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Coronavirus: Update

Earlier today we posted “Corona Virus suggestions from Stanford Hospital Board,” which has now been exposed by Stanford Health Care and Mother Jones as a fake press release. Stanford’s actual coronavirus info site is here.

We still want you to keep healthy and happy and reading, so here are the “suggestions” that have been confirmed (or not) by real medical experts.

Tips from us for our readers: When you bring home a book, clean its cover with a disinfectant wipe. Wear gloves to (and inside) the library and on public transit. And turn social isolation into a vacation with our outstanding mysteries, romances, and nonfiction!

1. This coronavirus attaches specifically in the lungs. However, the New York Times reports it also can affect other mucous membranes, starting with the back of the throat.

2. While the CDC still emphasizes fever, cough, and shortness of breath as the main symptoms, Mother Jones cites a not-yet-published study by a group of German researchers suggesting that upper respiratory tract symptoms like runny nose may be more common than previously thought.

3. “If you can breathe fine, do not go to the doctor. Only go if you cannot breathe or are very ill.” — Epidemiologist Loren Rauch, quoted in Mother Jones. If you do go to the doctor, call ahead: they’re swamped!

4. Direct intense heat, such as strong sunlight or a clothes dryer, may kill the virus. By all means, cook your food thoroughly; wash clothes more often than usual; when you’re sequestered at home, relax in the sunshine with a pot of tea. But don’t count on that to keep you safe.

4. If someone sneezes with it, it takes 6+ feet before it drops to the ground and is no longer airborne. If you sneeze with it, sneeze into a tissue and then throw it in the compost bin.

5. How long the virus can survive on any particular kind of surface is not yet known for sure. Wear gloves when you’re out in public. Wash cloth gloves regularly; discard plastic ones. Wash your hands as soon as you get home.

6. Don’t touch your face — your eyes, nose, and mouth are portals for the virus to enter your body.

7. Overall good health is one of the best defenses. Keep your immune system strong: eat judiciously, stay hydrated, get plenty of sleep, and avoid stress as best you can.

8. Drinking water and/or hot liquids will not per se protect you from the virus.

9. Zinc lozenges were indeed recommended by expert James Robb, but not as a “silver bullet.” He writes: “In my experience as a virologist and pathologist, zinc will inhibit the replication of many viruses, including coronaviruses. I expect COVID-19 [the disease caused by the novel coronavirus] will be inhibited similarly, but I have no direct experimental support for this claim.”

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Lady Barbara & the Buccaneer, #2 in Charisse Howard’s Regency Rakes & Rebels series, has a new cover! Read this colorful Regency story of a pirates’ Mardi Gras on Kindle. Or try the audiobook on Audible, with fast-paced narration by British-American actress Stevie Zimmerman.

       And don’t miss Lady Caroline, the Corsair’s Captive, Regency Rakes & Rebels #3, a suspenseful tale of war between England and France on the high seas: ebook and audiobook (FREE with Audible Escape!)



Updates on Our Authors

Happy New Year!

What can we look forward to in 2020? Clear vision, everyone claims jokingly. Wouldn’t that be a welcome shift! Meanwhile, zooming in on the book world:

Regency romance author Charisse Howard assures us she’s still thinking hard about her next novel and writing whenever she can. Time, however, is on the side of her other career (classified), which has commanded her full attention ever since she published Regency Rakes & Rebels #3, the heart-wrenching Lady Caroline, The Corsair’s Captive. Good luck on both fronts, Charisse!

Multimedia biographer and mystery author CJ Verburg spent much of 2019 writing and publishing short stories. Congratulations, CJ, on “Birdbrain,” which appears in Fault Lines: Stories by Northern California Crime Writers, and “Peccata Mundy,” in Seascape: Best New England Crime Stories (2019). “Disarmed: an Edgar Rowdey Cape Cod Story” is available free on most ebook platforms ($.99 on Kindle). Next up: CJ’s first story for Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, “Scandal at the Savoy: The Missing Monocle,” due out in early 2020.

For 2020, CJ is putting final touches on her novella Scalped, or The Toastrack Enigma. That’s projected to be #1 in her D. Awdrey-Gore series of mysteries inspired by titles and covers created by her longtime friend and collaborator, the late artist/author Edward Gorey in The Awdrey-Gore Legacy. Next in line: Skewered, or The Pincushion Affair. These six sequels to CJ’s novels Croaked and Zapped (as well as her story “Disarmed”) are meant to debut in parallel with her nonfiction theater biography Edward Gorey’s Art of the Theater. More news on that as it comes in.

Also in the pipeline is #3 in CJ’s Cory Goodwin mystery series, the Barcelona novella Gaudi Knight.

Best wishes from all of us at Boom-Books to all of you authors and readers out there. Remember, whenever you need a fresh look at the world, or a few hours’ escape from it, nothing can match the ease, comfort, and imaginative power of a good book!

In a Nutshell: CJ Verburg Reviews Preet Bharara’s “Doing Justice” & Janet Dawson’s “Till the Old Men Die”

Doing Justice: A Prosecutor's Thoughts on Crime, Punishment, and the Rule of LawDoing Justice: A Prosecutor’s Thoughts on Crime, Punishment, and the Rule of Law by Preet Bharara
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was originally meant as an experienced-based guide for up-and-coming lawyers, particularly prosecutors. Bharara’s distinguished career makes him a suitable author for it, and depicts him as a thoughtful, methodical, circumspect player in a complicated system. It’s well written and the cases he describes are well chosen. I enjoyed it, but the distinctions he draws between the different kinds of challenges a prosecutor faces became too subtle for me to feel, after 200+ pages, that I was still learning useful information.

Doing Justice does suggest Preet Bharara would be an admirable candidate for any job he may be up for in future, such as Attorney General of the United States.

Till the Old Men Die (Jeri Howard Mystery, #2)Till the Old Men Die by Janet Dawson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you devour mysteries, this is a good one, especially if you’re familiar with the San Francisco Bay area. The plot is intriguing & the writing is capable. I particularly enjoyed following sleuth Jeri Howard into the local Philippine community. If I were reading this book on an airplane I’d have finished it. As it was, squeezing it in between other priorities, I set it aside (repeatedly), first because my sense of geography isn’t strong enough for me to care what roads Howard takes to get to what destinations, & second, because I’ve read (and written) so much crime fiction that at this point I’m looking to be deeply engaged by a distinctive plot &/or characters, not just to take an entertaining break from reality.

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A Study in Scarlet by A.C. Doyle; Clara & Mr. Tiffany by Susan Vreeland: Reviews by CJ Verburg

A Study in Scarlet (Sherlock Holmes, #1)A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle

Dr. John Watson meets Sherlock Holmes for the first time: 2 young men just starting out, each looking for a flat-mate, little suspect that Holmes’s lab experiments & Watson’s budding medical practice will soon be overshadowed by their shared adventures. I very much enjoyed that part of the book. But once the detecting gets under way, Doyle shifts to an American back story which felt peripheral as well as unrealistically lurid.

Clara and Mr. TiffanyClara and Mr. Tiffany by Susan Vreeland

One of those books I was very curious & hopeful about, but which didn’t get 3-dimensional enough for me to keep reading. Historical novels are hard to write! Although this one is full of plausible, interesting information about the characters, setting, & period, it felt more like a cross between a dissertation & a second draft than a believable story.

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Raven Black by Ann Cleeves – Mystery Review by CJ Verburg

Raven Black (Shetland Island, #1)Raven Black by Ann Cleeves
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Odd that Raven Black’s front-cover labels it “a thriller.” Set on the remote Scottish isle of Shetland, this mystery doesn’t involve a single car chase, pub brawl, time bomb, or gunpoint abduction. On the contrary: things unfurl slowly here, where commonplace domestic worries weigh as heavily as piecing together the connection between two girls’ deaths. Everybody in this small community knows everybody, raising the creepy question: does anybody ever really know anybody?

Ann Cleeves is brilliant at building suspense out of her characters’ self-absorbed observations and assumptions. Her point-of-view choices are bold: the story opens through the eyes of Magnus Tait, a slow-witted recluse who lives with a caged raven and quickly becomes a suspect, and shifts to schoolgirl Sally Hardy, who can’t help rejoicing when her best friend’s murder boosts her social standing. Our anchor and main POV character is local police detective Jimmy Perez (who looks nothing like actor Doug Henshall, who plays him on TV). Perez is conscious of his obligation to stay objective, maintaining an overview, yet inevitably he too is biased — sometimes hobbled — by his relationships with the neighbors he’s investigating.

My only quibbles with this absorbing novel were that I wasn’t entirely convinced whodunnit, and Ann Cleeves deserves a better copyeditor. I plan to read more of her books, as well as keep watching both the Shetland and Vera TV series.

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Recursion by Blake Crouch: Review by CJ Verburg

RecursionRecursion by Blake Crouch
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the first book I’ve read by Blake Crouch, and if not for a friend’s recommendation plus an advance review copy, I’d have backed off from its melodramatic sci-fi blurb: “What if someone could rewrite your entire life?” Luckily, from my POV as a former science editor, Recursion is not about the ooh-scary possibility that “someone” could “rewrite” your life. Crouch explores a much more plausible (and therefore scarier) scenario: since past, present, and future all coexist, and arguably are defined by human memories rather than that amorphous concept/entity “time,” a tech genius whose mother suffers from Alzheimer’s could find out how to shift time back, or shift back in time, to alleviate her suffering.

We know from sci-fi’s long history that tweaking time always creates deadly ripples, enabling Crouch to open this book with a dramatic human crisis. Police Detective Barry Sutton confronts a suicidal woman who’s just discovered that her happy memories of a full life are false, and she can’t live with the grim, empty reality that’s replaced them. Barry has his own human drama to cope with, and it propels him to investigate the woman’s impossible story. Meanwhile, scientist Helena Smith is offered a Faustian bargain she can’t refuse, with consequences that set her and Barry on a collision course.

Told in the present tense, third person, Recursion quickly became so riveting I could hardly put it down. Its fast-paced interwoven story lines are all the more poignant if you have, or know anyone who has, difficulties with memory. I just finished reading it, but it will be a while before I stop thinking about it.

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Death and Taxes, Désastre, and the Easter Bunny

by CJ Verburg

Today is the nineteenth anniversary of Edward Gorey’s death; and in Paris, Notre Dame Cathedral is burning. Edward majored in French literature at Harvard and was as fluent in the language, art, and cinema of France as if he’d ever set foot there. If he were alive, he’d be watching the live-streamed fire in horror right now, probably while etching away at a completely unrelated drawing for his latest book or theater project.

Elsewhere across America, people are filing their taxes today. And even as the flames of homophobia, racism, and misogyny consume our heritage of aspiring to (if not attaining) liberty, equality, and fraternity, our grocery stores and pharmacies overflow with plastic baskets stuffed with rainbow jellybeans and dark-, milk-, and white-chocolate rabbits for this coming Sunday’s oddly ecumenical holiday.

Thanks to resistance from his friends, Edward Gorey’s house was not consumed after his death by the hotel next door (“The Doubtful Guest Room”?!?). Instead it’s become a very personal museum, which just opened for the season last weekend with this year’s unique exhibit of his art and ephemera: Hippity Wippity: Edward Gorey and the Language of Nonsense, which “explores Gorey’s embrace of a genre . . . that revels in breaking down any expected narratives and structures, that lobotomizes language, that confuses with inexplicable storylines and thrusts the reader into an active participation.”

If anyone asked me “What’s the one thing you admired most about Edward Gorey?” (that maddening, misleading, time-saving question so dear to interviewers), I might respond with E.M. Forster’s epigraph from Howards End: “Only connect.” Edward (and other brilliant people I’ve loved) saw behind the façade of things into the web that links them. You can sometimes discern this in his classic or straightforward nonsense, e.g., The Wuggly Ump — made-up language and creatures in the Edward Lear vein. I’m fonder of his more esoteric nonsense, where “only connect” is blatant. This occurs more often in his stand-alone drawings than stories. The relationship between elements of the scene transmutes menace into nonsense, and vice versa at the same time: the “characters” are real, but their connection is nonsensical.

Six months ago I spent a glorious hour, uncommonly mellow for a November morning, strolling around Notre Dame de Paris. Watching flames pull down its ancient, legendary spire today, I felt not only devastated but uneasily responsible, somehow, as if behind that sunshine and tranquility I should have detected the menace lurking half a year ahead.

The April 15 when Edward Gorey died was, for me, even more excruciating (double-entendre intended). Yet I can imagine happily tossing him that same double-entendre across the table at Jack’s OutBack, over his iced coffee and Tooner Sallid Samwich and my cup of chili, confident that it would be caught and chortled at by the penner of “She toyed with her beads Jadedly” and “He fell off the pier Inadvertently.”

If you can, go see “Hippity-Wippity” sometime this summer and wander through the house where so many exceptional works of art were created, nonsensical and otherwise. If you can’t, or until you get a chance, you can travel to that deceptively unthreatening spot in my books Edward Gorey On Stage: A Multimedia Memoir (nonfiction) and Croaked: An Edgar Rowdey Cape Cod Mystery (fiction) and its sequels.

Read the memoir for the facts. Read the mystery for the hidden connections.

To find out more or to order a book (print or digital), click “About CJ” above. For a free e-mystery story, click Disarmed.

Killers of the Flower Moon: a Real-Live Mystery (Review)

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBIKillers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann

Reviewed by CJ Verburg

Writing about a real-life mystery is tricky. In contrast to fiction, the author can’t step into a participant’s narrative voice to help readers feel they’re watching events unfurl in real time. There are too many characters tromping in and out of the story, some central and some not, most of them without enough distinguishing features for a reader to keep them straight. And the plot can take years, even decades, to reach a conclusion — with or without the satisfaction of a climax.

The murderous scheme David Grann describes in Killers of the Flower Moon is shocking and horrifying, but not riveting. Like War and Peace, this is a book I’d have enjoyed more if I’d seen the movie, so as to connect faces and voices with the dozens of characters, and to visualize the parched, inhospitable land whither the Osage were relegated by whites until oil was discovered there. Black-and-white photos help, but not enough.

Just when the first round of slaughter is starting to be recognized and traced to its perpetrators (though in most cases, never avenged), Grann himself steps in. As he describes his own research, we become a Watson to his Holmes. His skills at digging out the truth are awesome; still, I wish he were a stronger storyteller.

Yet the systematic murder of so many people, and the role this case played in the creation of a Federal Bureau of Investigation to expand the reach of policing organizations like the Texas Rangers, is an important piece of American history. I’m glad there is a film in the works. I’ll hang onto the book to read again after I’ve seen it.

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Ngaio Marsh’s “Death of a Fool”: Mystery Review by CJ Verburg

Death of a Fool (Roderick Alleyn, #19)Death of a Fool by Ngaio Marsh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Coming to England from New Zealand, mystery writer Ngaio Marsh was fascinated by the island’s quaint customs and rituals. Death of a Fool centers on the pre-Christian “Hobby Horse” dance-play, here depicted as the South Mardian Sword Dance. Marsh was very involved in theatre, and she shows us this Winter Solstice drama both behind the scenes and onstage (so to speak — it’s performed outdoors, around the ancient Mardian Stone, and rehearsed in a barn). Still practiced much as it was in pagan times, handed down through local families, the Sword Dance attracts the obsessively curious German-born fan Mrs. Anna Bunz to the Mardian family’s door. Through her eyes we learn the ancient ritual character by character, scene by scene. Once the Sword Dance inevitably claims a victim, Marsh’s series detective arrives to investigate: Chief Superintendent Roderick Alleyn (a professional police counterpart of his amateur contemporaries Lord Peter Wimsey and Albert Campion).

Having gone to the Brontes’ village of Haworth partly to watch the Morris dancing, I very much enjoyed the performances (offstage and on) in Death of a Fool. Mrs. Bunz’s outsider’s view of ancient British customs was both comical and illuminating — she’s a bit like Hercule Poirot that way. My difficulty with the story is that understanding the eponymous murder depends on being able to picture clearly the layout of the Sword Dance, which I’m not so good at. I could follow the plot, but since I couldn’t envision the scene, I had little chance of guessing what happened and why.

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