Saturday, April 13, 2019

WHAT WE'RE WRITING WEEK: Julia Reads and Edits

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: As you may recall, last WWW Week, I announced I had (finally) finished and (thankfully) turned in the 9th Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne novel. Now - the edits. 

I've had very light editing with some books. I remember one where my then-editor - the legendary Ruth Cavin - gave me notes that were literally three paragraphs, each one focused on one strand of my writing. They boiled down to things like, "Cut the fat" and "Pick up the pace" and "Re-write the ending." I always have to re-write the ending, because I finish each book in a surge of unhinged energy not unlike that of a coke-and-caffeine addict on a bender. Have you ever primed a wall for painting? And at the start, you're all neat and careful about your brushwork, but by the end you just want to finish the damn thing and break for dinner, so you slap on the primer any which way? Yeah, like that.

So this book is NOT one of those less-than-one-page editorial letters. Friends, when you compose a book on and off for five years (really, more like three and a bit of actually working) it's ugly. Imagine sewing together a patchwork quilt, except every few months your old box of fabric is taken away and you get a new box with different shaped pieces for a different pattern. And you're sewing in the dark part of the time. 

So the editing process started with me giving my editor notes - a few things I knew I absolutely wanted to change, expand or refine. Then I got notes from my editor. Then I got notes from my agent. Then from a couple other editors. Don't get me wrong - these are all smart people who know good fiction. Everything they suggest or point out is something that will make my book better and stronger. But what it means is that right now, my quilt is lying all over the dining room table, the desk, and the kitchen, seams picked out, fabric in swatches and piles of shaped waiting to be sorted, reassembled, and restitched. 

So I'm not sharing yet another excerpt with you today. (If you have a hankering, just search for HID FROM OUR EYES in the blog search box. I've shared 857 prior excerpts over the past several years - although several of them are already out of the book at this point.)

What I am going to share is what I'm reading right now. I've mentioned before, I restrict my reading when I'm face-down in writing. Since finishing the book, I've been binging on mysteries, thrillers, horror, SF, nonfiction - everything really. So what aremy latest? I'll tell you.




THE MURDER LIST by Hank Phillippi Ryan (August 2019.) I'm not blowing smoke at you - we Reds tend to read each others books, as you might expect, and I got an ARC from Hank. I finally understand what psychological suspense means after reading this book - I was in psychological suspense the whole time. Who do you trust? Who's telling the truth? One of the things I like about stand-alones is that it takes everything off the table - anyone could be a bad guy, or not make it through to the end of the novel. Hank uses this to great effect. Also, shout-out to a protagonist who doesn't do dumb stuff just to advance the plot, which I've seen in other domestic/ psychological/ female-led thrillers.

THE WATER WILL COME by Jeff Goodell. This is my nonfiction read at the moment. I actually gave the book to the Sailor as a Christmas present, then took it back from him when I was visiting/ seeing him off in Norfolk. It's very well-written popular science that has one half of my brain screaming, "We're doomed!" and the other half thinking about what a riveting setting a post-sea-rise world would make for a near-future SF novel. Writers. We're a cold-blooded lot.

THE HUMAN DIVISION by John Scalzi. Speaking of science fiction... I'm re-reading Scalzi's Old Man's War novels (and short stories) and enjoying them just as much as I did the first time. If you're sci-fi-curious (see what I did there?) John Scalzi is my go-to recommendation. His books are accessible, funny, touching and there's always a special pleasure in putting yourself in the hands of an author at the top of his game.


MY BROTHER'S KEEPER by Vaughn C. Hardacker (July 2019.) Vaughn's been short-listed for Maine Literary Awards at least two times I know of, and it shows. He writes in lean, evocative prose that perfectly captures both the hard-eyed cops, PIs and criminals that populate his novels, and the forests, lakes and small New England towns where they circle and struggle against each other. If Raymond Chandler and Paul Doiron had a baby, it would be this book.

Okay, dear readers, your turn. What are you reading, or editing, or quilting?

63 comments:

  1. While I’m looking forward to reading your book, Julia, what you are reading sounds quite amazing.

    I’m reading some good moon-landing books, this year being the fiftieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission. Douglas Brinkley’s “American Moonshot” is terrific.
    I just finished an ARC of Becky Masterman’s chilling “We Were Killers Once” and “The A List” by J.A. Jance; also "The Library of Lost and Found" by Phaedra Patrick . . . .

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    1. I heard a review/discussion on AMERICAN MOONSHOT on NPR, Joan. It sounded fascinating, though the talk was a bit elegiac. We got to the moon in an era when slide rules were high-tech. Now we can program everything in our house to turn on and off, speak vis video across continents, and have the world's knowledge in our back pockets in the shape of a phone. But we've lost the capabilities and the will to land on the moon.

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    2. When I was teaching, I always borrowed moon rocks from NASA for our space exploration unit and the children were always excited about being able to see them. It’s sad that we’ve somehow lost that sense of awe and wonderment . . . .

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    3. I think there's some of that excitement when you talk about going to Mars. I know it's fantastically expensive, but I really think we need a BIG project - manned flight to Mars or building a permanent L5 space station.

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    4. I could be excited about either one of those missions!

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  2. In the "reading" column, I'm catching up on Deanna Raybourn's "Veronica Speedwell" novels, thanks to a timely reminder from Jungle Red. I also just finished Julia Buckley's "Death Waits in the Dark,"--the latest "Writer's Apprentice" mystery. Thanks to the Reds for that one, too!

    What I'm (not) quilting at the moment is a quilt top I finished last season during rehearsal. It's all neatly pressed and ready to baste to batting and backing, but I haven't dug into my stash to get that going yet. I have, however, figured out what I want to piece next, so there will be fabric in my future. I definitely miss having handwork to do in rehearsal, since it gives me something simple and stupid to do with my hands and eyes, allowing me to listen to the music (and the conductor's instructions) with more attention.

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    1. My favorite handwork - which I haven't done in YEARS - is crewel needlepoint. I have so many pillows around my house...

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  3. OMG have I ever been there! But Julia, you know, we all can’t wait to read it! I realize that doesn’t help

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    1. I know you have! I'm caught in a dilemma - it would be a lot easier to swap pieces around and envision the structure if I printed the WHOLE ms out. But at the same time, it's much easier to change sentences digitally. I may need to bite the bullet and take it to Staples to get an analog copy.

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  4. So far in April I've read or am reading:

    THE CARE AND FEEDING OF RAVENOUSLY HUNGRY GIRLS by Anissa Gray. Most excellent and highly recommended

    SCOT AND SODA by Catriona McPherson. What can I say? How can one woman be so funny?

    BLIND GODDESS BY Anne Holt, first of the Hanne Wilhelmsen series. I started this after we binge watched MODUS on PBS a week or so ago. Watch it. Don't be flummoxed by Swedish with English subtitles. Trust me. I am a nurse. The series? Not so much, but then that's just me.

    WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING by Delia Owens. I've been avoiding this book, mostly because of all the brou-ha-ha over it, but last week I caved and read it in two sittings/lying downs, more like. The ending! Wow, I didn't seen that coming! Please, someone read it quick, so I can talk about it.

    LOST AND WANTED by Nell Freudenberger. This book couldn't be more timely if she'd planned it, what with the pictures of the black hole we got to see this week. It's the story of a woman in physics at MIT, no kidding. And it is going high on my list of the best literary novel of the year. I won't say more.

    And last but not least, if you haven't read BAD BLOOD: SECRETS AND LIES IN A SILICON VALLEY STARTUP by John Carreyou, you don't know what you're missing. I don't read much non-fiction, but this one had me on the edge of my seat. There's an HBO (?) series now, "The Inventor", which I'll watch when and if we get a trial of HBO, but I suggest reading the book first. It's quite an eye opener.

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    1. Yes, Crawdads , loved it--and really held out, but whoa, so worth it.
      And Bad Blood is astonishing. I am OBSESSED with it.

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    2. Hank, I knew you’d like Bad Blood!

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  5. Love your descriptions Julia--this book is going to be amazing! I just finished WILD FIRE by Ann Cleeves, the final book in her Shetland series. So sad this is over, but fingers crossed I'll be hooked on the new series. And now reading LOVE AND DEATH AMONG THE CHEETAHS by our own Rhys Bowen. Such a pleasure to be back in Georgie's world again!

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  6. Seam ripper in hand! Been there many times.
    Jessica Strawser's Forget You Know Me, set in Cincinnati, which is fun and distracting, because I know the places through my eyes, but not hers.
    Connie Berry, A Dream of Death.

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    1. Margaret, I know what you mean about seeing "your" place through another's eyes. I always enjoy reading books set in Maine - although I also wince extra hard when authors get it wrong!

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  7. Julia, I love that quilting metaphor for your writing and editing experiences. To extend it, I think Gigi once commented that every quilt goes through an 'ugly' stage--'My God, this is SO ugly, what was I thinking?' and then you finish it and it's lovely. We have every faith that your 'quilt' will be a great read!

    I too am struggling with an ugly book--it's something that began long ago as a story for all my boys--and then it grew and took itself in directions it wanted to go. And now I'm trying to stitch all the parts together--discovering which parts no longer fit and also that I need some new fabric for piecing parts together. Someday I'll get it in the shape it wants and needs to be.

    And I just took a quilt off the frames a couple of weeks ago now--a dinosaur quilt for a little guy who's not quite four. It was like playing with crayons again! And I'm reading Wendell Thomas's Drowned Under (thanks, Reds) and next up is The Witch's Kind by Louisa Morgan--a new-to-me author. And re-reading quite a bit of Helen MacInnes.

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    1. Flora, a fiend of mine who quilts a LOT more than I do calls that stage "The Frankenquilt." :-)

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  8. Oh, Julia, it will be so worth it, of that I am sure!

    Right now I am reading a terrific book by Brad Parks, The Last Act. This is so good. There are so many possibilities for what will happen next which makes for quite a ride.

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    1. Brad is fabulous. I love the way he can write both funny and scary, sometimes in the same scene. We really need to get him back here on JRW.

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  9. Julia, I agree that your quilting metaphor was perfect. I know the finished product will be amazing.

    On the reading front, I have taken an odd detour into celebrity biography/memoir. This seems to be what happens when you put yourself on a wait-list for books: they end up showing up in a different sequence than you might have chosen. So I recently read the David Itzkoff biography of Robin Williams, ROBIN. Though it contained interesting tidbits, it was probably more thorough than I would have chosen. I am now listening to the Gary Sinese memoir GRATEFUL AMERICAN: A JOURNEY FROM SELF TO SERVICE. I'm less than a quarter of the way through it, but so far I am enjoying it a lot. For someone of his prominence, he has a lovely down-to-earth quality.

    On the mystery front, I recently enjoyed THE LAST EQUATION OF ISAAC SEVERY by Nova Jacobs. It was a mystery of sorts but really, more of a character study and a tale of a quest. It kept me fully engaged. Next I will turn my attention to Jacqueline Winspear's TO DIE BUT ONCE because I don't quite know how I fell a whole book behind on her series. But with everyone focused on her new one, it is at least easy to get my hands on this one!

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    1. Susan, that happens to me so frequently, especially with friends' books. I'll be in our local (independent!) bookstore, and see a new Charles Todd or Kent Krueuger or Steve Hamilton book and think, Great! Only to discover, when I pick it up, that I'm now three books behind in the series.

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  10. Julia, as painful as this process is, I'm rooting you on. This book was born out of so many changes in your life, don't you think?

    I've also begun reading the Veronica Speedwell series, a long-awaited treat. That will keep me busy for the next week or so, while I work on finishing up my own "quilt", our new house. It's been an ongoing project now, for at least four years, and things are finally coming to fruition. The house is largely my own design, refined by an architect (who did not quite see my vision, so we have had to tweak things along the way), meant to provide us with a home where we can age in place. Your word picture of bits and pieces lying around, discarded or awaiting reorganization, fits perfectly, Julia!

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    1. Thanks, Karen! I like your house metaphor, as well..which makes me think, along with editing and reading, I need to start polishing and vacuuming in preparation for Easter guests!

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  11. You'll get all those quilt bits into perfect book order. I'm counting on it! No smoke involved here, but I am just finishing up a Julia Spencer-Fleming binge and I'm on page 98 of THROUGH THE EVIL DAYS.

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    1. Perfect! You'll be all caught up for HID FROM OUR EYES!

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  12. Julia, I know you'll get through it and the book will be terrific! I can hardly wait to read it. I am, however, now terrified of editing (but not quilts, thank goodness).

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    1. It's just so much fiddly work, and of course, when you change one thing, you have to track down every single reference to it and change that. It's not as hard as the creative act of writing, but it takes so much longer, for me at least.

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  13. I love the quilt analogy. Our Readers and Stitchers group contains many superb quilters of whom I am in awe.
    Happily anticipating, also in awe of the work and skill, HID FROM OUR EYES. Is there a due date?
    Meanwhile, I'm caught up in Deanna Raybourn's A DANGEROUS COLLABORATION and giving a storytelling workshop for early childhood educators this afternoon. <3

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    1. I'm delighted to see Deanna Raybourn getting so much love from our JRW readers! No date yet, Mary, though my editor said "Winter '20" which could be anytime from late December '19 to early April. Don't worry, I'll do a big announcement when we have a hard date.

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  14. Good luck with all the editing Julia.

    As for me, I'm reading the Jack Higgins novel 'A Devil Is Waiting'. I'm also working on 'The Baker Street Translation' by Michael Robertson. There's a Firefly prose novel called 'The Magnificent Nine' that I need to get around to reading.

    The local library's Mystery Book club made their new choice for the month which is Louise Penny's 'The Beautiful Mystery'. Oh and I just got sent three new ARCs from Mystery Scene to read and potentially review.

    By the way, this week's "What We're Writing" installments seems have affected me subconsciously. Last night I dreamt that a JRW related person that we all know and love had written an illustrated history of World War II that used comic book art as the photos.

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    1. Hmmm...maybe your subconscious has hit on an excellent idea, Jay. Who wouldn't want to see Rhys Bowen's work in manga/graphic novel form? It's all the rage these days.

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  15. Hid From Our Eyes. for such a long time. So happy the word smithing is almost done. If you feel someone reading over your shoulder, Julia, it is me in teleporting in from Tampa.
    I am currently reading David and Aimee Thurlo's Navajo Vampire Series, up to bk. 3 Pale Death, Rita Mae Brown' Whiskers in the Dark, and Laura Bradford's Eclair and Present Danger. Also just finished Hank's The Murder List, what a grand read, 5 starts for this one. Other recent ARC reads were The body in the Pool (Seattle Setting), Knit One Die Two (bk 3 of Peggy Ehrhart's Knit and Nibble series) As silver is to the Moon, Northern CA teen werewolves, and Womack's The Time Collector (paranormal mystery involving psychometry).

    I do love being retired. All the time in the world to read and reflect.

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    1. You really DO have time to read, Coralee! My moyther always said the best part of retirement was finally having enough time to read all the books she wanted.

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  16. Julia, I'm sorry things aren't going well with the book. I was praying for you this morning and will continue to do so. Just wanted to let you know that.

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    1. Thank you, Judy! It's not that things are going badly per se, it's just a long process that relies on getting lots and lots of strands all lined up and matched to each other. I'm evermore not a patient person, so it's a challenge for me.

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  17. OOOOHHHHH Thank you!!!! Yay. Yay yay yay.
    That said, hurray for YOUR book, too.
    I love this part of the process. The editorial letter comes and you think--oh no! Then five (or ten) minutes later, (or fifteen) you think, wait, wow, GREAT idea. And you are writing like crazy. So--Cannot wait to read what happens.
    And by the way, in THE MURDER LIST, there was one major change after the first edit. More I cannot say, but it was breathtaking and massive. It was daunting and terrifying--but I think it worked. And no, Julia, it's not what you might be thinking. :-) That part is the same.

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    1. YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME. Okay, next time I see you in person, I'm shaking you down for this info.

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    2. Cannot wait to tell you about it. xoo

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    3. I'd like to know toooooo

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  18. And oh, I am reading Ann Cleeves THE LONG CALL. :-) Standing ovation.

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  19. Oh, I feel for you, Julia. Finishing a book is such a high and then...revisions. Your book is going to be brilliant - I have no doubt!

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    1. It's always the editing that makes it so, isn't it? Still, it would be nice if the magical editing fairy fluttered by and waved her wand and it was all done...

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    2. When that magical editing fairy is done at your house, send it my way! ;-)

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    3. I'll fan extra hard to get her out of the house and off to you... :-)

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  20. Julia, I think I may begin rereading the series so everything will be fresh in my mind when your newest is available.(It’s always nice to visit with old friends!)

    My project continues to be trying to declutter and reorganize. Two steps forward, one back. I keep telling myself it will be worth it in the end, but I would really prefer to be doing anything else! (One of those other things is reading. Some weeks lately I have read one book per day. Retirement is good for that!)

    DebRo

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    1. Thank you, DebRo! Decluttering and reorganizing is a task best taken slowly and in steps, I think. At the very least, it keeps you from tossing out something you'll want later, or rushing out and spending money on storage solutions you won't wind up using.

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  21. Julia, you'll stitch it all together and it will be wonderful, I promise! I have enormous faith in you, and I'm glad you have editorial guidance that you trust. That can make such a difference.

    I just finished our own Rhys Bowen's Love and Death Among the Cheetahs, which I LOVED. So interested in that period in Africa, and fascinating to see Rhys's take on it. And Georgie and Darcy, of course.

    And now I am also reading Ann Cleeve's The Long Call, an ARC of the first in a new series, and I think it's going to be fantastic. That's how I want to spend the rest of my weekend!

    On the non-fiction side, a lovely memoir by Molly Wizenberg called A Homemade Life. Fan of Laurie Colwin would probably like it, as well.

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    1. So many Ann Cleeve readers right here in the comments! She's been so popular in our tiny local library, we've had waiting lists, which is not the norm for us. I think readers came because of the BBC show, and stayed because she's SUCH a compelling writer.

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  22. Shalom Reds and fans. I just finished listening and reading Spies of No Country, by Matti Friedman. I have an ARC that was given to me by the Jewish Book Council sometime last fall. I also borrowed from Hoopla the audiobook version which I listened to while reading the printed copy. It tells the story of the “Arab Section” of the Palmach, part of the Israeli irregular army during the War of Independence during the birth of the state of Israel. The Arab Section was composed of Jews who had grown up in Arab countries. Their mother tongue was Arabic and they could sometimes pass as Arab. In addition to being a thrilling spy story, it really does inform the contemporary “situation” because 50% of the Jews living in Israel today are of Jewish Arab descent. I am going now to read the book, The Aleppo Codex which came out a few years ago, also by Matti Friedman.

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  23. David, the Friedman book sounds fascinating. And I always assumed most of the Jews in Israel were Ashkenazi. The founding of Israel is one of those "modern" historical events that I think of as being in the near past, until I realize, holy cow, it was seventy-one years ago. I imagine there were quite a few histories and studies put out last year.

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  24. Julia, I know that when you get your book all patched together, it's going to be one heck of a beautiful quilt. It's little wonder that this book has been an altogether different challenge. I can wait because I know it will be worth it. And, I loved hearing about your reading. I am always curious what authors are reading.

    My reading has been way off here in April, as I'm dealing with some health issues and tests, but I have a full schedule when my reading mojo is in full force again. I am reading the ever delightful Catriona McPherson now, her new Last Ditch mystery, Scot Soda, and loving it. Next is A Risky Undertaking for Loretta Singletary by Terry Shames. I love Terry's Samuel Craddock series, and I'm trying to get it read before publication and post a review. I absolutely have to get to Martin Edward's Gallows Court soon. I should have already done so. And, Hank's sending me The Murder List, so it will be up when it comes for sure.

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    1. Sounds like a great line-up, Kathy. I hope you're feeling 100% soon and that everything goes well!

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    2. Kathy, hope all goes well for you and thanks for reminding me that there's a new Terry Shames. I enjoy this series very much!

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  25. Can barely wait for your book, Julia! Patience. . . I'm in the middle of Abir Mukherjee's Smoke and Ashes, a Captain Wyndham and Sgt Banerjee mystery. We're in 1921 Calcutta and things have been tense with the major strikes called by Ghandi. This is the third and latest book in the series and I love it! It's kept me company to San Antonio and back.

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    1. That's a wonderful series, Pat. I love historical mysteries, especially those that are set in an unfamiliar time or culture. Not that the Raj is unfamiliar, but getting the Indian's perspective is fresh.

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  26. Julia, the readers here at my library will be clamoring for your book! I've read Hank's, and agree, it is superb. I'm a fan of Scalzi too.

    I'm halfway through about three different books right now - but the one I think you all would like is A NEARLY NORMAL FAMILY by M.T. Edvardsson. Much like DEFENDING JACOB, it's about parents who question whether their child is guilty of a murder - but this one is set in Sweden. The father is a pastor, and the mother is a lawyer. There's one part told from each of their perspectives, plus a part from the daughter's POV. Itching to finish it.

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    1. That sounds intriguing, Cari. Reminds me of BEFORE AND AFTER by Rosellen Brown, which was excellent and super scary to read as a parent.

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  27. Just finished Beowulf (OLLI class), first time through, now on to Grendel, by John Gardner. Also just finished the MaddAdam series by Margaret Atwood, extraordinarily descriptive writing, no spoilers here. If you haven’t read it do so, but I do Love the idea of a helpful being named Fuck, floating around in the ethos. So into my comfort zone with Louise Penny’s latest, Kingdom of the Blind. Christmas gift, second time through, while I possess my soul in patience . . .

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    1. I promise you'll get an ARC as soon as I have one, Celia!

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  28. Wow! Your comments are so timely for me! I just walked away from my disappearing 9 patch quilt project for Project Linus.I am not nesting my seams very well. That said, I think it's not easy to be a good writer. I love your series. I won't mention some I have read that I think are awful. I hope you keep writing, but only if it gives you pleasure and satisfaction.

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    1. I'm certainly continuing writing, Saxlady! And to continue the metaphor - I seriously thought about walking away from he quilt before finishing, but I'm very glad I didn't.

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