Finding your next great read

It was a question and a statement we got a lot at the libraries I worked at. “Can you help me? I just finished this awesome series and I’m looking for another book like those. Oh, and I’ve read everything by that author.”

I’d ask them a few questions (librarians will always ask a few questions to help zero in on what you might actually be looking for).

“What was it you liked about that series or that novel?”

“Are you looking for something that has a similar setting, characters, type of story?”

Then we would listen. In library-land this is known as “doing reader’s advisory.” In other words, helping a reader find the next great read.

You can ask yourself those questions, especially if you are searching your library’s catalog from home. You can do a keyword search. Say you really like Joanna Fluke’s Hannah Swenson Cookie Jar mysteries. Well, you could type in “baking mysteries.” I did. I found seventy titles. Many were duplicates, because a title being available in print, large-print, and other formats.

Right off the bat I’m suspicious of those search results because that’s nowhere near the number of baking mysteries a typical library would own. I look up a title, go to more details, and discover the category for that book is actually “baking-fiction,” not mystery. Below that might be another subject category, like “mystery and detective fiction,” or “mysteries.”

It can quickly get complicated. That’s where stopping by your local library to get some assistance, both with your next great read, and a lesson in how to do the searching in the catalog can really pay off. “It depends” is often all-too-true when it comes to trying to find a book by it’s subject.

However, there’s another resource you can use: NoveList. NoveList is available online at many, if not most, public library websites.

NoveList is searchable database of fiction and non-fiction books. You can look up a particular title and find out more information about it, including any reviews from various publications like Booklist or Library Journal. That’s helpful, but where NoveList can really help is with finding your next great read is in its ability to also display “read-alikes,” books similar in someway to the one you just looked up.

Right there, you will have more books similar in someway or ways to the book you just finished. Sometimes very similar in tone, storyline, characters etc.

You can also look through the subjects listed and click to find more books in that category. Often NoveList lists more categories for a particular book than your library’s catalog, simply because NoveList’s categories are compiled with different criterion and by different people.

Also, NoveList will display “Recommended reading” lists by subject on the starting page when you log in, providing some great lists to browse through. And remember, you can look for more information and read-alikes with any of those books as well.

Of course, your local librarian can show you around NoveList, and give you more tips and tricks.

It used to be that libraries stocked various genre guides, but alas, those have mostly gone away, replaced by NoveList as well as book lists your local library may have created which you can find on your library’s website.

I hope these tips are useful, and remember, librarians are here to help!

Happy 4th of July

Hope you have a fine Fourth here in the U.S. Elsewhere, I hope you have a wonderful day.

My friend, author Kay DiBianca has a great post at the Killzone Blog today on Independence Day and what it means, as well as what being an independent author entails for her. Well worth reading.

A Passion for Cozy Mystery

When I first began reading mysteries, years ago, I started with Lawrence Block, Sue Grafton, and Robert B. Parker. I loved Parker’s Spencer. I also read some of the classics, starting with Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest, Poe’s short story, “Murders in the Rue Morgue,” and of course, Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie’s Poirot.

But it wasn’t until just a couple of years ago that I read my first actual cozy mystery, On What Grounds, the first Cleo Coyle Coffeehouse mystery, after a friend recommended it. I loved the novel. It took place a coffeehouse in Greenwich village in New York City, and had humor, a little romance, and best of all, a fun mystery. Since then I’ve read a number of cozies, as well as more traditional mysteries like Nemesis by Dame Agatha and The Singing Sands by Josephine Tey, who deserves a blog post here in her honor.

I didn’t think I’d like cozies. I saw many come across the return counter at the library, and helped patrons find them, but until that first Cleo Coyle Coffeehouse mystery, I didn’t understand the attraction.

My how things have changed since then. Cozies have become my favorite sort of mystery, including Joanna Fluke’s magnum opus, the Hannah Swenson Lake Eden baking mysteries. I cheerfully said how much I love Hannah’s sleuthing and her little world to a friend who prefers much darker, grittier stories. Which is fine, not every book and every genre is for every reader.

I’ve also become a huge fan of cozy mysteries on television as well, starting with Queens of Mystery, Father Brown and Midsomer Murders, followed by Columbo, Monk, and now, at long last, Murder, She Wrote.

What is it about cozies I like so much? In a word, everything. The humor, the fast pace, the fun mysteries, the colorful characters, the worlds they inhabit, and the kindness and caring. Sure, being nosy can seem intrusive, but it’s always in a good cause when it comes to being a cozy. I prefer my cozy sleuths more intrepid than fearful, more determined than uncertain when striving to get to the bottom of the mystery they find themselves in.

I love seeing order restored and justice done, but above all, I like being engrossed in a book. Again, not every cozy will appeal to every reader, and I’m no exception. But when the right cozy pulls me, it’s pure reading bliss.

My own library cozy, A Shush Before Dying, currently on pre-order, is aimed at readers who like a fast pace, an engaging storyline, humor, hints of romance, a cast of characters that they would enjoy spending time with, and readers who love libraries and the stories they tell.

These days more than ever, as a reader, viewer, and especially as a writer, I appreciate the lighter side of things. Comedy gives us the gift of laughter, and I hope my own mysteries can bring some of that, along with a mystery that keeps the reader turning pages.

Here’s to cozy mysteries and the comfort and fun that they bring.

Sharing Secrets at the Library

When you’re a young child, everything in the world seems a secret. Why does it rain? Where do puppies come from? Why do the stars twinkle? How come I’m not feeling well?

Some secrets are revealed early. Your mother will point out a cloud and say that that’s where the rain comes from, or your dad will say puppies come from mommy dogs.

Then there are the “secrets”, like dinosaurs, fire truck, dump trucks, princesses and princes, sharks and so on. Grown-ups call that knowledge. They aren’t really “secret” in that they aren’t meant to be shared, except for the things grown-ups don’t want a kid to know, yet. Grown-ups might decide that this knowledge should be kept secret from children until they are ready for it.

But there are myriad “secrets” that are really things a young child simply hasn’t discovered yet.

The first time I remember going to the library was when I was eight years old. Our family had just moved down from Seattle and we lived in a tiny rental house. The city library was just five long blocks away. I remember the first time I walked in there, on a sweltering Oregon summer afternoon, to see all the books waiting for me in the children’s section. My mother or father must have accompanied me to get my own library card, but I don’t remember. What I remember were all the books.

Back then children were giving cards that let them check out age appropriate books, what later I learned were called “juvenile” titles in library speak. Books about horses, dinosaurs, the stars, the Moon, World War Two, and on and on. Suddenly I knew that all the things that seemed secret were really just things I didn’t know yet.

That fall, after I started third grade, I walked into the school library and saw so many more books waiting for me. Of course, I didn’t read about everything. I read what interested me. Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, Matthew Mooney, books about the planets, books about World War Two naval battles, things I was fascinated with.

Knowledge is “a state of knowing, of understanding. Actual secrets are things kept from you for various reasons. But knowledge secrets are only secrets because you don’t know about them. Books banish those secrets and help you comprehend.

Some books, like mystery fiction or a compelling memoir, take you on a journey of discovery to learn a truth, or share an experience, and the in the process, banish another “secret,” because the writer wanted to reveal what was secret and share it.

I’ll never know everything. None of us will. Nor do we have time to read everything.

But we can discover what was hidden from us, whatever we choose, when it comes to knowledge, and make it our own.

Better still, we can share that with others.

Make Mine A Mystery

On the hunt for the crucial clue
On the hunt for the crucial clue

Welcome to the new beginning for my author site. Changes have been afoot in my writing since fall 2020, and they are finally bearing fruit. I began as a fantasy and science fiction author, and eventually published seven novels, six fantasy and one space opera, as well as novellas in the 2018 Street Spells and last September’s High Moon. I am a long time fan of fantasy and science fiction.

I’m also a long-time fan of mystery. I started out reading a mystery every so often. Sherlock Holmes, Poe’s “Murder in the Rue Morgue,” Kinsey Mallone, Lawrence Block and on. I idly thought about writing an historical mystery series set during the age of piracy in the Caribbean. (I may still.) I used to joke with library colleagues about writing a library murder mystery, and they used to suggest it.

But it remained on the back-burner while I worked on learning how to write fantasy novels. I racked up five before finally getting the elements lined up and working together, thanks in no small measure to hiring my friend and writing mentor, Mary Rosenblum, to story edit Empowered: Agent and Empowered :Traitor and give me feedback on the outline for Empowered: Outlaw, in 2016-17. It paid off. I went on to write five novels in The Empowered series as well as the space opera and Gremlin Night.

But things changed for me in the spring of 2020, during the first phase of the COVID-19 pandemic. During lockdown I began reading many more mystery novels, as well as watching mystery shows. In September, 2020, I decided to write my first mystery novel. I wrote a draft of sorts, finishing it in February, 2021. I then worked on rewriting it. I took a break from the rewrite that summer, writing an urban fantasy novella and returning to it in the fall. More revision followed, and then another interruption while I worked on a separate project.

But, as time went on, I became more and more passionate about mystery fiction. My library cozy had been titled, Death Due, but now it became A Shush Before Dying. Mystery is very much my jam now. I’ve read so many more, and watched a great deal of mystery television, everything from The Queens of Mystery and the new Father Brown to Midsomer Murders, classic shows like Perry Mason and Columbo, and now Murder, She wrote, and so many more.

One of my dear friends from my time in library-land, Jan, who I called our “mystery maven” because of her deep knowledge of that genre, told me she felt mystery must be the hardest genre to write in. I’ve learned this past year and a half that she is right about that. At the same time, writing mystery is irresistible for me, incredibly rewarding, and so very fun. I’ll talk about that more in future posts.

I may have chosen to write mysteries, but it was no real choice, since I felt so drawn to the form after years spent reading in it.

My site is going to have a different look in the not-too-distant future, but I didn’t want to wait on that to begin a new mystery-focused blog.

I hope you’ll join me as I do.