Sophie Kinsella’s novel, The Undomestic Goddess, starts off with the question, “Would you consider yourself stressed?” I smiled when I saw that. It was a question the main character Samantha reads on an intake form before her massage appointment. And it so resonated with me considering this stressful pandemic life I’ve been living, that we’ve all been living, since 2020. I couldn’t stop reading. I mean, my answer to that question was “yes, without a doubt!”
As the massage starts, Samantha grows so worried about an email she forgot to send that she simply leaves the table before she can even relax. Ha, I can relate to that one. Later, after bombing out at work, she heads out of the city and is mistaken for a housekeeper applicant at a wealthy home. Can’t relate to that one, but not against it. The premise of a city attorney being mistaken for a housekeeper is pretty implausible for sure, but I ended up suspending my disbelief and going with the flow. The silly domestic life Samantha suddenly landed in mirrored my own experience well.
Trapped in a House with Lots of Housework
First of all, Samantha’s voluntarily trapped in a big house. During the pandemic, I’ve been trapped in my house, at least to varying degrees. I so related to being thrust into a situation where one’s anchored to the every day tasks of domestic life.
Second, Samantha struggles with cooking. Though I knew how to cook long before the pandemic, I leaned on eating out in restaurants and getting carry out to buffer the constant work of preparing and cleaning up after meals. During the height of the pandemic, I had to buy more groceries and plan more meals. I got more acquainted with a wider variety of foods. We ate carry-out meals a lot less often and never went to a restaurant (at least until that summer when cases were down and outdoor patios popped up). The book spoke to me there too.
And third, Samantha struggles with cleaning chores. She has trouble with the washing machine and iron and such. During the pandemic, I got more acquainted with my vacuum and dishwasher than ever. We got a new washing machine because the old one got hampered by me constantly washing clothes. Plus, with overall house cleaning before the pandemic, my kids and husband or an occasional house cleaner always helped. But with the kids stressed out over online learning and my husband working late every night, I was head house cleaner.
A Handsome Man and Hearty Humor
There’s also a romantic story line between Samantha and Nathaniel. This subplot was fine enough though the constant will-they, won’t-they question was a little tiring, maybe the only flaw of the book. The whole house and its distinct personalities were enough for me. Still, it kept the book light and sweet and I appreciated that.
Where Kinsella really shines is in the humor department. She knows how to write in a super funny voice and keep that bouncy rhythm going. Anyone who’s read her books knows she’s the queen of this quirky chick-lit style. And this book was definitely funny. Samantha’s perky personality and chatty manner charmed me.
Overall, I recommend The Undomestic Goddess. Even though the book was published in 2005, finding it now seemed like kismet for me. As Samantha switched from a super-busy work situation and highly social life to a remote country home with quotidian tasks, so did I in a sense. It was the right book at the right time for me.
One of my nightly rituals is reading in bed before I fall asleep. It’s my favorite time to read. The house is quiet, the work’s done for the day, the daily chores are taken care of. But too often, I find myself reading dark novels, I mean really dark novels, that stress me out and make me worry. This hasn’t been good for my psyche. If I try to sleep while feeling anxious or sad, I toss and turn. My mind races. Those dark novels are better read during the day on the weekends. Instead, I’ve learned to be careful in what I choose to put inside my imagination at night. Luckily, I discovered a Spencer Quinn mystery is exactly what I need to drift off into a happy, relaxing slumber.
A Dog Detective and his Human Pal
Spencer Quinn is the pen name for Peter Abrahams, a prolific author of both serious thrillers and humorous detective stories. He’s an easy-going guy and his Chet and Bernie series reflects that. The books aren’t exactly cozies, more like funny detective stories. They focus on a high-strung black Shepherd mix named Chet and his owner Bernie Little. Chet narrates the books from his doggie perspective, providing a lively commentary on the two’s adventures in solving crimes. The cute thing about Chet is that he’s always in a good mood. He calls himself “a real pro” and when he’s feeling great, which is almost always, he says he feels, “tip-top.” His memory isn’t that good because of course he’s a dog and he can only count to two. But what Chet lacks in human traits he makes up for in his observant smarts and keen sense of smell. He’s always on the lookout for bad guys and always ready to help someone in need.
There are 12 books in the series and the latest (non-Christmas) story is Tender is the Bite. It’s an adventure that kicks off when a young woman tells Bernie she needs his help but then disappears. Without giving too much away, I’ll just say the story includes some dirty politicians, Ukranian financial schemes, and a ferret named Griffie, who of course Chet’s suspicious of. It takes place in the Phoenix area and there’s lots of dangerous desert ambiance.
Why I Love This Book
Whenever I read a Spencer Quinn mystery, I find myself smiling the entire time. I love Chet’s goofy voice, his inability to remember that he’s barking, and his doggie talent of sniffing out everything of significance. It’s almost as if the book’s narrated by a child, which I guess it kind of is. According to canine researchers, dogs have toddler-level intelligence and Quinn captures this innocent awareness well. And if you have a dog, you’ll love all the little references to catching treats, not liking cats, and wanting to mark one’s territory.
I also have a personal affection for these books because I had a black Belgian Shepherd mix who was nearly a dead ringer for Chet. I know how energetic and whip-smart they are. But I love these books for more than just Chet’s naturally likable personality. Bernie is his own person and we witness the ups and downs and romances in his life. Quinn also knows how to create an interesting secondary cast, even with brief descriptions and snappy dialogue. It all makes for a compelling read that engages my mind but reassures me later as I turn out the light that everything, in the end, will be okay.
Just a quick note to let you know my new novel Harvesting the Sky has a cover! Here it is above. I’m very excited. The talented Jessica Dionne, who created The Forgetting Flower, also designed this one. It’s ominous and threatening and mysterious and I love it.
Here’s the jacket copy:
Botanist Andre Damazy lands on the opportunity of a lifetime when he discovers a rare medicinal apple in Kazakhstan and brings back tree cuttings to his hidden greenhouse in Paris. Growing the cuttings into trees is personal for Andre since the apples can heal people with serious illnesses, like his sweet mother who’s suffered a stroke.
But a mysterious stranger constantly thwarts Andre’s work, sending harassing calls and menacing effigies, stalking Andre, and vandalizing his trees. Andre doesn’t understand why anyone would do this, but he wonders if it’s related to a project from his past that went all wrong and resulted in a deadly mistake. So with the help of his new friend Renia (The Forgetting Flower) and her street smarts, he works to outmaneuver his enemy while uncovering a larger, more dangerous plot that threatens the foundation of all that Andre holds dear, including the woman he secretly loves.
Harvesting the Sky is the second book in the Botanique Noire series that combines vivid literary prose and a thriller plot, while enticing readers with the wonder and magic of plants.
Hi everyone, I’m excited to tell you my new novel, Harvesting the Sky, will be published in fall, 2021! This book holds a special place in my heart for a few reasons.
The First Novel That Melded my Plant Passion With Fiction
Some of you know that I resisted focusing on plants in my fiction for years. I saw plants as soothing and beautiful, which they are, and so I struggled to find the darkness. Then I reworked the novel that was my MFA thesis with a botanist at the center of the story. Everything clicked. The story brimmed with stronger danger, atmosphere, and intrigue. Plus, it had this alluring premise related to a special plant. Instead of feeling sheepish about the book, I felt proud. I shopped it to agents in 2016 but couldn’t find a home for it. But now, post The Forgetting Flower, and thanks to my publisher, Woodhall Press, I can properly share it with the reading world.
A Very Special Apple Tree
Harvesting the Sky is about Renia’s professor friend, Andre Damazy, who appeared in The Forgetting Flower. In this book, he finds a medicinal apple tree in Kazakhstan and brings branches (also called scions) back to Paris so he can propagate the tree. It’s a personal mission for him as his mother had a stroke and he hopes to help not only her but many others who suffer from illness. But a stranger constantly harasses Andre and vandalizes his greenhouse. He can’t figure out why. Not only does he have to battle this mysterious person but other dark forces as well until the tension and anger and intrigue all culminate one warm fateful night.
Renia Plays a Key Role
One unexpected surprise I learned about The Forgetting Flower was readers really liked Renia. They rooted for her and wanted her to succeed. Well, I’m happy to let you know she’ll return in this book. At first, I struggled with how to fold her into the story but then suddenly found a logical way that felt perfect and obvious. You may remember Renia had a secret crush on Andre in TFF. Now in this story, that relationship grows through his perspective as well.
Set in a Secret Greenhouse
Though the book is a stand-alone read, it’s set in the same world as The Forgetting Flower. The story picks up about ten months after TFF ends. While outlining the plot, I realized Andre would be propagating special, coveted trees and therefore needed a hidden greenhouse in Paris. After some research, I found a real-life work yard with a greenhouse. It’s out of view from the public and available only to parks department employees. This real-life place provided the inspiration for the area called “L’Enclos” where most of the mystery and action takes place.
More Updates Coming
My publisher and I have completed some preliminary work on the novel so I’ll have more to share in terms of release date, cover, and other details soon. You can sign up for monthly updates if you’d like here. And in the meantime, you can read my three-part series of posts about Harvesting the Sky, which cover how I got the idea for the novel and created its characters and plot. It includes an excerpt from the first chapter at the third post’s end.
Apple photo by Janos Patrik
Hi readers, just a quick note to let you know that I interviewed the author Wendy Webb for the November, 2020 issue of The Big Thrill magazine! Wendy writes suspenseful stories set in the upper Midwest, Minnesota to be exact. Some folks call her the “Queen of Northern Gothic” fiction and for good reason. She knows how to spin a tale that dovetails eerie history with contemporary times.
Lake Superior: A Dangerous Force All Its Own
The setting for many of her novels is a fictional small town in Minnesota, nestled on Lake Superior. Lake Superior is a vast, deep, and foreboding body of water. Moreoever, it’s dangerous, rich with stories of people drowning and boats capsizing. Many years ago, I encountered it when I was in Duluth on a cold blustery day. Its stormy waves created white caps in the cloudy light and crashed onto cold shores. I knew instantly I never wanted to go swimming in those waters. They could kill a person. Conversely, the city of Duluth charmed with surprisingly quaint architecture and soft hills.
The Haunting of Brynn Wilder
Anyway, I was delighted to interview Wendy for the International Thriller Writers association. You can check out our fun little chat here. And if you’d like to participate in a giveaway for Wendy’s new book, The Haunting of Brynn Wilder, please tell me in the comments below. Happy reading!