Thursday, July 18, 2019

What Are You Reading?

Let's face it. During deadline week, I don't read anything I can talk about right now. You'll see all the reviews of the books I've been reading, but it will be September or October. Next week, I'll have a title or two to share. This week, it's up to all of you, but I'll be around.

So, tell us what you're reading, please. Let's talk books!

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

2019 International Thriller Awards

Last weekend, during the New York City blackout, the International Thriller Writers presented their annual Thriller Awards. Congratulations to all of the winners.
Here are the winners.
Jennifer Hillier – Jar of Hearts
C. J. Tudor – The Chalk Man
Jane Harper – The Lost Man
Alan Orloff – Pray for the Innocent
Teri Bailey Black – Girl at the Grave

Also receiving special recognition: John Sandford, ThrillerMaster, in recognition of his legendary career and outstanding contributions to the thriller genre.

Harlan Coben, Silver Bullet Award

“Mystery Mike” Bursaw, ThrillerFan Award

Margaret Marbury, Thriller Legend Award

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Shamed by Linda Castillo

I love Linda Castillo's Kate Burkholder books. She has wonderful characters, beginning with Kate, Kate's love interest, Tomasetti, and the entire police department in Painters Mill, Ohio. But, the cover of her latest book, Shamed, is just wrong. Let me get that out of the way right up front, so I can move on to the book itself.

Look at that cover. If you were in the library, or a bookstore, you would pick it up if you read Amish novels. And, you'd be offended by the violence in the book. If you're a mystery reader, you would not pick it up. It looks too much like a nice, clean Amish book. And, it certainly doesn't look like the other books in Castillo's series. In fact, one friend said he thought Castillo must have switched genres. No, this is a Kate Burkholder suspense novel. But, the cover artist, the editor, and the publishing company made a mistake, in my opinion. Or, were they trying to mess with readers' minds, as someone suggested?

Castillo's books always introduce you to the victim, which draws readers into the story immediately. In this case, an Amish grandmother has taken two of her grandchildren, five-year-old Annie, and seven-year-old Elsie, to a favorite spot, a deserted farm, to gather walnuts. It's a fun outing, until the grandmother enters the old farmhouse, and is butchered. Elsie, a child with special needs, is kidnapped, and Annie is left, covered in blood.

When Kate Burkholder is called to the crime scene, she finds Annie and hears a story that "Da Deivel", the devil, did that to Annie's grandmother. Although law enforcement departments from all over respond to the case, due to a missing child, Kate deals with the family because she was once Amish. It's one of the children in the family who accidentally blurts out a sentence. As Kate ponders it, she realizes there are secrets behind Elsie, and the family isn't telling the truth about their missing daughter.

As Burkholder's investigation goes on, hour after hour for a missing child with special needs, she is shocked to learn of events seven years earlier, and to hear stories of the people involved. Deaths mount, shots are fired, and Kate Burkholder finds herself cornered by a killer.

Believe it or not, that last sentence is not a spoiler. There's so much more to this meaty book. But, it's violent. And, one of the events shakes Kate, as it will any reader of the long-running series. It's another gripping book in a series that is suspenseful and compelling. (And, no matter what the book cover indicates, it's not a sweet, cozy Amish story.)

Linda Castillo's website is

Shamed by Linda Castillo. Minotaur Books, 2019. ISBN 9781250142863 (hardcover), 304p.

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

Monday, July 15, 2019

Heather Webber, An Interview

When I read that Heather Webber's Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe was "perfect for fans of Sarah Addison Allen", I knew I'd want to try it. Tomorrow is release date for the book, and today I'm lucky to have an interview with the author. I hope you enjoy "meeting" Heather Webber.

Heather, would you introduce yourself to readers?                      

I've been writing for more than twenty years now and have been published since 2002. I started out writing sweet romance, then switched to mysteries (I also write as Heather Blake), and now I’m writing women’s fiction.

Small pieces of my life tend to work their way into my books, like my love of baking, coffee and tea, nature, magic, and family.  

Would you introduce us to Anna Kate?

Twenty-four-year-old Anna Kate Callow knows grief. She’s lost everyone close to her, most recently her beloved Granny Zee, owner of the Blackbird Café in Wicklow, Alabama. 

To settle the estate, Anna Kate travels for the first time in her life to Wicklow—the town her pregnant mother ran away from twenty-five years ago, vowing never to return after the mysterious car crash that killed Anna Kate’s father. 

While in Wicklow, Anna Kate stays busy running the café, looking into the details of her dad’s death, figuring out her grandmother’s recipe for the magical blackbird pies, trying to forgive her paternal grandparents for what they did to her mother, and keeping the overly-friendly townsfolk at arm’s length so she doesn’t get hurt again when she leaves town.

What she  ultimately finds in Wicklow is a community that needs her as much as she needs it—and also the friends and family she’s always wanted. But is she willing to break a promise in order to allow her own dreams to take flight?

Before you tell us about Midnight at the Blackbird Café, would you tell us a little about Wicklow, Alabama?

I'm charmed by mountains, often feeling like they’re magical in their own right. For this book, it was a natural fit to place Wicklow in the mountains in northeastern Alabama.  While doing research, I came across a snippet about a former artist’s colony in Alabama, and with that I knew I’d found the heartbeat of Wicklow—because I believe artists are a little bit magical, too. The town is down on its luck, still struggling after most of the artists moved away during the recession. A revitalization committee is trying to rebrand the town as a mountain resort destination with a focus on nature, hiking, and biking, but it’s a struggle…until they realize how much their past can help their future.

Tell us about Midnight at the Blackbird Café, without spoilers, please.          

Midnight at the Blackbird Café is the story of two young women, who in the midst of grief, are struggling to figure out who they are, and how they can fix a family broken by long-ago—and current—tragedy. Throw in magical “blackbird” pies, birders who help reinvigorate a struggling small-town community, a couple of mischief-makers, a dash of mystery and romance, and these women realize that there might be more to life—and death—than either of them dreamed possible.

Personally, I don’t feel it’s a big switch from mysteries to a story of magical realism. However, what spoke to you in this book that made you write it? Characters, the setting? Something else?

It was a song that inspired this book. It was 2014 and my husband and I had signed up for Pandora and started filling our playlists. The Beatles are a favorite, but for some reason I’d never heard “Blackbird” until Pandora suggested it. I became obsessed with the song, listening to it repeatedly. When that kind of thing happens to me, the writer in me pays attention. The line “take these broken wings and learn to fly” stuck with me, and I started thinking about how people can be broken, too, and what could help heal them. A story started taking shape. Add in a research tidbit about blackbirds being the gatekeepers to the “Other” world, pies from “Sing a Song of Sixpence”, and what kind of messages I’d most like to hear in a blackbird’s song, and you have Midnight at the Blackbird Café.

I’m originally from Ohio. Where do you like to take visitors to Cincinnati?

Cincinnati is such a wonderful city. One favorite is the zoo, not only for the animals but for its gardens. So beautiful, especially in the springtime. The Cincinnati Art Museum is always worth a visit, as is the Museum Center. There’s always something happening on the river, a festival, event, or football or baseball game. There are many great nature parks, and there’s also Kings Island if you love amusement parks. And of course, a trip to Graeters ice cream is a must. My current favorite flavor is Chunky, Chunky Hippo, inspired by the zoo’s beloved hippo, Fiona.

Everyone’s journey to publishing is different. Tell us about writing your first book. Was that the one that was published? How did you become a published author?

I started writing my first book in 1998 after (literally) dreaming the story. I had no writing experience, no higher education (three weeks of college hardly counts), and was a young mom of three small children at the time. When I couldn’t get that dream out of my head, and excitedly talked nonstop about how it would make a great book (a movie would be too short!), my husband simply said, “Write it.” And so I did. It was a women’s fiction novel with magical elements, so it kind of feels like I’ve come full circle. That book was never published—it lives in my office with a cozy family of dust bunnies, but it’s still one of my favorite stories. 

From that book, I wrote and sold some short stories, but I still wanted to write longer fiction. I joined RWA and online groups for writers, and set about learning everything I could about the craft of writing. When Tall Stacks, a steamboat festival came to town, I found the perfect inspiration for a historical romance trilogy. I signed with Avalon, a small press (that was eventually sold to Amazon), for those three books, which I fondly call my “Three Sisters and a Steamboat” series, but the publisher called the “River of Dreams” series. The first one was published in 2002. While writing that trilogy, I realized I couldn’t keep mysteries out of the romance, so I decided to try writing a mystery series. The Nina Quinn books were born, and the first in that series was published in 2004 with HarperCollins. From there I’ve had several more series, and each one is a blend of mystery and romance. But the later books also have a new element: magic. I love to write magical books because I want to believe there's magic in this world, giving humanity a helping hand. 

Midnight at the Blackbird Café will be my twenty-ninth published novel, and sometimes it’s hard to believe my career all started with a dream I couldn’t get out of my head.

If you had to recommend 5 books for a person to read to get a feel for you and your reading taste, what 5 would you pick?

This is a tough question (and my answers are subject to change)! Okay, let’s see.

1.    The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen
2.    Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
3.    My Southern Journey by Rick Bragg
4.    Where’s My Teddy by Jez Alborough
5.    The Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz

What books did you love as a child?

My earliest memories are of the Little Golden books. Seeing that shiny gold binding still gives me warm, fuzzy feelings. In grade school, I adored Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume books and the Little House series. I fell in love with mysteries in high school thanks to Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Mary Higgins Clark. That’s also where my appreciation of Jane Austen came from as well.

Heather, I’m a librarian, and I always end my interviews with this comment. Please tell us a story about how a library or librarian influenced you.

Something Anna Kate and I share in common is that we were both latchkey kids. Both my parents worked, and my brother and I were on our own after school. Like Anna Kate, I often found myself at the local library to while away time. This snippet from the book could very well be from my own POV:

And sure enough, there was the library. One of the double doors was held open with a plastic wedge. 

I stepped inside inside and immediately felt at ease, as though in the presence of close friends among the many books with their colorful spines, the towering wooden shelves, and the scent of old paper, mustiness, and memories. Growing up, I’d spent a lot of time in libraries—which had been sanctuaries in the hours between school letting out and when my mother came home from work.  >>

I still consider books as friends, love the smell of a library, and think libraries are the best sanctuaries.

Thank you, Heather, for taking time to answer questions.

Heather Webber is the author of more than twenty mystery novels and has been twice nominated for an Agatha Award. She's a homebody who loves to be close to her family, read, watch reality TV (especially cooking competition shows), drink too much coffee, crochet, and bake (mostly cookies). Heather grew up in a suburb of Boston, but currently she lives in the Cincinnati area with her family and is hard at work on her next book. Visit her online at 
Heather Webber  
Forge Hardcover / ISBN: 9781250198594 / 336 pages/ $24.99  
eBook ISBN: 9781250198600  
Also available in Audio from Macmillan Audio

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Sunday, July 14, 2019

Have You Heard? - Miranda James' Classified as Murder

Miranda James' eleventh Cat in the Stacks mystery, The Pawful Truth, is due out Tuesday, July 16. If you love Charlie Harris and his Maine Coon cat, Diesel, as I do, you'll be waiting for the new book.

In the meantime, Sandie Herron has reviewed the audiobook of the second in the series, Classified as Murder. It might serve as an introduction to the series, or a refresher, if it's been a while since you read one of the books. Thank you, Sandie.

Classified as Murder                                                        
Series:  Cat in the Stacks Book 2
Written by Miranda James

Narrated by Erin Bennett
Unabridged Audiobook
Listening Length: 9 hours and 33 minutes
Publisher: Audible Studios
Release Date: February 25, 2014

Librarian Charlie Harris is working at his volunteer job at the library in Athena, Mississippi when an elderly gentleman asks for his assistance in finding a particular book.  As they chatted, James Delacorte revealed that he had a sizable book collection and invited Charlie to view it and have tea with his family. 
Meanwhile, Charlie's son Sean arrived looking to stay a while. Sean seemed angry and aloof, keeping to himself with his poodle Dante.  Charlie needed to determine why his son had returned home.

James Delacorte had a variety of family members living with him.  While James had never married nor had children, his brother and a mixture of nieces and nephews lived in his home.  Charlie went to the Delacorte mansion for tea where he meets the family, who revealed a number of odd behaviors and traits.  For instance Eloise was, at the moment, out of touch with reality wearing an antebellum gown and talking of eating cookies with Uncle James.

James wanted Charlie to check his book inventory and determine if all the volumes were present.  James was certain that someone was stealing from him.  In addition, he had found several books out of place.  Charlie was vacationing from his Athena College job, so he returned to the Delacorte home the next Monday, ready to start.  James explained his chronological method of filing the books: the first book he ever bought was the first on the shelves, and so on.  The two men began, but lunchtime came quickly.  While invited to dine, Charlie went home to eat so he could visit with Sean.

Upon Charlie's return to the Delacorte library, he found a very dead James.  Within a day or two, Charlie discovers that he was named co-executor of the Will and that he was to continue reviewing the library.  Each family member behaved poorly as the Will was read.  It would be up to the deputy sheriff to follow the clues to James’s murder. 

When Charlie returned the next day, Sean went with him to assist.  Finishing the inventory became of utmost importance when they discovered a dozen rare, signed first editions were missing.  Clues and another death occurred, leading the deputy and Charlie in different directions.  Even Diesel helped reveal one key factor.  Our professional and amateur sleuths worked together much more cordially than in the first book in this series. This entry was more relaxed and more enjoyable.    

I wouldn't want to steal any fits of laughter you might experience while reading, but I can say that narrator Erin Bennett did a wonderful job with many accents and volatile events.  It was also nice to learn more about Charlie and his life of the past several years, including where Diesel had come from.  The pace was steady and full of twists and turns.  I was even surprised when I reached the end of my very enjoyable visit to Athena.  I look forward to my next visit with Charlie and Diesel. 

Sandie Herron

Saturday, July 13, 2019

One Little Secret by Cate Holahan

Cate Holahan's standalone is usually not my type of book. One Little Secret takes three couples to the Hamptons, where they drink too much, discover too much, and the results are not pretty. On the other hand, I liked the police detective, who was not afraid to admit she was wrong at times.

Detective Sergeant Gabby Watkins of the East Hampton Police Department is talking to an au pair from the Philippines about a party the night before when her phone goes off repeatedly. It's important for Gabby to interview Muriel right then, though. The young woman is just eighteen, and she might have had a drugged drink the night before. She may have been a victim of sexual assault at the party. But, a dead body tops a possible assault.

Three couples are sharing a house in the Hamptons while their kids are at summer camp. One is Louis, a doctor, and his wife, Jenny, a sports commentator. Ben and Rachel are lawyers. Nadal and Susan are new to their common neighborhood, and Susan is eager to meet people and find a support network. Nadal is the CEO of a tech startup, while Susan stays home to work with their twins, one of whom is autistic.

Too much wine leads to arguments, family secrets spilling into public spaces. And, one member of the group ends up drowned. It doesn't take long for the police to determine it was murder, but it will take time for Gabby and the department to sift through the lies and coverups to find the truth. Everyone is a suspect, and anyone might have a reason to kill the victim.

The story is told in alternating chapters, "The day of" the murder, and "The day after". Holahan manipulates the story and the reader so that any of the members of the house party could be the guilty party. It's hard to feel sympathy for any of those six entitled people. However, it's easy to empathize with Gabby Watkins, even with her missteps made in anger. She's the star of the book, and the true reason to read this latest domestic thriller.

Cate Holahan's website is

One Little Secret by Cate Holahan. Crooked Lane Books, 2019. ISBN 9781683319726 (hardcover), 320p.

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

Friday, July 12, 2019

Winners & Women of Suspense

Congratulations to the winners of the last contest. Myra B. of Danville, AL and Lana R. from Vermillion, SD won copies of The Shallows. Shirley W. from Victoria, TX won Game of Bones. The books are going out in the mail today.

This week, I'm giving away novels of psychological suspense by women. Kelley Armstrong's Wherever She Goes explores the complexities behind a failed marriage, and the secrets it can dig up. Aubrey knows she saw a boy being taken against his will from the park. It doesn't matter if no one reported it, and people question her sanity. She hears the whispers and comments that she doesn't even have primary custody of her daughter. But, when the police refuse to believe her, she knows that rescuing the boy is up to her alone.

Or, you could win Erin Kelly's Stone Mothers. Marianne was seventeen when she fled her home, leaving behind her family, her boyfriend, and the body they buried. Now, thirty years later, she's forced to return to help care for her sick mother, and feels the past closing in around her. Jesse, who never forgave her for leaving, is threatening to expose the truth. Marianne will do anything to protect her current life, her husband and daughter, even if she has to turn to her worst enemy for help. But Marianne may not know the whole story, and she isn't the only one with secrets they'd kill to keep.

Which novel of suspense 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 Wherever She Goes" or "Win Stone Mothers." Please include your name and mailing address. The contest will end Thursday, July 18 at 5 PM CT. Entries from the U.S. only, please.