If You Like….
May 23rd, 2016

Since I’ve been deep in the writing cave, the wonderful Rachel very kindly offered to take up the slack by writing a brand new “If You Like” post– and may I just say how delighted I was when she offered and how even more delighted I was once I read it?

Here, without further preamble, is our latest guest If You Like: If You Like Lady Detectives in Historical Fiction. And now over to Rachel!

I don’t know about you all, but once in a while I get a taste for a certain genre/ trope/ character personality and go crazy with it. I’ll look up recommendations on Goodreads, talk to friends, and make a list of things to check out from the library. Lately, because of Laurie R King’s latest in her “Beekeeper’s Apprentice” series [which I know has been a big hit on this website before!] I’ve been on a “Lady Detectives in Historical Fiction,” kick. The latest installment is intriguingly titled “The Murder of Mary Russell” and actually alternates between the Mary/ Sherlock storyline and Mrs. Hudson’s early life, as the famous housekeeper has her own intrepid adventures. King’s series is intelligent, amusing, and fast paced while packed with incredible dialogue and character/ plot development. The lady does her research. In the past few weeks I have also delved into several new (to me) series that promised similar devices to King. So if you like Mary Russell/ Lady Detectives in Historical Fiction, you may also like…

The Bachelor Girl’s Guide to Murder, by Rachel McMillan- The “first” in a series (there is a prequel available also) about two friends, Merinda and Jem, who eschew the patriarchal norms of 1910 Toronto and form a detective agency. Merinda is obsessed with Sherlock Holmes stories and uses them as research to help in their own cases. Fun, fast paced, and full of colorful personalities. (And if you like the Canadian show “Murdoch Mysteries”, you will surely like this series!)

Sister Beneath the Sheet by Gillian Linscott- First in a series about Nell Bray, a suffragette working under Emmeline Pankhurst, who directs Nell to look into a suspicious death. Slightly darker in plot and detail, this story still contains a great deal of history and atmosphere of the early suffragette revolution. Male-female relations in the book also raise though provoking questions in the midst of the current political debate over gender in America.

Silent in the Grave by Deanna Raybourn- First in a series about protagonist Lady Julia Grey, a woman who becomes involved in detecting when her husband unexpectedly expires at a dinner party. (Think “Gosford Park” meets the “Lady Emily” series by Tasha Alexander.) She is joined in her investigation by her husband’s acquaintance Nicholas Brisbane, who does get get along with Lady Julia at the outset and causes much consternation for her and amusement for the reader. Steamier and, in parts, darker, this book contains elements of several adored genres.

Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear- I’m almost done with this one, and it is blowing my mind. My favorite so far for no particular reason other than I am connecting with the eponymous Maisie. Incredibly bright, she is born into a lower class but rises up with the help of her employer-turned-patron. I definitely see elements of Mary Russell in Maisie Dobbs, except that Maisie has struck out on her own to open a detective agency and does not work with a partner after leaving the tutelage of Dr. Maurice Blanche. Maisie is able to easy sympathize with her clientele, drawing on shared WWI experiences (Maisie served as a nurse).

On tap for me (because I over-indulged at the library) are: Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart, The Alchemy of Murder by Carol McCleary, Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters, and This Dame for Hire by Sandra Scoppettone.

Thank you so much, Rachel! I’m busy scribbling notes to myself since while half of these are old favorites (am I the only one reading this who feels a strong need to re-read The Beekeeper’s Apprentice right about now?), the other half are new to me. Which is very exciting.

I’ve been racking my brains to think who else I would add to this list…. There’s Anna Lee Huber’s Lady Darby mysteries (Scottish, 19th century), Jennifer Kincheloe’s The Secret Life of Anna Blanc (American, turn of the century), Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher mysteries (Australian, 1920s), and, of course, Rhys Bowen’s Royal Spyness (English, 1930s).

Who are your favorite historical lady detectives?

 

Teaser Tuesday: Work in Progress
May 17th, 2016

I’m in the final stretch of the currently untitled next stand alone novel– which is why things have been so quiet here on the website. But, to break up the wait, here’s a small outtake from the work in progress.

As you may have noticed, my characters tend to talk. A lot. I absolutely hate cutting those conversations short, but, sometimes, for the sake of pacing, they have to go.

This one had to go.

Here’s the scene. London, 1894. Burlesque actress Georgie Evans has, with reservations, agreed to accompany her friend Kitty to supper with the notorious Sir Hugo Medmenham and Sir Hugo’s American friend, Bayard Van Duyvil. Georgie is mostly there to keep an eye on Kitty who has her eye on Sir Hugo. (Which makes an awful lot of eyes in action.) And Georgie wants to make sure the American knows she’s not for sale with the meal.

Kitty and Georgie are performing in a burlesque version of Twelfth Night called Eleven and One Nights, so the conversation turns quite naturally to Shakespeare….

“Will you say me a sonnet, then?” He sounded genuinely interested, but then they all did, didn’t they? Until they had what they wanted.

“For the right price,” said Georgie, with calculated crudity, “you can have all of Hamlet.”

“Bodies and all? That’s a grim prospect.”

Not everyone got a comedy or a romance. “A sad tale’s best for winter.”

Van Duyvil frowned. “That’s not Twelfth Night, is it?”

“A Winter’s Tale.” She’d played Perdita, pursued by a rather lascivious bear. Never mind that Perdita and the bear never shared a scene in the original; the audience enjoyed the sight of scantily clad Perdita fleeing an orsine embrace.

“But it’s nearly spring now.”

He’d been gammoned, poor man. The cost of a dinner and all he would get at the end was words for his trouble, and twice-used words at that. It was his friend who would go home to a warm bed at the end of the night, at least, if the way Kitty was leaning on his arm was any indication, while Van Duyvil would be left to sport the blunt.

“Don’t expect a thaw to set in any time soon.” And then, in case he didn’t understand, “I’m only here as chaperone.”

More about the new stand alone coming up soon!

 

Weekly Reading Round-Up
May 13th, 2016

I’ll be heading back into the writing cave in a moment (send good writing vibes, all!), but it’s been a banner reading week, beginning with Deanne Gist’s Tiffany Girl, which reminds me, in the best possible way, of the young adult historical fiction I used to read back when: a coming of age story and a very detailed depiction of New York life for a middle class girl in the 1890s as she navigates parental issues, boarding house life, a controversial choice to take a job, and, of course, romance.

I also hit the mystery novel jackpot with not one but two Josephine Tey novels for Mother’s Day: her final Alan Grant mystery, The Singing Sands, and a stand alone, Brat Farrar. I’ve saved Brat Farrar for last, although it makes me a little sad to think that once I’ve finished this, there will be no new Josephine Teys in the world for me….

What have you been reading this week?

 

Weekly Reading Round-Up
May 6th, 2016

Most of my reading this week has been of the contest judging variety, but I did seize the opportunity to read two other books:

— Kristan Higgins’s crossover into women’s fiction, If You Only Knew, was the bright spot of an otherwise rainy week. Told from the viewpoints of two sisters whose lives are crumbling around them in various ways, the characters are so well drawn and real that you can picture them as people you know– people you know and actively want to hang out with.

— James Livingston’s work of non-fiction, Arsenic and Clam Chowder: Murder in Gilded Age New York, was retroactive research for the work-in-progress, but definitely worth reading just for fun, as you unravel how the descendant of the Livingstons, a putative heiress, is reduced to living in a hotel with her four illegitimate children– and, just possibly, poisoning her own mother with a bucket of overpriced room service clam chowder.

What have you been reading this week?

 

If You Like….
May 2nd, 2016

So many thanks to Tracy Grant, who has broken the long If You Like drought here on the website! Tracy is the author of the Charles and Melanie/Malcolm and Suzanne Napoleonic-set mysteries, of which the latest, London Gambit, comes out this week.

LondonGambitHiRez Tracy_author_pic_ 1

Isn’t that a gorgeous cover?

And now over to Tracy, for If you like…Ensemble Series:

I’ve always loved series as both a reader and a writer. I love delving into a world and staying there. Perhaps for this reason, I particularly like “ensemble series” – series in which there may be a central character or couple but in which there is also a large cast of recurring characters. In my own series, I love writing the complicated marriage of former spies Malcolm and Suzanne Rannoch, but I also love following the other characters. Harry and Cordelia Davenport, attempting to rebuild their own marriage; David Worsley and Simon Tanner, prevented by the time they live in from having an open relationship, though London Gambit finds them in effect raising children together; Addison and Blanca, Malcolm’s valet and Suzanne’s maid, who are spies themselves and have their own romantic thread; Lady Frances, Malcolm’s grand dame aunt, with her string of lovers and numerous children of varying parentage; Raoul O’Roarke, Suzanne’s former spymaster and Malcolm’s father, with complicated relationships with both of them, who may now be at the fragile beginning of a romance of his own with with the Rannoch children’s former governess, Laura Dudley. The end of London Gambit is a game changer that the shifts the board the series is played on and affects all these characters and their relationships with each other. As a writer, it left me simultaneously feeling a bit guilty for what I put my characters through and also very excited to explore where the various characters will go next.

If you like “ensemble series” you may like…

Lauren’s Pink Carnation series – one of the delights of this series for me was following the wonderful cast from book to book and seeing them and their inter-relationships grow and change. Even the relationships between couples who had seemingly already had a “happily ever after.”

Deborah Crobmie’s Duncan and Gemma series – I mentioned in another post recently that reading a new book in this wonderful mystery series set in present day London is like sitting down for a cup of tear sharing a pint in a favorite pub with an old friend. Duncan and Gemma are vibrant, wonderful characters but their friends, co-workers, and children also have ongoing story lines I am eager to pursue.

Winston Graham’s Poldark series – the central triangle of Ross, Demelza, and Elizabeth is fascinating, but the other characters, from miners to aristocrats, make for a richly textured portrait of late 18th/early19th century Cornwall that comes to vivid life in this series (and in the 1970s and current television adaptations).

C.S. Harris’s Sebastian St. Cyr series – Sebastian has enough ongoing romantic and familial tensions of his own, but his friends, enemies (the most formidable of whom is also his father-in-law), servants, and family add wonderful complexity to the story. In this series, as in others, it’s fun meeting characters in the course of a stand-alone mystery and seeing them become part of the ongoing ensemble.

Tasha Alexander’s Lady Emily series – I loved Emily and Colin from the first, but I also love following the secondary characters, seeing who will come to the fore in which book, watching them grow and confront new challenges.

Elizabeth George’s Inspector Lynley series – I found the first book in this series years ago on the “new” shelf at the library. It’s a fabulous mystery, but what had me eagerly scanning the lists for the next book was the already complicated relationships among the characters. It’s a harrowing journey at times, but in a way that only makes me all the more wager for the next installment in the series.

Deanna Raybourn’s Lady Julia series – Julia’s family may at times drive Julia (and Brisbane) mad, but they add so much to this series, both in their interactions with the main characters and in their own story lines.

So many thanks to Tracy for this amazing list, which contains so many favorites old and new, historical and contemporary.

Which are your favorite ensemble series?

I imagine we could have a great deal of fun coming up with a companion list of ensemble TV series. Downton Abbey, anyone? Doc Martin, Grantchester, more Poldark….

Check back next Monday for more about London Gambit— and a give away!

 

Signing for Literacy Today! Burlington, MA 1:30
April 30th, 2016

The headline pretty much says it all. Today is the Book Fair for Literacy!

You can find me, Loretta Chase, Susan Mallery, Megan Frampton, and the rest of the group of wonderful authors signing from 1:30-2:30 at the Boston Marriott in Burlington, Ma. Ten per cent of the proceeds go to support the Massachusetts Literacy Foundation.

For the full list of authors signing, just click here.

 

Weekly Reading Round-Up
April 29th, 2016

This will be just a quick post, since I’m about to grab the Even Littler Blue Bag and hop on a plane for Boston for today’s talk and tomorrow’s signing. Also because I’m having a hard time remembering what I read this week. Some of it is for a Contest That Shall Remain Nameless, so the books also have to remain nameless. And some of it is just because I have writing brain right now, which precludes memory of such things as what I read the day before yesterday and where I left the toddler.

The stand out? Josephine Tey’s The Franchise Affair, in which a country lawyer needs to prove two women in an isolated house innocent of abducting a teenage girl. The girl’s story is oddly plausible… but there’s something off about it. But how to prove it? I’d read this book years ago and had forgotten just how compelling it is. I felt bereaved when it ended and it’s taking a major act of will to go back to reading the books I’m meant to be judging rather than plunging straight into another Tey.

What have you been reading this week?

 

Boston on Saturday!
April 27th, 2016

I’ll be returning to Boston this weekend to sign at NEC-RWA’s Book Fair for Literacy at the Boston Marriott in Burlington, MA.

If you’re in town, stop on by! There’s a great line-up of authors including the incomparable Loretta Chase (and if you think characters like Miles Dorrington owe more than a little to Loretta’s Rupert Carsington, you’re right).

Here are the details:

What: Book signing
When: Saturday, April 30, 1:30-2:30
Where: Boston Marriott, One Burlington Mall Road, Burlington, MA
Why: Books. Books, books, books. And ten per cent of the proceeds go to the Massachusetts Literacy Foundation!

To learn more, click here.

 

Weekly Reading Round-Up
April 22nd, 2016

So many apologies for the radio silence here lately, all! I’m deep in the writing cave right now with the next stand alone novel (75,000 words down; 40,000 left to go!), a narrative non-fiction essay for an anthology about Paris, and various other fun stuff.

But I promise, as soon as this book is in, regularly scheduled programming will resume here on this site. And I’ll also have some announcements to make about books to come. So expect a lively summer over here!

In the meantime, I’ve mostly been clinging to old favorites to get through the mushy middle of the work in progress. Right now, I’m re-reading Georgette Heyer’s The Talisman Ring, featuring smugglers (ahem, free-traders), evil cousins, missing rings of great antiquity, a hero who refuses to ride ventre-a-terre, and a heroine with a delightful sense of the absurd. (Is it just me, or would The Talisman Ring make a brilliant movie?)

Before The Talisman Ring was Jennifer Crusie’s Agnes and the Hitman, because Crusie is also a master of brilliant mayhem and never more so than in Agnes and the Hitman, which features an old plantation house, a perfidious chef, the mob, a wedding, flamingos, and, oh yes, the aforementioned hitman. So good.

Before that, I went on a Donna Andrews binge, re-reading Revenge of the Wrought-Iron Flamingos (murder and mayhem at a reenactment at the battle of Yorkville, with flamingos) and We’ll Always Have Parrots, a fan convention for a tv show that bears more than a passing resemblance to Xena: Warrior Princess. If you haven’t read Andrews yet, start with Murder with Peacocks and work your way through.

I made the mistake of attempting to read some Victoria Holt, but, although The Judas Kiss is, without doubt, an excellent read, the current work in progress is trending so dark and so gothic, that putting gothic on gothic was a bit like watching Crimson Peak while playing the Bach toccata. So I’m trying to keep the reading light– and, hopefully, keep the work in progress lighter by extension– until this manuscript is done.

I had a choral director a long time ago who always advised when singing high to think low to keep the top notes from going screechy. That’s been my writing maxin for a long time now. When writing funny, I tend to read serious, and when writing serious, I tend to read funny, in the hopes of keeping the manuscript from going over on the one side into pure farce and on the other into pure melodrama.

What have you been reading recently?

 

Congratulations, Pinkorama Winners!
April 15th, 2016

Because every Pinkorama this year was, without doubt, a winner, the dominant theme in the voting being, “But how? How can you make me choose?”

The Convent of Peepsino edged out slightly ahead (Miss Gwen preens and blows a speck of dust off the tip of her parasol), but it was such a close-run thing all around that I’m just declaring it a group win.

Take a bow, Kayse, Colleen, Candace, Cassandra, and Rachel!

For anyone who missed them and would like to admire sugary artistry in action you can find (in the order in which they were submitted:

The Convent of Peepsino by Kayse
Kayse 1

Amy and Richard’s Spy School Meets the Phantom Peep (plus video!) by Rachel

Rachel 3

Happily Peep After by Candace & Cassandra

C&C 6 couple 1

The Unpeepable Truth by Colleen

Colleen 1

by clicking on either the title or the picture.

So many thanks for these amazing productions! Kayse, Colleen, Candace, Cassandra, and Rachel, if you email me at willig@post.harvard.edu and let me know whether you’d prefer The Forgotten Room or Fall of Poppies (or one of the other books), I’ll send your prize your way!

The winning judge is… Maria! (Of Comment #20.) Congrats, Maria! Email me and I’ll send your book your way.

And now a word about Pinkorama to come: although the Pink series has officially wrapped up (although there may be some offshoots), I would be thrilled to keep the annual Pinkorama the, well, the annual Pinkorama as long as you’re still willing to Pinkorama with me.

What do you think? Shall we make a date for Pinkorama 2017?