Monday, April 27, 2015

Lowcountry Boneyard by Susan M. Boyer

Susan M. Boyer won the Agatha Award for Best First Novel for Lowcountry Boil. It's been a couple years since I read it, but it can't be any better than her latest Liz Talbot mystery, Lowcountry Boneyard. That hot South Carolina weather must just breed suspense, family secrets, and romance. It's all as thick as mosquitoes in this compelling story.

Everyone in coastal South Carolina knows about the disappearance of Kent Heyward. The twenty-three-year-old heiress to old money disappeared one night on her way to dinner, car and all. Because the Charleston police department haven't turned up any clues, Kent's father turns to private investigator Liz Talbot and her partner, Nate Andrews, hoping they can find answers. Where is Kent?

Before Liz and Nate can sift through the stories from Kent's family, friends and Facebook acquaintances, they have to sift through their own feelings for each other. Can they overcome their love of their own hometowns, and their own histories, to build a life together? Or, are they stuck as business partners, fighting the attraction?

It's a convoluted network of family connections when Southerners start searching for answers. And, the search for Kent is complicated by her family's demand for privacy, and the secrets they don't even want to share with their own private investigators. Even if they're just business partners, Liz and Nate have the connections and knowledge to search through Kent's past. Somewhere in her past is the clue to the night she disappeared. And, when Liz is threatened, several times, it seems that their digging is hitting too close to home for someone.

It may be October in South Carolina, but Susan M. Boyer knows how to keep the heat on in this exciting mystery. It's filled with tension and suspense, relieved only by a hilarious scene on family night with Liz' parents, and, of course, with the romantic scenes as well. Lowcountry Boneyard is a mystery worthy of an Agatha Award winner.

Susan M. Boyer's website is www.susanmboyerbooks.com

Lowcountry Boneyard by Susan M. Boyer. Henery Press. 2015. ISBN 9781941962503 (hardcover), 286p.

*****
FTC Full Disclosure - The publisher sent me a copy of the book. And, I read it as part of a TLC Book Tour.


Sunday, April 26, 2015

A Ghostly Undertaking by Tonya Kappes

I heard Tonya Kappes at the Southern Kentucky Book Fest last week, and her humor caught my attention. I bought the first in her Ghostly Southern mystery series, A Ghostly Undertaking, and I already have the second one, A Ghostly Grave. I have no regrets that I bought that first book. It was just as warm, funny, and charming as I expected it to be.

Emma Lee Raines and her sister, Charlotte Rae, share Director duties at the Eternal Slumber Funeral Home in Sleepy Hollow, Kentucky. But, it was Emma Lee who was hit on the head by a Santa Claus that fell off the roof of the local deli, causing her to see ghosts. She's told she's suffering from "funeral trauma", but that's not why she sees the ghost of her granny's arch-nemesis, Ruthie Sue Payne. Ruthie Sue claims she was pushed down the stairs at the inn she co-owned with Emma Lee's granny. And, since Sheriff Jack Henry Ross seems suspicious of Granny, Emma Lee's determined to find out if there really was a killer. And, maybe then, Ruthie Sue will disappear and leave her alone.

A Ghostly Undertaking has every element you could hope for in a "Ghostly Southern" mystery series.  There are eccentric characters, including some of the women in Emma Lee's own family. She refers to her granny, Zula, and her sister, Charlotte Rae, as women who possess "Southern charm with a venomous tongue".  Emma Lee herself seems strange to some of the townspeople who see her talking to Ruthie Sue, while they never see Ruthie Sue.  But, she cleans up just fine for a "date" with Jack Henry, a date that ends up a little differently than Emma Lee would have hoped. Even at twenty-seven, Emma Lee doesn't see herself as attractive, but thinks of herself as she was in school, that "scary funeral girl".

A Ghostly Undertaking is a fun, charming mystery involving family, small town secrets, and a little romance. And, of course, there's this undertaker who can see ghosts.

Tonya Kappes' website is www.tonyakappes.com

A Ghostly Undertaking by Tonya Kappes. Witness. 2015. ISBN 9780062374646 (paperback), 296p.

*****
FTC Full Disclosure - I bought the copy of A Ghostly Undertaking.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Good, the Bad, and the Furry by Tom Cox

How can anyone with a black cat resist the cover of Tom Cox' The Good, the Bad, and the Furry? The subtitle, though, is a little misleading, "Life with the World's Most Melancholy Cat". The Bear, the black cat on the cover, is part of Cox' account of life with his cats, but he doesn't seem to be the main focus.

I've seen pictures of The Bear on Facebook on those features that say, "My cat is melancholy because...". That's The Bear, and the black cat is adorable, appearing so sad. But, Cox' account is about all the cats that ruled his life when he was in his mid to late thirties after he separated from his long-time girlfriend. It's the story of his life in Norfolk, England, as shared with a menagerie of cats.

Despite my love of cats, and Cox' obvious love for them, the best part of the book isn't his rambling commentaries about his cats, but the stories of his loud father. At least in the Advanced Reading Copy that I have, his father's conversations are all in capital letters, indicating that his father speaks at the top of his lungs. And, I loved the wise comment made by his mother. Cox wondered why his dad seemed to love his parents' new cat, Floyd. His mom said, "I was wondering that too. And then I realized what it was. Have you noticed something? Floyd is always either completely switched on, or completely switched off. Who else do we know who's like that too?"

I think I found the book a little plodding because I wanted more about The Bear, and less about all the other cats that came and went. There was a little too much about Ralph and the way he said his name. The book was a little repetitive. But, the photos are wonderful, particularly in the chapter "Ten Reasons Why My Oldest Cat is Sad".

There are better cat books out there, but it's worth picking up the book for the photos alone. Perhaps I just didn't appreciate Cox' British humor. After all, the book was a Sunday Times bestselling memoir. It's definitely for cat lovers, though.

Tom Cox' websites are www.tom-cox.com and littlecatdiaries.blogspot.com

The Good, the Bad, and the Furry: Life with the World's Most Melancholy Cat by Tom Cox. Thomas Dunne Books, 2015. ISBN 9781250063243 (hardcover), 288p.

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


Friday, April 24, 2015

Winners and a Cozy Shop Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the last contest. Sherilyn L. from Marietta, GA won Invisible City by Julia Dahl. Shannon J. of Evansdale, IA will receive Rhys Bowen's City of Darkness and Light. I'll mail the books tomorrow.

This week, I'm giving away two cozy mysteries that are set in shops. Jenn McKinlay's At the Drop of a Hat is a Hat Shop Mystery set in London. Owners Scarlett Parker and Vivian Tremont welcome a bride-to-be who wants to wear a hat originally made by Scarlett and Vivian's grandmother over thirty years earlier. But, when Scarlett finds the bride standing over her boss' dead body, the cousins must find the real killer before the wedding takes place in prison.





Or, you could win the first Scotshop mystery, A Wee Murder in My Shop by Fran Stewart. Escaping her ex-boyfriend, Peggy Winn enjoys a buying trip in the Scottish Highlands, the perfect place to find items for her Scotshop in Vermont. But, she also brings the ghost of a handsome fourteenth-century Scotsman back with her. That's lucky for her because she has to ask for his help in finding out who killed her ex-boyfriend and left him on the floor of her shop.

Which shop mystery would you like to win? You can enter to win both, but I need separate entries. Email me at Lesa.Holstine@gmail.com. I'll make it easy, and your subject heading can read either "Win Hat Shop" or "Win Scotshop." Please include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. only, please. The contest will end Thursday, April 30 at 6 p.m. CT.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

To Dance, To Dream by Maxine Drury

Maxine Drury's To Dance, To Dream was written fifty years ago. When I first read it, almost that long ago, I fell in love with the stories of ballet and the remarkable stars of the ballet. Reading it again, a gift from my sister, Linda, the book still has the power to move me. Now, a couple of the stories of more recent stars seem incomplete, but at the time I read it, those dancers were still active. Time has moved on for a few of the stories, but each one brings the history of ballet to life.

That's exactly what To Dance, To Dream is, a history of ballet as told through the lives of some of the major dancers and choreographers who changed it. Drury's Foreword says, "These are the men and women who have helped to transform the dance from what it was three hundred years ago to what it is today." These are the biographies of Isadora Duncan, Michel Fokine, Anna Pavlova, Margot Fonteyn, Maria Tallchief. Drury writes of ten artists who changed ballet.

I was struck by the fact that Drury's book, part of the Real Life Stories series, was designed for children, but it definitely was not written down to children. It didn't make light of the loneliness, hard work, rivalries, and poverty that often came with dancing. It was honest about Isadora Duncan's death. And, all these years after reading it for the first time, I still cried over Anna Pavlova's death.

I never read the other books published in this series. Those also sound fascinating; REAL LIFE STORIES about detectives and lawmen, Famous Investigators; famous nurses, Nurses Who Led the Way; World War I, The Great War. There were a couple other books as well. If they were as well-written as this one, I'm sorry I missed them. I'm still impressed with the remarkable biographies that were available to children who grew up forty to fifty years ago, so well-done that we still remember those Childhood of Famous Americans books and this REAL LIFE STORIES series. I was so lucky that my sister could find this memory, To Dance, To Dream, for me.

To Dance, To Dream by Maxine Drury. Whitman Publishing Company. 1965. (hardcover), 212p.

*****
FTC Full Disclosure - My sister gave me this as a gift.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Blood Sweep by Steven F. Havill

Every time I read one of Steven F. Havill's Posadas County mysteries, I lament the fact that not enough people know about these marvelous police procedurals. If you like Craig Johnson's Walt Longmire books, you really should try this series set in a small New Mexico border county. It's a series that's about the people who live there, the Sheriff's Department that protects them, and, in many cases, the relationship with the country just across the border. These are stories about contemporary crimes, and intelligent police. And, Blood Sweep, the twentieth in this series, is as strong as all the previous books.

When Sheriff Robert Torrez is hunting on property belonging to Miles Waddell, one of the county's major landowners and developers, someone shoots at him. And, it leaves him wondering, because someone with that kind of aim probably could have shot to kill. It's only the beginning of the Posadas County problems. Undersheriff Estelle Reyes-Guzman has a full schedule, but she swings around to the former sheriff's house, only to find seventy-seven-year-old Bill Gastner in trouble in his garage. An ambulance for her former boss is her first thought, but it delays her meeting with the bank president. As she waits for her doctor husband to handle Bill's arrangements, she learns her aged mother wants to withdraw eight thousand dollars from the bank. It's that conversation that leads to a story about Guzman's son, a music prodigy, in trouble in Mexico. It would seem to be a scam, if it wasn't wrapped up in the music conservatory's trip to Mexico, and a story about an uncle Estelle never knew she had.

Torrez' investigation of his own shooting leads to the body of a hired gun. And, then the connections between the dead man leads to a man interested in capitalizing on Waddell's plans to develop his mesa property into a multi-million dollar theme park. So, while Torrez wrestles with developers and killers, Guzmann is caught up in worries about her son in Mexico and stories of family. And, the man they've all grown to look to for advice is lying in a hospital bed.

Blood Sweep, like all of Havill's Posadas County mysteries, is about so much more than the police and crime. Havill's characters are three-dimensional people with families and flaws. In fact, some of the people are larger than life. Gastner and Torrez dominate any stage, as does their Mexican counterpart, Colonel Tomas Naranjo. The story is complex, well-written, and compelling. And, Havill's descriptions of New Mexico and Mexico are vivid, bringing the dusty, hot country to life.

Do yourself a favor. Go back and find a copy of the first book, Heartshot. In the course of the series, the characters age, retire, and their lives change. If you love this series as much as I do, you'll have nineteen more enjoyable mysteries ahead of you. Or, just pick up Blood Sweep. You'll want to go back and read the earlier books to get to know these people.

Blood Sweep by Steven Havill. Poisoned Pen Press. 2015. ISBN 9781464203879 (hardcover), 298p.

*****
FTC Full Disclosure - I requested a copy of the book in order to read and review it.


Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Book Chat - May's Mysteries from Penguin's Berkley Prime Crime & Obsidian

I haven't done a book chat in a couple months because I didn't receive the books. Now that I did, it was a dreary rainy day here, which means the lighting is off on the video. Oh, well. At least you can hear the chat, and the list of books will be below.




Here are the books I discussed.

Book Clubbed by Lorna Barrett - 8th Booktown Mystery
Some Like It Witchy by Heather Blake - 5th Wishcraft Mystery
Seven Threadly Sins by Janet Bolin - 5th Threadville Mystery
The Book Stops Here by Kate Carlisle - 8th Bibliophile Mystery
Ming Tea Murder by Laura Childs - 16th Tea Shop Mystery
Mr. Monk and the New Lieutenant by Hy Conrad - 19th Monk Mystery
Hiss and Tell by Claire Donally - 4th Sunny & Shadow Mystery
A Finely Knit Murder by Sally Goldenbaum - 9th Seaside Knitters Mystery
Death at the Door by Carolyn Hart - 24th Death on Demand Mystery
Don't Go Home by Carolyn Hart - 25th Death on Demand Mystery
One Foot in the Grape by Carlene O'Neil - 1st Cypress Cove Mystery
Flourless to Stop Him by Nancy J. Parra - 3rd Baker's Treat Mystery
Fillet of Murder by Linda Reilly - 1st Deep Fried Mystery
Murder in Murray Hill by Victoria Thompson - 16th Gaslight Mystery
Catnapped! by Elaine Viets - 13th Dead-End Job Mystery
Checked Out by Elaine Viets - 14th Dead-End Job Mystery