Up To My Neck In Muddy Water

There seems to be a trend–at least to me–in mystery publishing that I am not sure how I feel about; primarily, that authors are moving away from writing series and going the stand alone route. Far be it from me to tell anyone what they should or shouldn’t write–if the market is stand alone novels are flying off the shelves while series books aren’t quite as popular, well, you have to write what is selling if you want to have a career; writing may be an art form, but publishing is a business. Why this is happening–or it’s entirely happening inside my brain and it’s completely made up from observations–is up for debate. I know with me, while I love discovering a new-to-me author and steadily working my way through their backlist is a joy, I also understand that you can look at an author’s backlist and think to yourself, oh dear God I will never have the time to read all of those books so why even try?

In my case, a great example of this is Michael Connelly. I had never read him, but a few years ago I read his debut Bosch novel, The Black Echo, and absolutely loved it. Yay! I thought. A new-to-me author with an extensive backlist I can dive into without fear of ever running out of something new to read! I had the same reaction when I read Louise Penny’s first Gamache novel, Still Life.

And yet here I sit, several years later, having not read anything else either of them have written. This isn’t a dis of either Connelly or Penny, for the record; I loved both books and sang their praises to the skies here on this blog when I finished reading them. I have the next two books in the Bosch series on hand, and I have the next four Penny novels here as well. I’m not sure why I don’t ever think to pick up their next novels when I am in search of my next read through the endless stacks and stacks of my TBR pile, but I do think it has something to do with the extant of the enormous backlists by both–and of course new books are coming out daily, and on and on and so it goes, forever and ever, amen.

I have also fallen behind on reading one of my favorite series of all time, Donna Andrews’ marvelous Meg Langslow series. Addictive as oxycontin, clever and witty and charming, I absolutely love these books. Caerphilly, where Meg and her cast of colorful, unique and lovable characters, made up of friends and family, is kind of like Schitt’s Creek to me; a charming, wonderful place with an underlying level and degree of kindness that always shines through in a believable and realistic way that you cannot help but love to go back to; it really does feel like coming home when you open the book to page one and start reading.

“Do you really think there’s room for all this luggage on the boat?”

“Ship,” I corrected. “I know it’s only a cruise ship, but I understand it demoralizes the crew when you call it a boat. And don’t worry, the porters will handle everything.”

Trevor Ponsonby-West sighed and looked put-upon. Well, he was put-upon. Being put-open was more or less his job. He was my grandfather’s personal assistant, which meant Grandfather delegated to him anything he didn’t want to bother with himself and couldn’t cajole his friends or family to do. Trevor’s job was demanding under normal circumstances and almost overwhelming when Grandfather traveled. And he traveled a lot. After all, even though he was now in his nineties, the world still expected to see Dr. J. Montgomery Blake rescuing endangered species, leading environmental protests, and appearing in the nature documentaries that had become such a staple on television channels like National Geographic and Animal Planet.

Trevor did a great job of getting Grandfather where he had to go, when he was supposed to be there, and equipped with whatever he needed to bring. If only he could do it without quite so much sighing.

What I wouldn’t give to write such a clever, witty, put-the-reader-right-into-the-middle-of-the-story opening for one of my books!

Meg and company are about to embark on a cruise–her grandfather is being paid to give lectures on board–but the cruise company is a smaller, less-famous one; one that isn’t an enormous floating hotel with thousands packed on board. Much of the regular cast–including her parents, cousin Horace the CSI, brother Rob and fiancee Delaney, cousin Rose Noire, husband and twin sons–are coming along for the cruise to Bermuda and back (it really wouldn’t be a Meg novel without the rest of the cast). And of course, whenever the lovably eccentric Langslow family goes or does anything…murder is sure to spring up along the way.

Sure enough, the arrival of a Diva at the pier, named Desiree St. Christophe, arrives in her Christian Laboutin stilettos, and all the pieces are in place. Desiree is a very successful romance novelist–early success, faded away, made a massive comeback–and there’s another group of writers also on board–who all hate her and blame her for the death of one of their group, a writer who’d been struggling with block for years, but had finally come up with a surefire winning manuscript (complete with bids from several publishers) before Desiree claimed she’d stolen one of Desiree’s manuscripts. The publishers withdrew their offers, her agent dropped her, and drowning in debt from a terrible divorce, their friend Nancy committed suicide. Desiree isn’t likable–demanding, unfriendly, and always drunk. On their first night at sea, Desiree apparently jumps overboard in a suicide…but it doesn’t make sense, and Meg and her mystery novel fan father soon think there may be foul play. The ship also becomes stranded out in the middle of the ocean, Trevor (from the opening paragraphs) appears to be missing, and the cruise quickly becomes one of those horrific Cruises from Hell.

But no one is more adept than Meg in a crisis!

The book is charming and wonderfully, cleverly written–there were times when I laughed out loud–as are all of the books in this marvelous series. The plotting is also terrific; I had no idea what skullduggery was going on, until Meg’s intrepid investigation starts uncovering clues and links in the chain of a diabolical conspiracy, and right up to the very end I had no idea who was responsible for all the things going on aboard the ship; which is the mark of a truly great mystery writer.

I can never stop reading once I’ve started reading a Meg adventure (misadventure?) and if you’ve not read this series, and it’s length (this is book 25) concerns you–you needn’t worry. You don’t have to start at the beginning (Murder with Peacocks), but can pick it up in the middle (I actually mistakenly started with book two)…but this is a series you absolutely should read from the beginning, because they are all a lot of fun, clever, charming, and like Schitt’s Creek, a lovely, wonderful world of love and kindness you’ll want to escape into over and over.

Get Down

Monday morning, and perhaps a more restless night of sleep than one would have preferred; but I did sleep and am counting that as a win. It may take a little longer this morning than usual for me to become human, but I am awake, I do feel sort of rested, and it’s the first day of a rather short week for me. Friday begins the long weekend I am taking for my birthday, so my half-day on Thursday will be the end for me until the following Wednesday, which is rather awesome, actually, and I believe I come back to a half-day Wednesday, even–one of my co-workers wants to permanently switch Wednesday and Thursday with me, which is fine. Having two long days, a short day, a regular day and then a short day seems more do-able, and workable, than what I’ve been doing and I’ve been thinking lately that I need to somehow change my schedule; a co-worker’s need for his class schedule made up my mind for me. We’ll see how it works out, won’t we?

Yesterday I finished Major Project around two in the afternoon, which is an enormous load off my mind. I spent the rest of the day watching the US Gymnastics championships (men in the late afternoon, women last evening) before calling it a night and going to bed; as I sat at my computer drinking my sleepy-time tea, an idea for the story that’s due at the end of the month came to me. I actually wrote the first couple of hundred words in my journal; today I’ll turn them into the beginnings of the short story. I have three chapters left to write in the WIP, and two short stories to write by the end of the month as well as an essay I need to get finished by the end of the month. With Major Project out of the way, now it seems like I’m swimming in time; so much free time to get everything finished I want to get finished by Labor Day, plus two long weekends for me before we get there. I suddenly feel so much more comforted than I did last week.

It’s amazing what getting a huge hunk of work out of the way can do for your confidence.

I also want to finish S. A. Cosby’s wonderful My Darkest Prayer this week, so I can devote the weekend to Laura Lippman’s Lady in the Lake, and then I will probably get back to the Diversity Project, reading Lay Your Sleeping Head by Michael Nava. I also have the new Alex Marwood, The Poison Garden (hello, Labor Day weekend!) on hand, as well as several others I really would like to get to. I had some points through my health insurance at work (it’s a long, complicated, boring story how all that works, so I won’t bore you or me with it) so I converted them to an Amazon gift card, so I have some birthday presents to myself coming in the mail–amongst them Attica Locke’s Edgar winning Bluebird Bluebird, the new Donna Andrews (putting me three books behind in my Andrews reading), Terns of Endearment, and of course Rob Hart’s The Warehouse, which will be released on my birthday and should also arrive on my birthday. There are some others as well–I don’t remember what all I ordered, to be honest–but I should have some more points to convert over this week, and I am going to order some more. There are so many good books, and so little time in which to read them all.

The gymnastics yesterday was fun to watch; Sam Mikulak, the six time US champion, is adorable, and of course Simone Biles, who won her sixth title this weekend as well, is probably the greatest gymnast of all time. She’s so much better than everyone else in the world, and keeps getting better as she gets older. And of course, next year is the Tokyo Olympics, which is always a good time. Although…it will be weird watching an Olympics without Michael Phelps.

And on that note, perhaps it is time to get back to the spice mines.


Live and Let Die

Friday afternoon, and I’m home already. The bed linens are in the process of being laundered, Scooter’s been fed, I’ve unpacked my backpack and have Blondie blaring on Spotify. (Blondie’s music is, if I do say so myself, way ahead of its time as well as timeless.) I’m in the midst of Chapter Twenty-two, which I’ve got queued up on my screen, and I am going to get another two thousand done on that bitch this afternoon if it kills me or someone else–preferably someone else, but your mileage might vary. My weekend is officially here, and I’m most happy about that. I need to unload the dishwasher and do the load that’s currently sitting in the sink, but that’s okay; no rush, I’ll get to it at some point today.

It’s just lovely to be home.

I cashed in some of my health care points today for an Amazon gift card–it’s a long story, but our health insurance at work allows you to earn points for doing healthy things, or taking care of yourself–and managed to use that gift card to order some books, including a preorder of Rob Hart’s The Warehouse, which I am looking forward to reading. It’s getting raves everywhere, and looks like it’s going to be one of the bigger books of the year, which is very exciting. I love seeing writers do well, you know? I also ordered the new Donna Andrews (Terns of Endearment),  Attica Locke’s Edgar winning Bluebird Bluebird (it deeply shames me that I don’t already have this, as well as not having read it yet), Craig Davidson’s short story collection The Saturday Night Ghost Club, Paul Tremblay’s The Cabin at the End of the World, and Joyce Carol Oates’ noir Triumph of the Spider Monkey. 

Some excellent reading to be had there, am I right?

I feel pretty good now; I didn’t this morning, honestly. I had to do a biometric screening at work this morning (more points!), and didn’t want to have anything to eat or drink beforehand. This mean getting up at eight and not having any coffee. I did have to take my morning pills, and as there wasn’t any cold filtered water in the Lost Apartment I thought the hell with it and washed them down with a swig of Gatorade….so of course, my blood sugar was slightly elevated, which was highly annoying. Blood pressure and everything else was fine, but didn’t really have high enough good cholesterol, so the fish oil is going to have to be added back to the morning pills. Which is fine, I’d rather take a natural supplement than another pill–I’m already on something for the high bad cholesterol, which wasn’t so bad today. I also got a flu shot, which I hate doing, but there you have it. I also have to see my doctor next week on Tuesday (I’m going to go to Five Guys first as a treat, the blood work was already done so no worries about the effects a delicious bacon mushroom roasted jalapeno cheeseburger with a side of Cajun fries will have on my visit), which is nice. I also need to have my regular doctor visit rescheduled; they called last week to reschedule my next appointment and I missed the call and haven’t bothered to call back yet. (Yes, I see two doctors. It’s complicated, has everything to do with my health insurance, and how stupid our health care system is, as a nation.)

And looking around, I am so glad I took the time last weekend to do all that filing and organizing. There’s still that needs to be done, of course–isn’t there always–but it’s not nearly as bad as it was, and it’s not to the point where it actually bothers me. There’s still more files I can store and/or get rid of–and at some point I am going to have to actually work on the file cabinet;  taking a look at what’s inside those two drawers absolutely terrifies me to even think about(maybe it would make a great project on my birthday staycation).

All right, I am off to the spice mines to finish Chapter Twenty-two. Have a lovely rest of your Friday, Constant Reader.