The Attic on Queen Street by Karen White

Karen White and I are talking about ghosts, particularly the ghosts haunting Melanie Middleton Trenholm in White’s latest novel, The Attic on Queen Street, the last in the series set in haunted Charleston, South Carolina.

“Do you believe in ghosts?” she asks.

Not really, I reply, but I also don’t like staying in places that are supposedly haunted when I’m by myself.

White feels the same way because, as we both agree, you just never know.

It’s then that her phone goes dead.

“I don’t what happened,” says White when she calls back. “My phone was charged and everything.”

Coincidence? Most likely. But still, it makes you wonder.

But phones going dead are the least of the problems for Melanie, a Charleston real estate agent with young twins, a husband who is deciding whether he wants to stay in the marriage, and a teenaged stepdaughter whose room is haunted. Indeed, the entire house on Tradd Street is haunted. Some of the ghosts are helpful, some are evil, and one is the ghost of a dog—which is fine as it gives Melanie’s dog a companion to play with. And to make matters worse, Melanie’s young daughter is already showing signs of being able to see ghosts.

Ghosts are such a problem that Melanie learned early on to sing ABBA songs loudly to drown out the sounds of the dead people trying to talk to her. But that only works sometimes and in this novel there’s plenty of evil for Melanie to deal with both living and dead. For starters there’s Marc Longo, who stole her husband’s manuscript and turned himself into a bestselling author. Longo is now heading a film crew in Melanie’s house while underhandedly trying to discover the diamonds he believes are hidden there. Melanie is also trying to aid a good friend in discovering who murdered her sister years ago—with the help of the cryptic messages the deceased sister keeps sending her way. And then there’s Jack, her handsome husband. They’re still in love but Jack is darned tired of Melanie always getting herself into deadly situations.

White first introduced us to Melanie in The House on Tradd Street in what was to be a two book series.

“But when it came out and was so popular, my publisher said let’s make it four,” says White. “This is the seventh and I’m really going to miss them.”

Well, kind of, as White is continuing the theme of a haunted city and the Trenholm family, only with Melanie’s stepdaughter in the key role who has to deal with her only supernatural beings when she move  to New Orleans in a book due out this coming March called The Shop on Royal Street.

Interestingly, the Tradd Street series was originally going to be set in New Orleans. White went to Tulane University and in 2005 she was all set to go with her family back to New Orleans to do research for the first book when Hurricane Katrina hit.

“I knew that there was no way with all the catastrophic flooding, and deaths that I could write this story without having Katrina in it and this wasn’t that kind of book,” says White, who has authored 23 books,

Choosing Charleston made sense as White had ancestors who lived in Charleston in the late 1700s and family who had lived on Tradd Street. In ways, she says that when she visited, she felt the pull of genetic memory—a sensation of a past shared life.

“I smelled what they call pluff—which is rotted vegetation,” recalls White, “and I said oh doesn’t that smell so wonderful.”

Coincidence? Doubtful.

The Attic on Tradd Street is also available as an audiobook and electronically.

Kate Collins Latest Mystery Series

            Kate Collins, best-selling author of the popular Flower Shop mysteries, is—excuse our pun–branching out with her Goddess of Greene St., a series of cozy mysteries centered around single mom Athena Spencer who after divorcing returns home to work in her family’s garden center.

Kate Collins (Linda Tsoutsouris)

            It was a big change not only for Athena but also for her creator, Valparaiso resident Linda Tsoutsouris who has written 23 Flower Shop novels under the pen name of Kate Collins. Three of those books including “Mum’s the Word” were made into Hallmark Movies & Mysteries starring Brooke Shields in the role of Abby Knight, Tsoutsouris’s flower shop owning sleuth along with actors Brennan Elliott, Beau Bridges and Kate Drummond.

Former attorney-turned-small-town-florist, Abby Knight, has a nose for sleuthing, quickly embroiled in a murder investigation, grateful for the help when she teams with retired private eye, Marco Salvare, who now owns a local bar and grill. Photo: Brennan Elliott, Brooke Shields Credit: Copyright 2015 Crown Media United States, LLC/Photographer: Christos Kalohoridis

            “It was hard to leave the flower shop, Abby, her boyfriend Marco and everyone—they were like family,” says Tsoutsouris whose two Goddess mysteries are “Statue of Limitations” and “A Big Fat Greek Murder,”

            “But now I’m feeling more comfortable and I really like Athena,” she says.

            As she did with her other series, Tsoutsouris has created a cast of quirky, fascinating characters including Athena’s mother, Hera who is, as one would expect of the matriarch of a large Greek family, a fantastic cook. There’s also Maia, the goddess of the field in Greek mythology, is a vegetarian in the series and Delphi, a take on the oracles of Delphi who foretold the future.

            “In my book, she’s always reading tea leaves,” says Tsoutsouris.

            The Flower Shop series takes place in the town of New Chapel, a stand-in for Valparaiso.

            “Goddess of Green St. is a mix of Saugatuck, the Lake Michigan town in southwest Michigan and Key West,” says Tsoutsouris who lives part time in Key West, Florida. “I like to give people a point of reference.”

A Flower Shop Novella

            Before she became a writer, Tsoutsouris, who holds a master’s degree from Purdue University, worked as an elementary school teacher. After taking time off to care for her young son and daughter. Tsoutsouris became somewhat restless despite learning to macrame and so signed up for a correspondence course on how to write children’s books. She took it, wrote one, got it published and went on to write another 20. Her next shot at publication wasn’t quite so successful. Tsoutsouris wrote a romance novel she describes as horrible. The publisher agreed, rejecting her book. Always full of energy, Tsoutsouris immediately began attending as many conferences on the subject as possible and broke into that market as well.

            Now with five of her books having made it on to the New York Times Best-sellers’ list, Tsoutsouris is working on the Goddess of Greene St. series and keeps in touch with Abby and New Chapel by writing Flower Shop novellas such as the just released “A Frond in Need.”

            Asked where she gets her ideas as plots for so many mystery novels, Tsoutsouris that almost anything is a creative spark. 

            “If I see a garden pond,” she says, “I ask myself what if a body turns up in the pond?”

For more information, visit katecollins.com

Muse of Nightmares: Second in the Epic Fantasy Series Strange the Dreamer

Strange the Dreamer, the epic fantasy series written by Laini Taylor, began as a dream. Now Taylor, a National Book Award finalist, has just released Muse of Nightmares  (Little, Brown 2018; $19.99), the second book in the series.Laini Taylor_Author Photo_AliSmith credit

“The story has been in my mind for 20 years or more,” says Taylor, whose author photo shows her with a shock of long seriously pink hair.  “I think I dreamed Sairi, the character that came to me, who lived high above the city and I thought of her as the Muse of Nightmares. I started writing about her for my first book but then that became Lazio’s book.  But this is about Sairi, the way trauma changes us and if it is possible for a person to overcome this. Sarai doesn’t know what she’s capable of and she feels helpless, but is she?”

The journey of Sairi and Lazio is one of intrigue and mysteries (what was done with thousands of children born in the citadel nursery? where did the gods come from, and why? and  how do they defeat a new foe?) and it’s interesting to note that as we follow Taylor’s story-telling, we often are only a few steps behind her as the story plot evolves. That’s because as much as she wants to shape her story, it often, as she builds her characters and scenes in her mind, takes on a will of its own.

Taylor says she always hopes to get to the ending she has in mind.

“But it doesn’t always work that way,” she says.

Immersed and—dare we say—co-dependent–with her characters, Taylor is sad when they make a bad choice though she can understand why they did so.

“It just give me so much empathy for them,” Taylor says.  “I ask what causes people to do that. When my characters don’t survive, I really wish I could save them, but I can’t.”

But though she doesn’t often know how her books will end or save a character, she did know that she wanted to eschew the typical epic ending of a massive battle between good and evil and instead resolve it by asking and answering a powerful question “must heroes always slay monsters or is it possible to save them?”

Ifyougo:

What:

When: Thursday, October 11 at 7 p.m.

Where: Anderson’s Bookshop, 123 West Jefferson Avenue Naperville, IL

Cost: Free and open to the public. To join the signing line, please purchase the author’s latest book, Muse of Nightmares, from Anderson’s Bookshop. To purchase please stop into or call Anderson’s Bookshop Naperville (630) 355-2665.

FYI: (630) 355-2665; andersonsbookshop.com

Hope Never Dies: A Obama-Biden Mystery

Watching news clips of Barack Obama windsurfing off of Richard Branson’s private island, kayaking with Justin Trudeau and BASE jumping in Hong Kong with Bradley Cooper while he’s grouting tile in his master bathroom and playing darts on a board his daughter gave him years ago, Joe Biden, feeling left-out (he doesn’t even have Secret Service protection anymore), grumpily wonders why the 44th president hasn’t called him in the months since Donald Trump took office.  Biden’s grousing changes quickly when Obama appears in the woods behind his house late one night, coolly smoking a cigarette and delivering the terrible news that Finn Donnelly, the Amtrak conductor that Biden befriended as he traveled back and forth between Delaware to Washington D.C. has been murdered. On his body, Barack says, was a printout map of Biden’s home. Is someone targeting the vice-president?Shaffer, Andrew_Courtesy Andrew Shaffer

And so the bromance rekindles as the ex-president and ex-vice are back working as a team as they race to solve the crime in Andrew Shaffer’s Hope Never Dies (Quirk Books 2018; $14.99). The title is a parody of the James Bond movie “Tomorrow Never Dies”  and the dime store detective novel-like-cover  depicts Obama, the wind whipping his red tie behind him, standing in the passenger seat of a Thunderbird convertible pointing the way as a determined Biden drives but the story itself isn’t farce. Shaffer, who is a New York Times best seller author, says that though the action is over-the-top at times—Obama roughing up a biker; Biden head-butting a villain and getting thrown off a fast moving train to name a few—he resisted getting too campy.

“The book is more than a one-note joke,” says Shaffer.

Growing up in Iowa, Shaffer enrolled in the University of Iowa’s noted creative writing program.

“They teach serious fiction there and you’re reading a lot of serious authors like Phillip Roth,” he says.  “So I’m writing like I’m in my 60s, divorced and living in the suburbs. I was only 21 and I thought what am I doing? I wanted to write the type of fiction I like to read such as authors like Elmore Leonard, Donald Westlake and Lawrence Block.”

Shaffer had been thinking about writing a mystery with Joe Biden as the main character for years.

“I thought about maybe making it a cozy type of mystery,” he says. “But I got the idea for this when they’d been out of office for a week or so. I wrote a note to my agent asking how about a Biden-Obama mystery and she said really? I said yes.”

Inspired by the 1980s buddy cop movies he liked such as “Tango & Cash,” Shaffer says that the mystery isn’t just about Biden’s love of ice cream but instead covers serious topics such as the opioid epidemic. Since the book’s recent release on July 18, it’s been selected as an Amazon Best Book of the Month: Thrillers July 2018 and an Official Summer Read of Publishers Weekly.  He is already working on the next book in the series, Hope Rides Again.

“It’s a legacy in ways,” Shaffer says about the series. “”It’s for people, no matter what part of the political spectrum they’re on, need some kind of hope.”

Ifyougo:

What: Book signing with Andrew Shaffer.

When: Sunday, August 19 at 2:00 p.m.

Where: Anderson’s Bookshop, 123 W. Jefferson Ave., Naperville, IL.

FYI: (630) 355-2665; andersonsbookshop.com

 

 

 

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