Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Best of Lists - Happy New Year!

Kaye, a friend at Meanderings and Muses, mentioned how much she likes all of the "best of" lists that come out at the end of the year. So, I sent her the following lists for the end of the year.

I've already done the top 10 mysteries of the year, which I really would have liked to make top 12 or 15.

So, here are this year's discoveries - in various categories.

Favorite mystery series debuts -
Leighton Gage
Liz Zelvin
Julie Hyzy
Sandra Ruttan

Favorite return of a missing mystery series -
Les Roberts' Milan Jacovich in King of the Holly Hop

Favorite debut of a new mystery series by an author with a long-running one -
Betty Webb's The Anteater of Death

Favorite discovery of a long-running series -
Steven F. Havill's Posadas County mysteries

Favorite juv crime novel -
Chris Grabenstein's The Crossroads

Favorite reprint - (non-mystery)
My Lady of Cleves by Margaret Campbell Barnes

Favorite novels - (non-mystery)
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Schaffer & Annie Barrows

The Last Queen by C.W. Gortner

Favorite picture book -
Bats at the Library by Brian Lies

Happy New Year, Everyone! I'm raising my glass of sparkling cider to a good reading year in 2009 for everyone! I hope we make new discoveries, and find old favorites. 2008 has been a good reading year.



(Happy New Year from Syndey, Australia. It's already 2009 there, and I won't be up at midnight in Arizona - grin.)

The Fourth Time Is Murder

Once one of my reviews has appeared in Mystery News, I have permission to reprint them here. Here's the review of Steven F. Havill's The Fourth Time Is Murder, a book that appears on my list of the top ten crime novels of the year.


The Fourth Time Is Murder
By Steven F. Havill
St. Martin’s Minotaur
ISBN 978-0-312-38063-2
November
$24.95
Hardcover
Police Procedural

Posadas County, New Mexico borders Mexico, and law enforcement sometimes has to deal with typical border issues. Undersheriff Estelle Reyes-Guzman works in a department that is understaffed and overstretched. So, when a deputy accidentally drops and discharges his gun, and is temporarily suspended, it leaves them shorthanded during a critical time.

When a journalist from A Woman’s World magazine wants to cover her, Estelle says it’s usually a routine job. But, right now, the department is investigating a traffic accident in which the victim might have been murdered. How is the dead driver related to the unusual large number of sweepstakes winners in one small village? And, that same village seems to be connected to the death of a woodcutter in an other county.

Havill skillfully combines a police procedural with Estelle’s family life. It was refreshing to read a mystery in which no one in the department was a loner out for themselves. This department works well together. Estelle respects the staff, her boss, Sheriff Robert Torres, and her former boss, Bill Gaster. I haven’t read the earlier books in the series that feature Gastner before his retirement. However, the concept of following a sheriff’s department through one sheriff’s years to the next years with the undersheriff is fascinating. Since Posadas county is small, the retired sheriff is still consulted. This seldom happens in other series. And, because it is a county of only 7,500, families, relationships, and jobs are entwined.

With an outstanding cast of characters, interesting setting, timely topics, and an absorbing plot, The Fourth Time Is Murder is an exceptional mystery.

Rating: 5

Courtesy Mystery News, Vol. 26/Issue 6, Dec/Jan. 2009.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Best Crime Fiction Reads of 2008

When Kerrie, at Mysteries in Paradise, asked readers to list their best crime fiction reads of 2008, she might not have known what she was getting into. She intended to collate the lists, add them to hers, and make a definitive list - the best crime fiction of 2008. But, the lists she's received have all been very different.

Do you want to add your top ten crime fiction reads to Kerrie's list? Check out her blog at Mysteries in Paradise.

It was tough to narrow my list to ten, but here are my favorite crime fiction reads of 2008.

The Fault Tree by Louise Ure
Blood of the Wicked by Leighton Gage
The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny
Death Will Get You Sober by Elizabeth Zelvin
What Burns Within by Sandra Ruttan
The Crossroads by Chris Grabenstein
Rubicon by Lawrence Alexander
Hell Hole by Chris Grabenstein
The Fourth Time is Murder by Steven F. Havill
The Anteater of Death by Betty Webb

How does this match up with your favorites of 2008?

Monday, December 29, 2008

Cats in Books

When my sister was in London for a week in November, she picked up a special gift for me at The British Library. Cats in Books is subtitled, "A celebration of cat illustration through the ages." Rodney Dale tells the story of cats in manuscripts and books, placing them in literary and historical context.

According to Dale, the book "celebrates people's fascination with cats through the ages." The first illustrations of cats come from the Lindisfarne Gospels, done between 698 and 721. There are cat illustrations from The Book of Kells, and sketches done by Leonardo da Vinci. It's a fascinating story, covering everything from witches' cats to Dick Whittington and His Cat, along with Puss in Boots. Lewis Carroll's famous Cheshire Cat is shown by three illustrators.

The book is fascinating, including the stories of the authors and illustrators, as well as their drawings of cats. Sometimes, the book tells the the story itself, including Beatrix Potter's second story to feature Tom Kitten, The Roly-Poly Pudding, and the plot of The Cat in the Hat. Then there are the cartoonists, such as Bernard Kliban and Jim Davis.

As a cat lover, I found this to be a lovely, small book. It captured so much of the history of cats in books in just 112 pages. My only quibble was the small print on some of the pages, when original illustrations were used. The book is a little treasure. And, there's no better way to end this commentary than with a quote from the book, and Rudyard Kipling's illustration from "The Cat That Walked by Himself." Dale ends with, "Perceptive illustrators have always understood the essence of being a cat."



Cats in Books: A Celebration of Cat Illustration Through the Ages by Rodney Dale. The British Library, 2008. ISBN 9780712350235 (paperback), 112p.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Guest Blogger on Type M For Murder

It's a little late in the day to mention this, but I'm the guest blogger on Type M for Murder today. I was very honored that Donis Casey asked me to talk a little about book reviewing. Stop over if you still have a chance.

And, I have to apologize that I didn't get around to blogging this sooner. We went to see Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino today, and it threw me off schedule. Great movie, and Clint was wonderful!

Sunday Salon - The Anteater of Death

When one of your favorite mystery authors makes a departure from their regular series, do you follow along? Do you worry about the new characters, and whether you'll be just as happy with the new series? I've been disappointed at times. I've read every one of Robert B. Parker's Spenser books, but I don't care about his characters, Jesse Stone or Sunny Randall.

Betty Webb is well-known for her Lena Jones series, and, naturally, since they're set here in Arizona, they are particularly popular here. These are somewhat dark books. Betty herself says that the first one, Desert Noir, sets the tone. So, when she started a new series, a slightly lighter one set in a zoo, readers might have worried a little. There's no need to worry. The Anteater of Death is a stunning debut for the Zoo Mysteries featuring Teddy Bentley.

Was Lucy, the anteater, framed? Theodora "Teddy" Bentley was the zookeeper who found a body in the anteater's enclosure at the private Gunn Zoo in California. She worried about her beloved anteater's fate, until she learned Lucy didn't kill the wealthy victim, the husband of one of the Gunn family members. However, she was even more sure that a fellow zookeeper wasn't the killer when Zorah was arrested for the murder. With the sheriff convinced he arrested the killer, Teddy realizes she's the only one who cares enough to find a murderer who is threatening her beloved zoo.

The odds are stacked against Teddy. The sheriff is her old boyfriend, Joe Rejas. She and Joe were separated when her socialite mother sent her to boarding school in high school. They both married others, but now they're back in Gunn Landing. She has to fight her attraction to Joe, not only to find a killer, but to protect her zany mother and her scoundrel of a father, a likable con man. She also has to contend with the large, extended Gunn family, and the complications of the Gunn Family Trust, a trust that supports the zoo, but could also doom it.

Webb's new mystery is a remarkable book, combining fascinating facts of animal and zoo life with a complicated plot. There's an interesting cast of characters, all with unique traits that animate them. Teddy and her family have a complex relationship that can be amusing, and, for Teddy, frustrating at times. Teddy, and her love of the zoo animals, bring this book to life. Webb's knowledge of zoos and animals shine through in a story that wouldn't be nearly as interesting without the animals.

Betty Webb's fans won't be disappointed. She continues to educate readers, this time about zoos and animals. Fans of her Lena Jones series shouldn't hesitate to pick up this mystery. The Anteater of Death is an outstanding traditional mystery. It should bring new readers to Webb's challenging books.

Betty Webb's website is www.bettywebb-zoomystery.com. She also blogs at http://bloggingwebb.blogspot.com.

The Anteater of Death by Betty Webb. Poisoned Pen Press, ©2008. ISBN 9781590585603 (hardcover), 261p. (Also available in Large Print and compact disc)

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Planet of the Dogs and Castle in the Mist

When I reviewed Snow Valley Heroes: A Christmas Tale, I was reviewing the third in a series of books aimed at children from 7 to 11. So, I went back to read the first two books in the series by Robert McCarty, with beautiful illustrations of dogs by Stella Mustanoja McCarty.

Planet of the Dogs starts before there were dogs on Planet Earth. But, people had been living in peace until warrior tribes started to grow, stealing food, land and farms from peaceful people. On the Planet of the Dogs, dogs lived in peace and happiness. When the dogs saw that the warriors were attacking other people, they knew people needed to learn about love. So, they brought two children, Daisy and Bean, to the Planet of the Dog, to meet the dogs, hoping children could teach adults to learn about the power of love.

When the children returned to Planet Earth, the Stone City warriors, led by Bik, were attacking villages, and planning to attack Green Valley, where Daisy and Bean lived. Before the dogs could help the villagers, they had to prove they could help them, by herding sheep, warning the people of bears, and visiting the sick and unhappy. Eventually, the dogs were able to prove to the villagers first, and then Bik, that they were necessary, and people should live together in peace.

Castle in the Mist brings back Bik, now living in peace with the people of Green Valley. Prince Ukko, the leader of the Black Hawk tribes, is unhappy with the peace that has descended on the land. He demands that Bik sell him horses, and turn over the dogs, dropping their peaceful ways. Bik refuses, and when his children, Nik and Nikki are kidnapped by Prince Ukko's soldiers, he's willing to go to war. But, the dogs have seen this from the Planet of the Dogs, and they call Daisy and Bean back to tell them their plans. The dogs are going to harass Prince Ukko and his forces, howling and hiding from them. Their plan works so well that Prince Ukko can't sleep well. He suffers from headaches, and can't eat. While some dogs work against Prince Ukko, others try to show the forest people how valuable they can be.

There are touches of humor in both books, particularly in the description of the Planet of the Dogs. Children will enjoy the names of their homes, such as Poodletown, Muttville, and Hound Dog Hamlet. The dogs sing, and grow dog food on trees. And, there are messages of love and peace in both books. In addition, the stories teach children what dogs give to people; their power of smell, the ability to work together, their loyalty, and the power of love. Most of all, the Planet of the Dog books are about the power, and importance, of love.

These stories, with the importance of the role of children and dogs, along with the suspense, will be enjoyed by most children in this age group. And, everyone will appreciate the soft, accurate drawings of the dogs. The Planet of the Dogs series is a fun series for children who love animals.

The series website is www.planetofthedogs.net

Planet of the Dogs by Robert J. McCarty, Stella Mustanoja McCarty, illustrator. Barking Planet Productions, ©2006. ISBN 9780978692803 (paperback), 102p.

Castle in the Mist by Robert J. McCarty, Stella Mustanoja McCarty, illustrator. Barking Planet Productions. ©2007. ISBN 9780978692810 (paperback), 112p.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Hail to the Chef

Julie Hyzy's White House Chef mysteries give readers an insider's view of the White House. Who would have ever thought that the executive chef has to be a juggler? Hyzy proves it in her latest terrific book, Hail to the Chef.

When the story opens, Ollie Paras, the executive chef, and her staff are preparing for Thanksgiving and Christmas. It's a hectic time with a number of public events scheduled. They don't need bomb scares. And, they don't have time for security training. But, White House safety doesn't hinge on one chef's schedule. However, it might just hinge on Ollie's instincts.

Ollie has to cope with the death of the head electrician, who Ollie found, and then another death. The First Lady's nephew had shown an interest in Ollie, and had spent time that day working in the kitchen. It's one more reason she doesn't think he committed suicide. But, she doesn't have time to investigate. She's dealing with pressure to rig a gingerbread man contest, continued security training that interferes with her schedule, and worries about the First Lady. Then, there's her regular job, supervising the kitchen and staff, preparing for meals, special events, and special diets.

Don't be deceived by the inclusion of recipes in this mystery. Julie Hyzy's White House Chef mysteries, beginning with State of the Onion, are topnotch, intriguing crime novels, not fluffy lightweights. Ollie Paras is a strong woman, proud of her job and her country. In Hail to the Chef, Ollie does everything she can to keep the White House kitchen running smoothly during a difficult time. But, are there ever easy times for a White House chef? Hopefully, Hyzy will continue to write of Ollie's adventures, providing an intriguing look behind the scenes, as she does, successfully, in Hail to the Chef.

Julie Hyzy's website is www.juliehyzy.com

Hail to the Chef by Julie Hyzy. Penguin Group, ©2008. ISBN 9780425224991 (paperback), 336p.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas



From our house to yours, Merry Christmas!

And, to quote Suzanne Adair, Jim and I, along with our cats, wish you, ""A time of peace for quiet reflection on a year almost over."







(Pictures - top to bottom - Stormy Roy Ann Weatherly, Dickens, Josh, Nikki)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Eve Traditions

Do you have Christmas traditions that are special to just you and your family? Jim and I have lived away from family for almost twenty-three years, so we've made our own Christmas customs. For the ten years my father-in-law, Harry, lived with us, we shared those special moments with him.

Jim's family always celebrated on Christmas Eve, and, depending on my father's work schedule, we sometimes did. So, we open presents on Christmas Eve. I make appetizers, and about 7 p.m. or so, we start our celebration. But, before ever opening presents, we start with readings. What is more appropriate for two people who met and married in a library? Jim always reads the Nativity story from the Bible. I read, and cry over, The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry. And, Jim reads a special letter that combines faith, and hope, and magic. On Christmas Eve, I'll share one of our traditions with you, my friends from my blog. Here is "Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus."



Eight-year-old Virginia O'Hanlon wrote a letter to the editor of New York's Sun, and the response was printed as an unsigned editorial Sept. 21, 1897. The work of veteran newsman Francis P. Church is the most reprinted newspaper editorial in history, appearing in dozens of languages in books, movies, and other editorials.




"DEAR EDITOR: I am 8 years old.
"Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.
"Papa says, 'If you see it in THE SUN it's so.'
"Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?

"VIRGINIA O'HANLON.
"115 WEST NINETY-FIFTH STREET."

VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except [what] they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You may tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Everything But a Wedding

I'm going to miss the Salo family since Everything But a Wedding finishes Holly Jacobs' trilogy about the family with roots in Hungary, and a business in Erie, Pennsylvania. If you enjoy light, fun romances, try this series, Everything But a Groom, Everything But a Bride, and, the concluding book, Everything But a Wedding.

Vancy Balshade, the matriarch of the Salo family, cursed Bela Salo's family when he failed to show up for their wedding. By the time he showed up late, due to an accident, she had relented, and said she hoped no one in his family had a big beautiful wedding, until the day they realized the wedding wasn't as important as the marriage. However, Vancy has lived with her curse her whole life, watching her children, and then grandchildren, marry, but never in that big, beautiful ceremony.

Her granddaughter, Dori Salo, is her last hope to break the family curse. But, Dori isn't a girly girl, and her heart has been broken before. If she falls for someone, he better be honest with her. So, Bill Hastings doesn't stand a chance with Dori. He's an architect, pretending to be an interior designer because his pregnant cousin begs him to stand in for her when she bids on a job for one of Dori's construction projects. The more Bill gets to know Dori, the more uncomfortable he is with his role as Carter Hastings the fourth.

One way or another, Holly Jacobs must settle the problem of the family curse, since she's ending the series with the romance, Everything But a Wedding. Let's just say, it's a romance. There must be a happy ending. And, Holly Jacobs writes very satisfying romances. Everything But a Wedding won't let down the reader. It's another treat from Jacobs.

Holly Jacobs' website is www.hollyjacobs.com

Everything But a Wedding by Holly Jacobs. Avalon Books, ©2008. ISBN 978-0803499249 (hardcover), 183p.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Frankie, The Walk 'N Roll Dog

Barbara Gail Techel's first children's book, Frankie, The Walk 'N Roll Dog, shines with love and compassion. It's a story she wrote to share a message, to teach children they could face challenges, and find a solution. So, she shares the story of her beloved dachshund, Frankie, who conquered a disability and lives a happy, successful life.

Frankie tells her own story, that she was like any other miniature dachshund with four legs. However, she grew a little larger than normal for a "wiener" dog, and is known as a "tweenie weenie," between a miniature and standard-sized dachshund. And, she led a normal, pleasant life with her owners, her "parents," and other dogs, enjoying her bicycle trips downtown to visit people. But, on Easter weekend 2006. while her parents were gone, Frankie had an accident at the kennel, an accident that left her back legs paralyzed due to a ruptured disk.

Frankie worked hard at physical therapy, but, finally her "Mom," Barbara Techel, found a cart made for dogs that is similar to a wheelchair made for people. Frankie joyfully tells of her return downtown as a dog on tires. And, she ends with the comment, "There is nothing I cannot do. I will always keep on rolling and putting my best paw forward!"

The story of Frankie is not a depressing, preachy story for children. Instead, it's a joyful story of triumph over adversity. The illustrations by Victoria Kay Lieffring bring Frankie to life as much as the story itself does. Although she doesn't do an outstanding job portraying people, the dogs in the book, particularly Frankie, are gorgeous animals. Children will be amused with some of the pictures, such as Frankie's "accidents" and the picture of her with an oxygen mask. Techel and Lieffring do an outstanding job telling Frankie's story.

And, if you give this book to children, ages 7 to 10, the book does have a happy, positive message. And, you could add a couple notes to the book. Frankie and her "Mom," Barbara Techel, frequently visit schools and libraries to talk about Frankie's disabilities, and her message of courage. They are also a registered therapy dog team that visit the elderly, and hospital and hospice patients. Frankie truly has a message to bring to everyone.

Barbara Techel's website is www.joyfulpaws.com

Frankie, The Walk 'N Roll Dog by Barbara Gail Techel. Joyful Paw Prints, ©2008. ISBN 0-9800052-0-5 (paperback), 52p.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Sunday Salon - Camp Follower & Yule

I know the words "Camp Follower" and "Yule" don't seem to go together, but they will once you understand the context. It all started with Suzanne Adair's latest novel of the American Revolution, Camp Follower.

Adair has written a fascinating series of books that bring to light aspects of the American Revolution that are not well-known. To begin with, her books, including Paper Woman and The Blacksmith's Daughter, are set in the southern theater of the war. The first two books in this series, like this one, are set in the Carolinas. Those two books feature strong women who are neutral in the war, but suspected by Lt. Dunstan Fairfax of being rebels or sympathizing with them.

In Camp Follower, Adair introduces another fascinating woman, Helen Chiswell. She's first introduced as a young girl of seventeen named Nell Grey, a simple impoverished country girl sold to Silas Chiswell as his wife. Twelve years later, in 1780, she's Helen Chiswell, an impoverished widow, trapped by the loss of her husband's estate. When Fairfax shows up at her house, he accuses her of sheltering a rebel, although Helen is a journalist for a Loyalist newspaper. To escape her circumstances, she agrees to a pact with the devil. She'll accept a job covering Lt. Colonel Tarleton's British Legion, traveling with his troops as a camp follower. Unfortunately, she'll be traveling under the guise of Fairfax's sister.

Adair provides readers with everything they could be looking for in a novel, from historical details about the war, Tarleton, and the role of camp followers, to romance, suspense, and a creepy villain in the form of Fairfax. There's the mystery as to why someone would want to throw suspicion on Helen. And, then there's the the character of Helen herself, a woman who grows into her strength through hardship and need, but once was an innocent girl who practiced the old religion back in England.

The old religions in Britain celebrated the earth, nature, and fertility. They were pushed aside by the Protestant religions, but the old customs left traces behind. In Camp Follower, Yule is celebrated on Dec. 24th as an evening of dinner, followed by dancing.

I asked Suzanne Adair if I could quote her comments about Yule, since it was perfect for Sunday Salon just before Christmas. She said, "Camp Follower depicts a Yule celebration in the backcountry of South Carolina during the Revolutionary War.

"Why Yule and not Christmas? Well, contrary to popular opinion, Christmas wasn't a big holiday for the Colonials or the occupying British. There was no Christmas tree, no roasted goose, no weeks of baking and flurry of gift giving, no packing the church pews for a Christmas Eve/Day service, no bearded plump guy in a red suit whizzing around the world in a sleigh full of goodies. Decades later, Prince Albert would initiate some of those traditions, then they'd gather momentum over subsequent decades into what we have now. But it wasn't happening yet during the Revolutionary War years.

"In December 1780, most people associated with King George III's empire, regardless of religion, were still honoring the ancient, annual rhythm of solstices and equinoxes. Makes sense, when you consider how many of them made a living off the land and thus had to stay attuned to the seasons. For the winter solstice, they might have decorated their homes with some greenery, and had a feast and/or dance on Yule. The winter solstice and Christmas Day occur close together, some years almost atop each other, so those people who were Christians might also have attended a service in their churches on Christmas Day. But this would have been a somber, simple service with no glitz; Protestants -- especially those of the backcountry, folk persuasion -- frowned on making a material big deal over the birth of Jesus.

"Seems peculiar to most folks in 2008, when we're so surrounded by the commercialization of Christmas, yes? It also threatens those who are only comfortable with a picture of this country's founding mothers and fathers as Christians as we know them today, not as an amalgamation of people of different faiths whose spirituality occupied a zone in the evolutionary continuum.

"Regardless of religious persuasion, Yule in Revolutionary America was a time of peace that almost everyone used for quiet reflection on a year almost over."

If you're looking for a fascinating series of novels with this kind of historical background, you can't go wrong with Suzanne Adair's books, including the latest, Camp Follower.

And, I'd like to borrow Adair's words, and wish you, in this hectic season, "A time of peace...for quiet reflection on a year almost over."


Suzanne Adair's website is www.suzanneadair.com

Camp Follower by Suzanne Adair. Whittlers Bench Press, ©2008. 9780978526542 (paperback), 400p.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Christmas on Conrad Street

I know I'm reading the stories of the Fletcher sisters backward, which I wouldn't do if the one I just finished wasn't set at Christmas. Marcia Evanick takes readers back to Misty Harbor, Maine in Christmas on Conrad Street, and I'm hooked on Evanick's romances.

When Dr. Sydney Fletcher walked into her condo to find her lover in bed with a nurse, she walked out on their four year relationship. She ended up in Misty Harbor, where she opened a small practice as the only doctor in town. So, she was in the office when Erik Olsen, one of the handsome "Viking" twins, showed up bleeding from a cut. As a doctor, she found herself a little queasy at the sight of blood from this man she's attracted to. And, she remembers vaguely where he lives when she almost runs his grandfather down in the street that night. Hans shouldn't have been wandering around on a cold night without a jacket, and his grandsons, Erik and Gunnar were both worried about him.

Once again, Evanick tells the story of two romances. Sydney and Erik carry the major storyline, with the romance between the doctor and the fisherman. Gunnar falls hard for Maggie Pierce, a single mother with an adorable four-year-old named Katie. But, Maggie's been burned before, and she has Katie to consider. And, running through the entire book is the concern for Hans, and his memory problems.

As usual, the town of Misty Harbor dresses up beautifully for Christmas. Evanick includes Norwegian Christmas customs and a boat parade in this enjoyable romance. And, if you're searching for a Christmas romance, what can be better than Viking twins? It's another satisfying Misty Harbor romance.

Christmas on Conrad Street by Marcia Evanick. Kensington Publishing Corporation, ©2002. ISBN 9780821774243 (paperback), 304p.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Friday's "Forgotten" Books - Miracle and Other Christmas Stories

Connie Willis' Miracle and Other Christmas Stories is so forgotten that I forgot where I put my copy. And, this is a very special book, so I do own my own copy.

Last week, when I discussed Peter Lovesey's Swing, Swing Together, I mentioned Connie Willis. Willis is known to science fiction fans as the winner of multiple Hugo and Nebula awards. She shows that her talent extends beyond science fiction with this special collection by an author who loves Christmas. She gives readers a romance, a creepy story of a man trapped in a toy store at Christmas, and, for those of us who love books, the story of a lonely bookstore clerk. Then there's my favorite story, "Inn." While preparing for the church's Christmas concert, a choir member answers the door to a young couple, who are lost, and only speak an unknown language. This unusual story with a time-travel twist lingers with me, year after year.

Somewhere in the treasures in my closet is this lost treasure, Miracle and Other Christmas Stories by Connie Willis. I'm going to dig it out before Christmas. If you're looking for something a little different, you might want to try this outstanding collection.

Connie Willis' website is http://www.sftv.org/cw

Miracle and Other Christmas Stories by Connie Willis. Bantam Books, pub date, 2000. ISBN 9780553580488 (paperback), 336p.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Winners and the Next Scheduled Contest

Congratulations to the winners of the last contest of 2008. The autographed copy of Death Will Get You Sober by Elizabeth Zelvin goes to Michele P. in Linton, IN. Romancing the Holidays will go to Cheryl S. from Ft. Pierre, SD. The books will go out in the mail tomorrow.

With the holidays, I'm taking a break from the contests only. I'll still be posting, and I hope you continue to read the blog through the end of the year. And, I'll kick off 2009 in style, posting the next contest here sometime on January 1. So, if you're tired of parties and football, and ready for some new books, check out the blog that night.

I wish you wonderful holidays, filled with books, good friends, and family. Find some time for yourself in the next couple weeks, time to just relax with a book.

Choosing to Be

Kat Tansey went from a successful career to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome to severe depression. In 1993, she crashed, with her moods swinging between depression, and compelling thoughts of suicide that would end her depression. Choosing to Be: Lessons in Living from a Feline Zen Master is her fictionalized story of her discussion of meditation, and the Buddha nature, discussions she held with her cat, Poohbear Degoonacoon.

Poohbear is a wise Maine Coon cat who suggests to Tansey that she bring home a kitten because kittens "truly know their Buddha nature." A kitten "just is." Catzenbear, the Maine Coon kitten, is "one who looks at everything with the awe of seeing it for the first time." For Poohbear, meditation was a method to open up the mind to the limitless possibilities, possibilities that are there for the innocent kitten.

Tansey had gone into a four year spiral downward, suffering first from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Then her mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease at the same time Kat hit menopause full tilt. She had lost the ability to find joy in life. Poohbear's lessons, along with Tansey's retreats and work with meditation teachers, helped Tansey find answers in her own life.

Although it's a fictionalized story, Tansey's Choosing to Be is a thoughtful guide for readers looking to find some peace. For some readers, a cat's wisdom will sound ridiculous. However, for those of us who live with cats, it makes sense that cats would understand meditation and philosophy. It makes sense that a cat could teach a human to learn how to relax, and accept life. And, the book is an easy introduction to Buddhism and meditation.

Kat Tansey's book is called Choosing to Be: Lessons in Living from a Feline Zen Master. I picked it up because it was a fun title. I have more respect for meditation, and, naturally, the wisdom of cats, after reading the book.

Kat Tansey's website is www.ChoosingToBe.com

Choosing to Be: Lessons in Living from a Feline Zen Master by Kat Tansey. iUniverse Incorporated, ©2008. ISBN 9781935278146 (paperback), 143p.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A Wallflower Christmas

If you think Georgette Heyer when you think Victorian romance, you're in for a surprise with Lisa Kleypas' A Wallflower Christmas. However, if you read the four historical romances that introduced the Wallflowers, you won't be at all surprised by the sex in this Christmas story.

The four Wallflowers were friends who banded together during their London season to find husbands, starting with the oldest one. Now, they are successfully married, and hostesses to English society. Rafe Bowman is the brother of two of the wallflowers, Lillian and Daisy. He's arrived from America, planning to marry Lady Natalie Blandford.

Rafe didn't plan to meet Lady Natalie's companion first, Hannah Appleton. And, he certainly didn't plan to fall for an impoverished woman. But, the minute Hannah met Rafe, she knew he wasn't at all suitable for Natalie. Could the handsome American rake settle down with a simple lady's companion?

Kleypas' historical romance is sexier than Georgette Heyer's books, with a few scenes readers of those earlier Regencies would not expect. And, this Christmas story is a little too busy with too many characters, particularly if a reader is unfamiliar with the previous "Wallflower" books. For those who enjoy a little hot sex with their Christmas books, Kleypas' A Wallflower Christmas is light holiday entertainment.

Lisa Kleypas' website is www.lisakleypas.com

A Wallflower Christmas by Lisa Kleypas. St. Martin's Press, ©2008. ISBN: 9780312533786 (hardcover), 224p.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The American Journey of Barack Obama

The American Journey of Barack Obama is the kind of high-quality photojournalism that Life Magazine is known for producing. If you're a fan of our President-Elect, or curious about his background, this book tells his story in essays and pictures.

The book is the story of Obama's journey from childhood through his nomination as the Democratic candidate for President. Then, the editors asked twelve thinkers and writers to examine and comment on the many facets of Obama. Writers include Bob Greene, Andrei Codrescu, and Fay Weldon. My favorite article was "Our Children's Crusade" by Melissa Fay Greene, about young people who never saw Obama as a different type of figure.

There are already a number of books out about President-Elect Obama, even his own, but it's hard to top the kind of photojournalism that Life excels in. It's a gorgeous gift possibility.

The American Journey of Barack Obama by Life Magazine Editors. Little, Brown & Company, ©2008. ISBN 9780316045605 (hardcover), 176p.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Importance of Libraries in Tough Economic Times

MSNBC and NBC are the news stations I watch regularly. I really appreciate this coverage they've given public libraries. It's important that people are acknowledging the importance of libraries, and the struggles we're going through.


Third Strike

I'm ashamed to say it took me two months, off and on, to finish Zoë Sharp's latest Charlie Fox thriller, Third Strike. It's certainly not the fault of this fast-paced book that builds the suspense and tension from the first page. It was the collision of the threats in this book with my own own quirks as to what I don't like to read. I can say, if you're a thriller reader, you'll love the tension in this book.

Charlie is still recovering from recent injuries when she sees her father, a well-known surgeon, appear on television, confessing that he's an alcoholic, and he may have jeopardized a client. When Charlie confronts her father, events start to spiral out of control. She and Sean Meyer, her partner and work associate, move in to rescue her father from an untenable situation, only to find their jobs in client protection compromised. Before they know it, they're on their way back to England to save Charlie's mother, when she indicates she can't talk because someone is in the house with her.

Sharp is very skillful in combining action, suspense, and thoughtful self-examination. Throughout the book, Charlie examines her feelings for Sean and her father. She finds herself falling back in the role of a daughter wanting to please an impossible father, rather than that of an independent woman who chose a career that suits her. And, she has to confront her reluctance to stand up to her father. Charlie continues to learn more about her mother, watching her gain a strength Charlie never recognized, while realizing the depth of the caring between her parents. At the same time, she recognizes that her father will never accept the violent life she and Sean share.

Third Strike brings up controversial issues about drug companies and the government. Sharp does a marvelous job making an outrageous situation seem very realistic.

As I mentioned before, my own reluctance to finish this book stemmed from my feelings about families in jeopardy. I normally don't read women and children in jeopardy novels, so I was uncomfortable with some of the situations in this book. But, this is a personal quirk, rather than a strike against Sharp's book. I'm still going to look forward more of Sharp's books.

If you've never read a Charlie Fox thriller, you can still start with Third Strike. This book reveals more about Charlie's family than readers have known. Once you've discovered Zoë Sharp's books, you'll want to go back and learn the rest of Charlie's story. She's a complicated, fascinating character. And, Sharp is a master as leaving Charlie, and the reader, with more questions for the future. And, there are definitely unanswered questions at the end of Third Strike.

Zoë Sharp's website is www.zoesharp.com.

Third Strike by Zoe Sharp. St. Martin's Minotaur, ©2008. ISBN 978-0312358976 (hardcover), 336p.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Sunday Salon - Mona Lisa in Camelot

An uneasy relationship between two countries, France and the United States; art; snipers; Secret Service; storms. If this sounds like a new Da Vinci Code, there is a connection. Margaret Leslie Davis' fascinating book is about a Da Vinci painting. But, Mona Lisa in Camelot: How Jacqueline Kennedy and Da Vinci's Masterpiece Charmed and Captivated a Nation, is a nonfiction book, just as riveting as some suspense novels.

In 1963, almost two million people in Washington, D.C. and New York City were able to see the Mona Lisa. Most of them probably had little idea what an important role First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy played in bringing the masterpiece to the United States. However, she deftly worked with France's Cultural Minister, André Malraux, and National Gallery Director John Walker to overcome all obstacles. Walker opposed the loan from France. Malraux overrode the objections of the newspapers and people of France. Together, they brought the first lady of art to the people of this country.

Davis skillfully tells of the story of the Kennedys' love of culture, and their determination to make art more important in the U.S. She said, Jackie "shared with President Kennedy the belief that art was a great unifying and humanizing experience. To her mind, art was not a distraction in the life of the nation, but rather a testament to its very quality of civilization." The First Lady admired French culture, and that love enabled her to skillfully manipulate a loan of Mona Lisa from the French.

Mona Lisa in Camelot reads as easily as any suspense novel, and it is just as fascinating. Davis combines politics, art history, and the story of the Kennedy White House, in an intriguing book. The story includes amusing anecdotes, as well as little-known facts. There's still time to pick up a gift for anyone who appreciates outstanding nonfiction, or a cultural history. Davis' Mona Lisa in Camelot might be a thoughtful present for that reader.

Margaret Leslie Davis' website is www.margaretlesliedavis.com

Mona Lisa in Camelot: How Jacqueline Kennedy and Da Vinci's Masterpiece charmed and Captivated a Nation by Margaret Leslie Davis. De Capo Press, ©2008. ISBN 9780738211039 (hardcover), 272p.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Stephanie Plum's 12 Days of Christmas

If you can't wait until release date of January 6 to read the next Stephanie Plum Between-the-Numbers novel, Plum Spooky, I have a holiday treat for you. It's a special rendition of Stephanie Plum's 12 Days of Christmas!



For more information about Janet Evanovich, Plum Spooky, and the Stephanie Plum Behind-The-Numbers Series, visit:

www.evanovich.com and http://us.macmillan.com/author/janetevanovich.

And, don't forget Plum Spooky is due out Jan. 6th!



Plum Spooky by Janet Evanovich. St. Martin's Press. ISBN 9780312383329 (hardcover), 320p.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Friday's "Forgotten" Books - Swing, Swing Together


Peter Lovesey is still writing mysteries, but he discontinued his Cribb/Thackeray series thirty years ago. Despite the lack of new books in the series, I'm still fascinated by the series, and one title in particular, Swing, Swing Together.

The Cribb/Thackeray mysteries were published between 1970 and 1978. The eight book series were historical mysteries featuring Sergeant Richard Cribb and his long-suffering assistant, Constable Edward Thackeray. These Victorian mysteries featured different aspects of Victorian life in each book, with an emphasis on sports. Readers of Anne Perry's Charlotte and Thomas Pitt mysteries might appreciate these books with their rich historical details and background of class difficulties in England.

The emphasis on Victorian life made these books particularly fascinating. Wobble to Death was about an illegal marathon walking race. Waxwork, about a woman who confessed to a murder she didn't commit, won the 1978 Silver Dagger Award.

But, my favorite Cribb/Thackeray book is Swing, Swing Together. This book is connected with two other books, and that's part of the fascination for me. Here's the summary from Peter Lovesey's website. "After Jerome K Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat became a Victorian bestseller, rowing on the Thames was the great craze of 1889. The novel begins, however, with skinny-dipping (under another name) by some student teachers. By chance one of them finds herself a witness in a case of murder. The suspects? Three men in a boat.

When Cribb and Thackeray take to the river in pursuit, nobody will take them seriously. However, they stick doggedly to the trail, which leads upstream to Oxford."

So, Lovesey's characters are chasing three men in a boat, a situation made famous in another book. And, if anyone has read Connie Willis' time travel book, To Say Nothing of the Dog, they'll realize that her main character also encounters those three men. In Willis' book, Ned Henry is shuttling between the 21st century and the 1940s, searching for a Victorian artifact. When another time traveler accidentally returns from Victorian England, bringing something with her, Ned must jump back to that era to try to make things right. He's sent back to 1889 to regroup, where he boats along the river, encountering three men in a boat.

If you love the Victorian era, and mysteries set in that period, check out Peter Lovesey's Cribb/Thackeray series. And, if you're intrigued by the literary connection between books, you'll want to pick up Three Men in a Boat, Swing, Swing Together, and To Say Nothing of the Dog. It's a perfect collection for Friday's "Forgotten" Books.

Peter Lovesey's website is www.peterlovesey.com

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Winners and Autographed Book Contest

Tonight, I closed two contests, the mystery contest, and the Holiday Books from Hatchette contest. In the mystery contest, Ann Cleeves' White Nights will go to Betty C. of Omaha, NE. And Elaine Viets' Murder with All the Trimmings will go to Ann C. in Saint Cloud, MN. In the Hatchette Holiday Book Giveaway, Daniel V. from Bethesda, MD won a set of Hanukkah books, and Christmas books will go to Lori B. from Goldsboro, NC, Tiffany S. from Everetts, NC, Elizabeth G. of Huron, OH, and Janice R. from Philadelphia, PA.

This contest will be my last contest of 2008, with the Christmas and New Year's holidays coming up. And, thanks to Liz Zelvin, I'll be mailing the mystery priority, so you could give it as a Christmas gift if you'd like. I'm offering two autographed books, a mystery and a holiday story collection, this week. Death Will Get You Sober is Elizabeth Zelvin's terrific debut mystery. When Bruce Kohler wakes up in a detox on Christmas Day, he knows it's time to change his life. Maybe Kohler will have a reason, when homeless alcoholics start to die unexpectedly. Kohler and his friends know his way around the treatment centers, and may be able to find a killer.

Or, you could win Romancing the Holidays: Love Stories throughout the Year. There are stories for a holiday a month in this romantic anthology. Deborah Shelley, who autographed the book, writes about the Jewish holiday, Purim, for the month of March.

So, a mystery or a romance collection? You can enter twice, once for each book. If you'd like to win one, 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 either Win "Sober Mystery" or Win "Romancing Holidays". Your message should include your mailing address. Entrants only in the U.S., please.

The contest will end Thursday, Dec. 18 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 on Friday. Good luck!

A Cedar Cove Christmas

Debbie Macomber's Christmas book, A Cedar Cove Christmas, is a treat for fans of her Cedar Cove books, and those of us who appreciate literary allusions.

Mary Jo Wyse is 22, single, and expecting a baby due in January. The baby's father, David Rhodes, told Mary Jo he would be in Cedar Cove, Washington, visiting his parents at Christmas. Although Mary Jo is starting to realize she's better off without David, her three older brothers are determined to force him to marry their sister. Hoping to get to David first, Mary Jo takes the ferry to Cedar Cove early on Christmas Eve.

When she arrives, Mary Jo finds a welcoming community, fully prepared to celebrate Christmas. But, David isn't in town; his parents are out of the country; and there's no place to stay in town. It's Grace Harding, the local librarian, who takes Mary Jo in, giving her an apartment above the stables. The stables currently house the animals from a live Nativity, the camel, donkey and sheep, along with a number of horses.

So an expectant Mary is staying above a stable because "There's no room at the Inn." And, her brothers, who own Three Wyse Men Automotive, bring gifts of gold, perfume, and incense to their sister. Along the way, an evil "King" gives the brothers wrong directions, sending them out of their way. There's even a little drummer boy, playing pa-rum-pum-pum-pum, while the ox and lamb kept time.

If all of this is too much for you, then, obviously, A Cedar Cove Christmas isn't for you. However, if you appreciate the humor and charm of a modern retelling of the Christmas story, Debbie Macomber's book will touch your heart.

Debbie Macomber's website is www.debbiemacomber.com

A Cedar Cove Christmas by Debbie Macomber. Mira, ©2008. ISBN 9780778325918 (hardcover), 256p.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Alafair Burke's Angel's Tip and True Crime

Do you ever listen to a news story or read about a crime in the paper, and think, this sounds so much like a crime novel I already read? This happened to me today.

Laura Garza is a young woman missing for a week after leaving a Manhattan nightclub with a convicted sex offender. Mike Celizic, TodayShow.com contributor said, "Garza, whom friends describe as a woman who never drank or went out with people she didn’t know, was seen leaving a trendy Manhattan nightclub at 4 a.m. with a man identified as Michael Mele, a sandwich shop owner from a town about an hour north of New York City. According to a report filed by NBC News correspondent Peter Alexander, another man rode up to Orange County, N.Y., with Mele and Garza. Mele dropped the man off at a suburban McDonald’s. The man said that Garza and Mele were kissing and laughing in the car."

Alafair Burke's crime novel, Angel's Tip, came out in August. In that novel, "Indiana college student Chelsea Hart is so excited to spend the final hours of her spring break in the VIP room of an elite New York City nightclub that she remains behind when her girlfriends call it a night....NYPD Detective Ellie Hatcher catches the case and homes in on the group of young men who were last seen plying Chelsea with drinks."

The Today Show report goes on to say, "Mele is being held in the Orange County Jail on charges of violating his probation for previous public-lewdness convictions and is officially a person of interest in Garza’s disappearance. As New York State Police continue to search for Garza, at least 10 other women and teenage girls have come forward with accounts of being followed and threatened by Mele, often in parking lots outside of shopping malls. Some said he exposed himself to them and rubbed against them."

The description from the cover of Angel's Tip says, "Chelsea's murder is eerily similar to three other deaths that occurred nearly a decade ago: the victims were young, female, and in each case the killer had taken her hair as a souvenir."

The current case sounds eerily like Burke's Angel's Tip. I reviewed Angel's Tip on August 12. Here was my review.

Alafair Burke brings back NYPD Det. Ellie Hatcher in Angel's Tip, and she's a stronger, more confident character in the second book in the series.

When Ellie and her brother, Jess, come across a body while out jogging, she calls it in as the first officer on the scene. Soon, she and her new partner, J.J. Rogan, are pushed to find the killer of the pretty blonde co-ed from Indiana, whose parents have powerful connections. When they arrest a man from the bar where she was partying, everyone is satisfied, except Ellie. A phone call from the father of a murder victim arouses her interest. How many other blonde girls have been killed in recent years, and left with their hair cut?

Burke's latest book is a top-notch police procedural. She has strong, intriguing characters, such as Ellie, Jess, and Rogan. The villain is the weak link in the story since neither he nor his motivation are well-developed. Burke can be forgiven that flaw because the story itself, the characters, and the red herrings are so interesting. Angel's Tip is one more step on Alafair Burke's sure-footed climb to bestseller status.

This current crime just proves that Alafair Burke has her fingers on the pulse of Manhattan for her Ellie Hatcher series. It's sort of scary.

Alafair Burke's website is www.alafairburke.com

Angel's Tip by Alafair Burke. HarperCollins, ©2008. ISBN 978-0061561023 (hardcover), 352p.

A Christmas Grace

It's been a few years since I read one of Anne Perry's Charlotte and Thomas Pitt mysteries. It was a treat to return to their world, in the new book, A Christmas Grace, with a Christmas novel that features Charlotte's sister, Emily Radley.

Emily had planned a typical Victorian Christmas in 1895, and Perry opens the book with that beautiful setting. However, when a note arrives from her brother-in-law, Emily's husband encourages her to answer the request from an alienated family member. Emily's Aunt Susannah had been estranged from the family for ten years, when the widow married an Irish man, a Roman Catholic, and moved to his home in Connemara, on the west coast of Ireland. Now, Susannah is dying, at age fifty, and asks for family to be with her.

Despite her reluctance, Emily makes the difficult trip to Ireland, only to discover that her aunt is dying, along with the village where she lives. Everyone in the village seems to live under a threat, and the forthcoming storm terrifies them, to Emily's confusion. She finds herself caught up in the town's threats and secrets. A shipwreck, and a lone survivor, reveal truths that could threaten the village, or bring it a Christmas peace.

For readers of the Thomas and Charlotte Pitt mysteries, it's a treat to read more about Emily. But, anyone can read this book as a story of mysteries that grow until they poison an entire community, and destroy future hopes, dreams, and lives.

Anne Perry's website is www.anneperry.net.

A Christmas Grace by Anne Perry. Random House, ©2008. ISBN 9780345502032 (hardcover), 208p.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Snow Valley Heroes: A Christmas Tale

Snow Valley Heroes: A Christmas Tale, is a children's book, the third volume in the Planet of the Dogs series by Robert J. McCarty. This enjoyable story should be appreciated by an audience ranging from ages six to ten, but younger readers will need to have the story read to them. Stella Mustanoja-McCarty's charming illustrations add to the pleasure of the book.

Long before dogs were known on earth, they existed on the Planet of the Dogs. They've been to earth twice to bring messages of peace, helping groups of people to live together. Now, they've discovered that Christmas is threatened by the evil King of the North, who has kidnapped Dasher and Dancer. Without those reindeer, Santa Claus will not be able to leave Santa Claus Village in Snow Valley.

But, on Planet of the Dogs, the dogs are called in from their own Snow Valley. That's the home of dogs that like cold weather and snow: huskies, malamutes, and big,working dogs. These are the dogs that volunteered to go to earth, meet up with the two children, Daisy and Bean, who have worked with the dogs before, and carry out a plan to save Christmas.

There are a few grammar problems in this book, but they can be overlooked for the sake of the story. Dog lovers will appreciate the story of dogs who hatch their own plot, and are smart enough to save Santa's reindeer. Mustanoja-McCarty's beautiful, soft, drawings of dogs, will be appreciated by all readers. Snow Valley Heroes: A Christmas Tale allows the dogs to share a message of loyalty and caring. It's the perfect time of year for that message.

The series website is www.planetofthedogs.net

Snow Valley Heroes: A Christmas Tale by Robert J. McCarty. Barking Planet Productions, ©2008. ISBN 9780978692827 (paperback), 112p.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Once Upon a Christmas

Holly Jacobs follows up the success of her romance, Once Upon a Thanksgiving, with another seasonal story, Once Upon a Christmas. Jacobs brings back the second single "mom" in her American Dads trilogy.

Michelle Hamilton was only twenty-four when her dying sister showed up at her door in Erie, Pennsylvania, leaving her with a nephew she never knew she had. Five years later, Michelle cherishes her role as "Aunt Shell" to Brandon, so she's not ready when the thirteen-year-old says he'd like to find the father he never knew. She asks him to wait until he's eighteen, but her determined nephew seeks out a man who just might be his father.

Daniel McLean has a quiet life as owner of McLean's Restoration, a business on the edge of town. However, when Brandon shows up his doorstep, he's willing to take the test to see if he's Brandon's father, and, he's willing to shoulder the responsibility of being a father. But, is Michelle ready to let an outsider into the family she's built with Brandon?

It took a Thanksgiving pageant to bring about a romance in Once Upon a Thanksgiving. When Michelle, Daniel, and Brandon spend time working on the Christmas fair, they find they treasure the friendship they share. Once Upon a Christmas might bring about the fairy tale ending three people deserve.

Holly Jacobs' website is www.hollyjacobs.com

Once Upon a Christmas by Holly Jacobs. Harlequin, ©2008. ISBN 9780373752423 (paperback), 217p.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Sunday Salon - Bats at the Library


I've reviewed a few picture books during the year, but I finally found the one book I'd recommend this year. If I was buying one picture book to read to children from four to eight, Bats at the Library, written and illustrated by Brian Lies, would be it.

Lies' illustrations are dark, softly lit, and perfect. Each page is a short poem that furthers the story. Lies doesn't talk down to his readers or listeners. At one time, he says someone left a window ajar, and gives the reader the chance to explain the word. The text is a perfect length for reading to groups of children.

Bats at the Library starts on an autumn evening, when the bats have eaten, and they're bored. Then someone brings word that a window is open at the library. And, the bats fly into an old-fashioned looking library. (However, a careful examination on one page reveals a bat using a computer.)

There are so many details on each page. There are old-fashioned library lamps on tables. When the author mentions old bats, he shows them with glasses. And, the bats reading "guides to fancy foods," are reading insect books. The illustrations are also humorous at times, such as when the bats are copying themselves.

The storytime scene with all the bats is charming, and leads to the perfect ending. Book lovers, readers and librarians will all appreciate this story and illustrations. And, how can anyone resist an author whose picture is upside down on a book about bats?

Remember, I'm not a children's librarian, but Brian Lies' Bats at the Library is my favorite picture book this year.

If you'd like to see a sample of Brian Lies' illustrations for this book, check out his website, www.brianlies.com

Bats at the Library by Brian Lies. Houghton Mifflin, ©2008. ISBN 9780618999231 (hardcover), 32p.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Jana Bommersbach's Appearance at Velma Teague Library

The Velma Teague Library was fortunate to host Jana Bommersbach for the latest Authors @ The Teague program. Bommersbach is an award-winning journalist, and the author of the true crime book,







The Trunk Murderess: Winnie Ruth Judd. Now, she has a new true crime book, another one about a Phoenix murder, Bones in the Desert.

Bommersbach began the program by saying people ask her how a fun-loving, happy person like her could write about murders. She said she's fascinated by murders involving women. Her first book, The Trunk Murderess, is her beloved book, the love of her life. But, it came out in 1992, and it took her that long to find another book to write, a story that spoke to her.

Bones in the Desert is the story of Loretta
Bowersock, mother of Terri of Terri's Design and Consign. It was reported that Loretta died, then her boyfriend, Taw Benderly, said she disappeared. Loretta went missing, and then Taw killed himself, which was the final insult to the family. He left no note saying where Loretta's body was. It was an insult to everyone who loved Loretta.

This case became famous in Arizona. Terri was well-known, and anyone who knew Terri, knew her mother. People had a real sense of personal connection to them because of their TV commercials. They had a sense they knew someone who had been murdered. People felt grief for Terri, that she did not have a body to bury. There were lots of pieces of this case that upset people.

Bommersbach was in North Dakota with her own parents over Christmas when this crime happened. It was in January, after her return, that she heard Terri on TV talking about her mother missing in the desert. Jana immediately called Terri, and spent an hour talking to her on the phone. Terri was the first person Jana knew in her life who had a parent murdered. Bommersbach asked Terri if she could write about it, and what had been discovered. Terri said, oh you wouldn't believe what they had discovered.

Phoenix Magazine carried Bommersbach's first article about the crime, called "Where Is My Mother?" Thirteen months later, Loretta's body was found. Hundreds of people had searched the desert. Jana was so close to her own mother that this case disturbed her. A family doing rock hounding found Loretta's bones in the desert, and called the police, and waited. The autopsy and teeth revealed the body was Loretta's.

"He Buried My Mother By a Blue Motel" was the second story that ran in Phoenix. Psychics flocked to the story. Dozens of them were interested in helping Terri. Some were well-meaning; some helpful; some not. Terri was grasping for answers. The police said Taw was the suspect. He was dead, so they were satisfied, and walked away from the case. The police went on, and Terri was left on her own.

Psychics said they saw a lot of blue around Loretta. Bommersbach said anyone who knows the Arizona desert knows the desert "wears yellow and purple like school colors." There are different colors, but the only blue in the desert is the sky. When they finally found the body, it was near a hotel on I-8 on the road to San Diego. Jana said there must have been a sale on blue paint that year, because everything around the hotel was blue, including an old truck. Terri's brother was skeptical, saying psychics always pick a primary color. But, two police said one psychic was right on target. A New York agent liked the story, and contacted Bommersbach to see if she would develop it into a book.

Jana Bommersbach said Loretta's case was a classic case of elder abuse, and this was a way to tell the story of elder abuse. Phoenix, and Arizona, are #1 in a lot of bad things. But, they have the first and only shelter devoted to elder abuse in the nation. Doves Shelter was opened by the Area Agency on Aging. Terri operates a small shop with all profits going to Doves. When Bommersbach wrote a column about Doves, she met the local cops assigned to elder abuse. Only Phoenix and San Diego have units assigned to it. She discovered that elder abuse is very long term; it goes on for years, and it could be verbal, physical, emotional or sexual, or a combination. It can go on for years until something crashes, and the victim needs a break.

Loretta discovered the treachery of her boyfriend of eighteen years. She discovered the level of his exploitation. Loretta was professionally dressed that day, but with her shoes off, as so many people are who work at home. She tried to confront Taw and throw him out. They surmise she had a violent, angry response to his treachery because of the type of person she was. Both people are now dead who were involved. There is a thin line between abuse and murder. Taw crossed it when he put a bag around Loretta's head, and strangled her.

Jana Bommersbach's dream is that someone will read Bones in the Desert while barefoot, put on their shoes, and walk out the door. She wants them to read the book, and see there is a way out. Jana said it was a difficult book to write. She prayed for a different ending for it the entire time she wrote the book. Since then, she's heard from famous women in Phoenix who said they were in that situation, and got out. She did a recent signing with Terri, and someone bought 9 copies, saying she had sisters and friends who needed to read it.

Bommersbach said she wrote the book while she was in Brainard, Minnesota. She never spends summers in Arizona. But, two summers ago, in 2007, she found a house on a lake to rent. It was a wonderful summer. Her parents came, and celebrated her father's 85th birthday there. Her brothers both married, and honeymooned there. Jana's dad died the following spring, so she's grateful she had a magnificent summer with her family while she wrote the book. She finds it incongruous that she was writing about a family torn apart, while she had a magnificent summer with hers.

Bones in the Desert is doing extremely well. It was #21 on the list of bestselling crime books. Terri and Jana are trying to get on Oprah. Terri's been on before, as a successful businesswoman who was dyslexic. They're hoping that contact will help. Billie Jean King and Lily Tomlin both read the book. It's been well-received in Arizona. The publisher is printing another 4,000 copies. Jana said she's hoping people are buying and learning from it.

Jana was asked about her background, so she gave us her biography. She was born in Fargo, North Dakota on Dec. 5, 1945. She's a product of North Dakota, and the women's movement. She went to the University of North Dakota, and her first job after graduation was in urban Michigan, in Flint. She said she had a lot of growing up to do, and received quite an education living there. She was from a white community, where she didn't know any blacks, and hadn't lived in a city. She won her first national award while in Flint.

Bommersbach went to grad school for journalism at the University of Michigan. She was student body president, winning against a law school student. She discovered she didn't like politics, and she'd rather be a reporter reporting on politics than on the other side.

When she graduated, she had hoped to go east, and work for the Washington Post. But, it was hard to get a job, and she was offered a job at The Arizona Republic. So she drove out, and found Arizona was a weird place. She was a Democrat who had campaigned against Barry Goldwater. She met him, and came to love Goldwater. But, it was weird out here, and The Arizona Republic was a conservative paper. She asked herself what she was doing here. She finally decided they needed her her. She helped to organize a union. She finally left because she couldn't work for them anymore. She went to New Times, and worked there for twelve years, and was even owner for a while. In 1992, she wrote about Winnie Ruth Judd, and she left to write the book. She got an interview with Judd. She is proud that The Trunk Murderess was nominated for an Edgar Allan Poe Award for best nonfiction that year.

Then, Bommersbach started a column for Phoenix Magazine. She's been writing that for fifteen years. She did commentary for Channel 3 for seven years at 7:15 AM, but had to get up at 4 AM, read three newspapers, and then go on at 7:15 to talk about three things that ticked her off that day. After 9/11, she was laid off at Channel 3. She still had her Phoenix Magazine job, and she did "Books and Company," for the local PBS station, Channel 8, for five or six seasons. Now, she's freelancing. She does a column for True West Magazine. Then this book, Bones in the Desertt, came along. She's still finding a way to pay the rent.

When asked if she'd ever write about the murder of Arizona Republic reporter, Don Bolles, Bommersbach said everyone expected her to write it. She got into the hospital that night with his wife, who heard Jana's voice in the hall, and insisted they let her in. Don was a good friend. But, she never covered the stories in 1976 when his car was blown up. In 1996, at New Times, she did a retrospective. They did a special report about the murder that opened up new avenues. But, the crime is so old that people have served time, and walked away. There are so many holes in the story, and Bommersbach said she doesn't know where else to look to write that book. But, the police tend to cling to a decision because they don't want to face reality. This case is always an open case. There have been twenty-five bad books about it, but she sees no reason to write about it until the case is solved.

Bommersbach was asked if Loretta was an unusual victim for this type of violence, and she said, no. Domestic violence happens all the time. That generation of women always had someone tell them what to do for their entire lives. The first time they were independent was when they were widowed. But, many of them felt it was better to have a bad man that to be alone.

She was asked if any family members suspected Loretta would be murdered, and she said no. Prior to the murder, one sister watched every episode of America's Most Wanted, thinking Taw would show up. He was nice, good-looking, a gourmet cook with a great voice. But, the family suspected he would bankrupt Loretta, not kill her.

Within hours of the death, psychics sought out Terri. Terri and her mother were estranged because of Taw, and they had just started getting together. Loretta fought with Terri over Taw. Terri had a tough time on various levels. Bommersbach said Terri was "Searching in death for a mother she'd already lost in life."

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It was a pleasure to host Jana Bommersbach at the Velma Teague Library. She drew the largest crowd we have ever had for an Authors @ The Teague program. Bette Sharpe, our Programming Librarian, presented Jana with a thank you gift, the new Authors @ The Teague mug.



(Photo - Lesa Holstine, Jana Bommersbach, and Bette Sharpe - copyright Ed Sharpe, CouryGraph Productions)

Jana Bommersbach's website is www.janabommersbach.com

Bones in the Desert: The True Story of a Mother's Murder and a Daughter's Search by Jana Bommersbach, ©2008. St. Martin's True Crime, ©2008. ISBN 9780312947415 (paperback), 278p.

The Trunk Murderess: Winnie Ruth Judd by Jana Bommersbach, Poisoned Pen Press, published 2003, ISBN 9781590580646 (paperback), 280p.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Pamela Samuels Young, Guest Blogger

Today, I'd like to welcome guest blogger, Pamela Samuels Young. She's an attorney and best-selling author of legal thrillers. Her latest book is Murder on the Down Low. Thanks for stopping by, Pamela!

You Can Fulfill Your Dream!

When I decided nearly a decade ago that I wanted to write a novel, my desire stemmed from what I saw missing in mainstream legal fiction. I loved reading legal thrillers by John Grisham, Scott Turow and other lawyer-writers. It bothered me, however, that the books I read never featured female lawyers or African-American lawyers as main characters. A desire to fill that void prompted me to sit down and take a stab at writing a legal thriller myself.

Almost immediately, I realized that I had stumbled upon my passion! Despite a busy legal career, I woke up at 4 a.m. in the morning to write before work. I'd write at night and all weekend long. If I had a business trip, I'd write in the airport, on the airplane and in my hotel room at night.

Now, to my delight, I have three legal thrillers on bookstore shelves: Every Reasonable Doubt (2006), In Firm Pursuit (2007) and Murder on the Down Low (2008). My newest release, Murder on the Down Low, is about a brazen killer who is targeting some of L.A.'s most attractive, successful family men. When a tenacious female detective sets out to solve the baffling murders, she soon exposes a scandalous tale of lust, lies and vengeance.

Do you have a goal you'd like to pursue? Well, I'm here to tell you that can find the time no matter how busy you might be. Whether you'd like to write a novel, start a business, or go back to school, your dream can become a reality.

First, don't think about what you can't do, think about what you can do. Sit down and map out a plan. Decide what steps you need to take to get from point A to point B. If you only have one hour a week to work toward your dream use it.

It is important to be realistic. You aren't going to accomplish your goal overnight. That only happens in fairy tales. But with a little patience and a lot of hard work, your dream will become a reality. It happened to me, it can happen to you, too!

What Makes a Good Mystery?

Before I became a writer of mysteries, I was a long-time reader of mysteries—in particular, legal thrillers. I like being pulled into a story and having the author introduce me to a character I love (or hate!), then place that character in a predicament that has me biting my nails to find out if they'll escape.

In writing my third legal thriller, Murder on the Down Low, I wanted to write the same kind of suspenseful tale I enjoy when reading books by Walter Mosley, John Grisham, Sandra Brown, Tami Hoag, Valerie Wilson Wesley and Greg Iles, just a few of my favorite mystery writers. In Murder on the Down Low, police in Los Angeles are baffled by the murders of several attractive, successful family men. As it turns out, the victims all share a shocking secret.

I hope readers not only like, but identify with the four female protagonists in Murder on the Down Low. They are sister-friends who share a common goal: avenging the death of a dear friend. When one member of the foursome finds herself in trouble with the law, the women join forces to save her. The book is a suspenseful mystery, full of surprising twists and turns.

After you've read Murder on the Down Low, I would love it if you would drop by my website at www.pamelasamuelsyoung.com and email me your comments about the book, pro or con!

Murder on the Down Low by Pamela Samuels Young. Independent Publishers Group, ©2008. ISBN 9780981562704 (paperback), 386p.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Mystery Contest!

As promised, I have a new contest for mystery readers who might not necessarily be interested in some of the holiday contests. One title is seasonal, and the other has an exotic setting.

If you'd like to win an ARC of the latest Josie Marcus, Mystery Shopper mystery, Murder with All the Trimmings by Elaine Viets, now is your chance. Poor Josie has a messy life during this holiday season.

Or you could win an ARC of Ann Cleeves' latest Shetland Island mystery, White Nights. An art exhibition at The Herring
House is disrupted by a stranger. Unfortunately, Inspector
Jimmy Perez finds him dead the next day.

So, do you want Murder with All the Trimmings or White Nights? You can enter twice, once for each book. If you'd like to win one, 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 either Win "Trimmings" or Win "White Nights". Your message should include your mailing address. Entrants only in the U.S., please.

The contest will end Thursday, Dec. 11 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 on Friday. Good luck!