Monday, October 31, 2022

I’m Not a Professional Bookseller But I Kinda Was Last Week

I used to work in a bookstore back in the 1990s. It was a Bookstop and I enjoyed many days during my tenure as a professional seller of books.

In the late 2000s, I started a blog and began writing reviews of books I had. This included all the crime and mystery books I was introduced to as I started to see just how broad and deep the genre was. In the written word, I go into great detail about the authors’ style, the plots they developed, and how much I enjoyed the book. As an aside, I rarely write about a book I don’t like so if I’m reviewing it, chances are all but certain I loved it.

I received lots of comments over the years. Many agreed with my take while other thanked me for letting their authors know about a book that they could add to their To Be Read pile. It always made me feel good to connect readers with books.

But there’s something special about doing it in person.

Last Sunday, my church had their occasional book fair. These are all used books, most in boxes used to deliver reams of paper, and they run gamut of genres and styles. The folks who are in charge of laying out the books are readers themselves. They collect certain authors—James Patterson, Nora Roberts, Jodi Picoult, David Baldacci, Clive Cussler—in the same box or rolling cart while other authors are collected by genre.

An older lady and I had struck up a conversation about mystery books. She already had a small pile she was moving around. Since we were standing right next to the Picoult box, I pointed out that my wife has read all of those books. She thanked me and we parted.

With my interest in cozy mysteries now—thanks Murder by the Book—I was delighted to see one of the rolling carts featured just those books. I happily knelt and started to read the titles. Having just finished my first Leslie Meier book, Back to School Murder, I was hoping I would find one of the Lucy Stone novels.

Well, I found one and only one: Back to School Murder. Seriously? I want a different book, something I hadn’t read. But then a lightbulb went off in my head. I grabbed the book and went back to the older lady. She had selected one of the Picoult titles as it was on top of her stack. I literally put Meier’s book in her hands and started to explain the story, the series, and how I had literally just finished reading it the prior week. The lady smiled, seemed pleased that Meier’s catalog was twenty-eight books deep, and added the novel to the top of her stack. She thanked me and I hustled back to the sanctuary to sit in with the orchestra for the second service.

That smile was worth me not finding a Meier book. That smile told me Leslie Meier just might have a new reader.

Telling people about books is a lifelong joy to me. Telling them in person is even better.

Monday, October 24, 2022

Give Small Businesses a Chance

Do you absolutely, positively have to have a brand-new book the day it is published?

Okay, for some, yes you do. I remember the Harry Potter years when folks would line up to buy a book at midnight. Ditto for many of the best-selling authors I’ve read over the decades.

But for many of us, our To Be Read pile is so huge that even if we did rush out to a bookstore on publication day, that new book might first find a place on the TBR stack vs. in our hands (even if its place is in the prime position of Next Book.

Note that so far in this example, I’ve been talking about going to a physical bookstore. What about ordering a book and having it delivered?

Well, there’s the obvious option: Amazon. If you really wanted to pre-order and book and have it delivered on publication day, Amazon would most likely make that happen for you. The other online book sellers could also fulfill your request and you’d have that brand-new book in your hands the day of release.

You can have whatever opinion you want on the omnivorous nature of Amazon. I think it’s a great service, and I use it as a writer and a consumer. But as an indie author, I’m aware that there are other options.

So when, Discipline is Destiny, the latest book from Ryan Holiday was announced, I was all in. Even though I’ve not read them all, I plan to read all of Holiday’s books. They are really good and chock full of great, thought-provoking advice.

In the days leading up to the book’s publication, Holiday went on social media and let folks know that if they per-ordered the book—from any vendor—you would receive some bonus content. It was in that moment I opted to order direct from Holiday’s website, The Daily Stoic. Why not? I would be supporting a small business. 

When I placed my order, I received a confirmation email with the following.

"PS: We appreciate your order and want to remind you that we're a small shop. We use local manufacturers and family-run businesses as our partners here in America. While this means we can feel good about everything we make, it sometimes means that products take a bit longer than expected and creates the occasional logistical issue. We don't have a massive supply chain or a massive team of people working 24/7. It's just us...doing our best...just like you. Thank you and enjoy!"

I have enjoyed the book. It’s the new book so there was high demand. Ultimately it took about ten days, but those days were spent finishing another book I was already reading (Back to School Murder) so I didn’t mind at all. And I helped a small business.

So, as our attention turns to Christmas shopping, I would like to encourage everyone to support as many small businesses as possible.

Monday, October 17, 2022

My First Visit to Tinker’s Cove Will Not Be the Last

The books of Leslie Meier first popped onto my radar in 2020 when John McDougall of Murder by the Book here in Houston binge read them. But I didn’t read any. Last fall when I searched for a mystery to read during the Halloween season, I saw her name again. Didn’t bite. Even when John selected Easter Bunny Murder earlier this year as part of Murder by the Book’s excellent subscription service [There are 3 options; have a look], I still didn’t start a Meier book.

But I have now.

I’m a seasonal reader. When it’s summer, I want a summer-type book. Ditto for the holidays, so when September rolled around, I got to think “I bet Leslie Meier has a Labor Day book.” Well, she doesn’t, but she’s got the next best thing as illustrated by the title: Back to School Murder.

A Great Marketing Hook

Starting in 1991 (!) with Mistletoe Murder, nearly every book in the Lucy Stone series revolves around a holiday. Chances are pretty good that you could go through and entire year’s worth of holidays and there’d be a Lucy Stone mystery ready for you. It’s a great marketing strategy and I wonder if Meier had that in mind from the jump or if it was an organic process.

A Delightfully Real Protagonist

Lucy Stone is her amateur detective, but that’s not all she is. In Back to School Murder—published in 1997, it’s the fourth book in the series—she is a forty-year-old woman, wife, and mother of four kids whose ages range from younger high school to toddler. Her husband, Bill, is a carpenter who specializes in restorations.

As the story opens, Lucy is filling in (for a friend who is helping her mom with chemo) as a reporter for The Pennysaver, a weekly publication for the small town of Tinker’s Cove. Up until the reporter gig, she is a stay-at-home mom who finds herself at a crossroad of life: is being a mom and wife all there is? The reporter job gives her a glimpse of a life beyond the home and one she puts to good use when a bomb goes off in the school.

Yeah, I’ll admit that for a book published in 1991, a bomb in a school struck close to home as I was reading in 2022. But the bomb was only a part of the story. It turns out that one of the teachers, Carol Crane, is seen rescuing a handicapped boy who somehow was not evacuated with the rest of the children. And it’s just in time, for no sooner did all the bystanders see Carol running out of the building that the windows are shattered.

Imagine Lucy’s surprise, however, when a few days later—and after a contentious school board meeting in which Carol stepped on a few toes—the news comes in that Carol was murdered in her bed. Now, Lucy the reporter starts to work on the tribute for the paper…and things don’t add up.

A Murder in the Middle of Real Life

Well, like every good amateur sleuth, Lucy starts to look for more information, sifting through new clues, trying to find out more about Carol and her past. But here’s a key aspect of this book: Lucy does all of this around her real life. There were chunks of this book where Meier just followed Lucy in her night school class or dealing with sick children, the mystery not even top of Lucy’s mind.

Turns out, I rather enjoyed that aspect of the story. It certainly doesn’t hurt that Lucy Stone is a fun protagonist, a real person, not some super detective or stalwart police officer. She does what most of us would like to think we’d do: keep asking questions. Partly it’s to protect her community, but it’s also to find the truth. I liked it when she was just a mom taking care of the kids. I liked it when she gossiped with her friends. I liked it when real life interfered with her tracking down the killer.

In fact, I liked this story so much that I’m already looking for the next holiday so I can return to Tinker’s Cove. And with 28 books, I’ll have many happy visits.

Funny History Realization

As an aside, I had to laugh when Lucy’s editor hand carried a floppy disk to the printers so the weekly issue of the Pennysaver could be published. What mad me laugh was my own realization of just how far we’ve come since 1991. When I read a book from the 1940s, for examples, I intrinsically know that there are no cellphones or internet or computers. But somehow, with the somewhat modern setting of this 1991 mystery, I had forgotten that the internet barely existed in that year. And yeah, you couldn’t just email a file to the printer.

My how times have changed. 

Cozy College

It's been awhile since I wrote about my enrollment in Cozy College. Start here, then keep going here.

Monday, October 3, 2022

The Surprising Depth of Ted Lasso

I expected the laughs. I kind of expected some drama. I did not expect the characters and their relationships.

The wife and I finally watched both seasons of Ted Lasso, the Jason Sudeikis-fronted program on Apple TV. From the outside, it looked like just a sitcom about an American football coach brought over to England to coach a soccer team with the end goal being to drive said team into the ground. This being the plan of team owner Rebecca Welton (Hannah Waddingham) as a get-back to her ex-husband who left her for a younger woman and loved the team.

That might serve as the how-it-started part, but that’s nowhere near where it ended up. By the end of the 22 episodes to date, what we got was a show that could make you crane your ear at the TV to make sure you got the joke a character said in an off-hand manner and then next moment have you mute with emotion, with tears likely rimming your eyes.

Each character has a moment to shine, usually in multiple episodes. With Lasso himself, I expected a overly optimistic, shuck kind of guy where nothing much phases him. That’s certainly Lasso’s exterior, but on more than one occasion, Sudeikis lays bare the coach and reveals him to be a man who hides much behind his veneer of happiness.

That’s not to say his joy isn’t contagious. It was fun to watch his outlook on life wash over all the people in which he comes into contact, ultimately making them better people. Or more real, if you want to get down with the truth of this show.

There are so many things you could say about each character and after I watched the last episode, I got on the internet to read some.

Pro Tip: Never go on the internet when you are catching up on an existing show unless you want spoilers. I learned that lesson long ago and now I watch all my TV shows without my phone in my hand. Well, unless I’m watching the live broadcast of SyFy’s Resident Alien because the cast live tweets and they are hilarious and engaging. (But even then, I put the phone down during the show itself.)

But as much as I enjoyed each character’s moments in the spotlight, what I really appreciated was the depth of their relationships with each other. How great is team owner Rebecca and model/publicist Keeley Jones (Juno Temple). On screen, it’s like their sisters who only discovered each other in adulthood. Unlike other shows where these two might be pitted against each other for, say, to get the same guy, Keeley and Rebecca come to really love each other. They bolster each other when one is feeling down and there’s nary a mean things said between. Super refreshing.

The group of guys surrounding Lasso are also great to see on camera. Dubbed the Diamond Dogs, they consist of Lasso, assistant coach Beard (yup, the character’s real name and not just because actor Brendan Hunt sports facial hair), Director of Football Operations Leslie Higgins (Jeremy Swift), and Nathan Shelley (Nick Mohammed), the guy who went from being a kit manager to an assistant coach. They also keep things together between them and, most importantly, allow themselves to be vulnerable with each other.

By the end of the second season, I found myself thinking about the show over and over while mowing the lawn or commuting to work. The stories, the characters, the depth just stayed with me. Like I wrote about in a review of Resident Alien a few weeks ago, I’m just glad there are shows like Ted Lasso that demonstrate you can have a light and funny show while still delivering the depth and nuance you might only think exists in dramas.

There's a reason so many people respond to this show.