Thursday, April 21, 2016

Thar Be Dragons...

Every once in a while there’s nothing more fun than to sit down with a good old fashioned romantic suspense, the kind with the damsel in distress (albeit she’s a strong-of-character damsel) and the handsome, misunderstood alpha male. Find one which has a “hidden treasure” at its core, and you’re well on your way to becoming totally absorbed. This week I’m endorsing What She Doesn’t Know, by Lina Gardiner, who lives in my city and just happens to be a personal friend of mine.

This treasure hunting mystery is set on a remote island, a cold island in the formidable Bay of Fundy and comes complete with abandoned buildings, a castle, long lost diary, hidden caves, clues, writing in code and a decades old family secret.

Romantic suspense novels abound. They are everywhere and continue to remain a strong and popular genre. I tried my hand at romantic suspense with my six Harlequin novels, and found it difficult for me, at least, to write. (I prefer writing straight mystery.) Lina does it well, though, and her secret weapon in making this book stand out is that it’s not a murder mystery per se, but rather the search for a priceless artifact. Will the good guys get it before the bad guys do?

The Bay of Fundy is mysterious at its core with its depths and 40 foot tides, so it's the perfect setting. As a sailor and lover of all things boats and water, I know the vagaries of the sea, and we've been on the Bay of Fundy in our sailboat in very calm mill-pond weather, but we have also been out there in storms. One thing that old sailors and new sailors know is that there is no controlling the sea.

It's for this reason that so many of the classic treasure hunt novels are set on the sea, Treasure Island being the foremost. I read it as a kid, mainly because it was supposed to be a “book for boys,” and I was just that rebellious. The black and white movie made of it is freely available on Youtube.

There are three places in this larger world of ours that we know very little about—what’s at the bottom of the ocean, what’s inside the planet we live on and what’s out there past our dome of breathable air. For centuries, for millennia, the sea has fascinated us. We don’t know what’s buried in its depths. Sea monsters? Dragons? Or centuries old treasures left there by sunken vessels? Here is a link to an interesting and beautiful old map from the 1500s.

Another realm we haven’t discovered is what's underneath our feet. We live on the outer surface of this planet we call earth, our home, but have little or no knowledge of what lies beneath. Here’s a recent article about exploration into this realm.

Tolkein has answered that question with his Lord of the Rings, is a classic treasure hunt which takes place in "middle earth."

Who can forget “My Precious” which has become iconic in popular culture as anything we hold on to with greedy and grasping possessiveness.

Treasure books touch us on some deep level and appeal to that part of us that thinks once we get that “thing”, whether it’s the treasure chest at the bottom of the sea, the meteor made of gold, the “My Precious” ring, the lottery win, or the “whatever,” we’ll be happy, prosperous, and everyone will like us. It take years of living to realize that most of that isn't true.

If you want to look at some lists of current and classic treasure hunt novels, here are a few lists from Goodreads. 

Classic sea treasure novels.

Current treasure hunting novels.

What She Doesn’t Know is a great and fun read, so if you are stocking up on summer read books now, add that one to your list.

And be careful - "Thar be dragons there..."

Next time: The Moving Art videos on Netflix 

Thursday, April 7, 2016

The Incredible, Astonishing Beauty of Being Short

The cover art first drew me to Wet Thaw, and the collection of two short literary stories by Deb Elkink gets five stars from me today.

Deb is a personal friend, and I was first introduced to her artful—and that is the only word for it—writing in The Third Grace, an award-winning novel about love and longing.

The two stories Wet and Thaw follow along in Elkink’s gorgeous style, and as you can imagine from the title, Elkink pays a lot of attention to the weather in both. You can see and feel it on every page, practically in every sentence.

Wet is about a sister and brother, each of whom carry their own problems. He, with his physical and mental challenges, and she with her emotional baggage. Yet, they are all each other has. 

The very first sentence grabbed me and wrapped its sodden arms around me.

 Humidity hangs like a presence about the graveside.

Thaw begins - 

 It is snowing in Istanbul.

I like the way she sets the stage. Thaw is about two women traveling in that country. If you follow Elkink’s website, you will know that she loves to travel and travels a lot. She also is a person who places a lot of emphasis on friends and family, and that is so evident in these two stories. I love the weather references in stories.

I am told that the cover art for Wet Thaw is her sister’s work. Here is the website for the artist, Lorenda Harder.

Not only am I endorsing Wet Thaw here today, but I'd like to recommend short fiction in general. A short story only has room for one emotion - but hints at many others. It is one afternoon in a saga that in some novels spans centuries. And it's well worth the time spent on it.

A brand new collection of stories, which came to my attention a couple of days ago is The Sea Crystal and Other Weird Tales by Susan Berliner. Anything with the words “weird” and “tales” are sure to be of interest to me. I dropped what I was reading and right away read the first two of these weird tales.

These stories will cause you to give another look at those familiar buildings and storefronts that you may pass by every day on your way to work. Do you really know what's going on inside? (No spoilers here!) The title story, The Sea Crystal, is intriguing and compelling as well. 

Remember the old episodes of The Twilight Zone? That’s what those three—and I’ve only read three so far—stories put me in mind of.

Berliner includes a quote in the front of her Sea Crystal collection which is a perfect definition of a short story:

Short stories are tiny windows into other worlds and other minds and other dreams. They are journeys you can make to the far side of the universe and still be back in time for dinner -  Neil Gaiman.

I have always loved short stories, from Alice Munro and Margaret Atwood to the short mysteries in the Ellery Queens and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazines. Back when things to read were only available in print, you could often find old copies of those magazines in used bookstores for twenty-five cents. There was a lot of good reading there for a quarter. 

There used to be a time when short stories were in—ahem—short supply. This was back when book publishers decided that people didn’t like short stories, and so no one, except for a few magazines, literary publications and genre magazines published them. Back when I was a teenager women's magazines always included short fiction, and when my mother would bring home McCalls or Redbook, the stories were what I turned to first.

But now that authors can easily publish on places such as Kindle and Kobo, everything has changed. 
Now that I do most of my reading on my Kobo or Kindle apps, I’m always on the lookout for short stories. 

Another favorite short story writer of mine is Stephen King. He is known for his doorstop huge hard covers books, (A friend once gave me a hard cover copy of Under The Dome, which I couldn’t read because, well, the book ended up being too heavy to hold!) He also writes wonderful short stories. 

Four Past Midnight and Just After Sunset are a few of my favorite collections of his. A couple of years ago I bought The Man Who Built Boxes by Frank Tavares. I was so taken with his stories, that I looked for more works by him. Alas, there are none yet. I am waiting.

I also have family members who would sincerely disown me if I didn’t mention my own short story collection,  Strange Faces. (And I'm SO pleased that it just received a great review on Fantastic Fiction!)

The beauty of short story collections is that they are often less expensive than longer works. 
Like my twenty-five cent copies of Ellery Queens, short story collections on Kindle or Kobo usually sell for less than the price of a cup of coffee. Sometimes these collections are only offered as eBooks. It’s so nice to have a short story or two downloaded onto my phone to read during those times when I find yourself waiting in line somewhere.

Now it's your turn. what are some of your favorite short story collections or writers? Mention them in the comment section below. I'd love to add to my TBR pile! (That's "To Be Read" in case you were wondering.)

Next time: What She Doesn’t Know, a romantic suspense and fun-to-read- nail-biting-non-stop action-treasure-hunting novel by another friend of mine, Lina Gardiner.