Wednesday, March 19, 2008


Yes, I'm late.

No, I'm not sorry.

(Okay, I really am, but I'm trying to play it cool here and pretend that February didn't just vanish into a black hole of weird cancer treatment alternate reality.)

DREAMS FROM MY FATHER/Barack Obama/A-: This was for book club. Written years before he thought of running for president, this is aan intriguing look at growing up in America and abroad with a white mother and an absent black African father. I was particularly interested in Obama's account of his first trip to Kenya to meet his father's family, having spent time there myself. I admire him as a man and a person and I'm glad I read this book. (But that's not inspiring me to pick up the political books--I'm just not into partisan politics of any variety.)

IN A DRY SEASON/Peter Robinson/B: I wanted to give this a higher grade. I might have, if I'd rated it earlier. But as time has passed, I've grown more so-so about the book as a whole. Being a fan of Reginald Hill, you'd think I'd be overjoyed at finding a different series about Yorkshire policemen. But Inspector Banks left me a little cold--too much drinking, too much feeling sorry for himself after his wife has left, not enough reason to like him. The story was a strong one--a body from WWII is discovered when a flooded town dries up--but I preferred the past chapters to the present which doesn't bode well for other Banks stories. I may read another one, but I won't go out of my way to do it.

THE PROFESSOR AND THE MADMAN/Simon Winchester/A: This book, on the other hand, I loved. It's the true story of the making of the Oxford English dictionary and its most unusual contributor--an American Civil War surgeon held in a British institution for the criminally insane. It weaves the story of the doctor and his descent into insanity and murder with the complicated personalities that launched the most important dictionary in history. And I learned a new word that I adore: chance-medley (an accident or casualty not merely happenstance but indicating tragedy as a consequence.)

A PALE HORSE/Charles Todd/B: I love Inspector Ian Rutledge and I love the evocation of Britain just after WWI, but I'm beginning to tire of Todd's stories. This one was particularly hard to follow as Rutledge kept literally moving from one place to another and back again, following two different crimes. I wanted to yell: "Pick a place and stay there until you learn something!" This was atmospheric, but the story was forgettable and I'm starting to weary of Rutledge not moving forward. I think the problem is sticking only with Rutledge's POV--I feel like I know him pretty well by this point and I'm not getting a chance to know or care about the other people in the books.

THE CRAZED/Ha Jin/D: Sometimes I love literary books, sometimes not so much. This one was the latter. A Chinese graduate student in literature spend afternoons sitting by the bed of his professor who has had a stroke. The stroke leads the older man to share all sorts of stories and opinions that might be better left unsaid. Throw in the Tianmen Square protests, and it could have been more interesting than it was. But the language itself fell flat for me and I didn't care about a single person in the novel.

TOUCHSTONE/Laurie R. King/A+: After reading A PALE HORSE, I read this one and thought, "This is how it should be done." This stand-alone by the Mary Russell Holmes author, is also set in post-WWI Britain (1926) with an American FBI agent trying to track down an anarchist bomber among the British upper classes. Told from multiple viewpoints, I was invested in every character, whether I liked them or not. A satisfying main plot, as well as the fascinating subplot of a former British soldier who can feel far more than he wants to since an injury in France. Plus an ending that blew me away (pardon the pun). A heartbreakingly beautiful story.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


1. The panels. Lots of interesting and informative discussions. And my own pet opinion was confirmed: There are two kinds of writers--those who outline and those who don't. And they will never understand one another.

2. The Tattered Cover Bookstore on Denver's 16th street pedestrian mall. A smaller version of Powell's in Portland (my favorite bookstore ever)--hardcovers, paperbacks, used books, books you don't find at the local Barnes and Noble. Two floors and two evenings of browsing fun. (And not all for myself--I bought books for my four kids and my husband. Okay, so I bought myself more. Sue me.)

3. The Book Room run by Tom and Enid Schantz of Rue Morgue. Almost every break between panels for three days I spent in the book room--buying books, eyeing handcuffs and t-shirts, and standing in line for author signings. Which brings me to . . .

4. The Authors. They're real, they're funny, and they're kind. At least all the ones I met were. Some of my favorites:

Stephanie Barron--writes the Jane Austen mysteries, of which I owned all but the most recent. So I bought the most recent and had her sign it. We had a good discussion about Lord Harold and hateful email. (If you don't know what I'm talking about, you'll have to read the series, which begins with JANE AND THE UNPLEASANTNESS AT SCARGRAVE MANOR).

Aileen Baron--wrote her first book at the age of 75. She's a Near Eastern archaeologist and her books are set in Palestine in the late 1930s and 1940s. She had the funniest line of the conference--when she said that American women of that period weren't allowed to run digs, but many British women did. Her explanation? "I think it has something to do with field hockey." I even got her to sign that line in my copy of her book.

Craig Johnson--he writes about a Wyoming sheriff. I've wanted to read his books for a long time. So after listening to him on a panel, I bought the first and had him sign it. We discussed living in the West (he's from Wyoming) and how Easterners don't quite get the idea of audiobooks the same way Westerners do.

Carl Brookins--I sat next to him at the banquet dinner. He is a true gentleman. And anyone who write about a character named Sean Sean who isn't Irish is someone whose books I want to read.

Laura Benedict--her first published novel came out last year, ISABELLA MOON. Another one I've had on my list to read, and I couldn't buy it fast enough after listening to her speak on a panel called Mindgames and Manhunts. She's everything I would like to be--polished, professional, self-deprecating, funny, and truly kind. She was the first author I've ever asked to sign a book and she talked to me as though she'd never been more delighted in her life than to meet me. I was so charmed, that I bid on and won a silent auction item that she offered, which I'll get to later.

And speaking of charming . . . MARCUS SAKEY--His second crime novel came out in January. I've heard his name (I suppose "seen" is a more accurate word) on DorothyL, but would never have approached him at LCC if not for the fact that he has wonderfully curly hair. Does that sound odd? I'm sure he thought so. But when I explained that my son has cancer and has lost his hair and that his biggest fear is that it will grow back in curly . . . well, he was graciousness itself. He signed a book for my son (admonishing him not to use any of the words in the book) and wrote him a note and let me take his picture. I have never in my life done anything like that, but he made me feel like I was only a mother, not a candidate for institutionalization.

5. The Silent Auction. There were gift baskets, signed books, character names and other wonderful things up for auction. (All the proceeds benefited the Reading for the Blind and Dyslexic in Colorado.) I bid on two critiques and won them both. (Well, okay, my friend Katie bid on one for me so I wouldn't look greedy.) For a total of 85.00 I won a 15 page critique from Chris Roerden, author of my favorite mystery writing book HOW NOT TO MURDER YOUR MYSTERY. And I won a 30 page critique from Laura Benedict. I can't begin to express how excited I am about both. (Hmmm, not being able to express myself doesn't bode well for my critique pages.)

6. The Volunteers. Christine Goff was absolutely splendid, both as an organizer and a person. Katie and I bought a book for a friend and wanted it signed, but it turned out the author had had to cancel at the last moment. Christine knows the author and she volunteered to get the book signed and mail it to us. Everything ran smoothly and efficiently from an attendee's point of view and I thank all of those who worked so hard to make it look effortless.

7. My friends. Katie and I knew we traveled well together. We've spent ten days in Dubai and Oman, we've driven to Portland to visit my dying birth mother, so four days in Denver was nothing but pleasure. We talked, we listened to Bill Bryson's NOTES FROM A SMALL ISLAND as we drove across Wyoming, we talked some more, and we met Becca. I've known Becca for almost five years now through our online class and critique group, but I've only met her briefly in person twice. I was a bit nervous about sharing four days and a hotel room with her, but I need not have worried. She is a kindred spirit, in all the wonderful Anne of Green Gables ways possible. We're planning to do our future book signings together. And we're figuring out what the other one can offer at future silent auctions.

I don't think there was anything I didn't like about LCC. (Okay, so I did learn that no one should ever follow me when I'm both walking and talking--I apparently can't talk and find my way out of a paper bag at the same time.) But when people ask what's the best thing I came away with, I have a simple answer . . .

I came away with inspiration, motivation, and the absolute assurance that this is the world I fit in. I am a writer. I will always be a writer. I am not odd, I am not crazy, and I am not stupid for wanting it. My writing may be slower this year as I spend time in hospitals and make sure Jacob gets well, but it's not going away.

Totally worth the time and money to rediscover that truth.

Thanks, Left Coast Crime.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008


And none too soon for my sanity.

Although admittedly, some of my insanity is caused by getting ready to leave for four days.

Tomorrow morning at 5:00 a.m., I'll be on the road to Denver with my friend, Katie. We're headed to Left Coast Crime which is not, as you might think, a gathering of mobsters. Nope, it's a good old-fashioned conference for lovers of mysteries. There are panels geared to both writers and readers, a banquet on Saturday night, and lots of people who will NOT ask "Where do you find time to read?" or "Are you sure you need that many books?"

My teenager was making fun of me when he heard about the trip.

"Denver? Denver? That sounds . . . exciting." (That last word positively dripped with sarcasm)

"Why yes," I answered. "Hotel, restaurant, books, and no kids. I may never come home."

But I suppose I have to. I get to spend next Monday night in the hospital with my second son for chemo.

I think I'd better enjoy Denver while I have the chance.