Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Off Kilter by Hannah Reed

Everyone knows how much I enjoy discovering the first in a new series. As the author of the Queen
Bee mysteries, Hannah Reed isn't a novice. But, she launches a wonderful new series set in the Scottish Highlands with Off Kilter. A gorgeous setting, a determined amateur sleuth who isn't stupid, a hint of romance. Reed knows her way to a winning mystery.

After Eden Elliott survived her personal year from hell, her best friend and successful romance author Ami Pederson handed her a round-trip ticket to Scotland with the return in six months. Ami told her to fly, experience the setting of Eden's own proposed romance novel and the land of her father's ancestors. And, on the flight to her new adventure, Eden makes a friend, Vicki MacBride, who's also on her way to the small village of Glenkillen. Vicki's returning to her childhood home after inheriting her father's estate. But, both women will have an unexpected welcome to the Scottish Highlands.

Eden's visit starts with the horror of her rental car, and she's kicking it in frustration when handsome Leith Cameron rescues her and invites her to the funeral for James MacBride. Vicki doesn't feel welcome because her half sister inherited nothing, although she and her husband ran the estate. And, then Eden and Vicki stumble across a body. Eden, who went to Scotland to relax and write, is stunned. "I'd barely arrived and here I was, stumbling across a murder victim, getting involved with the local police, and ordered in no uncertain terms to remain in Glenkillen. How had this happened?"

Hannah Reed's Off Kilter impresses me for a number of reasons. Eden is a mature woman, thirty-eight, whose actions in the course of this book are not stupid. She turns information over to the police, calls them, and does not make stupid moves. Then, there's the murder victim, a local man who will be missed by everyone. The victim is not forgotten in the course of the investigation. The police officer in charge of the investigation, Inspector Kevin Jamieson, is a shrewd, methodical detective, not a buffoon. There are hints of a romance with a sexy Scot, a kind man with a sense of humor. And, of course, there's that gorgeous setting, used to full effect, even in the climatic scene.

Off Kilter provides an escape into an exotic location with an admirable amateur sleuth. After reading Hannah Read's outstanding mystery, you'll want to escape to the Scottish Highlands.

Hannah Reed's website is www.hannahreedbooks.com

Off Kilter by Hannah Reed. Berkley Prime Crime. 2014. ISBN 9780425265826 (paperback), 295p.

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

Monday, September 29, 2014

Death is Like a Box of Chocolates by Kathy Aarons

If Kathy Aarons' debut mystery, Death is Like a Box of Chocolates, is any indication, cozy mystery readers are in for a delectable series. Aarons already appears to be a pro at creating likable sleuths, well-developed characters, and a surprise, but logical villain. Isn't that what we're all looking for with our mysteries?

Michelle Serrano is perfectly happy operating a combined bookstore and chocolate shop with her best friend, Erica. Michelle is the chocolatier for Chocolates and Chapters, while Erica runs the bookstore, and their lives. It's Erica, along with the mayor, who has everyone in town actively volunteering for the Memorial Day weekend Arts Festival. And, Michelle had only wanted to hold a Great Fudge Cook-off. Now, it's a full-blown event with the star of Grand Chef Network as a possible guest judge. But, everything is temporarily on hold when Michelle finds the body of one of the town's professional photographers. Of course everything is on hold. Denise appeared to be poisoned by eating some of Michelle's chocolates. So, guess who's on the top of the suspect list. Michelle is desolate when she can't get into her shop, anticipating the destruction of all of her hard work. For her, "Chocolate was food and family and friends." Is it any wonder that Michelle and Erica team up to ask a few questions and create a project plan for a murder investigation?

Aarons' cast of characters is fascinating. Michelle is in love with her chocolate, following rebellious teen years after her parents died. Her older brother, Leo, had raised her, then enlisted. He's now back from Afghanistan, a disabled veteran suffering from depression. There's the brilliant Erica, along with her hot brother, Ben, the "Bean" that Michelle always had a crush on. It's a well-developed cast of characters, from Michelle's assistants to the other store owners in town. And, of course, there's Michelle's life-long enemy, now the owner and editor of the local newspaper.

When Michelle looks at her friendship with Erica, realizing how "entrenched we were in each other's lives", she actually sums up the world of cozy mysteries. Amateur sleuths like Michelle and Erica fall into investigations because they are entrenched in the lives of their small towns. And, those investigations often uncover unpleasant secrets about friends and neighbors.  Aarons' Death is Like a Box of Chocolates offers a combination chocolate shop/bookstore (heaven, anyone?) in West Riverdale, Maryland, the newest setting for crime and friendship in a small town. Kathy Aarons' debut is a sweet treat, indeed.

Kathy Aarons' website is www.kathyaarons.com

Death is Like a Box of Chocolates by Kathy Aarons. Berkley Prime Crime. 2014. ISBN 9780425267233 (paperback), 294p.

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

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Sunday Picks and Piles

Today, I have choices for you. First, I wanted to share a website and product for booklovers. It's called Inmybook.com. It's "a greeting card sold complete with a red mailing envelope. The entire front of the card is perforated changing the product into a bookmark.... Wide enough for a short note, they fit comfortably inside a paperback."

There are eighteen different cards to pick from, beginning with the greeting "in my book..." and conclude with lines such as "you're novel", "you're top shelf." Robin K. Blum, creator of the company, said the double-entendres are only one more example of the cards serving double duty.

These are high-quality cards, just perfect to send to another book lover, or keep for yourself.

Check them out at Inmybook.com, or here.

And, I have three of them to give away. Email me at Lesa.Holstine@gmail.com. Your subject line should say, "Win Inmybook." Please include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. and Canada will be accepted this time. And, I'll end the contest on Thursday, Oct. 2 at 6 p.m. CT.

If you don't want to order bookmarks, you might want to talk about your TBR pile (although, I need a stack of bookmarks to go in the books in my TBR pile). What are you reading right now? What's sitting beside your regular reading spot?

I admit I read multiple books at a time, and then I take whatever book I'm closest to finishing to work with me to read at lunch. It's Sunday, so I'm reading six of them, but I'll be finishing Kathy Aarons' Death is Like a Box of Chocolates today. My sister gave it high marks. I'm also reading Michael Sloan's The Equalizer. I loved the television show. I'm thinking about seeing the movie next weekend. I just received Betty Webb's latest Lena Jones mystery, Desert Rage. I've barely started it. I have Garth Stein's A Sudden Light. Diane Chamberlain's The Silent Sister looks intriguing. And, I have Frances Mayes' memoir Under Magnolia. She's appearing at the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville in a couple weeks.

So, take your pick. You can enter the contest. You can share what you're reading. Or you can do both! Lazy Sundays are for hitting that TBR pile in my opinion. Tell us what you're reading today.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Christmas Cat by Melody Carlson

If it seems too early to be reviewing Christmas books, I agree. But, they're already being released, and this one was even in the library. But, I'd be perfectly happy to always read the Christmas books in the eighty degree weather we had this week. And, I'm always happy to read sweet books about cats. Melody Carlson's 2014 holiday book, The Christmas Cat, is sweet and hopeful, just what Christmas books are supposed to be.

At thirty-four, Garrison Brown is struggling. He's returned from nine years in Uganda, where he worked as a missionary, digging wells. He returned with malaria, few job prospects, and no place to live, except with a childhood friend. And, then he's knocked off his feet again when he learns his beloved grandmother died. She had raised him after his parents died when he was twelve, and he was the first to admit he was a troubled, angry young man. But, he feels guilty because he didn't visit much after he returned to the states. He was allergic to the cats she adopted after he left home.

When he meets with his grandmother's attorney, Garrison has two surprises. His grandmother left him her house, and her six cats. But, the cats came with stipulations. He's to find them good homes in the neighborhood, check on them, and, once he's sure the cats are happy, the people who gave them good homes will receive handsome checks. The first cat is easy, placed with Gram's good friend. And, then one breaks his heart when a beautiful young woman can't have him because she hasn't lived in the neighborhood long enough. Once Garrison meets Cara, he realizes he's lonelier than he thought. And, when he has to turn down her request for a cat, he might turn down a chance for happiness as well.

Every year I say the same thing. How much can you say about a Christmas story? They should be hopeful, poignant, sometimes sweet, with a satisfying ending. Melody Carlson's The Christmas Cat will satisfy every cat lover's demands for a satisfying holiday story.

Melody Carlson's website is www.melodycarlson.com

The Christmas Cat by Melody Carlson. Revell. 2014. ISBN 9780800719661 (hardcover), 169p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Friday, September 26, 2014

Wouldn't It Be Deadly by D.E. Ireland

D.E. Ireland must have written the first Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins mystery just for me. I'm a big fan of My Fair Lady. Ireland brings all the charm, eccentricities, personalities and humor of that musical to this book. Wouldn't It Be Deadly is a fun follow-up to the movie. And, I'm sure readers will picture Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison searching London for a killer.

Wouldn't It Be Deadly picks up two months after Eliza moved out of Professor Higgins' house, moving in with his mother. To the professor's horror, Eliza is now working as a language teacher, employed by that phony, Higgins' rival Emil Nepommuck. And, everyone is London seems to know that the professor was angry at Nepommuck's claim to have taught Eliza. In fact, the day after Nepommuck's wealthy patron announced her engagement to him, Professor Higgins revealed the truth about him in the newspaper. When Eliza finds her employer dead, stabbed just as Higgins had threatened, Henry Higgins moves to the top of the suspect list.

There may have been a number of people to want Emil Nepommuck dead, but only one person had broadcasted his scorn and dislike of the man, Professor Henry Higgins. And, the professor refuses to provide any alibi, other than he was wandering around London all day, listening to people talk. He may not have been guilty of the second murder, but that killer even thanks the professor for killing Nepommuck. Despite the professor's reluctance, Eliza drags him into the search for the real killer. He might not do much to get himself out of trouble, but Eliza Doolittle knows Professor Henry Higgins is not a killer.

Do you want to know what happened to Eliza Doolittle, Professor Henry Higgins, Freddy, Colonel Pickering? D.E. Ireland brings them all back to life in this captivating mystery. It's "so loverly sittin' abso-bloomin'-lutely still" reading Wouldn't It Be Deadly.

D.E. Ireland's website is www.deireland.com

Wouldn't It Be Deadly by D.E. Ireland. Minotaur Books. 2014. ISBN 9781250049353 (hardcover), 336p.

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

Thursday, September 25, 2014


Congratulations to the winners of the last couple contests. The copies of G.M. Malliet's A Demon Summer will be sent to Linda N. from Nepeau, Ontario, Canada, Gail S. of Seguin, TX, Cheryl S. of Fort Pierre, SD, Doris Ann N. of Fostoria, OH, and Kathy M. from Richmond, VA. And, the copy of K.B. Laugheed's The Spirit Keeper will go to Kimberly W. of Springdale, AR. I'll mail it tomorrow.

This week's contest is posted at the end of the recap of Philip Gulley's visit, if you missed it. I'm giving away two autographed copies of A Place Called Hope. Details on that blog post.

Recap - Philip Gulley at the Library

Philip Gulley, author of the Harmony books, and the new novel, A Place Called Hope, was absolutely charming. I didn't even get a chance to introduce him at the library the other night because he started talking to people. I did tell him that I brought him a pie because I knew about the pie committee in A Place Called Hope. And, he joked that he could see it came in a box, and he knew I had made it, and just used that box.

He started in talking about his new book, and it felt as if he was talking about a friend. He mentioned the Harmony books, saying he had left Sam Gardner (the Quaker minister in the books) to write three books about theology, but he crossed paths with Sam one day, and when he saw Sam, he wanted to catch up. Sam's boys were going off to college, and Sam's wife, Barbara, wasn't taking that well at all.

Gulley said he was talking to a Southern Baptist minister friend one day. They had gone to seminary together. and, he told Philip he had performed a same gender marriage, and it had been an accident. But, he wouldn't tell him how it happened.

Gulley wanted to move Sam from Harmony. He was tired of writing about Dale Henshaw. He even tried to get rid of him, but couldn't kill him off. As a Quaker, he's a pacifist. So, he gave Dale a massive heart attack, and a heart transplant. His heart came from a Unitarian Universalist, but it didn't change Dale. It was time to move Sam on. And, since we'd last read about Harmony, a Unitarian Universalist church had moved into Harmony. So, he decided that Sam would perform an accidental marriage.

The laughter was wonderful to hear when Philip read the chapter in which Sam presided at a ceremony for a same gender couple. He said, Miriam Hodge, the voice of reason on the board was out of town, so Sam was quickly fired. And, that's all he could say because he's written two books since, and he forgot what else was in A Place Called Hope.

He offered to take questions, and his answers to those were as delightful as his writing. He remains a storyteller when he answers questions. When asked if he knew Paul Harvey, he said he had played a critical role in him getting published. And, there's talk about bring back "The Rest of the Story" on ABC News.

When someone mentioned a house in the town where Philip grew up, he told a story about raking leaves there. He raked all day, and then the woman gave him a nickel. He said he didn't offer to rake leaves there again.

One question was about the two books he's written since A Place Called Hope. One is a theology book, and the other is the next Hope novel. The nonfiction book, The Awakened Soul, is based on Abraham Maslow's self-actualized people. Everyone has peak experiences when they feel connected to God and one another. He said all of his books are still in print.

When told he captures the essence of church boards, he responded that we were looking at a man who sat through thirty years of meetings. He's been at his current Meeting for sixteen years, and when they asked him what he wanted to come there, he said he didn't want to go to board meetings. So, it's in his contract that he only has to go to one meeting a month. They can pick which meeting he attends, but he only has to go to one.

Perhaps the only message he gave in his program was that in the next few years we need to figure out how to teach people to be gracious, or we'll be in a world of hurt.

Asked about his writing, he said he writes every morning, Monday through Thursday. Fiction is a lot easier to write. It pretty much writes itself. The theology is different because it's nuanced. It's a lot more work. After writing three theology books, he needed to rest and go back to fiction.

Asked when he started writing, Gulley said he started writing his first book in 1994. He was pastoring a small Quaker meeting in Indianapolis. There were only twelve people. They told him they thought they needed to grow, and he agreed. He asked how should we go about doing that, and they answered that they needed a newsletter. And, when asked who should write it, they said he should. He had never been comfortable writing, so he took a ministry of writing course. He wrote an essay that he didn't think was very good, and discussed it with the instructor. That essay became part of his first book, Front Porch Tales. He said he didn't think it was good because his sentences were not always complete sentences. The instructor said, so? "Writing is about conveying a message." He felt liberated.

And, then one week Paul Harvey's son was at the meetinghouse, and signed the guest registry. Philip said he just got lucky. Because he signed the registry, they sent him a newsletter. Paul Harvey was visiting his son, saw it, and read a five minute essay on the air. The next day, Gulley received a call from a publisher. He thought it was a joke, and hung up on him. So, when asked, he says it's easy to get published. You write a newsletter, have Paul Harvey's son receive a copy, get it read on the radio, and then you'll get published.

He did say he started out typing his manuscripts, but the publisher sent him a computer and had someone teach him to use it, so he writes with a computer now.

Philip Gulley entertained us with the entire program. He told us it's a funny thing about essays and sermons. You can never tell what will speak to people. That original essay he didn't like? He thinks it was about lawnmowers. And, you can work hard on a sermon, think it's wonderful, and no one comments. But, the one you just sort of throw out there is the one that will move people.

Philip Gulley's website is www.philipgulley.com

A Place Called Hope by Philip Gulley. Center Street. 2014. ISBN 9781455519804 (hardcover), 256p.

I bought two copies of A Place Called Hope and had them autographed, so those are my giveaways this week. Email me at Lesa.Holstine@gmail.com. Your subject heading should read "Win A Place Called Hope." Please include your name and mailing address. The giveaway will end Thursday, Oct. 2 at 6 PM CT. Entries from the U.S. only, please.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Becoming Josephine by Heather Webb

The only thing as enjoyable as reading a book by a favorite author is discovering a debut author who writes beautifully. Heather Webb's historical novel Becoming Josephine brings a woman to life, the one we know of as Josephine Bonaparte. She had a fascinating life long before she met Napoleon Bonaparte. In this novel, we watch Rose Tascher grow into a beloved Empress.

Rose Tascher grew up in Martinique. Watching her father run around on her mother, sleeping with slaves, hookers, and mistresses, Rose was determined to marry for love. Her entire life she looked for love and security. She was thrilled to be sent to France to marry Alexandre de Beauharnais, only to find out her new husband's affairs resembled her father's. But, she did have two children she loved, and then she was legally separated from her husband.

Becoming Josephine is a story of revolution and survival. Rose de Beauharnais survived a slave revolt in Martinique and the French Revolution's Reign of Terror, when she was imprisoned. But, time after time, she turned her friendships and romances into survival. And, when she meets a shabby looking general named Napoleon Bonaparte, she may have finally found love and the future that a voodoo priestess once predicted.

Heather Webb's debut historical novel is a beautiful introduction to a fascinating woman. Josephine is usually defined in relationship to Napoleon Bonaparte, but Webb brings her to life as a woman long before she met Napoleon. And, she introduces her as a charming, intelligent woman searching for safety for herself and her children. Webb's characters live on the pages.

Becoming Josephine is a fascinating reintroduction to a woman we only think we know from the pages of history. It's an outstanding debut.

Heather Webb's website is www.heatherwebb.net

Becoming Josephine by Heather Webb. Plume. 2014. ISBN 9780142180655 (paperback), 310p.

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