Sunday, March 24, 2019

Trouble on the Books by Essie Lang

I love the setting of Essie Lang's new mystery and series. Trouble on the Books is a Castle Bookshop Mystery. Bayside Books is located in Alexandria Bay in upstate New York. The second location for the store is in Blye Castle on Blye Island. The setting is more appealing than the amateur sleuth or the mystery itself, though.

Shelby Cox returns to her childhood home when her Aunt Edie needs help following surgery. Shelby is now part owner of Bayside Books, and she'll be running the one on Blye Island in the castle. Soon after she has a run-in with Loreen Swan, the castle curator, Shelby discovers Loreen's body in the island grotto. Aunt Edie worries that the local police chief will try to railroad the groundskeeper at the castle, so she asks Shelby to poke around. Because Shelby just moved back, she doesn't know many people in town, but that doesn't stop her from asking questions, annoying townspeople, the police chief, the state police, and even a handsome Coast Guard agent.

Shelby is convinced the murder may be linked to the castle's history of smuggling. Her imagination runs wild with ideas that many of the people she encounters could be suspects. As an amateur sleuth, Shelby lacks people skills. She also doesn't quite fit the cozy mystery image of an insider asking questions of everyone she knows. She isn't part of the local community, and it's hard to suspend disbelief and accept that everyone would answer a nosy stranger's questions.

The author has written other cozy mysteries under the names Linda Wiken and Erika Chase. This first one in the new series just falls flat for me. Readers might be better off to try Eva Gates or Jenn McKinlay's books if they're looking for mysteries with books and appealing amateur sleuths.

The author's website is

Trouble on the Books by Essie Lang. Crooked Lane Books, 2019. ISBN 9781683319818 (hardcover), 336p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I received the book to review for a journal.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

A Case of Bier by Mary Daheim

If you like the title of Mary Daheim's latest Bed-and-Breakfast mystery, A Case of Bier, you'll probably enjoy the book more than I did. I'm not a fan of broad humor, the hit you in the face, Three Stooges type of humor. But, this is the thirty-first book in the series, so Daheim's mysteries reach their audience.

Judith McMonigle Flynn is ready for a vacation away from her popular B&B. But, she and her cousin Renie make the mistake of allowing their husbands to plan the trip to Banff in the Canadian Rockies. The two women imagined a stay in a luxurious hotel. Instead, they end up in a cheap motel while the men go off on an extended fishing trip.

How does Judith entertain herself? She's nosy, so she checks out an unusual gathering of the Stokes family from Nebraska. They have a bier ready to send down the river when the family elder, Codger, dies. According to the family, Codger is ready to go anytime. But, when a body is found with knife wounds, it disappears before the Mounties can investigate. Unfortunately for Sergeant Brewster, RCMP, Judith is on the case. She's been labeled a FASTO, a female amateur sleuth tracking offenders.

The fast-paced mystery supplies what passes for humorous dialogue between the cousins. There are multiple opportunies for disappearances of corpses and suspects. "What's a vacation for if we can't find a corpse?" sums up Judith McMonigle Flynn's philosophy and the comic ongoing series. As I said, it's not for me, but those who appreciate puns and broad humor might lap up A Case of Bier.

Mary Daheim's website is

A Case of Bier by Mary Daheim. William Morrow, 2019. ISBN 9780062663818 (hardcover), 288p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I received the book to review for a journal.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Winners and Give Me an H Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the last giveaway. Anita Y. from Barnesville, GA won A Deadly Divide. John S. of Iowa City, IA will receive Watcher in the Woods. The books will go out in the mail on Saturday.

This week, I'm giving away books with authors whose names begin with H. Aimee Hix' Dark Streets Cold Suburbs features apprentice PI Willa Pennington. Willa's last case almost got her killed. Helping her old mentor review a decades-old cold case seems so much safer. But, when she reaches out to a teenager in trouble, a new case rips into Willa's life in a way she never could have predicted.

The other book is from Steven F. Havill's Posadas County Mystery series, Lies Come Easy. (I've read every book in this series.) On a blizzardy New Mexico night just before Christmas, Deputy Pasquale picks up a toddler scooting his Scamper along the shoulder of a state route. The child's father dumped him from his truck. With the father in jail, the small department has time to help the US Forest Service search for a missing range tech. That case leads to the discovery of bodies. It's not a glorious holiday in Posadas County.

Which mystery would you like to win? You can enter to win both, but I need separate entries. Email me at Your subject heading should read either "Win Dark Streets" or "Win Lies Come Easy." Please include your name and mailing address. The giveaway will end Thursday, March 28 at 5 PM CT.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

What Are You Reading?

I'm actually "playing" with a book right now, rather than reading it. As an early birthday present, a friend gave me a copy of an oversized book,The Lost Files of Nancy Drew. It purports to be Nancy Drew's newly discovered notes about her early cases, beginning with The Secret of the Old Clock. It's what reviews call "an interactive book". In other words, it's a lift-the-flap, open-the-envelope type of book, just fun. Open a paper to find Nancy Drew's list of supplies needed for sleuthing. Or, there's her housekeeper's recipe for chicken and rice. There are summaries of a number of her cases. But, one of my favorite notes comes from The Hidden Staircase. There are a number of amateur sleuths who could learn a thing or two from Nancy Drew. She's smart enough to say when heading off to a strange location, let someone know where you're going so they can try to locate you if you don't show up in a reasonable amount of time. This is such a fun gift that brings back so many memories. I loved this series.

What books are you reading or listening to, or even playing with, this week? I hope you've found something to enjoy. Let us know, please.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

If Cats Disappeared from the World by Genki Kawamura

I seldom read translated books because something always seems to be lost in the translation. I don't think that happened with Genki Kawamura's If Cats Disappeared from the World. Eric Selland seems to have brought all the magic and thoughtfulness that made this book an international bestseller. It's a small book that might bring a tear or two, but it's one that will make you think.

At thirty, the narrator, a postman, is told he has a brain tumor, Stage 4, and has very little time to live. His mother has been dead for four years. He hasn't spoken to his father since then. He lives alone with just his cat, Cabbage. He doesn't know how he'll spend his last days. Then, the devil shows up in his apartment.

First, the devil challenges him to make that list of ten things he wants to do before he dies, and it's a pathetic list. In looking at it, it's easy to see the postman is looking for love. But, the devil has an alternative plan, a bargain. "Remove one thing from the world, and in return, you'll get one more day of life."

It's an interesting proposition. What would you remove from the world? The narrator picks one item, and then, the next day, a second one. It felt as if they were selfish actions at first. He never even thought about how the disappearance of those items would affect people he knew. "When it comes to actually erasing things from your life, it actually makes you start to think."

And, that's precisely what this story does; it makes the reader, and the postman think about life. What's important in life? What's important to the world? As I said, the book may bring a tear or two, but those tears are for the man who appears to have made a wise decision for the end of his life. If Cats Disappeared from the World succeeds as a thoughtful piece of writing, and, as a translation.

If Cats Disappeared from the World by Genki Kawamura. Flatiron Books, 2019. ISBN 9781250294050 (hardcover), 168p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Murder Once Removed by S.C. Perkins

S. C Perkins won the Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Competition for Murder Once Removed, and deservedly so. The first Ancestry Detective mystery is a fascinating debut, with likable characters. If you're interested in genealogy, or like cold cases, it's even more intriguing.

Lucy Lancaster won't let go when she's on a hunt for ancestry. She endangers herself and others who have clues to a death that took place in 1849 in Texas. Gus Halloran, patriarch of one of Texas' most powerful families, hires Lucy to trace his family lineage. While doing research, she finds a photograph of Seth Halloran's body, and the photographer's confession that he lied to hide the murder on behalf o another powerful family. While Lucy narrows the killer down to one of two families, Gus announces at a press conference that an ancestor of a Texas senator killed Seth.

For once in her life, Lucy had drank a little too much at the luncheon celebrating the successful search for lineage. She wasn't able to prevent Halloran's announcement. Now, she finds she also can't prevent the break-ins that resulted when someone didn't like Lucy's discoveries. Lucy feels guilty about the break-ins, but it's the murder of her mentor, and the dismissive attitude of an FBI agent that cause her to turn amateur sleuth.

Lucy Lancaster is an appealing intelligent amateur sleuth, who bases her conclusions on her research. Her office mates, long-time friends, are also strong, supportive women. There's an excellent supporting cast, a little sexual tension, a combination of a cold case and a current one, along with some Texas history in the book. The intricately plotted story is a strong, enjoyable mystery debut.

S.C. Perkins' website is

Murder Once Removed by S.C. Perkins. Minotaur Books, 2019. ISBN 9781250189035 (hardcover), 336p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I received the book to review for a journal.

Monday, March 18, 2019

S.C. Perkins, An Interview

S.C. Perkins' debut mystery, Murder Once Removed, is one of my favorite mysteries this year.  My review of the book will run tomorrow. In the meantime, it's my pleasure to introduce you to S.C. Perkins. I hope you enjoy the interview, and give her mystery a try.

S.C., congratulations on the release of your debut mystery. Would you introduce yourself to readers, please?

Hi and thank you so much for having me on your blog, Lesa! I’m S.C. Perkins and I hail from Houston, Texas. Besides my writing and my day job, I dabble in container gardening—thus far I’ve only been successful with bell peppers, but it still counts!—and I ride horses whenever I can. Though I love being in the city, my favorite place to be is down on the coast at the beach.  

Would you introduce us to Lucy Lancaster?

Lucy is a professional genealogist living in Austin, Texas, and she absolutely loves her job, especially when she gets to unravel historical and genealogical clues. While her two best friends (and a certain FBI agent with whom she locks horns) might say Lucy’s a wee bit stubborn, she’s got a good and loyal heart and a desire to right wrongs. This latter trait might cause her to get into trouble more than she ought, yes, but that’s what makes her all the more fun to write. Lastly, she’s also undeniably hooked on her drug of choice:  tacos, with a side of guacamole or queso. Or both, because why not? Lucy lives every day like it’s Taco Tuesday, for sure.

Without spoilers, tell us about Murder Once Removed.

While working on the family tree of wealthy businessman Gus Halloran, Lucy uncovers an 1849 daguerreotype photograph and a journal with a missing page, both of which prove Gus’s great-great grandfather’s death wasn’t accidental, but cold-blooded murder.

No sooner has she narrowed the nineteenth-century suspects down to two men—one of whom is the ancestor of present-day U.S. senator Daniel Applewhite—than Gus jumps the gun, publicly outing the senator as the descendant of a murderer.  When the senator’s life is later threatened, Lucy lands in the path of kinda-grumpy, kinda-charming FBI Special Agent Ben Turner.

But when another tragedy strikes closer to home, Lucy’s convinced what’s on the missing journal page is as important now as it was in 1849. She’s determined to find the page and unearth how the killer is connected to both the past and the present, be it through cousins, second cousins, or cousins once removed—and before she’s removed, permanently.

This is the first Ancestry Detective series. Why did you decide to write mysteries about genealogy? What’s your own interest in genealogical research?

I have several amateur genealogists on my dad’s side, including my late grandmother and great-grandfather, giving me a lifelong fascination with family history. Just about every time I went to my grandmother’s house, I heard some interesting story about my lineage and/or the latest relative she’d found. I never grew tired of it, either! So when the idea for an amateur sleuth came to my mind, my very first thought was to make her a genealogist. There was never anything else Lucy would be.

Can you give us a hint about the next book in the series?

If all goes well, the second book in the Ancestry Detective series will have a World War II element, which is one of my favorite subjects!

Murder Once Removed won the Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Competition. What were you doing, and what was your reaction when you learned this?

Oh, it was so exciting and one of the best days of my life, though my reaction had to be more subdued than I would have liked due to my work circumstances. At the time, I was working for the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, which is a huge 20-plus-day event, and we were in the middle of it, busy as all get out. I was in my tiny office when I saw a call from New York come through on my cell, but I couldn’t answer it since I was on another call on my work phone. When I heard the voicemail from Minotaur Books, though, I called right back! The funny thing was, I was sitting all of three feet away from my co-worker, who was on the phone herself, so I had to keep my voice down and not break into a tap dance of unbridled happiness. My editor teases me I was the calmest winner she’d ever spoken to, but I was absolutely bonkers-thrilled on the inside. And I don’t think I stopped smiling for days!

You’re writing a series set in Texas, and you live in Houston. Where do you like to take people when they come to visit?

Houston is as known for its restaurants as it is for having NASA’s Johnson Space Center in its backyard, so I usually take my guests to a great place to eat first and foremost. If they’re not from Texas, we always go for some good barbecue, naturally.

Depending on the seasons and what someone likes to do, there’s more ways to enjoy yourself in Houston than you can shake a stick at. Some of my favorites include going to an outdoor movie at Miller Outdoor Theatre in the museum district, enjoying an art festival or baseball/football/soccer game, seeing the butterflies at the Museum of Natural Science’s Cockrell Butterfly Center, or going shopping —Houston is also known for its shopping!

But if someone were to come into town around March, I’d take them to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, no doubt. It’s a Houston tradition that benefits Texas children and education as well as being a world-class rodeo and a great time.

What did you read as a child?

I loved books about animals and books with adventure and/or mystery. Some of my favorites included Black Beauty, The Boxcar Children series, The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew series, and Encyclopedia Brown. But probably my favorite, which remains so to this day and is equally readable as an adult, is James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small. Though it’s not actually a children’s book, my mother wisely let me read it at a very young age and I fell in love.

What authors influenced your mystery writing?

One early influence was Donald J. Sobol in the way he usually had Encyclopedia Brown see a clue in something that seemed otherwise ordinary. But my biggest influence overall is Dick Francis. His books are so well written and are still some of my favorite mysteries to this day. He, too, always imparted some interesting fact or two in his books, and I try to do the same in mine. Current influences, especially in the cozy/traditional mystery genres, include Rhys Bowen, Carolyn Haines, Kate Carlisle, and Donna Andrews. Those ladies are amazing at keeping their ideas fresh and their readers coming back for more.

S.C., because I’m a librarian, I always end the same way. Tell me about a library or librarian who influenced you.

I just love libraries! I can still remember the first time I checked out a book on my own. It was the coolest feeling. I always enjoyed going to any library, including my school libraries in Houston and my local library, Spring Branch Memorial Library. I also loved spending time at my college library at Texas A&M University. All those books with all that information, just waiting to be discovered! Each trip to a library was an adventure. The fact is, libraries are wonderful, as are the librarians who so patiently help readers and researchers every day.

Thank you, S.C. I appreciate the time you took for the interview. And, good luck with Murder Once Removed.

S.C. Perkins' website is

Murder Once Removed by S.C. Perkins. Minotaur Books, 2019. ISBN 9781250189035 (hardcover), 336p.