For those of you who haven’t yet picked up on it, Jenny Wheeler. author of the Of Gold & Blood California mysteries, is also creator and host of the books podcast for passionate readers called The Joys of Binge Reading.
The aim of the show is to chat to authors in a similar frame to Jenny’s own, the army of writers working away in genre fiction – the entertaining books the critics sometimes treat lightly, but readers love to escape into, especially in dark times like much of the planet has endured in this Covid season.
Speaking in the first person, I love to talk to the authors of mystery, thriller, historical and romance fiction, and many of the authors I interview write in series. That’s so readers who want to discover new favorites can be assured if they invest the time in reading an author there will be more than one book to repay their interest. Time is so precious for all of us these days, in more ways than one!
2020’s Most Popular Downloads
Choosing the “best” from the authors I’ve talked to would be impossible. It’s true – it’s like your children – I honestly love them all and feel I’ve learnt something valuable from every one. So when considering a “Year In Review” episode I realized the only way was to select entirely on the basis of the episodes that drew the biggest audience.
The ones my listeners chose to listen to. It doesn’t necessarily mean they are any more interesting than the 150 others that are there – yes there are now more than 150 episodes recorded. But these are the ones you, the audience, chose with your ears.
Martin Walker, former diplomatic correspondent for top UK papers, and now author of the Bruno Police Chief mystery series set in Perigord France, came up with a healthy lead on the others, perhaps partly because of his strong following in Germany, where he was on another book tour when the German Government closed things down because of the pandemic.
Our interview on the Joys of Binge Reading covers not just his Bruno work, but also his former career in Gorbachev’s Moscow, Thatcher’s England and Clinton’s Washington. His Bruno website also gives details of the award-winning cookbooks he does with his wife Julie. And yes, the Bruno series features food – Bruno is an enthusiastic cook.
Chuck Greaves & Dwight Holing
Chuck Greaves also writes literary fiction that is winning him notice and awards, and we talk about some of those books as well in the podcast, but the mystery series that fits the Binge Reading audience was his incorrigible hero Jack, a lad from the wrong side of the tracks making a career in LA law through sometime unorthodox methods.
Chuck had a lively career as an LA lawyer himself before he decided there was more to life and turned to writing, so as he confesses in the podcast, Jack is his fantasy self come to life – and the readers, listeners and critics loved him.
Chuck’s Books website: https://chuckgreaves.com/
Dwight Holing’s Nick Drake character, the main man in his series set in the mountains of Oregon tackles deep, painful and soul searching issues about the way our society has treated returning soldiers from modern wars. In Nick’s case, he’s a decorated soldier in a war without rules. He blames himself for the death of all the men in his squad and their deaths led him to become an addict, where he wound up being held at Walter Reed Hospital for treatment of what is now called PTSD. He retreats into nature to heal and regenerate, but the bad guys keep finding him.
Dwight Holing’s books: http://dwightholing.com/
Anne Hillermann has a story like no other. She came into writing fiction by taking over her father Tony Hillermann’s much loved Joe Leaphorn Navajo mystery series after her dad’s death.
Stepping into a legend’s shoes
She’s now five books into her own take on Joe and Spider Woman and every one of them has been a New York Times best seller so her fans obviously approve. Anne weaves plenty of Navajo history into her stories, fully understanding that the way things are today is heavily influenced by what has gone before.
Anne Hillermann’s books: https://annehillerman.com/
S.W. Hubbard’s mystery series focused in small town US – either the Adirondacks or estate sales in Florida are twisty, edgy mysteries that will keep you up all night reading.
S.W. Hubbard’s books can be found at: https://swhubbard.net/
Thriller writers you tuned into
Australian Michael Robotham and Kiwi Ian Austin both proved popular thriller writers, with books that were very different in style. Michael’s latest series, focusing on Evie Cormack and psychologist Cyrus Haven, proves once again he’s a master at the chilling international thriller. Ian Austen’s series is about an undercover policeman is no hero.
Michael had a stellar career as an international journalist before he dove into fiction and his thrillers are consistently in the Top Ten Lists.
Ian Austin’s under-cover cop Dan Calder is a man with a tendency for trouble – either creating it or falling into it… and he’s the protagonist in a crime series that’s been favorably compared to international names like John Grisham and Ian Rankin. The fact that Ian Austin had a long career in the police force before he turned to writing guarantees he knows his subject.
WW II ‘historicals’ still popular
Stephanie Barron’s That Churchill Woman presented a fictionalized portrait of Winston Churchill’s mother Jennie Randolph Churchill, and the notoriety she attracted as a beautiful and powerful American in British society in the early 20th century.
Stephanie Barron’s Books: https://francinemathews.com/
Christine Wells and Natasha Lester both focus on the role women spies played during the First and Second World Wars. Christine’s books The Juliet Code – which engaged with the codes used by British Secret Services – and The Traitor’s Girl – which deals with the collateral damage of spying after the War ended – are both heavily steeped in accurate historical research.
Christine Wells’ Books: https://christine-wells.com/
Natasha Lester’s The Paris Secret features the role fashion designer Christian Dior’s sister Catherine played in the French Resistance as a second story line.
Natasha Lester’s Books: https://www.natashalester.com.au/
Revisiting Hollywood stardom
Kate Alcott and Melanie Benjamin went back to examine Hollywood history and reveal a lot of unknown stories about famous stars. Kate Alcott’s A Touch of Stardust was located on the Gone With the Wind set and examined the relationship between the stars who played Rhett Butler and Scarlett – Clark Gable and Carole Lombard.
In The Hollywood Daughter she tackled Ingrid Bergman’s fall from grace as a purity icon in America after her extra marital affair with Italian director Roberto Rossellini became public. Kate was married to Frank Mankiewicz, the nephew of famed Hollywood producer Joe Mankiewicz, and had some inside stories from the silver screen for her novels.
Kate Alcott’s Books: http://www.katealcott.com/
Two powerful women in Hollywood
Melanie Benjamin’s Hollywood story centered on two famous women in film’s pioneering days. The Girls In The Picture was about the collaboration between “child” star Mary Pickford and screen writer Frances Marion, the only woman ever to win two Oscars for screen plays. At one time they were the most powerful directors and studio heads in Hollywood.
Melanie Benjamin’s Website: https://melaniebenjamin.com/
Deborah Challinor, the final writer to be mentioned in the historical section, took an entirely different tack in The Jacaranda House, a story of an exotic dancer in the Sydney nightclub scene of the 1960s. Deborah has a slew of historical novels telling women’s stories in New Zealand and Australian nineteenth century as well.
Deborah Challinor’s Website: http://www.deborahchallinor.com/
Emotional family stories
In Meet Me in Venice a recent widow decides it would be a wonderful healing thing for the family to all go back to her deceased husband’s home in Italy and meet his Italian family. And as you can imagine, the trip did not quite turn out as she’d anticipated.
Nicky Pellegrino is known for her breezy novels – nearly a dozen of them – featuring sunshine, food, Italy and romance, but her most recent book, Tiny Pieces of Us, takes a darker theme. Nicky was talking right at the start of the pandemic and had some interesting observations to make on how it was affecting her world view.
Romance at last – old and new
Bronwyn Sell’s contemporary romcom is set in the Whitsundays in a tourism resort – where naturally the guests fly in and out daily. so what happens when a global pandemic strikes? That, of course, was the last thing on Bronwyn’s mind when she wrote Lovestruck.
Bronwyn Sell’s website: https://www.bronwynsell.com/
Lucinda Brant fell in love with the eighteenth century as a girl, and she’s written a string of Roxton family romances set in that era since.
And the impossibly romantic story behind the gorgeous first book in the series, Midnight Marriage – about the midnight marriage that founded a dynasty – is essentially true. Listen to the podcast to find out more!
Lucinda Brant’s Books: https://www.lucindabrant.com/
These are the “most listened” to episodes this year – but there are 150 authors on The Joys of Binge Reading – and they’re all fantastic.. Dig into the back episodes and give yourself a treat!
And wishing you a very Happy New Year – for 2021.. We’ve already got some great interviews planned, starting February 1.