Mystery Musings

I’ve been reading fast-paced, high tension books lately. Three in a row–The Nine by D.L. Cross, Emerald Blaze by Ilona Andrews, and then The Twins by D.L. Cross. They’re WONDERFUL books. I loved every one of them. But I’m a mystery lover at heart. So it was time for me to go back to my roots, what makes me feel good. Stories where the good guys win and the bad guys get punished. A more leisurely pace. As much atmosphere as action. So I started Anna Lee Huber’s A Stroke of Malice.

I have a thing for historical mysteries, especially anything around the Regency or Victorian period. I’m also a sucker for a good cozy. Let’s face it, to me, a cozy is almost a guaranteed good feeling read, and sometimes, that’s exactly what I want. Something that warms the cockles of my heart at the end of a day. And of course, I love the puzzle of a good mystery.

I read at a slower pace when I read these. I want to savor them. I’m glad the hero or heroine isn’t in danger and I have to speed to the next chapter to see if they survive. I’m going to take my time with A Stroke of Malice. The next one doesn’t come out until next April. ūüėĘ

My daughter’s coming to stay with us on Saturday and Sunday, so no reading then. When kids come, everything else gets pushed aside. I mean to enjoy every minute with them that I can. And when she leaves? It’s back to reading at the end of the day. Slow and leisurely. By the time I finish, I have a feeling that D.L. Cross’s last book in her Astral Conspiracy series will be out, and then I’ll be turning pages as fast as I can again. But it’s so nice to settle in to enjoy good mysteries when I need some warm and fuzzies to relax.

P.S. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but for the first time ever, I added a page for What I’m Up To at the top of my blog. I’m usually so boring, there’s nothing to report, but this time–hold your hats–I have FOUR events coming up in the future. Who knew?

Even Better Than I Expected

I stayed up longer than usual to finish reading SAPPHIRE FLAMES by Ilona Andrews.¬† I hardly ever do that anymore, so it takes a really good book that I can’t put down to keep me up into the wee hours.

When I want a book with wild imagination, lots of action, and even more battles, my go to is Ilona Andrews.¬† The same can be said for tons of other readers.¬† She’s a New York Times best-selling author, because she delivers.¬† When I want shivers but no horror, she delivers that, too.¬† Time after time, in every book, her protagonists (female and her romantic interest) look like there’s no way they can survive their newest threat.¬† The odds always seem impossible.¬† And of course, they somehow manage to scrape through alive.¬† They face mages who can shred minds, reach into another sphere to pull out monsters, or amass armies.¬† It’s wonderful fun.

In the first set of three books featuring Catalina’s family–starting with BURN FOR ME–the books revolve around Nevada and Rogan.¬† Nevada’s the oldest sister in the family, who’s struggling to keep the family’s detective agency solvent after her father dies and to keep food on the table.¬† When she takes on her latest case, she runs smack into “Mad” Rogan.¬† She and Rogan got three books before their HEA, and they were great together.

SAPPHIRE FLAMES is the first book in the second part of the series, featuring Nevada’s sister Catalina and her romantic interest, Alessandro.¬† There are references to the first books in the series, but I think there’s enough information that you could read this set without reading the first.¬† And this set has a different feel.¬† I can’t remember reading a more dashing hero than Alessandro.¬† He’s gorgeous.¬† He’s sexy.¬† He’s Italian and a count.¬† And he’s deadly.¬† Plus, he really, really wants Catalina.

The especially fun part about Alessandro is that his magic negates anyone else’s magic he’s close enough to.¬† AND if there’s any kind of weapon close enough, he can have a copy of it in his hand to use.¬† When he battles, he can go through weapons one after another until he finds the right one to finish his opponent.¬† My favorite example of this is when he and Catalina are battling a mage who can change into a huge killing beast, and he shoots her over and over again at a building site and finally ends up with a chain saw in his hand while Catalina hacks at her head with a sword.¬† Nice family fun.

Catalina’s magic struck me as more subtle, but it’s every bit as deadly.¬† She can wrap her magic around anyone and make them love her to the point that they’ll do anything she asks to make her happy.¬† She’s VERY careful of her magic and has to hold it in so that it doesn’t affect innocent people.¬† She uses her magic in really surprising ways, and I enjoyed watching her get out of deadly situations by being so clever.

And when you put Catalina and Alessandro together…sparks fly.¬† Chemistry explodes.¬† I knew they wouldn’t get together at the end of the book (since it’s book one in what I assume will be three), but oh, I wanted them together!¬† I should mention quickly that Catalina’s family and friends are all wonderful in their own ways, as well.¬† And as you can tell by this long, gushing review, I absolutely loved this book.

Materialistic or Spiritual?

A wonderful man belongs to my writers’ group.¬† He’s a retired cop from Milwaukee, AND he teaches philosophy.¬† He’s writing a memoir about the experiences he had on the force from the time he was young and inexperienced to the time he retired, and his stories go from laugh out loud to deadly serious.¬† I love listening to him read when it’s his turn to share.

Since he has a philosophical bent, he told me that he believes most modern literature is materialistic, not spiritual.¬† I replied that I wasn’t sure I agreed with that.¬† But when he asked me why, I had a harder time coming up with an answer.¬† I’m not a fast thinker.¬† I have to ponder ideas and sort them.¬† But after pondering away, I haven’t changed my mind.¬† Maybe that’s because of the reading material I choose.

I read predominately mysteries, but I intersperse them with other genres.¬† And here’s what I think and the authors who’ve made me think it:

First, I don’t necessarily equate the spiritual with religion, just as I don’t necessarily equate justice with the law.¬† To me, being a spiritual person equates with trying to find the greatest good in ourselves, the divine.¬† And I’ll be honest.¬† I struggle with that, because I’m never sure exactly what I believe that means.¬† Anyway, here are my thoughts about the spiritual in literature:

I’ve only read two William Kent Krueger mystery/thrillers featuring Cork O’Connor–Iron Lake and Boundary Waters–but Cork wrestles with doing the right thing and balancing his Native American culture and beliefs with his Irish-Catholic upbringing.¬† Indian mysticism flavors everything in the stories.¬† Nature plays a powerful force.¬† The books are as much about Cork’s character as they are about surviving and catching the bad guys.

I’m a fan of Anna Lee Huber’s Lady Darby historical mysteries.¬† Kiera Darby survived a horrible first marriage.¬† In the 1830s, husbands OWNED their wives.¬† They could abuse them nearly any way they chose.¬† Sebastian Gage’s mother married beneath her, a commoner, and her family taunted and ridiculed young Sebastian.¬† When Kiera and Sebastian meet and fall in love, they both struggle to overcome their pasts and to treat those they meet, even their servants, even people who have wronged them, with respect.¬† They work to rise above the harsh lessons they’ve endured in life.¬† The quality of a person matters more to them than titles or wealth.¬† Is that a spiritual journey?¬† It feels like one to me.

But I’ve read lots of books where a plot revolves around people trying to find answers and overcoming their faults and shortcomings even while the main plot might rotate around a murder or romance.¬† M.L. Rigdon’s The Gracarin is a fantasy where the warrior Torak rules a country whose religion is based on nature and music, harmony, and where women are treated as equals.¬† He forms an alliance with another country that has a more structured religion, but the leaders of both worlds abhor debauchery, cruelty, and excess. They join forces to conquer the corrupt rulers of the wharf.¬† In many urban fantasies, the theme is good vs. evil.¬† Ilona Andrews’s Kate Daniels series has an over arcing story question of Kate battling her father, who wants power for power’s sake. ¬† Kate often doubts herself and her choices, which makes her journey all the more real.¬† Many mysteries star protagonists who try not to be stained by the bad people they battle.¬† They try not to stoop to their enemies’ levels.

In an extreme example, in Mark Lawrence’s fantasy, PRINCE OF THORNS, Jorg watched enemies kill his mother and young brother before they leave him for dead.¬† Worse, when he’s rescued and his father, the king, learns what has happened, he chooses not to go to war over the incident.¬† It would be too costly.¬† Angry and disillusioned, Jorg runs away and joins a band of ruffian misfits.¬† While he’s away, the king remarries, and when his new bride has a son, the king–his own father–wants Jorg dead.¬† Jorg does despicable things in the book, but it’s hard to hate him, because everyone else is worse, even the peasants.¬† Their hate is selfish and random.¬† Jorg’s enemies kill for land or profit, but Jorg kills to build an army strong enough to ultimately make him a ruler.¬† And he swears he’ll be a good one.¬† He has a conscience and a code of ethics, but they’re brutal by any standards.¬† But then, so are the times.¬† Jorg’s far from the spiritual journey most think of, but his struggles are real and beg the question: Does the end ever justify the means?¬† Everything in Jorg’s world is relative.¬† Does that preclude his journey from being spiritual?

I still don’t know if I have an answer to my friend’s question.¬† It’s possible I’m too practical to be philosophical.¬† Can a person be idealistic and practical at the same time?¬† I’m not sure.¬† But it was fun to consider the books I’ve read in a different light.¬† Any opinions you’d like to share?




One of my favorite authors, Ilona Andrews, is doing a Q&A on her blog right now.¬† I caught the link on twitter.¬† This time, two writers sent in questions and I thought she gave great answers.¬† One of the writers asked whether it’s better to try to sell some short stories before you try to sell a novel.

I’ve had some experience with that.¬† I started out writing and selling short stories.¬† When I finally decided to submit a book, I’d had short stories in 10 Alfred Hitchcock mystery magazines, 2 Ellery Queen mystery magazines, 3 Barnes & Noble anthologies, and 2 WomenSleuth anthologies, among others.¬† It helped to get editors to look at my submission, since I looked like a serious writer, but it didn’t help sell my books.¬† Editors only take what they’re sure they can sell.¬† If you send them a book that they think readers will buy, you’re in.¬† If you send them books that they think are in a market they consider glutted or “dead,” (like cozy mysteries were then), you’re pretty much doomed.¬† But Ilona Andrews gives the best answer.¬† You can see for yourself:

Which leads me to say, Do any of you have questions for me?  If you ever do, just ask.



Ilona Andrews has been answering writing questions on her blog recently.¬† This is the second post she’s done about how to write strong characters.¬† I thought it was worth sharing:¬†¬†

BTW, if anyone has any questions they’d like me to answer, just let me know and I’d be happy to give it a try.

Oh, those Alpha Males

I’m near the end of reading Ilona Andrews’s MAGIC TRIUMPHS.¬† Her heroine, Kate Daniels, is so strong with so many sword skills and so much magic that her love interest, Curran Lennart–whom she marries and has a child with later in the series–has to be exceptional, too, to be her equal.¬† So, in the beginning books of the series, he’s a shapeshifter who is the Beast Lord of the entire Atlanta pack–a shifter who becomes a giant lion who can kill and maim every bit as well as Kate.¬† She’s a female with an attitude, and he’s a male with enough ego and confidence to stand up to her.¬† He’s strong and sexy, but let’s face it.¬† That’s not enough.¬† He also has to respect Kate and be there for her.¬† He has to have a tender side when he deals with her.

I have to admit, I can take or leave most alpha males as heroes.¬† I’m just as into witty or clever heroes–men who are masculine without swagger and macho.¬† I don’t write alphas because that’s not my first inclination when I think of a hero.¬† That’s not to say I don’t enjoy reading about them–especially if there’s a great cover with abs that ripple and biceps that bulge.¬† You know the ones.¬† The ones that snag your attention when you scroll down twitter or Amazon covers.

I happen to think Julia Donner writes some of the best male characters around, but for me, Ilona Andrews writes some of the best alphas.¬† I love “Mad” Rogan in her HIdden Legacy series, and I fell hard for Hugh D’Ambray when he switched from villain to hero in IRON AND MAGIC.¬† I’ve only read the fourth and final book in Staci Troilo’s Protectorate series, TORTURED SOUL, but that fourth Brother was an alpha to remember.¬† Another to add to my list–and he might be an all-time favorite–was Keir in WARPRIZE by Elizabeth Vaughan.¬† All of these men were efficient killers who worked hard to do the right thing against impossible odds and to care for the women they loved.

How about you?¬† Do you have a thing for alpha males?¬† What’s your favorite type of male protagonist?¬† Do you have some favorites?

Whatever you’re working on now, I hope your characters come alive for you and happy writing!



I couldn’t stand it–even though I’m in the middle of reading TROUBLE IN MUDBUG, by Jana DeLeon and really enjoying it–AND I downloaded Staci Troilo’s novel TORTURED SOUL to read next–I still HAD to buy the last Kate Daniel’s urban fantasy that just came out by Ilona Andrews.¬† If you’ve read my blog very long, you know how much I love that series.¬† Her new Legacy series, too.¬† I’ve bought EVERY book.¬† And I couldn’t wait, but I also couldn’t find it on the usual bookshelf at my local Barnes & Noble.¬† Why?¬† Because one of their helpful clerks explained that it was on the hardcover display and wouldn’t be out in paperback until a LONG time.¬† Now, I know I bought the previous one in paperback.¬† The memory is sketchy, though.¬† Kids were in and out of the house, staying, moving, staying a little more, and the joy of reading got a little chaotic.¬† But I’ve bought all of the other books in paperback.¬† And that’s where my sorry personal lament starts–¬† WHY??? Why a hardcover now?

It’s time to confess that I can be a little anal about my books.¬† And I should have seen this coming.¬† WAY back before the dawn of man, I bought every Martha Grimes’ novel and Elizabeth George novel when they came out.¬† And they both started in paperback and then, when they became bestselling authors, their books went to hardcover.¬† So did Patricia Briggs with her Mercy Thompson series.¬† And now, so is Ilona Andrews.¬† I don’t mind paying $22. for their books instead of $8.¬† I’m happy for all of them.¬† They’ve EARNED more money and recognition.

BUT–I keep all of my favorite authors’ books together on my bookshelves.¬† And call me a little controlling, but my rows of books look crooked when half or three-fourths of a shelf is paperback and the rest is hardcover.¬† It hurts my aesthetic balance.¬† At least, until I get used to it.¬† And to have an ENTIRE series in paperback with just the one, last book in hardcover?¬† It just looks whopper-jawed.¬† I’m so into this, that I’ve already decided that when the paperback version of MAGIC TRIUMPHS comes out, I’m buying it.¬† And putting it with my other paperbacks in the series.¬† And I’ll give my hardcover copy to my library and hopefully some other readers will enjoy it.¬† But until then, I have to be patient and wait.¬† Not my strong suit, but hey!¬† I don’t have any choice.

Do any of you have bookshelf issues?¬† In the large scheme of things, it’s a minor irritation, but what can I say?¬† I hope every book you read is a winner, and happy writing!

Business…and…Mysteries with Romance

I finally got my official contract from Kensington. ¬†It takes what feels like a long time between receiving a 3-book deal to getting the official 20+ page tome of subject heading after subject heading that I mostly have no clue about. ¬†That’s when I’m grateful I have my agent, Lauren Abramo, from Dystel, Goderich, and Bourret. ¬†I think most of what Kensington offers is set in stone–like the Ten Commandments–but what I concentrate on are my writing deadlines. And when do my books come out? ¬†I know my deadlines–and I’ve given myself more time between books now that I’m writing mysteries, but I still don’t know when my books will come out. ¬†Kensington won’t decide that until 2018.

My 6th and last romance, SPECIAL DELIVERY, is due out Nov. 7th, and I wanted to give it a fair shot, so I paid for a blog tour. ¬†In truth, I thought Kensington would promote my romances, but not so much. ¬†MOST writers have to promote themselves these days. ¬†That was a learning experience for me, so I’m promoting this one a little myself. ¬†Of course, BookBub is the BEST, but I can’t afford it, and it’s harder to get accepted by BookBub than to pass through the eye of the needle these days. ¬†The price for my tour isn’t terrible–$60. ¬†But it takes a day or two to decide which tour you want and to get everything ready for it if you want each blog stop to be unique with a different excerpt or blog at each spot. ¬† And, yes, this is time well-spent. ¬†You want to start a good two months before your book comes out. ¬†I’m using Goddess Fish Promotions again, and they’re great to work with.

Now, with the business stuff behind me, I can concentrate on my favorite thing–writing. The first mystery is done and sent. ¬†And this time, probably because I just finished writing them–I’ve added a romance subplot to the clues and red herrings. ¬†This is where it got a little bit tricky. ¬†I’ve been reading (okay, I’m a little obsessed with) Jenna Bennett’s Savannah Martin series. ¬†She mixes mystery and romance into almost a fusion. ¬†There’s lots of TALK about sex (nothing graphic, though), lots of steam, and gritty murders. ¬†It makes for an intoxicating cocktail.

This is the thing, though. ¬†I’m finishing book #10, and Rafe and Savannah still aren’t married. ¬†It almost feels like the TV show Castle. ¬†The chemistry is intoxicating, and they keep growing closer, but how long can you flirt with HEA and not deliver? ¬†I’m thinking they get married in the next book. ¬†Thank God. ¬†But this prolonged tease let me know that even though in romances, the HEA comes at the end of the book, that’s not the way it works in other genres.

I make no secret that I’m an Ilona Andrews and Patricia Briggs fan–from the days I wrote urban fantasy. ¬†And werewolves and werelions don’t just walk in and sweep the heroines off their feet either. ¬†It took a few books before the hot guys won the hotter women. ¬†So, I didn’t let my characters–Jazzi and Ansel–walk down the aisle in book one and have their HEA. ¬†I don’t think I can come up with one diversion after another for 10 books, but I know that stalling is a good thing. ¬†And dead bodies are great distractions to keep heroines and heroes too busy to plan ahead. ¬†But what happens after the “death do us part” clicks in? ¬†Do things get (yawn) boring? ¬†I’m thinking of Castle and other TV shows. ¬† Can you keep them interesting after marriage? ¬†What do you think? ¬†I was a sucker for Tommy and Tuppence, Nick and Nora, and marriage didn’t hurt them. ¬†Any opinions?

Happy Writing!


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Twitter:  @judypost





How Many Bodies does it take?

I’m working on a mystery. ¬†I finally reached the third turning point (three-fourths through the book–and yes, I do construct my plots that way), and I’m heading into the last 80 pages. ¬†This is when I look at my remaining plot points and pray that I have enough twists and turns to make it to the The End. ¬†If not, a little creativity is in order.

Almost (there must be one out there that breaks the mold, but I can’t think of it) every mystery starts with a dead body. ¬†A crime would work, too, but it’s not as common. ¬†The body doesn’t have to be on page one. ¬†It doesn’t even have to show up by page five. ¬†But someone usually stumbles upon it by the end of chapter one. ¬†Not always. ¬†Mystery readers, especially for cozies or traditionals, ¬†know that while they’re hanging out with the protagonist and getting to know her and the book’s setting, a dead body will show up eventually. ¬†It’s worth the wait.

Martha Grimes, in her early books, grabbed her readers with a hook–a prologue. They’re frowned upon now, but I liked them. ¬†Some nice, oblivious person would be walking along a street or locking her front door, and we KNEW she’d be dead by the end of the chapter. ¬†A great way to build tension. ¬†A lot of thriller writers use that technique–showing the victim in a way that we know they’re already doomed. ¬†It works. ¬†If you’re not writing a thriller, though, you have to space out victims more sparingly:) ¬†You don’t off somebody whenever the pace slows down, so you have to come up with different devices to¬†keep the tension high enough to turn pages.

The thing I loved about witing urban fantasy is that you could write a battle every time you wanted to up the tension. ¬†Pitting your protagonist against someone who could kill her works really well. ¬†I just finished reading Ilona Andrews’s MAGIC SHIFTS, and it was a FAST read because there was a battle in almost every chapter. ¬†Lots of action. ¬†I loved it, but that doesn’t fly in an amateur sleuth mystery. ¬†Protags don’t wield swords or shoot magic.

What does work? ¬†Having the sleuth at the wrong place at the wrong time. ¬†Having her get nosy and digging through a desk that’s not hers when someone walks into the office. ¬†I’m halfway through a mystery by an author who’s new to me: ¬†A Cutthroat Business by Jenna Bennett. ¬† I’m loving it so far! ¬†First, her protagonist is a Southern Belle. ¬†I haven’t read one of those since the last Sarah Booth Delaney cozy¬†I read by Carolyn Haines. Bennett’s protagonist is a real estate agent…so, of course, she takes a client to a showing and finds a body in the last room they stop to view. ¬†See? ¬†The nice, bloody corpse comes at the end of the chapter. More fun that way!

Also, of course, the police show up and the client who wanted to see the house doesn’t seem to have any money, but he has done some prison time–and the protag¬†knew him when they were growing up–a smartass, sexy ex-con. Bennett finds one clever way after another to keep her protag involved in the investigation. ¬†Eventually, though, (and I hate to say this), another body is needed to boost the pace near the middle of the book. ¬†Sacrifices must be made for every novel, and for mysteries, well…. someone must die.

I’m sorry to say (and my daughter wasn’t happy with me, because she fell in love with a certain character when she read the pages I’ve done so far), I had to kill off someone, too, for the second plot twist in my book. ¬†And that made me wonder: ¬†how many bodies does it take to keep a good book going? ¬†In urban fantasy, you’re lucky. ¬†Very rarely does one of the good guys have to die, and you can kill bad guys at random, on every other page if you want to. ¬†In mysteries, though? Bodies are up for grabs. ¬†Good guys die as often as not-so-good guys. ¬†I’m thinking–and I haven’t researched this–that it takes at least two bodies to move a mystery plot. ¬†The first body happens at the beginning of the book and somewhere later, the pacing and clues start to fizzle, and an author has to stick in another victim.

What do you think? ¬†Can you think of a mystery that only has one victim and the entire plot goes from there? ¬†Okay, maybe in a P.I., because usually the private eye gets beat up close to the time a second body would pop up in a traditional mystery. ¬†LOL. ¬†This is probably why it was so hard for me to write romances. ¬†I couldn’t kill anybody:)

Jenna Bennett:

Ilona Andrews’s Magic Shifts: ¬†

My webpage (with a new creepy short story):

Twitter: @judypost

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