Monday, March 30, 2015

Stephanie Grace Whitson, Author of Daughter of the Regiment

First, I need to apologize to the author. My interview with Stephanie Grace Whitson was scheduled to appear on Friday, March 27, but my notes about it were buried in my vacation notes. I'm sorry.

I do want to share the interview, though, and a chance to win a copy of her book, Daughter of the Regiment. Let me introduce Whitson, and then she can answer my questions.

Stephanie Grace Whtson is the author of over twenty-seven titles. Whitson is a RT Book Reviews Reviewers' Choice Winner and a two-time Christy Award finalist. When she isn't writing, speaking, or trying to keep up with her five grown children and perfect grandchildren, she loves to take long distance rides aboard her Honda Magna motorcycle named Kitty. Her church and the International Quilt Study Center and Museum take up the rest of her free time. She received her Master of Arts degree in history in 2012. Stephanie and her husband reside in southeastern Nebraska.

Thank you, Stephanie, for taking time to answer these questions.

Lesa - Without spoilers, Stephanie, would you summarize Daughter of the Regiment for us?

Stephanie - Daughter of the Regiment introduces readers to two Missouri women who are neighbors in the part of the state known as Little Dixie, but who are at opposite ends of the social spectrum--and on opposite sides of the North/South conflict. 

First, there is Irish immigrant, Maggie Malone, who wants no part of the war. She'd rather let "the Americans" settle their differences. But then Maggie's two brothers join the Union Irish Brigade. When one of their names appears on a list of the wounded after the Battle of Boonville, Maggie heads for the encampment, intent on caring for her brother. When circumstances force her to remain with the brigade, she discovers how capable she is of helping the men she comes to think of as "her boys." A farm woman who'd rather be hunting than cooking, Maggie has decided that she's not the kind of woman a man would court, but Sergeant John Coulter seems determined to convince her otherwise.

Maggie's neighbor, Elizabeth Blair, is the mistress of her brother's plantation (Wildwood Grove) and has learned never to question his decisions. When Walker helps organize the Wildwood Guard for the Confederacy and offers his plantation as the center of operations, Libbie must manage a house with officers in residence and soldiers camped on the lawn. Eventually, she must also decide where her loyalties lie.

When military maneuvers and a subsequent battle bring the Irish Brigade (and Maggie Malone) to Wildwood Grove, Libbie's home is commandeered as a field hospital. Libbie has refused to leave her home. The two women whose brothers have fought on opposite sides of the same battle come face to face while tending the wounded in the aftermath of a battle won by Union troops. 

Lesa - What was your inspiration for the book?

Stephanie - As an amateur historian, I'm always visiting museums, stopping to read historical markers, and reading real history. I began to research the real Daughters of the Regiment many years ago after reading a book about women and the Civil War. When I visited the Oliver Anderson house in Lexington, Missouri, and realized that there were plantations worked by slaves just east of Kansas City, that began my quest to learn how the Civil War impacted that state. (I grew up just across the river from St. Louis, so Missouri history has always interested me.) The more I learned about Missouri in the Civil War, the more I wanted to create a story that would pay tribute to the women who had to cope when war came to their back yard--literally, to their back yard. Missouri was unique in that it was a slave state, but it never seceded from the Union, even though at one time the state had two governments because of the sharp divisions within the borders between Unionists and southern sympathizers. The more I learned, the more I wanted to know.

LesaHow did you research the Civil War details?

Stephanie - First, I needed to narrow my focus so that I wouldn't get bogged down in the vast topic of the Civil War. Focusing on Missouri helped that. The Missouri State Museum in St. Louis had an excellent exhibit on Missouri in the Civil War, and I visited it more than once. I also shopped in the museum gift shop and indulged myself in many of the books there, knowing that a history museum store would be a source of trustworthy scholarship. I also accessed online archives and university publications that addressed the various topics I needed to research. An antique arms expert was kind enough to read the portions of the book that mention weapons. 

LesaWhat are you working on now?

Stephanie - I'm rewriting next year's book, Messenger by Moonlight, set during the days of the Pony Express. As with every project, my admiration for the people who really lived the history has grown by leaps and bounds.

LesaI'm a librarian, and I always end my interviews with the same question. Was there a library or librarian that influenced you? Tell us about it, please.

Stephanie - Oh, my goodness ... yes. My mother taught me to love books, and the library has been a favorite place for me for most of my life. The Bennett Martin Public Library in Lincoln, Nebraska, was an invaluable resource to me long before I began to write fiction. My four children and I spent a lot of time there, and library books were critical in the days when I was home schooling. I began to learn about Nebraska history at the library and can point to some very specific library books as inspiration for some of my novels. When I finally had a story I wanted to try to get published, I went to the library to access the Writer's Market. Archivists at the Nebraska State Historical Society archive have helped me find answers to countless questions and introduced me to people from the past who have also inspired characters for my novels. As I write this post, there is a pile of library books nearby (not overdue yet) that I've accessed to improve Messenger by Moonlight. I'm also grateful for the hard-working librarians here in Nebraska who often invite me to give programs about historical topics for their patrons. Libraries have been so wonderful to encourage me as a writer and to introduce me to their patrons. Lastly, our local libraries are favorite spots for my grown children and their children. It's heartwarming to see the next generation excited to visit the library. 

Lesa - Thank you, Stephanie. For those of us interested in American history, Missouri's history at that time is fascinating.

If you would like to win a copy of Daughter of the Regiment, email me at Lesa.Holstine@gmail.com. Your subject line should read "Win Daughter of the Regiment." Please include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. only, please. The giveaway will end Thursday, April 2 at 6 p.m. CT.

If you don't win, you can buy Daughter of the Regiment online from any of these sources.

Indie Bound: http://bit.ly/1zFz8bI

Daughter of the Regiment: A Novel by Stephanie Grace Whitson. Faithwords/Hachette Book Group. ISBN 978-1-4555-2903-2 (paperback), 336p.

Stephanie Grace Whitson's website is http://stephaniewhitson.com



Sunday, March 29, 2015

What Are You Reading?

I was on the road for seven and a half hours yesterday, so didn't have a chance to finish my book. I'm reading The Island of Dr. Libris, the new juvenile book by Chris Grabenstein. I love his children's books. This one is an adventure about a boy, imagination and reading.


Since I didn't have a chance to finish a book, what are you reading this weekend? Here in the Midwest, it's cold. You might as well get comfortable and read. Let us know what book you're enjoying (or not enjoying).

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Carolyn Hart, Annie & Max

Some of you may have seen recent posts in which Carolyn Hart announced that her new Death on Demand mystery, Don't Go Home, would be the last in the series. And, it might not have made us happy, but we could understand why the twenty-fifth book would wrap up the series, while Carolyn devoted time to the adventures of Bailey Ruth. Fortunately for us, Annie and Max had something to say about that. 

Here's the announcement Carolyn Hart sent out.

I penned a Farewell to Death on Demand this spring, but a funny thing happened on the way to Life Without Annie and Max. A knock on my door. There stood Annie, a glint in her steady gray eyes, a determined tilt to her chin. “What are you thinking?” Max was right behind her, his usual easy going smile absent. “No more island sunshine? No alligators basking on a bank? No more laughter?” Annie and Max looked me in the eye and said, “We’re here to stay.” 
    Do I want to see the displays at Death on Demand, catch up on the new mysteries, talk about old favorites? Or drop into Confidential Commissions and have a slice of Barb’s lemon pie?
    Oh, yes. The scent of the ocean, the rattle of magnolia leaves, the grace and elegance of Spanish moss, hot heavy summer days, windy walks on a chilly winter beach, all await on the small sea island of Broward’s Rock. I’ll see everyone again, ebullient Annie, charming Max, curmudgeonly author Emma Clyde, mystery maven Henny Brawley, ditzy mother-in-law Laurel Darling Roethke, intense reporter Marian Kenyon, stalwart police chief Billy Cameron, observant officer Hyla Harrison . . .
    I realized I’d miss them too much. So I changed my mind and hope to write their 26th adventure as soon as Bailey Ruth persuades a lovelorn  ghost to climb the shining stairs to Heaven.
    And now for Annie and Max’s 25th (and continuing) adventure:
     DON’T GO HOME – Annie is hosting a party to celebrate a successful Southern literary icon and island native and his best selling novel, Don’t Go Home. The local newspaper announces that the author intends to reveal the real life island inspirations behind his characters and the dark secrets in their lives. Reporter Marian Kenyon, Annie and Max’s good friend, quarrels bitterly with the author. When his body is found, Annie knows her friend will be a suspect. Despite an array of people who feared the author’s revelations and Annie’s promise to Max that she will steer clear of sleuthing, Annie is drawn into the hunt because the police may close the book on Marian unless Annie finds the truth.

Look for Don't Go Home to be released May 5. I can't wait!

Don't Go Home by Carolyn Hart. Penguin. 2015. ISBN  9780425276549 (hardcover), 272p.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Winners and Ghostly Mysteries

Congratulations to the winners of the latest contest. Charles Finch's The Laws of Murder will go to Susan B. from Shoreline, WA. Murder at Brightwell by Ashley Weaver goes to Tricia J. from Yuba City, CA. The books will go in the mail tomorrow.

This week, I'm giving away two ghostly mysteries. And, considering tomorrow's blog has a message from Carolyn Hart, it's appropriate to start with her book, Ghost Wanted. Bailey Ruth's supervisor is worried about an old friend, The Lady of the Roses, who haunts the college library in Adelaide, Oklahoma. Wiggins sends Bailey Ruth to earth to find out who is ruining his friend's reputation. Once she gets there, she finds herself helping the ghost while also finding the true killer of a security guard. This series is always marked by humor and Bailey Ruth's charming sense of style.



Or, maybe you'd like to meet historic ghosts of the Pony Express riders. Paige Shelton's If Catfish Had Nine Lives was one of my favorites in the Country Cooking School mystery series. And, you don't need to have read previous books. Shelton will skillfully introduce you to Betts Winston, her grandmother, and Betts' ghostly guardian, Jerome. Betts has her hands full in this book when her brother becomes a murder suspect while she's also trying to find out more about the ghost of a Pony Express rider who has unfinished business in Broken Rope, Missouri.

Which 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 line should read either "Win Ghost Wanted" or "Win If Catfish Had Nine Lives." Please include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. only, please. The giveaway will end Thursday, April 2 at 6 PM CT.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Wedding Circle by Ashton Lee

Over the course of Ashton Lee's Cherry Cola Book Club series, librarian Maura Beth Mayhew has come a long way. She's gone from a timid librarian who allowed Councilman Darden Sparks to bully her to an outspoken advocate for the new library that's scheduled to be built in Cherico, Mississippi. Now, it's time for Maura Beth to make changes in her personal life as well, but she'll still have to fight for her happiness in The Wedding Circle.

Maura Beth wants to marry English teacher Jeremy McShay right there in her beloved Cherico, with all of her local friends around her. But, Maura Beth's mother is determined to see her only daughter married in her hometown of New Orleans, in a celebration fit for a socialite. It may break her heart, but Maura Beth may have to use all of the manipulative skills she learned in dealing with Councilman Sparks in order to handle her mother.

Maura Beth isn't the only one, though, to have to deal with family opposition to a relationship. Jeremy knows his sister, Elise, an outspoken professor at the University of Evansville in Indiana, won't come to the wedding.Two seventy-year-olds find their plans thwarted by adult children, while Maura Beth's best friend, Periwinkle Lattimore, has to contend with her ex-husband. In other words, life is normal in Cherico, Mississippi.

The latest Cherry Cola Book Club novel, The Wedding Circle, isn't quite as dramatic as previous books. Instead, it's a charming wedding story that includes recipes. There might have even been a tear or two during the wedding scene. And, the family members introduced in this book are fun, particularly Cudd'n M'Dear. But, there's still tension. And, you can bet Councilman Sparks will still be scheming in the next book in the series. Maura Beth just has a feeling.

Ashton Lee can be found on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ashtonlee.net

The Wedding Circle by Ashton Lee. Kensington Books. 2015. ISBN 9781617733413 (paperback), 242p.

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


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

As You Wish by Cary Elwes, with Joe Layden

If you recognize the phrase "As You Wish", you've probably seen The Princess Bride at least once, and maybe multiple times. Cary Elwes, who starred in the movie as Westley, farmhand turned pirate, co-authored the New York Times bestseller, As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride. And, Elwes' account proves to be as charming as the movie itself.

Although Elwes wrote the book just last year, he relates his feelings as a young, twenty-three-year-old actor, in awe of the team put together in 1986 to film William Goldman's beloved story. Here was a young man, directed by Rob Reiner, who met the author of the book and the script, worked with Mandy Patinkin, Robin Wright, Andre the Giant, Billy Crystal, Chris Sarandon. He was in awe of all of the others, a little in love with Robin, who starred as Buttercup, the princess. And, Elwes gathers his memories, and the comments from many of the others who worked on the film with him, including Rob Reiner and William Goldman.

This is truly a book for lovers of The Princess Bride. Elwes takes readers through the entire filming of the movie, from the time he first heard about it through its failure to be marketed well by a studio that didn't know what to do with it. And, he ends with the triumphant twenty-fifth reunion and showing at Lincoln Center. But, it's all those details, including how Elwes and Patinkin had to learn to fight for "The Greatest Swordfight in Modern Times", that brings the filming of the movie to life. And, it's Elwes' joy, shared by the others involved in the film, that sparks the book. Cary Elwes takes readers back to the filming of a beloved movie. The stories, the photos from the filming of the movie, reward the fan.

Rob Reiner, in his Foreword, sums up the film. "Was it a fairy tale? Was it a swashbuckling adventure? Was it a love story? Or was it just a nutty satire? The fact is it was, and is, all of the above." And, Cary Elwes and Joe Layden tell all of those stories in As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from The Making of The Princess Bride.

Here's a note for lovers of books, and The Princess Bride. Remove the cover, and look inside the cover itself. Shepard Fairey's artwork INSIDE the cover is gorgeous.



Anecdote: Last year, I met Cary Elwes at Book Expo America, where he was promoting this book. He was as gracious as you would expect, telling me he liked the spelling of my name. (Had I known his wife's name was Lisa Marie, I would have told him my middle name is Marie as well.) But, the funniest comment of the day caused him to laugh, too, when Kathy Reichs, who followed him on the panel, said fifteen women in the room got up and left after he was done speaking.

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes with Joe Layden. Touchstone. 2014. ISBN 9781476764023 (hardcover), 259p.

*****
FTC Full Disclosure - I bought my copy of the book.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

A First Date with Death by Diana Orgain

Only a mystery writer would take a reality show, throw in an ex-cop looking to get over a broken heart, and then have her wonder, are the bachelors looking for love, money or murder? Even readers who don't care for reality shows might appreciate Diana Orgain's take on them in the first Love Or Money mystery, A First Date with Death.

After Georgia Thornton was fired from her job as a public information officer with the San Francisco Police Department, and her fiance left her standing at the altar, her best friend, Becca swoops in to offer her a different reality. Quite different. Becca, assistant producer of the show Love or Money, offers her the opportunity to star opposite ten eligible bachelors. Georgia gets to pick one man, hoping for love. If she picks a man who went on the show for money, he walks away with all of it. If she picks a man who went on looking for love, they split the prize money and an exotic vacation. But, before even the first date, bungee jumping, is over, one of the bachelors is critically injured when his gear fails. The "accident" doesn't smell right to ex-cop Georgia. Can it get any worse?

It certainly can. Georgia's ex, the man who left her at the altar, shows up to take the place of the missing bachelor. She knows Paul is undercover, investigating the death, but she's still not happy to have him on the show. And, then another bachelor dies. Georgia's afraid she might be a target. And, she certainly doesn't want the last bachelor standing to be a killer.

A First Date with Death is a fun romp through reality show hell. Georgia suffers with her wardrobe, the early hours, a producer who seems cruel, Paul's presence, and her own fears. At times, she comes across as a little hysterical for an ex-cop, but the reader still roots for her to have a happy ending. And, there's as much emphasis on the men and the budding romance as there is on the mystery.

A First Date with Death launches a new series, and it will be interesting to see where Diana Orgain goes with it. This one is a tongue-in-cheek look at reality shows that aren't what they appear to be. Love or money or murder?

Diana Orgain's website is www.dianaorgain.com

A First Date with Death by Diana Orgain. Berkley Prime Crime. 2015. ISBN 9780425271681 (paperback), 297p.

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