Review of Boar Island by Nevada Barr

Here is a link to my most recent book review on Austin Mystery Writers

https://austinmysterywriters.com/2020/03/24/review-of-boar-island-by-nevada-barr/


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It Was A Good Day

Stories Behind the Story #2

You know how somedays are good and you think to yourself that you’ll remember the day and how perfect it is, but you don’t? Well, I remember this day.

It was a cool and sunny Spring day before we had moved into the house at our Double Mountain ranch. We were living in Sweetwater while building and renovating the place. Because it was springtime, knew that it was liable to be a “snaky day”.

By the time we arrived, our two-year old son had fallen asleep in the car. So we parked in the shade, rolled down the windows, and let him sleep. We took the opportunity to scan around the property for snakes and look at the progress that had been made on the house.

While I was in the kitchen, I heard a loud buzzing from somewhere outside. After a few seconds it donned on me what it was, a rattlesnake. But it was unusually loud. I followed the sound and stood on the porch. At the bottom of the steps was a large roadrunner who had cornered two rattlesnakes. (So cool!)

I turned around and ran to find my husband. He grabbed a shovel and I checked on our son. He was still blissfully asleep.

I heard the sound of the shovel against concrete and checked on husband’s progress. I was surprised to see that the roadrunner stayed by his side. The bird was focused on those snakes!. I swear he was cheering my husband on and giving directions. The snakes were quickly dispatched.

Husband walked over to me. “Let’s go get some lunch in town and leave this guy to his business.” I agreed. We wanted the roadrunner to feel comfortable. (Of course I daydreamed about how cool it would be to have a roadrunner who hung around the house.)

We had a nice lunch at the local café, fifteen miles away in Aspermont. We went back to the house and the snakes were gone. We walked around and puttered on the property for the next couple of hours, always mindful to keep an eye out for more snakes.

As we were cleaning up and closing the house, I took another walk around to make sure we hadn’t left any tools out and looked for more rattlers. There was some English ivy growing on the side of the house and it bothered me. Now I know that some people love ivy and the idea of it covering the west side of the house can be practical, especially in the Texas summer sun. But long ago I read an article where ivy had worked its way into a house’s brick facade and caused the entire wall to pull away from the house. It took two hundred years, but I still didn’t like the idea of ivy working its way into the siding. I didn’t want it to damage the century’s old home, so I began to rip it off. I pulled ivy off for several minutes, working my way down to the ground. It was denser at the bottom and more work intensive.

I lifted up the ivy to rip away a big section and there was the prettiest pink, contented, sleeping rattlesnake. I pulled back my hand like I had touched a hot stove. I stepped back six feet and stared at the ivy, expecting the snake to crawl out. How had it stayed asleep? I called my husband over and he killed it.

All day long I had been so careful and for a brief moment my precautions went out the window when I had been preoccupied. We used the situation as a teaching moment to our son and inwardly I chastised myself. I had my own teaching moment. It didn’t fully dawn on me how lucky I was until I was thinking about it later. On the way back to Sweetwater, I said to my husband, “We had a good day. It could have been very different, and I could be in the hospital right now.”

“Yup.” He didn’t have to say anything else. The look that he gave me told me plenty. I don’t know how he does it. But I swear, with one look he can show disappointment, fear, love, and gratitude. No wonder he’s a man of few words. I think he was tempted to scold me but I think the look on my face said plenty too.

I know that we think that we’re in control of our lives. And I think that we are, but only to a certain degree. It certainly doesn’t hurt to be vigilant. But sometimes I still think it’s up to fate as to whether or not the snake is asleep.


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Review of A Dangerous Road: A Smokey Dalton Novel

Originally posted on Austin Mystery Writers

As with many other books, I’ve been late on the scene with this series and author. A Dangerous Road made its debut in 2001 but I just discovered it recently. I was fortunate that my book club chose it. So not only did I get to read a great book, I got to read an intriguing mystery that kept me turning pages! And I got to discuss it with good friends.

I primarily write historical mysteries, usually Westerns, but this one takes place in Memphis in 1968. A turbulent time and place. There was a lot that I didn’t know about this time and I can tell that Nelscott did her homework. For example, there was a strike among the garbage collectors and trash began to pile up. The smell and inconvenience added to the tension of the story. The impending marches and the arrival of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., are churning up hostilities between the races, and among the races. Add to that a black male P.I. who has a white, attractive, female client, Laura Hathaway, and the tension mounts!

The mystery part of the story is about $10,000. Laura Hathaway demands to know why her mother would leave $10,000 to Smokey. He has no idea. He doesn’t know the Hathaways. Could Mrs. Hathaway have been the anonymous benefactor who left him $10,000 ten year prior? It seems like too much of a coincidence. And why would she do that? Laura decides to hire Smokey to find out about her family background, what secrets they were hiding and how he is involved in it, if he is.

That’s what kept me turning pages. I had no idea where it was going to go!

The book starts with scenes from the premiere of Gone With the Wind in 1940 in Atlanta. (I didn’t know that it premiered there! Did you?) It takes a while until it becomes clear why this event was important to the story. But it’s pivotal.

Which gets me to what I admired most about the book. Not only was it a mystery, but it deftly maneuvered through and around the worlds of 1940 Atlanta and 1968 Memphis. Both eras are complicated. Dalton and the black community have to constantly be alert and careful what they say and do. And not all dangers are outside their own community.

Nelscott dances her way around and through the story, taking the reader with her. I was impressed with its complexity and how she was able to keep the tension throughout. I was not surprised to learn that it won the Herodotus Award for Best Historical Mystery and was short-listed for the Edgar Award for Best Novel.

This reader and writer will definitely be reading more of the Smokey Dalton stories!


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New Project! Bullet Books

I’m pleased to announce that I’ve been selected to participate in a project, a collection of novellas that are sure to get your blood pumping! Each book is co-written with Manning Wolfe, author of the Texas Lady Lawyer series.

My story is about a substitute teacher who wants to make the world a better place. That’s not surprising, right? 😉

Here’s more information about each book. Look for The Last Straw!

Learn more about Bullet Books and book #11, The Last Straw

To be released in October 2019. I’ll keep you posted!


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Stories Behind the Stories #1

Double Mountain

People have been telling me that I should write some of the true stories that are behind the story of my novel, Gilt Ridden, and other stories that inspire my writing. So, I’m writing a series of blog posts that I’ll call The Stories Behind the Stories.

This is the story of the first rattlesnake that I found in our house when we first moved to our Double Mountain ranch. I included it in some of the first drafts of the book, but later I omitted it and just referred to it in dialogue. People said I had too many rattlesnake scenes already.

We had moved to our ranch Easter weekend. The weather had been hot and dry, but a cold front brought much-needed rain and a drop in temperature. Unfortunately, rattlesnakes were looking for a warm place too.

My husband was off at work at his job in Sweetwater, a 45-minute drive away, and my son and I were playing on the floor of the playroom. We had been playing on the floor for probably a couple of hours and I decided to plug in the phone. (Yes, that was back in the days of phones in the home.) I was looking for the phone outlet and pivoted the couch away from the wall to get to it. I was shocked to find a curled-up rattlesnake. I looked at it for a couple of seconds because my mind didn’t want to register what I was seeing. It was happily asleep, no worries.

I picked up my son and placed him on his bed. He was three at the time. I told him to stay on the bed and I explained the situation. He wasn’t having it. He wanted to stay by my side.

I went back to the playroom to check on the snake. I think it was awake now and not happy with me, but it still not moving. At this time in my life I had seen many rattlesnakes. We had also lived on another West Texas ranch years before, but I had never killed one. My husband had always been around to do it. I tried calling him from the kitchen phone but his employer had not paid their phone bill so my husband’s business phone was not working.

I probably said a lot of cuss words, at least mentally. (Son was still stuck to my leg, not wanting to leave.)

I knew there was a shovel on the porch because we had killed a rattlesnake on the porch a couple of days prior. It had been raining when we were moving in (of course) and it had come up onto the porch. The door had been wide open as we brought things inside. I remember thinking at the time how lucky we were to have found that snake before it had gotten into the house!

So, I got the shovel, went to the playroom, kid still stuck to my leg. I told him to move away and he wouldn’t let go. I yelled at him and stomped the floor to emphasize the importance of listening to me. That only made him hold on tighter. And the stomping on the floor was irritating the snake and he started uncoiling to move to another location.

I think I actually said some curse words aloud at this point.

So, I moved forward and planned my attack. I remember standing there, thinking that I was glad that he was a regular-sized snake, maybe two and a half feet, so his striking distance wouldn’t be far. Even though the shovel was a regular-sized shovel, my arms are really short, I wanted as much distance between us as possible. As I planned my attack, I learned something. Sometimes the more that you think about doing something that you’re afraid to do, the more you can start scaring yourself. I didn’t want to be there. But if I left, then who knows where the snake would hide? And then we’d still be faced with having to get rid of it.

I knew I had to attack before I got too afraid. I hit it with the flat side of the shove, and it got really mad. The second thing I learned that day, killing a rattlesnake on padded carpeting is a lot more difficult than you think it would be. All I did was make it really mad. It started winding and unwinding himself, trying to figure out who the hell I was, why did I wake him up, and what did I have against him?

Since that wasn’t working, I used the edge of the shovel blade. I placed it right behind his head and pushed down. Nothing. So, I pushed harder and sawed back and forth. As my son was still grasping my leg, I was thinking that at least if it left a bloody spot on my new carpet that it would be hidden under the couch. (Hey, I worked really hard to find that good carpet at a decent price!)

I think at this point I had it incapacitated enough that I scooped it up and take it outside to finish the job. After it was over, I had a discussion with my son about the importance of listening to me. Unfortunately, over the next six years we were faced with the same dilemma six more times. But every time I told him to get on his bed until I gave the all clear, he did it. He also got very good at spotting rattlesnakes that I didn’t see.

Maybe for the second story I’ll tell you about the second half of this day and how I learned about the Sweetwater Rattlesnake Roundup.

Thanks for reading this if you’ve made it this far! One of the reasons I write the stories about West Texas is to show the world what it’s like.


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Gilt Ridden Book Club Party

Yesterday a dream came true for me. I got to discuss my book, Gilt Ridden, with my book club. No, you didn’t miss the publication date. It’s not published yet. They agreed to be my beta readers (aka guinea pigs) and give me feedback.

And since we met at my house, I thought I’d have some fun with it. I decided to make it a themed party! Check out those gold coins, delicious chocolate of course.

For food I tried to make snakes with the cinnamon rolls but the eyes didn’t quite turn out right. The nonpareils I used melted and the color ran. Even though they looked like they were hemorrhaging dark blood from their eyes, they tasted good! (Hence, no closeups of the “snakes”.) Yes, that’s a typical result of cooking experiments for me.

The beer you see is some of my favorite. It’s Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy. I thought it was a Texas beer, alas, it’s not. But it has a German name so it also goes with my story. 😀 One of my protagonists has a German name. The wines are Texas wines. I didn’t get a chance to taste them. But I’ve heard good things about them. I liked the labels.

What a spread!

We had such a good time sitting around and chatting. It was neat for me to ask, “What did you think about…?” “Were you confused by…?” “Did you catch the hidden mystery with…?” If was so fun! They said they couldn’t put it down. (Whew!)

They gave me constructive feedback and I’ll use it to tighten up my story. Hopefully I’ll be shopping it around soon. I surely know that their comments and encouragement helped me immensely!

A frazzled but happy me.
The red journal was a prize. A journal figures prominently in the story.

If you read the book and would like to host your own Gilt Ridden party, I’ve made a Pinterest board full of ideas! Gilt Ridden Book Club board.You’ll also find other Gilt Ridden pictures on another Pinterest board. I also have boards on History, and Texas History, among other things.


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A Review of The Secret Lives of Cats

One thing I like about being in a book club is that I get a chance to read books that I hadn’t heard of. And since I hadn’t heard of Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s story, The Secret Lives of Cats, I’m glad that it came to my attention and I had a good excuse to read it.

 

Amazon describes it as: Winner of the Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine Readers Choice Award for 2008, this Anthony-nominated story was one of the most talked about stories of the year.

 

I can believe it. I was drawn in by its first sentence. “Homer Ziff didn’t believe in old adages, but after his long and eventful spring, he couldn’t help but think that whoever put the words “curiosity,” “cat,” and “kill” in the same sentence had to be onto something.”

 

I like curiosity, cats, and of course crime fiction. So I’m there! You got me. (And look at this awesome cover. I love it.)

Screen Shot 2019-04-22 at 3.04.41 PM

I like the premise. Ziff wonders where his cats go during the day so he attaches a small camera to each cat’s collar. The camera takes still photos, not video. (This was written when GoPro was still new and incredibly expensive.) Every day he downloads and saves many of the photos to see where they go. He notices that they go to a place where other cats congregate and sit there. Are they looking at something? What are they doing? He’s fascinated and after several days it becomes apparent that what they are looking at are bones, human bones.

 

He calls the police. “When the operator answered, he said, “I think there’s a dead body in my neighborhood.” And that brought the detectives to his door.”

 

He has to explain to them that the cats have found a dead body, but he doesn’t know exactly where it is. And he has to do this without sounding crazy or guilty. Fortunately for him, one of the detectives understands right away.

 

I’ll let you read the rest of the story to find out what happens. I thought it was a full-length book so I was a little disappointed that it was a short story, only 33 pages long. I wanted more! I liked everything about it, the characters, the descriptions, and the plot. I thought it moved right along.

 

I highly recommend this short read and I’ll definitely be reading more by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. I was curious to see what else she has written and was thrilled to find that she also writes a lot of sci-fi. I’ll confess that I’m a bit of a Trekkie so I was tickled to see that she’s written a few ST books too! (Insert The Original Series music here. Ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ahhhh.)

 

So go check out The Secret Lives of Cats and the other books listed on her site. https://kriswrites.com/

 

Happy hunting and live long and prosper!


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The Bosslight Bookstore

Today I wrote a little something about one of my favorite book stores. So click on the link and head on over to Austin Mystery Writers and check it out!


Posted in Austin Mystery Writers, Book store, Writers and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , by with 1 comment.
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