Monday, November 22, 2010

Coming June 2011

Amazing illustrator Craig Phillips has done it again. I have to admit that when I started this series, I wasn't quite sure just what my covers would look like. There is a sort of same-ness about some of the cozy mystery covers, which is most likely very comfortable for readers. But considering that this is a series about a crime-solving tattoo artist, it's a bit different than the typical cozy that features an amateur sleuth who might knit or crochet or hang out at the local library. It's got more of an edge to it. So when Penguin found Craig Phillips, it was a match made in heaven.

What do you think?

Monday, November 15, 2010

From the mountains of North Carolina to the streets of Boston

Vicki Lane is one of my favorite authors. She writes the wonderful Elizabeth Goodweather series set in the mountains of North Carolina. The books are lyrical, evocative. They all have several layers overlapping each other, each more mesmerizing than the last.

Vicki and I were on our very first Bouchercon panel together back in Chicago in 2005, the one that spawned my previous blog endeavor, the First Offenders. Alison Gaylin, Lori Armstrong, and Jeff Shelby rounded out our "first novel" panel, and while Vicki didn't join the First Offenders, she and I have kept in touch and her books are always must reads for me.

I ordered her latest book THE DAY OF SMALL THINGS with a little bit of trepidation, however. This book does not feature Elizabeth Goodweather, rather Miss Birdie, a secondary character in previous books. This is Miss Birdie's story, and while I've enjoyed the character, I wasn't quite sure how I would like a whole book about her.

I loved it.

Miss Birdie starts out as "Least," the youngest child of a rather formidable, angry woman. She is called "quare" and her mother tells everyone that she is simple and can't handle going to school—so she doesn't. But when Granny Beck arrives to live with them, the older woman sees that Least has the Gift, and Granny Beck teaches her about that as well as teaches her to read. There is a bit of woo-woo in this book, with Least having a mystical power that carries her through the first part of her life. But mostly it is Least's story, how she gets through those first years of her life, how she survives when Granny Beck is gone, how she meets Young David and manages to survive.

I have to say, though, the first part of the book was my favorite. In the second part, Least has become the Miss Birdie of the Elizabeth Goodweather books, and she is drawn into the kidnapping of her friend Dorothy's grand nephew Calven and goes back to her Gift for the first time in a very long time to try to save him. While it's interesting, and the chapters from Calven's point of view are well done, I'm not sure that adding a crime like this to this novel was really necessary. It's as though this novel is actually two books. That said, I still recommend it, because it's still an amazing story. Vicki also uses the local dialect in telling the story, which works beautifully.

Another book I've read in the last week is Dennis Lehane's MOONLIGHT MILE. This is his much-anticipated return to the Patrick Kenzie/Angie Gennaro series, which ended several years ago with PRAYERS FOR RAIN. This book is a sort of sequel to GONE BABY GONE, in which a four year old girl is kidnapped and Patrick and Angie are hired to find her. In MOONLIGHT MILE, that little girl is now 16 and is again missing, and Patrick is hired to find her.

It's a classic crime novel. Lehane's style is easy to read; the plot is a basic one. However, the book didn't stand out for me like his earlier series books. Maybe it's because Patrick and Angie are now married with a four year old of their own, and there are a lot of references to how "old" they're getting and how they can't do what they used to be able to. Well, I didn't much care for whining about that. They're also supposed to be a little softer around the edges because of the passage of time, but I liked the grittiness of the earlier books. It's sort of like how on soap operas they could never let anyone get married and be happy because it would get boring. While I can appreciate how Lehane sees his two characters now, I agree with Sarah Weinman's assessment that it was like meeting up with friends at a high school reunion: You enjoy their company for a couple of hours but you probably don't have to see them again.

Perhaps it's because Lehane hasn't written about these characters in a long time that the gap is too noticeable. Marcia Muller's Sharon McCone has changed over the course of 20 books, but Muller has never taken a long sabbatical from McCone so the growth is gradual.

What have you read lately?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

How much of human life is lost in waiting?

I had a conversation with my daughter yesterday about book series. She's 13, soon to be 14, and she was lamenting how that by the time the next book in a new series would come out, she might have outgrown it.

She was talking in particular about Rick Riordan's new Lost Hero series, a sort of sequel to the Percy Jackson series. The Lost Hero just came out last month, and it seems she'll have to wait a year until the next one is released, since the second in his Red Pyramid series will probably be out first. But because these books are leaning more toward middle grade readers, she sees that while she loves the characters and the stories, they could soon be "too young" for her.

It's something that as a writer who has published two adult mystery series, I just never had thought about. I don't have to worry about my audience growing too old for my series. They were adults when they started, or maybe teens, in the case of my tattoo shop mysteries, and they will be adults when the series are over.

But as someone who's recently written a young adult novel, my conversation with my daughter struck a chord.

I tried to envision who my readers would be if this book is ever published. My main characters are three teenagers who are sixteen years old. I've investigated the middle grade vs. young adult thing: it seems that most of those books are categorized based on the ages of the protagonist(s). But I do know that while mine are in high school—and late high school—the book might be better suited for ages 12 to 15.

Now, with that in mind, I will reveal that I'd planned a trilogy when I wrote the first book. Granted, it can't be a trilogy if no one buys the first one, but if someone does, then I would like to pursue two more books. But I then face the dilemma of my audience outgrowing them before the next ones are released.

It might be a good idea if middle grade and young adult authors wrote faster. In fact, my daughter is really on board that bandwagon. She thinks there should only be six months between books, and, in lieu of conversation, she's right. As a parent, I'd like her to enjoy a series as long as she can, and as a writer, I'd like her to read all my books without abandoning them halfway because she feels too "old."

As a mystery writer who has written four books in one series in the last two years, I know that this is possible. I know that I could definitely write two more books in my YA series in the next year, maybe less. But in the case of Rick Riordan, who's got two series he's balancing, it might not be so easy. He's just going to have to rely on even younger readers growing old enough to read his series all the way through.

Do you think writers of middle grade and young adult books should try to push the envelope and get their series books out to their young readers more quickly? Do you think adult series writers should step it up a little, too?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Harry Potter back on the big screen

You know what's coming this month, right?

No, not turkey and stuffing.

The Harry Potter movie.

In order to make more money, the last Harry Potter book is being split in two, so the first film will be out Nov. 19, and the second in July 2011.

I'm re-reading the book now, in anticipation of the first half. But watching the trailer for the movie, I have a sneaking suspicion that they're showing clips from both films. Things in the trailer don't happen in the first half of the book, which is actually a little slow moving. Harry, Ron, and Hermoine hide out at 12 Grimmauld Place, trying to figure out their next move, how to stay out of sight, in order to collect the five remaining Horcruxes that will help destroy Voldemort for good. They end up leaving more than 200 pages in, and then the action begins, albeit still a bit slowly.

I can't figure out where they're going to end the first film and start the second.

But it doesn't much matter. I'll be at the theater with my daughter to begin the last Harry Potter adventure together. Will you?

Here's the trailer. What do you think? Do you think there are scenes from both films, too?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Some thoughts on two books

I've read two mysteries in the last month that kept me thinking after I finished them.

My daughter's violin teacher is a huge fan of Lawrence Block. In particular, Block's Matt Scudder series. So when I was at Bouchercon last month and my friend Alison Gaylin said she'd gotten an ARC for the latest Scudder book, A DROP OF THE HARD STUFF, I talked her into giving it to me so I could give it to Miles.

I had never read a Block book. But since it was in my bag on the plane, and I had three hours to kill, I pulled it out and began to read.
I am kicking myself for never picking up a Block book before. It was amazing. A relatively quiet mystery; a flashback to the year after Scudder stops drinking; a case about an old friend who is violently murdered; a slow, languid pace that just sucks you in and keeps you thinking long after you finish the book. I have lived with recovery in my life, not my own recovery, but in my family, and Block gets it all right. A scene where Scudder comes back to his room to find a glass of bourbon on his desk waiting for him is one of the strongest in the book. The temptation is clear, his resolve uncertain. The mystery takes a back seat to his struggle.
I'm now going to seek out more Block books. Better late than never. Sadly, though, you'll have to wait for this latest, since it won't be released until May 2011. But it's worth the wait. My daughter's violin teacher was very happy he could get this sneak peek!
The other book is one I just finished, and I admit that I'm not exactly sure what I think about it. Either it was brilliant, or it was ridiculous. But I can't make up my mind.

I have loved Louise Penny's Three Pines mysteries. Her chief inspector, Armand Gamache, is wise and clever. The setting is what drew me initially and has kept me enthralled: a small town just outside Montreal that's not on any map. My family has been to Quebec and Montreal a few times, so the setting speaks to me.

Her new book, BURY YOUR DEAD, is set in Quebec City. I absolutely loved following Gamache around there, since I could close my eyes and picture exactly where he was at all times. The city within the walls is not that big, and since we explored every inch of it, it was easy to picture.

The problem with the book is that there are basically three plots going on simultaneously. The first is the initial one: Gamache is in Quebec City and has stumbled across the murder of a man who has spent his life searching for the remains of Champlain, the founder of Quebec. Penny addresses the problems between the English (Anglophones) and French (Francophones) in Quebec in this plot.

While Gamache is investigating, however, suddenly we get snippets of conversations he has with a young agent named Paul Morin. And as the book progresses, we realize something has happened to Morin, that Gamache is "recuperating" in Quebec City, and his right hand man, Jean-Guy Beauvoir has also been wounded.

We then move into plot No. 3: Gamache sends Beauvoir to Three Pines to see if Olivier, the bistro owner, (SPOILER HERE) actually did kill the Hermit in the previous book. Now, I had huge problems with that last book, and I wasn't sure I was going to read this new book because of that. I never once believed that a beloved, recurring character had become a murderer. Perhaps Penny knew all along that perhaps he wasn't, and that's why she revisited that in this book. But it still feels wrong.

So all three plots are intertwined in this one book. While I got used to the conversations between Gamache and Morin interrupting the flow from time to time, it was an odd device to use. I found myself rating the three plots as to their importance to me: 1) Morin and what happened to Gamache and Beauvoir; 2) Three Pines and Olivier; and 3) Champlain's body. Sadly, I think Penny meant that I should be more interested in the third since that took up the majority of the book, but I found myself skimming a bit to get through all the history to find out just what happened with Morin.

Like I said, either this was brilliant or it was silly to take on three complicated plots at the same time. I'm not quite sure which.

What have you read lately?