All posts by judyhigginsbooks

I’m Handing it over to the Spiders!

My house that is! Years ago (maybe about a century, it seems), I vacuumed daily, cleaned the bathrooms daily, polished furniture upstairs one day and down the next, polished silver once a week . . .  Maybe I was a little crazy. My house now looks like Miss Havisham’s with spider webs draped on and under everything. Spiders crawl around unimpeded by the besieged owner of this property, brazen in the knowledge that I no longer care, and that I’m no threat to their industry. Carry on spiders! I have more important things to do now. Books to write, stories to read, movies to see, wine to drink, cake to eat, and friends to entertain and be entertained by.

My Favorite Prom Story

            Even though it isn’t yet prom season, I want to share a story told me by one of my tennis friends. He attended high school in a small community in eastern Kentucky. When he was a senior, several of the men students, who also happened to be class and student council leaders, as well as team captains got together and decided they wanted to do something special for their female classmates. Like seniors everywhere, they knew that many of the guys would invite girls from other schools and other classes to the senior prom, and that many of their female classmates would be left sitting home dateless. The small group of leaders convinced the other guys that every girl in the class should be invited to the prom rather than bringing in dates from other classes and schools.

            I would love to know the tactics these young men used to convince their classmates, but convince them they did, and every senior girl got invited to the prom. How they chose their dates was quite interesting: they staged a poker game to see who invited which girl. Years later, I’m told, when there is a class reunion or gathering the women still express their admiration for what their male classmates did.

            I loved this story so much I incorporated it into my novel that is coming out in March, Unringing the Bell. The novel is a murder mystery, but with romance and humor embedded in the plot.

            Wouldn’t it be great to see the guys who planned and executed this run for office? Maybe on the platform that decency still exists.   

This Grandmother Doesn’t Bake

Other grandmothers bake cookies with their granddaughters, while I pour fake blood on my oldest and make her pose as a dead ballerina (see http://buckscountymysteries.com).

Back when I lived in Bucks County, PA, I woke up one morning with the plot for a murder mystery in my head. Since a “muse” had obviously visited me in my sleep and dropped it there, I thought I was duty-bound to write the story. Unfortunately, the muse neglected to reveal some essential plot elements as well as a couple of the major characters. I struggled to write the story, gave up, and moved on to other projects.

But the dead woman (a former New York City Ballet lead dancer) wouldn’t leave me alone. A couple years ago, I tried again and became intrigued with what can happen to innocent bystanders during a murder investigation, as well as how long a person can hang on to hate.

An attorney who graciously lent me some of his valuable time to answer legal questions pertaining to the story also suggested the title: Unringing the Bell.

When I finally finished the manuscript, I was full of uncertainty because the story doesn’t fit into the formula for most mysteries. It was only when an agent offered me a contract for representation, that I let my doubts recede. He told me that not everyone wants the same old stuff and that I should turn this into a series.

And that brings me back to my granddaughter and fake blood. For my website, I needed a model to portray the dead ballerina, shot through the heart by . . . . . Whoops, I almost gave it away. She also posed for the website for my other book, The Lady. (Xxxxxxx) Check it out!  I am definitely a proud grandmother!

The Key To Rebecca

The Key to Rebecca
by Ken Follett

This is a classic that I missed growing up. And I do think this book has to be considered a classic in a way. Ken Follett’s The Key to Rebecca took readers and critics by storm when first published more than fifteen years ago. Today, it remains one of the best espionage novels ever written.

A brilliant and ruthless Nazi master agent is on the loose in Cairo. His mission is to send Rommel’s advancing army the secrets that will unlock the city’s doors. In all of Cairo, only two peop The Key to Rebecca took readers and critics by storm when first published more than fifteen years ago. Today, it remains one of the best espionage novels ever written. Espionage novels aren’t my forte, but this one is a terrific read even for someone who prefers other genres.

A brilliant and ruthless Nazi master agent is on the loose in Cairo. His mission is to send Rommel’s advancing army the secrets that will unlock the city’s doors. In all of Cairo, only two people can stop him. One is a down-on-his-luck English officer no one will listen to. The other is a vulnerable young Jewish girl.

The first line of the novel blew me away: “The last camel collapsed at noon.” Six words and I know where the novel takes place (somewhere in the Middle East or Sahara), that someone is on a trip, that someone is in trouble. Six words and nine syllables! Wow!  I struggle with first lines when I write (and all the other lines, too).

I was also in awe at the way Follett is able to manipulate the reader’s empathy and sense of loyalty, gradually changing it from one character to another during the course of the novel.

Magpie Murders

Magpie Murders
by Anthony Horowitz

So, what do you do when you’ve finished all the episodes of Foyle’s War and then re-watched them for the third time? Find a book by the screen writer of the series, of course! Anthony Horowitz works his magic in his new novel, Magpie Murders, which delivers not just one mystery, but a mystery within a mystery.

When editor Susan Ryeland is given the manuscript of Alan Conway’s latest novel, she has no reason to think it will be much different from any of his others. After working with the bestselling crime writer for years, she’s intimately familiar with his detective, Atticus Pünd, who solves mysteries disturbing sleepy English villages. An homage to queens of classic British crime such as Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers, Alan’s traditional formula has proved hugely successful. So successful that Susan must continue to put up with his troubling behavior if she wants to keep her job.

Conway’s latest tale has Atticus Pünd investigating a murder at Pye Hall, a local manor house. Yes, there are dead bodies and a host of intriguing suspects, but the more Susan reads, the more she’s convinced that there is another story hidden in the pages of the manuscript: one of real-life jealousy, greed, ruthless ambition, and murder.

Madame President

Madame President: The Extraordinary Journey of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
by Helene Cooper

Liberia is in the midst of a complicated, no-holds-barred election for the new leader of the country who will replace Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Madame President  isThe harrowing, but triumphant story of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, leader of the Liberian women’s movement, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, and the first democratically elected female president in African history.

When Ellen Johnson Sirleaf won the 2005 Liberian presidential election, she demolished a barrier few thought possible, obliterating centuries of patriarchal rule to b the harrowing, but triumphant story of Sirleaf, leader of the Liberian women’s movement, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, and the first democratically elected female president in African history.

When Ellen Johnson Sirleaf won the 2005 Liberian presidential election, she demolished a barrier few thought possible, obliterating centuries of patriarchal rule to become the first female elected head of state in Africa’s history. Madame President is the inspiring, often heartbreaking story of Sirleaf’s evolution from an ordinary Liberian mother of four boys to international banking executive, from a victim of domestic violence to a political icon, from a post-war president to a Nobel Peace Prize winner.

Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist and bestselling author Helene Cooper deftly weaves Sirleaf’s personal story into the larger narrative of the coming of age of Liberian women. The highs and lows of Sirleaf’s life are filled with indelible images; from imprisonment in a jail cell for standing up to Liberia’s military government to addressing the United States Congress, from reeling under the onslaught of the Ebola pandemic to signing a deal with Hillary Clinton when she was still Secretary of State that enshrined American support for Liberia’s future.

Sirleaf’s personality shines throughout this riveting biography. Ultimately, Madame President is the story of Liberia’s greatest daughter, and the universal lessons we can all learn from this “Oracle” of African women.

Whenever the present election is settled and someone comes away a winner, it will be interesting to see if that person is able to maintain the country on the path that Sirleaf set it on, or if Liberia will once again plunge into the pre-Sirleaf chaos, graft, and poverty.

Elephant Company

Elephant Company: The Inspiring Story of an Unlikely Hero and the Animals Who Helped Him Save Lives in World War II

by Vicki Constantine Croke

Elephant Company: The Inspiring Story of an Unlikely Hero and the Animals Who Helped Him Save Lives in World War II

I’m appalled and outraged at the recent retraction of the ban on elephant tusk trophies. Anyone who doesn’t understand the intelligence and empathy that elephants possess (in some cases elephants appear to exhibit more empathy than humans) should read this book.

Billy Williams came to colonial Burma in 1920, fresh from service in World War I, to a job as a “forest man” for a British teak company. Mesmerized by the intelligence, character, and even humor of the great animals who hauled logs through the remote jungles, he became a gifted “elephant wallah.” Increasingly skilled at treating their illnesses and injuries, he also champiBilly Williams came to colonial Burma in 1920, fresh from service in World War I, to a job as a “forest man” for a British teak company. Mesmerized by the intelligence, character, and even humor of the great animals who hauled logs through the remote jungles, he became a gifted “elephant wallah.” Increasingly skilled at treating their illnesses and injuries, he also championed more humane treatment for them, even establishing an elephant “school” and “hospital.” In return, he said, the elephants made him a better man. The friendship of one magnificent tusker in particular, Bandoola, would be revelatory. In Elephant Company, Vicki Constantine Croke chronicles Williams’s growing love for elephants as the animals provide him lessons in courage, trust, and gratitude.

But Elephant Company is also a tale of war and daring. When Imperial Japanese forces invaded Burma in 1942, Williams joined the elite Force 136, the British dirty tricks department, operating behind enemy lines. His war elephants would carry supplies, build bridges, and transport the sick and elderly over treacherous mountain terrain. Now well versed in the ways of the jungle, an older, wiser Williams even added to his stable by smuggling more elephants out of Japanese-held territory. As the occupying authorities put a price on his head, Williams and his elephants faced his most perilous test. In a Hollywood-worthy climax, Elephant Company, cornered by the enemy, attempted a desperate escape: a risky trek over the mountainous border to India, with a bedraggled group of refugees in tow. Elephant Bill’s exploits would earn him top military honors and the praise of famed Field Marshal Sir William Slim.

Story Ideas

Where did the idea for the story come from?

I haven’t a clue where Quincy’s story came from. I think story ideas float around the universe, sometimes landing in people’s heads. Quincy’s story landed in mine.

Do you play the piano?

I began piano lessons at the age of ten. I wanted, in the worst way, to be a concert pianist. Like Quincy, I lacked the support. I also  lacked the talent. I endowed Quincy with my own wishes, although now I can’t even imagine living the life of a concert pianist. Too many hotels and late nights!

Is the story autobiographical in other ways?

Not really. I grew up in South Georgia in the same era as Quincy. Quincy’s parents weren’t mine. (With the exception that mine, like Quincy’s, didn’t support my interest in music.) I knew several people like Aunt Mildred, I’m sorry to say.