Tuesday, September 29, 2020

A Case of Cat and Mouse by Sofie Kelly


I like Sofie Kelly's Magical Cats mysteries featuring Hercules, the tuxedo cat who can walk through walls and Owen, the tabby who can make himself invisible. The connection to the feral cats at Wisteria Hill is intriguing. I like the voice of Kathleen Paulson, the librarian and amateur sleuth, owned by Hercules and Owen. In A Case of Cat and Mouse, though, there are two sentences that stand out for me. I wish I could give you the background without spoiling the dramatic conclusion. When Kathleen's boyfriend, Detective Marcus Gordon, questions her ability, she answers, "I'm a librarian. I know all sorts of things."

Kathleen knows how to do research which is why she's hired to provide background tidbits for the revival of a TV show, "The Great Northern Baking Showdown." It's being filmed in Mayville Heights, Minnesota because Elias, the executive producer, is from Minnesota. Several of the local residents won competitions to appear on the baking show. Kathleen provides background about Mayville Heights, Minnesota, baking, and even the competitors. When she finds one of the judges dead, she's also the perfect one to research the judge's life. Because she's been part of the show, members of the cast come to her with their alibis and lies when they won't go to Marcus.

No one on the show seemed to like the victim, Kathleen admits she wasn't a nice person, but she didn't deserve to be murdered. Everyone in town, including Marcus, expects Kathleen to poke around. Unlike other amateur sleuths, Kathleen keeps the police in the loop. She tells suspects and witnesses they need to talk to Marcus, and she even calls him to tell him he'll be hearing from some of them. 

I enjoy this series because Kathleen does not sneak around behind Marcus' back. He's not stupid. He can't always tell her what's going on with the investigation, but he always seems to know what she uncovers. He's doing his investigating.

I  have a couple issues with this book, though. With so many people involved in the baking show, it was hard to remember what role some of them had. I felt it was a mistake to name one man Richard and another Russell. I still couldn't tell you which one was a judge on the show and which was a host. I also have a problem when a character has a tic. I can't tell you how many times Kathleen messes with the straps of her messenger bag. It seems to play a role in every scene.

There's quiet humor in this book, including an unsolved mystery that involves the library and a very clever prankster. I love the stories about the two squirrels at the library. There is a solution to the disappearance of small items owned by Marcus, gum, a key-chain knife, a lighter.

Despite my couple complaints, those who like cozy mysteries featuring cats and librarians, especially remarkable cats (and cat lovers think all cats are remarkable), will enjoy Sofie Kelly's A Case of Cat and Mouse.

Sofie Kelly's website is www.sofiekelly.com

A Case of Cat and Mouse by Sofie Kelly. Berkley Prime Crime, 2020. ISBN 9780440001164 (hardcover), 295p.


FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Monday, September 28, 2020

The Darkest Evening by Ann Cleeves

While Ann Cleeves always makes a reader feel sympathy for the victim, in this latest Vera Stanhope novel, The Darkest Evening, it was Vera who moved me. She has never seemed so vulnerable, so lonely. Even her team recognized that this case was personal for Vera, although they could never say it to her.

In the first couple pages, we meet a young woman, Lorna, with a young son that she has fought for fiercely. We know little about her, other than she was once ill and overcame it, and now has a young son. It's just before Christmas, and it's nasty weather. 

When Vera is lost in the blizzard, and comes across a stranded car with a baby in the backseat, we know where it's heading, that something happened to the boy's mother. But, it's Vera's panic at being lost that we feel. When she can take on her persona as a police officer and rescue the baby, she overcomes her fear. Then, she's forced to face her family past when she shows up at Brockburn, the family estate of the Stanhopes, where she and her outcast father, Hector, were not welcome in her younger years. Even though she's not fond of the family, and knows Harriet, her aunt, always looked down on them, she's willing to speak up and confront them on behalf of the child. Then, when a farmer finds a young woman's body outside the backdoor of the house, it's a murder case, and Vera can call in her team, and step into her role in life.

The Darkest Evening appears to be a case connected to the village, the Stanhopes, to family. When there's another murder, Vera is angry that she brushed aside the victim. She already had her suspects, and didn't pay attention. When the man who discovered the corpse leads Vera and her officer, Holly Jackman, to the victim, Vera handles it professionally, and stays with the corpse. That night, Vera feels her age and her vulnerability.

As always, Cleeves' books are complex. There are red herrings that set Vera's team and the reader off in the wrong direction. Just once, I had the correct inkling who the killer might be, but I let it go. Cleeves is clever that way. As a reader, I don't always acknowledge the truth in front of me.

But, Vera. She is a little too close to this case. It's too personal. When Holly realizes how Vera is related to the Stanhope family, suspects in the case, she knows Vera is ignoring that. "She's never really understood the difference between her own morality and the constraints of the law."

Ann Cleeves' Vera Stanhope books are excellent police procedurals. Readers can follow the entire case and the investigative process. Let's face it, though. As much as I enjoy police procedurals, Vera is the reason I read these books. She's an aging woman struggling with her life, her family history, and her lack of relationships. For her, work is her life. Her personal life is an unwanted stopgap between investigations. It's only as a police officer that Vera has standing in life. In The Darkest Evening, with its connection to the Stanhope family, Vera is forced to face her vulnerability as a person. Any one of us who has used work as an escape can feel for Vera. As a reader, I can acknowledge the murder victims, and the loss felt by the families and community. As an aging woman, I feel for Vera.

Ann Cleeves' website is www.anncleeves.com

The Darkest Evening by Ann Cleeves. Minotaur Books, 2020. ISBN 9781250204509 (hardcover), 373p.

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

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Christmas in September

On Thursday, I ordered fourteen Christmas books for the library's OverDrive account. We already have the physical books on order for the library. But, I only order the OverDrive titles the week before they come out in eBook or audio. All fourteen of these titles will be released on Tuesday, September 29. If you're one of those people who snatch up Christmas books, get ready. And, if you think it's too early, skip this post and come back later. But, those of you who get your books at the library, or read or listen to them from OverDrive might be interested. (And, it's a trial run for me. I can see if Blogger is going to work for my upcoming Treasures post, or if it will leave me frustrated and angry.)

Even if you're not a fan of Christmas books, you have to admit Janet Dailey's Holding Out for Christmas has an adorable cover. A rancher in Branding Iron, Texas yearns for the sultry singer he saw on stage at the previous year's Cowboy's Christmas Ball. But, the kindergarten teacher who returns home for the holidays has dreams of a big career in Nashville. And, no little holiday romance will get in the way.

Robbie's back in South Lick, Indiana for Christmas at her popular country store and cafe in the latest in Maddie Day's Country Store Mystery series, Candy Slain Murder. It may be a bumpy road for the holidays. First, a man shows up at Pans 'N Pancakes, claiming he's the long-lost half-brother of Robbie's assistant. Then, a fire destroys a home, exposing skeletal remains in the attic. All Robbie wants for Christmas is to stop her winter wonderland from becoming a nightmare.

Speaking of winter wonderland, Vicki Delany's fifth Year-Round Christmas Mystery is Dying in a Winter Wonderland. The Christmas spirit is falling a little flat in Rudolph, New York this year when Luanne Ireland moves her wedding up months, and expects everyone to be able to work with that. Merry Wilkinson had agreed to help with the decorations, but it's not the best time of year for that. Then, Luanne's fiance is found murdered at their wedding venue. Merry resolves to restore peace and calm to the community, but she's beginning to suspect a death knell could ring in the New Year. 

Hollyberry Homicide is the fifth book in Sharon Farrow's Berry Basket series. When the original actor in Oriole Point's production of A Christmas Carol dies, Marlee Jacob agrees to take over the role of Jacob Marley. But, clues start mounting that there's trouble behind the scenes. There are accidents on set, and a body is found with a sprig of holly draped over it. Marlee has to solve the case so there's a very, berry Christmas. Berry recipes are included.

December turns Lake Eden into the North Pole in Joanne Fluke's latest Hannah Swensen mystery, Christmas Cupcake Murder. But, Hannah's keeping the heat on in the kitchen as she bakes irresistible holiday cupcakes while preventing a person who attempted murder from succeeding the second time around. A man was found near death in the abandoned storefront two doors down from Hannah's bakery. He can't recall anything about himself, except he has a great deal of knowledge about restoring antique furniture. With just a few clues, Hannah's out to solve the puzzle. 

Amish romances and novels are extremely popular in southwestern Indiana, and Shelley Shepard Gray is one of the most popular authors writing those books. Now, she joins forces with Rachel J. Good and Loree Lough for a collection of holiday stories, Amish Christmas Twins.

Janna Jaxon's The Widow's Christmas Surprise is a historical romance. Lady Maria Kersey has a beautiful baby daughter, but she's in mourning for the husband who died a month earlier, killed in a duel. Her future is in doubt since there's no male heir. She's scorned by the ton, but her husband's steward, Hugh Granger, is an ally. He's in love with her, but has nothing to offer. Although they're attracted to each other, she heads to London to spend time with friends, widows who lost their husbands in the Battle of Waterloo. But, the holidays provide a twist of fate, and a gift of love.

Susan Mallery brings readers the sixth Happily Inc. novel, Happily This Christmas. Wynn Beauchene has a thriving business, a great kid, and a crush on the guy next door, local cop Garrick McCabe. But, Garrick's haunted by the ghosts of past mistakes, including estrangement from his pregnant daughter. He desperately needs Wynn's help to add a woman's touch to his house before his daughter arrives for Christmas. Maybe the holiday will work its magic on two wounded souls.

Can holiday wishes come true for two single parents in Debbie Mason's Christmas on Reindeer Road? Mallory Maitland swore never to give up on her late husband's two sons, her stepsons. But, when the teens land in hot water, she has to lean on the caring Chief of Police Gabriel Buchanan. After his wife died, Gabriel left his job as a New York City homicide detective to raise his three boys. Back in Highland Falls, trouble comes in the form of his beautiful neighbor and her troublesome stepsons. Gabriel doesn't need the additional problem of a romance. His mother-in-law is looking for any excuse to take Gabriel's sons. He can't risk involvement, although Mallory could make this Christmas, and future ones, merry and bright.

The Brightest Star is a heart-warming novel from bestselling author Fern Michaels. This Christmas theme will sound familiar. For generations, Lauren Montgomery's family has operated a Christmas shop, Razzle Dazzle Decor. Now it's threatened by an online superstore, Globalgoods.com. Lauren, who tries to keep the family business afloat by writing biographies for business figures, is eager for a new job, until she learns the subject of her new book is the owner of Globalgoods.com, the company that could put her family out of business. Even so, she travels to Seattle to meet with the mogul. She's surprised when she meets his son, a handsome, intelligent, kind man who represents the company that threatens everything Lauren loves.

Mary Monroe's holiday book is The Gift of Family. Middle-aged couple Eugene and Rosemary Johnson are successful, secure, and still very much in love.  They've never given up on their dream to be parents. But, their hope seems further away than ever, especially this Christmas when Rosemary has to have surgery and home help to recuperate. Eugene has the brilliant idea to contact Ethel Perkins, a widow who raised Eugene and his brother. Ethel is struggling as she attempts to raise her great-grandchildren and keep them out of trouble. Ethel's problems only grow worse, as Eugene and Rosemary pitch in to help her and the children. And, the best way the two families can enjoy the holiday season is by celebrating it together.

Diana Palmer, Marina Adair, and Kate Pearce each have a story in the collection Christmas Kisses with My Cowboy. The summary says, "This Christmas the best kind of trouble comes in threes: Three bestselling authors. Three stories of holiday romance. And three cowboys who are ready for love - whether they know it yet or not."

A Christmas Carol Murder is the third book in Heather Redmond's series featuring a young Charles Dickens as the amateur sleuth. Each story's plot inspires a future book by the journalist who aspires to be a novelist. This time, Dickens suspects a miser of pushing his partner out a window, but Charles' fiancee, Kate Hogarth, has a more charitable view. Charles and Kate are out with friends in London in December 1835 when a body plummets from the upper story of a house. The dead man at their feet, his neck wrapped in chains, is Jacob Harley, the business partner of the owner of the house, an unpleasant codger named Emmanual Screws. Before Dickens can investigate, Harley's body is stolen. And, then the journalist believes he is visited by the man's ghost. Or, maybe it's just his imagination. Together, Charles and Kate attempt to solve the mystery.

Sheila Roberts takes readers on a Christmas cruise in One Charmed Christmas. Catherine Pine is hoping for a better Christmas than last year, her first without her husband. And, this year, her kids and their families are absent. Then, a good friend invites her on a cruise to lift her spirits. Every day is an adventure. There are new friends, and one of them is the lovable Sophie Miles. Everyone seems to love Sophie, from Dr. Rudy Nichols, a perfect match for the hypochondriac Sophie, to chocolatier Trevor March. And, anything could happen this charmed Christmas.

I have family members and friends who love Christmas books. September 29 brings all kinds of Christmas books, from holiday mysteries and murder to historical and contemporary romances. If you're a fan of holiday reading, it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Pancakes in Paris By Craig Carlson


While I enjoyed Craig Carlson's memoir, Pancakes in Paris, I can only agree with his subtitle "Living the American Dream in France" if your idea of a dream is opening diners, dealing with French bureaucrats and laborers, and working yourself until you collapse. In other words, the book is a fine place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live it.

Carlson admits he's an unlikely candidate to move to Paris and open a successful chain of diners, Breakfast in America, BIA. Originally from upstate Connecticut, he grew up in a poor immigrant family, Polish and Finnish. His parents didn't get along, and finally divorced. Craig and his three older siblings bounced between grandparents. They were even sent to an orphanage for a year. Carlson's father drank and gambled. His mother was bi-polar. But, he did develop a strong work ethic in order to survive when he was living with his father, Fast Eddie. And, he took French as his seventh grade language requirement. 

Carlson was fortunate to receive an invitation for his junior year abroad in France when he was in college. He spent five weeks in Paris as part of that year, and loved the city. Paris led him to film as a career. He attended USC's prestigious film school, and then worked as a screenwriter and short filmmaker. That time at the film school also provided him with contacts who would eventually become his first investors in his Paris dream. He worked on a TV show in Paris, and, when he returned to the U.S., he realized what he missed the most was an American breakfast. That was the start of his idea, to open a diner in Paris, one that features an American breakfast.

Craig Carlson had all kinds of problems, ones that readers can discover in the memoir. He's an easy writer to read, and readers will root for him in his business and personal life. By the age of forty, he realized he was in the city of love, with no love in his own life. The story of his romance is part of the charm of the book.

But, let's face it. Paris is the primary charming factor in any book set there. I found the prologue a little sad and nostalgic because the book was published in 2016, before the fire at Notre Dame Cathedral. The book begins and ends with Carlson's view of Notre Dame, and his comments about the opportunity to view its beauty on a daily basis. 

This past week, I gave away mysteries for those armchair travelers who are missing travel. Pancakes in Paris fills that same yearning. Missing Paris, or you always wanted to go? Craig Carlson's memoir provides a taste of the city.

Craig Carlson's website is http://www.craigcarlsonauthor.com/

Pancakes in Paris by Craig Carlson. Sourcebooks, 2016. ISBN 9781492632122 (paperback), 306p.


FTC Full Disclosure - I bought a copy of the book.

Friday, September 25, 2020

Winners and an L.A. Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the last contest. Julia H. from Excelsior, MN won the copy of Turn to Stone, and Sharon B. from Albuquerque, NM will receive Auntie Poldi and the Handsome Antonio. The books are going out in the mail on Saturday.

Andy Weinberger's An Old Man's Game features Amos Parisman. When a controversial celebrity rabbi drops dead over his matzoh ball soup at Canter's Deli in Los Angeles, retired private eye Amos Parisman, a sixtysomething, no-nonsense detective, is hired by the temple's board to make sure everything is kosher. As he looks into what seems to be a simple, tragic accident, the ante is raised after others start to die or disappear. Amos uncovers a world of treachery and hurt that shakes a large L.A. Jewish community to its core.

 Or maybe you want a glamorous heroine. Donis Casey follows up her Alafair Tucker mysteries with The Wrong Girl. Blanche Tucker longs to escape her dull life in tiny Boynton, Oklahoma. When Graham Peyton roars into town, posing as a film producer, it isn't long before the ambitious but naive teenager runs away with him for a glamorous new life. Instead, Graham uses her as cruelly as a silent picture villain. Yet by luck and pluck, Blanche takes charge of her life and makes it to Hollywood. Six years later, Blanche is Bianca LaBelle, the reclusive star of a series of adventure films. Then, Peyton's remains are discovered on a Santa Monica beach. Is there a connection?

Which mystery would you like to win? You can enter to win both, but I need separate entries. Email me at Lesa.Holstine@gmail.com.  Your subject line should read either "Win An Old Man's Game" or "Win The Wrong Girl." Please include your name and mailing address. The contest will end October 1 at 5 PM CT. Entries from the U.S. only, please.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

What Are You Reading?

First, how are you doing? Politics, work, Covid, fires, too many tropical storms. I know it's all becoming too much for some of us. I also know you're doing the best you can. We all are. We're not superhuman, no matter how much we try.We may only bring it up on Thursdays, but I think about you throughout the week. That means all of you who normally respond here, and also those who only occasionally comment. Take care of yourself. Let us know how you're doing.

I'm a little nervous. I'm moderating a panel for an online event tomorrow for thousands of librarians. I hope everything goes well on my end - in other words, that I can keep us on time, and that all the technology works. That's really my job. Keeping my fingers crossed.

In the meantime, I'm back to reading a book I didn't have time for earlier. Hopefully, I can actually finish Ann Cleeves' latest Vera Stanhope mystery, The Darkest Evening. Vera gets lost in a snowstorm, but, before she can get her bearings, she comes across a stranded car with a baby in the backseat. The front door is open, and the driver is missing. When she finds her way to a cousin's house, she calls around, looking for a parent. But, just as she thinks she's identified the mother, a neighboring farmer reports he found a body in the snow, a woman who had been hit on the head and killed. Vera delights in a good murder investigation.

And, you? What are you reading this week? Is there something that's keeping you distracted so you don't have to think about the state of the world?

Wednesday, September 23, 2020


 I do not have the patience to mess with Blogger at 9:45 PM after I finished the book I intended to review. The review will run on Saturday. It's too frustrating to deal with the images when I can't put them where I want to. Blogger has changed their format, and I've been messing with it now for over a week. The only reason the last two blogs have looked good is they were published prior to the new Blogger format.

If Blogger can mess with blogs that have been in existence for over fourteen years, it's a shame they can't stop the idiotic spammers who want to talk about vampires, their marriages, and who knows what all. 

Don't worry. I'm not stopping the blog. It's just that it's been a long day, and I hate Blogger.