Kay: Book Squee! Sort of….

I’m reading Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century, a 2011 New York Times bestseller, which I received as a Christmas gift. Peter Graham, the author, is a retired barrister who worked in Hong Kong and now lives in New Zealand.

Anne Perry is an 80-year-old writer of murder mysteries, who, in 1954 when she was 15, participated in the murder of her best friend’s mother. Perry’s family was set to return to England from New Zealand, and while Perry’s father, a distinguished physicist, went ahead to look for work, she and her mother planned to stay temporarily with friends in South Africa. The girls conceived of the murder plot as a way to stay together. (That idea didn’t make sense then or now, but so it was.)

Because they were juveniles, Perry and her friend, Pauline Parker, served five years for the crime. Perry returned to England and has lived what seems to be an exemplary life ever since, taking up writing as a career when she was 39 and producing, by my count, more than 100 works so far. Continue reading

Nancy: My Recipe for a Delicious Romance Series

As Justine announced yesterday, this week we’re discussing recipes of both the edible and readable kind. As I’ve planned and written and moved toward release of my romance series this past year, I’ve put a lot of thought into what I like in a romance series. Here’s my favorite recipe.

Start with an ensemble cast of characters who each bring something good to the party. Use their interconnected lives to lead us from the story of one happy couple to the next, but be sure to let their individual qualities shine, even when it’s not ‘their book’. When done well, you’ll have me pre-ordering the books that finally give my favorite secondary characters their own romance, like the duke in Slightly Dangerous from Mary Balogh’s Bedwyn Saga series.

Add a generous dollop of inside jokes, memories, and friendly bonding opportunities. Make me feel like I’m in on all the fun even if I haven’t read other books the series, but feel free to repeat or build on these fun themes across books, providing fan service for loyal readers. Think the running joke of the terrible music created  by the Smythe-Smith Quartet (with the musician line-up changing for each annual performance) from Julia Quinn’s The Bridgertons series.

Sprinkle in a bit of past HEAs. Show me the couples who got together in past books, still together, still happy, still interacting like they did in the book of their own love story. It shouldn’t be so heavy-handed that having read those other books in the series is a prerequisite to understanding the current book, but it should be enough to tempt me to pick up those other books to find out how the settled couples found their own happy endings together. The books in Anne Stuart’s House of Rohan series always include at least a few of the happy couples, made up of reformed rakes paired with strong women, from previous books. These happy couples guide, advise, and generally annoy the bejesus out of the couple currently struggling toward their own HEA.

Mix all ingredients together into a multi-book series, pair with a good red wine, and serve over a long weekend with nothing to do but read!

And now, an actual recipe… Continue reading

Kay: Whose Side Are You On?

The scene of the crime

This week I finished a subpar mystery and promptly wrote about it to fellow Lady Jilly. I spared nothing. I revealed clunky plot points, egregious characterizations, poorly constructed story arcs, and, perhaps worst of all, the irritating and unrewarding ending. Not only that, I said that had I known how the book ended, I wouldn’t have started it.

This discussion was all in the name of science, of course: I read bad books so others don’t have to.

But then the story broke about the Russian scientist stationed in Antarctica. You’ve probably read this one. Sergey Savitsky stabbed coworker Oleg Beloguzov in the heart for revealing the endings of books.

Okay, then! Continue reading

Elizabeth: Little Free Libraries

On October 18th, Todd Bol died in Minnesota at the age of 62.  You may not recognize his name, but I’ll bet you’re familiar with something he did.

Mr. Bol was the creator and founder of the Free Little Library, a global public bookcase non-profit organization.

“Little Free Library is a non-profit organization that inspires a love of reading, builds community, and sparks creativity by fostering neighborhood book exchanges around the world.”

You’ve probably seen those Little Free Libraries scattered about.  I pass one each morning on my way to work, about a mile from my office.  According to a recent article in the New York Times, these little libraries can be found in all 50 states and in 88 countries.  There are over 75,000 officially registered Little Free Libraries; pretty amazing for something that started out as: Continue reading

Elizabeth: The Great American Read

Way back in the Dark Ages, when I graduated from High School, my English teacher gave me a copy of the book Shrinklits, by Maurice Sagoff.

“From Antigone to Lolita, from Beowulf to The Hobbit. The world’s greatest literature is summarized in Maurice Sagoff’s hilarious light verse. The result-70 intoxicating distillations of the classics everyone has been taking far too seriously for far too long.”

It was a small but very entertaining paperback that still has a spot on my bookshelves.  My favorite bit, taken from the amusing distillation of Beowulf is:

Monster Grendel’s tastes are plainish.

Breakfast? Just a couple Danish.

Not only were the story distillations fun, they really gave a good feel for each of the stories and caused me to read several of them (Beowulf, I’m looking at you) that I might not have picked up otherwise. Continue reading

Elizabeth: There’ s a Word For That

The latest random subject to have caught my attention

I am a big fan of books, a fact that comes as no surprise to readers of this blog nor anyone who has ever been inside my house and seen my library – a floor-to-ceiling shelved room that technically is supposed to be an extra bedroom.  Periodically, like someone determined to lose those last annoying ten pounds, I’ve gone on a book diet, steadfastly staying away from anywhere that I might be tempted to acquire another book to add to my overflowing stash.

Just like other crash diets, my book diets are easily derailed by a pretty cover, a clever title, an innocent recommendation from a friend, or an entertaining back-cover blurb.

I’m okay with that.

When I was a kid, lack of money and opportunity meant that I’d read every book that resided on my bedroom bookshelves.  These days . . . not so much.

My library is filled with a variety of books. Continue reading

Jilly: Books That Put The World To Rights

When you’re feeling down, do you use fiction to restore your emotional equilibrium? I know I do.

Many of my friends, on both sides of the pond and on differing sides of the political divide, are feeling angry and/or depressed at the state of our world right now. They’re responding in a variety of ways, but the one thing they have in common is that almost all of them are finding their balance by losing themselves for an hour or two in a well-chosen and usually much-loved book.

Some people find catharsis in a story where the good guys smite the baddies and justice prevails. Sometimes I want smiting. Usually I prefer something gentler, upbeat, a fun story in a world where smarts, humor, kindness and generosity triumph.

Austen, Heyer, Pratchett and Crusie are bankers for me, but we’ve talked about them at length here, so chances are you already know whether they do it for you.

With that in mind, I’d like to share three recently-discovered favorites, in the hope that you might find them as restorative as I do.

The Kingpin of Camelot—Cassandra Gannon
A light, twisted and entertaining mash-up of well-known fairytale characters in an alternative Camelot where people are born Good or Bad. Good Folk (who are not all good) are privileged, while Bad Folk (who are not all bad) form the underclass. Following the untimely death of King Arthur, his evil regent The Scarecrow seeks to marry Queen Guinevere and claim the throne for himself. Gwen, who is Good, needs to protect her daughter, which she does by marrying Midas, the biggest, smartest, Baddest gangster in Camelot. This story has contracts, magic, humor, snark, battles, a child who is the antithesis of a plot moppet, a heroine with sweaty stable boy fantasies, a world put to rights and a fabulous Happy Ever After.

Tsumiko and the Enslaved Fox—Forthright
Tsumiko, a teacher at St Midori’s School of the Heavenly Lights, unexpectedly inherits a fabulous estate, a huge fortune, and a butler. Argent is a fox in human form, a powerful trickster who is magically bound to obey Tsumiko. Argent needs Tsumiko for his own survival, but he resents and possibly hates her for it (he’s tricky, so you can’t be sure exactly what he hates). Tsumiko is the first of Argent’s owners to reject the idea that one person should be able to own another. With implacable determination she sets out to free him, uses her new-found wealth and power to build a caring and diverse community, finds a purpose in life and earns lasting love. This book is as delicious as a cup of top notch hot chocolate on a cold day. It hits all my pleasure buttons and I’m eagerly anticipating the second book in the Amaranthine Saga, Kimiko and the Accidental Proposal, which goes on sale in a week or so. Continue reading