The Satapur Moonstone

Most people would probably consider mysteries and thrillers to be a similar, if not the same, genre. And while there are a lot of similarities, I think they are quite distinct, even if it’s not so easy to explain. Mysteries, I think, draw you along with obvious clues. Not to say the mystery is obvious, but you know what clues are important and which aren’t. Thrillers, I think, tend to play with your mind. You know one of a number of things could be going on, and each one of them could prove to be correct. Thrillers keep you on the edge of your seat guessing. Mysteries keep you on the edge of your seat because you know one more clue and everything will fall into place.

I’ve started uncovering some more diverse mystery novels, ones that aren’t quite as heavy as what I often read. It started with Alexander McCall Smith’s series, and I’ve found another series with Sujata Massey’s Perveen Mistry series. Though The Satapur Moonstone is the second book in the series, they seem to be able to stand alone, as well.

Set in 1920s India, Perveen Mistry is working to hold her own as one of India’s first female lawyers. But when one of the princely states, Satapur, requires legal help, Perveen is the only one who is qualified. The two maharanis–the dowager queen and the late maharaja’s widow–are unable to make a decision about the new, young maharaja’s education. And living in purdah–completely separate from men outside of their immediate family– Perveen is in the unique position to be able to mediate a compromise.

But when Perveen arrives, she finds things aren’t as simple as she expected. It’s as though a curse lies upon the family, and Perveen doesn’t know who to trust, and who might be out for blood. And she could be caught in the middle.

Massey’s series gives a look at India under British rule, leaving readers with a desire to know a little bit more about that era and culture. And her character was partially inspired by a real woman, Cornelia Sorabji.

Massey does an excellent job of dropping clues about the mystery without revealing everything too early. Weaving palace drama in with Perveen’s legal investigation, you know who is keeping important secrets, but like Perveen, the reader has to wait until they are revealed. It’s easy to see why her writing had received several awards.

All in all, it’s definitely a series I’m interested in pursing. And I’m interested in her other works as well. She thoroughly researches the culture she’s writing about, creating compelling characters and realistic settings.

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Dabbling

I haven’t been writing a ton lately, still. I was off to a decent start this month, until I bought 22 books and got really excited to start plowing my way through them. Add to that the renewed job hunt (OK, so that’s been going on like two days. It’s mostly that I’ve worked a lot of closing shifts, which means I don’t do anything but sleep and read for an hour or two before work), and I’ve got a pile of excuses to roll my eyes at.

After dabbling in fan fiction a little, I’ve set that aside because it was feeding into my obsession and continued sadness that I’d finished my show without realizing (and I still have a few weeks before more is available). However, I did start a new little short story project.

It’s very short, and it’s very silly. But it’s about a girl who is introducing her boyfriend to her friends. He’s supposed to come over for a small get together to meet them. It’s not until he arrives that he finds out she was telling him about her favorite books (which all happen to have movies as well, that wasn’t exactly planned, it just sort of happened as I was trying to think of my favorite fiction characters who would be reasonably well-known by the general public). While he was looking forward to meeting these people who could give him an insiders look at his girlfriend, she’s playing a little joke on him. However, if you really think about it, the kind of people from fiction that someone would choose to name as their best friends really does say a lot about them. And if you read the books (or even watch the movies), keeping in mind that someone relates to these characters, you can still learn new things about the person.

I’m not sure what I’ll do once I wrap this up.

I’m kicking around the idea of starting something new. I feel a strong urge and desire to write my own weird, darkish story set in a Pacific North West town, full of rain and pine trees (confession: the show I’ve been obsessed with is Riverdale. I know it’s probably not even set in the PNW, but it feels like it could be. And, since I’ve run out of episodes, I’ve returned to watching Twin Peaks, because it’s weird and I love it). I’m not 100 percent what the story will be, and it’ll definitely be heavily influenced by my current obsessions, but right now I’m not worried about writing a debut novel that will get picked up by some publishing house and become an overnight success.

I’m trying to remind myself why I love writing. Why I identify myself as a writer. Why creativity is so important, and if it can’t be my job, why I want to make sure I have time and energy for it.

I’m really burned out right now. Doing much more than existing takes monumental effort some days. Some things are within my control to change, and some aren’t. And some things fall somewhere in between (like a job. I can apply, but I can’t make anyone hire me, or even interview me). So I have to find life and energy somewhere. I have to find a way to turn off when I leave work, and re-energize the rest of my life. It’s a struggle. A daily one. And it’s not going to go away any time soon. But if all I write is a few sentences a week, I’ll call it a success. And I’ll keep calling it a success so that I don’t allow myself to give up on something that I know I love.

Ross Poldark

This series has been on my radar for a while, since PBS picked it up for a tv show. But I didn’t really know anything about it. For example, I had no idea Winston Graham wrote it in the 1940s, though with a name like Winston I shouldn’t have been surprised.

Ross Poldark is the first book in a long series, set in post-Revolutionary War England. Ross has returned home to find everything he left behind in varying states of disarray. Somehow he must find a way to pick up the pieces and fashion a life for himself. But his choices seem to be pulling him farther from his own society, making him a sort of outcast and the subject of gossip.

I’m always on the lookout for good historical fiction, particularly long series that I can get invested in. I was hoping for that from Poldark. But if I’m honest, I’m a little on the fence about it. It was a good book, but it wasn’t quite the gripping saga I’m looking for. Not to say I won’t keep reading the series, but I’ll add it to my library list for the time being, instead of collecting all the books.

As an older book, it gets off to a slow start, and has a sort of meandering story line. It’s not like stories we’re used to now, with very set plots that move from one point to the next. It’s the story of a man’s life, the day to day stuff that doesn’t necessarily stand out as exciting, but makes up the bulk of his life.

This first book in the Poldark series was, frankly, the kind of book you enjoy while you’re reading it, but sort of forget when you’re done. You’re not desperate for the next book in the series. So, maybe I’ll try some other series before I continue down the road with that one.

Fanfic as a creative tool

I haven’t been writing a ton lately, I admit it. One of the biggest lies I’ll ever tell myself is that I’ll return to a project with renewed passion and excitement after a short break.

That said, I have found a little creative inspiration in writing fanfic.

First off, that’s a little embarrassing to admit. Not that I have anything against people who write fan fiction, it’s just not something I usually do. I don’t have a reason to be embarrassed, in fact. It’s just some weird thing in my brain.

Anyway, the first little bit I wrote was through and through fan fiction. But what I’ve continued writing, though borrowing characters to a degree, has become almost more free writing. I don’t know where it’s going, I don’t have a plan, I’m just letting the scene unfold as it will, allowing these characters to do their thing.

I used to write like that all the time, even completed NaNoWriMo novels with that method. But I’ve found it only gives meaningful results for me if I have some sort of deadline (and self-imposed doesn’t work). That is, even though it’s allowing me to be creative right now, I’m still only writing a paragraph or two every now and then. It’s better than nothing, certainly. And if it’s the break I need to get my creativity flowing again so I can get excited about writing, that’s great.

I keep thinking I need to start over, start from scratch on a new project (or resurrecting an old one from scratch). But, that’s a lot of brain work. It’s difficult, living in a slump where it’s hard to find excitement and motivation even to do the things you love to do. It’s hard to love anything that doesn’t help you escape the real world. And while writing can do that, it’s not always as easy to lose yourself in creating as it is to lose yourself in something someone else has already created.

Extraordinary Birds

Sometimes shifting gears and reading a book written for children is refreshing. Instead of trying to guess what twist is going to be thrown, I just get to enjoy reading the book at it’s own pace, letting it unfold as it will, knowing the wild ideas that I think could happen won’t, because it’s a book for children.

Extraordinary Birds is the debut novel of Sandy Stark-McGinnis. It follows the life of December Lee Morgan, an 11-year-old orphan whose bounced from foster home to foster home. But December has a secret, one that makes it hard to settle in to any one home: she’s really a bird in a human’s body. December knows everything about birds, so she knows with a certainty that she is one, she’s even got a scar on her back where one day her wings will break through. That knowledge makes it hard to settle in, but that’s all right for December, because all she wants is for her wings to break through so she can fly away.

But then she gets placed with Eleanor, the Bird Whisperer. At first, December is skeptical. She learns what taxidermy is–Eleanore’s hobby–and December is worried she might end up stuffed on display if Eleanor finds out what she really is. But after a while, and with the help of her new friend Cheryllyn, December starts to reevaluate her understanding of home and belonging. Maybe, just maybe, she can start to trust Eleanore, and set aside the past she’s been running from. Maybe, just maybe, December doesn’t have to fly away.

Extraordinary Birds is a sweet story of a young girl growing into herself. Stark-McGinnis deals with some really difficult stuff in appropriate ways for her target age range–abandonment, bullying, and even transgender issues. Stark-McGinnis handles them deftly, allowing readers to infer the depth of the issues without going into great detail.

Readers, young and old, will be rooting for December, rooting for her to find her home, and to find herself along the way. I think a lot of readers will be able to relate with December in various ways, whether her experiences or her vivid imagination.

Stark-McGinnis writes a relatable character who will accomplish one of two things: young kids will see themselves represented in the story or young kids will be learn to sympathize with their peers, getting a snapshot into what life might be like for someone they know. All in all, a great debut novel. I look forward to seeing what else Stark-McGinnis creates.

 

Lie to Me

I’ve seen this book on a lot of displays lately, and had a lot of people asking about it, so I decided to give J.T. Ellison a try. After all, when it’s part of a 50 percent off Book Haul sale, how can you not buy it (and a few others…)?

Ethan and Sutton Montclaire have taken a lot of punches lately, but they thought their love was strong enough to withstand all life was throwing at them. But one morning, Ethan wakes up to a cryptic note from Sutton, saying she needs some time and not to look for her. Knowing how it looks, and how it will look, Ethan finally approaches the police and reports his wife as a missing person.

It seems like Sutton has disappeared without a trace, but everyone is looking at Ethan for answers, and as a suspect. It quickly becomes clear there is more going on than anyone first suspected–and nothing is what it seems.

Written essentially in two parts, from two different points of view, Ellison drops a few breadcrumbs to show you where she’s going while reserving the big surprise for the end. She also does an excellent job of making you suspect all sorts of things throughout the book. Highlighting how just one side of a story can skew perception, things don’t become clear until Ellison has told both parts, and starts picking out the real truths from her characters’ memories.

A domestic thriller all about revenge, Lie to Me is the story of a husband and wife torn apart by their secrets and suspicions. Ellison writes in a fast-paced style with short chapters that move the story along. Occasionally, you’ll want to reach through the book and smack some sense into one character or the other, and you may find that you don’t particularly like any of them, but it’s all worth it when you get to the end and remember the suspicion you had somewhere during the read that turned out to be right, but with more depth than you could have imagined.

The Night Stalker

I often find new books to read by seeing what other people are buying, or by what other customers recommend. I was told I ought to try Robert Bryndza, a British thriller author. So when I saw one of his books as part of a recent 50 percent off sale, I went ahead and snagged one.

The Night Stalker is actually the second Erika Foster novel, but I didn’t know that when I bought it. After a brief debate on whether I ought to get the first one to start, I decided I give it a shot. Often these kinds of series aren’t crucially chronological.

Erika Foster is a British detective still trying to recover from tragedy that took everything from her and put her into a kind of reckless slump. When someone starts targeting and murdering men in her area, Foster isn’t willing to accept the surface answers.

As the body count piles up and the higher ups are anxious for an answer, Foster finds herself being pushed out from her investigation, right as she seems to be on the cusp of answers. But right when she seems removed from the action, the case takes a turn that lands Foster right in the middle of the danger.

Bryndza writes a fast-paced novel steadily leads you on toward the conclusion. While it didn’t have as many breadcrumbs as I like, it did have a neat wrap up without a 360 turn out of nowhere.

He also writes characters that feel very real. Erika Foster is someone you can relate to–adjusting to her new normal, fed up with office politics, and willing to bend or break some rules if it means solving the case. It it also means Foster wanders into gray areas some, and that makes her more relatable.

Bryndza is definitely a thriller author I’ll add to my list of recommendations for anyone looking for detective thrillers.