Tag Archives: anna lee huber

Four NECESSITIES FOR A GOOD MYSTERY SERIES on Friday

mysteries

I think by now it is pretty clear that I love a good mystery series.  It probably started back in my Trixie Belden days, although I did read a fair amount of Nancy Drew as well.  When I was in college, I worked at a small bookstore in Geneva, Illinois.  There I got hooked on the Anne Perry mysteries.  I read a lot of different things in college for fun, but Anne Perry’s books truly solidified my love of series mysteries.  I branched out and read other authors, and the rest, as they say is history.

I currently have about fifty mystery series that I follow regularly; over the years, there have been some I have let go for a variety of reasons and I am always on the lookout for a new series.  For me, there are certain details that keep me engaged in a mystery series.  So for my completely biased opinion, these are my necessities of a good mystery series.

Four NECESSITIES OF A GOOD MYSTERY SERIES on Friday

Interesting, plausible protagonist
Although I have read a lot of true crime novels, a good mystery for me is rooted in the characters.  I think that any good series must maintain strong, consistent characters to stabilize the continuity of the series.  It is what ties each book to the previous one and it is what the reader follows from book to book.  When a new release of a favorite author comes out, it feels like catching up with an old friend and visiting about what has happened since the last time we met.

I am not picky about the gender of my protagonist.  I love the female Lady Darby in Anna Lee Huber’s books and Amory Ames in Ashley Weaver’s series, but I find Mark Pryor’s Hugo Marston and C. S. Harris’ Sebastian St. Cyr just as engaging.  The key, and I know I have said it before, is that context in which the protagonist encounters a crime must be believable, it must be consistent, and it must be evolving.  I love a good cozy mystery but after a while, multiple deaths in a small town or at a certain ski resort; well, I don’t think I would put that on a place to visit!

Inquiry agents like Charles Lenox in Charles’ Finch’s series or Derek Stone in Kate Carlisle’s Bibliophile mysteries, police detectives like Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James in Deborah Crombie Scotland Yard series, or even judges and attorneys like Verlaque and Bonnet in M. L. Longworth’s Provencal mysteries all have realistic reasons to encounter, and more importantly, be involved in, solving crimes.

Cozy mysteries are very entertaining and enjoyable, but they don’t have the same sustainability as something that is more grounded.  A good cozy writer should know when to quit and move on to a new series.

Historical setting
Not everything I read has a historical setting but it is definitely a huge plus in what makes a series my favorite.  Yes, I love the simpler time, the fascinating couture, the social customs and limitations, but honestly, the very best part is the lack of technology, specifically the internet.  Historical crime solvers must rely on their ingenuity and inquiry skills.  Now I am not discrediting modern detectives, but I truly love watching characters fit different pieces together.  I know that much of the detecting work could be completed a lot faster with modern tools, but what’s the point of a 50-page mystery!  I often think “why don’t they just look it up online” when I am reading a historical mystery before I remember that isn’t an option.

With characters spending days traveling by horseback or coach or waiting for letters to arrive, the tension of the story builds.  The reader often is sidetracked by the minutia of daily life and seemingly unimportant details; this adds depth and personality to the story and enables the reader to have a stronger grasp on the setting and characters and how they are woven together.

There is also something exotic and mystical about a historical setting; the grittiness seems darker and more threatening while the society and lifestyle creates a more glamorous and opulent feel.  I’ve always felt I that I was born in the wrong decade; reading historical mysteries helps me to channel my inner dreams.

Fun, quirky secondary characters
Remember, it is all about the characters for me.  Mystery books provide great opportunities for secondary characters to pop up over the course of a series.  These characters provide rich ambiance for the time period or foils for the different personalities of a protagonist.  They have the feel of that “crazy Aunt Edna” or “cousin Steve” that we all have in our families; the topic of holiday table conversations with details of their grand adventures, disasters, or both.  I think these characters add a dimension to the story to remind the readers that crime doesn’t occur in a bubble; life still goes on all around which is often what both helps and interferes with the solving of a crime.

Some of my favorite secondary characters are Bonnie Brock in the Lady Darby series, Sid and Gus in Rhys Bowen’s Molly Murphy mysteries, and Oscar in the Witchcraft mysteries by Juliet Blackwell.  Sometimes these characters are integral to the development of the plot, sometimes they create obstacles that interfere with the progression of the inquiry, and sometimes they just add a diversion of spice and humor to a darker theme.

Just a hint of romance
Okay, call me a hopeless romantic but I like a bit of a love story in my mysteries.  I like the tension between two characters when they aren’t sure who they can trust, and then how it builds to when they discover that must trust one another.  Relationships often cloud judgement and perception and this added depth creates more conflict in a story and therefore makes it more suspenseful for the reader.  I don’t ever want a relationship in a mystery book to take away from the mystery itself, but a good author with meld the two with thought and purpose.

I like how some relationships grow over the course of the series, like C.S. Harris’ Sebastian and Hero, Tasha Alexander’s Emily and Colin, or Julie Spencer-Fleming’s Russ and Clare.  In contrast, I enjoy how Ashley Weaver’s Amory and Milo stories jump right into an established marriage.  Then of course there is Brad Parks’ Carter Ross and Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum; who knows if they will ever settle down!  What does Keanu Reeves’ character say in the movie Speed:  I have to warn you; I’ve heard relationships based on intense experiences never work.  Ah, love . . .

Any other mystery buffs out there?  What are the “must-haves” for your favorite series?

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Secrets in the Mist

secretsinthemist

Title:                                    Secrets in the Mist (Gothic Myths 1)
Author:                               Anna Lee Huber
Publisher:                           Brightstone Media
Publication Date:              2016
ISBN:                                   978-0-997-939613

Book Summary:
To say that life is challenging in 1812 England is an understatement.  Due to the conflict with the French, the economy is struggling and many of those in the small coastal town of Thurlton resort to a second form of income – smuggling.  However, smuggling is dangerous; if caught, the culprits could be charged with treason for transporting French goods.  If someone is discovered with French goods, there is a hefty fine.  Most of the townspeople are aware of the dangers and are willing to take bribes to keep the smugglers’ actions secret, but there is one final threat that terrifies them all – the mysterious Lantern Men who roam the fens, recognizable by their wisps of lantern lights.  These mischievous spirits haunt the marshes and lure careless travelers into a watery grave.

Ella Winterton has a healthy fear and regard for those who travel through the dangerous bogs and marshes, but when her best friend Kate comes down with an illness that threatens her life, Ella has no choice but to brave the trek through the mist.  Cautious for hidden bogs and tight twists in the path, Ella focuses closely on her travels when suddenly a dark cloaked figure appears out of the mist.  Unsettled by his appearance, Ella is shocked when he allows her to pass by safely.  Ella is convinced that the Lantern Man is more man than myth and most likely involved in the smuggling trade.  His secret activities create more chance encounters with Ella and she becomes fascinated and unafraid of him.

The thought of this mysterious man haunts her mind, but Ella has more pressing concerns to deal with.  Since the death of her mother and her brother, Ella’s father spends his days consumed with grief and alcohol.  Their home has fallen into disrepair and Ella is forced to sell what she can for survival.  When Sergeant Watkins, an officer with the Board of Customs, finds evidence of contraband alcohol in her father’s possession, a hefty fine is levied.  With nothing left to sell and estrangement from her parents’ families, Ella is forced to make a decision that threatens her family’s reputation, her home and property, and even her life.

Book Commentary:
As a huge fan of Anna Lee Huber’s Lady Darby mysteries, I admit I was bit nervous and apprehensive about this new series.  Would I like it as much?  Would it be as good?  The answer is unequivocally – yes!  Ella is a fascinating and relatable character; the reader feels for her situation but never feels sorry for her.  There is a naivety in her attitudes and perceptions but it not the wide-eyed innocence of a child; rather a woman of a certain station whose situation has faced a change in hardship so that she must have honest view of reality.  I admire her gumption and initiative but also wanted to yell out for someone to give this poor woman a break!

The rest of the characters are rather secondary but have their own individual backstories and motivations.  Ella truly drives the novel but it is the other characters who help guide, or divert her, from her path.  Huber has stated that this book series will follow in the tradition of Mary Stewart and Victoria Holt.  The series has interrelated story-lines but each novel will highlight different heroes and heroines.  Any one of these secondary characters could develop into their own new book and I am anxious to see what happens next. The second Gothic Myths book is due out in 2018.

According to historical notes on the author’s website, Huber stated that the Lantern Man myth is a real myth; she plans to build the series around some other not-as-well-known myths.  I think it will be fascinating to read about the contrast of fact and fiction in them.  My interest is definitely piqued!

Who might like this book:
Secrets in the Mist has a different feel than the Lady Darby books; it is more of a romantic suspense than a straightforward mystery.  I found the inner-workings of the smuggling operations fascinating; I was amazed at how it was so interwoven in the daily lives and needs of the residents while still being a supposed “secret.”

Although the series is different than the Lady Darby books, one can’t help but compare the two.  In true Anna Lee Huber form, the essence of the story lives in the development of the characters.  Their histories, motivations, and depth make them enduring and the reader becomes fascinated by the lives and adventures they lead.

Queries and Conundrums: Readers Live Longer!

books-and-life

A recent article in The New York Times stated that book readers live longer than non-book readers.  The article explained that “(c)ompared with those who did not read books, those who read for up to three and a half hours a week were 17 percent less likely to die over 12 years of follow-up, and those who read more than that were 23 percent less likely to die. Book readers lived an average of almost two years longer than those who did not read at all.”  Here’s the article is you are interested in how the research was done:  http://mobile.nytimes.com/blogs/well/2016/08/03/read-books-live-longer/.

The article provides some evidence to what I have always felt: books improve our lives and thus our lives are better and longer because we read.  What the article does not evaluate is the “why” do readers live longer.  Therefore, I felt it was necessary to expound on this data with my own biased and unsupported finds.  Will I have any empirical data to prove this?  No.  Will my findings have ground-breaking results in the scientific world?  Yeah, no again.  Will it be entertaining?  Well, that is my hope.

So, going back to the science fair projects of my children and my very distant memories of the transitive property in Algebra, my hypothesis is that readers live longer because of the following factors:

Writers keep writing more books that readers want to read.
I mean, seriously, what is up with these writers?  Are they trying to make a living or something?  It’s not like the readers are demanding of writers and clamoring for the next book in the series!  I’m talking about you, Anna Lee Huber!  It is impossible for me to get “caught” up with my reading.  Every time a new book comes out, there is a great debate in my mind as to when to read it.  Of course, we always have favorite authors that immediately get pushed to the top of the pile, but do you finish the book you are currently reading?  Do you stop mid-book and pick up the anticipated book?  Do you try to read both books simultaneously?  Yeah, that would be me.  Heck, I have probably chalked up a few additional years in my life already with the time I have spent in turmoil deciding what to read next!

Life interferes with reading time.
I think I might have mentioned how annoyed I get that laundry needs to be done, meals need to be cooked, children need to be driven around.  Don’t people know that I have a book that I need to read!!  I can, on average, complete about three books a week.  Are all of them great?  Absolutely not, but they need to be read.

Limited reading time causes the To-Be-Read piles to increase.
I have a compulsion . . . anyone else have it?  If a new book comes out from a favorite author, I need to own it.  Now, I get a lot of books from the library . . . and that is a completely different post . . . but sometimes the library doesn’t have the book, sometimes the book is one I want for my own personal library, and sometimes, someone else is on the wait-list ahead of me!  Seriously, I think I may be a toddler when it comes to books.  If I want it, it’s mine.

Therefore, there will always be one more book left to read!
I have no doubt that I will be on my deathbed not ready to let go because I haven’t finished the book I’m reading or I’m waiting for the next one in the series.  So my conclusion to this highly biased and subjective analysis is that “Readers live longer” because they still have books to read!

And so if you’ll excuse me, I am off to do something good for my health and longevity!

Queries and Conundrums: AudioBooks

books on tape

Every personality or learning quiz I have ever taken always indicates that I am a visual learner.  I have to look at things to process them, so it is no wonder that I love to read.  Over the summers however, I have found that I thoroughly enjoy books-on-tape.  I am sure that I am dating myself by calling them “books-on-tape;” I supposed audiobooks is the proper time but it hearkens back to when my children were young.  When my kids were little, I remember checking out books-on-tape at the library for them to “read along with.”  They enjoyed being able to follow the stories themselves and I found that it also helped them learn to read.  I myself had never really enjoyed books-on-tape.  I think that it is because I rarely have the time to sit down and focus on the story; if I am going to enjoy a book, I want to read it.

For the past eight years, my children have attended BookPeople’s Literary Camps; a later post on that awesome experience.  Anyway, I have about seven hours of “me” time in Austin.  For the first five years, both my husband and I came down and we enjoyed sight-seeing, eating, kayaking, eating, hiking, eating . . . you get the picture.  Once our oldest moved out of the age range of the camp, we had to divide and conquer; I brought the girls down to camp and my husband stayed home with our son.  The past two years, only our youngest has been eligible to attend.

I love Zilker Park and enjoy running . . . well, mostly walking with some short bursts of energy . . . along the river.  I figured it would be a great opportunity to try out a book-on-tape; I had two plus hours of walking time each day to just listen to a story.

I found that I didn’t like it, I loved it!!!  Every year I have chosen a different book to dedicate the trip to and each time it has been a book that I have previously read.  This past summer, I listened to Anna Lee Huber’s A Grave Matter, the third Lady Darby mystery.

I found that listening to the story provides a refreshing perspective.  It is fascinating how the descriptive details of a setting or ball gown become more visual by having them read aloud.  I also love how the action comes alive, be it a fight scene or love scene, through the oral interpretation.  I appreciate the talent of the narrator to create dimension to the story through the inflection of the words and the voices they choose for the different characters.  Having a bit of a background in theatre makes me both appreciate and admire their talent.

I know that I have always loved to read aloud to my own children and make the stories come alive that way, but I hadn’t really known how much I would enjoy the same being done to me.  I have not attempted a book that I haven’t read yet, but that will be next on my list.

How about you? Any commuters or hikers that listen to books-on-tape?

As Death Draws Near

As Death Draws Near

Title:                                    As Death Draws Near (Lady Darby 5)
Author:                               Anna Lee Huber
Publisher:                           Penguin
Publication Date:              2016
ISBN:                                   978-0-425-27772-0

Book Summary:
While relaxing on their idyllic honeymoon in the Lake District, Kiera and Gage’s bliss is interrupted when they receive a missive from Lord Gage, forcefully requesting their assistance with the murder of a nun at an abbey in the village of Rathfarnham in Ireland.  Not appreciating his father’s high-handedness, Kiera and Gage reluctantly agree to make the journey to Ireland; partly because of the heinous nature of the crime and partly due to the fact that the murdered nun was a cousin of the Duke of Wellington.  Kiera and Gage, along with their servants Bree and Anderley, travel across the rough waters, and along the way, they run into an old acquaintance.

When they arrive at Lorreto Abbey, the identity of the killer seems elusive, and many factors interfere with their ability to find out the truth.  The local constabulary isn’t totally honest about their loyalties or their knowledge of the crime; the nuns at the abbey and some of their day school students are reticent to confide in Gage and Kiera; and the political and religious conflict between the Ribbonmen and Orangemen is boiling just under the surface.

Kiera and Gage are frustrated with the lack of progress in the investigation but when masked men threaten them and another nun is found murdered, the threat strikes even closer to the newlyweds.  As more details and secrets come to light, Kiera and Gage find themselves embroiled in a conflict from which they must fight to escape.

Book Commentary:
I absolutely love the Lady Darby series and this newest installment does not disappoint!  The author has done a fabulous job at maintaining the dynamics and struggles of the two main characters – Kiera and Gage – while adding the new dimension of their marriage. Both are so fiercely independent and yet insecure; they each want to be their own person but need each other to do so. I love how they truly respect and appreciate each other’s intelligence. With that intelligence, there has be a bit of banter and accountability. They hold each other responsible for their thoughts and words.  They are also trying to figure out how to make marriage and their investigations meld into a meaningful and acceptable way.

The book also took a bit of departure from the previous novels in that the crime committed did not have any direct relationship to Kiera or Gage; they are investigating because they are good at it and not because they have a personal stake.  Of course, as the story progress, the reader realizes, perhaps even before the characters do, that they do take their investigations personally and through their inquiry and examination of the crime, they are also discovering more about themselves, their values, their commitment, and their future.

I found the history of the conflict between the Protestants and Catholics, and both the Irish and English perspectives, fascinating and also a bit depressing.  In some ways, so many attitudes haven’t changed in 175 years.  The author does a fantastic job at blending the fact into the story in a meaningful and understandable way; history helps the story along but doesn’t overshadow the character or plot development.  Old grudges and prejudices are revealed to the characters and the reader is able to process the facts and fiction along with Kiera and Gage.

We also see a great deal of growth in Kiera herself as she struggles with the useful, although not her choice to receive, knowledge of anatomy. With Gage, she sees what a marriage and relationship should look like and yet still struggles to put aside or come to terms with her past.  I think her personal growth and self-awareness really adds to the psychological depth of the crime analysis.  I look forward to watching her not just “come into her own,” but to accept and actually embrace it as well.

Who might like this book:
If you like a good, well-plotted historical mystery series that puts character development first, read this series.  Some of my other favorite authors – Deanna Raybourn, Julia Spencer-Fleming, Victoria Thompson, Carol K. Carr – have all written endorsements for this unique heroine and I couldn’t agree more!  I anxiously await the next story in this fantastic series.

As always, don’t ruin the story by starting in the middle.  Read the series in order.  You will thank me.

The Anatomist’s Wife
Mortal Arts
A Grave Matter
A Study in Death
A Pressing Engagement (an eNovella)
As Death Draws Near

 

Queries and Conundrums: Summertime Reading

Canada 2013 028

I’m not dead yet!”  Can you tell I’ve been listening to Spamalot?  I apologize for the long siesta but between the end of the school year and my son graduating from high school, life has been busy.  Finally, things have slowed down a bit.  I have been reading a lot but have had little time to write.  But now it is summer!!!

What is it that makes summer reading so different from the rest of the year?  I know that for me personally, my kids are not in school so I am not reading as much while sitting in carpool lines or while waiting for rehearsal or lessons to finish up.  Don’t get me wrong; the kids are still busy but my reading time has shifted.

During the summer, I read more in the morning, when the house is quiet and the teenagers are still asleep.  I read during the heat of the day when really it is just too miserable to do anything else.  I read in the evening when the temperature finally cools down and the fireflies are just starting to appear.  Summer seems to provide more opportunities for longer stretches of reading time, but it is more than that.  For some reason, I feel less guilty for spending time reading rather than flipping the laundry or running the vacuum or making dinner.  Seriously though; it’s 100 degrees!  Who wants to turn the oven on?!

The requirements of daily life relax a bit and time for reading take precedence over all.  Throughout the school year, I find myself hoarding books to save for summer reading.  Funny thing is that my kids do too!!  Sometimes these books are ones that I know will take more time to process and think about, sometimes they are ones that may have more challenging content, but most often they are just books that I really want to read and enjoy and have the time to relish them.

When I was a kid, my grandparents had a cabin on a small island in Canada.  I used to spend two months up there almost every summer.  The morning meant chores: baking before the temperatures got too hot, weeding the garden, bailing the boats out, and so on.  After lunch, it was my time.  Pops almost always took an afternoon nap and Granny would spend time on her cross-stitch projects.  The only television reception was one station of Canadian television, the only music was from an 8 track tape player, and there rarely were any other children around, so I read . . . a lot.  With the windows open, there was just enough of a breeze to make it pleasant as I curled up on the old cracked vinyl couch on the front porch.  I usually brought a suitcase full of books but I often resorted to pillaging my grandparents’ bookshelves.  It was the summer that I turned 10 that I read To Kill a Mockingbird.  At 12, it was Gone with the Wind and at 13, Anna Karenina.  Summer was meant for not just enjoying my reading time, but rather full immersion.

So, what is on tap for this summer?  The new John Flanagan Brotherband book The Ghostfaces just came out, and next week is the newest Lady Darby – As Death Draws Near – by Anna Lee Huber.  I also have Rick Riordan’s Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, Book 1: The Sword of Summer sitting on my shelf; yes, I know it was released last October.  Don’t judge; it’s been a busy year!  I also still have a pile on my to-be-read shelf and who knows what I will discover when I take a break from the heat and venture into the nearest bookstore.

So, as the temps rise, embrace the true essence of summer.  Be it on the beach, by the pool, or in your own living room, read and enjoy the season.