Old School Mysteries


In honor of this weekend’s Malice Domestic conference, the Washington Post’s Michael Dirda recommends some mysteries from the 1930s that have been reissued and will likely be fun reading for any fan of Christie or Doyle. I definitely plan to check out some of these older works and also have on my TBR Amy Stewarts’ Kopp Sisters mysteries, new works in the old school style.

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Literature and History: Jane Austen

East front of the Wentworth Woodhouse from A Complete History of the County of York by Thomas Allen (1828-30) – public domain image


A recent statement from the British Chancellor of the Exchequer caused a bit of a history and literary kerfuffle. In the statement regarding financial aid for historical preservation, the Chancellor said that Wentworth Woodhouse was the inspiration for Jane Austen’s Pemberley in Pride and Prejudice. Almost immediately, the Jane Austen Society put out a statement that Austen had never seen Wentworth Woodhouse and so it couldn’t be the inspiration.

It looks like Jane Austen is still causing mischief and mayhem in the 21st century. And they say romance novels are ephemeral!

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EU Court Allows Library Ebook Lending

Last month, the Court of Justice of the European Union put forward a ruling that libraries may lend ebooks just like physical books so long as authors are paid for their work. It appears that until now libraries in the EU did not have the right to lend ebooks the way libraries in America have for quite some time.

Publishers, of course, are quite unhappy with the decision because they will lose some money. However, the apocalyptic rhetoric coming from publishers is obviously overblown. If publishers have been able to make ebook lending work in America, they can certainly do so in the EU. Additionally, the idea that they find this decision shocking is ludicrous. Back in June, the advocate general for the court published an opinion on this case so publishers had five months to prepare for the court’s ruling.

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I am heading to New Orleans to combine a holiday with attendance at my first Bouchercon – an annual mystery book conference – next week. There are a lot of great authors in the lineup and too many sessions to attend everything I’d like but I’ll do my best and post a recap once I’m back home. However, this means the blog will be silent for the next couple of weeks as I’m traveling and soaking up the atmosphere of both NOLA and a great book conference!

Never heard of Bouchercon? Read about the conference and see the program for this year here.

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New Copyright Provisions Possible

Copyright infringement cases, like all court cases, can be very expensive and time consuming. Because so many authors, particularly self-published authors, make very little money on their work, a “small copyright claims” bill is being supported by the Authors Guild.

The legislation, H.R. 5757, introduced in the House of Representatives “establishes in the U.S. Copyright Office a small claims board to serve as an alternative forum for parties to voluntarily seek to resolve certain copyright claims”  and would consist of two attorneys and three claims officers. The bill is now with the Committee on the Judiciary where it will either be the subject of hearings and markup or it will “time out” at the end of the Congressional session.

The Authors Guild stated, “The costs of obtaining counsel and maintaining a copyright cause of action in federal court effectively preclude most individual copyright owners whose works are clearly infringed from being able to vindicate their rights and deter continuing violations. Moreover, sometimes authors want to put an end to infringements that are causing a relatively small amount of economic damage. In such cases, the prospect of a small recovery dissuades some copyright holders from filing a suit that costs more to file than the potential recovery.”

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Read A Romance Month 2016


August is a Read a Romance Month so I thought I’d provide a few content links for readers looking for articles, essays, book recommendations, and interviews on romance.

Check out the feature on Alaskan author Jennifer Bernard in the Alaska Dispatch News. The article not only talks about Bernard and her books but also touches on the enduring disregard for romance. But Bernard has a great quote that readers and writers alike can agree with:

“I grew up in an academic family that disdained romance,” she said. “In order to even attempt to write my first book, I had to grapple with that ‘snobbish’ attitude. I had to figure out why I wanted to write, and who I was writing for.”

She soon realized that she had little interest in impressing the literary community.

“I wanted to write for people,” she said. “People who are looking for a laugh, or a happy sigh or the delicious satisfaction of a happy ending.”

Bustle also has a number of pieces on romance that are worth reading, including a recommended romance list for readers of classic literature. If you can only read one article in Bustle’s set, it should be “Bustle’s Romance Novel Month Celebrates A Genre Dominated By Strong, Smart Women”.

And, of course, the Read a Romance Month site has daily posts by romance writers from across the genre so look for your favorite author and maybe discover someone new to read.

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Picking Books: Editors or Data Mining?

NPR recently published a blog post on how to judge which book will sell well – editor judgment or data from ebooks. It’s an interesting 21st century problem along with the fact that traditional publishers lose money on 80% of the books they publish according to the article.

There are, of course, a lot of problems with strictly using data to determine whether a book is worth publishing – which I should note no one in the article says is a good idea. It ignores any segment of the reading population that doesn’t read ebooks – perhaps they would buy and enjoy a book that readers of ebooks didn’t like.

My other major objection is that a book that does well in terms of the data might lead publishers to publish a number of books that an algorithm says are similar. This will mean a spate of books that are all the same which history tells us readers do NOT want. Everyone should remember the Twilight publishing phenomenon where suddenly there were eight million YA paranormal romance novels and none of them were the “next Twilight” because readers had already moved on.

There is likely a place for data mining in the publishing realm but I suspect that it is a small piece of a very large puzzle of what readers want and when so that another 500 years from now it will still remain as much a mystery as it is today.

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Harlequin E-book Royalty Settlement

Discussions of fair royalty rates for e-books abound in book world, with different ideas of what is fair coming from authors and publishers. So I thought the Harlequin e-book royalty settlement that Publishers Weekly wrote about two weeks ago is pretty important for authors seeking a traditional publishing contract.

Back in 2012, a group of authors brought a suit against Harlequin for not paying enough in royalties on e-book sales. The problem stemmed from a clause in contracts that referred to the licensing of books and the amount that authors would receive under such licenses. Additionally, the issue involved which entity was, legally, the publisher under the terms of the contract. Without getting into all the nitty gritty on the suit, the dispute was whether authors were to receive 50% of the income which was calculated as 6-8% under one entity as publisher (which is how they were paid) or, if as the authors alleged, they should have received 50% of income calculated as 50% under a different entity as publisher.

The original suit was dismissed in 2013 but upon appeal several of the claims were reinstated in 2014 leading to mediation. An agreement was reached in early 2016 and the final settlement was approved last month and will pay the authors in the suit around $3 million.

The clause in the contract has long since been changed, of course, but it is still important to recognize that in all contracts there are clauses that can be interpreted different ways. It is up to authors to be sure that their interpretation of a clause in their contract is the same as the publisher’s interpretation.

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2015 Book Sales Stats

Publisher’s Weekly recently published this article on book sales that comes from Nielsen data. It appears that self-published and indie press e-books are taking more market share in the book world while traditionally published e-books are losing sales. The article states “the Big Five’s share of e-book sales last year … went from 38% in 2014 to 34% in 2015 (in 2012, the Big Five accounted for 46% of unit e-book sales). Self-publishers’ share of e-book sales rose to 12% last year from 8% in 2014 and from 5% in 2012. Small publishers’ e-book share, meanwhile, rose to 30% in 2015 from 26% in 2014 and 14% in 2012.”

The loss of traditionally published e-book sales may be offset by the rise in print sales, however, and more than half of certain genre book sales are still sold as e-books. According to the article, “the [e-book] format fell to a 24% share of total books sold in 2015, down from 27% in 2014. E-books nevertheless had large market shares in certain categories, with Nielsen reporting that 60% of romance unit sales were for e-books; the format also accounted for 51% of unit sales of mysteries and thrillers.”

While it has interesting information, the graphic and the first part of the article are a little misleading – as most statistics are when reported by media outlets these days. If you only read the headline and look at the chart, it appears that it covers the entire book market but it is referring only to traditionally published print and e-books. It is not until much later in the article that self-published and indie published books are discussed.

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April and May 2016 TBR Books Read

No, I didn’t fall off the face of the planet 🙂 I clearly dropped the ball on blog posts over the last month for a wide variety of reasons, none of which you care about in the least. But I did do the TBR reading for both April and May! So you get two TBR posts rolled into one.

In April, I needed to run a colleague’s book club while she was on vacation and the book selection was The Witches: Salem 1692 by Stacy Schiff. I thought that worked out perfectly since I had that on my TBR list for nearly a year and it gave me the perfect excuse to read the hefty work of nonfiction. Unfortunately, I was not impressed with this book. It seemed like Schiff couldn’t figure out who her audience was – it’s billed as a book for a general readership but it was written as if an academic audience would be reading it. It felt like a dissertation. This turned out to be the consensus of the book club as well.

A second nonfiction pick from my TBR in April was Murder of a Medici Princess by Caroline Murphy. This was an interesting book featuring Isabella Medici, who was not familiar to me. I like nonfiction about strong, independent women in times when women were basically ignored when they weren’t being bought or sold. Isabella was the definition of independent despite the time she lived in and the husband who eventually murdered her. It was a good read – scholarly but it didn’t read like a textbook.

For my fantasy in April, I read Grave Witch by Kalayna Price. This is an urban fantasy but the plot is driven by a murder mystery. It took me a bit to get into this and the pacing felt a little off to me but overall I did enjoy Grave Witch and read the next couple of books in the series which were good and kept me guessing almost the whole way through.

First Grave on the Right by Darynda Jones – I binge read the first seven books in this series in a week! Because of that I am counting the series as both mystery and romance – because it does an excellent job of balancing both genres throughout. I loved Charley, Reyes, and the secondary characters and found this series compulsively readable. It was a fun and funny urban fantasy with excellent plots, good flow, interesting characters, and solid action. I’ll definitely be reading the rest of this series.

George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring that Saved the American Revolution by Brian Kilmeade and Don Yeager – I had this book on my TBR since 2014 so when it came up in my library’s ebooks, I went ahead and read it in May. Overall, it was a very good book on a fairly short period during the Revolutionary War and illuminated real people most of us have never heard of despite their contribution to US independence. It was a quick read with plenty of action and engaging prose to keep the reader interested. My one quibble is that the book is nonfiction but there are “conversations” in the text that are fictional. The authors are clear that they did this at the beginning of the book – they don’t pretend the conversations are real – but that’s a slippery slope I’m not at all comfortable with in nonfiction works.

Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce – My fantasy pick this month is actually a children’s book. While this specific book was not on my TBR, I’ve had a note to read a Tamora Pierce book on my TBR for a few years so when my colleague recommended this series and handed me the book, I decided to go with it. I’m very glad I did as I enjoyed it a great deal! It’s a fast read and there is some pretty obvious foreshadowing throughout the book but overall, I would definitely recommend it.

Ripped from the Pages by Kate Carlisle – I’ve been reading the Bibliophile mystery series since the first book was published but when they switched over to hardcover from mass market, my reading of each new title was delayed as I waited for the paperback. Ripped from the Pages was published in January of 2015 and it went onto my TBR at that time but the paperback didn’t come out until just last month. While I enjoyed revisiting the characters I’ve grown to love, this book was not as good as others in the series. It was interesting to learn more about Guru Bob’s past and family but the original murder mystery was anticlimactic and the second murder mystery felt rushed.

Ultimate Vengeance by Nancy Haviland – I will admit that using Ultimate Vengeance as my romance read this month in May is cheating a little bit. I will say that it has been on my TBR pile since last year but it was actually only just published on May 31st – and I read it the day it came out! I had been looking forward to this book since I read the third in the Wanted Men series – which I highly recommend! – but I was disappointed to find that Ultimate Vengeance had not been copy-edited AT ALL. The plot, the characters, the pacing, the twists were all classic Wanted Men and it would have been one of the best books I’ve read this year except for all the typos. One or two typos I can ignore, but in the first three chapters alone, I cringed through more than half a dozen and it completely throws me out of the story. I expect better from Haviland and hope that when she publishes the next book in the series, Vex’s story according to her web site, this will not be an issue.

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