Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Fixer Upper

A Little Forward: While exploring a garage sale one Sunday morning, I came across a book, Hissy Fit, by an author I had never heard of, Mary Kay Andrews. It had the initial quality that attracted me to it, a fun cover depicting a woman, seemingly having a hissy fit, dragging a tablecloth leaving a trail of broken dishes and crystal in her wake. That coupled with the assurance from its soon to be ex-owner that it was a “great” book drove me to pick up Hissy Fit for a quarter. It was a quarter well spent and by the time I was done, I found a new author I wanted to follow.

Book Description: The Fixer Upper by Mary Kay Andrews

A political scandal…a congressman of dubious integrity...a disgraced junior lobbyist… the FBI? Wait a minute, didn’t I just see this story on the 10 o’clock news?

Dempsey Jo Killebrew, the disgraced junior lobbyist, suddenly finds herself in a mess of trouble as she puts together the pieces of a very BIG problem. She has been singled out by her boss as an employee who took things a little too far and bribed a U.S. Congressman. As Dempsey navigates that proverbial creek without a paddle, she’ll have to dig deep to find the courage to restore her reputation and to bring the real culprit to justice. Illegal activities will put you behind bars but the only thing Dempsey is guilty of is being young and naïve.

In the meantime, unemployed and about to be given the boot by her roommates, Dempsey accepts her father’s offer of being the fixer upper of an ancestral home he just inherited in the middle of Nowhere Podunk, actually Guthrie, Georgia. The hope is that in the time it takes to fix the old place, the steam will have blown over in D.C. and Dempsey can move on with her life. But sometimes life just doesn’t go as we plan.

Birdsong is a faded rose of the Southland but as far as Dempsey is concerned it should have been named Bird Droppings. The house comes complete with its own curmudgeon in the form of one Miss Ella Kate, a crabby elderly relative and her equally cantankerous little dog. Both have claimed squatter’s rights at the old house. Ella Kate also harbors a lifelong grudge for anyone on two feet named Killebrew.

Finding the old family home in more desperate shape than she was lead to believe, Dempsey rolls up the sleeves of her flannel shirt and begins ripping up old linoleum and sanding wood floors. What started out as an old pink Victorian that could easily have made the cover of House Impossible soon starts turning into a viable home once again.

Dempsey finds herself getting to know the townspeople and even has the beginnings of a new love if she could ever open her heart again. But before she can do that, she has to claim her dignity and reputation back. Working in cahoots with the FBI, Dempsey starts to reclaim her life and maps out a plan to out the real culprit who bribed a U.S. Congressman.

Will true love stake a claim? Will Dempsey stay in Podunk or return to life in D.C.? Only Dempsey can tell you and the only place she's talking is at your nearest library or bookstore.

My take: If you like your chick lit Southern fried with a generous glass of sweetened ice tea then this is the book for you. Known for her portrayal of feisty Southern Belles, Mary Kay Andrews again delivers a fun filled novel with an original Georgia peach to boot. The Fixer Upper is the latest in a string of best sellers including the series Savannah Blues and Savannah Breeze.

Meet the Author:
Mary Kay Andrews is a former reporter for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and started her journalism career in Savannah, Georgia, where she covered the real-life murder trials which were the basis of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

Andrews is a lifelong "junker" and knows a thing or two about re-habbing old homes much like her heroine Dempsey Killebrew. Visit with the author at her website, on Twitter and on Facebook.

Mary Kay Andrews on The Fixer Upper

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Thoughts on Reading

Reading has always been a part of my life. I’m in it for the adventure, the escape, and the chance to live in someone else’s shoes if only for 300 and some pages.

I grew up on an island but despite being surrounded by water, I would fantasize constantly that I crossed the prairie with Laura Ingalls Wilder. That was one of my favorite day dreams. The other was learning to fly an airplane with Amelia Earhart, and I was elated the day the world opened up for Helen Keller at the water pump.

I loved reading encyclopedias, remember those? We had a set of Grolier’s and when I was a kid I could recite all the different breeds of dogs, horses, and cats. I read about Peter Pan, discovered Pandora’s Box (a word of caution, don’t open it!), and learned about the ancient Greek and Roman gods.

I was never a destroyer of books. Quite the opposite, the thought of creasing a page or folding back a corner makes me cringe. You will also never find a bag of Cheetos within a million miles of my books!

As a young middle schooler, it was always an exciting day when our Scholastic book orders came in. The books would be lined up on the counter and one by one, in an orderly fashion, we would pick up our brand new books. I had a penchant for ordering anything to do with horses, biographies, teaching your dog new tricks, and craft projects. These were the days before Harry Potter signed on with Scholastic Books. I probably could have used a spell to make the line move faster!

When tuning in to watch Star Trek I was keenly aware that there was not a shred of paper on the Enterprise and in fact a book that Kirk received for his birthday was considered an antique. Now we have Kindle and the like but you can’t beat the feel, the weight, even the smell of a good old fashioned hard back. Never say never, but I don’t think I’ll be getting an electronic book reader anytime soon.

So, tell me what draws you to pick up a book and turn its pages?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A Twofer Review: Her Royal Spyness & A Royal Pain

A Little Forward: I came across A Royal Pain while trolling the books at the Friends of the Library. I paid 50 cents for the paperback which was in remarkably fine shape and looked to have all the components I love in a book. First of all it’s a cozy mystery, one of my favorite genres, it’s period and full of “bright young things” that made up 1930’s upper crust England. It also has a heroine that is full of smarts and thinks on her feet. I couldn’t wait to dig in and found it to be quite tasty; so much so that I quickly sped to my local Borders for a second helping. There is a third book, Royal Flush, which I am having a little difficulty finding.

Book Description: Her Royal Spyness by Rhys Bowen

Meet Lady Victoria Georgiana Charlotte Eugenie Rannoch better known to her friends as Georgie. Georgie is the daughter of the late Duke of Glenn Gary and Rannoch and 34th in line of succession to the throne. The Duke unfortunately was a bit of a gambler, committed suicide, and left his family in dire straits which leads Georgie to spread her wings from the quiet Scottish countryside to lively, bustling London.

Georgie describes her life thusly:

There are two disadvantages to being a minor royal.

First one is expected to behave as befits a member of the ruling family, without being given the means to do so. One is expected to kiss babies, open fetes, put in an appearance at Balmoral (suitably kilted), and carry trains at weddings. Ordinary means of employment are frowned upon. One is not, for example, allowed to work on the cosmetics counter at Harrods, as I was about to find out.

Twenty-one year old Georgie has a royal title but not the money that goes along with it. She settles herself in Rannoch House in London and goes about getting herself a job at Harrods but is fired on her very first day. But being ever resourceful, she opens up her own domestic agency, with herself as the only domestic.

Her brother, now the third duke of Glenn Gary, arrives in London with news that he is to meet a rather unsavory character who claims to have proof in writing that the family homestead was gambled away before their father’ s suicide. Just a few days later, Georgie arrives home to find the aforementioned “unsavory character” dead in her bathtub and her brother gone missing. She finds herself in the sticky situation of being the chief suspect until her brother returns to London and is arrested for the murder.

We go along with Georgie as she investigates every nook and cranny to get to the bottom of this disastrous turn of events. She knows one thing, her brother is innocent. Along the way we meet her best friend Belinda, and a few quirky but interesting characters including a romantic interest by way of a wild Irish rogue. But is he behind a series of attempts on Georgie’s life? If not, who is?

Book Description: A Royal Pain by Rhys Bowen (book two of the series)

The alarm clock woke Georgie at the ungodly hour of 8 in the morning. If all Georgie had to look forward to was become lady-in-waiting to Queen Victoria’s one surviving daughter she might as well go back to sleep. Never mind the dear lady was Georgie’s great aunt but picturing years of walking the Pekinese and holding knitting wool was not Georgie’s cup of tea. Her other option was to marry Prince Siegfried of Romania, he of the fishface and limp handshake. There were just some things this minor royal was not prepared to do for king and country.

A summons to tea at Buck House (as in the palace) sets Georgie’s teeth rattling. What could the queen, also a cousin, possibly want? As it turns out, two things; the first to host a young Bavarian princess at Rannoch House and the second to keep an eye on her son the Prince of Wales who is infatuated with a certain Mrs. Simpson.

The young Princess Hannelore of Bavaria turns out to be a handful prone to using American slang from watching too many gangster movies. The young lady also has a habit of zigging when she should be zagging and sets Georgie to wishing she had said no to her majesty. But who says no to the queen?

When the princess is discovered standing over the body of a young man, a known communist, and holding the murder weapon, the police reach the most obvious conclusion. Ridiculous, Georgie says. But when the princess’s traveling companion is found dead, could the police have been right all along? Georgie’s suspicions are aroused and she launches her own investigation. Can Georgie solve the case or will she only succeed in setting off World War II?

My take: These books came alive for me. Perhaps it comes from years of watching Masterpiece Theatre and Mystery but I could picture every word and description vividly. Lady Georgina literally leapt from the pages so kudos to the author Rhys Bowen. I have a few choice words for this series; charming, delightful, intriguing, unique and most of all, fun. Consider this a serious recommendation for lovers of a great cozy mystery.

The Author: Rhys Bowen has been nominated for every major award in mystery writing, including the Edgar, Agatha and the Anthony. She is also the author of the Molly Murphy Mysteries, set in turn-of-the-century New York, and the Constable Evans Mysteries, set in Wales.

You can visit with Ms. Bowen at her website, Twitter or as one of the resident writers at Jungle Red Writers.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

I Heart a Good Cozy

What makes a great cozy mystery?

Is it an overstuffed chair set quietly by a fireplace with a spot of tea nearby? Hold that thought. Generally speaking cozy mysteries feature an intelligent female protagonist; she may have re-invented her life as the owner of a new business; she surrounds herself with equally strong and sometimes quirky friends; and she is always stumbling over dead bodies through no fault of her own. Indeed, she is a reluctant sleuth with which the local authorities are none too pleased.

A few of the Literary Gato's friends taking over the place

The beginnings of the cozy genre start with Agatha Christie’s novels. Dame Agatha has been quoted as saying “I specialize in murders of quiet, domestic interest.” Her two most familiar characters are Hercule Poirot and Miss Jane Marple.

1940's cover

Cozies are usually part of a series and keeps us emotionally vested. Who doesn’t enjoy visiting with an old friend and catching up on the latest gossip and drama? Our heroine can be the owner of a tea shop such as Theodosia Brown in the Tea Shop Mysteries by Laura Childs or someone like Goldy Schultz who operates Colorado’s top catering business Goldilocks Catering “where everything is just right” by Diane Mott Davidson. Just when you think it’s only women characters that drive the genre there is Lilian Jackson Braun and The Cat Who series (so far 30 books in all) featuring James "Qwill" Qwilleran, a small town journalist and his Siamese cats Koko and Yum Yum.

The cozy mystery is lighter fare than the hard boiled variety and there is no graphic sex or violence other than the initial murder which usually happens off stage. More than likely these books take place in a small town or village, think Jessica Fletcher and Cabot Cove and you will be right on target. The latest trend in cozies is to provide recipes, scrapbooking tips, sudoku puzzles, knitting patterns, whatever may be related to the theme of the book.

Some authors offer different series within the cozy genre. Laura Childs has three starting with the Tea Shop Mysteries set in Charleston, South Carolina; the Scrap Book Mysteries featuring Carmela Bertrand, owner of Memory Mine, a scrapbooking shop in the French Quarter; and her latest series the Cackleberry Club Mysteries highlighting three 40-plus women who launch a café nestled a little town called Kindred.

Animals also play a part in this genre and offer a different perspective on the investigation. Case in point, Rita Mae Brown’s Mrs. Murphy series whose heroine Mary Minor “Harry” Haristeen is the former postmistress of a tiny town called Crozet in Virginia. Unbeknownst to Harry, she has a few junior detectives on the case and is ably assisted by Tee Tucker the Corgi, and the cats Mrs. Murphy and Pewter. As the book jacket states, It Takes a Cat to Write the Purr-fect Mystery. Brown writes the best selling mysteries with her feline partner Sneaky Pie Brown.

Rita Mae Brown and Sneaky Pie Brown

To summarize:

It was a dark and stormy night as I snuggled into my overstuffed chintz rocker, feet propped up on a matching ottoman. The cozy fireplace crackled as I poured myself a cup of chamomile tea from a classic Brown Betty teapot. I was just about to settle in for a good night’s read when there was a frantic knock at the door. The disturbance elicited a small bark from my sleepy Corgi, Penny. I opened the door to find, Miss Nestlebaum, our local Liberian, who besides being drenched in rain, was not looking all that well. In fact she stumbled through the doorway and fell face down on my aunt’s prized oriental rug. It was then I noticed the knife protruding from her shoulder blades and the pool of blood that stained her clothing. As I quickly dialed 911, I was positive Detective Simon was not going to enjoy another one of my phone calls.

Now that is the perfect setting and great beginnings of a terrific cozy mystery!

Cozy up with a good book!

A spot of tea anyone?