Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Book log 28: Season of Storms

by Susanna Kearsley
I don’t believe I’ve made any secret of my enthusiasm for Susanna Kearsley’s books. Years ago, I had a friend bring me one of her books from London, only to find out that her books weren’t available in the US, as frustrating a situation as finding out you can’t get Fortnum & Mason’s Queen Anne tea in this country any more. I still can’t get the tea, but at least her books can be bought here now! Season of Storms is something that Kearsley wrote twenty years ago, but only in the past few months, thanks to her US publisher, Sourcebooks, has it been available here. And because she chose not to update her older books, which she mentions in a foreword, there’s a faintly old-fashioned air to it, making it all the more Mary Stewart-ish. (In this book, email isn’t ubiquitous, so it is odd, but since the Italian countryside setting makes it all exotic and far, far away, it works. Think of how many times you’ve tried to use your cell and found out you had no reception, and that’s in an area with cell towers.)

Anyway, Kearsley’s newer books are more paranormal/historically based, while this is more romantic suspense, so yes, Stewart’s influence, as well as Daphne DuMaurier’s, is clear. In Season of Storms, a young actress gets the part of a lifetime as well as the trip of a lifetime, but quickly discovers that the play, referred to as the “unstageable play” (in contrast to Shakespeare’s “cursed play”), has a series of odd mysteries attendant. There’s a mysterious benefactor, characters with agendas of their own, etc. Like I said, both Stewart and DuMaurier are well-represented. I was particularly eager for this because I’d just spent a week rereading three books of Kearsley’s spanning a number of years both in book time and real time, with a character growing up from boyhood (Shadowy Horses) to hunky herohood (Firebird), with a stop in between (Winter Sea). This is heresy, but forget Outlander. This series made me want to see Scotland, and in particular Cruden Bay!

Same with Season of Storms. I always figured that the Italian countryside would be pretty, but I live in Washington state, so I’m used to pretty countryside outside the city. This made me want to see it. Curse you, Kearsley!

COMING UP: Oh, so many choices, so little time, and more!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Book log 27: Cujo

by Stephen King
I avoid horror for a simple reason. I terrify easily. (I also terrify easily, apparently, according to my hub, but that’s another topic.) I tried to read this book many decades ago, when I was traveling somewhere, and a coworker lent me his copy. I started to read it, understood why King was considered a master of the genre, and then put it away. And gave it back when I got back to work. My coworker chuckled, and that was that. Until now!

Well, I still had no intention of reading it, even after all these years, because I still terrify easily (both senses). But I was putting together an online workshop on voice and style, and I thought King would be a good example to look at, and this book in particular, because it takes something not mystical, not fantastical, just an everyday occurrence, really, and makes your everyday household pet something to look at nervously.

It should be noted that my last household pets passed away a few years ago, of cancer and old age. Their little ghosts have settled down, and with any luck their little souls are demanding food and attention in a worthy home, purring as they settle in as the cute little dictators they were in mine.

Anyway, here’s the thing about Stephen King’s work. The voice is workaday, almost conversational, nothing that stands out as being cutesy or histrionic or purplish. No, the voice would be easy to dismiss if that were the case. But in that way that the seemingly ordinary becomes extraordinary, he is the master of all he surveys because that seemingly ordinary voice and style is HOW he terrifies. King’s voice is a bit like those narrators in the scary theater TV programs, in which they speak of daily events, and then remind us that GEEZ LOUISE I’M GOING TO KEEP THE LIGHTS ON FOR A WHILE life can be surprising sometimes.

And it’s about a dog. Just a dog. A big, friendly, St. Bernard, a kid’s pet, a dog that should have been vaccinated. Poor, poor thing. At the end of the story, after the blood has been spilt and lives have been torn asunder, King reminds us that the dog was a faithful dog, who only wanted to be the best dog he could be for his people. But it just wasn’t in the cards for him.

Fortunately, the next book I have coming up is a historical romance. Without a rabid dog, I hope.

COMING UP: Oh, so many choices, so little time, and more!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Upon awakening, I found this from the Emerald Isle

And of course, I was both flattered and more than a little guilt-stricken that my coauthor, Heather Hiestand, wasn't mentioned. But I did like that this was the first thing I saw in the morning!

Available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple, digital and print!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Book log 26: Agnes and the Hitman

by Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer

This is yet another book that was purchased ages ago and never read at the time, but now, since I decided to use it for a workshop I'm presenting online for voice and style, I finally got around to reading it. And I was reminded once more that there's a reason why Crusie and Mayer are both New York Times best-selling authors, because by golly, they can spin a yarn. 

And Crusie has that irresistible, easy, smooth patter of voice and dialogue and she can make me laugh. I have said on occasion that I have no sense of humor (and Jacquie Rogers thinks this is uproarious when I say so), but the thing is, when it comes to language, I have no sense of humor. When it comes to stupidity I have no sense of humor. When it comes to poor writing, I really have no sense of humor. But Crusie manages to make me yelp with amusement, with unexpected bits and even bits that I can see coming, all with impeccable grammar. Mayer, writing adventure and men's fiction, writes plot-driven fiction, so he really drives story.

Agnes and the Hitman was written with Crusie and Mayer writing in particular POVs and then working on each other's work, so by the time they were done, voice was distinctive and yet smooth, the story not being hamstrung by opposing voices. I read Crusie and Mayer's first cowritten book, Don't Look Down, so I knew basically what to expect. (That was a book I also enjoyed, but the misspelling of a super-heroine's name in it? What the hell ever happened to editing, I ask you?!) But after reading this book, I think I'll have to make a point of reading Mayer's work alone. Although I'm not big on men's adventure books (comic books don't count), clearly he's good enough that he's going to make his readers happy, no matter what they opened that particular book to read.

Anyway, about Agnes and the Hitman. The heroine is a food columnist with anger issues (and a police record: assault with a deadly frying pan)(not just once, mind you, so she's essentially a serial frying pan assaulter) and the hero is an assassin who gets a call from his sole relative after many years to come back to town to protect a little girl. But it's not a little girl, it turns out. And she can pretty much take care of herself.

There are some books you read and you can guess what's coming in the long run, and some you can't, and some there's a combination of both. This is one of those books you find yourself swept up into the story, the details, and the characters, both major and minor, and you can't quite see the details coming together the way they do, and that's always a pleasure. 

And the funniest thing? As I was reading the last of this book, enjoying myself thoroughly, the final paragraph had a familiar pacing to it. And I realized it echoed the final paragraph of another of my favorite books, a fantasy in that case—and it turns out, something else I'm using for that workshop. What are the odds? (Okay, pretty good. But it was still as amusing as Agnes and the Hitman was!)

COMING UP: Believe it or not, Cujo. Good gravy, Cujo.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Workshop: Voice & Style

I forgot I should be spreading the word about this workshop I'll be presenting at the end of this month. I'm just putting the finishing touches on it, and I'm thinking I'll enjoy presenting it. (Which is good, because who wants to present a workshop that doesn't make you happy?)

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Book log 25: The Sons of the Profits

There’s No Business Like Grow Business: The Seattle Story 1851–1901

by William C. Speidel
There’s a well-known tourist thing in downtown Seattle called the Underground Tour, about the abandoned part of the city that was literally built over after a fire leveled a chunk of the downtown core back in June 1889. (I had to look up the date. I’d be embarrassed, but...ah hell, I’m only vaguely embarrassed.) Because of the unique contours of the business core (let’s just say that Seattle’s a very hilly place, then and now), there are parts of a historical past that remained hidden. Author Bill Speidel, who was a native of those parts, decided to explore and eventually exploit, in the process building up a tour of a time long past.

This book came about from those tours. Or maybe vice versa. In any case, Speidel’s spiel, which we first heard when we took the tour 30 years ago, echoes in this book (conveniently offered for sale at the end of the tour. What are the odds!). We bought the book after the tour, again 30 years ago. My husband read the book at the time. I did not because as a native, I’d heard it all, or at least a version of it that I passed a test or two about. I figured I would read the book when I had a chance.

Thirty years later…yes, at long last! We went on the tour again when we had friends come into town who expressed interest (he was always very fond of the Darren McGavin TV movie The Night Strangler, later the TV series Kolchak: The Night Stalker). The underground he saw in the tour didn’t have much in common with those works of fiction, but with a stretch of the imagination you could sort of see it. Anyway, finally inspired by that trip down history lane and blessed with more time than 30 years ago, I finally got around to reading the book.

The first thing I noticed (as I am wont to do these days), the book needs a stronger editor, if it had one at all. After I winced through the beginning (ellipses weren’t made to be used that way!), the style settled down and the story took hold. The title refers to the earliest pioneers who settled this particular area, who came with the most base of motives: to make money. As Speidel observed, those founders were there for the buck and if there had been any other way to make some, they would have done that instead of founding the Emerald City by the bay. At times tongue in cheek and deadly serious, Speidel looks at the quality of character that went into the construction of the city, the shenanigans, the cheerful corruption. Perseverance was the name of the game, we’re told, and you know what? It worked. This is a fun book, and I’m only sorry I didn’t have time before now to read it!

COMING UP: The Sound on the Page: Style and voice in writing by Ben Yagoda!