Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The Patchwork Bride by Sandra Dallas

Over the course of fifteen books, Sandra Dallas has placed women's relationships and quilting at the heart of her novels. Historically, quilting was a way for women to gather and tell their stories. In The Patchwork Bride, quilting is the tool a grandmother uses to illustrate to her granddaughter that she's not alone in her fears and her reluctance to marry.

Ellen and Ben are aging ranchers in Colorado in the early 1950s. With her weak heart and Ben's growing memory loss, Ellen fears it won't be long until the couple is forced to move to town. She escapes her worries by putting the finishing touches on a wedding quilt for her favorite granddaughter. June is the only one who loves the ranch. Like her grandparents, she turns to the ranch when she's troubled. When June shows up unexpectedly, Ellen is shrewd enough to guess there are wedding issues. June has run away from her wedding. She feels pressured to marry her fiance before he's sent to Korea by the army. June isn't sure she wants to be a military wife. She had been excited about the opportunities opened by her business degree. Now, she's afraid she'll just be an appendage going from base to base.

While Ellen works on the quilt, she tells June the story of another runaway bride. In fact, Nell ran away from three different men. At the end of the 19th century, she left her grandparents in Kansas and headed to New Mexico to work for her aunt on a ranch as a hired girl. It was there she learned to love the west and a cowboy she called Buddy. Although Nell desperately wanted to marry and not become an old maid, she fled New Mexico, and then left two other men before marrying the love of her life. Ellen's account of Nell's loves and troubles forces June to examine her own feelings and issues with her fiance.

The reader will quickly identify the character of Nell, and understand the direction the story is taking. However, Dallas is still a spellbinding storyteller who keeps the reader following as closely as June does while Ellen stitches together the pieces of the past. The Patchwork Bride isn't as remarkable as a couple of Dallas' earlier novels, The Persian Pickle Club or Tallgrass. (The savvy reader will catch the one reference to the women of The Persian Pickle Club.) However, it's still an enjoyable novel of the bonds between women,; friends or relatives, and the support they provide each other.

There were a few editing issues with this book. I read the actual book, not an ARC, and found there were slips when Ellen was misidentified as June. Those errors don't surprise me in an ARC. They should have been caught in the final edition of the book.

However, it's easy to overlook a couple confusing name changes. It's not as easy to overlook the beauty of the relationship between a grandmother and her granddaughter as they exchange stories of the love in their lives.

Sandra Dallas' website is www.sandradallas.com

The Patchwork Bride by Sandra Dallas. St. Martin's Press, 2018. ISBN 9781250174031 (hardcover), 294p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Monday, June 18, 2018

The Persian Pickle Club by Sandra Dallas

Ten years ago, for "Friday's Forgotten Books", I discussed Sandra Dallas' novel, The Persian Pickle Club. I have it on Facebook today for a listing of seven books I've loved. I still love that book.

Why am I talking about it again? I'm finishing Dallas' latest book, The Patchwork Bride, but the book is too good to review before I've actually completed it. In the meantime, I thought I'd go back and see what I wrote about the earlier book. I'm sharing that book, because it's one I've never forgotten, and the quilting group from that story is mentioned in the current one.

Remember, the earlier summary was written ten years ago. I've read a few more of Dallas' books since then, so the number is off. But, my opinions of The Persian Pickle Club and Tallgrass have not changed.

Oh, and ten years later, "Friday's Forgotten Books" is still going strong, and the weekly feature is still featured on Patti Abbott's blog.


Not only is Sandra Dallas' The Persian Pickle Club a "forgotten" book, but the author herself never received the attention she deserved. I've read six of her seven books, and they are all wonderful novels that portray women and their friendships. Her most recent book, Tallgrass, is an outstanding book of a young girl's coming-of-age during World War II, watching the reactions of a small Colorado town when a Japanese internment camp is built on its outskirts.

But, today's forgotten book is The Persian Pickle Club. When the book came out, booksellers handsold it, saying, if you can figure out who did it, we'll give your money back. Here's the summary from the book jacket:

"It is the 1930s, and hard times have hit Harveyville, Kansas, where the crops are burning up and there's not a job to be found. For Queenie Bean, a young farmwife, the highlight of each week is the gathering of the Persian Pickle Club (named after a favorite cloth pattern), a group of local ladies dedicated to improving their minds, exchanging gossip, and putting their well-honed quilting skills to good use. As Queenie says, 'It's funny how quilting draws women together like nothing else.'

"Women her own age are few in Harveyville, so when just-married Rita Ritter arrives in town, Queenie eagerly welcomes her new friend to the club. But Rita, who hails from Denver, is anything but a country girl. With a hankering for a newspaper career, she's far more interested in investigative journalism than she is in sewing, and before long her prying brings her dangerously close to a secret the Pickles have sworn to keep."

Sandra Dallas vividly portrays the Depression in Kansas, and the loneliness of the women. I've used this book successfully with book clubs, and passed it on to many readers. Don't let Sandra Dallas' The Persian Pickle Club be forgotten!

And, for other Friday "Forgotten" Books, check out Patti Abbott's website at www.pattinase.blogspot.com, where she summarizes all the suggestions for Friday.

The Persian Pickle Club by Sandra Dallas. St. Martin's Press, ©1995. ISBN 9780312135867 (hardcover), 208p.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Book Chat Featuring Berkley's Forthcoming Mysteries

Release date is all over the place for Berkley's forthcoming mysteries. Since I had six, Josh and I took the opportunity for a little camera time.

Here are the books we discussed.

Scandal Above Stairs by Jennifer Ashley - 2nd Below Stairs Mystery
Poisoned Pages by Lorna Barrett - 12th Booktown Mystery
On Her Majesty's Frightfully Secret Service by Rhys Bowen - 11th Royal Spyness Mystery, 1st time in paperback
Buried in Books by Kate Carlisle - 12th Bibliophile Mystery
Italian Iced by Kyle Logan - 3rd Ethnic Eats Mystery
Dyeing Up Loose Ends by Maggie Sefton - 16th (and final) Knitting Mystery

Saturday, June 16, 2018

The Library Fuzz Megapack by James Holding

Today, I'm expressing my thanks to Jeffrey Meyerson. Jeff is a regular reader who really got the "What Are You Reading" post going on Thursdays. And, he's an avid reader of story collections. Thanks to Jeff, I'm about to finish a collection, James Holding'sThe Library Fuzz Megapack: 20 Classic Library & Book Crimes. 

I always have a hard time reviewing collections of stories. Instead, let me give you some background.  John Betancourt, the publisher of Wildside Press, introduces the book. Holding lived from 1907 to 1997. According to Betancourt, Holding was a prolific short story writer in the mystery field. I was surprised to learn, first from Jeff, and then from the introduction, that Holding wrote children's books, including the Ellery Queen, Jr. series. Most of you probably won't remember that series. But, my public library still had them when I was a kid, and I read all of them. Just another reminder of the early mysteries I read.

In the Library Fuzz stories, Hal Johnson is a former police detective who now works as a "sissy" kind of cop. He works for a public library, tracking down overdue library books and bringing the books and the fines back to the library. However, Johnson still has all the skills he developed as a police officer. He's still observant, and often notices when something is wrong when he's on the job. Sometimes, he's smart enough to notify Lt. Randall from the police department before Johnson gets into too much trouble. Other times, his best intentions get him in trouble when he tries to help someone.

The stories range from murder to bank robbery to kidnapping. There are burglaries, thefts of books. Bookmarks and clues left in books often indicate a problem. Johnson is a likable guy. He's an avid reader. "I've found that reading's the best way to educate yourself beyond the few basic disciplines you get in college." He took speed reading and memory development courses when he worked in the police department, skills he uses, along with that talent for observation. He continues to propose to one of the librarians, Ellen Corby. If she doesn't accept, I'm tempted.

The Library Fuzz Megapack collects all twenty of Holding's stories. They were published between 1961 and 1984 in various mystery magazines; Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, Mike Shayne's Mystery Magazine. I'm just happy those magazines published the stories featuring this unusual cop.

And, thank you, Jeffrey Meyerson, for suggesting the book.

The Library Fuzz Megapack: 20 Classic Library & Book Crimes by James Holding! Wildside Press, LLC, 2015. ISBN 9781479416110 (paperback), 243p.

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

Friday, June 15, 2018

Two Special Giveaways This Week

Congratulations to the winners of the last contest. Tari H. of Mount Sterling, Ohio will received Scones and Scoundrels. LuAnn B. from Crab Orchard, KY won Scot Free. The books will go out in the mail this weekend.

This week, I have two unusual giveaways. One is a guarantee. Two lucky winners will win autographed copies of Dorothea Benton Frank's latest book, By Invitation Only. I'm giving those away. Details will follow.

The other is for fans of audiobooks, and you have to be quick on this one. June is Audiobook Month. Audiobooks.com is giving away copies of Daniel Cole's Ragdoll. The giveaway begins at 9:00 AM ET TODAY. 500 copies will be given away. Here's where to find the information to login, beginning at 9:00 AM TODAYhttp://bit.ly/2JMWqVF

Here's the description of Ragdoll.

Written By: Daniel Cole          Narrated By: Alex Wyndham

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Date: April 2017

Duration: 10 hours 32 minutes


William Fawkes, a controversial detective known as The Wolf, has just been reinstated to his post after he was suspended for assaulting a vindicated suspect. Still under psychological evaluation, Fawkes returns to the force eager for a big case. When his former partner and friend, Detective Emily Baxter, calls him to a crime scene, he’s sure this is it: the body is made of the dismembered parts of six victims, sewn together like a puppet—a corpse that becomes known as “The Ragdoll.”

Fawkes istasked with identifying the six victims, but that gets dicey when his reporter ex-wife anonymously receives photographs from the crime scene, along with a list of six names, and the dates on which the Ragdoll Killer plans to murder them.

The final name on the list is Fawkes.

Baxter and her trainee partner, Alex Edmunds, hone in on figuring out what links the victims together before the killer strikes again. But for Fawkes, seeing his name on the list sparks a dark memory, and he fears that the catalyst for these killings has more to do with him—and his past—than anyone realizes.

With a breakneck pace, a twisty plot, and a wicked sense of humor, Ragdoll announces the arrival of the hottest new brand in crime fiction.
It's up to you to take care of your entry for Ragdoll. Now, let me tell you about By Invitation Only. Dorothea Benton Frank described it as a story of two families whose children are getting married. One is a family of "haves" from Chicago. The other is a family of "have-nots" from the South Carolina Lowcountry, a family of peach farmers. But, who really has everything they could want, and who doesn't?
I bought two hardcovers of By Invitation Only, had them signed, and I'm giving them away. For this one, you contact me at Lesa.Holstine@gmail.com. Your subject line should read "Win By Invitation Only." Please include your name and mailing address. (I've had a couple people forget to include their mailing address lately. You can't win if I can't send you the book.) This giveaway will end Thursday, June 21 at 5 PM CT.  Entries from the U.S. only, please.

Good luck!

Thursday, June 14, 2018

What Are You Reading?

It's that time again! It's Thursday and time to talk about what we're reading.

Because I'm usually reading a mystery or two for Library Journal, I usually have a stack of books
beside me, a mix of fiction and nonfiction that I want to sample. I don't always get through them immediately because of other commitments. And, some are slow-going.

Since I just read an entire nonfiction book on Tuesday, I'm starting some new ones. Easter Dawn: The 1916 Rising is by Turtle Bunbury. This is the story of Ireland's attempt to overthrow the British. I have the feeling this will be one of the slower reads, although I love Bunbury's way with words.

On the total opposite end of the spectrum is a novel by an Australian author, Charlotte Nash. It's called The Paris Wedding, and, if it has enough Paris in it, my copy will eventually find its way to my friend Kaye, keeper of all things Paris.

And, of course, I'm halfway through two mysteries that I can't talk about right now, but the reviews will be here in a couple months.

What are you reading this week? It's our day to talk books!

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Bad Stories by Steve Almond

Although it sounds like fiction (and I wish it was), Steve Almond's Bad Stories is actually nonfiction. For himself, for his journalism students, and for other befuddled voters, Almond analyzes what went wrong in the last presidential election. Almond examines history, popular culture and literature as he searches for answers in  Bad Stories: What the Hell Just Happened to Our Country.

Almond uses literature and journalists of the past to say we were warned. Hunter S. Thompson wrote, "The whole framework of the presidency is getting out of hand. It's come to the point where you almost can't run unless you can cause people to salivate and whip on each other with big sticks. You almost have to be a rock star to get the kind of fever you need to survive in American politics...The main problem in any democracy is that crowd-pleasers are generally brainless swine who can go out on a stage & whup their supporters into an orgiastic frenzy - then go back to the office & sell every one of the poor bastards down the tube for a nickel apiece." Sound familiar? Thompson write that in 1972 with Nixon in mind.

There are quotes from Kurt Vonnegut, William Butler Yeats, James Baldwin, Aldous Huxley, Joseph Conrad, The Great Gatsby, Moby Dick, The Grapes of Wrath. Ray Bradbury's works are mentioned several times, as is the Old Testament. Why all the literature in a book that analyzes the political scene and an election. Almond, who teaches at the Nieman Fellowship for Journalism at Harvard, said, "I'd argued that the whole point of literature, and by extension literary journalism, is to complicate our own moral perceptions by forcing us to accept that other people matter, that their struggles and hardships matter, and that their delusions cannot be tamed until they are understood. Propaganda has the opposite aim; to simplify moral action by dismissing the humanity of others."

That final quote, along with Thompson's, really sums up the book. Almond says we've told each other bad stories, allowed newspapers and television, and then the Internet, to play on our fears by telling us stories that aren't true. Those fears, of immigrants, of people who don't look like us, of losing jobs and social status, are all bad stories that we've learned to believe. Why did so many women vote for a self-professed sexual predator? What stories did they have in their past, what fears did they have that made them accept lies about the other candidate? Almond builds a case against newspapers who are run for profit, the media, even comedy shows that professed to be critical of the right. He even points to our history, an electoral college based on history instead of a system that allows every vote to count. And, he blames Obama, reality television, the GOP. He discusses the Cold War and Putin, who "views Trump as the ultimate Russian asset".

In the end, Almond's thoughtful book blames all of us for believing the paranoid stories Trump told, and, for many of us, for believing that Trump couldn't win. Those "bad stories" Trump told, were not bad stories. They were negative, paranoid stories about "a holy land infiltrated by immigrants".

Is this a book that's actually going to change anyone's opinion? No. It's a book, though, that will show some of us what went wrong, what we're doing wrong. It points to our fear of the different, different skin color, different races. It reminds us it will take ordinary people to change what we don't like, including the electoral college. It reminds us to consider consequences when we vote. An election is not a popularity contest.

If nothing else, Bad Stories offers a glimmer of hope. It's not even a glimmer of hope involving politics. There's a final message of hope for humanity, from, of all people, Joseph Conrad. It's a message about storytelling and delight and wonder, joy and hope and fear. This thoughtful, disturbing examination of our recent past, and how we arrived here, is worth picking up just to realize we can change our future. We need to tell different stories.

Bad Stories: What the Hell Just Happened to Our Country by Steve Almond. Red Hen Press, 2018. ISBN 9781597092265 (paperback), 272p.

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