Friday, December 11, 2020

Do You Remember?



HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: DON’T even get me started. How many times a a day do I use my landline to call my cell phone because I cannot remember where I put it? Oh, I can remember all the lyrics to Beatles songs, but the person’s name who comes up to me at a cocktail party? NO way. (That’s one good pandemic thing, right? No more of those stomach-churning moments when your mind goes blank in public. There IS no public!)


 But see? I remembered to post his blog today—because I absolutely adore Tessa Wegert. (And her books, too, which you can see from the cover of her brand new THE DEAD SEASON!) SO let’s think about memory a bit. 

And so you don’t forget to leave a comment, we’ll give a copy of Tessa’s first novel, DEATH IN THE FAMILY, to one lucky commenter. Her new book—don’t forget—go get that right away. Well, read this first.


 Remember When… Mysteries and Thrillers About Memory Loss 

 Remember when…? 

 That’s probably a line you’re using a lot this time of year. Remember when we spent the holidays in Mexico? Remember that time we got snowed in and the whole neighborhood pitched in to shovel? I think it’s fair to say we sometimes take the significance of the phrase remember when for granted. 

Memory is one of those things we don’t appreciate until it fails us. Only then do we fully understand the critical function it plays in our lives. 

 As a plot device, memory loss is sometimes associated with Hollywood movies and soap operas. Is there a long-running drama series that hasn’t seen a character suffer from amnesia? While the treatment of memory loss in fiction can sometimes be a bit heavy-handed, authors with a deft touch – like the two I mention below – can use it to tell wholly original and compelling stories.

 

In White Out , the latest thriller from Danielle Girard, the story begins with Lily Baker regaining consciousness in a car after surviving a crash. There’s a man next to her whom she can’t place. 

Even more alarming, she can’t recall who she is. 

 At the same time, not far away in small North Dakota town, war veteran Iver Larson wakes up from a drunken stupor without a full recollection of the previous night’s events. When a murder victim is found outside the bar he owns, and Detective Kylie Milliard begins to investigate, his hazy memory only makes him more suspicious.

 Memory features prominently in White Out. It shapes the plot and helps build suspense, of which this book has plenty – but it also connects two characters besieged with doubt and struggling to make sense of their lives. 

 As the title suggests, memory loss also factors into Wendy Walker’s psychological thriller All is Not Forgotten .

Following a violent attack, high schooler Jenny Kramer is given a drug designed to medically expunge her memory of the painful experience. Instead of fully protecting Jenny from psychological trauma, though, the drug prevents her from moving on with her life. 

 All is Not Forgotten is narrated by Jenny’s psychiatrist, a man with secrets and troubles of his own, and we learn more and more about that fated night as the novel progresses. Memory becomes the linchpin of a chilling story that explores the emotional impact of memories. 


 In my new book The Dead Season , the second mystery in the Shana Merchant Series that began with Death in the Family, Shana’s inability to accurately recall key moments from her childhood threatens to obstruct an urgent investigation. 

When she gets involved in two cases that hit close to home, remembering experiences she shares with a dangerous man becomes critical to outsmarting him. 

 I used memory as a tool to put my protagonist in a vulnerable position and set the stage for a confrontation with the killer who haunts her days. The onus falls on Shana to rescue an innocent child, but in order to do that she has to revisit painful moments from her past. 

 Some of my favorite mysteries and thrillers feature memory as a theme, from Tana French’s In the Woods to Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Identity. Which books incorporating memory loss have you enjoyed? Share your comments below, and I hope you make many joyful new memories this holiday season! 


 HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Memory is SUCH a tricky thing, so agree! Just ask me weather I took my calcium pill today. NO idea. Or even what day it is! Can you think of a book where someone loses their memory? Or where memory is an issue? And can you tell me where I put my glasses?

 Remember—leave a comment to enter to win! 



 Senior Investigator Shana Merchant has spent years running from her past. But she never imagined a murder case would drive her to the most dangerous place of all—home. After leaving the NYPD following her abduction by serial killer Blake Bram, Shana Merchant hoped for a fresh start in the Thousand Islands of Upstate New York. 

Her former tormentor has other plans. Shana and Bram share more than just a hometown, and he won’t let her forget it. 

When the decades-old skeleton of Shana’s estranged uncle is uncovered, Bram issues a challenge: Return home to Vermont and solve the cold case, or the blood he spills next will be on her hands. As Shana interviews members of her family and the community, mining for secrets that could help her solve her uncle’s murder, she begins to realize how little she remembers of her childhood. 

And when Bram grows impatient and kidnaps again, leaving a trail of clues Shana alone can understand, she knows his new victim will only survive if she wins the psychopath’s twisted game. In order to solve one mystery, Shana must wade into her murky past to unravel another. 


Tessa Wegert is the author of Death in the Family and The Dead Season, part of the Shana Merchant series of mysteries. A Canadian-born former freelance writer whose work appeared in Forbes, The Huffington Post, Adweek, and The Economist, Tessa now lives with her husband and children in Coastal Connecticut.

70 comments:

  1. Congratulations on your new book, Tessa . . . . I’m looking forward to reading Shana’s latest adventure.

    One of my favorite stories where memory is an issue is Michael Robotham’s “Lost” in which an inspector is accused of faking amnesia [of course, he’s not faking] and his lost memories are crucial to solving a crime.

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    1. Oh, that sounds great! Faking amnesia is such an interesting concept! that would be a real tight rope to write about, too…

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    2. Thank you, Joan! I haven't read LOST but will add it to my list!

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  2. Your book sounds exciting, Tessa!
    Anne Perry has a long running series with William Monk. He suffers memory loss after a carriage accident. After discovering how unpopular he is (arrogant jerk) he fakes his way in his police job rather than ask for help. His memories return in bits and pieces throughout the series.

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    1. Another task that would be very difficult for a writer, isn’t it? Because you’d have to make it not coincidental, and natural feeling, which would be tough! I have never read those books, come to think of it.

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    2. Thanks Pat! Sounds like a wonderful series. And I completely agree, Hank, exposing those memories bit by bit in a way that feels natural would be a challenge. More books to add to my reading list!

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  3. The big events in life are easier to remember. The daily stuff, like whether you took a pill or where you put your phone, are harder to remember since you can get yesterday confused with today. At least, that's my excuse, and I'm sticking to it.

    Congrats on the new book, Tessa!

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    1. Hi Mark, I agree as well...big moments have staying power. Interestingly, when I was researching this book I learned that bad moments tend to be more memorable, too...but maybe we can drown those out with happy life events. Memory is such a fascinating subject, isn't it? Thanks for your kind words!

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  4. Congratulations on the new book, Tessa! This series sounds like a thrilling read and I have added the titles to my TBR mountain.

    Yes, memory issues are becoming a problem as I get older. Being stuck inside at home for 9 months has made it worse. Every day seems the same and I sometimes can't even remember what day of the week it is!

    I have read several great thrillers where past memories are a key plot device in the story.
    TELL ME MY NAME by Erin Ruddy is a debut thriller by an Ontario writer that I highly recommend. A young couple is abducted by a strange man and held hostage in their remote cottage. He will kill the husband if the wife cannot tell him his name! This is the start of a thrilling read about obsessive love.

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    1. Like Rumpelstiltskin? that sounds really terrifying…

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    2. Yes, it was a real terrifying mind-game as the wife desperately tried to go through her memories to identify him. He had altered his appearance with plastic surgery so it is even harder for her to "remember" his face and name.

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    3. Thank you, Grace, I hope you enjoy the books! And I'll add TELL ME MY NAME to my TBR pile, I love discovering new Canadian thriller writers. I'm definitely getting Rumpelstiltskin vibes from your description. Sounds like a chilling read.

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  5. My first mystery novel was called AMNESIA and it was about... big surprise, memory. A woman who's been shot in the head, suffered traumatic brain injury, claims to remember who shot her. It's up to our hero, a neuropsychologist, to figure out whether she remembers or is "backfilling" -- the term he uses for when you can't remember something and so you (without realizing it) come up with something plausible to replace the missing pieces. My co-author for that book was a forensic neuropsychologist so I got a fascinating lesson in memory (what it is, what it isn't, and how you can tell).

    So of course I think memory loss is a super duper plot device. Congratulations on the new book, Tessa!

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    1. Yes, but I am always so impressed by the use of amnesia in a book. You really have to know your stuff, as you and your writing partner did, because it can come off as so much riders convenience, you know?

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    2. Hallie, how fantastic that you had a subject matter expert at your disposal! I'm a huge fan of mysteries that teach me something new, and memory is relevant to everyone and thus endlessly interesting (at least that's how I feel about it). Thanks so much for your kind words!

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  6. Congratulations on your new book, Tessa. It seems that Shana Merchant's past provides much intrigue in both of these books. I love reading books that take place in the New England and New York. Very cool. These two are going straight onto my TBR list.

    I absolutely adore the Billy Boyle WWII Mysteries written by James R. Benn. In the third book, Blood Alone, Lt. Billy Boyle lands in Sicily and soon awakens in a field hospital with a strange silk handkerchief in his pocket and no memory of who he is or why he is there. As he goes through the motions, pretending to know what he is doing, he slowly recalls his mission. He is plagued by guilt for something he thinks he did, and he is being hunted for murder by those who would thwart that mission for their own purposes. It is one of my favorite books in truly exciting historical series.

    Hank, as for the glasses and the phone, say this out loud: "I am leaving my glasses on the lamp table." "My phone is next to the sugar bowl." etc. The auditory cue does it for me, except when I forget to use it..LOL!

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    1. That is so wise! And when I remember to do that :-) it really works! I think the key of that, which you have hit on so perfectly, is just being aware of what you are doing. We all rush around so much that our intention gets buried.

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    2. Thanks Judy, and I hope you enjoy the books! Shana's past does play a big part in both of them. I live in New England (Connecticut) and am a frequent visitor to Upstate New York, so I'm drawn to writing about both areas.
      After hearing your praise for the Billy Boyle mysteries, those are going straight onto MY TBR list!

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    3. There's a debate going on at our house over whether or not to dump the land line. I'm so with you, Hank. How would I find my phone? Tessa, your book sounds intriguing. Haven't read one with an amnesia theme in years. Best of luck with it. And thanks, Judy, for your auditory cue idea. Now, all I have to do is remember to try it!

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  7. Happy Hanukkah to all who celebrate! Getting into the spirit of it all, eat latkes and donuts!

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  8. Paula Hawkins's The Girl on the Train is about trying to fill in memories, from blackout drunken episodes. And The English Patient has memory as a central plot point.


    There was a thriller about amnesia in the 70's that really stuck with me, except for the title and author. LOL I thought it was by someone like Sidney Sheldon (nope), and titled The Face in the Mirror, but that's not it. (Hat tip to Rhys, who has a Molly Murphy book with that title.)

    Hank, your glasses are on your head. You're welcome.

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    1. I just burst out laughing! Sometimes, there are two pairs of glasses on my head, I am not kidding — so you are probably right. And when I read your post, I actually checked :-)

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    2. Oh, I LOVED The English Patient. And it's so sad, but just brilliant.

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    3. I loved both The Girl on the Train and The English Patient! For anyone interested in reading about memory further, I came across this article during my research...it highlights both fiction and non-fiction books about memory loss: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-elusive-brain/201902/8-great-amnesia-books

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    4. Hank, rather than losing my glasses I lose my mind trying to decipher all the alarms I set on my phone! I have alarms for deadlines, phone calls, kids' activities, trips to the post office...and when they go off, there's always a moment when I have no idea what I'm supposed to be doing!

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    1. Never mind, I see it's 5:00 EST!

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    2. 3pm Mountain Time, which keeps confusing me as well, Karen!

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  10. Tessa, congratulations on your new release!
    Hank, your glasses are either on top of the fridge or in your sweatshirt pocket.
    The Memory Keeper's Daughter. I'll have to read it again.
    I'm fascinated with our ability to blur or forget memories of pain, emotional and physical.

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    1. Or to hear a story so often, Margaret, that you think you were there!

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    2. Oh, that is so fascinating, too! When you really believe you were there because your mind can picture it so perfectly. Yes!

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    3. Thank you, Margaret! I'm fascinated with the way the mind can distort painful memories, too. That's a big theme in THE DEAD SEASON, actually; Shana has blocked out painful past memories, but has to tap into them again in order to solve a case.

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  11. Tessa, congratulations on your new release.

    Two of my favorite books about memory loss - The memory Keeper's Daughter and Brainstorm by Elaine Viets. Not technically about memory loss, but about false memories.

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    1. False memories are so fascinating, too! People really believe them… I know I have had that experience.

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    2. Thanks Kait! I'll have to read both of those. What's so interesting to me about false memories is that they can be so vivid and convincing!

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  12. Tessa, talk up about the suspense quotient--'I can't remember, but if I don't remember, a child will die!' I'll have to skip to the end straight away to make sure how it all ends (but then I'll go back and read it all the way through).

    Like Pat D, the William Monk series by Anne Perry comes to mind. What I've enjoyed about this character is that when he realized what an arrogant jerk he'd been before the accident (brilliant, but arrogant), he decides he doesn't want to be that jerk and tries to become a better person and even to make amends to people he's wronged, when he remembers bits and pieces of his life before the accident.

    As I get older and recall things from childhood, it amazes me how differently my siblings might remember the same incidents. Then I wonder why? Whose version of the past is real?

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    1. Flora— that is a constant occurrence in my family, too!

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    2. Haha, thanks Flora! The pressure's definitely on for Shana in this one. Your comment about siblings really hit home for me...much like Shana's brother, my brother has a remarkable memory, and I'm always shocked by how unreliable my own memories can be. When in doubt, I call on him to conduct a kind of memory audit. But to your point, I sometimes wonder whether his version of the past is the one that's true!

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  13. Congratulations on the book, Tessa! I recall one book that I think was about memory. Of course I don't remember the author or the title, but it came out within the past few years, I think. A woman woke up not knowing who she was or anything about her life, then she finds a notebook she has been keeping. Honestly, the book wasn't all that great or I probably would have remembered more!

    I had an experience where I very briefly lost my memory. My family had flown to Florida and I think the flight probably aggravated my cold. I went to bed before anyone else and must have gone into a deep sleep. At some point my son came in to kiss me goodnight. I kissed him but he was stunned when I said "who are you?" He didn't know if I was kidding or what. I remember thinking to myself "who am I?" Must be the fog lifted and things were normal again.

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    1. Oh, how did I forget this one – – the book by SJ Watson, Before I go to Sleep! That is the best ever. They made a really terrible TV movie about it, but if you have not read the book, it is a true classic!

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    2. Thank you, Judi! Ah, the irony of forgetting the title of a book about forgetting! Your experience sounds very unsettling. Memory really is one of those things that we tend to take for granted until the moment when it's shaky.

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  14. Absolutely loved this! Memory loss can be such an interesting plot device when used correctly. Your series sounds spectacular. A book I recently enjoyed that features memory loss was Have You Seen Me? by Kate White.

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    1. Thanks Abby, so glad you enjoyed the post! Have you Seen Me has been on my TBR pile for so long, I think it's time to bump it to the top!

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  15. Congratulations Tessa! What a fascinating topic which resonates with me. Remembering events from when I was young is something rare but important. Books which were memorable were In a Dark Dark Wood by Ruth Ware and The House on the Strand by Daphne DuMaurier.

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    1. Oh that’s a DuMaurier I haven’t read!

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    2. Oh that's right, memory is a theme of In a Dark, Dark Wood as well. I really enjoyed that one!

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  16. Congratulations on the new book, Tessa!

    I have loved several books that featured memory loss. Perhaps my all-time favorite is Cold Cold Heart by Tami Hoag, in which a young woman recovering from a traumatic brain injury (received in Hoag's previous novel) moves back in with her parents for a while. Her muddled brain misremembers some events from an unsolved death in her youth, which leads to lots of suspense. A second character in the book is ALSO a TBI survivor, recovering from a head injury incurred during his military service. (Hoag shares in a note at the end that she suffered a TBI in a horseback riding accident some years before and wanted to write a book that illuminated the topic for readers.)

    About a year ago my book club read The Woman in the Window by AJ Finn. It was a very enjoyable read that kind of mixed memory issues with unreliable narrator techniques, keeping the reader guessing until the end.

    Hank, I enjoyed Before I Go to Sleep, too. I appreciate the tip to avoid the movie!

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    1. Oh yes—they ruined it by making it be a videotaped diary (more I cannot say) which OF COURSE would not work. Gah.

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    2. Thanks Susan! I wonder why memory as a theme can work well in novels but is sometimes difficult to convey in film, as Hank points out? I loved The Woman in the Window and look forward to seeing the film adaptation.

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  17. Wonderful book and subject! So intriguing to read about and enjoy in novels. Congratulations on your book. The Things We Keep by Sally Hepworth was captivating.

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    1. Thank you, very glad you enjoyed it! My list of must-read memory-themed books is looking very robust!

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  18. Congratulations on The Dead Season, Tessa. I just ordered it.
    I became really intrigued with memory and memory loss while working with a client. This sounds like fiction, and 10 years have passed so feel free to borrow the plot. His car went off a bridge and as he was falling through space his life started scrolling in his mind. He realized he could not recall anything before his 8th birthday. Using scent recall I was able to trigger memories from his childhood. It was absolutely fascinating watching him recall and almost relive snippets from his past. While doing the work, I used scents that were common (cinnamon, old spice cologne, shoe polish). I am sure the books you mentioned are every bit as compelling as my experience. Well done.

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    1. Wow— he went off a bridge? And his life actually passed before his eyes? Wow. And scent recall—DIBS. Truly.

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    2. Thanks so much Coralee, I hope you enjoy it! What a story, and how amazing that you were able to use smells to trigger his memory. I've read that memories and scents are very much interconnected, and there are certain smells that always take me back to a particular moment in time. It's quite a powerful sensation. Your client must have been so grateful for your help.

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  19. Hank, sorry I am late to the party again. I slept in this morning. A bookstagranner, Abby, who also has a blog called Crime By The Book, mentioned Tessa and her novels on Instagram.

    Congratulations on The Dead Season, Tessa. Interesting about the name choice Bram. This reminded me of Bram Stoker who created the Dracula novel.

    Regarding memory, I try to focus on the present moment and be aware of what I am doing. I noticed that if I am thinking about something else while doing something, I forget what I was doing.

    Question: Do we choose which things to remember? I notice that some people chose to remember happy things.

    Diana

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    1. I certainly try to forget sad things. When I start to think of them, I just tell myself “no” and change the subject. It even used that in my new book!

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    2. Thank you, Diana! Abby has been so supportive of this series, and I'm forever grateful. The name "Bram" is quite important in The Dead Season and to protagonist Shana Merchant...but I can't say more without giving too much away. ;) With regard to your question, I wonder if revisiting happy memories on a regular basis makes them more substantial somehow and less likely to fade away? That makes sense to me. And I'm with Hank: I try to forget sad memories as much as possible and focus on the good.

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  20. I'm sorry I'm getting here late, because I wanted to tell Tessa how much I enjoyed her first book, DEATH IN THE FAMILY. It feels like there's a mini-revival of "country house" mysteries going on (I've also seen them described as "Agatha Christie mysteries") and I for one and super excited, because there's not much I love more than a group of suspects trapped in a remote house/lodge/hotel/ship. Also, Tessa REALLY gets northeastern New York and its environs.

    Anyway, I already have THE DEAD SEASON and am waiting for the right moment to dive in - I'm thinking the next snowstorm should be about right.

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    1. Hi Julia, thanks so much! I'm thrilled that you enjoyed the first book and hope that The Dead Season delivers for you. I completely agree about the resurgence of "country house" mysteries...recent books by Ruth Ware, Lucy Foley, and Susi Holliday come to mind. I love these types of stories, too. Here's hoping for a snowy day, and happy reading!

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  21. Tessa, I would buy The Dead Season for the cover alone, but it also sounds like a fantastic read. Of course, Death in the Family has a great cover, too, and I've just added it to my Christmas list of books I'm buying myself. I wish I could count on a snowstorm, like Julia, to jump into these books, but I will just have to imagine that.

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  22. I need a snowstorm in AZ, too! Rain is almost the same here. So excited to read your latest, Tessa. The Dead Season sounds fantastic.

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  23. I laugh all the time that it's a good thing I have pill "daytimers" for me, 4 of our dogs and 3 of our cats or I would never be able to remember if I've given meds for that day or not. I was talking with my niece, an Emergency Dept. nurse, and I joked with her that I worry what would happen if I were admitted to the ED and were given a neuro check: "What day is it? What year?" Not sure I could answer those. She laughed and said, "The last question is, "Who is the president? There are a whole lot of people who would have trouble answering that one right now!" Oh, 2020.

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