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JULY 31, 2009
In the Author's Own Words ~ Denise Swanson
Welcome Guest Blogger
One of the first questions I'm often asked when I speak about my writing is why I chose to write mysteries instead of romances (I assume this is because I have such an innocent face). My answer is simple: after twenty-two years in public education there are a lot of people who need to die, but very few I want to sleep with. My Scumble River Mystery series is set in a fictional small town in Illinois, and features a school psychologist-sleuth named Skye Denison. I was a school psychologist for twenty-two years, and many of the stories are based on my personal experiences—although I've never found a dead body—at least not yet.
I’ve been writing since kindergarten when I used my Big Chief tablet and jumbo pencil to create my own version of an alphabet book. Unfortunately, my teacher’s reaction was, "You've used up all your paper! What will you use for the rest of the year?" My first bad review.
My second attempt was in junior high school, when I decided to write a Harlequin Romance. At that time (the early 1970s), they were pretty tame—the characters barely kissed, and I wanted to make them more realistic. My English teacher caught me working on my story in class and ordered me to read it out loud. The scene I’d been working was about French kissing and the teacher had a fit. She took me to the principal, who was an ex-nun, and I was almost kicked out. My second bad review.
I took that to heart, and stopped writing fiction for a long time. I wrote articles for the school newspaper and the college newspaper, and I edited a school psychology journal. Finally, as I was nearing forty, I realized that if I was ever going to fulfill my dream and write a novel, this was the time.
At first, I tried to write a very dark psychological thriller, but that wasn’t my personality. I’m not a dark person. So instead I turned to my years as a school psychologist, and all the funny, quirky, and poignant moments and wrote my first book, Murder of a Small-Town Honey.
In this book my sleuth, school psychologist Skye Denison has just returned to her hometown after being jilted, fired, and maxing out her credit cards. Her homecoming is complicated by the fact she told off the entire town in her valedictorian speech. Her intention is to slip into Scumble River, make some money, redeem her professional reputation, and keep off the local radar until she can leave, but then her brother is accused of murder.
One of Skye’s biggest flaws is also one of her best characteristics—she wants to help people and make the world a better place. Because of this, there is no way she can maintain a low profile, and in the next ten books in the series Skye begins to understand what she’s really is looking for in life.
Helping her out in this journey (and in solving the mysteries) is her mother May, who is a police dispatcher and thinks she knows what’s best for Skye, which is staying in Scumble River and getting married. Another important secondary character is Skye’s honorary Uncle Charlie who owns the local motel, but in reality runs most of the town. And in the second book, Murder of a Sweet Old Lady, Skye is reunited with an old friend, Trixie Frayne, who is now the school librarian. By the third book, Murder of a Sleeping Beauty, she gains two teenage sidekicks.
Then there’s her love life. Throughout most of the series she is torn between two lovers, as the song goes, and my readers have definite views on which man she should choose. When I do book signings, there have even been some skirmishes between those who have different opinions on which guy Skye should end up with!
Thank you for this opportunity to introduce you to my series. If you’d like more information please visit my website www.DeniseSwanson.com
JULY 27, 2009
Family Man ~ Elinor Lipman
*****reviewed by bas bleu
An irresistible summer read...The Family Man
In this warm-hearted, quirky, character-driven novel, the protagonist, Henry Archer, is a recently retired, divorced attorney who also happens to be gay. Always a gentleman, Henry sends a condolence letter to his ex-wife when he learns that her husband of 24 years has died. This seemingly innocuous act of kindness completely changes his life: Henry is subsequently reunited with his adopted daughter, whom he was forced to give up upon his ex-wife's remarriage and also meets Todd, who becomes the love of his life. The story is hilarious, the New York setting is vibrant, and the characters are quirky and charming. It is Henry, however, who stayed with me long after I finished reading the novel. He is so sweet, loving, kind, and tender that I wish he lived next door to me so that we could become good friends. Lipman's inspired writing makes her books a true gift to her many readers.
JULY 23, 2009
Man Named Pearl ~ Dvd Review
*****reviewed by NHyer
This documentary is about a modest, hard-working, ordinary guy that is just terrific. The film is an unpolished, simple overview of how a man without technical training in plant life and coming from a poor background in the rural South, finds a hobby, which over time puts his home on the map. His small town is affected by his fame, realizing he is the hope of the community. He generously opens his property to tour visitors and his neighbors, influencing some of them to make an effort to enhance their own homes.
The big story behind his talent is his incredible character of seeing past prejudice and just continuing in a positive way to exhibit leadership to his townspeople of all types and colors. Young people, who he loves, bond to him and receive a lesson in life beyond his incredible works of topiary created on his property.
This is a profoundly moving example of what just one simple, modestly educated human being can do. His energy and dedication to his creations is quite amazing. His affect on others by his dedication to his hobby and his willingness to share it all is just inspiring.
The film could have been just as effective if it had been somewhat shorter in length. The director has allowed the church minister a great deal of dialogue to make his points. Although interesting, it gets away from the personal and too much toward the religious. This is surely valid to him as a minister and certainly an important part of Pearl’s life, but not the real subject of this beautiful film.
JULY 17, 2009
Losing Mum and Pup: A Memoir ~ Christopher Buckley
*****review by bas bleu
Losing Mum and Pup: A Memoir is the author's touching remembrance of his parents, William F. Buckley, Jr. and Patricia Taylor Buckley. Although his parents were two larger than life characters, the book is not merely a tribute. Rather, it captures the feelings that anyone who has lost a parent can relate to. Respectfully written, the memoir does not overlook the flaws of the parents or some of the difficulties of the relationships. In this respect, it captures many of the dynamics that can be found in any parent-child relationship, regardless of celebrity. The author's coming to terms with the loss of his parents is punctuated by numerous entertaining and at times even hilarious anecdotes. Particularly amusing were the stories about the "buried treasure" and the father's flying experiences, in which William F. Buckley completes a solo flight from Boston to New London, in trying conditions, with little more than an hour and a half prior flying experience. Even though William F. Buckley is regarded as a conservative political icon, this book is a very entertaining read, regardless of one's political affiliations.
JULY 11, 2009
Darker Domain ~ Val McDermid
I actually haven't read this one yet but after listening to an interview with Val McDermid on Library Love Fest, Darker Domain is definitely on my TBR (to be read) list. I have featured Ms. McDermid in the past as my sleuth of the month on my adult pages @http://www.columbiactlibrary.org/Adult.htm
Val McDermid has won numerous awards, been touted as Scotland's national treasure by USA Today and has written over 25 books, including 3 series and some excellent standalones. I became a fan when I read the first of her Tony Hill and Carol Jordan books, The Mermaids Singing. I liked the story, the location, and Val's style. Listening to the interview you find out that the Lindsay Gordon Series was planned as a trilogy but somehow turned out to 6 books (Would that be called a sextetology? ). She started out wanting to write the third book, but needed one and two to get there. She chalks this up to her writing naiveté at the time and feels she'd know how to do it today. You also learn a great deal about the author's thought process, where the ideas come from, how she fleshes out the puzzle of her mysteries, what she feels her obligation is to her readers. Her wonderful sense of humor is evident throughout. She says she writes books, not to impart a message but to tell a story. Not only must you have a story to tell, you must believe in the story, be interested in it yourself, not writing just to meet a deadline or because of demand for a series character. She admits writing the same characters back to back can be boring so she generally doesn't do this, mixing the series and standalones to keep her work interesting. If you're an aspiring writer, there's great insight into the writing process here. A fascinating interview.
Darker Domain is a psychological thriller as well as being a historical mystery that blends fact and fiction in telling the story of the National Miners Strike. In her own words Val states that she loves how the past casts a long shadow, that things often have their roots way back in history. Darker Domain roots lie in 1984 in the time of The National Miners Strike. Taking place in Fife, Mick Prentice disappears during the strike. Twenty-two years later his daughter, Misha, enlists the help of Detective Inspector Karen Pirie in reopening this cold case. A second story-line follows the kidnapping of Katrina and her son Adam, the daughter and grandson, respectively, of Sir Broderick Maclennan Grant, a wealthy businessman. Annabel Richmond, a freelance journalist, uncovers new evidence in this case. You wonder how these two storylines will merge, but bet they will. She credits her readers with being clever people and feels they won't get bogged down in the back and forth of the two story lines. She knows that some of her readers will have figured out where the story is going early on but that her job as a crime mystery writer is to make the story so interesting, the characters so engaging that you'll stick around for the ride. McDermid talks about growing up in the mining community of Fife where both grandfathers worked in the mines. Her maternal grandfather was eternally grateful that he had three daughters who would never see the inside of a mine. She talks about the need of a coal mining community to be close knit as they depend on each other underground, about the hard life, the poor pay and awful working conditions.
If you're looking for a good read this summer, listen to the interview, pick up the book!