Tuesday, March 16, 2010


The public library in Morris Plains, New Jersey, was right down the hill from where we lived. It was, and still is, located in a converted farmhouse, although without the two back extensions in my time. It was a quiet, cozy space to be and my best friend, Margaret, would hide away in the stacks and read for hours. I loved going by it every day on my way to school, but didn't spend a lot of time there.

My refuge was the school library.
I was a volunteer in our school library all though high school, which meant I didn't have to go to home room or study halls. The librarian knew me. She helped me write the best essay of my school career by asking me the right questions to give me focus. She never questioned when I would read books "above my level." Rather, they would often recommend books they thought I might enjoy. I read classics, historicals, a bit of philosophy; I even read the Russians. I am so sorry I can't recall her name.

I hardly ever go to the library any more. Once I left school, I started buying and, more recently, collecting books. Some say I know have my own library. However, I shall always treasure libraries and, in particular, librarians.

Come and share your favorite library with me.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

An interview with Tom Schreck

Tom Shreck, a fellow member of the mystery digest DorothyL, is doing a series called "Review the Reviewer" on his website www.tomshreck.com. One of those interviewed is...me. The following are my answer to his questions:

1. What really gets you interested in a mystery?

First and foremost, a great opening. That doesn't mean there can be a great opening sentence and the rest falls flat. I mean an opening sentence or paragraph or chapter that so captivates me, I've no choice but to continue reading.

Second, I read for characters. I don't always have to like them, but there has to be something interesting/appealing/redeeming about them. The strongest example is probably Ken Bruen's character of Jack Taylor. On surface, there is nothing to like about him. However, Bruen's superb writing always leaves me with a feeling of possible redemption.

On a broader level, I look at time and place. While I accept I may be missing out on some very good books, there are just some time periods and geographic setting in which I have no interest as they are ones to which I have no affinity. I'm not a big fan of the new Scandinavian mysteries. In spite of having a Viking ancestor in the 1300s, it's just not a location to which I can connect.

2. What bores the hell out of you?

Obviously anything poorly written, but I am so over serial killers, crooked/dirty law enforcement officers, gratuitous violence, addicts, adulterers, abusive men, too-stupid-to-life characters of either sex, the list goes one. I know all these things exist, but I'm not interested in reading about them.

Product placements and trying to be "current" is something I find both boring and causes me to really question why the author felt it necessary to include them. If an author has any hope of their book standing the test of time, I don't recommend they compare their character to today's heart throb of whom no one will know in two years, or of identifying a designer label known only to the rich and hip.

3. What delights you in a mystery?

I am delighted by humor. I don't mean contrived, visual humor. I mean wry, situational or character-driven humor which is part of the author's voice. I am delighted by an author whose style demands I read passages aloud. I should say while this delights me, it can definitely annoy my friends when I call them saying, "Listen to this!".

4. What cliches would you really like to see go away?

My number one irritant is the use of portents, foreshadowing, and/or cliffhangers. If I never read another, I'll be very happy. I'm not talking about a thread relating to a character which carries from one book to another. That can work as long as it's not a major plot element to that particular book. Any form of the "had she but known" portent will cause me to drop my rating on even the best book. To me, it is the sign of a poor author who feels they need a trick in order to keep you reading. Trust me, if the story is compelling, I'll keep reading.

I am also among those who can't stand when an author kills a pet in order to threaten a character. It has become predictable, is often gratuitous and usually could been accomplished in another way.

A great irritant to me is the current use of real historical figures or well-known fictional characters as detectives. I find it almost denigrating to the real person or insulting to the original author. I don't mind when either of those are used as secondary characters who are true to the original persona.

The last, of which I can think, is prologues. I know it has become common, but I am just not a big fan of prologues.

5. What topics, themes etc would you like to see more of in mysteries?

I don’t read for topics or themes. I may put a book down because of its topic or theme, going back to Question 2, but I can't think of a particularly topic or theme that would cause me to pick a book up. Okay, maybe books relating to Shakespeare, lost manuscripts, archeology or some form of art but the book itself had better be good or it may be the last of that author I read.

6. What mistakes do you think authors make?

The biggest mistake, of which I can think, is not having strong editors. And I mean having both a content and grammatical editor. Every author should have a grammatical editor and any author of a series needs both. The author should also listen to their editor. If the editor says the book is 200 pages too long and drags in the middle, listen to them. Bigger is not necessarily better.

7. Do you write? Would you like to?

No. I am too much of a perfectionist Virgo to ever be a writer. I wrote my first blog yesterday, and that was traumatic. Even answering these questions is difficult. I would spend so much time worrying about the accuracy and correctness of each word, I'd never get past the first sentence.

8. Who are your favorites?

That is such a long list I couldn't possibly list them all, and it changes over time. A few current favorites are Louise Penny, Fred Vargas, Peter Lovesey, Collin Cotterill and Susanne Alleyn. Long time favorites include Lawrence Block's Matt Scudder series, Dick Francis, and Robert B. Parker.

At the end of last year, I did an analysis of that years' reading. I found it very interesting that my reading was an exact split of 50/50 between male and female authors, while 38% of the books were US authors and 61% were non-US, with the year before looking almost the same.

9. Why did you start reviewing? If you really hate a book will you still review it?

I started reviewing for myself in order to keep a record of what authors and books I liked, or didn't like, and why. I then became a reader of manuscripts for Poisoned Pen Press who provided me with some excellent guidelines for writing reviews. That refined my style. I have been the coordinator of The Easy Bay Mystery Readers' Group since 1995 and, each month, would relate some of my reviews to them. That started me emailing all my monthly reviews to the group, as well as posting them on DorothyL and 4_Mystery_Addicts. From there, it has grown. I now post my review on GoodReads, Amazon (US, UK and Canada), and Crime_Thru_Time (for historical mysteries). In addition, I am now a contributing reviewer to Criminal-History.co.uk, and the e-newsletter, Calamity's Corner out of Australia.

I personally buy almost all the books I read. The disadvantage is the impact on my budget. The advantage is being able to be completely honest. There are a few, very few, authors who know they can send me their books and I'll read them. I do receive other books, from authors and/or publishers. Some I read; many I don’t. I do review every book I read, even those I don't finish.

I work very hard to provide a fair, honest review. I never criticize the author. But I think it is important to provide an honest opinion--and it is my opinion--whether positive or negative, as long as I clearly explain why I feel as I do.

What I find most interesting, and most supportive of that decision, is when there is a book about which it seems everyone is raving. I read the book and find I disagree. When I post my review, I almost always receive emails from people thanking me saying they had wondered what they were missing or whether they were the only one who felt differently.

I love books. I love reading them, collecting them, seeing them on my shelves, having them on my Kindle. I sincerely thank all the authors and all the book sellers who so enrich my life.

All my reviews can be seen on GoodReads at: http://www.goodreads.com/user/show/250195

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


I read a lot. After while, I start noticing similarities that might not be apparent to others.

The other day, I read "Girl in a Red Tunic" by Alys Clare. This is a series set in 1100's England. There are two protagonists; Abbess Helewise and Josse d'Acquin and, while both characters are in each book, they alternate as to who has the principal focus.

I wasn't far into this current book when it struck me that the series style is a Middle Ages version of S.J. Rozan's Lydia Chin/Bill Smith books. To be correct, I should state this the other way around as, I believe, the Clare series started prior to the Rozan.

What I like about both series is that there is not an intimate relationship between either set of protagonists, although some of us are holding out hope for Bill and Lydia. In each pairing, the characters come from very different backgrounds, yet have become friends and are always there for each other. And isn't that what real friendship is about.

I am certain there are many other series that reflect this same model. Come on in and let me know your favorites.