Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Shadows on a Maine Christmas by Lea Wait

"Waymouth, Maine. How could anything bad ever happen in a place as beautiful, as perfect, as this one?" With that second sentence, author Lea Wait dooms Waymouth in the intriguing mystery, Shadows on a Maine Christmas. When antiques print dealer Maggie Smith goes to Maine knowing she has decisions to make, she doesn't realize she'll also get caught up in a murder investigation over the Christmas holidays.

Maggie knows she wants to adopt, but the man she loves doesn't want children. And, she's in New Jersey while Will has moved to Maine to take care of his ninety-two-year-old Aunt Nettie. Maggie and Will have to have a discussion, but it can probably wait while they enjoy the Christmas festivities in the picture-perfect town of Waymouth. And, Nettie is excited to host some women who have been part of her life for decades. One of Nettie's friends, Betty, has Alzheimer's though, and reacts to Will with fear at one point. Maybe they can overlook her reaction, but fear rears it's ugly head again when Betty's caregiver is murdered.

Against Will's advice, Aunt Nettie and Maggie team up to ask questions. Aunt Nettie has secrets, and she might be willing to reveal her own, but she isn't willing to tell those that belong to other people in town. And, Waymouth has secrets that go back decades, as well as violent secrets today. This Christmas season, Maggie will uncover unexpected strength and tragedy.

It's difficult to comment on Shadows on a Maine Christmas without giving away too much. Wait touches on social issues and women's history in a compelling mystery. She blends Christmas observations, small town beauty, a little antique background, with personal relationships. It's not easy to combine charm and tragedy, but Lea Wait succeeds beautifully in Shadows on a Maine Christmas.

Lea Wait's website is www.leawait.com

Shadows on a Maine Christmas by Lea Wait. Perseverance Press. 2014. ISBN 9781564745477 (paperback), 224p.

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

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Blood of an Englishman by M.C. Beaton

I had never read an Agatha Raisin mystery before I agreed to participate in the anniversary celebration for the 25th book in M.C. Beaton's series featuring her. Beaton's The Blood of an Englishman may exemplify the cozy mystery. But, in some ways, she also turns some of the tropes on their head. Agatha Raisin smokes, drinks, hates tea, heads up her own private detective agency (without a license), and is man-crazy. None of those sweet romances in a cozy mystery for Beaton. It's actually a fun, refreshing change.


Agatha Raisin also hates amateur theatrics, but agrees to attend a local production of Babes in the Woods with her friend, Mrs. Bloxby, the vicar's wife. She finds nothing to recommend the play, except the play's producer, Gareth Craven, who is handsome. When the police cars start to gather after the play, though, Agatha realizes there was something to attract her attention. Bert Simple, the local baker who played the ogre, had disappeared down a trapdoor, and never appeared for the ovation. It seems he was murdered in a particularly gruesome fashion as he exited via that trapdoor.

Gareth Craven, heading the list of suspects, asks Agatha to investigate. To her disgust, she learns that every handsome man involved in the case seems to be infatuated with Gwen Simple, the baker's wife. And, there are times during the lengthy investigation when Agatha just loses interest. "Agatha Raisin, when she was not obsessed with some man or other, became de-energized." It's that predatory interest, though, that leads to a few interesting clues, and a few terrorizing moments for Agatha, before she discovers the unsavory solution.

I've read comments from others who say they tire of Agatha Raisin's obsession with men. I found it funny, and a change from the behavior of sleuths in other cozy mysteries. I appreciated the length of time it took to solve the case. It wasn't wrapped up in a couple days. And, I enjoyed a more mature sleuth, one with a few idiosyncrasies.

If you're like me, and haven't read an Agatha Raisin mystery before, don't hesitate to pick up the twenty-fifth book in the series. There's a reason the series has gone on that long. The latest book is an entertaining mystery. The Blood of an Englishman is a fun introduction to the cranky, lovable, needy Agatha Raisin.

M.C. Beaton's website is www.MCBeaton.com

The Blood of an Englishman by M.C. Beaton. Minotaur Books. 2014. ISBN 9780312616267 (hardcover), 304p.

Note: Don't forget this week's giveaway of three copies of The Blood of an Englishman. Details on Monday's blog.

*****
FTC Full Disclosure - The publisher sent me a copy of the book so I could participate in the anniversary celebration and giveaway.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Anniversary Giveaway - M.C. Beaton's The Blood of an Englishman



Yes, we're celebrating the publication of M.C. Beaton's 25h Agatha Raisin mystery, The Blood of an Englishman. Thanks to Minotaur Books, I have three copies to give away. They'll send a finished copy to one winner, and I'll send out two ARCs. So, email me at Lesa.Holstine@gmail.com. Your subject heading should read "Win The Blood of an Englishman." Please include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. only, please. The contest will end Thursday, Sept. 18 at 6 PM CT.

And, if you're still uncertain, check out my review of this fun mystery tomorrow.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett

Steven Marcus, editor of Hammett for The Library of America, said "In a few years of extraordinary creative energy Dashiell Hammett invented the modern crime novel." In referring to The Thin Man "His last novel, The Thin Man, a ruefully comic tip of the hat to the traditional mystery form, introduces Nick and Nora Charles, the sophisticated inebriates who would enjoy a long afterlife in the movies." So, call me a heretic. I didn't find anything particularly appealing about Nick and Nora. I am going to watch the movie since I'm leading a book discussion for "Adapted For the Silver Screen". With the book, I found Nick to be a bored man who married a younger wife. He quit his profession, drinks too much (constantly), and flirts too much. Nora just seems bored with her life, looks for excitement wherever she can find it, and, again, drinks, flirts, and pushes Nick into trouble.

And, trouble, naturally in the crime novels set in the '30s, comes in the form of a dame. In this case, it's a young, totally messed up dame, Dorothy Wynant, who is looking for her father, and wants Nick to help her. Nick once knew her father, but insists he gave up his private investigator status when Nora inherited a fortune. But Dorothy seems infatuated with Nick, and Nora takes the younger woman under her wing. As much as Nick opposes involvement with Dorothy and all of her crazy family, the murder of a secretary drags him into an investigation. Everyone but Nick seems to think Dorothy's father is the culprit. Nick suspects otherwise.

The Thin Man is the story of a world-weary Nick Charles who takes on a case to please his wife, a woman always looking for the next exciting moment. While they're visiting New York, they spend their days and nights drinking, attending shows, going to speakeasies, and to Nora's enchantment, mixing with criminals, cops, and suspects. I found it a sad story of unhappy people. No matter how much money they had, or the state of their marriages, no one in the book seems happy. And, honestly? By the end of the book, I didn't care who killed the secretary or where Dorothy Wynant's father was. I just wanted Nick to solve the case so he could dump those awful Wynants.

After reading the book, I watched the movie. It was much more enjoyable than the book. The relationship between Nick and Nora was better. And, Asta had a much larger role in the movie. The movie was better. As it is, I only found the book to be sad and depressing.

(I read The Thin Man in The Library of America's collection Hammett: Complete Novels.)


Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Moment of Everything by Shelly King

"Books don't change people's lives, not like everyone thinks they do." With that opening sentence, Shelly King grabbed me and didn't let go until I finished her debut novel, The Moment of Everything. I love books about books, bookstores and reading. The Moment of Everything is all of that, with a twist.

At thirty-four, Maggie Dupres finds herself out of a job in Silicon Valley, laid off when her job was outsourced to India. Now, she's spending all of her time hanging out at the Dragonfly, a used bookstore. While she's supposed to be looking for a job, her landlord, Hugo, the owner of the store, lets her sit there reading three historical romances a day. Although Maggie has a degree in library science, she followed her best friend, Dizzy, to California, and ended up working in a start-up. But, Dizzy has a plan to get her back in the company. He's wrangled an invitation to a book club where one woman has money, power and connections. But, Maggie's copy of Lady Chatterley's Lover isn't the same edition everyone else has. Her copy is falling apart, picked up at Dragonfly. And, she needs the notes inside to get her through the book club.

Maggie finds more than simple notes in the book.  She finds a magical conversation between two people, Henry and Catherine, who left notes to each other in the bookstore's copy of Lady Chatterley's Lover. It's Catherine telling Henry that it's only in the pages of the book that they can belong to each other. And, it's Henry responding that they're both afraid to meet. "Fear isn't real. It's just emotion mixed with memory." And, when Maggie tries to find Henry and Catherine, the two lovers who wrote in the book, she finds answers to questions she didn't know she had, questions about love, finding the right person in life, and finding the right place in life.

In some ways, Shelly King's novel is also a love letter to librarians, although Maggie never worked in the field. But, she was passionate about books, horrifying her mother when she was eight and announced she wanted to be a librarian. "The librarians I knew were superheroes of data. Like the Old World explorers, they navigated uncharted oceans of information, drawing maps to get anyone anywhere. And they were the keepers of things other people forgot, archiving the incidents of life and piecing them together." (Thank you, Shelly King.)

The Moment of Everything is not like other wonderful books about bookstores and books. It's a contemporary story about geeks and gamers, the same people who love and buy used books. It's Maggie's story, as she tells it, her story of disillusionment with life and love. There are books and bookstores, sex, and unusual meetings, and a grumpy cat. It's sad at times. It's also filled with hope and books. And, it's filled with beautiful writing, conversations between Henry and Catherine, and conversations between Maggie and the reader. King's The Moment of Everything is magic and tragic, and everything that a contemporary novel about a used bookstore should be, comfortable and a little dusty and shady at the same time. It's just perfect.

Shelly King's website is www.ShellyKing.com

The Moment of Everything by Shelly King. Grand Central Publishing. 2014. ISBN 9781455546794 (paperback), 274p.

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

Friday, September 12, 2014

Winners and a Carolyn Hart "Win It Before You Can Buy It" Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the Linda Castillo giveaway. The Dead Will Tell goes to Margie B. from San Jose, CA. Lani S. from Narberth, PA won Her Last Breath. The books will go out in the mail today.

I have a very special giveaway this week, three autographed ARCs (Advanced Readers' Copies) of Carolyn Hart's next book, Ghost Wanted. Carolyn herself sent these copies of the forthcoming Bailey Ruth Ghost mystery. Bailey Ruth Raeburn's supervisor in Heaven's Department of Good Intentions sends her back to Adelaide, Oklahoma where one of his friends is in trouble. The ghost of elegant Lorraine Marlow haunts the college library there, where she acts as matchmaker for the students. But someone is causing trouble, and Wiggins worries that his friend's reputation will be ruined. Then, soon after she arrives, the problems get worse when a security guard is shot. Even when the odds are stacked against her, Bailey Ruth will work to find the culprit.

Ghost Wanted is scheduled for release on Oct. 7, so three people will actually win autographed copies before you can buy the book. Email me at Lesa.Holstine@gmail.com. Your subject line should read "Win Ghost Wanted." Please include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. only, please. The contest will end next Thursday, Sept. 18 at 6 PM CT.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

TBR Piles

I had to finish a book last night for a review for a journal, so I haven't had much time to read for myself. I did get a chance to run home on my lunch hour, though, and pick up all of my packages. Books, of course! So, here's what I opened today.



Out of all those books, though, the one I started is one that I actually bought, The Moment of Everything by Shelly King. Some of the others aren't due out yet, so those books are going on my TBR (to be read) pile. So, what are you reading right now, and what's on your TBR pile at the moment?