Saturday, March 10, 2012

Ali Brandon

Ali Brandon is the national bestselling author of Double Booked for Death, the first in the new Black Cat Bookshop mystery series from Berkley Prime Crime. Writing as Diane A.S. Stuckart, she is the critically acclaimed author of historical romance and short fiction, as well as the award-winning Leonardo da Vinci mystery series, also from Berkley.

A few weeks ago I asked her about what she was reading.  Her reply:
One of the best things about finishing a manuscript is that it frees you to indulge in the recreational reading that you denied yourself while under deadline. That means I’ve finally been able to sit down with a few books that have been lingering in my TBR pile. Since I’m an eclectic reader, the titles I’ve pulled out for mention come from all parts of the literary spectrum.

First up is The Adventures of Bindi Girl by Erin Reese. Subtitled, Diving Deep Into the Heart of India, it’s the travel memoirs of a thirty-something former executive who decides to ditch it all to backpack through India. She lives with the locals and in various backpacker “camps,” striking up friendships with fellow free spirits along the way. As a former yoga instructor, I have long had an affinity for India and her culture; thus, I leaped eagerly into this book. In the end, however, I wandered out again feeling vaguely unsatisfied.

While Reese is a talented and engaging author, I wanted to like her account much more than I actually did. Bindi is a fast read with short chapters reminiscent of blog posts—not surprisingly, since Reese is a former popular travel blogger—but it swiftly took on the tone of a wanna-be version of the staggeringly successful Eat, Pray, Love. The continual “see how well I blend in with the culture and how much the Indian people love me” references seemed more an exercise in self-indulgence than a thoughtful look at this fascinating country. I would recommend instead the 2004 memoir Holy Cow: an Indian Adventure by Sarah Macdonald, with its greater honesty and more in-depth observations.

Moving off in a totally different direction, I recently picked up a copy of South Beach Cinderella by Sharon Potts. Disclaimer: Sharon is a fellow member of the Florida chapter of Mystery Writers of America. But up until that point—bad me—I’d never gotten around to reading any of her novels. And so I figured it was time to rectify that error.

If you’ve read her previous work, you know Potts as an up-and-coming suspense author. But, like many writers, she had the urge to try something a little different…in this case, way different. South Beach Cinderella is a delightful hybrid of edgy chick lit/misty-eyed romance that has genuine LOL moments. Successful (and slightly OCD) career woman Frankie Wunder is ready to make a move to the mommy track. Unfortunately, she discovers that her charming dentist husband has been checking out more than teeth on the billboard models who advertise his thriving practice. Frankie promptly dumps him and goes on a quest to find a replacement husband who is ready to jump into daddy mode. In keeping with her compulsive tendencies, she puts together a list of potential candidates who meet her strict guidelines for the hubby/dad-to-be and begins the vetting process. But you know what they say about the best laid plans.

Potts’ Frankie is, by turns, a snarky and poignant figure, while her secondary characters serve as well-drawn foils in this “girl-grows-into-woman” romantic comedy. I’ve since read one of Potts’ suspense novels, Someone’s Watching. While it was competently written and carefully plotted, the novel had a far more workman-like feel to it…I could readily spy the by-the-numbers underpinnings. I have to say that I much prefer the humorous contemporary voice of Cinderella.

Finally, I read a wonderful unpublished novel entitled Mandragora. A novelization of Niccolo Machiavelli's play The Mandrake, this manuscript came to my attention by way of an email from Port of Spain, Trinidad. The as-yet unpublished author is a charming older gentleman named H.D. Greaves. He was familiar with my Leonardo da Vinci mystery series written as Diane A. S. Stuckart and, given the similar time periods of our writings, asked me if I would blurb his book. I have to admit I was a bit reluctant at first—most professional writers agree that reading an unpublished author’s manuscript is fraught with peril—but the tone of his request won me over.

I was pleasantly surprised by what I found once I finally dove into his book. As I told Harold, it’s not an easy read, in that you have to take it slowly to catch all the nuances, but I see this being a book that becomes popular via word of mouth. And so, the quote I gave him is as follows: With a dramatic style that is, by turns, suspenseful and laugh out loud funny, Greaves brings the classic work to life for modern readers without sacrificing its Renaissance soul. I hope that one day soon I’ll be seeing my new friend Harold’s book on the shelves.
Visit the official Ali Brandon--AKA Diane A.S. Stuckart--website.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Diane Stuckart & Ranger, Delta, Oliver and Paprika.

My Book, The Movie: Double Booked for Death.

--Marshal Zeringue