What's New?

The Secret Life of Nancy Drew, Part II: Book Review by CJ Verburg

The confessions of a teenage sleuthConfessions of a Teen Sleuth by Chelsea Cain
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“Readers of Carolyn Keene’s version of my life’s events may be surprised to learn that Ned Nickerson was not the love of my life.” That opening sentence epitomizes this book: Not only is fictional titian-haired teenage sleuth Nancy Drew a real person, but so are her equally fictional biographer and boyfriend. This parody of the youth-sleuth series churned out by a syndicate under the pen name Carolyn Keene mimics not only the novels’ comic-book plots but their somewhat plodding style. And, as a parody should, this one digs up our memories and then flips them upside down. Housekeeper Hannah Gruen is younger than we thought. Ned is needier. Nancy — who ages chapter by chapter, marries, has a child, but never gives up sleuthing — is a bit pompous, really.

I had the same reaction as several other reviewers: this book was such an inspired idea, I hoped it would be funnier. It’s even more lightweight than the original series, although author Chelsea Cain stirs things up by tossing Nancy into some political ferment in each era: “The Clue in the Nazi Nutcracker, 1942.” “The Mystery of the Congolese Puppet, 1959.” “The Haight-Ashbury Mystery, 1967.” Other highlights include cameo appearances by the Hardy Boys, the Bobbsey Twins, Nancy’s feud with Cherry Ames, Student Nurse, her ambivalence about Ned, and her comical blindness to what any of us could guess about her chums Bess and (especially) George.

If you were a Nancy Drew fan growing up, you’ll get a kick out of this book.

View all my reviews

C J Verburg’s Mystery Review of A House of Her Own by Patricia Dusenbury

A House of Her Own: A Claire Marshall NovelA House of Her Own: A Claire Marshall Novel by Patricia Dusenbury
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This multilayered New Orleans mystery weaves together suspense, romance, and superstition in a colorful setting filled with diverse characters, including a possible ghost. When Claire Marshall buys a bargain house to restore, she doesn’t know what a Pandora’s Box she’s opening. Embarking on a practical project, she finds herself responsible for decisions that will change the people around her, as well as her own future. I enjoyed every twist in both the action and the love story, and was happily surprised that all my guesses turned out wrong. A House of Her Own is a book worth reading not just for the fast-paced plot, but for its insights into the powerful struggle that each of us confronts over trust vs. betrayal. The evil here doesn’t come from villains, just ordinary people whose bad experiences and fears scare them into deadly choices.

View all my reviews

The Secret Life of Nancy Drew

If you grew up with Nancy Drew, girl detective, you may be as tickled as we were to discover Confessions of a Teen Sleuth. Nancy’s adventures are so over-the-top, in their mincing conventional way, it’s hard to imagine how Chelsea Cain could parody them. Yet it’s also irresistible. How’s this for a first sentence?

“Readers of Carolyn Keene’s version of my life’s events may be surprised to learn that Ned Nickerson was not the love of my life.”

The Secret of the Old Clock: 80th Anniversary Limited Edition (Nancy Drew Book 1) by [Keene, Carolyn]       

If you’re a publisher, your curiosity deepens quickly from artifacts and take-offs to backstory. What was the deal with Carolyn Keene, anyway? By now we all know “she” was a syndicate. But it took Wildside Press, LLC, to spell out the particulars. This revelation comes from their 2014 Bobbsey Twins Megapack:

 

 

 

 

 

Edward Gorey On Stage now available from Ingram

Good news! CJ Verburg’s newly revised Edward Gorey On Stage: A Multimedia Memoir is now available from Ingram.

Praised by reviewers as “delightful,” “a joy to read,” and “a must have…[for] all Gorey enthusiasts,” Edward Gorey On Stage follows this legendary artist and author through half a century of theatrical adventures, from the Poets Theatre he helped co-found at Harvard University to the numerous “entertainments” he wrote, designed, and directed on Cape Cod. It’s a treasure trove of original drawings and script notes, rare color photos, even film clips and music.

If you’re a reader, your favorite bookstore can now get this “thoroughly enjoyable” mini-biography for you faster than you can get it online.

If you’re a bookshop proprietor, you can skip right over Amazon and order returnable copies from Ingram at 55% booksellers’ discount.

Enjoy this fascinating peek behind the scenes at a unique artist at work, narrated by Edward Gorey’s close friend and collaborator CJ Verburg.

“All you could ever want from a murder mystery” – Review of Another Number for the Road

Thanks to writer Leigh Verrill-Rhys for this generous review of Boom-Books author CJ Verburg’s new Cory Goodwin mystery!

Featured Book: Review

CJ Verburg’s Another Number for the Road  has all you could ever want from a murder mystery set in two iconic periods of American history: the 1960s: Free Speech, Free Love, Stop the War, Civil Rights and sex, drugs, rock and roll; and 1980s: Reaganomics, Cold War Collapse, Punk Rock, big hair and bigger shoulders.

Rock journo cum detective, Cory Goodwin (who has as many names as identities) goes on a “Magical Mystery Tour,” and then some, to recover her true inner self which has been consumed and subsumed by the demands of her multimillionaire son-of-the-founder-of-a-cosmetics-conglomerate husband’s boardroom betrayal of all they meant to each other as writing romantics who eloped in creative Paris and crashed in corporate necessity in Boston.

Cordelia Goodwin Thorne had many years of protest activism and rock star groupie antics to keep her from sinking into the paradox of her journo daydreams and her cosmetic charity dinner reality.

She joins the “Magical Mystery Tour” when she learns that The Rind is the mystery band—a group she interviewed for a magazine as a teenager. She aims to rekindle her past admiration for the much-maligned strongman of the band, the appropriately named, Dan Quasi, who, after the brutal murder of his friend and co-band member, Mickey Ascher, takes a runner and hides out for the twenty year hiatus, having lost his wife and his French bit to aforementioned co-band member.

Did this Quasi musician kill his best friend? Or was it the French bit? Or possibly her jilted lover and third band member, also appropriately named, Roach? Or has the mild-mannered Terry, fourth band member, been hiding a violent temper all these years?

The process of discovery is further energized by the author’s experience as a playwright and director. CJ Verburg makes use of the theatrical technique of juxtaposing two scenes on stage at once: flashbacks, backstory, supposition and real time, one upon the other, while skillfully  juggling a cast of characters that would daunt Cecil B. DeMille and D.W. Griffiths.

Another Number for the Road  will satisfy all fans of complex, convoluted whodunits who remember the Sixties with longing and survived the Eighties, Nineties and are in deep with the Twentieth Century.

CJ Verburg signing 2 new mysteries on Cape Cod, Aug. 1-3

C J Verburg, author of the Edgar Rowdey Cape Cod mysteries and Cory Goodwin mysteries, will be on Cape Cod speaking and signing two new books Aug. 1-3:

Bourne Library, 19 Sandwich Rd., Bourne – 7 PM Tues., Aug. 1

Yellow Umbrella Books, 501 Main St., Chatham – 11 AM-1 PM Wed., Aug. 2

Yarmouth Port Library, 279 Main St. (Rt. 6A), Yarmouth Port – 3 PM Thurs., Aug. 3

Author C J (Carol) Verburg lived in Centerville, West Dennis, and Falmouth before settling in Yarmouth Port in the late 1980s. With her friend, neighbor, and fellow mystery fan Edward Gorey, she spent more than a decade writing and directing plays for Cape theater companies from Provincetown to Bourne. Her pivot to crime fiction began with a half-joking “idée du jour” over lunch at their local café. Gorey’s death left that project in Verburg’s hands. The result was Croaked: an Edgar Rowdey Cape Cod Mystery—with a thinly disguised Edward Gorey as a sleuth instead of coauthor. Now Cape artist “Edgar Rowdey” is back to steer the seaside village of Quansett through another disaster in Book Two, Zapped.

C J Verburg’s second mystery series grew out of her dream of traveling to exotic places where she could write novels. Narrator Cory Goodwin is the Boston journalist daughter of legendary New York private eye Archie Goodwin. Silent Night Violent Night finds Cory helping a frightened friend at a science publisher’s posh holiday party. In the brand-new sequel, Another Number for the Road, Cory’s off to Paris on the trail of an unsolved murder and a vanished ‘60s rock band. Another Number for the Road: a Cory Goodwin Mystery is a literary novel for music fans—complete with a live original soundtrack.

Some Buried Caesar by Rex Stout – Review by CJ Verburg

Some Buried Caesar (Nero Wolfe, #6)Some Buried Caesar by Rex Stout
CJ Verburg

This may be my favorite Rex Stout novel. For one thing, it’s early enough in the series that Wolfe is still regularly breaking his ironclad rule never to leave the house. Here, an orchid show in upstate NY pries him out of Manhattan, proves his horror of automobiles, and lands him at a dairy farm where he’s faced with the murder of a victim already marked for death. Even better, this is the one where Wolfe and narrator Archie Goodwin first meet Lily Rowan. She calls Archie Escamillo (after the sexy bullfighter in Carmen), while entrancing every man in sight; he calls her bauble, plaything, and trifle, while recruiting her to help solve what’s now a multiple murder case. The banter is delightful, the plot is satisfyingly complicated, the cops and suspects are antagonistic but never stereotypical, and I learned a lot about cattle.

View all my reviews

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter – review by CJ Verburg

Beautiful RuinsIt took author Jess Walter 15 years to write this wonderful book. I’d have called it something other than “Beautiful Ruins” (maybe one of his working titles, “The Hotel Adequate View”?), because the varied kinds of destruction it chronicles are intertwined with constructive vitality and persistence. Any of Walters’s characters would be easy to dismiss as having ruined or wasted his or her life; yet that’s not how they see themselves, and as we get to know them better, neither do we. Likewise, the story is as intricately constructed as a mosaic; yet it spreads over enough time for the connections between disparate people and incidents to feel plausible rather than ingenious.

I wasn’t intrigued by the opening scenes, in an Italian cliffside hamlet after WWII: a frustrated hotelier, an uprooted actress, a bunch of eccentric villagers, picturesque scenery; so . . . ? Then suddenly we’re in present-day Hollywood, in the midst of a new fracas with a new bunch of eccentrics, and soon I couldn’t put the book down. Clearly it’s all connected, but how? Where will this roller-coaster tale go next? How can it ever reach anything like a resolution?

Shifts in POV as well as chronology continue, each so deft that although I was often jolted, I was never confused. Kudos to Jess Walter for that….and for writing a novel that no Hollywood star or studio is likely to jump on. Unlike the many books that cry out for a movie deal, “Beautiful Ruins” is immune (or at least highly resistant) to film, because one of its key characters is not fictional. From what I know of actor Richard Burton, this is a realistic depiction, both of him as a human earthquake and of the aftershocks he was wont to send juddering through other people’s lives. No one else could have played this role in the story, and who on earth could play him (and his even more famous wife) on screen? Score one for literature!

5 of 5 stars
View all my reviews

Miss the Summer of Love? Get It While You Can

It’s been 20+ years since Cory Goodwin broke into journalism by interviewing Mickey Ascher and Dan Quasi of The Rind at an antiwar march in DC. Mickey’s long dead, bludgeoned with a champagne bottle after a party in his Back Bay penthouse. The Rind broke up. Dan — murder suspect #1 — disappeared. Cory swung a summer assignment in Paris and came home married. Now she’s teaching school, separated, wondering what the hell she’s doing . . . until her old editor at Phases offers her a gig in Paris covering a Mystery Band.

That’s where Cory’s search for lost time collides with Dan Quasi’s.

What the hell is he doing? Is Boston’s onetime rock-protest hero really playing for an upscale networking program? Why would Dan and the other Rind survivors pick the Eiffel Tower, EuroDisney, and a village strawberry festival for their long-awaited comeback?

And what does this trip have to do with Mickey Ascher’s murder?

CJ Verburg’s brand-new Cory Goodwin mystery Another Number for the Road will whirl you back to the best of times and the worst of times: music, love, and flowers / drugs, sex, and violence. The leitmotif is music. This jukebox novel overflows with familiar songs and new ones, including some you can listen to with a click — interspersed with T.S. Eliot, Wallace Stevens, and sneak peeks at a rock opera in Fantasyland.

To celebrate this unique book’s debut, we’re pricing the Kindle version at just 99 cents/pence until Memorial Day. Paperback $14.99.

Get it while you can!

Romance, Spring, Recollection, and Flowers

by Charisse Howard

As an avid writer and reader of historical romances, I’m attracted to today’s Thoroughly Depressing Word, shared by BK Magazine (the blog of publisher Berrett-Koehler) from the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows:

Avenoir (noun)*: The desire that memory could flow backward. We take it for granted that life moves forward. But you move as a rower moves, facing backwards: you can see where you’ve been, but not where you’re going. And your boat is steered by a younger version of you. It’s hard not to wonder what life would be like facing the other way…

I once blurted out a moment of avenoir to a man I loved: How ironic that when an affair ends badly (as ours soon would), you can always look back to the beginning and spot the warning signs. If only time worked differently, what heartache we could avoid! He pointed out that one could equally well look back to the beginning and spot warning signs in an affair that thrives. Only then we don’t see them as warning signs — charming eccentricities, maybe; signals of our distinctiveness, our unique affinity.

The catch to avenoir in real life is that one is not always the rower. Often one is the lucky passenger in the stern, facing forward, looking at the scenery ahead and at the generous friend who’s pulling the oars.

Spring is a season for looking forward, and also for looking around at the miraculous bounty Nature unfurls every year. I recently had the good fortune to visit San Francisco’s Botanical Garden, AKA Strybing Arboretum, which always — every single time — has something new to show me. This particular day was a cornucopia of azaleas and rhododendrons. They’re closely related, and thanks to creative growers, sometimes you can’t tell which is which.

Their frilly skirts remind me of the young ladies who used to stroll through Kew Gardens, my favorite place to wander and goggle on the other side of the world. I imagine how erotically these blossoms must have charged the mood when two lovers (in the old sense of that word) walked together down a path, itching to brush against each other, yearning to be even closer.

Whatever your own romantic situation right now, shake off your avenoir and go visit some flowers. Revel in their beauty, their magical recurrence, and the centuries of feverish appreciation they embody. Picture the variety of ladies’ pelisses and gentlemen’s topcoats that have set a tremulous barrier between skin and skin. Savor the thousands of romances that have been kindled and fueled by the lush flowers of a garden, or the tiny hidden splashes of color along a woodland path — thousands past, and thousands more ahead. Including yours? Is it time to pick a blossom and inhale the rich fragrance of remembrance? Or offer your flower to someone whose company unfurls your soul into radiant bloom?