeare and asking me to explain "why everybody thinks Shakespeare is so great." (Don't get me wrong. I really enjoyed his scripts for The Social Network and Charlie Wilson's War. (To be honest though, I was bored to tears by Moneyball. I think Draft Day was the movie Moneyball wanted to be. It's disappointing that not more people are oging to see Draft Day.) But I digress.

The point is that because I love words and never quite outgrew my delight in ornate words (I blame Dr. Seuss with his silly, made-up words), I don't find Shakespeare's language a problem or a barrier to my enjoyment of his plays. I think most high school students learn to loathe the plays because they're forced to read Julius Caesar first.  that play is not the best gateway play into Shakespeare. (I think Macbeth is.  It's got a little bit of everything--a ghost. Murder. A strong female lead.

But wait, you say, Hamlet has a ghost. Hamlet has a murder. Hamlet has a strong female. To which I replay--if you're talking about Gertrude, I disagree. She marries the man who murdered her husband and then leaves her son to take revenge. (Wouldn't it have been kind of interesting if it had been Gertrude whoorchestrated the play that pricked the usurper's conscience?)  And don't even get me started on Ophelia.

I hate Ophelia.  I really do. Manipulated by her father. Mistreated by Hamlet. A suicide at the end. I always wanted her to have more gumption. (A word my grandparents used that has fallen out of favor despite being a great word.) Give me Lady Macbeth any time.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

O is for O. Henry

I love stories with twist endings. Saki, O. Henry. Guy de Maupassant, Rod Serling's Twilight Zone. They were all major influences on the kind of short stories I write. O. Henry (real name William Sydney Porter) was born on September 11, which I choose to remember instead of other events that happened on that date. His most famous stories are probably "The Gift of the Magi" and "the Ransom of Red Chief" but I am fond of "A Retrieved Reformation." You can read a number of O. Henry's short stories here, including many that you've probably never heard of.

N is also for Film Noir

Speaking of Noir, as we were earlier today, Tuesday marked the 70th anniversary release of Double Indemnity, still my favorite Film Noir. Fred McMurray, Barbara Stanwyck.  And the always awesome Edward G. Robinson.  Directed by Billy Wilder from a script by Wilder and Raymond Chandler. It just does not get better than this.

N is for Noir

I like my fiction dark. (Most of the time. I actually have a really soft spot for cozy mysteries.) When I was writing the twice-weekly stories for America Online's "NoHo Noir," I routinely put my characters in situations that were dark. One of my best friends was particularly horrified by one story in which a kitten got killed. He has never let me forget about it. (And it's not like I would kill a kitten in real life, for God's sake. In addition to being having a soft spot for cozy mysteries, I have a soft spot for fuzzy creatures. I also have several friends who do animal rescue. So there's always a cat or two on the premises. but I digress.)

I don't remember the first "noir" story I ever read, but it was probably something by Cornell Woolrich. I've always been a sucker for pithy sentences and his line, "First you dream and then you die," which was borrowed for one of the Nightmare on Elm Street movies, is one of my favorite quotes.  According to a blurb on Amazon.com, "Cornell Woolrich was called the Poe of the 20th century and the poet of its shadows."

I'm pretty sure that the first time I saw Cornell Woolrich's name in print was in an essay by Harlan Ellison, himself something of a poet of the shadows. ("I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream" is in my top five of all-time favorite short stories, and his "Repent Harlequin, said the Tick-Tock Man" is also on that short list.)  Woolrich also wrote under the pseudonym "William Irish.," which is just one of those tough-guy sounding names that is too cool. I imagine a guy in a Fedora, an unfiltered cigarette dangling from his lips, banging away at an old typewriter. 

My favorite noir authors, in no particular order, are:
Jim Thompson
Dorothy B. Hughes
and the late, great Elmore Leonard.
Charles Willeford
Ian Rankin (who represents "Tartan Noir)

Noir flourished in the niddle of the last century but for my money, it's the genre that typefies this post-millennial time.






Tuesday, April 15, 2014

M is for mystery series

When I pick up a book by an author I've not read before, I want to like the book. And if I like the book and it's part of a series, I will go and read the whole series, preferably one right after another. I don't like coming in on the middle, so I'll track down the books leading up to the books if necessary.

When I was in high school, I worked at the local library, which had a really good mystery section, even in the Large Print section. (And what a boon eReaders have been to people who need larger print. It always made me sad that unless you wanted to read Reader's Digest and a small selection of best sellers, your large print options were limited.)

Somtimes the series went on so long that they started to get stale, but I kept with them. Here's a list--in no particular order--of mystery book series I devoured.

Laura Joh Rowland's Sano Ichiro Mysteries--I love these books, set in Imperial Japan and they set off a lifelong fascination with the country and the history. The covers were gorgeous too. 

I came to these books by way of the television series: Robert B. Parker Spenser.
Ellis Peters' Brother Cadfael--I liked the Cadfael books so much that when I ran out of them, I moved on to the books Peters wrote under her real name, which were  historical fiction and not mysteries.
janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum (By the numbers) I hated the movie, but still think the books would make an awesome television series.
Robert Crais' Elvis Cole novels --I love, love, love the Elvis Cole novels and now there are spin-offs for Joe Archer, one of the characters first introduced in the books
Nele Neuhaus' Fairy Tale series--Set in Germany, there are only two books in the series so far, but they're great.
Ed McBain's 87th Precinct books--Forget NYPD Blue, these were the procedurals for me.
William Marshall's Yellowthread Street mysteries (which sparked my desire to go to Hong Kong)
M.C. Beaton's Hamish Macbeth series (there's a fantastic TV series starring Robert Carlyle out there, with Danny Boyle writing and directing. I tried reading her "Agatha Raisin series but they were just too "twee" for me).
Catherine Aird's Sloan and Crosby books
Anne Perry's Thomas and Charlotte Pitt novels
And last but not least--Carolyn Keene's Nancy Drew and Franklin Dixon's Hardy Boys mysteries. They were the books that inspired my love of reading mysteries and I can still remember saving up my allowance to buy them.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Between the Letters--Christine Pope's DarkAngel Book Tour

I discovered I'd gotten ahead of myself in posting letter-themed posts, so today I'm going to do a little D-love.  Prizes are Amazon gift cards--which are always the right size and the right color. Get the details of the giveaway here along with paper and ebook copies of DarkAngel, the first in Pope's new series about "the witches of Cleopatra Hill."

Here's the blurb:

As the future prima, or head witch of her clan, Angela McAllister is expected to bond with her consort during her twenty-first year, thus ensuring that she will come into her full powers at the appointed time. The clock is ticking down, and her consort has yet to make an appearance. Instead, her dreams are haunted by a man she’s never seen, the one she believes must be her intended match.

But with time running out, and dark forces attempting to seize her powers for their own, Angela is faced with a terrible choice: give up her dreams of the man she may never meet and take the safer path, or risk leaving her clan and everyone in it at the mercy of those who seek their ruin.

the giveaway ends tomorrow night so be sure to stop by.





Sunday, April 13, 2014

N is for Nordic Noir

I have never been to any Scandinavian country, but I love the sub-genre of mystery known as Nordic Noir. I am particularly fond of the "Harry Hole" books by Jo Nesbo (N is for Nesbo) and Jussi Adler-Olsen's Dept. Q books.  I'm not alone in my affection for these mysteries. There's a list of almost 300 titles in the genre on Goodreads and some of my favorite books aren't even on there. If you're looking for a place to dive into the chilly waters of this genre, the Goodreads list is a good place to start.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

M is for Michael Malone

Michael Malone wrote one of my all-time favorite novels, Handling Sin. It is an absolute joy of a book, a story about friendship and family, and it has a wonderful sense of place. it's a book that would make a great movie and I think that David S. Ward, who wrote The Sting, has done a draft of the script.

I also like Malone's mysteries featuring Cuddy Mangum and Justin Saville V. Like Handling Sin, they're set in North Carolina (Malone was born in Durham) and he nails the Southern thing.  Malone's characters are really
wonderful and his books are a pleasure to read. And in looking him up for this blogpost, I discovered he wrote a book a few years ago that I didn't know about. So now I have the pleasure of reading something that promises to be a pure pleasure.

M is for Murakami, Haruki

Haruki Murakami has been criticized for his "surrealistic and nihilistic" fantasy by some Japanese critics, but for me, that's what makes his work so wonderfully original and engaging. Also, my first encounter with the novelist was through Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, which was a lovely story filled with hope and beauty. It's a book I recommend to friends who don't really read "lit fic" and they've enjoyed it. I know a producer who's trying to bring this novel to the screen and I hope he succeeds because it would make a really beautiful movie. (I was not a huge fan of Ang Lee's Life of Pi, but wasn't it gorgeous? The right director could turn Murakami's work into something visually stunning to compete with the superhero movies and the giant robots.)

Friday, April 11, 2014

L is for Lee, Tanith

I like my name. "Katherine" is a great name. It pairs well with almost any last name and it's been pretty popular throughout history. But the first thing I thought when I encountered Tanith Lee's writing was that she had one one of the great writer names. How cool is the name "Tanith?" Who wouldn't want to be named after a sky goddess? According to Wikipedia, Tanith has written 90 novels and more than 300 short stories. I found her about midway in her career, and was just stunned by the many different kinds of fantasy she wrote. The first book I read was her novella, To Kill the Dead, which came in a double-book from the Science Fiction and Fantasy book club. (I loved all those mail order book clubs, especially with the "get ten books for a dollar" come-ons.)

To Kill the Dead was my gateway drug to the Lee's work and over the next year or so, I read pretty much every book she'd written. Then I started tracking down the short stories. When Joy Sillesen, Joanne Renaud, and I started Dark Valentine Magazine, Tanith was one of our inspirations and the first issue featured an illustration of her namesake goddess. 

I love Tanith's gorgeous writing style which in other hands could have been just so much purple prose. I love some of her titles--Drinking Sapphire Wine is a particular favorite. I don't remember the plot of that book now, but I do love the title. And a lot of her covers are gorgeous. The book that I've most often wanted to see turned into a movie is her book The Silver Metal Lover. It was YA before YA was really a "thing.' And what most fans of the book may not know is that there's a sequel to it. If you're a fan of dystopian futures and star-crossed lovers, check it out.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

K is for Katherine Kurtz

Now that Game of Thrones is a huge success, and in the wake of the tremendous success of Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit movies, I want someone to finally take note of Katherine Kurtz' Deryni Chronicles. I loved those books and read everyone of them, including the offshoot novels about Camber of Culdi. Here's a site where you can see cover art and read synopses of the books which have all the intrigue, magic, and complicated family relationships you could ever want.

I'm also a fan of Kurtz' lesser-known novel Lammas Night, which is set during WW2 and deftly mixes magic and the mundane in a story that feels real, even though it's about a coven of witches who band together to save their country from a German invasion. Read the book and imagine Prince Harry as the novel's heroic prince.

K is for King, Stephen

There are people (usually people who haven't read much of his work) who get snarky about Stephen King. They like to pigeon-hole him in genre categories (because they think people who write horror or any other genre fiction aren't really very good writers).  These people are missing out. 

I believe that King is the Charles Dickens of our time and I especially admire him for his amazing characters. I could list dozens of memorable characters but I think anyone who wants to understand the art of making an unsympathetic character sympathetic should read Green Mile. If you know the story, you know that one of the characters is a child murderer (and worse). And yet by the time he suffers his terrible fate, I was crying. Yes, Stephen King made me cry.

I'm glad I started reading him when I did because his body of work is now so large that I'm not sure I could ever catch up. And when he announced his retirement a few years back, I was one of those who raised a chorus of "OH NO!!"  He really is the hardest working man in fiction. And speaking of, his book about writing (On Writing) is a must-have, but the notes he writes in his short-story collections are really fascinating.

Silly as it is, I always kind of liked the idea that his birthday (September 21) was like mine, only backwards (September 12).

J is for James Joyce

I have read James Joyce's masterwork Ulysses. And honestly, all I can remember of it is Molly Bloom's joyously sensual "soliloquy of yes." I saw it performed as part of a one-woman show called James Joyce's Women and it was amazing. Hs novel Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and his short story collection Dubliners are much more accessible. I'm pretty sure I've read Finnegan's Wake also but it's been erased from my memory as completely as if it was never there. Pity. Because I'm pretty sure I'll never revisit it.

If you don't know the soliloquy, here it is.

J is for Jackson, Shirley

I revere Shirley Jackson. I think "The Lottery" is a dandy short story but for my money, The Haunting of Hill House is the best haunted house novel ever written--and I've read more than a few.  And just in case you're looking for some haunted house stories, here are some I've read and recommend:

Stephen King:  The Shining

Okay, technically, it isn't a haunted HOUSE story, but let's not quibble.

Susan Hill:  The Woman in Black

I was a bit  disappointed by the movie, although I thought it was wonderfully eerie and atmospheric. And Daniel Radcliffe is picking interesting parts post-Harry Potter.

Dorothy Macardle: The Uninvited

I saw the movie version of the book (which was published in 1941) and the ghostly special effects were terrific.

Alexandra Sokoloff:  The Harrowing

I'm a big fan of Sokoloff's writing, and I enjoyed this haunted college story tremendously.

But we were discussing Shirley Jackson and The Haunting of Hill House.  I went looking for an imaage of the novel's cover and found a whole lot of them, some of which seemed wildly off the mark, like this one that looks like it might be an English comedy of manners. (The cover at the top left is the cover of the edition I remember reading. I bought it used for ten cents at a local library sale.)

The writing in this book is just so beautifully done. Chilling and simple (like "The Lottery") and yet also poetic, especially in the final words.  If you've never read this book, read it.



Tuesday, April 8, 2014

I is for "I Hear America Singing" by Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman and his friend  Peter Doyle
I don't read much poetry now. Just about the only poetry I've read since leaving college is the poetry of Pablo Neruda--I was introduced to his work by a poetry placard on the bus--and Seamus Heaney's gorgeous version of Beowulf.

When I was in school, though, I had a really interesting course in which we read John Dos Passos' USA Trilogy, Studs Terkel's book Working (I was a big fan of his kind of journalism) and the poetry of Walt Whitman, specificlly "I Hear America Singing." (We also read Carl Sandburg's poem about Chicago.) I liked Whitman because he wasn't sing-songy. He used words like a painter uses pigments and when his masterwork, "Leaves of Grass" came out, it was labeled obscene when in fact it was simply sensual.