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Cozy Con 2021

Poisoned Pen Bookstore recently sponsored this lively group of cozy mystery writers.  What a fun, fantastic group of authors!

What is your favorite line?

Mine is:  “Books are the only real magic.”

#BookBeginnings Encounters with Chinese Writers by Annie Dillard

 

I don’t usually share the nonfiction I read, but this week I’m making an exception with  Encounters with Chinese Writers by Annie Dillard for Book Beginnings on Fridays.

Book Beginnings is a fun meme hosted by Rose City Reader blog. To participate, share the first sentence or so of a novel you are reading and your thoughts about it. When you are finished, add your URL to the Book Beginnings page linked above. Hope to see you there!

 

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Encounters with Chinese Writers* by Annie Dillard

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:

In the spring of 1982, Pulitzer-prize winning author Annie Dillard traveled to China with six scholars and writers in an exchange program. Soon afterwards, a group of Chinese writers came to visit the U.S. The book is a collection of stories about their interactions, both humorous and insightful.

First Sentence:

We are being feted at a banquet in Beijing, in one of the restaurant’s many private banquet rooms. The room is drab and charmless; the food is wonderful.

Discussion:

I like how she chose to use the present tense to make the scene more immediate, even though the event was from the past.

I’m also always impressed by someone who is confident enough about grammar to use a semi-colon properly.  😉

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The Friday 56 is hosted by Freda’s Voice. The premise is simple. Turn to page 56 in the book and pick a quote.

Although we’re not really supposed to include context, it helps to know the group has just been asked which American works should the Chinese translate as prime examples of our literature.

And what, pray tell can we answer? Which writers, which works? I like Updike: Pigeon Feathers, Rabbit is Rich. A Toyota dealer and his wife make love on a bed of gold coins. A major American novel, out of the question. I like Marilyn Robinson, Housekeeping. A young girl in Idaho gives in to sloth. What would they make of Pynchon’s V? The room in which a Chinese reader lives may, or may not, have a single twenty-five-watt bulb. China has little paper, for printing books or anything else. I think of those trees in afforestation plots by the river, by the tracks, those trees one man or woman plants by hand, pats a cone of mud around, digs a ditch beside, waters…they’re virtual houseplants, these trees; they’re pets. How many trees should they fell to print what and why?

Although this was from 1982, it is still a question. What books would you translate? What books would you take with you to a desert island? I think one or two of Annie Dillard’s might make the cut.

What do you think? Have you read anything by Annie Dillard?

#BookBeginnings Perilous Passages

 

Today I’m featuring a writing friend’s debut novel, Perilous Passages by P.A. Lynck for Book Beginnings on Fridays.

Book Beginnings is a fun meme hosted by Rose City Reader blog. To participate, share the first sentence or so of a novel you are reading and your thoughts about it. When you are finished, add your URL to the Book Beginnings page linked above. Hope to see you there!

 

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Perilous Passages by P.A. Lynck

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

This historical fiction novel is as grand as its subject, the Queen Mary.

Summary:  In 1939, with the threat of World War II soon to become a reality, the luxury cruise liner the Queen Mary is dramatically transformed into a wartime troop transport ship. Those caught up in the life-changing events include a young Boston doctor Ben Stuart, distraught over a nightclub fire and questioning his future; a British ship captain James Hawthorne who accepts his wartime assignment on the Queen Mary; and his strong-willed daughter Kate, who is passionate about contributing to the war effort and talks her way aboard.

Meanwhile in Lithuania, the Japanese Ambassador, sympathetic to the persecution of the Jews, places himself in harm’s way to help them. A Jewish engineer and his wife in Vilna, Lithuania attempt a harrowing escape from “the pit”, just the beginning of their long and dangerous journey.

These lives are all connected by one voyage of the legendary ship, the Queen Mary. With German U-boats hunting her, a catastrophic collision, a fierce storm and a Nazi bounty of $250,000, this marvelous British ship, the Queen Mary, zig-zags a path through their lives.

First Sentence:

New York, NY
Mid-July 1939

The noise of the colorful crowd clustered on the wooden New York pier, the taxicabs rumbling over it unloading their fares, and the dockworkers calling to each other as they prepared the Queen Mary for her voyage, filled the morning air.

 

You can feel the excitement and bustling energy as new doctor Ben Stuart and his mother prepare to board the Queen Mary for a well-earned vacation.

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The Friday 56 is hosted by Freda’s Voice. The premise is simple. Turn to page 56 in the book and pick a quote.

 

The look on the Captain’s face was troubling and the words he delivered to Ben were dire. “You’re very perceptive, Ben. Yes, a cruise ship has been sunk. Three hundred lives lost.”

 

Discussion:

In the previous section we learned what passengers experienced aboard the Queen Mary when it was a luxury cruise liner. In contrast, this section shows one of the perils of being on the ship during the war. Danger was always present because German u-boats were likely to attack at any time. The soldiers and sailors took many precautions to avoid attracting the attention of the enemies, such as making sure no litter went into the water and running in complete darkness at night. Even radios were forbidden. It is these historically-accurate details of life aboard the ship that make the story come alive.

What do you think? Do you enjoy historical fiction set in WWII?

#BookBeginnings The Searcher by Tana French

Let’s explore The Searcher by Tana French for Book Beginnings on Fridays.

Book Beginnings is a fun meme hosted by Rose City Reader blog. To participate, share the first sentence or so of a novel you are reading and your thoughts about it. When you are finished, add your URL to the Book Beginnings page linked above. Hope to see you there!

 

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The Searcher* by Tana French

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

 

Summary:  Former Chicago police detective Cal Hooper moves to a quiet, rural Irish village after retires, where he plans to fix up a run-down house and do a lot of fishing. Before long, however, he is drawn into investigating the disappearance of a local teenager who no one misses except his family — particularly his sibling, Trey. Can Cal unravel the truth among the tangle of village secrets ?

First Sentence:

When Cal comes out of the house, the rooks have got hold of something. Six of them are clustered on the back lawn, amid the long wet grass and the yellow-flowered weeds, jabbing and hopping.

Discussion:

Tana French’s novels have been described as literary suspense. Literary works can be defined in part by beautifully written descriptions, and French’s description of the rooks’ behavior in the beginning of Chapter One gives me chills. If you know birds, it rings true, but it also works to set the tone and establish setting, among other things.

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The Friday 56 is hosted by Freda’s Voice. The premise is simple. Turn to page 56 in the book and pick a quote.

 

Leftover raindrops tick in the hedges; small birds hop and peck in the grass. Cal saws, measures, chisels out dadoes and grooves, and gives Trey the fine sandpaper when he’s done with the coarse one. He can feel the kid glancing at him, the same way he was glancing at the kid, assessing.

 

It was harder to notice in the first quote, but the novel is written in the present tense. However, nothing in a Tana French novel is simple. She plays verb tense like a first chair violinist plays classical music.

Overall, the literary flavor might not appeal to readers of genre suspense and mystery who prefer a tightly-written plot. Tana French’s novels tend to wander through  the woods, allowing you to soak up the atmosphere.  Wanderng can be enjoyable if you know what to expect and that’s what you want to do, but maddening if not.

What do you think? Do you like literary fiction? Have you read any novels by Tana French? Would you read this one?

 

A rook is a type of crow (Public domain photo from Wikimedia)

#BookBeginnings A Song for the Dark Times: An Inspector Rebus Novel

Let’s take a look at  A Song for the Dark Times: An Inspector Rebus Novel by Ian Rankin for Book Beginnings on Fridays.

Book Beginnings is a fun meme hosted by Rose City Reader blog. To participate, share the first sentence or so of a novel you are reading and your thoughts about it. When you are finished, add your URL to the Book Beginnings page linked above. Hope to see you there!

 

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A Song for the Dark Times: An Inspector Rebus Novel* by Ian Rankin

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:  John Rebus has retired from the police. Therefore, when his daughter calls to tell him her husband is missing, he can drop everything to go stay with her. Once he arrives, however,  he has to walk a fine line between being a father and being a police detective who might not want the truth uncovered.

First Sentence Prologue:

Siobhan Clarke walked through the emptied flat. Not that it was empty; rather the life had been sucked from it.

First Sentence Day One:

Siobhan Clarke woke to a text from Rebus. She decided it could wait until she made coffee.

Discussion:

I haven’t started reading yet, so I’m not sure how Siobhan Clarke fits into the picture. Rebus’s daughter is Samantha.

56

The Friday 56 is hosted by Freda’s Voice. The premise is simple. Turn to page 56 in the book and pick a quote.

Day Two

Rebus had awoken on the sofa to find a pair of eyes watching him intently.

“Where’s my daddy?” Carrie asked softly.

 

What do you think? Have you read any of Ian Rankin’s John Rebus books?

#amwriting Gleaned from Virtual Classes This Week

April has been a month jam-packed with virtual writing classes.  I wanted to take a minute to jot down a few notes about what I’ve learned (making an effort not to infringe on someone else’s work).

Highlights

From ProWriting Aid’s Crime Writer’s Week

First class:

The Elements of a Crime Novel by Leigh Russell, who has a long-running series featuring DI Geraldine Steel.

Leigh Russell spoke about her writing process. Two things that struck me were that she admitted she wrote the first book mainly for her own enjoyment, so she decided her protagonist would be 39 years old. Now she’s writing the 18th book in the series, she regrets not making her protagonist a bit younger. She says she has to fudge Geraldine’s age or her protagonist will be well past  retirement age before Russell finishes the titles she has under contract. Nice problem to have.

She also moved her setting from a fictional city to a real one because she feels this gives her a built-in audience. Other authors have suggested creating a made up setting if you are going to feature a lot of violent crimes because real world tourist boards do not appreciate their town being the host to a serial killer. Bad publicity. In direct contrast, Russell says people delight in seeing their community in a novel and become devoted fans.  Regardless of what the tourist board thinks, people will realize that your book is a work of fiction. Good to know!

Second class:

Editors Anne Hawley and Rachelle Ramirez spent some time explaining the fine points of the different subtypes of crime novels. Although I was well aware of the differences between mystery, thriller and police procedural, I was less familiar with the caper/heist  subtype. A novel I read recently, Finlay Donovan is Killing It by Elle Cosimano (previous post), falls into this category.

Rachelle also presented a four act structure that works well for mystery novels. I was most taken with the suggestion that the protagonist may have a fear rather than a flaw. A fear can be a weakness and a motivation. Useful idea!

Interview:

I’m not sure how long this video will be posted, but I thought Vaseem Khan had some incredibly insightful things to say about writing so I hope you get to watch it. Also, I’m going to look for his books, which he says are fashioned after on of my favorite mystery series, The Number One Ladies Detective Agency.

Edit:  Check out about 30 minutes! His take on writing the other (“otherwise we’ll all be writing autobiographies”).

Newsletter and blog at his website.

#BookBeginnings Finlay Donovan is Killing It

Let’s take a look at the riotous book Finlay Donovan is Killing It by Elle Cosimano for Book Beginnings on Fridays.

Book Beginnings is a fun meme hosted by Rose City Reader blog. To participate, share the first sentence or so of a novel you are reading and your thoughts about it. When you are finished, add your URL to the Book Beginnings page linked above. Hope to see you there!

 

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Finlay Donovan is Killing It by Elle Cosimano

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Blurb:   Finlay Donovan is a writer and single mom whose life has spun out of control. She has a looming contract for a novel, but instead of writing she has to figure out what happened to the nanny and how to get to a meeting with her agent on time. When someone mistakes her conversation about a crime in her novel with real life, things go hilariously down hill.

First Sentence:

It’s a widely known fact that most moms are ready to kill someone by eight thirty A.M. on any given morning.

Discussion:

Oh yes, this sets the tone for the book perfectly. Anyone who has ever been a mom will undoubtedly relate to the chaos of this first scene.

56

The Friday 56 is hosted by Freda’s Voice. The premise is simple. Turn to page 56 in the book and pick a quote.

 

I held him steady as he plopped down on the floor in front of Zach’s car seat, apple juice and Goldfish cracker goo sticking to the backside of his expensive suit as I pushed him backward with promises of the good time waiting for him if he climbed inside and laid down on the floor like a good boy.

As you might guess from this quote, this novel is a lively walk on the wild side.

I really enjoyed the freshness of this book. I will warn you, however, that at times Cosimano pushes right up against the hard cliff of believability.  At certain points I struggled to suspend disbelief, but I never felt it was enough to drop me out of the book or make me quit reading. You may have a different line.

I didn’t write down who in the group previously recommended this, but thank you for the recommendation.

What do you think? Would you like to read this? Have you ever struggled to suspend disbelief in a novel?

#BookBeginnings Before She Disappeared by Lisa Gardner

 

Today I’m highlighting a book that kept me up at night, Before She Disappeared by Lisa Gardner for Book Beginnings on Fridays.

Book Beginnings is a fun meme hosted by Rose City Reader blog. To participate, share the first sentence or so of a novel you are reading and your thoughts about it. When you are finished, add your URL to the Book Beginnings page linked above. Hope to see you there!

 

book-beginnings-Gershkowitz

Before She Disappeared by Lisa Gardner

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:  Frankie Elkin looks for missing persons. It is her obsession. The only problem is that she is an ordinary woman, without training, support, or credentials. Understandably, both the families of the missing and the police distrust her.  When she travels to a Boston neighborhood to look for a girl who disappeared after school, she has to watch for danger around every corner so she doesn’t go missing as well.

First Sentence:

The water feels like a cold caress against my face. I kick deeper down into the gloom, my long hair trailing behind me like a dark eel. I am wearing clothes…Why am I wearing clothes?

Discussion:

Lisa Gardner plays with the trope where a body is supposed to show up in the first scene in mysteries. Is the narrator a victim? Or is she something else? Is what is happening even real?

For me, it worked. I was pulled in, wanting to know what was going on. However, I could see how some readers might find it too disorienting or disturbing.

56

The Friday 56 is hosted by Freda’s Voice. The premise is simple. Turn to page 56 in the book and pick a quote.

 

If I hold in my head where I want to go, my feet take me in the right direction. One glance at the map, however, and all bets are off. Maybe because the transit map bears no resemblance to surface street. It offers an oversimplified series of blue, green, red, and yellow spines that are far too neat for the reality of an overgrown historic district bristling with random byways.

I picked this quote because it seems to me that Gardner is revealing something deeper than just how the transit map works.

What do you think? Have you read anything by Lisa Gardner? Would this one keep you up at night?

#BookBeginnings The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See

 

I’ve been immersed in the world of children’s picture books, so it is time for a novel. Let’s take a look at The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See for Book Beginnings on Fridays.

Book Beginnings is a fun meme hosted by Rose City Reader blog. To participate, share the first sentence or so of a novel you are reading and your thoughts about it. When you are finished, add your URL to the Book Beginnings page linked above. Hope to see you there!

 

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The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:  This is a historical fiction novel about two girls living on the Korean island of Jeju named Mi-ja and Young-sook. Although their backgrounds are very different, the two become close friends and train to become haenyeo, the famed female divers the island is known for. However, when their close friendship is put to the test by outside forces, one of the young women makes a decision that throws their lives into turmoil.

First Sentence:

Day 1:  2008

An old woman sits on the beach, a cushion strapped to her bottom, sorting algae that has washed ashore, She’s used to spending time in the water, but even on land she’s vigilant to the environment around her. Jeju is her home, an island known for Three Abundances:  wind, stones, and women.

Discussion:

Although I’m not a huge fan of historical fiction, I chose this book because I am interested in the setting and the culture of the Korean female divers. I read a memoir about the daughter of a diver who eventually made her way to Texas and it “wet” my appetite for more (sorry). Plus, Lisa See presented at the virtual Tucson Book Festival this month and I wanted to learn more about her books.

According to the chapter headings, the novel weaves back and forth between two threads. One thread is narrow, covering a few days in 2008, the other goes back to 1938 and chronicles the broad history up to 1975.

56

The Friday 56 is hosted by Freda’s Voice. The premise is simple. Turn to page 56 in the book and pick a quote.

 

“We are not bad people,” the lieutenant interrupted. “We’ve had to crack down on troublemakers, but we are husbands and fathers too”

Sounds like part of those “outside forces” that are going to test the girls’ friendship.

What do you think? Have you read anything by Lisa See? Do you like historical fiction? Would you read this one?

#BookBeginnings Shamed by Linda Castillo

I’m reading this month’s pick by our library’s mystery discussion group, Shamed by Linda Castillo, for Book Beginnings on Fridays.

Book Beginnings is a fun meme hosted by Rose City Reader blog. To participate, share the first sentence or so of a novel you are reading and your thoughts about it. When you are finished, add your URL to the Book Beginnings page linked above. Hope to see you there!

 

book-beginnings-Gershkowitz

Shamed by Linda Castillo

Summary:  The 11th novel in the Kate Burkholder series starts with the murder of an Amish grandmother. Soon Kate earns that the woman’s seven-year-old granddaughter is missing. Kate sets off in a race against time to find the girl, but discovers the family, upstanding and respected members of the Amish community, are not telling her all that they know.

First Sentence Prologue:

No one went to the old Schattenbaum place anymore. No one had lived there since the flood back in 1969 washed away the crops and swept the outhouse and one of the barns into Painters Creek.

Love how the sense of place is evoked with the names.

First Sentence:

You see a lot of things when you’re the chief of police in a small town. Things most other people don’t know about — don’t want to know about — and are probably better off for it.

Discussion:

The prologue is in third person with past tense verbs, which gives it a bit of narrative distance. That’s good because  is about the murder, which is quite gruesome. The rest is mostly told in the first person from the point of view of the protagonist Kate Burkholder and present tense, which feels really immediate. I admire anyone who can write in the present tense. It pulls you in and speeds right along.

56

The Friday 56 is hosted by Freda’s Voice. The premise is simple. Turn to page 56 in the book and pick a quote.

 

The younger man’s eyes dart left and right, as if he’s looking for an escape route in case I attack. He’s just realized where this is going and he doesn’t like it.

When I was looking for the quote, I realized Castillo sprinkles in many words of Deitsch, the language of the Amish.

What do you think? Have you read any books by Linda Castillo?

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