Posts Tagged ‘Caroline Cousins’

lightgetsinHistorical, contemporary, chillers, thrillers, inspired by real events, complete with recipes. So let’s start with Louise Penny’s exquisitely calibrated, triple-plotted How the Light Gets In (St. Martin’s Press, purchased e-book), the ninth in the series featuring Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Quebec Surete. Again, Gamache returns to the village of Three Pines, far from the madding crowd without cell phone or internet service. Which makes it a perfect place to retreat when Gamache and his few loyal friends come ever closer to unmasking a great conspiracy within the Surete. Even his once-trusted lieutenant, Jean-Guy Beauvoir, wants Gamache gone. But then an elderly woman with ties to Three Pines is murdered, and Gamache’s investigation reveals she has been living under an alias. What secrets about her famous family was she getting ready to divulge? And what does any of this have to do with a bridge, a satellite dish and Rosa the duck? Gamache knows.
fatalI thought I knew a good bit about the free-spirited Romantics — Percy and Mary Shelley, Lord Byron, his lover (and Mary’s stepsister) Claire, the creation of Frankenstein — until I read Lynn Shepherd’s literary thriller A Fatal Likeness (Random House, digital galley). In 1850s London, private detective Charles Maddox tries to determine the authenticity of secret documents related to Percy Shelley, and meets the poet’s widow and her estranged stepsister in the process. He also uncovers a trail of obssession, jealousy and betrayal that casts a new light on the late poet’s many liaisons, his early death and the authorship of Frankenstein. Shepherd posits a murder (or two) in the mix of suicides and scandals. Fascinating.
blindjusticeVictorian London is also the setting for Anne Perry’s latest William and Hester Monk mystery, Blind Justice(Random House/Ballantine, digital galley), which offers more courtroom drama than detecting. Monk’s friend Sir Oliver Rathbone finds himself presiding over a fraud trial instigated by Hester Monk’s suspicions of a pastor fleecing his flock. When Hester’s reputation is threatened, Sir Oliver must decide whether to use illegal means — a cache of pornographic pictures — to influence the courtroom participants. Will the judge go to jail?
honorWorld War I nurse Bess Crawford is also beset by an ethical dilemma in Charles Todd’s A Question of Honor (Morrow, review ARC). Admist the horrors of trench warfare in 1918, Bess learns that a murder suspect long-thought dead is serving on the front. Ten years ago in India, where Bess spent her childhood, Lt. Thomas Wade went missing when news reached the regiment that he was wanted for the murder of a family in England. Then his parents were murdered on the night he vanished on the Khyber Pass. Because the reputation of Bess’s father’s, the Colonel Sahib, is involved, Bess does her best to find the once highly-regarded Wade while investigating the English family’s murders while on leave. The surprising – and disturbing connection — she makes to her childhood uncovers a secret kept by author Rudyard Kipling, one that also provides motive for murder.
spidercupBritish writer Barbara Cleverly first introduced her series protagonist Joe Sandilands 11 books ago in The Last Kashmiri Rose. His adventures in India were followed by service in WWI. Now, in The Spider in the Cup (Soho Crime, digital galley), it’s 1933 and as an assistant police commissioner, Sandilands is charged with protecting an American diplomat during a global economic conference in London. At the same time, dowsers on the Thames riverbank have found the corpse of a woman in the mudflats. One of her toes has been severed; a gold coin placed in her mouth. By a stretch of the writer’s imagination, the two cases are eventually linked to each other and to Sandiland’s past, but a too-talky narrative undercuts any suspense.
kissmeLottie Moggach explores a very 21st-century crime in her twisty debut, Kiss Me First (Knopf Doubleday/digital galley). Unreliable narrator Leila, a bi-polar computer nerd, discovers a like-minded community on the website Red Pill. Its guru, Adrian, recruits her to impersonate online an unstable woman who wants to commit suicide without her friends and family knowing. So before Tess disappears, Leila gathers personal details, then sets up as bohemian Tess on Facebook and in e-mails, creating a new life for her far away from England. But Leila becomes so invested in Tess and her virtual activities, she fails to detect Adrian’s true agenda.
afterherNovelist and journalist Joyce Maynard uses the true crimes of a Bay Area serial killer as the springboard to explore family dynamics in After Her (HarperCollins/Morrow, digital galley.) “My Sharona” is the soundtrack to the fateful summer of 1979 as remembered 30 years later by mystery writer Rachel Torcelli. She was turning 13 back then and traded on her handsome detective father’s fame hunting the Sunset Strangler to get in with the popular crowd and leave behind her faithful younger sister Patty. But imaginative Rachel can’t let go of the girlhood games they played together, spying on neighbors and making up elaborate scenarios. Living with their divorced, preoccupied mother, and dazzled by their charming dad’s infrequent visits, the sisters get caught up in Rachel’s search for the killer who eludes their father. Maynard adroitly moves back and forth in time, teasing us with the knowledge that Something Terrible happened in 1979 and that history might yet repeat itself.
inthedarkInimitable supercop Kathy Mallory returns in the seductively titled It Happens in the Dark (Penguin USA, library hardcover) by Carol O’Connell. This time, the colorful cast of characters includes the actual cast and crew of a spooky Broadway play, where an audience member died on opening night and the playwright’s throat is slit the next night while he’s sitting in the front row. Clever Mallory displays her usual lack of charm and fashionista style as she navigates theater and police politics to ferret out poseurs, druggies and liars galore. The choppy narrative offers false trails and backstage atmosphere, but whereas the play ended with a scream, the book signs off with a sigh.
enchiladaAltogether lighter and brighter fare can be found in Diane Mott Davidson’s The Whole Enchilada (Morrow, review ARC) and Susan M. Boyer’s Lowcountry Bombshell (Henery Press, digital galley). In the first, Colorado caterer Goldy Shulz is on the case again when her longtime friend Holly dies at a birthday party. Was it something she ate that Goldy made? Relieved to discover that a medication was the culprit, Goldy resolves to find the killer of the doctor’s ex-wife. Holly’s past and present offers plenty of clues as Goldy crafts mouthwatering meals and confronts several life-changing events.

bombshellBoyer’s second Liz Talbot tale finds the South Carolina private eye working for a Marilyn Monroe-lookalike convinced someone is going to orchestrate her death as a suicide. Boyer knows the lowcountry landscape around Charleston — the manners, the talk, the food — and likeable Liz, with her dog Rhett and her divided love interests, would no doubt be best friends with Lindsey Fox of the Caroline Cousins mysteries. (I can say that, being I am one-third of CC and Lindsey’s alter-ego). Looking forward to Liz’s next Lowcountry outing.

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ladiesnight“To live well yourself is the best revenge.” Grace Stanton, the heroine of Mary Kay Andrews’ beach-alicious new novel Ladies Night (St. Martin’s Press, review copy), certainly has the living well down pat: She writes a popular lifestyle blog from her posh Florida home. But the revenge thing? After she catches her husband Ben with her naked young assistant (and it’s exactly what it looks like), she drives his precious Audi convertible into the pool. The “he had it coming defense” doesn’t go over well with Judge Stackpole, who orders her into “divorce therapy.” Meanwhile, Ben has taken custody of the house, the blog, the bank accounts (and the skanky assistant), and Grace has to move in with her mom above the family bar, The Sandbox, on Anna Maria Island.

Trading betrayal stories with the other wronged spouses in her therapy group actually proves a good thing once their strange counselor-divorce coach goes AWOL, and the four women and one man move to The Sandbox for drinks and strategy sessions. Even as Ben tries to ruin Grace’s online reputation with readers and sponsors, she starts the true Grace blog, chronicling her efforts to restore a cracker cottage. She rescues a little dog and falls for the divorced father of a little boy. Still, obstacles to living well abound, including Judge Stackpole, who seems to delight in sticking it to Grace and the other group members. Mmm. Time to turn some tables.

Ladies’ Night is funny, smart and hopeful. Just add lemonade, or maybe your favorite adult beverage. Cheers!

timebetweenI was little worried when I first heard that Karen White, who often writes about Charleston, S.C., was setting her new book, The Time Between (NAL, digital galley) on Edisto Island, my family’s home turf. It’s kind of like when they replaced the old drawbridge to the island, making it easier for tourists to find us. We used to be a secret.

Happily, White gets most of island life right, although locals don’t spell out the full names of Edisto spots in casual conversation, like Island Video and Ice Cream. Nor am I fully convinced that sisters Eleanor and Eve spent their childhood on Edisto as the daughters of a local shrimper. That was before the accident that left beauty queen contestant Eve in a wheelchair. Eleanor, once an aspiring concert pianist, feels guilty about Eve, as well as for her attraction to Glen, Eve’s high school sweetheart husband. She gets a chance for redemption when her investment banker boss Finn Beaufain asks her to help care for his elderly aunt Helena, who has lived on Edisto since she and her sister escaped from Hungary in 1944. Eleanor is soon trekking back and forth between the big house on Edisto and the shabby home she shares with her careworn mother, Eve and Glen in North Charleston.

The set-up is ripe for old secrets, family conflicts, new dreams. Did I mention that too-good-to-be-true Finn is the handsome divorced father of a little girl overcoming a grave illness? Or that enigmatic Helena’s sister died in mysterious circumstances? Eleanor narrates most of the involving story, with occasional chapters from Helena and Eve’s perspectives. Eve’s thoughts aren’t really needed, but every story should have a character as tart-tongued and strong-willed as Helena. And Edisto, of course, makes a picturesque and perfect setting, IMHO.

Open Books: Readers of this blog know that Mary Kay Andrews is a longtime pal of Caroline Cousins. I hope to actually meet Karen White at a booksigning later this month. And this is just the beginning of posts on the wave of summer fiction, including new books from Dorothea Benton Frank, Claire Cook and Mary Alice Monroe. I’m writing about them a few at a time from beach at Edisto. 



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porchdogsI dreamed about my dog Doc last night. It was a good dream. I called his name and he broke away from a pack of lookalikes and came running. Then I was holding his wriggling  fur and he was licking my face. Just like old times.

Not sure what prompted the dream. Maybe because I’m still in South Carolina and Doc dearly loved the beach. Or it could be all the dogs I see around Edisto, a preponderance of labs — yellow, black, chocolate. But most likely it’s because I’ve been thumbing through Porch Dogs, a collection of great photographs by Nell Dickerson, with cool captions and commentary.

The foreword’s by Robert Hicks. He comes from “dog people,” and one of the handsome canines in the book belongs to him, full-named “Jake, the World’s Greatest Dog.” Like many others, I might take issue with that title, but as Hicks points out, I haven’t met Jake. He does look like a fine fellow — a mix of Rhodesian Ridgeback, Chow, Pit Bull, Golden and Lab. Actually, he reminds me of Doc, who was a Goldenlabrachowzoi (Golden, Lab, Chow, Borzoi). I expect they’d be pals.

Dickerson spent eight years photographing all kind of different dogs on Deep South porches of all kinds. Border collies Millie and Belle pose elegantly between white columns in Canton, Miss. Yorkshire terrier Teeny Baby is almost lost amidst the porch clutter in Natchez, Miss. An amiable pack of mixed-breed rescues patrol a porch that doubles as a clothesline in Meansville, Ga. The cover girl is Daisy, a Springer Spaniel sitting pretty atop the stairs in Sullivan’s Island, S.C.

Dickerson’s captions are wry short stories. You have to see them in juxtaposition with the photos to fully appreciate. “Ally loves books, but they don’t taste as good as they smell” goes with a solemn Labrador retriever- Australian sheep dog mix sitting patiently by a chair stacked with old books.

093Dickerson contends that air-conditioning finished off the Old South because it mostly did away with front porches and being neighborly. Where they can, dogs have taken over, “Sentinels of the South.” I sort of disagree. I miss my grandmothers’ porches and sitting out there in the evening, watching whoever was going down the street and listening to the stories my uncles spun. But if you want to be social in the South, you don’t need a porch if you have a dog. Walk with your dog and you’ll meet all kinds of folks. Of course, here at the beach we have great porches and great dogs. This is a picture I took of Doc at sunset a few years ago. Dream of a dog.

Open Book: I was predisposed to like Porch Dogs. Not only is it about three of my favorite things — dogs, porches, the South — it is published by John F. Blair, publisher of Caroline Cousins. I read a digital galley from edelweiss, but the dog people in my life will be getting copies for birthdays or Christmas, whichever comes first. You know who you are. Also, Blair is having a Porch Dog contest where you can send in your pictures of your pooch and win nifty prizes. Details at the website, blairpub.com

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moonoverI had the perfect excuse to put off packing this weekend to go back to Edisto — I was reading Beth Webb Hart’s engaging new novel, Moon Over Edisto (Thomas Nelson, purchased e-book), which is set on the South Carolina lowcountry island I call home about half the year.

Happily, Hart is not what I call a “drive-by” author, one who chances on a picturesque setting and decides to write a book about it. Hart knows Edisto and the territory in and around Charleston, and has written about it in previous novels such as Grace at Low Tide. Unlike one famous novelist, she’s not about to put a Wal-Mart on an island that doesn’t have a single stoplight. Better still, she understands how landscape shapes lives, how place imprints on memory.

A successful New York artist, 39-year-old Julia Bennett put Edisto in her rearview mirror when she was 19 after an unbearable betrayal. But now, just as she’s preparing to spend a fellowship summer in Budapest and planning her December wedding, she’s plunged back into the “Southern gothic dysfunction” of her family. There’s no one else to look after her three young half-siblings while their mother Marney — Julia’s late father’s second wife — is in the hospital. Certainly not Mary Ellen, Julia’s mother and the first wife, who is still striving to create a life for her divorced self in Charleston. Nor will Meg (“call me Margaret”), Julia’s younger sister, be of any help, what with three kids of her own in Mount Pleasant, a jam-packed schedule and a grudge that won’t go away.

The story shifts among the perspectives of Julia, Mary Ellen and Meg, along with a few interspersed narratives from Etta, a prenaturally wise 9-year-old. Julia does return to Edisto, but only for a week, and a lot happens then and in the following months. There are also storylines involving Jed, the first boy Julia ever kissed, now a Charleston surgeon, and Nate, Mary Ellen’s gruff dog-loving neighbor, and a fisherman named Skipper.

Moon Over Edisto is  family and friends, regret and forgiveness, sweet tea and blue crabs. Things are messy and lovely and real, even if Julia is a little too-good-to-be-true and Jed a whole lot so. Hart can really write, and she gets it right, from the spotty cell service on Edisto to the way it looks from the air.

“As the plane took off, she peered out of the window at the waterways and rivers and salt marsh creeks like enormous snakes winding their way out to sea. The sunlight was almost blinding and the creeks themselves looked like little rivers of gold reflecting the light on their moving surfaces. The thought occurred to Julia that it might not be so easy to put this visit out of her mind, to tuck it away like she had her childhood and seal it closed like so many places in her heart.”

Oh, I’m homesick. Time to pack.

Open Book: Yes, the Caroline Cousins books are set on Edisto, although we called it Indigo Island and fictionalized it quite a bit so as to be more like Edisto when we were kids and the drawbridge still connected us to the mainland. Also, I want to recommend two more new novels about family and place, The End of the Point by Elizabeth Graver (HarperCollins, digital galley),  and Three Sisters by Susan Mallery (Harlequin Mira, digital galley).

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Sea Dog Doc 034When my dog Doc’s leg twitched in his sleep, I always figured that he was dreaming, probably of wide, open fields or endless stretches of beach where he could run and run and run. As fleet as Doc was — and he was plenty fast, with borzoi mixed in with retriever and chow — he couldn’t outrun old age, and it finally caught up with him this past weekend. The Big Sleep.

I could write a book about Doc, and then I realized I already have, sort of. Back when my cousins, Meg and Gail, and I were working on the first Caroline Cousins’ mystery novel, Fiddle Dee Death, I acquired a skinny yellow yearling of a dog with a happy-go-lucky demeanor. Naturally, I wrote the dog into the book, beginning when narrator Lindsey Fox first spots him on a lonely beach.

“I saw the dog then. The color of sea oats, he came over the crest of a dune and sniffed the air. Then he saw me. Tail wagging, he splashed through a shallow pool left by the outgoing tide, fifty-plus pounds of fur heading toward me.”

Animals & Flagler Beach 095Later, “The dog was still sitting there, looking at me alertly, as if he understood every word we were saying. Instead of being black, his nose was the pink color of an eraser. His ears, more like a shepherd’s than a Lab, stood at attention.”

The dog, known as Pablo, makes several other appearances in the book, and later is adopted by Lindsey, who gives him a new name despite her cousin Mam’s objections. The dog becomes Doc after Lindsey’s childhood stuffed dog, who got so worn out her mother sewed him a slipcover for his torso before Lindsey took him to college. He later graduated to the top of her bedroom closet. (As the cousins say, it’s all true, except for the part that’s not.)

Doc is also in our subsequent books, Marsh Madness and Way Down Dead in Dixie, doing regular doggy things like barking at a possible ghosts, riding in boats, and peeing on a Confederate rose bush.

I have to say I particularly liked the reviewer who noted Doc’s presence (“a great dog”) in one write-up. I always notice dogs in books, even if they’re just supporting characters such as the cool Walter Payton in Carole Anshaw’s novel Carry the One. And, of course, I grew up on great dog stories: Old Yeller, Big Red, Lassie and Albert Payson Terhune’s collies, among others. Just thinking about the coonhounds in  Wilson Rawls’ Where the Red Fern Grows makes my eyes tear up. Oh, and faithful Greyfriars Bobby, and Buck from The Call of the Wild.

There are many good “true” dog tales, too, of late, like Susannah Charleson’s Scent of the Missing, about her search-and-rescue Golden Retriever, and Luis Carlos Montalvan’s Until Tuesday: A Wounded Warrior and the Golden Retriever Who Saved Him.

cometMy new favorite hero dog is a rescued greyhound, whose poignant story is told in Steven Wolf’s Comet’s Tale: How the Dog I Rescued Saved My Life (Algonquin, review copy). Wolf, an attorney suffering from a degenerative spinal condition, moved from Nebraska to Arizona for his health and was introduced to a greyhound-advocacy group.  He was “adopted” by the mistrustful Comet, a cinnamon-striped racer who had been mistreated, and taught her to climb stairs, play with other dogs, and to be a loving companion. But the bond between them became even tighter when Wolf’s health deteriorated and he trained Comet as a service dog. She pulled the covers off his bed and towed his grocery cart, surprising even other greyhound owners with her strength and adaptability. It’s a story with a happy ending, too.

Doc’s favorite girl was a greyhound named Olive, who belonged to my friend Suzy, who was Doc’s other favorite person and took this great picture of him on Edisto Island a few years ago, as well the one of him and his pal Merlin. I like to think now of Doc and Olive running on some heavenly shore, along with Merlin the coonhound, Harvey the collie, Watson the wheaten terrier, and all the other good dogs that have gone before.

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At the beginning of  Attica Locke’s atmospheric novel The Cutting Season, a cottonmouth the length of a Cadillac falls from a live oak during a wedding at a restored plantation. “It only briefly stopped the ceremony, this being Louisiana after all.”

Still, plantation manager Caren Grey takes the snake as a sign that Belle Vie’s beauty is not to be trusted. “That beneath its loamy topsoil, the manicured grounds and gardens, two centuries of breathtaking wealth and spectacle, lay a land both black and bitter, soft to the touch, but pressing in its power.”

Caren knows this better than most. She grew up in Ascension Parish, daughter of Belle Vie’s cook, descendant of the freed slave Jason, whose mysterious disappearance more than a century ago still haunts the estate-turned-tourist attraction. When a migrant worker from the adjoining sugar cane fields is found murdered at Belle Vie, Caren’s good intentions and curiosity put her at cross-purposes with the local authorities, the plantation’s owners, much of the staff, her own preteen daughter, and the girl’s father, a D.C. attorney. Past secrets lead to present dangers, love and loyalty collide, and the murder mystery winds through the plot like a slithering snake. But larger questions of class, race and identity complicate the whole, and it is those mysteries that Locke so artfully explores in prose as seductive as Belle Vie’s magnolia-scented grounds.

Dennis Lehane chose The Cutting Season as the first book for his new imprint at HarperCollins, so it’s fitting that one of our best crime novelists also has a new book. Live by Night is a sort of sequel to The Given Day, but this layered historical novel of the Roaring Twenties in Boston, Tampa and Cuba stands tall on its own.

Joe Coughlin, the younger son of a corrupt Boston cop, comes to crime as a teen “because it was fun and he was good at it.” By 20, he thinks of himself as an outlaw, with his own code of love and loyalty that allows him to work for established gangsters despite his aversion to senseless violence.

Joe’s conflicted conscience doesn’t keep him out of trouble. Quite the contrary. Falling for a rival mobster’s sultry girlfriend leads to her disappearance and presumed death while bad boy Joe is toughened by prison. He’s mentored by a Mafia don, who sets him up as a rum-runner in Tampa on his release. Still good at what he does, enterprising Joe builds a boot-legging empire and marries a Cuban social activist. Over time, he takes on all comers and uses some of his dirty money for good deeds. Still, blood and betrayal are inescapable.

This all makes for entertaining Prohibition-era noir, and Lehane bends the genre conventions to his own ends so that the past takes on the vivid solidity of the known present.

Open Book: I bought two copies of Attica Locke’s The Cutting Season (HarperCollins), one for me and one for my cousins Meg and Gail. As Caroline Cousins, we’ve written three cozy mysteries set on a restored plantation, and I enjoyed the familarity of Locke’s setting and details. I wish we’d thought of the falling snake, although we’d have played it more for laughs, like our marauding seagulls and ghost gator, and Locke’s book is deadly serious. I admire it very much. Dennis Lehane is a long-time favorite, and I read a digital galley of Live By Night (Morrow) via edelweiss.

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As noted in a previous post, BookExpo America — the annual publishing/bookselling convention-marathon-extravaganza — is in NYC this week. I’m not there, but thanks to social networking (this blog, FB, Twitter), I have a pretty good idea what’s happening, and I’m not totally exhausted with sore feet and sensory overload.

Armchair BEA was set up especially for bloggers who can’t make it to the Big Apple, and we’re checking in from all over the U.S., Canada, UK, Australia.

When I started blogging about books in January 2010, I found myself part of a huge global community of readers and writers. I had gone out on disability from the Orlando Sentinel in 2005 after 20 years as book critic, and while I was out of the loop, publishing, bookselling and reviewing underwent dramatic changes. As print outlets dried up and/or died, many journalists turned to the Internet to communicate about books and other arts and entertainment topics that had become marginalized in print.

In the blogosphere, we found ourselves in the company of librarians, teachers, authors, publishers, booksellers and enthusiastic readers. My to-do list includes compiling a more comprehensive blog roll of the varied blogs I read on a fairly regular basis, including Ti’s Book Chatter, Sandy’s You’ve Gotta Read This (both of whom have been faithful, encouraging readers of this blog since the beginning), and so many others I’ve discovered.

When I’m not reading books, I’m reading about books at Shelf Awareness and Galley Cat and media web sites, such as the Guardian UK, Washington Post, Minneapolis Star Tribune, New Yorker, NPR. Everywhere there are links to more sites and e-newsletters, many of them aimed at special interests. I just discovered Alice Marvels for teen fiction. Many authors blog on their own at their site’s — my pal Mary Kay Andrews — or in small groups, such as Jungle Red, Lipstick Chronicles, the Naked Dead.

Most publishers now have digital marketing specialists and offer amazing blogs and newsletters. Check out Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, Macmillan, John F. Blair, Random House, Simon and Schuster, HarperCollins,  Melville House, you name it. Sometimes, there are contests and giveaways on publishers Facebook pages. (Thank you, Avon Books for the classic romance paperbacks!)

Oh, and there are great sites for book clubs, and great bookstore sites, such as Powell’s and SIBA (southeastern Independent Booksellers Alliance). Do you know about the social network group, Goodreads? I need to update my list of books read and add new friends.

Reading and writing used to be my job. Now it’s a hobby. I loved BEA, and its predecessor, ABA, because it was the one time of year when I actually saw people with whom I talked to on the phone or had e-mail conversations. I had the chance to interview some of my favorite writers. We talked about their books and other authors’ books. How cool to discover that the late, great David Halberstam shared my enthusiasm for Alan Furst’s historical novels? To have my picture taken with Neil Gaiman. To chat with Alice Munro at a party and sit next to Russell Banks at lunch. To catch up with Laura Lippman and listen to Richard Ford read. To hear Pat Conroy and Kate DiCamillo wow audiences with heartfelt speeches. To rock out to the Rock Bottom Remainders, whose members included Stephen King, Dave Barry and Amy Tan. At the 2003 BEA in LA, I assumed my Caroline Cousins identity to sign copies of Fiddle Dee Death at the Blair booth.

Whoa. That was then. I was younger and healthier. This is now, and well, I need a nap. Thank you, Armchair BEA for offering a comfortable way to reconnect with old friends and meet new ones.

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Cousin Gail called just before noon. She wondered if I could do her a “teeny’’ favor. Remember how Caroline Cousins had a speaking engagement tonight? And since only two-thirds of us – herself and Cousin Meg – were actually going to be there in S.C. , would I, as the missing cousin, just shoot her a quick e-mail about how publishing has changed in the decade since our first book came out.

“And maybe put in something about the future and how it’s changing, too,’’ Gail said. “If you have the time, that is. Please.’’

Caroline Cousins, being a Southerner, is always polite, especially when asking for the moon.

Shoot, Gail, if I had the time and knowledge to write about everything changing in publishing, we might could publish it as a book – an e-book, that is. Furthermore, you and Meg wouldn’t be able to do our usual
dog-and-pony show that we all three know by heart so any one, two or three of us, in any combination, can rattle on about our books and writing experience at a moment’s notice. You’d be talking from now until Sunday, and the audience’s eyes would have glazed over yesterday.

So let me be brief. Or briefish. The Internet has changed every aspect of publishing, and continues to do so. Even if some authors continue to write longhand  (Meg, for example), eventually their words gets put in a computer and technology takes over from there, for better or worse.

Generally, I think better. Or maybe I just hope that because I love books – the real ones — just holding them, smelling them, listening to the sound of pages turning. Crisp new books high on ink. Musty old ones with paper like crumbling graham crackers.  Books printed in DTF – dead tree format.

But now I have not only stacks upon stacks of books like this, I also have a virtual library of books. They’re digital electronic editions – e-books – and you read them on computers – laptops, tablets, smartphones and dedicated e-readers, such as  a nook (mine) or  a Kindle (Meg). (There are differences, so do your research).

At last count, I had 140 books on my nook, which weighs approximately 11 oz. There’s room for at least a thousand, more if I add back-up storage.

And then there’s “the cloud,’’ where my e-books are archived in something like an Internet storage unit, and another cloud, where I check out e-books from my public library.

I’m not enough of a techno-nerd to understand cloud computing. But the future of publishing is up there in the clouds somewhere as writers,  publishers, booksellers, and readers all struggle to adapt to this new “platform,’’   where the wind blows every whichaway.

I don’t think books – the real ones – are going away soon, or for good. But e-books, in some form, are here to stay. They present challenges and opportunities in marketing, distribution and pricing. Piracy, too.  Caroline Cousins may be translated into Chinese for all we know.

What we do know is that we are happy that our books are available as e-books from Barnes & Noble and Amazon, and as Google-e-books, which allows independent bookstores to get a piece of the digital pie.

Caroline Cousins loves books. And pie.

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I am gorging on Florida strawberries, but I am studying okra and dreaming peaches. Let me explain.

SIBA — Southeast Independent Booksellers Alliance — recently announced its dozen “Okra Picks: Good Southern Books Fresh off the Vine” for the spring season as selected by its indie members. The fiction and nonfiction look appealing, but, yum, three books for foodies and cooks are on on the list,  High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey from Africa to America by Jessica Harris (Bloomsbury), The New Southern Garden Cookbook: Enjoying the Best from Homegrown Gardens, Farmers’ Markets, Roadside Stands, and CSA Farm Boxes by Sheri Castle (University of North Carolina Press) and A Southerly Course: Recipes and Stories from Close to Home by Martha Hall Foose (Crown). Harris’ history of African-American cusine culture was published in January; the other two will be released in April.

I am especially looking forward to A Southerly Course because Mississippi chef Foose wrote Screen Doors and Sweet Tea: Recipes and Tales from a Southern Cook, an all-time favorite with its surprise take on traditional Southern fare — Sweet Tea Pie, dontcha know?!

My family (namely, my mother and the Caroline Cousins) tend to forget that just because I don’t cook much anymore doesn’t mean I don’t know how. How insulting is it when your nearest and dearest ask if you remember how to make a white sauce?! But even if I don’t spend time in the kitchen, I spend lots of time reading about food, especially Southern food. Why just the other day I talked my friend Jackie out of her new Southern Living because of the pound cake recipes. She graciously handed over the magazine with a hunk of her fresh-made banana nut bread, which I ate for breakfast.

The cover of Foose’s new book instantly drew me in with its picture of peaches tumbled together in an apron. Regular readers of this blog know that peaches are my favorite food. I have a large orange cat, the Giant Peach, and when I lived in the Midwest years ago, I stirred Peach Jell-O on the stove in winter just to smell its fragrance and remember summer.

The new Okra Picks —  http://www.sibaweb.com/okra — also reminded me that I signed up for my fellow book blogger BermudaOnion’s Okra Challenge back in the fall. You moved up the food ladder by reading a certain number of books and blogging about them. Four to six, for example, and you’re a Tater. To be an Okra, you have to read nine or more. I signed up to read seven to nine so I can be a Peach, of course.

I made it because I recently sat in a bookstore and read the only cookbook on the fall list, Southern Plate: Classic Southern Food That Makes Everyone Feel Like Family by Christy Jordan (HarperCollins). A home-grown Alabama cook with a wonderful blog, www.southernplate.com, Jordan offers family recipes, many as easy as pie (or cobbler). It was sort of like thumbing through my mama’s recipe box, or going through the cousins’ collections. Macaroni and cheese. Fried okra. Frozen cranberry  salad. Coupled with the color pictures, the recipes make for a mouth-watering volume. I haven’t bought it yet because I told someone I wanted it, and I’m hoping they didn’t think I was kidding.

Just writing this has me hungry and homesick. I’m pretty sure I’ve got some okra, corn and tomatoes in the freezer, so I’ll just go put some rice on. And, no, I don’t use that minute stuff. Honest.

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I’m happy to report that none of the mishaps in Marsh Madness by Caroline Cousins happened at the weekend wedding celebration of my cousin Aly on Edisto Island. Aly and Hunter were married under the arching oaks at Cypress Trees Plantation, and the heavens cooperated with sunny skies and then a spectacular sunset over the marsh. A good tidal creek breeze kept the gnats and mosquitoes at bay, and also provided blessed relief from the 90-degree heat for the 175 family and friends dressed to the nines.  There was beach music for dancing, fabulous food — including shrimp and grits — for feasting, assorted adult beverages for toasting, and lemonade for the young ‘uns. The bride was beautiful in one-shoulder, draped white satin. Cousin Cayden, age 3, agreed that Aly looked like a princess but was sad that “her dress was broken.”  As she noted seriously, “Aly only has one sleeve. I have two.”

Ok, that’s the kind of stuff you can’t make up, so the three Caroline Cousins kept their eyes and ears open for more possible book material. Oh, my. There was the chicken salad crisis before the bridesmaids’ luncheon on Friday. The caterer (new) only made enough for a dozen instead of two dozen.  Mild panic ensued before we sent the maid of honor to Main’s Market, where the nice cooks had just whipped up a batch for lunch. We added some grapes, and voila, chicken salad served in martini glasses all around. We also were dismayed that the specially ordered pimiento cheese biscuits had been downsized from regular to mini. We’d have asked for more if we’d known they were going to look like quarters!

The pecan tarts baked by the bride’s grandfather were a hit, although there was a distinct whiff when Aunt Boodie first brought in the plastic containers. “I smell fish,” Cousin Meg sniffed. I wrinkled my nose. “Me, too.” Aunt Boodie said the containers were brand new but did admit that they had been in a freezer full of fish. Happily, the tarts were not affected, and we banished the noxious containers to the laundry room, where the cocker spaniel puppy slept through most of the proceedings.

After the luncheon, Cousin Meg, who had done all the prep and all the flowers, paraded puppy Tilly for admirers. Cousins Janelle and Erin made short work of the clean-up, and I dried and sorted the silver. I could only find seven of my mama’s salad forks (a Gorham pattern no longer available but similar to Old Master), and was getting worried until I unearthed a mangled fork from the silver chest, victim of a long-ago encounter with a disposal.

There’s lots more, but I don’t want to give away what may become a book, or at least a short story. Did I mention that the Baptist minister’s named Buster? And speaking of names, I will not reveal which bridesmaid ended up going “commando.” Nor will I identify the author of the back-handed compliment, “Why you don’t look like yourself at all. You look beautiful!” 

 My favorite sight, after the wedding itself, was watching flower girls Maggie and Peyton, pictured here with maid of honor Rachel, tearing up the dance floor. Not to be outdone, ringbearer Lance tried to slam dance with his mother to Michael Jackson’s “Beat It!” Cousin Jay (husband and father) just shook his head and cuddled the newest member of the family, 4-month-old Lucy Charlotte. 

I have yet to see wedding photos, but Cousin Rachel took this picture the day Hunter proposed to Aly at the old Sheldon church ruins. Obviously, she said “yes.”

Open Book: Caroline Cousins insists once again that she writes fiction.

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