Friday, February 29, 2008

Books read in February

In the February 25 issue of Publishers Weekly, editor Sara Nelson said many publishers aren't publishing any big fiction for the fall. She said, "Since much of the educated populace is fixated on newpaper and CNN coverage of political battles, we're wondering who'll have time to read something as ephemeral as a novel."

There's my major problem with February. Even though I had one more day this year than last February, my work days have been grueling, and then I go home at night and plop down and watch MSNBC's political coverage.

So here's the paltry list of the seven books I managed to read during February.

Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah. For over thirty years, Kate and Tully were best friends, until a betrayal tore them apart.

Pushing Up Daisies: A Dirt-y Business Mystery by Rosemary Harris. Debut mystery in which landscaper Paula Holliday digs up a baby's body while working on a Connecticut estate.

Comfort Food by Kate Jacobs. At fifty, Gus Simpson is starting to feel over-the-hill, particularly when her cooking network teams her up with Miss Spain for a youthful look and television ratings.

The Wednesday Letters by Jason F. Wright. When their parents die on the same night, the three grown Cooper children discover letters that reveal shocking family secrets.

Knee High by the Fourth of July by Jess Lourey. In a humorous cozy mystery, small town librarian Mira James investigates when an Indian sculpture disappears, and a murder follows.

The Crazy School by Cornelia Read. An autobiographical mystery in which Madeline Dare teaches at a school for troubled teens, while coping with an administration and faculty who may be the troubled ones.

An Incomplete Revenge by Jacqueline Winspear. While investigating a brickworks in a small English village, Maisie Dobbs encounters a fearful town dealing with threats and prejudice.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Winners and Knee High by the Fourth of July Contest

Before I announce the winners, I'd like one of the previous ones to contact me if she's reading this. Carol Hutton of Pepper Pike, OH, would you email me at Email me!? Your prize book came back because the post office spilled something on the package, and now I can't read your address. Sorry!

This week's winners of the autographed copies of Rhys Bowen's Murphy's Law are Bobbye F. of West Monroe, LA and Theresa N. of North Augusta, SC. Congratulations!

Now, I'm offering two copies of Jess Lourey's fun mystery, Knee High by the Fourth of July. One copy is autographed, but Jim will pick the winners at random.

If you'd like to win a copy of the cozy mystery featuring Mira James, part-time librarian, and part-time journalist, in small-town Minnesota, email me at Email me!. If that link doesn't work for you, the email address is: lholstine@yahoo.com. Your subject line should read Win Knee High. Your message should include your mailing address. Entrants only in the U.S., please.

The contest will end Thursday, March 6 at 6 p.m. MT. Jim will draw the winners at that time. The winners will be notified, and the books will go out in the mail the next morning. Good luck!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Agatha Award Nominees

Unlike the Edgar nominees for this year, I've read and promoted a number of authors and titles on this list. This is the list of the Agatha Award nominees. The awards will be presented at the 20th Malice Domestic Convention held the weekend of April 25-27.

Best Novel

The Penguin Who Knew Too Much by Donna Andrews
Her Royal Spyness by Rhys Bowen
Hard Row by Margaret Maron
A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny
Murder With Reservations by Elaine Viets

Best First Novel

A Beautiful Blue Death by Charles Finch
A Real Basket Case by Beth Groundwater
Silent in the Grave by Deanna Raybourn
Prime Time by Hank Phillippi Ryan

Best Nonfiction

Arthur Conan Doyle: A Life in Letters by Charles Foley, Jon Lellenberg, and Daniel Stashower
The Official Nancy Drew Handbook by Penny Warner

Best Short Story

"A Rat's Tale", by Donna Andrews (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine Sept./Oct.2007)
"Please Watch Your Step", by Rhys Bowen (The Strand, Spring, 2007)
"Casino Gamble", by Nan Higginson (Murder New York Style)
"Popping Round To The Post", by Peter Lovesey (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Nov. 2007)
"Death Will Clean Your Closet", by Elizabeth Zelvin (Murder New York Style)

Best Children's/Young Adult

A Light in the Cellar by Sarah Master Buckey
Bravo Zulu, Samantha! by Kathleen Benner
Cover-Up: Mystery at the Super Bowl by John Feinstein
The Falconer's Knot by Mary Hoffman
Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos by R.L. LaFevers

Congratulations to all of the nominees!

Monday, February 25, 2008

I've Been Tagged

I was tagged for a MEME by Lorraine Bartlett over at Dazed and Confused. (Oh, and yes, Lorraine, of course I like you!)

The rules:
1. Link to your tagger and post these rules.
2. Share 5 facts about yourself.
3. Tag 5 people at the end of your post and list their names (linking to them).
4. Let them know they've been tagged by leaving a comment on their blogs.

I don't usually do this, but it never hurts to promote five more blogs, so here it goes.

FIVE FACTS ABOUT ME! (IT'S ALL ABOUT ME!)

1. I met and married my husband, Jim, at the Huron Public Library. We were formally introduced by my children's librarian, and a couple years later, we married
in the library's meeting room. My staff tied paperbacks books to the bumper of the car.

2. My college roommate, Jamie Shaheen, is a singer and entertainer. She's performed in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Palm Springs, and Alaska. She sings in lounges, piano bars, children's shows, weddings, and has worked for the Disney Corporation as a singer/piano player. She has a CD, and she flew to Florida twice to do children's shows for our reading festival when I was there. Here's her website, www.jamieshaheen.com. I am so proud of her.

3. I have been a Johnny Cash fan since I was thirteen. I saw him three times in concert, and I still think there was no one to compare to him.

4. What do I have in common with my mother and sisters, besides blood? My mother was class valedictorian. I was valedictorian, Linda was salutatorian, and Christie was valedictorian. Linda graduated number one from her college class.

In addition, my mother started working in a high school library when I was in junior high. I started working as a page at the Huron Public Library when I was sixteen. Linda took my job when I graduated, and Christie took hers when she graduated. Just as Christie was leaving for college, I went back to Huron as Library Director.

I think it's because we all like to read.

5. Jim and I have four cats that we love.
Stormy Roy Ann Weatherly is twelve.
Dickens is eight.
Annika Nicole (Nikki) is three.
And Josh, our new kitten, is seven months old.


TAGGED - YOU'RE IT:

Like Lorraine, I'm going to cheat. I'm not going to tell people I've tagged because not everyone wants to do this, or has time. In fact, the authors and bookstore bloggers probably don't have the time to waste to answer the questions. But I do encourage you to check out their blogs.

1. Julie Hyzy and her Blog - Because I'm reading Julie's latest book, State of the Onion, a fun mystery that I'm recommending to family and friends.

2. WebbsBlog - Because the other fascinating mystery I'm reading is Desert Cut, Betty Webb's new book.

3. Louise Penny - Because Louise Penny's blog is just as beautiful as her Armand Gamache mysteries.

4. My Random Acts of Reading - Because I love Kay's quotations, her book reviews, and her love of her library.

5. Poisoned Fiction Review - Poisoned Pen Bookstore's new blog. Since this is the local independent bookstore that I support, I wanted to let readers know about this terrific bookstore.

I hope you check them out. And, thanks, Lorraine!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

It's Not a Glass Ceiling, It's a Sticky Floor


Any woman in the workplace would benefit by reading Rebecca Shambaugh's It's Not a Glass Ceiling, It's a Sticky Floor. Shambaugh, the President and CEO of SHAMBAUGH Leadership, presents women with possibilities for their future at work.

She points out that more than one third of Fortune 500 managers are women, but hold only 14.5% of the CEO positions. Usually, the theories are that there is a glass ceiling, preventing women from mvoing into executive positions. Shambaugh asks women to look at their own self-defeating or self-limiting actions, what she calls "sticky floors".

Women are their own worst enemies in the workplace, according to Shambaugh. Women need to know what kind of changes they want to make in their lives. Self-evaluation and life planning are important. She provides exercises so women can recognize their work styles, and, possibly benefit from those changes. The first step in moving up is to learn about yourself, and, learn to be yourself. Women should learn to balance work and life. One chapter involves perfectionism, which can be a sticky trap for women. Sometimes, women would do better to learn when they should let go, and accept that good enough will suffice.

The chapter that struck home with me was one on making a break from a job that has become too comfotable, in order to advance. I stayed seventeen years in a job in Florida, even though I was not happy with the direction the library went under a new boss. When my husband, Jim, said to me, we have nothing holding us here, it freed me from a job where I was stuck. I loved my staff there, my library branch, and my library patrons, but I was unhappy with management. My move to Arizona was just what I needed.

Even if you're happy with your present job, Shambaugh's It's Not A Glass Ceiling, It's a Sticky Floor, might provide you with a new way of looking at it. With her practical advice about communication and knowing yourself. Rebecca Shambaugh has done a favor for every working woman.

Rebecca Shambaugh's website is www.shambaughleadership.com

It's Not a Glass Ceiling, It's a Sticky Floor by Rebecca Shambaugh. The McGraw-Hill Companies, ©2007. ISBN 9780071493949 (hardcover), 221p.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Annie Freeman's Fabulous Traveling Funeral

Yes, I know that I reviewed Kris Radish's Annie Freeman's Fabulous Traveling Funeral two years ago, Feb. 19, 2006. However, when they talked about a movie called Bonneville today on television, the plot rang a bell.

The cast of Bonneville is in Scottsdale right now, receiving the red carpet treatment for the movie. Here's the summary from Internet Movie Data Base (IMDB). "Three women take a road trip to Santa Barbara in order to deliver the ashes of one of their dead husbands to his resentful daughter." It's a good cast, Kathy Bates, Jessica Lange, Joan Allen, and Tom Skerritt. And, it might be a good movie.

However, don't miss the opportunity of picking up a copy of Kris Radish's moving book. Annie Freeman's Fabulous Traveling Funeral is a wonderful story of women learning to find friendship in the midst of sorrow and loss.

Annie Freeman's Fabulous Traveling Funeral by Kris Radish. Bantam, ©2006. ISBN 978-0553382648 (paperback), 352p.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Winners and Rhys Bowen contest

Congratulations to the winners of the last contest. There were 422 entrants in the contest for the autographed debut mysteries, Pushing Up Daisies by Rosemary Harris. Belinda S. in Orient, OH won one copy, and Nancy F. in Valley Village, CA won the other one. They'll go out in the mail tomorrow.

Rhys Bowen's latest Molly Murphy mystery, Tell Me, Pretty Maiden will be published on March 4. She recently spoke about the book, and her Molly Murphy series when she appeared at the Velma Teague Library. With that in mind, I bought two paperback copies of Murphy's Law, the very first Molly Murphy book. If you'd like to meet Molly Murphy, you can win a copy of this book. Molly fled Ireland after killing a man, heading for America. Ellis Island seemed to be a refuge, until she became a murder suspect when a man was killed there.

I have two autographed copies of Murphy's Law by Rhys Bowen as this week's prizes. If you'd like to win one of these books, email me at Email me!. If that link doesn't work for you, the email address is: lholstine@yahoo.com. Your subject line should read Win Murphy's Law. Your message should include your mailing address. Entrants only in the U.S., please.

The contest will end Thursday, February 28 at 6 p.m. MT. Jim will draw the winners at that time. The winners will be notified, and the books will go out in the mail the next morning. Good luck!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Cornelia Read & Jacqueline Winspear at the Poisoned Pen Bookstore

Barbara Peters hosted Cornelia Read and Jacqueline Winspear at the Poisoned Pen Bookstore in Scottsdale last night. She asked Cornelia to talk a little bit about the background of her books.

Cornelia said her mysteries, A Field of Darkness, and the new book, The Crazy School, have been sort of autobiography, with serial killers. She said she does have a happy marriage despite what happens in the books. She said her husband doesn't want to read her books because he says he lived through it the first time. Her first book included her family background, and Syracuse, where her in-laws live. She patterned the farmer in A Field of Darkness after her father-in-law. And, she said, yes, she really was a debutante.

Jacqueline Winspear then talked about the origin of Maisie Dobbs. Maisie is inspired by Jacqueline's grandparents' story, but she is an invention. She's based
on Jacqueline's grandfather's memories, what he said, and what he didn't say. That inspired her. Everyone lost someone during the Great War. She understood her grandfather still suffered years after the Great War. She writes of a time of change, from before the war to just after World War II. The books are about ordinary people in extraordinary times.

She then talked about the cleanliness, and the bug factor. She said there was a lack of soap in England. She mentioned the Nitty Noras, the women who checked heads for nits every week at the schools.

Without giving anything about the book away, Jacqueline said An Incomplete Revenge looks back at Maisie's romance. Simon, her young man, was injured in the war. She said emotionally it's hard to write about Simon. But, when she was last at the Somme, she wondered how would it be if you'd gone through that battle. She's read about shell shock. She also said the difference in station between Maisie and Simon loaded that relationship. After Simon's injury, Maisie avoided his mother. She doesn't know what to say, and has a remembrance of possibly being judged. She felt that she wasn't quite the girl Simon's parents might have picked.

Read's The Crazy School is based on a boarding school that Cornelia taught at for one semester in 1989. She said it was the closest she ever came in life to seeing pure evil. The founder of the school was a con man who didn't have the doctorate he claimed. That school finally closed when a girl swallowed razor blades, and staff waited ninety minutes to call for help because they thought they could cover it up. The school closed after thirty years. The students were abused at the school. Because they were teens with drug or alcohol problems, troubled teens, they often were not believed even by their parents when they reported abuse. A man stood up at one of Cornelia's book signings and said, if anything, Cornelia was sugarcoating the situation.

Cornelia said that mystery writers get everything out when they write. It's romance writers you have to watch because they have to have happy endings, and their shoes hurt. Whose convention would you want to go to? Barbara said that Cornelia's Maddie mobilizes the troops. She just doesn't know who the troops are she needs to mobilize. Cornelia said even though the school was closed, when the man died in 2003, there were glowing obits in newspapers. The fall of 1989 was about the last time that talk therapy had that power. Prozac came into use just after that. The school just hammered on the kids. Cornelia told another teacher this is how the Holocaust or Jonestown started.

Jacqueline's An Incomplete Revenge is set in rural Kent. She wanted to do a mystery set in the rural tradition, with a gentler arc. The book is set in a small community. Jacqueline was raised in a small community, with the big house, and a
number of smaller houses. Everything happens in a small village. She said the story uses the hop picking time in Kent because she adored that time of year. There have been hop gardens since the 1600s in Kent. The major pickers, along with the villagers, were people from the East end of London and gypsies. September was summer holiday for Londoners, and they took it as a working holiday, because they couldn't afford not to work. Winspear's grandparents went hop picking every year from London. Whole families worked together, packing up to go on the hoppers specials trains.

The gypsies were the other group that picked hops. At that time, gypsies were real gypsies, Roma. Jacqueline was born and raised in Kent. She went hop picking at three. There was prejudice and bigotry against the groups that came in to pick. She remembers the odor of the hop bines, and the rhythm of country life. She went on to tell her story. Her parents were married after World War II. They had to live with her father's parents, but they really wanted a place of their own, and to get out of London. They loved Kent. They didn't want to live there, where the bombs had dropped, and raise a family. They bought an old gypsy caravan, and moved it to Kent and got work on a farm. However, as Londoners, they were always outsiders in Kent. But, a tribe of gypsies extended the hand of friendship. They lived with the gypsies, and moved with them until Jacqueline came along. So, she understood a great affection for people that others disparaged. Her mother always stopped and talked with the gypsies, even years later.

Cornelia said in 1976 her father, a former stockbroker, moved into a VW camper in Berkeley. He lived there for thirteen years. He really dropped out. He's now a mailman in Malibu.

Jacqueline's parents missed the gypsy life, and after retirement started working on farms. An Incomplete Revenge is a book about identity, prejudice, bigotry and wanting to forgive.

The Crazy School is set in 1989, the same timeframe in which Cornelia's husband said to her, "If you stay another week, they'll shave your head and make you sell flowers in the airport." Her first book, A Field of Darkness, is her story about her East Coast upbringing.

In response to Barbara's question about their next books, Cornelia said hers is tentatively called Invisible Boy. It's set in Manhattan and Jamaica, Queens in 1990, and is based on her cousin's story of an old cemetary there. She was working with a group cleaning the cemetary when they found the skeleton of a three-year-old boy. Her cousin helped to solve the mystery of the child's identity, and worked to turn the cemetary around. She said that's the next Madeline story.

Jacqueline Winspear's is another Maisie book, Among the Mad. It's about different types of madness, and what we deem mad, and what we don't.

Cornelia was asked how she ended up teaching at that school, and responded that a friend had a part time job teaching commputers there. Cornelia said she needed a job, and the friend suggested there. She wanted to work with troubled kids. She just stayed one semester, and the hardest part was leaving the kids.

When asked how she works out her mysteries, Jacqueline said she doesn't know how. She starts with a basic plan, but it's organic. Things happen that she doesn't expect to happen. She thinks she writes really simple plots. She doesn't read her books afterward. Neither author can remember the plots of their books since they're always writing the next one.

Winspear summarized her books in response to a question. Thus far, the mysteries have roots set in the Great War. Her protagonist, Maise Dobbs, was an eighteen-year-old who worked as a nurse in France during the war. Readers meet her when she's completed her education and training, and is striking out on her own as a psychologist and investigator.

She views the mystery as an archetypal journey through the chaos to the solution. Mystery allows her to write about that, and tell what happens to ordinary people in extraordinary times. There was great pain during that period.

Barbara mentioned the Golden Age of mysteries, and authors such as Dorothy Sayers, who wrote during the period that Jacqueline writes about. However, Jacqueline's gives the tone of the Depression. Rhys Bowen, who was in attendance, said that Dorothy Sayers and the others were upper class, writing at the time, with no hint of the Depression in their books. Jacqueline, though, understands what it feels to be an outsider, and for those of us reading her books now, there is a shadow of what is to come in world history. The Golden Age writers were writing about as oasis between wars, and they were lifting spirits as well. This was also a great age of women writers. They could write at home, with no training. Women at that time only had a 1 in 10 chance of being married because of the young men lost in war. They often turned to writing, or to teaching. It was one way of having children in their lives.

The DeSisto School was the actual name of the school on which Cornelia based The Crazy School. Michael DeSisto was the founder.

Jacqueline lives in California, and she said in Britain she's viewed as an outsider because she was published in the U.S. first. It's part of the NIH syndrome, Not Invented Here.

Barbara Peters ended the outstanding program by asking both of them to discuss their blog, NakedAuthors.com - the naked truth about literature and life. They said they can say anything on it. Cornelia blogs on Wednesday, and Jacqueline on Friday. Patty Smiley asked them to join. James Grippando blogs there, along with Paul Levine and Jim Born.


Cornelia Read's website is www.corneliaread.com

Jacqueline Winspear's website is www.jacquelinewinspear.com

Monday, February 18, 2008

An Incomplete Revenge

Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs mysteries have been nominated for numerous awards, and her latest, An Incomplete Revenge, will probably follow suit. Once again, she takes readers into a part of England's history that is not well-known. Although she sets her stories in the 1930s, they have a striking relevance to today's world. There is so much meat in this mystery that it's hard to know where to start.

Maisie is still trying to find her own personality and life, after her breakdown from shell shock due to her experiences as a nurse during World War I. Since her business as a psychologist and investigator is struggling, she's taking weaving classes. Her next case will allow her to weave together various voices and stories to find the truth behind a village's secrets.

James Compton, the son of Maisie's patron, is interested in buying a brickworks in Heronsdene. However, he knows there has been vandalism and fires in the town, so he hires Maisie to investigate. Her trip to Heronsdene will be a trip into her own past, as well as the village's.

September brings three groups of people to the town, the villagers themselves, Londoners who take vacation in order to make extra money picking hops, an gypsies, the Roma, who show up to work the hops fields. Since Maisie's assistant, Billy Beale, is heading to the hops fields with his family, Maisie asks him to make arrangements to pick in Heronsdene, so she can work with him. Before Maisie even arrives in the village, Billy calls for help because two boys from London have been arrested for theft from the landowner who owns the brickworks and most of the town.

Maisie finds a village living in fear and suspicion, feelings that extend to the two groups that annually descend upon Heronsdene. Since the townspeople are unwelcoming, Maisie finds she's most welcome in the gypsy camp, where the matron, Aunt Beulah, has been waiting for Maisie. As she spends time in the camp, it brings back memories of her grandmother, a member of a tribe of water gypsies, who left the life to marry Maisie's maternal grandfather.

When a fire breaks out in the inn at which Maisie stays, she witnesses firsthand the fear and lack of trust in the village. As she probes further, she finds a trail leading directly back to a zeppelin that bombed the village in 1916.

World War I was followed by a period of depression and unrest in the world. Maisie's investigation reveals a long period of prejudice and suspicion. The animosity between groups foreshadows the rise of the Nazis in Germany, and fascists in the rest of Europe, including England. An Incomplete Revenge is relevant in our own time, during a time that Americans argue about illegal immigrants, and a presidental campaign points out prejudicial feelings between African Americans and Latinos and whites, as well as prejudice against women. We are living in a period of financial unrest, in which people are losing jobs and homes. Winspear's story of 1931 England is a warning about the suspicions and prejudice, the evil, that can destroy towns and countries.

Jacqueline Winspear's An Incomplete Revenge is a complicated story in which the story of Heronsdene serves as a microcosm of the world at the time. At the same time, Maisie's own history is a microcosm of England's history. Winspear has written a complex, intriguing crime novel, filled with fascinating characters, once again deserving of nomination for the various mystery awards.

Jacqueline Winspear's website is www.jacquelinewinspear.com

An Incomplete Revenge by Jacqueline Winspear. Henry Holt and Company, ©2008. ISBN 978-0-8050-8215-9 (hardcover), 306p.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Knee High by the Fourth of July

When my sister made us stop to see Paul Bunyan on our vacation in Minnesota, we laughed at her for picking a tourist trap. Now, I'm glad she made us stop. When I read Knee High by the Fourth of July, Jess Lourey's latest mystery, it brought back all of those memories of that tall figure. And, anyone from small midwestern towns will recognize home, with its festivals, the small town library where everyone knows each other, and the proverbs we all share.

The third book in the Murder-By-Month mystery series begins on July 2, with a hot summer in which the corn will definitely be knee high by the Fourth. Mira James has escaped to the small town of Battle Lake, to get away from her bad habits. She's settled in with two summer jobs. She's not only the librarian, but also a newspaper columnist for the weekly paper. Her job is to cover the news, not make it when she finds that the twenty-three foot high sculpture of Chief Wenonga, the town mascot, has gone missing. There are plenty of suspects, from the professor of Native American Studies who objects to the local festival, Chief Wenonga Days, to a local militia man, to Mira herself. Mira? Well, she has been a little sexually frustrated lately, and has fallen hard for the tall, dark and handsome sculpture of the chief.

Jess Lourey's stories of Mira James, and her unusual predicaments, will leave you smiling. Mira arrives in town in May Day, and continues her adventures in June Bug. Knee High by the Fourth of July adds a third mystery to Mira's escapades. If you are looking for a fun cozy with a little sexual innuendo, you won't go wrong with Lourey's books.

Jess Lourey's website is www.jesslourey.com

Knee High by the Fourth of July by Jess Lourey. Midnight Ink, ©2007. ISBN 0738710350 (paperback), 231p.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Crazy School

Cornelia Read, author of the critically acclaimed mystery, A Field of Darkness, certainly doesn't suffer with the sophomore jinx with her second novel, The Crazy School. She brings back Madeline Dare, for another intriguing story with outstanding character development.

Maddie and her husband, Dean, finally got out of Syracuse, a city Maddie hated, and moved to the Berkshires in 1989. However, when Dean's job prospects fell through, Maddie accepted a job teaching at the prestigious Santangelo Academy, a school for disturbed, well-to-do teenagers. It isn't long before Maddie realizes that Dr. David Santangelo and his faculty may be more disturbed than the students.

The therapeutic boarding school has unusual methods of handling students in crisis. They pass out meds such as lithium and Thorazine with meals. Sometimes the students must sit in a circle, with the teachers in the middle, while everyone waits for one student to admit their faults. The teachers themselves have self-analysis sessions in which they criticize each other.

Maddie had hoped that the school would help her deal with her own issues. At twenty-six, she's not much older than the students, and she has to face the fact that she's already killed a man. She needs the job, and she's found a friend at the school. Most of all, she doesn't want to abandon the kids. When two students ask for help because one in pregnant, Maddie doesn't know how to help. And, suddenly, Maddie needs help herself when supposed suicides turn to a murder case, and Maddie is tied to the case.

Once again, Cornelia Read has created a deep, thoughtful story with riveting characters. The reader discovers more about Maddie, and gets to know her husband, Dean, a little better. The students, despite their issues with drugs, violence, or depression, are the true stars of the book. Maddie is the focal point that the story pivots around. The students, such as Sitzman and Wiesner, are stronger people, in their own way, than many of the adults in the book. Cornelia Read asks, who are the crazy ones in "The Crazy School"?

Cornelia Read's website is www.corneliaread.com

The Crazy School by Cornelia Read. Grand Central Publishing, ©2008. ISBN 978-0-446-58259-9 (hardcover), 328p.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Interview with Karlene Heinkel

Karlene Heinkel is the author of the novel, Irreparable Damages. She took the time to answer a few questions about her book and her life. Thank you, Karlene!

Lesa - Karlene, would you start out by giving readers a quick summary of your book, Irreparable Damages?

Karlene - Michael Stanford, a successful business man in the small town of Hillcrest, with an impending marriage to his longtime girlfriend, is living his version of the American dream. His idyllic life comes to an abrupt and brutal end when he is murdered in cold blood. Sheriff Charlie Whitman has seen his share of problems since his days as the star high school quarterback. Three failed marriages and a shady past have led him back to his hometown. Michael and Charlie were close friends in high school, but as the decades came and went, so too did their friendship, as did others in their clique. But Michael's death and ensuing murder investigation causes the group's closely guarded secrets to unravel. Lives are shattered and friendships are broken in the quest to find the truth. The events and characters are loosely based on happenings in my life.

Lesa - Press releases for your book said that you grew up in a rural community, and small town living isn't everything that it's perceived to be. What can you tell us about that lifestyle that is different from the media representation?

Karlene - Small town and rurual areas are infused with gossip. It is one of the less pleasant aspects of small towns. Another aspect that is misrepresented is the lack of crime. There is probably more crime per capita. It's just personal - nothing random. We still don't lock our doors and we don't lock our cars. But if a person values his life, he better not try to steal anything. Everyone is armed and only a fool would trespass on someone's property. And probably the biggest misconception; small towns are not populations of 10,000 people. Those are cities!

Lesa - So, how does your book deal with small town life?

Karlene - It deals with the issues of walking alone on deserted roads. It deals with gossiping. It deals with unplanned pregnancies. It deals with infidelity. During my marriage, we had two issues that I wove into the plot. We had a twelve-year-old baby sitter attacked in our home. My husband chased the attacker down the street as he fled in his car. He didn't go to jail, even though he got six years. I was also the last person to see a girl alive shortly after her cheating boyfriend beat her. This was the second girl he beat to death. I came across her on a country road late at night. Her boyfriend was watching.

Lesa - Do you have a favorite character in Irreparable Damages? If so, tell us a little about that person, and why you like them.

Karlene - Charlie Whitman is probably my favorite character. The reader follows him through the past thirty years, some of it vague. He is a flawed character who is on a mission to find internal peace, but he doesn't know how to read the road signs.

Lesa - I understand you and your husband bought a hobby farm. Would you tell us about that? Tell us about your background. What led you to writing?

Karlene - We were both raised on dairy farms. When we married, we continued the tradition and dairy farmed for a decade. We sold our cows and moved to Missouri. We began our business - rebuilding transmissions, shortly after moving. We continued to raise cattle for another five years after the inception of our business, to help pay living expenses. after that, the farm became a hobby. We both love animals, so it was natural for us to raise every kind of animal we could think of. We raised everything from a pot-bellied pig to jaguars. Our kids grew up with lots of pets. When they left home, our pets decreased drastically.

My love of writing started when I was in the fourth grade, and my English teacher took maternity leave. She took a handful of students to her home and taught a creative writing course. I was the youngest in the group of students that included every grade from fourth to twelfth. It was a rewarding experience.

Lesa - What are your plans for future books?

Karlene - I am currently working on another.

Lesa - Karlene, I'm a public librarian, so I always end with a question about the role libraries played in your life.

Karlene - I married at the age of seventeen, and I am still married. While growing up, my parents never had books or any kind of reading material around. They hated to read. I read everything I could get my hands on. When I was finally old enough to be a librarian at the school, I readily took the responsibility. With unlimited access to books, it was my dream job. After marriage, I bought books, and we began to amass boxes full. We remodeled our house and built a library. For a while, we had all of our books on shelves. But now, we are overwhelmed with books again. Because of my upbringing and the lack of books, our children (now grown) were given a bedtime of eight on school nights, without a lights out rule; they could stay up all night reading if they wanted. That was the only exception to the bedtime rule.

Lesa - Thank you, Karlene. And, good luck with Irreparable Damages!

Irreparable Damages by Karlene Heinkel. i-Universe, Inc., ©2007. ISBN 978-0595443222 (paperback), 326p.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Winners and Pushing Up Daisies Contest

Congratulations to the winners of the Lonnie Cruse mystery contest. Carol H. of Columbia, MD won Lonnie's Fifty-Seven Heaven. The autographed copy of Malice in Metropolis goes to Michale M. in Pepper Pike, OH.

As promised, this week I have two autographed ARCs (Advanced Reading Copies) of Rosemary Harris' debut mystery, Pushing Up Daisies. If you're interested in debut mysteries, gardening, or mysteries with great casts of characters, you'll want to enter this contest. Rosemary Harris signed both books, and enclosed a present.

If you'd like to win one of these books, email me at Email me!. If that link doesn't work for you, the email address is: lholstine@yahoo.com. Your subject line should read Win Pushing Up Daisies. Your message should include your mailing address. Entrants only in the U.S., please.

The contest will end Thursday, February 21 at 6 p.m. MT. Jim will draw the winners at that time. The winners will be notified, and the books will go out in the mail the next morning. Good luck!

Happy Valentine's Day!

Happy Valentine's Day! Do you think of books when you think of Valentine's Day?

One of my coworkers is a thoughtful man. He came to me two days ago, and said he needed some book suggestions for his wife. He was putting together a Valentine assortment for her, and he wanted to include a book. He even knew his wife's taste. He said she liked Nicholas Sparks' The Notebook, and she loved tearjerkers, books she could cry over. He wanted something similar.

Since I had just finished The Wednesday Letters by Jason F. Wright, and I cried, I suggested that book. I also mentioned books by Richard Paul Evans and Emily Grayson. It's a caring husband who tries to find the perfect gift for his wife, and pays attention to what she reads.

I hope they have a wonderful Valentine's Day. I hope you have a Valentine's Day with the perfect book for you.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Warm Winter Reads

Each quarter, I host a brown bag luncheon in my office for the public and city staff. I provide water, coffee, and cookies. They bring their lunch. Then, I talk about fifteen books. It's a successful one hour program. Attendance isn't large, but it's enthusiastic, and people return. And, they check out the books!

Here are the titles I'm book talking today.

Beeson, Sam – The UnValentine – A fun little book for those who think Valentine’s day is too mushy.

Bennett, Alan – The Uncommon Reader (Adult Fiction) What happens when the Queen of England discovers a love for books?

Clement, Blaize – Even Cat Sitters Get the Blues (Mystery) Dixie Hemingway ends up involved in murder when she agrees to take care of an iguana.

Corrigan, Kelly – The Middle Place (Autobiography) One year in Corrigan’s life when she and her beloved father were both treated for cancer.

Ephron, Delia – Frannie in Pieces (Teen Fiction) Frannie’s father died, but he left behind a puzzle that takes her to an unknown country.

Feinstein, John – Cover-Up: Mystery at the Super Bowl (Juvenile Mystery) Feinstein takes his two teen journalists behind the scenes of Super Bowl XLII, where they stumble on a scandal.

Gage, Leighton – Blood of the Wicked (Mystery) Debut mystery in the Chief Inspector Mario Silva series involves him in the killing of a bishop, land wars, violence and murder.

Giff, Patricia Reilly – Pictures of Hollis Woods (Juvenile Fiction) Hollis was a runaway foster child, until a woman discovered her artistic gifts, and her need.

Hannah, Kristin – Firefly Lane (Adult Fiction) For over thirty years, the two girls of Firefly Lane are best friends, there for each other through thick and thin, until an act of betrayal separates them.

Harris, Rosemary – Pushing Up Daisies (Adult Fiction) Debut mystery in A Dirt-y Business series, featuring Paula Holliday, a gardener who digs up a mummified baby on an estate.

Heyer, Georgette – Cotillion (Romance) The Queen of the Regencies tells the story of an heiress forced to marry one of her guardian’s nephews, or live without the inheritance.

Jacobs, Holly – Everything But a Groom (Romance) A Hungarian grandmother didn’t know what she was doing when she cursed her fiancé’s descendents, saying they would never enjoy their wedding.

Karon, Jan – Home to Holly Springs (Adult Fiction) In the first of the Father Tim Kavanagh novels, he returns to his childhood home in response to an anonymous letter.

Ure, Louise – The Fault Tree (Mystery) The award-winning author tells the story of a blind mechanic in Tucson, who “witnesses” a murder.

Wright, Jason F. – The Wednesday Letters (Adult Fiction) When a couple dies after forty years of marriage, their three children uncover letters that reveal family secrets.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The UnValentine

If Valentine's Day strikes you as too maudlin or mushy, Sam Beeson's small book, The UnValentine, might be just the book you're looking for. The lengthy poem about a girl who hates Valentine's Day is accompanied by beautiful paintings by Jesse Draper, pictures that bring Lily and her feelings to life.

Lily is a young girl who doesn't believe in love. She writes cynical comments about love in her journal. And, she dreads the day when everyone shares valentines. However, even for the most cynical, love-hating poet, there's a match. When a crumpled up paper arrives on her desk, she discovers the perfect match, a "Gothic lover" who likes dark emotions.

There are UnValentine cards that can be removed from this book, and given to someone who might appreciate the sentiment. Sam Beeson's story might be just the book to bring a smile to the face of the most hardened heart. It would be even harder to resist Draper's illustrations, the perfect companion to the poem.

The UnValentine by Sam Beeson. Shadow Mountain, ©2008. ISBN 978-1590388433 (hardcover), 32p.

Monday, February 11, 2008

The Wednesday Letters

In his first novel since Christmas Jars, Jason F. Wright has written a story of love and forgiveness that is appropriate for Valentine's Day. The Wednesday Letters is a story of romantic love, long-lasting love of God and family, and beautiful love letters.

Jack and Laurel Cooper had been married for almost forty years. Their bed-and-breakfast in Woodstock, Virginia in the Shenandoah Valley welcomed friends and family. The couple died together on one night, of separate causes. Their deaths reunited their grown children. Matthew, the oldest, arrived without his wife, as he struggled with a troubled marriage. Samantha, a police officer, was a single mother who had left her beloved career in theater. And, Malcolm, the youngest, was called home from Brazil, where he had fled after jumping bail after beating one man and fighting with the attorney who coveted Malcolm's girlfriend. Malcolm's past hangs over the entire family as he faces arrest.

When the three Coopers discover a cache of love letters, they discover family secrets and their parents' past. There are troubling letters that will tear apart their perceptions of their family. The letters are part of their history, stories that can destroy them, or rebuild them as stronger people.

Once again, Wright has written about stories that transform people. In this case, the letters show the power of love and forgiveness. The Wednesday Letters might be a perfect book for Valentine's Day.

Jason F. Wright's website is www.TheWednesdayLetters.com

The Wednesday Letters by Jason F. Wright. Shadow Mountain, ©2005. 978-1590388129 (hardcover), 280p.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Rhys Bowen at the Velma Teague Library

With her new book due out in a few weeks, award-winning author Rhys Bowen took the time to appear at the Velma Teague Library in Glendale, AZ. She had an appreciative audience, eager to hear about her mysteries that have won Agatha and Anthony Awards.

Rhys said she normally starts a talk by saying that she kills people for a living. Her Royal Spyness is the first book in her third mystery series.

She said she wrote for the BBC in London. She decided to write mysteries, but didn't know where to set them. She appreciates the settings in mysteries. She's a huge fan of Tony Hillerman and his settings. She said the first time she and her husband were in the Southwest, she didn't need a map, thanks to his books. She couldn't decide where to set her books until she was telling a friend about her childhood visits to family in Wales. They really had a mailman who read everyone's mail. There were two Methodist chapels across from each other. The ministers were nice to each other, but they had a billboard war. Constable Evan Evans then appeared, her first mystery character. The series is about a little village in Wales with a community policeman. However, Evans is a little too polite for Rhys. Sometimes he annoyed her. She wanted to write about someone who didn't shut up and stood up for herself.

Rhys' visit to Ellis Island was the start of her second series. Immigrants coming in at Ellis Island either experienced great joy or great despair. There was a great feeling of despair there. There was a great deal of corruption at Ellis Island. She said she realized Ellis Island was the scene for the ultimate locked room mystery. Rhys Bowen's Molly Murphy mysteries are about an Irish immigrant who fled from Ireland after she killed a man who tried to rape her. Molly knew that there would be no justice, since she had killed the landowner's son. She took a false name, and fled. While at Ellis Island, someone was killed, and the identity Molly took was on the list of suspects. Molly became a detective.

Rhys said that New York City was not the melting pot everyone thinks it was. In fact, it was broken into the Sicilian section, the Irish section, etc. It wasn't until the next generation went to school together that New York started to become a melting pot. Her new book, Tell Me, Pretty Maiden, is due out in March. Molly's detective agency has become successful. She has too many cases, and wants her ex-cop boyfriend, Daniel, to join her. One winter night, they walk in Central Park, and find the body of a young woman. While Molly waits with the body, the woman regains consciousness.. She survives, but she's lost the power of speech and no one knows who she is. In each Molly book, Rhys can dig into some of New York's story. This book is about New York theater and the lives of the chorus girls.

Rhy's agent at St. Martin's told her that she needed a standalone to break her out as a bestseller. Rhys didn't want to do dark thrillers with serial killers, the type of books that make the listss. She didn't want to live with those characters for six months. Instead, she suggested Her Royal Spyness, and other people loved it as much as her agent did. Recently, on DorothyL, a listserv for mystery readers, there were 1700 books submitted as the ones people enjoyed most in 2007. Her Royal Spyness was the third most popular on the list with readers. It has also been nominated for a Dilys Award for the mystery booksellers most enjoyed selling in 2007.

Georgie, the heroine in Her Royal Spyness, is thirty-fourth in line to the British throne. She's a minor member of the Windsor family, living in poverty, with no way to make a living. She's expected to marry some member of a European royal family. Queen Mary is the character that asks Georgie to be a spy for her. Rhys said she met Queen Mary when she was quite elderly. She was still a formidable woman, with a rigid posture. In this book, Queen Mary wants Georgie to spy on her son, David.

Churchill once said that they should erect a statue to Mrs. Simpson because if David had become king, he would have invited Hitler into England.

Rhys said Queen Mary collected antiques, and was known to comment when she visited people, so they were obliged to present her with the antique she had admired. Rhys was born in Bath, and there were a number of antique stores there. Queen Mary had been known to raid antique stores, so the owners hid their better items if they knew she was coming.

She said that Her Royal Spyness was her most autobiographical book. There's a scene with Georgie going to tea with the Queen, when Georgie was living on very little food. It was a gorgeous spread, however, guests could only eat what the Queen ate. Rhys said she once went to tea with Queen Elizabeth II, who was always watching her figure. Since she only had one piece of brown bread, that was all her guests had. She said she's often thought that Elizabeth didn't know about that because she was a very kind woman, who would have wanted her guests to enjoy the food.

Rhys said, like Georgie, she had a brief and disastrous career as a model, and Georgie's scene is from Rhys' experience.

She said she married into an upper-class family, and there were lots of servants at the houses they visited. She said there is still very much a class system in England. Rhys went to a sherry party in the Cotswolds, and the talk of the party was that a grocer bought the house across the way. Upper-class families feel they are there by the grace of God, and everyone else is there to serve them. Among aristocracy, you are one of us or not one of us. That's still the way it is.

The second book in the Royal Spyness series is due out in July, and it's called A Royal Pain. The Queen is still trying to get her son away from Mrs. Simpson, so she invites an eighteen-year-old Bavarian princess to visit. She then tells Georgie that the princess will stay with her. The problem? Gerogie is living by herself in her family's London house without any servants. How can she explain that when the princess arrives with her retinue?

The setting is the 30s, a time of turmoil in Europe. Germany had strong Communists as well as the Nazis, fighting to take over the vacuum in Germany's government. There were Communist marches in England. Then there was Oswald Mosley, a fascist leader with a group of Black Shirts who skirmished with the Communists in London.

When asked about using real people in her books, Rhys said she uses suitably dead people, but she does try to be true to who the people were. In one Molly book, Mark Twain supported women's suffrage. She thought that was appropriate because he had made a speech about it, in the same time period as the Molly book. She said the Royal Family is fair game to use in books.

Rhys was asked about her books being published in England, and she said cozier mysteries are virtually dead in England. They publish dark, psychological mysteries such as those by Val McDermid and Minette Walters. She said she hasn't sold Her Royal Spyness in England.

She said she's a glutton for punishment, and wrote ten books in the Evan series. She didn't chose to end it, but the backlist went out of print, so she saw no reason to continue. Tell Me, Pretty Maiden is the seventh in the Molly series, and she's signed for two more. She's glad she moved on. The only problem with a series is you're tied to the same set of characters. She has a whole new scope of crime in her new series, with interesting crimes.

Rhys said her problem is she has too many ideas. She tells people if they have writer's block, then you're trying to make your characters do something they don't want to do. Her characters go in different directions than she expects. For instance, her next Molly book will be called In a Gilded Cage. In that one, she had no idea what would happen. Molly was participating in a march, but Rhys had no idea that a woman would be dragged out of the march, and a fight would ensue.

She said she can't outline because she likes to be surprised. She wants her sleuths to be believable. Her sleuths don't know where they're going, just as she doesn't know where they're going.

Rhys writes two books a year. She writes every day. She starts the day with her email, and then works. She writes five pages a day in her first draft. She gives first drafts to certain people, and then she polishes them.

She's polished up Tell Me, Pretty Maiden, and that next Molly book will be released March 4. I'm grateful she took time to talk to the audience at the Velma Teague Library before she goes on tour for her new mystery.

Watch for my contest featuring autographed copies of the first Molly book. I'll be holding it in a couple weeks.

Phyllis A. Whitney - R.I.P.

Phyllis A. Whitney died Friday, Feb. 8 at the age of 104. She was the best-selling author of romantic mysteries, young adult novels, and children's mysteries. The New York Times published her obituary.

Phyllis A. Whitney was the first adult mystery writer I ever read, and remained my favorite of the Gothic mystery writers. I read Victoria Holt and Mary Stewart as well as others, but Whitney remained my favorite. My Aunt Phyllis gave me a bag of mysteries, and in the bag was Whitney's Hunter's Green. I still remember the topiary chess set in that book, which remains one of my favorites. When I mentioned that book, and the chess set, today at the library, other women nodded.

She was still writing at 94. I hope she knew how much pleasure she gave so many readers. Rest in peace, Phyllis A. Whitney. Thank you.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Rosemary Harris at The Poisoned Pen


Rosemary Harris' debut mystery, Pushing Up Daisies, was released on Tuesday, so I went to hear her speak last night at The Poisoned Pen Bookstore in Scottsdale. She started out by telling the group that she thought that ticker tape parade in New York City on Tuesday was to celebrate the release of her book. She said Lee Child asked for her autograph. She said the same thing that Cornelia Read and Alafair Burke said, that Lee Child is so generous and good to newcomers. She said there are tons of pictures of him on her website, and she better stop, or her husband won't like it. She also received a congratulatory telegram from Sara Paretsky. And, Rosemary said she was so honored to be at the bookstore because every first timer wants to come to the legendary Poisoned Pen.

Rosemary told the story of how she started writing. She said she was an accidental author. She saw a short two inch article in the New York Times Metro section, saying "Mummified Baby Identified," and she was hooked. She spoke to the doctor who did the autopsy, and he said the body had not been 100% identified. She thought that would make a good story. He gave her two clues that she used in Pushing Up Daisies.

Pushing Up Daisies is about a thirty-something transpanted city girl who moved to the suburbs, and found it was not what she expected. The suburbs have every crime and everything the city has, but on a smaller scale.

Rosemary said there would be no amateur sleuths if cops followed up on everything. Paula Holliday has a nosy disposition, and she won't let go. She also has time on her hands to get involved in an investigation. Plus, she's a gardener, so she digs. Paula's third place is a diner owned by Babe, a former singer in a rock-and-roll band. There are snippets of Rosemary in every character, but perhaps the most in Babe.

When talking about her writing, she said she didn't want to let go of the manuscript. She kept rewriting. She's lucky enough to have a multi-book contract, so she's working on the second book. She started to set it in a different location, but she missed the characters, such as Babe, in the small town, so she put the book back in Connecticut. Corpse Flower will probably be out in March 2009.

When asked about the Cabot Cove syndrome in which the author seems to kill off every character in Jessica Fletcher's hometown, Rosemary said that's the good thing about Paula's job. As a gardener, she can work for businesses, casinos, and private individuals. There are a number of opportunities. It helps that Paula is an outsider. She can get to the bottom of things. Rosemary said she splits her time between New York and a small Connecticut town, and sometimes feels like a spectator in Connecticut. The second book is set in a Connecticut casino, and includes a cast of quirky characters. It has gamblers, Russian mafia, and Native Americans.

An audience member asked Rosemary what she knows now that she wished she knew earlier. She answered she wished she had thought to outline. She does it now to keep track of clues and characters. She wants to play fair with the readers.

She said she liked Babe so much that she used her backstory in a short story in a New England crime anthology. That story tells about Babe's life twenty years eariler.

She said the town she created for Pushing Up Daisies contains an interesting mix of characters, from Mexican workers to women in headbands.

Rosemary had appeared on a Phoenix morning show earlier in the day, and she talked about five plants that can kill you. She mentioned that apple seeds contain cyanide, so maybe Johnny Appleseed was actually doing more than spreading seeds across the country. Maybe he was a serial killer. She talked about Angel's Trumpet, a flower that is 100% poisonous. It's also known as Jimsonweed. In the 1940's the CIA and Nazis investigated using it as an interrogation tool. It's good information for a mystery writer to know that daffodil bulbs, pennyroyal, and mistletoe berries are poisonous.

A traditional mystery writer doesn't include threats of nuclear warfare or governments that are going to crash and burn. In some ways, traditional mysteries are scarier because the events could happen to you. Traditional mysteries include terrifying events, such as a character being followed on a dark road at night. The readers know it could actually happen to them.

In response to a question, Rosemary repeated that her next book, Corpse Flower, is scheduled for March 2009, but it could be slightly delayed. She took a little longer with it because she and her husband built a library in Tanzania in 2007. They broke ground in June, and opened it in November. They took a couple trips to Tanzania because of the library.

It took a year and a half for Rosemary to write Pushing Up Daisies, and a year to get an agent. Once it was bought, it took two years for it to be published. The last six months went fast. An author has as long as they need to write book one, but then they usually have one year to write book two. She had three rejections from agents, and then she sent ten query letters, marketing the book, and three responded. She picked the agent that was the most enthusiastic about the book. She does some of the marketing herself, using her Master Gardener status. She's doing a presentation called, "Mischief and Mayhem in Gardens" for the Philadelphia Flower Show, from the apple to Pushing Up Daisies. The Park Seed Catalog company has the first chapter of her book online. She had contacted them about getting seed packets, and they're doing cross-promotion. They're selling Pushing Up Daisies on their site.

Rosemary said she had some earlier titles for her book, ones that didn't fly with the publisher. They were The pH-Factor, and Baby's Breath.

Rosemary said she was challenged by writing the book in first person. She hadn't started out that way, but it went better when she changed the viewpoint to first person. She outlined, and gave herself homework every night. She'd write two or three lines of the next chapter at night, so she had a starting point the next day. She writes in long hand, in pencil, and then puts it on the computer.

When asked who she's reading, she replied, Louise Penny, with Alafair Burke's Cold Case waiting. She's hoping to read her first book by Barry Eisler, who writes about a half-American, half Japanese character named Rain, who only kills bad guys. When she was at the Love Is Murder Convention, he and William Kent Krueger were on a panel together. Krueger writes about a half-Irish, half-Chippewa character.

From Phoenix she goes to Birmingham to the Murder in the Magic City convention. She said new authors go to a lot of conventions, to be on panels and meet people.

The Poisoned Pen Bookstore was one of Rosemary Harris' first signings for Pushing Up Daisies. She was kind enough to sign two Advanced Reading Copies, so there will be a Pushing Up Daisies contest in the near future on this blog.

Rosemary Harris' website is www.rosemaryharris.com

Pushing Up Daisies by Rosemary Harris. St. Martin's Minotaur, ©2008. ISBN 978-0312369675 (hardcover), 304p.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Winners and Lonnie Cruse contests

Congratulations to the winners in the Awards contest. Beth S. from Xenia, OH won John Hart's Down River. The autographed copy of Forcing Amaryllis by Louise Ure will go to Buddy G. in Jefferson, GA. The books will go out in the mail tomorrow.

If you haven't read Lonnie Cruse's mysteries, you're missing two enjoyable series with strong family characters. I'll introduce two different winners to one of her series this week. I'm offering an ARC (Advanced Reading Copy) of Lonnie's latest book, Fifty-Seven Heaven. This mystery is the first in her Kitty Bloodworth, '57 Mystery, featuring Kitty and Jack Bloodworth, and their beloved 1957 Chevy, Sadie.

Or, you could win an autographed ARC of Malice in Metropolis. This is part of Cruse's Sheriff Joe Dalton series. In this latest book, Sheriff Dalton dodges bullets and bombs while trying to keep his family and his community safe.

Malice in Metropolis or Fifty-Seven Heaven?

If you'd like to win one of these books, email me at Email me!. If that link doesn't work for you, the email address is: lholstine@yahoo.com. Your subject line should read Win...the title of the book, whichever book you want. Your message should include your mailing address. Entrants only in the U.S., please.

The contest will end Thursday, February 14 at 6 p.m. MT. Jim will draw the winners at that time. The winners will be notified, and the books will go out in the mail the next morning. Good luck!

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Pushing Up Daisies

Rosemary Harris' debut mystery, Pushing Up Daisies, introduces a gutsy heroine with an offbeat supporting cast. The first in the Dirt-y Business Mystery is a blooming success.

Paula Holliday is a gardner with a small landscaping business in Connecticut. Her business is struggling, and Paula spends a great deal of time hanging out in the Paradise Diner, owned by her friend, the outspoken "Babe" Chinnery. When the last member of the Peacock family dies, Paula's time spent at the Springfield Historical Society lands her the job of landscaping the family estate, Halcyon. It's just an accident when she digs up a body on her first day on the job.

Paula, a single woman in her thirties, with a dry sense of humor, pushes Sergeant Mike O'Malley to investigate a murder that could be forty years old. Can Paula weed out the killer in a story of past scandals? It takes some help from a retired cop, Paula's friend, Lucy, and the Mexican landscaping community.

Harris has a solid grasp on gardening details that will please many readers. For those of us without any knowledge of gardening, she supplies a well-constructed mystery with likable characters. Here's hoping the "Dirt-y Business Mystery" series flourishes.

Rosemary Harris' website is www.rosemaryharris.com

Pushing Up Daisies by Rosemary Harris. St. Martin's Minotaur, ©2008. ISBN 978-0312369675 (hardcover), 304p.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Interview with Kristin Hannah

Kristin Hannah's novel, Firefly Lane, is scheduled for release on February 5. She took time out of her busy schedule to answer a few questions.

Lesa - Kristin, thank you so much for answering questions today on my blog. Some of my readers might be familiar with your book, On Mystic Lake. You've returned to Washington state for your new book, Firefly Lane. Would you tell us about your background, and your love for Washington?

Kristin - I have lived in Washington state for most of my life, and I really love this wet, wild, blue-gray corner of the world, and I love showing readers this place through my eyes. I know a lot of people can't imagine living in this climate - too rainy, too soggy, too many days without sunshine - but for those of us who can take all that, this is truly a magical place. They don't call it the Evergreen State for nothing. When the sun shines, it's really one of the most beautiful places on Earth.

Lesa - Would you give us your summary of Firefly Lane?

Kristin - I'd love to. Firefly Lane is a book I've been wanting to write for a long time. Maybe that's because it's a story I've wanted to read. I used to love the big, emotional, female-driven books of the eighties - novels where we saw much of the characters' lives play out against changing times and different locations. That's what Firefly is - a big, sprawling, emotional valentine to female friendship. More precisely, it's about two girls who meet as young teenagers and swear to be best friends forever. Throughout their lives that friendship remains imortant and solid, until a shocking act of betrayal threatens to ruin everything.

Lesa - I was going to ask you about your favorite characters, but I saw on your website that Tully Hart from Firefly Lane is one of them. Since I preferred Kate, why is Tully one of your favorites?

Kristin - I think the reason I like Tully is that she's so unlike me. Usually my characters are rational, grounded, thoughtful people. Tully was so much larger than life. I had to really change the way I saw the world to write her, and once I got into her head, I enjoyed myself. It's probably the closest I've ever come to being an actress - I really had to dig deep to find the Tully in me. Although, I still love Izzy from Mystic and Alice from Magic Hour...

Lesa - Your website said you started to write a book with your mother, who knew you would be a writer. Did parts of that story ever appear in any of your books?

Kristin - That story was incredibly bad. :) I worked and re-worked it for several years, but I finally had to admit that my mom and I had devised a loser. It was the springboard for everything, though, and I often think that her final gift to me was this career. I like to think she's proud.

Lesa - What can you tell us, Kristin, about your next book?

Kristin - Actually, I've just turned in my next book, and I'm now in the process of revising it. As many people know, I'm a very extensive reviser, so I'm not entirely sure how it will all shake out, but I can say this: it's an emotional story about three sisters and the men who rip them apart and the man who brings them back together. So far, I'm loving it.

Lesa - You just started a blog on your website, www.KristinHannah.com . What do you hope to do with it?

Kristin - I hope to keep it interesting and timely and to connect with readers on a more personal level. I was really scared to jump into the whole cyberspace chat thing, but I've found that I enjoy it. I guess you can teach an old dog new tricks. :)

Lesa - And, one last question that I always ask. Kristin, I'm a public librarian. Do you have any special memories or comments about libraries?

Kristin - Are you kidding? Where would any of us be without libraries and librarians? One of the highlights of my life as a parent was the day I took my young son's hand and led him into our local library to get his very own card. As for all of us, that was his first passport to other worlds. He began with Roald Dahl and moved on to J.K. Rowling and is now tearing it up with Stephen King. Our local library was a big part of that.

Thank you, Kristin, for taking time for an interview. I'll repeat some of the information I provided in an earlier blog.

Kristin Hannah's website is www.kristinhannah.com. Check out the website for her Best Friends Contest. She also has a contest to give away signed copies of Firefly Lane, if you sign up for her newsletter. There's a new blog, which will be of interest to any Kristin Hannah fans. Check out the dates for her tour for Firefly Lane, with a publication date of Feb. 5.

Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah. St. Martin's Press, ©2008. ISBN 978-0312364083 (hardcover), 496p.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

March Treasures in My Closet & Possible Bestsellers

Mystery readers might find the treasures in my closet this month more exciting than the possible March bestsellers. So, I'm going to start with the novels scheduled for March publication that I have waiting in the closet.

I haven't gone wrong yet with one of Louise Penny's traditional mysteries. The Cruelest Month takes Chief Inspector Armand Gamache back to the Quebec town of Three Pines when a séance at a local haunted house turns deadly. This is on the top of my pile for the month.

The marketing campaign for Bill Floyd's The Killer's Wife is fantastic. My copy came with a sleep mask imprinted with "Do you know who YOU'RE sleeping with? The sentence is repeated on the front cover. It's an intimate look at a serial killer, from his wife's viewpoint.

Benjamin Black's Christine Falls was just nominated for an Edgar Award for Best Novel. In March, he returns with The Silver Swan, and brings back Quirke, a pathologist in 1950s Dublin, who is digging into a young woman's apparent suicide.

K.O. Dahl's The Fourth Man takes the reader to Norway where Detective Inspector Frank Frølich's affair with the sister of a gang member puts him under suspicion as a murder suspect.

A Perfect Revenge is Annabel Dilke's story of a fateful morning in 1946 that destroyed a friendship, and led to a war of almost forty years between two British families.

Terra Incognita takes readers to the ancient Roman Empire in a mystery by Ruth Downie. In 118, Gaius Petreius Ruso is stationed in Roman-occupied Britannia. His involvement with his slave, Tilla, forces him to prove a man innocent of murdering a soldier.

R.A. Salvatore also takes readers into an ancient world in The Ancient: Saga of the First King. While searching for his long-lost father, Bransen Garibond ends up fighting a hopeless war against the brutal leader of the druidic Samhaists.

It's going to be tough to put down those treasures to read the possible bestsellers. I'm sure Mary Higgins Clark will make the lists with Where Are You Now? Ten years after Kevin MacKenzie, Jr. disappeared, his sister, Carolyn, decides to find him.

Andrew Gross might make the lists with his new novel, The Dark Tide. It's the story of a woman who uncovers her husband's secret past after his death.

Change of Heart is the March book by Jodi Picoult. June Nelson faces a life waiting for justice, but she might have to change for the sake of her daughter.

Doc Ford returns in Randy Wayne White's Black Widow. Doc and his friend Tomlison hunt for a blackmailer whose target is Ford's goddaughter, on the eve of her wedding.

Other possibilities include Linda Fairstein's Killer Heat and Laura Lippman's Another Thing to Fall. There's even a new Danielle Steel, Honor Thyself, although her popularity has seriously waned in recent years.

Now is the time to pre-order these from your favorite bookstore, or place them on hold at your public library. March looks like a great month for new books.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Firefly Lane

Kristin Hannah's latest novel, Firefly Lane, will tug at your heart if you remember the seventies and eighties. If you remember big hair and the music of those years, check it out. If you have girlfriends or sisters that you love, Firefly Lane will touch you. And, if you have loved someone, or lost someone, prepare to break out the tissues. Kristin Hannah's Firefly Lane is a moving story of friendship and love. I enjoyed On Mystic Lake. I loved Firefly Lane.

Tully Hart felt abandoned as a child. Although she lived with her grandmother, her mother drifted in and out of her life. Tully always craved the love she never had.

Kate Mularkey had a loving family, but she was a lonely eighth grader, growing up on Firefly Lane. It didn't help when the "coolest-looking girl in the world" moved in across the street. It did help when Tully and Kate, two lost girls, became friends. Kate's family took Tully in, and "TullyandKate" swore to be best friends forever.

The two best friends went to college together, and always seemed to follow a path Tully charted. Kate seemed to be run over by Tully's personality. Tully was the drama queen, determined to be a famous television reporter. She wanted everything in life, and expected the world to revolve around her. At times, Kate seemed to be a shadow of Tully, following her into broadcasting, falling in love with a man who had eyes for Tully. One phrase seemed to sum up Kate, "standing alone, surrounded by word ghosts, things she could have said."

It's friendship that keeps them together through Tully's fame, Kate's family, and over thirty years. The two friends charted different paths, but the "best friends forever" were there for each other.

I read Kristin Hannah's comments about favorite characters in her books, and she mentioned Tully Hart. I'll be interviewing Kristin soon, and I'm going to ask about that. At times, I wanted to shake Tully. At other times, I wanted to hug her. I felt as if she took advantage of Kate because Tully's mother had damaged her beyond repair. Tully is an extremely needy character, who always wanted more.

Hannah brings this friendship, and its history, vividly to life. It's easy to imagine Kate and Tully as living people. The music, hairstyles, casual references to celebrities and events, moves the story through the seventies, eighties and nineties. It's an emotional story because it seems to be alive.

There is a poignant ending, and an issue that seems very personal to Kristin Hannah, but to reveal that is to spoil the storyline. Just prepare to enjoy the friendship between two girls, growing into women, and celebrate the lives they lived in the pages of Kristin Hannah's Firefly Lane.

Kristin Hannah's website is www.kristinhannah.com. Check out the website for her Best Friends Contest. She also has a contest to give away signed copies of Firefly Lane, if you sign up for her newsletter. There's a new blog, which will be interesting to any Kristin Hannah fans. Check out the dates for her tour for Firefly Lane, with a publication date of Feb. 5.

Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah. St. Martin's Press, ©2008. ISBN 978-0312364083 (hardcover), 496p.

Guest Blogging on Writers Plot

Today, I'm guest blogging over at Writers Plot. I hope you drop in for a conversation, "Of writers and librarians."


Thanks to the women of Writers Plot for inviting me!

Friday, February 01, 2008

Books Read in January

Ok, Elizabeth. I only read eleven books in January. That's the same number I read last year in January.

Here's my list of books from January.

Halloween in Oz: Dorothy Returns by Leo Moser and Carol Nelson - Eleven-year-old Dorothy returns to Oz to find herself confronting another witch.

The Sisters Grimm: The Fairy-Tale Detectives by Michael Buckley - Two orphans find a grandmother they never knew, and a life in fairy tales they never believed.

Blood of the Wicked by Leighton Gage - In Brazil, Mario Silva, Chief Inspector from the Federal Police, begins investigating a bishop's murder, and then the murders snowball.

The Fault Tree by Louise Ure - A blind auto mechanic "witnesses" a murder, but violence escalates, and she becomes a target.

Plum Lucky by Janet Evanovich - Stephanie Plum's Grandma Mazur steals money from a man who stole it from the mob, setting off a crazy novel.

Killer Year: Stories to Die For...From the Hottest New Crime Writers ed. by Lee Child. Crime stories.

Even Cat Sitters Get the Blues by Blaize Clement - Dixie Hemingway falls for a scam to take care of an iguana, and ends up in the middle of murder and industrial espionage.

The Middle Years by Kelly Corrigan - A year in which Kelly and her beloved father , George, fought cancer, while Kelly tried to accept her life as a mother, not just George's daughter.

Cover-Up: Mystery at the Super Bowl by John Feinstein - Two fourteen-year-old repoters cover the Super Bowl, and uncover a scandal involving steroids.

The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett - A novel in which the Queen of England becomes fascinated with reading.

Four Wives by Wendy Walker - Story of four wives in a wealthy New York suburb, and their marriage problems