Category Archives: Nonfiction

Private Investigators – Search for Justice

When reading mysteries, amateur detectives grab my attention—Miss Marple, Hercule Poirot, Miss Silver—rather than PI series like V. I. Warshawski or Kinsey Millhone. But recently I read two nonfiction books about real-life private investigators. A Suitable Job for a Woman: Inside the World of Women Private Eyes by Val McDermid and Becoming a Private Investigator by Howie Kahn aim to set the record straight. Private Investigators search for justice, truth and the end of corruption.

Private Investigators - search for justice

These books demonstrate that investigators’ lives don’t run to fast cars or blazing guns. Boring hours-long, sometimes fruitless, stakeouts. Frustration from waiting for a call that doesn’t come.  These irritants are more the order of the day.

As the title indicates, McDermid’s book focuses on female private eyes. They worked from the mid to late twentieth century, at a time when women were just entering the private investigation field. Much is made of the difference of approach between some male and female investigators. Machismo, sexism and sleaze cropped up more than once. A bit too much, possibly. Also revealed was that male PIs tended to carry a gun while the female PIs did not.  McDermid’s book was published in 1995. I wonder what, if anything has changed in the intervening 25 years.

Private Investigators - search for justiceKahn’s offering shares part of the work life of a female and male investigator. Both PIs persist over the course of several years to find answers for their clients. Each kept circling around the facts in a case when the facts offered by the authorities didn’t seem to fit. In addition, both worked diligently to change the attitude of the authorities involved. 

MURDER MOST FOUL

The featured PIs’ cases entailed murder and abuse, including rape and child molestation. But cases also run the gamut of financial malfeasance and stock shortages to industrial espionage. On a more upbeat note, long-lost relatives have been reunited through a PI’s efforts. How much more is available for PI surveillance in the current age of online databases for tracking almost anyone? To say nothing of cornering computer hackers. 

A search for justice and truth by all the investigators was a theme throughout both books. Despite working with the sordid ills of humanity, these folks took a deep breath and forged on.

Both books were an interesting read. In McDermid’s book, some of the female PIs read and enjoyed a few of the fictional PI series extant at the time. The only fault found with the fictional PIs? They (or their authors on their creations’ behalf) needed to get a personal life. So, I may begin reading up on Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone or Sara Paretsky’s V. I. Warshawski, or even McDermid’s Kate Brannigan.

 

Private Investigations – Real Backstory

Private InvestigationsWe all have favorite authors, right? Do you ever wonder what has happened in the real lives of these authors that caused them to write what they do? And in the style they do? And if any of the writers’ backstory ever shows up in their work in one form or another? Well, for lovers of mysteries, some of these questions about style and backstory are answered in Private Investigations, edited by Victoria Sackheim. These nonfiction essays dive into the thoughts and lives of twenty of today’s top mystery writers.

Jeffrey Deaver considers the multiple twists and turns that his writing career took prior to his writing mystery novels and short stories. This is exactly the type of reading he has enjoyed all his life. In other words, write what you enjoy reading. Anne Perry wants to be someone who “creates worlds and peoples them, makes events occur…and wants them to last so they can be revisited any time.”  She also writes mysteries because she enjoys them and likes the intellectual puzzle.

The mother-son team of Charles Todd became immersed in research of the First World War for their two historical mystery series. This has led them to read memoirs, newspaper accounts and firsthand histories of the war. Such extensive research and the travels to view battlefields and memorials gave them a deep understanding of the suffering war entails. Jacqueline Winspear discusses how her parents’ deep involvement in World War II affected her childhood and thus her choice to focus on war in parts of her Maisie Dobbs series.

So, if, like me, you’ve wondered about how writers’ real backstory affects their writing, read Private Investigations.

Astrophysics and Widowhood

Astrophysics and widowhoodI never thought I would enjoy a book about astrophysics and widowhood. These are subjects mostly unfamiliar to me. In The Smallest Lights in the Universe, Sara Seager dealt with both subjects intelligently.

I enjoyed being invited into Sara Seager’s life. I especially enjoyed learning about Sara’s work on exoplanets at MIT and elsewhere. Her work on the postponed Starshade project with NASA and others was also an enlightening read.

Having helped someone close through the grief process of losing a spouse, I am glad that Sara found support in The Widows of Concord. Again and again, these women helped her through the dark period of her widowhood. As Sara remarks, “Up and down, backward and forward. There is nothing remotely linear about recovery.” I would have liked to learn a little more about Jessica, Diane, and Christine. Sara hired these women to help with housework and her sons. Sara mentions that she became close friends with them, even having Jessica live awhile with her and her sons. I also wonder if Sara ever sought professional help about where she fits on the autism spectrum.

Overall, a nicely paced read about a slice in the life of a most interesting person. As I mentioned previously, astrophysics and widowhood seem like extremely divergent subjects about which to write and talk about in the same breath. Ms. Seager does it well.

I received a free copy of The Smallest Lights in the Universe in exchange for an honest review.

To read about another unique memoir that I have reviewed: Save Me the Plums by Ruth Reichel.

The Smallest Lights in the Universe
Sara Seager
© 2020
Crown

Book Collecting Lust and Memoir Madness

Book LustOver the past few weeks, I fed my book collecting lust and memoir madness by buying several first editions of mysteries. Plus, I read several memoirs—most notably three by Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone. They use a light, upbeat style to shed light on their foray into book collecting. The Goldstones’ adventure into book lust began when Nancy tried to find a nice copy of War and Peace as a birthday present for Lawrence. As they fall more in love with book hunting, their ventures take them to Boston, New York, and Chicago. The books, Used & Rare, Slightly Chipped, and Warmly Inscribed, venture into different aspects of book collecting as the Goldstones become more attuned to the language, types of dealers, and the issues and states of the books themselves.

Book Lust

They visit dealers whose brick-and-mortar premises are hushed shrines in which  the “hot spot” wares (such as first editions of Charles Dickens or Herman Melville) cost in the thousands and tens of thousands of dollars. More moderately priced first-edition books of other writers at other dealers meant the Goldstones could satisfy their book lust. The Goldstones also visit dealers who sell out of their homes, barns, and outbuildings. Trips to antiquarian book fairs in Boston and New York soon follow. As does a visit to Clarence Wolf (Nancy’s book-collecting grandfather) in Chicago to get some pointers. And in later years, they visit Printers Row Book Festival in Chicago. Also on tap is a visit to a book auction at Swann Galleries (where they were outbid). Plus, a visit to Sotheby’s New York for a chance to bid on books owned by the Duke of Windsor and Wallis Simpson.

Technology and the New Age of Book Collecting

Technology has grown apace since the writing Book Lustof the Goldstones’ memoirs, many of the dealers they frequented now offer their books online through their own websites and aggregate sites such as www.abebooks.com and www.biblio.com. (Get a chuckle from the Goldstones’ opinion of the just-burgeoning computer technology of the time sprinkled throughout their memoirs.)

I am a nascent book collector. In this age of viral pandemics, I wonder if I will have the pleasure of browsing the shelves of a used-and-rare bookstore like the Goldstones. Well, I can always have online book collecting lust and memoir madness to tide me over.

Used & Rare
Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone
© 1997
Thomas Dunne Books

Slightly Chipped: Footnotes in Booklore
Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone
© 1999
Thomas Dunne Books

Warmly Inscribed: The New England Forger and Other Book Tales
Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone
© 2001
Thomas Dunne Books

Foodie Memoir – Save Me the Plums

Foodie Memoir - Save Me the PlumsI just finished reading Save Me the Plums by Ruth Reichl, one-time editor-in-chief of Gourmet magazine. She steered the magazine for about 10 years, up until they closed it about 10 years ago now, I think.This foodie memoir is fantastic, quick paced and easy to read. It takes you inside the monied, glitzy world of Condé Nast  (not sure if it’s still that way, more bean counters now, I assume) and upper-crust, white-tableclothed restaurants. While at Condé Nast, Reichl got limo service and a clothing allowance….

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Short and Sweet-Short Literature Pro Market

Short and Sweet reference book for writersDo you write short fiction, nonfiction or articles? Want to get paid? If so, Short Literature Pro Market 2019 by TC Michael is your go-to reference for getting your short and sweet writing out into the world. With more than 170 listings, this reference book covers a lot of ground.

Short Literature Pro Market 2019 consolidates the information needed to approach markets that pay for articles and short stories. This reference work covers Continue reading

More Murder and Mayhem

More murder and mayhem are on tap. Some of us are always on the lookout for the next great mystery read. Whether you like Golden Age mysteries, cozies, or something more modern or hardboiled, here are a book and a few websites that can help you to get your fix.

MYSTERY AND MAYHEM IN PRINT

Whodunnit - More Murder and Mayhem DescribedWhodunit? A Who’s Who in Crime & Mystery Writing
Edited by Rosemary Herbert
© 2003

An enlightening and entertaining information compendium on hundreds of classic and contemporary characters who populate the mysteries we love to read and the authors who created them. Are academic sleuths like Amanda Cross’s Kate Fansler your thing? How about sharp-tongued narrators or sidekicks like Archie Goodwin in Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe series? What about Ian Rankin’s noir offerings? As Dennis Lehane says in the Preface, “Rosemary Herbert has gone to great pains to compile a compendium of not only the elder statesmen and stateswomen…of crime fiction history, but also the new blood…”

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Blogging for Writers

Blogging for Writers

Blogging for Writers by Robin Houghton

Blogging for Writers
by Robin Houghton
Octopus Publishing Group/Writer’s Digest Books
© 2014, 2017

I just finished an enlightening book, Blogging for Writers, by Robin Houghton. While geared towards writers, the information is useful for anyone interested in creating their own blog or making an ongoing blog more successful.

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Book Blogger Platform

The Book Blogger Platform, 2nd Edition: The Ultimate Guide to Book Blogging
by Barb Drozdowich
© 2016

Book Blogger PlatformFor anyone new to blogging and who wants to blog about and review books, The Book Blogger Platform, by Barb Drozdowich, gives a solid overview of the main blogging platforms. The book is aimed at those who are not totally tech savvy. Ms. Drozdowich discusses WordPress and Blogger, the two most popular blogging platforms. She discusses the posts, plugins, gadgets, widgets and sidebars that are part of every blog. Also discussed are backing up your blog and monetizing it.

Since this book focuses on book blogging, Ms. Drozdowich discusses where and how to get books about which to blog. Netgalley and Edelweiss are mentioned as prime sources from which to request advanced reader copies (ARCs) and as places to post reviews.

Book bloggers can also guest post on blogs of other book reviewers/bloggers. Other sites to post book reviews are GoodReads, LibraryThing, and Booklike. Ms. Drozdowich is also a proponent of posting to the major social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Google+, YouTube and Instagram.

Overall, this book is a good overview of how blogging software works, where book bloggers can find ARCs and suggestions for other places to review books and get your name out there.

The author can be found online at:
http://barbdrozdowich.com
http://bakerviewconsulting.com
http://sugarbeatsbooks.com/