Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Summer Reading Recommendations!

I'm a bit tardy with this, but what do you expect from me? I'm already overclocked.

(ahem) Here are my recommendations for your summer reading. I've already read them and approved them for you. They carry the Good Shalanna Seal of Approval. *honk*

Most of these books are available in Kindle format as well, but I have linked you to the dead-tree editions. I think it would be nice to get some of the last remaining debut paper novels. Also, it's easier to haul a paper book to the beach, read it, not worry about getting it wet, and leave it behind in the hotel room drawer to be discovered by the next intrepid reader. Be sure to put a sticky note on the front cover explaining that you've given the book to the Free Library and that the new person should keep or pass the book along, as (s)he prefers. If both of you would review it on Amazon--that would be gravy! And you know you love gravy! WOOF!

First up--MY books. Because this is MY blog, and I CAN. I promise you I will get to several books by other people. In just a minute. Scroll down to see. If you simply cannot BEAR another WORD about my stooopid BOOOKS, hit PageDown a couple of times to see the other writers' mystery novels that I commend. Page down to see the Beatlemaniac caper and the ghost, if you must. *sobbing* It's OK, really. Really.

Do you like LONG books? One that won't be finished in a day, that you can drag to the beach and back for a couple of days or that will sit on the nightstand for three?

How about the winner of the 2011 Oak Tree Press First Mystery Novel contest? Yeah, yeah, you've heard already. But why not read it for yourself?

NICE WORK by Denise Weeks is a longer, more absorbing mystery than the typical contemporary genre read. (Try it on stubborn spills--you'll see it's more absorbing.) It's big like Grisham's current 400-pager, but not QUITE as long at 366 pages. Thanks to my wonderful publisher, I finally found a home for the book that both St. Martin's Press and Bantam said was lovely but too long for mystery readers to stick with. Let's prove them WRONG! Make the world safe for long books again!

Elevator pitch: Jacquidon Carroll could've killed her boss when he downsized her--or so the police think. Can she and her sister find the real killer in the maze of BDSM clubs and secret societies that her (ex-)boss turns out to have been involved in--before it's too late?

(No explicit stuff--everything's played for laughs. It's a "Snoop Sisters" sort of romp like Anne George's Southern Sisters series, but with sisters in their mid-twenties rather than elderly like Jessica Tandy/Ruth Gordon.) Jacquidon and Chantal do some things you wouldn't do (and that I wouldn't do), but they retain their innocence. Except for that break-in . . . and stealing that journal, not to mention the wad of cash found next to it . . . but they were just BORROWING it, see, and they didn't actually break-and-enter, but had a friend of theirs let them in, and anyway Jacks used to work at the place. ANYHOW, they HAD to. It was all to clear Jacquidon of the murder she'd been accused of. Oh, it's impossible to explain in a paragraph. Just read it. We'll write more. (In fact, we already have.)

First in a series. That is, if you lot buy the book! Then I can get the next book published, and the next, and the next. You know the drill.

At Amazon: Nice Work--AMAZON

STILL on SPECIAL for $12 plus FREE SHIPPING at Oak Tree Press Direct! Such a DEAL!

Nice Work CHEAP

Interested in fiction that takes an unusual look at the world and examines fantastical/paranormal experiences? Murder by the Marfa Lights by Denise Weeks, a cozy/traditional mystery, is another of my books that was selected by the judges to compete in the final round of last year's St. Martin's/Malice Domestic contest, although it did not win that contest. It SHOULD have. Am I biased here?? Although I haven't seen the book that won. Why not read them BOTH and report back to me, STAT!

Ariadne French has waited almost a year to hear from her boyfriend. A call from practically anywhere, though Aaron left her to find his fortune in Montana with promises to send for her as soon as he was settled, would suit her just fine. But to hear that he's dead of a heart attack in Marfa, Texas--and that he has left her all his worldly goods, including a cabin he built with his own hands--shakes her to the core. Aaron dead? And only a year after her sister Zöe lost her young son and became a virtual hermit. Against her sister's advice, Ari leaves Dallas for Marfa to help settle the estate--but also to investigate Aaron's death.

Aaron had apparently been trying to sell his revolutionary encryption software routine--which was claimed in the e-mails Ariadne finds on his computer to be as secure as but twice as fast as the standard RSA public-key algorithm--to several interested corporate and government buyers. But there's no trace of the software on his computer, and Ari suspects it has something to do with Aaron's death. Where is the money that he was paid in advance by several buyers? As she searches for the source code (she's certain he backed it up and had several copies) and tries to build a case to show he was murdered, more and more suspects show up on the doorstep of his cabin. She finds herself in an exotic world of religious cults, a smarmily charming minister, a mystic-minded Cherokee lawyer, a secretive musician, and Aaron's eccentric family, which has somehow picked up a sister whom Aaron never mentioned in all their time together. After enduring everything from a chase through the desert by the Marfa Mystery Lights to some very real death threats from Aaron's erstwhile heirs, Ari finds herself recruiting Zöe to help her put together the pieces and solve the ultimate mystery: why Aaron was killed, and who killed him.

Murder by the Marfa Lights by Denise Weeks is a soft-boiled cozy/traditional mystery that has a dark side, but is leavened with eccentric character-based humor in the vein of Joan Hess, Donna Andrews, and the late Anne George (whose Southern Sisters mysteries featured a pair of sleuthing sisters who were much older than my young pair.) It holds appeal for those who are fascinated by the great and diverse state of Texas, especially the "old west" area in which Marfa is located, and Texas flavors the work so much that it serves almost as a character itself. Because of the multiple UFO sightings recently in small-town Texas and the video of the Marfa Mystery Lights that was all over CNN this spring, I believe that my book will please readers who are fascinated by the supernatural or the suggestion of paranormal elements.

Murder by the Marfa Lights at Amazon

But other people write mysteries, too. Imagine!

The Baffled Beatlemaniac Caper by Sally Carpenter is the first in a series starring Sandy Fairfax, a has-been teen idol from the seventies (think Bobby Sherman and Andy Gibb) who attends a Beatles fandom convention to re-start his career.

Remember how if you played the Beatles album track backwards, you'd hear "Paul is dead" . . . um, no, it's not Paul after all! Get set for a wacky ride to a retro Beatles fan convention in this cozy/traditional mystery. Author Sally Carpenter gets the details of fandom right, down to the starry-eyed fangirl Bunny, escort for Our Hero Sandy Fairfax, a former teen idol/singer/TV star who at age 38 has returned as a special guest at this convention. Sandy, now almost forty, was the Shaun Cassidy of his day when he starred in the TV series "Buddy Brave, Boy Sleuth," analogous to the Hardy Boys Mysteries. Unfortunately, Sandy has had a tough time over the years restarting his career and is fighting alcoholism to boot. But after he ends up solving a murder, he finds himself a changed man and pulls him out of his bad attitude to focus him on a new beginning. This book reminded me of Bimbos of death sun but without the sneering attitude of the main female character towards everyone in the con, especially the fat woman whom she completely treats as scum. I gave this one a glowing review on Amazon. I wasn't kissing up, either--I always say what I mean in reviews. You can order this one on Amazon or direct from Oak Tree Press.

The Baffled Beatlemaniac Caper at Amazon

You know what a ghostwriter is, don't you? Well, sometimes someone crosses the Veil without finishing his greatest work. That's what happened to famous romance writer Max Murdoch (who produced the lovely tomes as Maxine DuBois). So when the young and unemployed (we prefer to call it "between gigs") computer programmer Nan Burton inherits her great-aunt's California beach cottage, she discovers she has also signed on to be the one to complete Max's final and greatest novel.

Lorna Collins (NO RELATION) has written a beach/ghost story for people who can't get enough of ghosts. Until I actually finish and sell my own ghost story, LOVE IS THE BRIDGE, you'll have to make do with other people's stuff, and this is the one to pick. It sort of reminded me of _The Ghost and Mrs. Muir_. I haven't finished the book yet, so don't spoil it for me. Go out and get your own copy.

Ghost Writer at Amazon

The Pot Thief Who Studied Pythagoras by J. Michael Orenduff

I can't be too effusive in my praise of Mike Orenduff's POT THIEF series. I am not at all biased by his having recommended my MARFA LIGHTS novel to his editors at Oak Tree Press and to other influential types. No, REALLY. His books stand on their own. They are a mix of lore with intellectual analysis. The plots make sense and are not derivative of anything else.

His is not the usual flat, plain, no-style writing that you get in so many best-sellers. You'll think you're reading dialogue from Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, Rock Hudson and Doris Day, Cary Grant and anyone else--it's that funny.

He wins a lot of awards, and this is the ziilionth book in the series, so you're in for a treat! His new publisher, Aakenbaaken (and I'll have eggs sunny side up with that bacon) and Kent, needs your money (LOL), so buy this book now.

The Pot Thief Who Studied Pythagoras

Absinthe of Malice by Pat Browning

Don't let the pun in the title put you off. (I had a boss who ADORED puns. So did my most beloved and sorely missed AP English teacher. But they are still the lowest form of humor. Except for frat-boy idiocy. And anything Adam Sandler. Still, I kind of like puns. Shhh.)

It's an urban cozy set in California that explores how the past and its secrets mold and affect those living in the present. The female protagonist is clever--which counts for SO MUCH in these days of "too stupid to live" female P. I. characters and the airheaded types who never learn not to go down into the dark basement without a flashlight to find out what that terrible howling noise is. I can't say too much about the plot without risking spoilers (although several studies say spoilers don't spoil fiction--but let's not go there right now). Just pick this one up if you love small-town intrigue and amateur sleuthing.

Absinthe of Malice

My two mysteries at ~300 pages not long enough for ya? Love Jane Austen and "Five Little Peppers" and Proust? Adore historicals? Know what Prussia was (or want to learn)?

Try this 600-page historical set in 19th-century Prussia! One reviewer said Prussian Yarns by Laurie Campbell is like "Upstairs, Downstairs," where you get to see the landowners' problems as well as the servants' tribulations. Lots and lots of voice and charming characters. She's been working on this one as long as I've known her (and that is a LONG time!) I think you'll like it.

Prussian Yarns

Are you ready for a short, faster-paced fantasy/adventure? A great summer read, a beach read--good for young adults as well as grown-ups who have never lost that sense of wonder. A contemporary urban fantasy with magic! If you liked "How to buy a love of reading" or the Millicent Min books with a first-person genius girl narrator, this is your cuppa. April, Maybe June by Shalanna Collins, for middle grade readers and UP. Mostly UP.

April Bliss (yes, she gets teased for her name) is a precocious teen girl genius with a sister who is a year and a half older and even smarter. Of course April knows she's smart and funny--but not necessarily in the ways that she believes she is. Her life has been on an even keel until the day the police show up at their mansion and their family is thrown into chaos. Never mind that June slips on a magic ring and goes wild, or that April finds a magic book that shows her alarming pictures. They've got to rescue their cousin Arlene from a renegade coven of evil witches--or is that a double-cross?

Train scenes! Magic! Kidnapping! Crazy family! And lots more.

April, Maybe June

If your preferences in contemporary urban fantasy run a little grittier--here's something aimed at slightly older audiences (because of some sexual situations and language, though nothing explicit).

Camille MacTavish runs away from her new stepfather who has been attempting to abuse her and runs smack into a magical netsuke. If you don't know what that is--read this and learn something cool. Renfaire fu, tramp convention fu, shoplifting oops. Remember: Magic is dangerous--it's not Santa Claus or the Good Fairy--and never tempt a demon.

Camillle's Travels by Shalanna Collins, available on Amazon in print or Kindle editions.

Camille's Travels (or Travels Without Charley)

At last, something by someone other than MOI, but still fantasy/science fiction.

Lately I've been turning to small presses for the stuff I like to read, the sorts of books I am not getting from the New York houses. Yard Dog Press is very active at conventions and in fandom. You may already be familiar with the various books and lines they put out.

New this summer is The Anthology from Hell: Humorous Stories from WAY Down Under, edited by Julia S. Mandala. This one is a goodie. It's a collection of short stories about you-know-where and what happens there. Several of the authors are Grandmasters: Lawrence Watt-Evans, Spider Robinson, Robert Sheckley, Esther Friesner, and Mike Resnick, to name a few. BUT!! The IMPORTANT part is that my best friend from my college days has a story in it, and so does one of my other long-term friends who has gone to many events with us, and the first person in our old writers' critique group to be published does, too. In fact, the last of these is the editor of this collection! I think that says it all--of course you will go pick up this anthology. Be sure to check out the stories by Linda Donahue (my college friend), her hubby Christopher Donahue, and our friend Katherine Turski. Order direct for the best price!

The Anthology From Hell by my oldest and dearest friends!!

How about a splash of nonfiction? If you want to learn something, learn from the master. A professor who knows how to talk to the regular people!

The Lexicographer's Dilemma

Of "Grammar, And Nonsense, And Learning" speaks the learned professor Jack Lynch. You can't go wrong with one of Jack's books, from his tome on Shakespeare to his stuff on Dr. Johnson and the first dictionary. This one is a good place to start. Why not learn something about the way the English language has grown and adapted over the years, instead of just working on your tan (you shouldn't be out in the sun without SPF lotion, anyway)?

Here's the more literary, Serious Stuff.

One Bead of Gold by Lorraine Stanton This is another book by a long-time writing comrade and good friend of mine. Unfortunately, it deals with child abuse and her experiences of growing up under a cloud of it. If this stuff triggers you, you might want to consider carefully how you will react and prepare accordingly. This is an unvarnished look into the foster care system through the eyes of abused children. Worth your consideration.

One Bead of Gold

Of course if you like literary chick lit with a paranormal twist--there's always my masterpiece/book of my heart, LITTLE RITUALS by Denise Weeks. About which you have already heard so much here. I can't let this opportunity to pmp the book pass by.

LITTLE RITUALS, Daphne under a curse and learning to sail

Okay, now get ready to dig through the used book store. If you find any of these, snatch them up. You won't be disappointed.

TRUST ME ON THIS by Donald E. Westlake
BELLWETHER by Connie Willis
THE EGYPT GAME by Zilpha Keatley Snyder
THE FORTUNATE FALL by Raphael Carter
SCIENCE FAIR by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson

Happy reading!


  1. I'll get started on this list right away, beginning with NICE WORK. Having read MARFA LIGHTS by the same talented author, I know I will love it. And after I finish it, I can use its 366 pages as a doorstop.

    1. Works as boat anchor, too! Held down 20-lb dog as it struggled to get out of vet's waiting room! Guaranteed to build upper body strength when carried, like your Calculus textbook did.

  2. Thanks for the plug! Spoiler: You'll cry at the end of GHOST WRITER. Really. You will. But for me that's what I enjoy in a book: laughs and tears - oh and a virtual visit to Paradise (aka Laguna Beach, CA).

    Several of these were already on my reading list. Now you've really enticed me!

    1. I cried at the end of "Ghost and Mrs. Muir." (GRIN) But then I sobbed at the end of "Charlotte's Web," the saddest children's book ever. (They tricked me into reading "Old Yeller" and "The Red Pony," both of which I hate.) I know your book isn't that much like "Mrs. Muir," but there's my ghost touchstone. There's "Ghost" with Patrick Swayze, though, and "Topper," where you get Cary Grant as one of the haints, and lots of other cool old movie ones.

      I agree that Laguna and most of the California coast is sheer paradise. We went out on an errand this afternoon (and by "we" I mean me, the Pomeranian, and the 82-year-old mama) and it got up to 102 on the car thermometer and the sun beat in through the windshield. I just about didn't make it back home to the A/C. Hubby is in Denver and he said this morning that although it's getting to 95F up there, it only feels like in the 70s. Several people he's working with at corporate offices up there said it was hot, and he said, "YOU don't know hot!" He claims it's a mini-California with mountains instead of ocean. I prefer the ocean to just about ANYTHING. I keep trying to get out there. I need to do Disneyland! And Big Sur.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Picking myself up off the floor. You've been busy! You already know I loved MARFA LIGHTS. Now, thanks for putting ABSINTHE OF MALICE on your list. Couldn't happen to a nicer person (me) by a nicer person (you). Did I ever tell you I used to live near SMU? No kidding, on Lovers Lane in dear old Dallas -- long, long ago.

    Pat Browning (Recommended by Shalala Collins, or Denise Weeks, or both)

    Well, nuts. I keep trying to post as WordPress but keep getting Blogger. I give up. Blogger it is.

    1. Shalal, Shalanna -- maybe I should just go back to bed.

    2. Usually I get "sha-na-na." I was a fan in the 70s, but they didn't have staying power. (LOL)

      SMU! I am a proud SMU '81. Of course I wasn't in a sorority or part of the Dallas society that dominates there (or used to). I was part of the fringe element and we enjoyed watching the interplay. You probably wouldn't recognize Lovers Lane now, because the rich people decided that the small cottages should be bought up and torn down and replaced by generic McMansions, so most of the charm of Highland Park/University Park has been destroyed. Unless you like turrets. The cottages were already priced out of this world, so you can imagine what it costs now. Sigh! SMU has also built a bunch of new buildings. I was so shocked a few weeks ago when I accompanied one of my cousin's daughters to a campus tour. I remembered it as a small bucolic bubble. They've really changed.

      I'll have to use this "pavement is melting" heat experience in the next book. Tough to really get it across to people who are not native Texans, though. I would not be surprised to look outside and see that all the mailboxes had melted off their posts. What have we done to deserve this--don't bother to tell me, because I'm afraid I know the answer. The planet is fed up and trying to get rid of us, starting with St. Louis (107F for weeks now) and Chicago (gang warfare and shooting in the streets).

      I can't exactly say I blame the planet.

  5. I tried to link back to my Word Press blog because I posted a nifty photo of my little sister and me with our dates at a Junior-Senior Prom waaaay back in 1948. Seems like yesterday -- and I wish it were.
    It's at
    End of commercial.

    1. *I'll go check it out. I love old pictures! Do you know what makes me really sad? When you go to flea markets or to scrapbooking stores or even on eBay and you see all these old photographs that "pickers" have gotten from estate sales and God knows where. You have to cry, thinking that it is so sad that these photos meant nothing to the descendants, or that the descendants couldn't be found. It just upsets me to see a team of basketball girls from 1943 or a classroom shot and NO ONE claimed it. But that's just me--I'm crazy. Mama has a very few photos that are old like that, and she doesn't remember all the people in them already. Aaughh! I have labeled many of our photos and the ones I have on Picasa/Flickr so that perhaps they'll still make sense years from now. Then again, they don't all make sense NOW. . . .