Four short novellas or long stories, each fun in a different way. Rex Stout was at his (long-lived) peak in the late 1950s, so these are vintage Nero Wolfe capers. Oddly, the first three are holiday-centered, whereas the fourth opens on a random Tuesday in the fashion business. In “Christmas Party,” Archie Goodwin strikes fear into his boss’s heart by announcing he’s getting married. “Easter Parade” features (you guessed it) orchids. “Fourth of July Picnic”–in which Wolfe leaves home to make a speech–and “Murder Is No Joke” both involve women named Flora. My favorite moment comes in “Fourth of July Picnic,” when Wolfe and Goodwin give us brief impromptu autobiographies. A treasure for Stout fans; a good intro for newcomers.
by C J Verburg
The Winter Queen is is the first of Akunin’s books featuring Erast Fandorin, a minor government functionary who starts out young and hapless, yet is sharp and dogged enough to find himself steering events he’s assigned to help decipher. Evidently each book in the series represents a different subgenre; this “conspiracy mystery” opens in Moscow, 1876. I was intrigued to step into such an authentically unfamiliar frame of reference: time, place, social assumptions and preoccupations. High points include the old-fashioned chapter titles (“in which many difficulties are encountered”), and Akunin’s use of common tropes (orphanage, British charity patron, femme fatale, rogue boss) in unexpected ways, along with his deft plot twists. On the other hand, the characters’ obsessions — particularly with nuances of rank — felt so remote that I didn’t care all that much about them or how things turned out.
Rex Stout never wrote a Nero Wolfe mystery I didn’t love. His standard ingredients are outstanding: intriguing characters and situations, a fast-moving plot, and Wolfe’s Manhattan brownstone full of orchids, gourmet meals, and books, all presented to us by this Sherlock’s smart-alecky Watson, the clever, charming, resourceful Archie Goodwin. Where There’s a Will was particularly interesting to reread because it’s an early book, written before Stout got fully up to speed (pub date 1940). Therein lie my quibbles: a plethora of characters became a challenge to keep sorted; and the most intriguing oddity of the eponymous will remains a loose end. On the other hand, in spite of Wolfe’s horror of women, and the biases of the time, the three Hawthorne sisters are as capable and impressive as they are distinctive. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
In the mood for a quick summer sleuthing adventure? “Disarmed: an Edgar Rowdey Cape Cod Mystery Story” is FREE on iTunes, Google Play, Barnes & Noble, and most other e-outlets. (Amazon insists on charging $.99.)
Crooked Man by Tony Dunbar
This is the second Tubby Dubonnet novel I’ve read, & I plan to keep going. The New Orleans setting is great fun, & the characters & plot have an appealing whiff of Elmore Leonard — that blend of suspense, sardonic humor, & gritty charm. Crooked Man features a bunch of crooked men, some lurking in the shadows & some fairly open about it, plus an up-against-it woman who doesn’t realize how strong she is until push comes to shove.
Palm Beach Poison by Tom Turner
Well paced & written enough to pique my interest for about half the book. But it’s clear from the start who’s behind the first nasty deaths, & then who’s pulling the strings, so the only suspense becomes, What horrible fate will strike somebody next?
Of all the books I can imagine which mainly comprise richly descriptive recollections of the insects, plants, and other diverse critters discovered on a Mediterranean island by a ten-year-old boy, Gerald Durrell’s is undoubtedly the most compelling. That said, when I realized I’d only read 120+ of 614 pages, I was distracted by an impulse to reread his brother Larry’s Alexandria Quartet instead.
“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.
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.”
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:
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.
It 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!
One of the best resources for indie authors and publishers is Joel Friedlander, AKA The Book Designer. Whether you’re looking for a quick, easy, professional design for your work-in-progress, or advice on just about any publishing topic, Joel’s website and blog are likely to have answers. His guest post today, by literary fiction author Florence Osmund, links back to an older one: Eleven Ways to Get Better Book Reviews. It’s full of useful information, including links to Osmund’s own website and newsletter. Here’s an excerpt on book reviews:
There are a number of ways to get reviews. The most obvious way is to ask for them. If someone tells you that they read your book and enjoyed it, ask them if they would please take a few minutes to write a review on Amazon and/or Goodreads. I include this request in the back of each of my books.
Thank you for taking time to read [title]. If you enjoyed it, please consider telling your friends and posting a short review on Amazon and/or Goodreads. Word-of-mouth referrals are an author’s best friend and much appreciated.
I request a review in advance of someone reading my books in the e-mails I send to my fan base when introducing a new release. And on my website, I include a blurb on the importance of reviews to authors.
You can request a review from any number of professional reviewers who will then post them on their websites, Amazon, and Goodreads. Here are some of my favorites.
- Awesome Indies http://awesomeindies.net
- Big Al’s Books and Pals http://booksandpals.blogspot.com
- Indie Book of the Day http://indiebookoftheday.com
- Midwest Book Review http://midwestbookreview.com
- San Francisco Book Review http://www.sanfranciscobookreview.com
- Windy City Reviews http://windycityreviews.org
- Christy’s Cozy Corners http://christyscozycorners.com
You will find a comprehensive list of professional reviewers and what genres they accept at http://theindieview.com/indie-reviewers/.
A positive review from a top reviewer is a great promotional tool. The top five national reviewers are Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, and Midwest Book Review. Some charge for their services. Others do not. For a list of Amazon’s top reviewers, go to http://www.amazon.com/review/top-reviewers.
Book bloggers—book lovers who like to talk about books with their followers—are another way to get reviews. Click this link for a list of bloggers by genre http://bookbloggerlist.com/.
The most important thing you can do when seeking a book reviewer is to pick the right one by finding out what kind of books the reviewer likes to review. There is no point in sending your YA fantasy to a reviewer who is primarily interested in historical fiction. The second most important thing to do is carefully follow the reviewer’s submission guidelines.
If you’ve enjoyed this excerpt, you can read Osmund’s entire post — and find links to more discoveries she’s made as a successful author — at https://www.thebookdesigner.com/
As we move away from the Autumn Equinox toward the Winter Solstice, what better time to discover some new books?
First, if you’re a romance fan, don’t forget that you can listen to Charisse Howard’s spicy Regency Rakes & Rebels novellas, narrated by the wonderfully British actress Stevie Zimmerman. From an English manor house (Lady Annabelle’s Abduction) to a new-world pirates’ Mardi Gras (Lady Barbara & the Buccaneer) to the Barbary Coast (Lady Caroline, the Corsair’s Captive), these Regency adventures will make your pulse race and your heart throb!
Among the highlights of the recent Boston Book Festival was a fascinating nonfiction panel called Start Making Sense: Solutions to Intractable Problems:
James M. Stone, in Five Easy Theses: Commonsense Solutions to America’s Greatest Economic Challenges, proposes solutions to issues like the affordability of healthcare and widening income inequality.
Philip K. Howard, in The Rule of Nobody: Saving America from Dead Laws and Broken Government, faults a governing system that has replaced leadership with overly specific rules and regulations that are followed mindlessly by bureaucrats.
MIT’s Zeynep Ton takes on the practice of companies investing too little in their employees in pursuit of profits in The Good Jobs Strategy: How the Smartest Companies Invest in Employees to Lower Costs and Boost Profits.
If you’re in the mood for a mystery, be sure to stop by Books Inc. at 2251 Chestnut Street from noon to 2 PM on Saturday, Nov. 5. Here in San Francisco’s Marina District, eleven authors from Sisters In Crime will read from and sign their new books. From Mary Feliz’s Address to Die For to our own C J Verburg’s Zapped, you’ll find thrills, suspense, and adventure guaranteed to fill more hours with more fun for less cost than anything you can buy at the neighboring bistros or Apple Store. Meet and mingle with Northern California authors, enjoy refreshments, and you might even wrap up your holiday shopping in one afternoon.