Shannon Dittemore


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I’m rereading Tasha Alexander’s Lady Emily books and am, again, utterly inspired.

Tasha’s books–being mysteries–are ripe with deception, greed, anarchy, and murder. But really, truly, the magic of her writing lies with the delicious cast of characters and their vibrant settings.

Having never traveled abroad, I take Alexander at her word, and today have determined that the suburbs of Sacramento desperately need the café culture. The third book, “A Fatal Waltz,” takes place, primarily, in Vienna. It’s here that Lady Emily is, for the first time, introduced to “centers for culture unlike any others to which (she’d) been exposed.” She tells the reader of the artists and playwrights who’ve carved out near-residences in the cafés. Of the academics arguing there. Of the poets thinking and writing.

Coffee, hot chocolate, billiard tables, books!

Intellectual conversation.

Artistic debate.

Hot chocolate!

I deviate.

But tell me: Doesn’t the idea of being surrounded by creative souls–discussing, debating art and academia while sipping a hot beverage–sound appealing? Doesn’t it sound like something we could use more of? Having spent a handful of years in Portland, Oregon, I can honestly say this is something they are much better at. There are cafés every few blocks, jammed with an eclectic group of individuals writing, drawing, chatting. But, here, in the beautiful suburbs of Sacramento, we are seriously lacking.

It’s not that we need just another coffee house. While there aren’t nearly as many of them here as the Northwest can claim, we have a sufficient number of corporate coffee shops. What we need are eclectic souls to fill them. Creatures who are willing to open their mouths and have discussions with others. Folks who are willing to see beyond the screens of their laptops and iPhones. We should be a community that fosters creativity and the exchange of ideas in public places.

“Why?” you ask.


Because creativity draws people together. You and I may not agree about Obama or off-shore drilling. We may not share core values or lifetime goals. But to be truly and honestly creative, our guts must come spilling out of us, and when they do, they often land on those nearby. I don’t know if you’ve tried, but it’s quite hard to hate a soul whose guts lay at your feet.

Because art brings a soulful kind of unity. Discussion and debate force us to consider the views of others. To grow. To fight back with creative measures of our own.

Because our children need parents who are thinkers, who see the world with optimistic eyes.

Because sitting across from new friends, discussing ideas and sipping hot chocolate, sounds like a fabulous way to spend a Saturday.

And, because if you’re Lady Emily, cafés can be instrumental in the business of mystery solving. 🙂

If you haven’t opened any of Tasha Alexander’s books, you simply must give them a read. Her website is my August “Site of the Month,” and this is the perfect time to delve into her world. The newest addition to the Lady Emily series, “Dangerous to Know,” comes out October 26th and I’m giddy with anticipation.

Join me, will you? Hit a café. Grab a Lady Emily mystery, some hot chocolate, and chat up the gal occupying the next table at your local Starbucks. It’s a far cry from the café culture Alexander describes, but we’ve gotta start somewhere.



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