Saturday, May 30, 2020

Secret Book Stashes by E. B. Davis

When I read too much of any genre, I must counteract it with another genre. I usually read mystery, but then, every fourth book or so, I have to read chick lit, like Mary Kay Andrews, or romance, like Richard Amooi. Similarly, if I read too much of any mystery subgenre, I switch to another.

When paranormal mystery first became a subgenre, the focus was on the dark side, vampires and shapeshifters, popularized in 2001 by Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse series and again in 2010 by Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles. Although I liked paranormal, I was stymied because the term became synonymous with the darker side of fantasy, vampire and shape-shifter
sex/violence. I started using the term spirit fiction because I liked ghost and angel stories. But that was never an accepted term.

In the past few years, some enlightened publishers have established the subgenre of paranormal cozy mystery, which encompasses most of the ghost, angel, witch, and yes, even vampire stories, those lacking the bloody gristle epitomized in the paranormal mystery subgenre. Thank goodness! I’ve fallen in love with these books, in fact, they comprise most of my TBR pile, but I view them like secret stash of pornography and am thankful that on Kindle no one can see the covers.  
Why the secret? They are fluffy. They’re entertaining. They are fantasy. There may be a heaven and hell, but good is always stronger than evil—without question. They don’t make Oprah’s lists. They aren’t erudite books you’d discuss at a book club. They might win a Lefty, but other than that, few win awards or make the bestseller list. Although there are discussions of social issues, questions of morality, and the searches for justice, the subgenre is not serious literature or fact-based mystery full of legal acumen, medical knowledge, and police procedure. The authors need only use their imagination without having advanced degrees in any academic subject. There are life-threatening suspenseful moments, but a child isn’t missing or a serial killer usually isn’t on the loose. Some would argue this subgenre is a waste of time. To them, I say—go read the NY Times bestsellers.  

Here are some of the subgenres of paranormal cozy mysteries:

In ghost stories, the series starts when the main character discovers her/his newly found talent of being able to communicate to ghosts. A move to a new residence or business building in which the ghost resides, precipitates the main character’s sixth-sense perception. The ghost needs the MC’s help to solve his death and get to the other side. Except for Jana DeLeon’s Ghost -In-Law series in which the MC’s mother-in-law decides to haunt her daughter-in-law because she likes it, and subsequently her desire results in subsequent books. The usual commonality in ghost stories is that ghosts are unreliable.

In angel series, like Mignon Ballard’s Angel series, the spiritual heavy hitters from above lend an angel to help those in need of help or justice.  Mary Stanton’
s Defending Angel series is a bit darker, but we know that the main character, who is a spirit defense lawyer, will prove the true guilty party and exonerate the innocent spirit enabling the journey to heaven.  

Then there are the unique situations—Ellery Adams presents two situations. In the first,
a bookseller has the rare ability to match readers to books, those needed to
help and comfort, while the Book Society tries to solve the problem. In the second, a pie maker helps solve crimes and comforts the pie-eating public with her charmed pies. In Sofie Kelly’s Cat series, her magical cats help the main character solve murders.
In the Witch category of cozy paranormal, there are commonalities, which I suppose are part of the rules that readers have come to expect.
The first is the great relocation, which usually involves getting an inheritance from an older relative and/or running from a bad relationship, killing two birds with one stone—a safe harbor even if there are surprises and uncertainties on the way. The second is the main characters have no idea of their witchy powers. Raised as normals (humans), they experience, at first, disbelief, but after (third) meeting their familiars (often black cats) who encourage them to embrace their heritage, they move onto acceptance. And fourth, learning how to be witches, which often is via trial and error with either scary or funny results, but (fifth) they also learn their powers are strong and can give the local coven hierarchy a shakeup. They are
formula books, but then many are, and like most books, it’s the characters and the author’s writing skill that make them good reads.  

I wish I wasn’t so attracted by these books, but I am. They are fantasies in which the main character, like Spiderman or Superman, have an extra talent. The mysteries solved can compete with any other in the mystery genre, but with the added security of knowing the main character can protect herself. But then, because of that extra talent, the adversary can be equally devious.  

Do you have a secret book stash? Are they your go-to books during trouble or when reality just needs to take a backseat?


KM Rockwood said...

Although there have been a few times when I've discovered an author and eagerly indulged in everything I could get my hands on (Dick Francis comes to mind,) I agree with you that it's more satisfying to read a variety of styles.

I do seem to remember reading some of Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles as far back as the 1970's.

Kait said...

I will also veg out with a good cozy paranormal - two that come to mind are E.J. Copperman's Haunted Guesthouse series and Maggie Toussaint's Dreamwalker series. I remember reading Anne Rice's books in the 1970s, but that seems to have satisfied my need for vampires.

My guilty pleasure tends more toward true crime novels. The grittiness seems to be a savory to my usual addiction to cozy novels.

carla said...

Guilty pleasure reading is the best! Since this pandemic began, I've needed more and more of it. I wonder why ---

E. B. Davis said...

Fantasy is fun stuff, like eating fudge that doesn't have calories! I'm also an Alice Hoffman fan.

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

I read a stack of library books in May, including Hilary Davidson's Don't Look Down, which used different POV to great effect. And Laura Lippman's Lady in the Lake, which has many POV, all coherent, evoking a full stage of characters.