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If You Like Julia Spencer-Fleming . . . Hosted by...

We are starting a new series called “If You Like” which will be hosted by various readers, authors and bloggers of Dear Author. The purpose of the post and the comments is to explore what we like about a particular iconic author and what other authors have books like the iconic author. Val Kovalin who writes about fantasy fiction at ValKovalin.com and m/m fiction at Obsidian Bookshelf is hosting this If You Like entry on Julia Spencer Fleming.

Julia Spencer-Fleming’s latest release, I Shall Not Want, is the 6th book in her Clare Fergusson / Russ Van Alstyne mystery series.

If you would like to host an “If You Like” post, please email me at Jane at dearauthor.com

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If you like Julia Spencer-Fleming -

Julia Spencer-Fleming writes the Clare Fergusson / Russ Van Alstyne mystery series, which has strong crossover appeal to fans of romance and romantic suspense. To see why, please read on and rest assured that I don’t include any plot-spoilers.

book review I first ran across this series when I checked a list of mystery award-winners for reading suggestions. In the Bleak Midwinter won both an Agatha Award and a Dilys Award. The Agatha is for best cozy-mystery, a category that involves an amateur sleuth. The Dilys is given by independent bookstores to their favorite mystery. When I found out the heroine is an Episcopal priest, I had to read the books. I love characters who hold unusual jobs.

Now I’ve read all six books, and await the seventh. Here are my three favorites:

1. All Mortal Flesh (Book 5). Police procedural details, suspense, workplace politics, and huge changes in the characters’ lives. It doesn’t get much better than this.

2. In the Bleak Midwinter (Book 1). A very close second. This complex mystery keeps you guessing. Plus it’s a treat seeing the hero and heroine meet and experience the first glimmerings of their mutual attraction.

3. To Darkness and to Death (Book 4). Some readers lament that the increase in minor-characters’ viewpoints results in less interaction between hero and heroine. I find the story fast-moving and the multiple plotlines intriguing.

Setting (era): Contemporary

This is the modern world filled with rapid change, loneliness, and random violence.

Setting (geographic): Small New England town

Millers Kill is a fictional location in New York state. The name derives from the Dutch settlers: “kill” means river. It’s a place of harsh lingering winters, rural Yankee accents, and conservative morals. Saint Alban’s is one of the four churches in town, and the chief of police supervises eight cops plus a dispatcher.

Heroine type: Impulsive and Idealistic

Clare Fergusson is the thirtyish heroine, an Episcopal priest newly assigned to Millers Kill. Just so you know: in ritual and appearance, an Episcopal service preserves much of the beauty of a Catholic mass. The Episcopal Church itself is so liberal that it accepts female priests and gay priests and no longer requires the vow of celibacy.

book review However, Clare’s specific diocese is conservative. In A Fountain Filled with Blood she gets in trouble for performing a commitment ceremony for two gay men. Her ecclesiastical superiors want her to settle down as soon as possible with a respectable husband and children. As a new priest, she still questions her vocation. Previously, she flew helicopters as an army captain during Desert Storm.

She’s impulsive, idealistic, compassionate, and action-oriented. An adrenaline junkie, she loves dangerous situations and fast sports cars. Her keen intelligence comes from her advanced education, her profession which emphasizes rational and metaphoric thought, and her tendency towards flashes of insight. She’s not movie-star beautiful but striking like a vibrant character-actress. Here is the hero’s first impression of her from page 3 of In the Bleak Midwinter:

“She was plain, no makeup and nondescript dark blond hair scarped back in a ponytail. She had that overbred look he associated with rich women from the north side of town: high cheekbones and a long thin nose that was perfect for looking down at folks – Her eyes were the only exceptional thing about her, true hazel, like granite seen under green water.”

Hero type: Rugged and Reserved

Russ Van Alstyne is the fiftyish hero and the town’s chief of police. Like Clare, he is an army combat veteran; he served with the military police. Sometimes he and Clare become conscious of their age-difference: for example, she realizes that she was a little kid back when he was an eighteen year-old soldier in Vietnam.

He is rugged, reserved, taciturn, shrewd, cynical, blunt, and a little pessimistic. A recovering alcoholic, he has settled down to a quiet life in his old home town. He enjoys wood-working and home repair and loves his gorgeous wife Linda.

book review With Linda, he experiences that rough patch in a marriage when two people start growing apart but can still rekindle their love. He’s a cop who handles the grim realities of his profession by keeping everything to himself. Linda is an entrepreneur struggling with the time-consuming responsibilities of her custom-curtain business. Needing a sympathetic ear, Russ begins confiding in Clare. She reciprocates because he’s her first friend in town. Emotional intimacy ensues.

We glimpse Russ through action or others’ brief impressions. He fiddles with his glasses. Clare first notices his height (well over six feet tall) and big hands. The vivacious church-secretary Lois remarks on page 84 of In the Bleak Midwinter:

“He’s really quite attractive, don’t you think? – All that tousled hair and those sexy lines at the corners of his eyes.”

Later, Clare adds on page 161 of In the Bleak Midwinter:

“He had a fit, outdoors look to him, still slightly tan from last summer, his dark brown hair picked out with gold and copper. She’d have to disagree with Lois, his nose was too big and his lips were too nonexistent to call him handsome. But he looked like a man who had lived comfortably within his skin for the past forty-odd years – His eyes were Fourth-of-July blue, high and bright with the snap of a flag in the wind. But behind them she could see something moving, like pages turning in a book no one was allowed to read.”

Plot: (action-oriented / character-driven): Both

The books are action-oriented mysteries. A crime happens, which tests the hero and heroine through its aftermath and solving. Russ, of course, is the chief of police. But Clare gets believably involved: as a priest, she must comfort and guide the victims. The action-oriented plots are as follows:

Book 1 – In the Bleak Midwinter: Someone abandons a baby on the doorstep of Clare’s church. This opens a police investigation and then leads to a murder.

Book 2 – A Fountain Filled with Blood: Hate-crimes lead to the murder of a gay man. A controversial building project threatens to divide the town.

Book 3 – Out of the Deep I Cry: A hated doctor disappears under sinister circumstances that may connect to a decades-old secret tragedy.

Book 4 – To Darkness and to Death: In a single day, the town mobilizes all resources to find the missing sister of a reclusive rich man.

Book 5 – All Mortal Flesh: When someone close to Russ gets murdered, he is the prime suspect. Meanwhile, he and Clare each get micro-managed by suspicious superiors.

Book 6 – I Shall Not Want: A serial killer may be preying on undocumented migrant workers.

book review The series arc is character-driven. What ties the books together is the evolving relationship between hero and heroine. Clare and Russ find that they are soul mates. But they can’t just get rid of his wife or have an affair. Each would rather rip out his own heart than selfishly pursue what he wants at the cost of wrecking other people’s lives. Russ still loves his wife, but he’s coming to love Clare even more. Clare’s ecclesiastical superiors may force her to choose between the priesthood and Russ.

Plot (slow/fast): Fast.

Especially To Darkness and to Death, which happens during a single day.

Writing style (simple v. ornate): Simple

The simple writing style compliments the close third-person viewpoint. Clare is straightforward as is Russ; the minor characters are all unpretentious Yankees not given to excessive metaphor.

By contrast, the plotting is daring and ornate. The author doesn’t always serve up the same type of book. In the Bleak Midwinter is a classic mystery, offering a whodunit puzzle. Out of the Deep I Cry experiments with parallel plots separated in time. To Darkness and Death manages to streamline many plot-threads and viewpoints into action that spans a single day. All Mortal Flesh unfolds with the gritty realism of a police procedural.

book review Dialogue (lots v. little): Medium

We get enough for our leads to question the witnesses and gather the information they need to solve the crimes. Meanwhile Clare and Russ tell each other secrets, including the truth about his involvement in the Vietnam War. Minor characters such as insecure teenagers, feisty dispatchers, and cranky sextons establish their personalities with well-chosen expressions. We readers learn about the Episcopal Church and get some laughs as Clare struggles with the mismatched members of the vestry board to decide church policy. Much of the books’ humor comes from dialogue.

Humor (Yes/No-serious/some): Some

The emotional angst precludes too much comedy. But we get flashes of wry humor. Much of it centers on people’s different ways of seeing things. To Russ’s weary amusement, Clare expresses a wide-eyed fascination with police work and cop-show phrases such as “legwork.” The conservative members of Clare’s congregation gawk at the military memorabilia in her office, including a coffee mug printed with the logo “Death from the Sky!” The crusty sexton, unfamiliar with female priests, addresses Clare as “Father.”

Clare and Russ enjoy verbal sparring with worthy opponents like the unflappable dispatcher, Harlene. The snappy dialogue reaches inspired heights whenever Clare’s intermittent suitor Hugh Parteger arrives. A charming British investor, he LOATHES Russ. It’s entirely mutual – as their verbal dueling confirms.

book review Emotional Angst (high/medium/low): High

Tremendous emotional angst: Forbidden love! Guilt! His alcoholism. Her grief over her long-dead sister. His harrowing experiences in the Vietnam War. Her uncertainty about her vocation. And more that I must keep secret to avoid plot-spoilers.

Conflict (externally driven/internally driven/both): Both

The external conflict in each book is the crime to be solved. The internal conflict centers upon the forbidden love between hero and heroine.

Heat level: (kisses/warm/hot/scorching): Kisses to Warm

Books 1 through 5 sustain a high level of sexual tension but not much physical contact. Book 6 I Shall Not Want introduces another couple who have a brief, tasteful, yet lusty sex scene. Plus, it allows Russ and Clare two scenes of passionate kissing as on page 126 of I Shall Not Want:

“He dug his fingers into her hair and pulled her to him, kissing her, deep hungry kisses that tasted of chocolate and peppermint. She moaned in the back of her throat and wrestled her hands free from around his waist to twine them about his neck. He bumped against the kitchen table and bent her back, kissing her, kissing her, her mouth and her jaw and the pulse trip-hammering in her throat. He felt something huge and powerful racing through him, sparking every nerve end, blanking out everything in the world except Clare, the taste of her, the sound of her, panting and gasping , the feel of her, oh, God, better than anything he had ever fantasized, as he yanked open her pajama top and pushed it aside and touched her, touched her, touched her. She cried out, and he shut her mouth with more kisses, wet and dark -”

Other variables to consider:

Books are written in third-person viewpoint, past-tense. Violence is mild to medium. These are American books, but not excessively peppered with slang.

If you like Julia Spencer-Fleming, you’ll like -

Priests under pressure? Get The Wonder Worker by Susan Howatch. An impoverished Englishwoman comes between a charismatic Anglican priest and his wife. The priest, who has powerful psychic abilities, struggles with the temptation to control people. Part of the Starbridge series, it balances romance and suspense.

Quirky character-interaction? Try Still Life by Louise Penny. When a beloved amateur artist gets murdered in a tiny Canadian town, Inspector Gimache from the Sûreté du Québec investigates. A compassionate man, he must manage the competing agendas of his volatile subordinates, and deal with the local eccentrics (that would be everybody). Two standout characters are husband-and-wife artists whose individual insecurity is matched only by their love for one another. Later in the Inspector Gimache series, they experience intense jealousy of one another and succumb to manipulative behavior. Penny does a brilliant job with the tensions between people who can’t stand each other and yet have to work together.

Tough heroine from a military background? Read the Evan Delaney series by Meg Gardiner about a writer who lives in Santa Barbara, California. A former lawyer, Evan comes from a family of Navy fighter pilots, and has a complicated relationship with her boyfriend, another lawyer. The author, a former lawyer herself, provides convincing professional details. In China Lake, Evan’s nephew and brother get targeted by a fanatical religious cult. This is an outstanding mystery, and it even includes a steamy sex scene!

Unrequited or forbidden love? Try the Patrick Kenzie/Angela Gennaro mystery series by Dennis Lehane, but be warned: the violence is extreme. Patrick and Angela are terrific characters: tough, funny, sardonic, and smart. Childhood friends from working-class Boston, they become partners in a private investigation business. Our first-person narrator Patrick has always been hopelessly in love with Angela. In the first book, A Drink Before the War, she’s married to someone else. By the fourth book, the great Gone Baby Gone, Patrick and Angela get torn apart by their uncompromisingly opposing views on how to handle a case. I read the book in amazement, thinking, “My God, they’re both right!”

Readers, here is where I need help in the comments because I’m pathetically unfamiliar with romance titles. For someone who likes Julia Spencer-Fleming, what would you recommend?

Who would you recommend?

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

30 Comments

  1. Patty L.
    Sep 15, 2008 @ 08:45:59

    I have never read Julia Spencer-Fleming, so I don’t have any recommendations. The books that you referenced sound interesting and I will be looking them up on Amazon.

  2. Val Kovalin
    Sep 15, 2008 @ 09:02:59

    Hi, Patty, glad I could help. I think you’ll enjoy them.

    And thank you, Jane! This looks great, and I loved the opportunity to do this.

    Best,
    Val

  3. Bev Stephans
    Sep 15, 2008 @ 10:56:42

    I have heard so much about Julia Spencer-Fleming, that I recently purchased “In The Bleak Midwinter”. Since I haven’t read it yet, I won’t be able to offer similar authors or books. Your post was very interesting and informative.

  4. jenreads
    Sep 15, 2008 @ 11:59:32

    Dana Stabenow has a series set in Alaska featuring Kate Shugak. There is a large backlist of these dating to the early 90′s. I started reading several years ago in the middle of the series and now anxiously await each new entry, much like I await each new Spencer-Fleming.

  5. Janine
    Sep 15, 2008 @ 12:07:00

    Of Spencer-Fleming’s books, I’ve only read In the Bleak Midwinter so far. It did remind me of one book, One on One by Tabitha King. The similarities are limited, but I was reminded of One on One becasue it too takes place in small town in winter (though in Maine, not Upstate New York), and King, like Spencer-Fleming, really makes the reader feel the cold. In both books, you get to know a lot of the townspeople.

    There’s a very angsty romance in One on One, but it involves teenagers — an eighteen year old basketball jock who is very popular, compassionate, dyslexic, still a virgin, and comes from a working class family that has some problems but is basically a good home for him, and a sixteen year old girl, also a basketball jock, but not remotely popular, a punk, sarcastic, bright, sexually experienced, drug-using, and who comes from an abusive family and a broken home.

    I highly recommend the book but it’s really only similar to In the Bleak Mindwinter in the wintry small town setting and in the atmospheric aspect of the writing.

  6. handyhunter
    Sep 15, 2008 @ 13:31:14

    I second the rec for Dana Stabenow’s Kate Shugak series (and the Liam Campbell ones, which I think have finally been unstalled, since Stabenow found a publisher for book 5).

    The first Shugak book is called A Cold Day For Murder. They’re a little on the short side, the earlier books, though by no means do they skimp on the plot or character development or descriptions (Alaska is practically another character in the books), but I find they read fairly quickly. Kate Shugak is my #1 girlcrush. I love many things about her, including her complicated relationships with her family, her almost pathological need for independence, how good she is at her job (even when she doesn’t want to be), and that she doesn’t love easily, but when she does it’s fierce and woe to anyone who crosses her unwisely. The supporting cast is also wonderful, and provide Kate with a host of people who might be allies, enemies, people who want something from her, people to whom she owes favours and family she can’t ever escape.

    Here’s a list of the books
    . There’s a lot of them, but they all standalone, in that each book has a beginning, middle and end, though there are themes that carry on throughout the whole series. Kate in the most recent book is not quite the same Kate as in A Cold Day For Murder, but fundamentally, she’s still Kate, just maybe a little less broken.

    I also rec the movie of Gone Baby Gone. It’s awesome in that it’s more about the ambiguousness of right and wrong and people in general than it is about the murder/mystery case. I haven’t read the book yet, but I think the movie is worth watching.

  7. handyhunter
    Sep 15, 2008 @ 13:36:50

    Also, because I just watched it, the first season of Veronica Mars, which combines great plotting and character development within the mystery-of-the-week structure and the overall/season-long story arc. I love how previous elements were brought back to tie into the ending. It’s a brilliant, under-watched season. Would that more shows (and books) had this much attention to detail and love for their characters (and plot).

  8. Bev Stephans
    Sep 15, 2008 @ 13:53:25

    If Julia Spencer-Fleming is as good as Dana Stabenow, I’m in for a treat.

  9. handyhunter
    Sep 15, 2008 @ 13:59:55

    I, personally, like Stabenow’s overall writing more – a little less angst and more humour, without losing the emotional impact; I also like that the main romantic relationship doesn’t rely on a “will they/won’t they” type of UST because I’m so tired of that trope (long distance UST works fine for me, and so does exploring an established, committed, good, healthy relationship that’s not without its problems due to the characters being who they are and not due to plot contrivances) – and Kate Shugak as a character, but they’re both series worth reading, or trying out at least.

  10. Darlynne
    Sep 15, 2008 @ 14:01:02

    If I were standing in a crowd of people reading this topic at, say, a store front window, I would be hopping up and down, yelling at the top of my lungs, “Oh, yeah, Julia Spencer-Fleming, Louise Penny, Meg Gardiner, Dennis Lehane!” Val, you have mentioned four of my favorite authors, the ones whose books I would (jokingly) rescue from a burning house or, when I worked at the mystery bookstore, sell to everyone who walked into or crawled past the store. Character, character, character and, with Lehane, breath-taking darkness. Truly, when I read his “Darkness, Take My Hand,” I don’t remember drawing a breath, it was that good and disturbing.

    What a great column. Thank you!

  11. Val Kovalin
    Sep 15, 2008 @ 14:26:27

    Bless your hearts, ladies! * Thank you! * It’s great to get feedback from people passionate about their reading. Bev, I envy you because you’re in for a treat reading In the Bleak Midwinter for the first time. Janine, thank for reminding me about One on One. I saw it come out years ago and was curious about what type of writing Stephen King’s wife did; I’ll have to check this out, especially since I hear she’s not writing very much anymore.

    Jenreads and Handyhunter, that sounds like a great suggestion: the Stabenow books. I haven’t tried them, but if there’s anything I like reading about more than an unusual job, it’s an unusual setting. I’m going to go order the first book. And, Handyhunter, you said:

    I also rec the movie of Gone Baby Gone. It's awesome in that it's more about the ambiguousness of right and wrong and people in general than it is about the murder/mystery case. I haven't read the book yet, but I think the movie is worth watching.

    My situation is actually the reverse of yours: I haven’t seen the movie yet. But I plan to on your description. I’m so glad the film-makers kept that sense of moral ambiguousness. It’s a subtle thing, and I thought the film might have dropped it. I’m glad to hear it didn’t! Also, in regards to the UST in the Spencer-Fleming novels, I agree with you. The books can’t realistically keep this up forever (e.g., Evanovich’s love triangle with Stephanie Plum).

    And, Darlynne, wow, terrific! Our reading tastes must be right together. Lehane in particular just amazes me: he’s a genius. Have you tried Ken Bruen’s Jack Taylor mystery series? Amazing first-person voice: a highly-literate, self-hating, manic Irish addict (you name it) who happens to (sort of ) solve crimes. Or Arnaldur Indridason’s Reykjavik series? Stoic, depressed but quirky detective solves mysteries steeped in the history of Iceland. Great stuff! I think you’d like these books.

  12. Renee
    Sep 15, 2008 @ 14:29:05

    I love this series. I just finished All Mortal Flesh and am more than a little ambivalent to start I Shall Not Want, since that will catch me up in the series, and then I’ll have to wait for the next one to be published.

    Another series, this one brings to mind is Margaret Coel’s Fr. John and Vicky Holden series. Starting with The Eagle Catcher, the novels take place on the Arapaho Wind River Reservation. Vicky is an Arapaho lawyer, and Fr. John is the pastor of the St Francis mission. Like JS-F, Margaret Coel is able to vividly paint an interesting and unique location, people it with interesting and complex secondary characters, and develop an absorbing mystery. Also similar to Clare and Russ, Fr John and Vicky develop and increasingly complicated relationship over the series, and are very aware that their decisions on where they take their relationship has personal, professional, and spiritual repercussions.

    Thanks for the great post. I was so happy to see this series an “If you like…” topic!

  13. Jane
    Sep 15, 2008 @ 14:35:43

    Thanks Val for the great write up. If I wasn’t interested in Spencer-Fleming before, I would certainly be now. I also thought One on One was great and read it, I think, on Janine’s recommendation.

  14. Val Kovalin
    Sep 15, 2008 @ 14:42:17

    You’re very welcome, Jane. I had fun doing it!

    (Thanks also, Renee, for the Coel recommendation. I’d been kind of skimming past these books in the bookstore, thinking they were imitation-Hillerman, but you’ve got me interested now.)

  15. Darlynne
    Sep 15, 2008 @ 15:50:37

    Have you tried Ken Bruen's Jack Taylor mystery series?

    *strangled, joy-filled noises* Oh, man, I love me some Jack Taylor. Is there anyone more anguished, more troubled and, really, more heroic in a gut-wrenching way than Jack? When I first picked up the ARC of “The Guards,” I knew I’d hit on something–someone–extraordinary. Sheer poetry.

    I am going to have to read Indridason's series now. If you, my obviously misplaced-at-birth sister, recommend it in the same breath as Bruen, I am there.

  16. Val Kovalin
    Sep 15, 2008 @ 16:27:51

    *strangled, joy-filled noises* … If you, my obviously misplaced-at-birth sister, recommend it in the same breath as Bruen, I am there.

    Ha, ha, ha, Darlynne, that’s great! Jack is pretty unique. Sometimes I just have to shake my head at him and have to say: Jack, what are you thinking? I hope you’ll like the Indridason. It’s different (what could really be similar to the Jack Tayler series?), but definitely all about character.

    You might also like this great new Irish author Tana French: In the Woods and especially The Likeness.

  17. Val Kovalin
    Sep 15, 2008 @ 16:36:54

    A quote from Voices by Arnaldur Indridason, to illustrate the dead-pan humor. The hero Erlendur and his two junior cops arrive at a hotel in Reykjavik to view the crime scene where a man has been murdered. They find the flustered hotel manager at the stairs on page 6:

    “Is he up or down?” Erlendur asked.

    “Up or down?” the fat manager puffed. “Do you mean whether he’s gone to heaven?”

    “Yes,” Erlendur said. “That’s exactly what we need to know …”

    “Shall we take the lift upstairs?” Sigurdur Oli asked.

    “No,” the manager said, casting an irritated look at Erlendur. “He’s down here in the basement …”

  18. Keri M
    Sep 15, 2008 @ 19:19:08

    Arnaldur Indridason’s humor sounds like it is on par with JA Konrath. Jack’s really sarcastic, but so funny at the same time. Here is a link to one of his short stories, http://www.jakonrath.com/SchoolDaze.pdf now I will be the first to admit that Harry McGlade is a totally unlikable character, but having read all of Jack’s books to date I know that Harry has some redeeming qualities. They are just not readily apparent in this story…lol. Enjoy! Keri

  19. Michelle
    Sep 16, 2008 @ 15:10:48

    I’ve been thinking about starting this series since Janine’s review of the first book. I think you convinced me, Val. Thanks!

    How does this series compare to the Elizabeth George Inspector Linley books?

    A romance series that takes place in an upstate New York town is Marilyn Pappano’s Bantam single-title contemporary series set in (made up) Bethlehem, New York. Some had an extremely light paranormal element. Some had a decent level of angst. You may enjoy them.

    If you’d like to read an inspirational romance about a new, female minister, you may like Beth Pattillo’s Heavens to Betsy set in Nashville. (FYI – Beth is a friend of mine.) It won a Rita and had a chick lit feel.

    At the risk of being extremely obnoxious, this native New Englander feels the need to point out that New York is not part of New England – though it is similar.

  20. Val Kovalin
    Sep 16, 2008 @ 16:56:39

    Thanks, Keri! I’ve never tried Konrath, but if he’s got that deadpan humor, he’ll definitely go on my list.

  21. Val Kovalin
    Sep 16, 2008 @ 17:00:16

    At the risk of being extremely obnoxious, this native New Englander feels the need to point out that New York is not part of New England – though it is similar.

    Whoops! I did not know that, ha, ha! It’s not obnoxious at all – I’m glad you told me, Michelle. I had the idea that New York state and Maine and everything in between were all roughly the same region, and I’m calling them all Yankees. Shows what I know out here in western desert! :)

    As far as the Inspector Lynley books go, I’ve only read the first one so far, A Great Deliverance, which I thought was a masterpiece. While well-developed and appealing real, I don’t think Spencer-Fleming’s characters are quite THAT good – the portrayals of Lynley and Havers were phenomenal.

    In terms of the tone, there might be a similar level of angst and psychological underpinnings. Definitely the Spencer-Fleming books are character-driven like A Great Deliverance, while having a strong mystery plot.

    Thanks for Pattillo and Pappano recommendations – especially that they’re in the romance genre rather than the mystery genre. As a reader, and partly due to the influence of this site, I’m trying to put my toe in the water with romance fiction these days but it’s a huge genre, way bigger than mystery or fantasy: it’s hard to know where to start!

  22. Bev Stephans
    Sep 16, 2008 @ 17:59:18

    Val, since you would like to sample some of the romance genre, I would recommend the J.D. Robb “In Death” series. These are mysteries with an ongoing romance between Roarke and Eve Dallas. If you would like to try them, I suggest you start with the first one, “Naked In Death”. The characters develop as the series goes on, so it is better to read them in order. I’m sure that you know J.D. Robb is really Nora Roberts. I would recommend one of Nora’s books, but I really wouldn’t know where to start. There are too many that I’ve enjoyed. Maybe you should ask Jane or Jayne.

  23. Michelle
    Sep 16, 2008 @ 19:58:59

    I’m not the hugest mystery reader, but I loved Elizabeth George until a few books ago. I’m sad to hear that J S-F is not in that league, but I think I’ll still give her a try.

    I think Southerners would say anybody from the north (aka north of the mason-dixon line) is a yankee while abroad any american is a yank. Southerners can correct me. :)

    The six New England states are Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island.

    I think you may like the Nora Robert’s single titles – the ones that debut in hardcover and are her longest. They almost always have a mystery or suspense subplot.

  24. Val Kovalin
    Sep 16, 2008 @ 20:29:17

    Bev, the In Death series is a wonderful suggestion. I’ve already actually encountered them through the mystery field and have read a bunch of them, and they’re very entertaining. A lot more humor than I expected! Most of the dialogue is priceless. I also love how the books blend genres: SF, mystery, romance.

    Based on what you and Michelle have said, I’ll definitely look into those other Nora Roberts titles that are suspense-based.

    Michelle, I’m glad I had the “Yankee” thing right, ha, ha!

    But I hope I haven’t given you a “meh” impression about Spencer-Fleming when I say none of her books quite came together for me like A Great Deliverance. She’s really good, well-worth reading. Terrific series.

    It’s just that A Great Deliverance was almost perfect for me in characterization and plot. It set the bar about as high as it can get! :) I think you’d really enjoy the Spencer-Fleming books, and the Louise Penny books as well.

  25. Jennifer
    Sep 19, 2008 @ 10:45:54

    I’m so glad you introduced me to this writer! I breezed through the first book and am nearly done with the second. My suggestion of a read-a-like is based more on the mystery aspects and less on the romantic subtext. The first book and I think the second have a mystery based on the complex relationships that rule smalls towns and close knit communities. In the Bleak Midwinter reminded me a lot of Elizabeth George’s Lynley/Havers novels. Clearly set in a totally different place. Clearly Havers and Lynley have not romantic attachments to each other, but the crimes are solved by connecting relationships rather than fingerprints.

  26. Stacy
    Sep 25, 2008 @ 01:05:38

    I fell in love with this series when the first two books were being given away for free as a Kindle promo and now I’m *very* anxiously awaiting the next one. I have also been looking for books that are similar in style but what I love most about the books, along with the great characterizations, plot, etc. is how they are always getting into scrapes and (without spoiling the plots) having to rescue each other. I know I’m probably not doing a very good job of explaining what I’m looking for but if anyone has any ideas of books or series that would fit the bill I’d love to know.

    I have also read Dana Stabenow’s Kate Shugak series and they are a really fun read as well.

  27. If You Like Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel Series . . . hosted by Val Kovalin | Dear Author: Romance Book Reviews, Author Interviews, and Commentary
    Nov 03, 2008 @ 04:00:56

    [...] this If You Like entry on Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel series. Val Kavolin did a great piece on Julia Spencer Fleming, a favorite of author of [...]

  28. If You Like Jordan Castillo Price . . . Hosted by Val Kovalin | Dear Author: Romance Novel Reviews, Industry News, and Commentary
    Feb 09, 2009 @ 04:00:43

    [...] is hosting this If You Like entry on Jordan Castillo Price. Val Kavolin did a great piece on Julia Spencer Fleming, a favorite of author of [...]

  29. Ivy
    Feb 12, 2011 @ 06:35:13

    I haven’t read JSF but after the 2 posts on DA I think I’m going to have to. They sound amazing & that one kiss excerpt, good gravy…..
    I can barely keep up now but what the hay, better too much to read than too little.

  30. Julia Spencer Fleming on Infidelity: Adulterer. Cheater. Unfaithful. Home-wrecker. Other woman. | Dear Author
    Feb 27, 2011 @ 01:25:11

    [...] owned independent bookstore.You can read more about Julia Spencer-Fleming’s books in this 2008 guest post by Val Kovalin on Dear Author.   Let us know in the comments if you want a no risk exposure to JSF’s [...]

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