Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Long Man by Amy Greene

There are library customers who tell us they like our summer reading program because it challenges them to read books they wouldn't normally pick. I feel the same way about the book club I attend monthly. I never would have selected Amy Greene's Long Man, and I would have missed a beautifully written, evocative story.

In the summer of 1936, the Tennessee Valley Authority is getting ready to flood the Tennessee valley that was home to a small community. They had built a dam and bought out or moved most of the residents of Yuneetah. Even though her husband, James, has a job in Detroit where's he eager to make a better life for his small family, Annie Clyde Dodson is the sole holdout. She wants to pass the family land, as worn as it is, on to her daughter, Gracie. The TVA doesn't scare Annie Clyde. But, when three-year-old Gracie disappears one day, Annie Clyde is terrified.

And, she knows just who to blame when Sheriff Ellard Moody shows up. Amos, adopted son of the mountain midwife, Beulah, is a wanderer, a man who has traveled the country, working on roads, working on farms, stirring up trouble. Every time Amos returns to Yuneetah, there's trouble. And, Annie Clyde had found Amos in her corn field talking to Gracie before her daughter disappeared.

Greene doesn't introduce a large cast of characters, but each person is a strong individual in this powerful story of three frightening days in the life of a mother, father, and their small support network. Most of the people in Yuneetah have already moved on, and the sheriff feels the lack of townspeople who would care about the missing girl. Now, he just faces bureaucracy when he asks for help.

There are so many elements to this story of a lost community. The reader sees that the struggle for survival during the Depression and the years of flood have aged so many people before their time. Annie Clyde's aunt, Silver, a mountain woman, appears much older than her forty-four years, as does Amos. It was a tough time and a life that killed people early, as Greene shows in her stories of Annie Clyde and James' families.

Amy Greene's Long Man is the story of the river, so-called Long Man by the Cherokee. It's the story of lives the river took, the lives that depended on it, and one last story of the struggle to stay in a community built on the banks of the river.

The book may be a little more descriptive than I normally care to read. But, Greene's book is a powerful story of desperate lives, and the changes forced on one unwilling community, as shown through the life of one family.

Amy Greene's website is www.amygreeneauthor.com

Long Man by Amy Greene. Gale Cengage Learning. 2014. ISBN 9781410468420 (hardcover, LT), 451p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Monday, February 08, 2016

Be Frank with Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson

Julia Claiborne Johnson introduces an unusual cast of characters in her debut novel, Be Frank with Me. It's a group so odd that they could only survive in the monied world of Hollywood. But, their eccentricities are the reasons for their charm.

When Mr. Vargas, Alice Whitley's boss at the publishing company, asks her to assist one of the authors, she has no idea what it would entail. M.M. Banning is a literary recluse, a woman whose debut novel, Pitched, was a literary sensation. She was only nineteen when she wrote the book that went on to win the Pulitzer, the National Book Award, and an award-winning movie. She married and divorced the gorgeous actor who starred in Pitched. And, she never published another word.

Now, thirty years later, M.M. Banning is in desperate need of money, swindled of everything by her financial advisor. So, she needs to write another book, and Alice heads to LA to ensure she'll turn in the manuscript. But, upon arrival, she meets Mimi's son, Frank, a fourth grader who lives in his own world, dresses like Noel Coward, is a devotee of film, can reel off historical and film facts, but cannot survive in fourth grade. There are only two rules in the Banning household. No touching Frank's things. No touching Frank.

Alice, a take-charge person who made her own way in the world, has a difficult time adjusting to the Banning household. But, she grows to love Frank, fears for his safety and his future, and does everything she can to smooth his way. But, as accidents happen, and trips to the hospital become common, Alice isn't so sure that anyone can survive the household and Frank. With all her time devoted to him, and Mimi's insistence on privacy, she has no idea whether the promised book is moving along. Alice has a lot of questions. What is Mimi writing? Who is the mysterious Xander who Frank idolizes? Could he possibly be the boy's father?

Frank is the most charming character in Johnson's debut. The reader is always wondering what outfit he'll wear next or where his next adventure will take him. Although I found myself wondering if he was a savant, Mr. Vargas actually has the last word on the subject. "He's an odd duck, but brilliant children often are. It may take him a while, but someday he'll figure out how to live in the world of ordinary mortals."

Frank is the linchpin for the entire story. All of the action happens because of his actions in this novel in which, actually, very little happens, but much is revealed. Be Frank with Me is a leisurely paced story of a boy and the household that revolves around him. It's the kind of story that leaves the reader wondering. Is the book every published? Does it succeed? What happens to Frank in the real world? Johnson leaves the reader with as many questions as answers in a book that offers just a year in one unusual family's life as seen through the eyes of an outsider.

Be Frank with Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson. William Morrow. 2016. ISBN 9780062413710 (hardcover), 304p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I was sent a copy of the book to participate in the TLC Book Tour.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Mixed Up with Murder by Susan C. Shea

It could be mixed up with art, or mixed up with academia. Susan C. Shea's Dani O'Rourke is mixed up with a world that combines both in her latest mystery, Mixed Up with Murder.

Dani, the chief fundraiser for Devor Museum of Art & Antiquities in San Francisco, is flattered when a board member asks her to serve as a consultant for Lynthorpe College in Massachusetts. He's worried about a large gift, and wants her to ensure that the college can accept it without legal hiccups. Vincent Margoletti, a graduate, has offered his alma mater twenty million dollars, and the bulk of his contemporary art collection. What could be wrong with it?

What if no one at Lynthorpe is enthusiastic about Dani's work except for a researcher? What if a vice-president dies suddenly on the golf course? What if Dani is uncomfortable while she searches for discrepancies in two sets of records? It isn't long before a simple consultancy turns into a case in which, once again, Dani is mixed up with murder.

Tension rises as Dani digs herself deeper into the world, only to find assistance from two unexpected sources, her ex-husband, Dickie, and her boyfriend, Charlie, a San Francisco homicide investigator. They were the only ones she could really trust, two outsiders, but she's determined to step up and save herself by finding answers.

And, that's where I have a problem with Dani's actions. She takes too many risks, feeling she can't rely on the local police to find answers. And, I'm not the only one who feels Dani takes too many risks. She jeopardizes her relationships when others feel the same way, and she even admits she is sometimes too impulsive and quick to act.

Mixed Up with Murder is a plot-driven mystery, one that skillfully combines the world of art research and the politics of the academic world. Shea's mystery is for those readers who appreciate rising tension propelled forward by the actions in the plot. And, those who enjoy mysteries set in the world of academia will appreciate the college setting, although perhaps wishing for a little more campus politics. Susan C. Shea brings together art and academia to thrust her character into a setting in which she's, once again, Mixed Up with Murder.

Susan C. Shea's website is www.SusanCShea.com

Mixed Up with Murder by Susan C. Shea. Reputation Books. 2016. ISBN 9780986203138 (paperback), 313p.

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Tortitude by Ingrid King

I've never owned a tortoiseshell cat, but any cat lover will appreciate the comments, quotes, and gorgeous photos in Ingrid King's new book, Tortitude: The BIG Book of Cats with a BIG Attitude.

King has owned five torties, and it's obvious she loves them. She shares the stories of her cats, including the office cat, Virginia, the tortoiseshell who adopted King when she became office manager at an animal hospital. Virginia shredded King's nylons to show her love, introducing King to typical behavior for torties. Named for their coloring, because many breeds can contain torties, the cats have what she calls tortitude, tortoiseshell attitude.

Torties "tend to be strong-willed, a bit hot-tempered, and they can be very possessive of their human". They're fiercely independent, feisty, unpredictable, and spunky. Those attributes combine to make up "tortitude".

While King discusses tortitude and facts about tortoiseshell cats, it's the third section of the book, "Quotable Torties", that is for all cat lovers. There are seventy-three photos of tortoiseshell cats from around the world, and beneath each picture is a quote about cats. Who can resist the comment from the late Terry Pratchett? "In ancient times cats were worshipped as gods; they have not forgotten this." Or, every cat lover understands George Mikes' statement. "You can keep a dog; but it is the cat who keeps people, because cats find humans useful domestic animals."

Ingrid King's book is informative, interesting, and, most of all, charming. Even if you don't own a tortoiseshell cat, if you love cats, you'll appreciate them just a little more after reading Tortitude.

Ingrid King's website is www.Consciouscat.com

Tortitude: The BIG Book of Cats with a BIG Attitude by Ingrid King. Mango Media Inc. 2016. ISBN 9781633532939 (hardcover), 115p.

FTC Full Disclosure - The author sent me a copy of the book, hoping I would review it.

Friday, February 05, 2016

Winners and Winter Mysteries Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the last contest. Paige Shelton's If Onions Could Spring Leeks will go to Pauline B. from Rochester, MI. Sandy G. of North Plainfield, NJ won Fran Stewart's A Wee Dose of Death. The books will go out in the mail today.

This week, I'm giving away two mysteries set in winter. Ann Cleeves' Harbour Street is a Vera Stanhope mystery. Inspector Joe Ashworth and his daughter are on a train during the Christmas season. When the train is stalled due to snow, one passenger remains on board, a dead woman. DI Vera Stanhope is pleased to have a case to break up the season. But, when another woman is found dead, Vera suspects the residents of one small neighborhood know more than they're telling.

Maurizio de Giovanni's I Will Have Vengeance: The Winter of Commissario Ricciardi was a finalist for the Crime Writers Association International Dagger Award. Set in Naples, Italy in 1931, under Mussolini, it introduces Ricciardi, a man who has visions. He sees the dead, murder victims, in the last seconds of their lives. But, when the world's greatest tenor is brutally murdered, Ricciardi is a little disturbed. His last seconds seem odd. With the help of an unusual witness, the quiet investigator enters the world of theater to find a killer.

Which winter mystery would you like to win? You can enter to win both, but I need separate entries. Email me at Lesa.Holstine@gmail.com. Your subject heading should read either "Win Harbour Street" or "Win I Will Have Vengeance." Please include your name and mailing address. The giveaway will end Thursday, Feb. 11 at 6 PM CT. Entries from the U.S. only, please.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

What are you reading?

When I finish one book over 200 pages at 8 PM one night, I hardly have time to get through a 300 page book the next day. Only on the weekends. So, I'm only 1/4 of the way through Susan C. Shea's latest Dani O'Rourke mystery, Mixed Up with Murder. It's set in the world of art collecting, but the world of academia adds a whole other dimension of greed and competitiveness.

What are you reading today? Something fun, I hope! Let us know. I'll catch up sometime today. I'm always interested.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Agatha Award Nominees

Malice Domestic has announced the nominees for this year's Agatha Awards. The awards for traditional mysteries are named after Agatha Christie. Winners will be announced at this year's Malice Domestic Convention, held April 29-May 1.

The 2015 Agatha Nominees Are...
Best Contemporary Novel

Annette Dashofy, Burned Bridges (Henery Press)
Margaret Maron, Long Upon the Land (Grand Central Publishing)
Catriona McPherson, The Child Garden (Midnight Ink)
Louise Penny, Nature of the Beast (Minotaur Books)
Hank Phillipi Ryan, What You See (Forge Books)

Best Historical Novel

Rhys Bowen, Malice at the Palace (Berkley)
Susanna Calkins, The Masque of a Murderer (Minotaur Books)
Laurie R. King, Dreaming Spies (Bantam)
Susan Elia Macneal, Mrs. Roosevelt’s Confidante (Banntam)
Victoria Thompson, Murder on Amsterdam Avenue (Berkley)

Best First Novel

Tessa Arlen, Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman (Minotaur Books)
Cindy Brown, Macdeath (Henery Press)
Ellen Byron, Plantation Shudders (Crooked Lane Books)
Julianne Holmes, Just Killing Time (Berkley)
Art Taylor, On the Road with Del and Louise (Henery Press)

Best Non-Fiction

Zack Dundas, The Great Detective: The Amazing Rise and Immortal Life of Sherlock Holmes (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Martin Edwards, The Golden Age of Murder: The Mystery of the Writers Who Invented the Modern Detective Story (HarperCollins)
Kathryn Harkup, A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie (Bloomsbury USA)
Jane Ann Turzillo, Unsolved Murders and Disappearances in Northeast Ohio (Arcadia Publishing)
Kate White (Editor), Harlan Coben (Contributor) and Gillian Flynn (Contributor), The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook: Wickedly Good Meals and Desserts to Die For (Quirk Books)

Best Short Story

Barb Goffman, “A Year Without Santa Claus?” (AHMM)
Edith Maxwell, “A Questionable Death” History& Mystery, Oh My (Mystery & Horror, LLC)
Terri Farley Moran, “A Killing at the Beausoleil” (EQMM)
Harriette Sackler, “Suffer the Poor” History& Mystery, Oh My (Mystery & Horror, LLC)
B.K. Stevens, “A Joy Forever” (AHMM)

Best Children’s/Young Adult

Blue Balliett, Pieces and Players (Scholastic Press)
Joelle Charbonneau, Need (HMH Books for Young Readers)
Amanda Flower, Andi Unstoppable (Zonderkidz)
Spencer Quinn, Woof (Scholastic Press)
B.K. Stevens, Fighting Chance: A Martial Arts Mystery (Poisoned Pen Press)

Congratulations to all of the nominees!

Unreasonable Doubt by Vicki Delany

I read most of Vicki Delany's mystery series, but the Constable Molly Smith mystery series set in Trafalgar, British Columbia is my favorite. The police procedurals are set in a fascinating town with a mixture of tourists, hippies who moved there during the Vietnam war and stayed to become activists, and righteous townspeople. And, Delany brings them together in Unreasonable Doubt. Molly Smith saw it as "a passionate town, full of passionate people." That's sometimes difficult for the police to handle.

After twenty-five years, Walter Desmond chose to return to Trafalgar. He had been convicted of the brutal murder of a young woman, but he's now been officially exonerated because his lawyer showed that the police had been either incompetent in their investigation, or corrupt. Walt only wants to know why the police targeted him. But, there are townspeople, including some cops and former cops, and the family of the victim, who still think he's guilty. And the attempted rape of a shop owner soon after Walt returns only heightens their anger.

Sergeant John Winters doubts that Walt was guilty twenty-five years earlier, and the description of the current suspect doesn't match Walt's. It's up to Winters to reopen the old case, pouring over the shoddy investigation, looking for answers. While he questions belligerent retirees and family members, Constable Molly Smith works the streets, trying to deal with the angry emotions stirred up by memories, fear, and the heat. It won't take much to bring tempers to a boiling point, and time after time, Molly has to step in to prevent violence. Even the police who are sympathetic wish Walt hadn't returned to Trafalgar. Why would anyone want to return to a town where people still view him with suspicion?

Delany's latest mystery may be her most powerful one. It deals not only with a cold case and the behavior of the police in the past, but it also examines mob mentality. Why do people come together in fear, targeting the person they suspect? Is it possible for someone to return to the scene of a crime they did not commit without suspicion falling on them again? It's sad to see a story in which the outsiders, tourists and newcomers to the town, are the ones most likely to give Walt the benefit of the doubt.

Delany has created intriguing characters, particularly Molly Smith, John Winters, and Molly's mother, Lucky. This time, though, the residents of the town almost become one large character, judgmental, fearful, and angry. Unreasonable Doubt is a thought-provoking, powerful mystery; possibly Vicki Delany's best.

Vicki Delany's website is www.vickidelany.com

Unreasonable Doubt by Vicki Delany. Poisoned Pen Press. 2016. ISBN 9781464205132 (hardcover), 266p.

FTC full disclosure - The publicist sent me a copy of the book, upon my request.