Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Nail Biter

Nail Biter is the ninth book in Sarah Graves' Home Repair is Homicide series. At times, these mysteries have been confusing, with too many plotlines and too many characters. This is not one of those times. Graves' new book is one of the strongest in the series.

Jacobia (Jake) Tiptree and her best friend, Ellie, have rented a house in Eastport, Maine to a small "coven of witches." Had they known it would lead to murder, drugs, and a teenage girl's disappearance, they might have done differently. If Jake had known that her "snooping" would bring back bad childhood memories, and cause her to ignore a family crisis, she might have done differently. However, her father is wise enough to tell her that it's always hard to forgive ourselves.

As Jake puts herself in danger to rescue a girl in trouble, "Nail Biter" becomes more than the title of the book.

The Worst Hard Time

If I hadn't already sent my top ten books of 2005 to www.bookbitch.com and Fiction_L, this book by Timothy Egan would be on the list. It will definitely be on my personal list of my favorite books of the year.

The Worst Hard Time is subtitled, "The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl." It's a fascinating look at the people who settled, and then destroyed the southern Plains. From 1910 to 1930, settlers flocked to sections of Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas. In their zeal for "the last best chance to do something right, to get a small piece of the world and make it work," they tore up the grass to overplant wheat, leaving the bare dirt. In the following eight years of drought, 100 million acres of land became nothing more than blowing dust, killing people, cattle, and the land itself.

According to Egan, "American meteorologists rated the Dust Bowl the number one weather event of the twentieth century." "Historians say it was the nation's worst prolonged environmental disaster."

Egan tells the story of a group of families and settlers who survived these terrible years. It's a story few of us know today of a number of people who lived through hell.

Monday, December 26, 2005

S is for Silence

As much as I love Sue Grafton, some of her books have had styles I didn't enjoy or dragging storylines. I believe N is for Noose is the one I found totally confusing. S is for Silence is her best mystery in quite a while.

In 1953, Violet Sullivan disappeared. She was the town floozy, married to an abusive husband. No one in town knew what happened to her. Thirty-four years later, her daughter Daisy is still bothered by her disappearance. Since her new car disappeared at the same time, Violet could have just left town. But Daisy is driven to find the truth so she asks Kinsey Millhone to spend five days looking into the disappearance.

S is for Silence is a fascinating cold case mystery. As Kinsey investigates and picks up threads as to what happened, there are flashbacks showing the week of July 4, 1953. Each chapter tells of the relationship of one person with Violet during that week. The intriguing story slowly unravels as Kinsey pokes around, until she starts things moving so fast it careens towards the climax.

S is for Silence, the best Kinsey Milhone book by Grafton in a long time.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Every Book Its Reader

I've already taken quotes twice from this book by Nicholas A. Basbanes, but there are some parts of this book that are just beautiful. It's an eclectic work about the value of books in people's lives and the world. There's a chapter about researching the Bible. There is a chapter that focuses on a couple experts who collect books. The question comes up, "Are people products of the things they read." One powerful chapter discusses our forefathers, and the Presidents who read, and those who were reknowned as readers. As a Democrat, I laughed at Harold Bloom's definition of himself as "a liberal Democrat who regards the Republican party as the enemy of the human race."

The chapter called "Reaching Out" focuses on the medical doctors who were part of the project "Reach Out and Read" to provide books to children seen by pediatricians. Dr. Perri Klass said, "When I think about children growing up in homes without books, I have the same visceral reaction as I have when I think of children in homes without milk or food or heat: It cannot be, it must not be. It stunts them and deprives them before they've had a fair chance."

Michelle Brown, curator of a British exhibition in 2003, summed up the entire experience of reading this book when she said, "Books are about people. They can embody many different aspects of human activity - intellectual, literary, spiritual, ideological, artistic, historical, political and economic. They are portals into past lives, facilitating that vital organic communion between past, present and future."

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Christmas Greetings

“And so, at this Christmas time, I greet you; not quite as the world sends greetings, but with profound esteem, and with the prayer that for you, now and forever, the day breaks and the shadows flee away.”

Attr to Fra Giovanni 1513; possibly Greville MacDonald 1930s

By Susan Cooper

So the shortest day came, and the year died,
And everywhere down the centuries of the
Snow-white world,
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.

They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen.
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive.

And when the new year's sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, reveling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing, behind us – listen!

All the long echoes sing the same delight
This shortest day
As promise wakens in the sleeping land.

They carol, feast, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends, and hope for peace.
And so do we, here, now,
This year, and every year.

Welcome, Yule!
--by Susan Cooper, 1977 written for The Christmas Revels

Thursday, December 15, 2005


I'm reading Every Book Its Reader: The Power of the Printed Word to Stir the World by Nicholas A. Basbanes, and if I could copy all of his reading quotes here, I would. It's a beautiful book that makes me, as a reader, cry. I will copy his quote from Marcel Proust, "On Reading" (1906).

"There are perhaps no days of our childhood we lived so fully as those we believe we left without having lived them, those we spent with a favorite book. Everything that filled them for others, so it seemed, and that we dismisssed as a vulgar obstacle to a divine pleasure: the game for which a friend would come to fetch us at the most interesting passage; the troublesome bee or sun ray that forced us to lift our eyes from the page or to change position; the provisions for the afternoon snack that we had been made to take along and that we left beside us on the bench, without touching, while above our head the sun was diminishing in force in the blue sky; the dinner we had to return home for, and during which we thought only of going up immediately afterward to finish the interrupted chapter, all those things which reading should have kept us from feeling anything but annoyance at, it has on the contrary engraved in us so sweet a memory of (so much more precious to our present judgment than what we read then with such love), that if we still happen today to leaf through those books of another time, it is for no other reason than that they are the only calendars we have kept of days that have vanished, and we hope to see reflected on their pages the dwellings and the ponds which no longer exist."

Friday, December 09, 2005


Dr. Joni Richards Brodart has this below her signature in email. Love it!

People become librarians because they know too much. Their knowledge
extends beyond mere categories. They cannot be confined to
They bring order to chaos. They bring wisdom and culture to the
Librarians rule. And they will kick the crap out of anyone who says
otherwise. --librarianavengers.org

Thursday, December 08, 2005


Someday I need to read Dean Koontz's book Watchers. A friend who loves animals recommends it for the dog in the book. I can see why. Here's the dedication from Dean Koontz's new book, Forever Odd.

"This book is for Trixie, though she will never read it. On the most difficult days at the keyboard, when I despaired, she could always make me laught. The words good dog are inadequate in her case. She is a good heart and a kind soul, and an angel on four feet."

Friday, December 02, 2005


Coach is a collection of essays edited by Andrew Blauner. Twenty-five writers such as Pat Conroy, George Plimpton and John McPhee wrote about the coaches that made a difference in their lives - basketball and football coaches, kung fu, golf.

My favorite essay was "Physical Education" by Francine Prose, which was about her eight years with a gym teacher that she hated. This morning I discussed that essay with three other non-athletic librarians who all had stories to tell about their years in gym class - everything from breaking arms in wrestling to falling while skiing, and missing an A because of the fall. It was a fun breakfast filled with laughter thanks to Francine Prose bringing back memories of gym class.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

November Books

Here's my list of books read during November. Guess it was a busy month since I only read 10, and one of those was a Garfield cartoon book. Too much college football, college basketball and Lee County Library System politics.

1. And Only to Deceive by Tasha Alexander - In Victorian England, a recent widow suspects her husband may have been involved in the theft of antiquities.

2. The Truth (with Jokes) by Al Franken - The comedian examines the Bush Administration.

3. Cat People by Michael Korda & Margaret Korda - A little historical cat background as well as the story of the cats who shared their lives with the Kordas. Includes enchanting little sketches by Michael.

4. Season's Eatings by Jim Davis - Garfield Christmas cartoons.

5. Stuck Down by Eileen Rosenbloom - A Young Adult novel about a teen who dies, and is allowed to return to earth as a messenger, only to find he must make peace with his father.

6. Light from Heaven by Jan Karon - In the last of the Mitford series, Father Tim Kavanaugh is asked to rebuild a little mountain church.

7. The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell - The little things that make a difference in society.

8. Hula Done It? by Maddy Hunter - This fun cozy mystery is the 4th in the Passport to Peril series. Emily Andrews leads a group of seniors into adventure and murder on a cruise to Hawaii.

9. Comfort & Joy by Kristin Hannah - A Christmas novel in which a school librarian named Joy flees her life. When her plane crashes, she discovers a young boy and his estranged father who need her.

10. Why Do I Love These People by Po Bronson - A collection of stories about families, what makes a family, and what makes us return to our family.


One reads books in order to gain the privilege of living more than one
life. People who don't read are trapped in a mine shaft, even if they
think the sun is shining. Most New Yorkers wouldn't travel to Minnesota
if a bright star shone in the west and hosts of angels were handing out
plane tickets, but they might read a book about Minnesota and thereby
form some interesting and useful impression of us. This is the benefit
of literacy. Life is lonely; it is less so if one reads.

Garrison Keillor

Monday, November 28, 2005

Why Do I Love These People?

Po Bronson is the bestselling author of What Should I Do with My Life? about people who decided to change their job or their life. His latest book examines the mystery of family life. He interviewed 700 people, and then narrowed the stories down to less than twenty. His conclusions? No matter how hard it's been, we can all create a better family experience. He uses families to show how they loved each other when times were tough. These stories of ordinary people showed peopled who had to break the grip of the past at times, in order to move on with the family and with their own lives. Sometimes the family had to be left behind in order for the individual to move on. It's a fascinating, at times, beautiful, book. It's best to close with Bronson's own words. "The quiet journeys depicted here are worthy of commemoration and celebration."

Sunday, November 27, 2005


From Kristin Hannah's Comfort & Joy - as said by a high school librarian - p. 65

"in the past years, as my job became more and more about computers and technology and Internet searches, I'd forgotten why I started. The love of books, of reading. There's nothing a librarian likes better than sharing her love of words with a child."

Friday, November 18, 2005

What do you reread?

Nobel Laureate Francois Mauriac said, "If you would tell me the heart of a man, tell me not what he reads but what he rereads."

The book I have read over and over again is "A Thread of Blue Denim" by Patricia Leimbach. This is a comfort book that takes me home. Patricia Leimbach was a teacher and farm wife from outside Vermilion, Ohio, which was close to my hometown of Huron. She wrote columns about her life as a farm wife for magazines and then started collecting them. My Aunt Gerry gave me an autographed copy of A Thread of Blue Denim when I was the Library Director in Huron. Patricia Leimbach spoke at the library, and she spoke at my mother's alumni party. I've used articles from her books for Readers Theater. She wrote two other books on the same theme, All My Meadows and Harvest of Bittersweet. The last one was written after her son died in an accident. Her husband died soon after.

But Patricia Leimbach's Ohio is also mine. And, her descriptions of her love of reading and her family life bring back memories. When I can't read anything else, I can return home with Patricia Leimbach.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Cat People

Michael and Margaret Korda have written a charming cat book, with enchanting sketches by Michael. This is a perfect gift book for the cat people in your life. The Kordas tell of famous people who loved cats, such as Winston Churchill and Abraham Lincoln. In fact, they say cat people are ones who don't take themselves too seriously.

Most of the stories are about the cats in the Kordas' lives, beginning with Irving, Margaret's cat before the two married. When they moved to Dutchess County, New York, they found themselves adopted by a number of cats. Cat lovers will recognize their cats and themselves in the stories of cat hierarchy and roles. Only cat people put up with the ruined furniture, drapes and carpets, broken objects, and fur-covered clothes. It's a life we're happy to share with the cats who own us.

The Truth (with jokes)

Don't even try this book if you're a diehard fan of the Bush Administration. For the last few years, Al Franken, a comedian, has been writing political commentary with a sense of humor. His latest book says that Bush, Cheney and Rove built the 2004 campaign on fear and lies.

This is a very timely book with the political problems of Bill Frist, Tom DeLay, Karl Rove and Bush himself. As Bush's numbers plummet in the polls, Franken tries to uncover the lies and machinations that led to this point. He says, "In almost every aspect of government - from energy to military contracting to environmental protection to health care - you find the exact same kind of cynical looting and betrayl of the public good."

Franken's point? It's time to change the country now. "If you want to know what I think we should do in Iraq, it's that we should think about what we have to do in America. We have to throw these guys out."

"Step one is 2006."

"The work starts now."

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

And Only to Deceive

Tasha Alexander's debut novel takes the reader to a Victorian England that will be familiar to readers of Elizabeth Peters' Amelia Peabody novels. She gives us a character who grows throughout the course of the book, showing some of the same spunk as Amelia.

Emily Ashton was widowed after just six months of marriage. Unfortunately, she knew little about Viscount Philip Ashton because she married him to escape her mother who was hounding her to make a good marriage. Following his death, she discovers he had a fondness for Greek antiquities, French Impressionist paintings, and her. When she realizes how little she knew about the man who loved her, she tries to educate herself to learn more about his passions. To her horror, she discovers that he might have been involved in illegal antiquities sales and forgeries. She doesn't know which of Philip's friends to trust as she probes his secrets. She's followed, has a burglary, and fears that someone might know about Philip's past.

As Emily Ashton mourns a husband she's just learning to love, she pushes aside some of society's expectations for a widow. And Only to Deceive discusses the roles of women at various stages of marriage in Victorian England. Emily is a strong character who might return again to break more rules of Victorian society.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Books read in Oct. 2005

October was a good month for mysteries! Here's the list of everything I read during October.

The City of Falling Angels - John Berendt - The author of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil looks at the life of Venice, Italy for seven years.

The Darwin Conspiracy - John Darnton - Two researchers examine Darwin's story of his voyage and his daughter's journal account of his later life.

The Green Room - Deborah Turrell Atkinson - A Hawaiian attorney is present when her cousin's life is threatened by an ancient Hawaiian weapon, and she knows it's not an idle threat.

Tilt-A-Whirl - Chris Grabenstein - Two cops in a resort town in New Jersey investigate a murder and kidnapping in this police procedural with touches of humor.

Relics - Mary Anna Evans - Faye Longchamp finds violence and suspicion on her first archeological dig in Alabama.

Now You See Her - Cecelia Tishy - Psychic Regina Cutter consults on a cold case in Boston, and events snowball out of control.

Next Man Up - John Feinstein - A year behind the lines with the Baltimore Ravens football team. One of the best books of the year.

Marley & Me - John Grogan - Story of Grogan, a journalist, and his life with the "world's worst dog," a yellow Lab.

Riding Gain - Joyce Krieg - When a former intern at the radio station in Sacramento is murdered, talk show host Shauna J. Bogart investigates.

Dig - C.R. Corwin - A newspaper librarian in Ohio links the murder of an old friend with the fifty-year-old murder of a college wrestler.

The Cipher Garden - Martin Edwards - In England, a historian and a cop look into the cold case of a gardener murdered on the job.

Delete All Suspects - Donna Andrews - Turing Hopper, an AIP, and her team check out a computer business when its owner is the victim of a hit-and-run.

Now You See Me...:A Novel of Suspense - Rochelle Krich - True crime writer Molly Blume reluctantly searches for a teenage runaway who is an Orthodox Jew.

Now You See Me...

Rochelle Krich has written her strongest novel to date with Now You See Me...Molly Blume, true crime writer and freelance reporter is drawn into the world of teen angst when she reluctantly agrees to search for a missing teen.

Hadassah Bailor is an eighteen-year-old who ran away with a man she met in an Orthodox Jewish chat room. When Hadassah's uncle begs Molly to look for her, she agrees despite her past history with Rabbi Bailor, Hadassah's father. Molly finds more than a story behind one runaway girl. She uncovers a world of desperate teens crying out for help, through chat rooms, theft of tests and term papers, teen suicides and cutting themselves.

Hadassah herself reveals some of that story as she tells of her loneliness. She felt that people really didn't see her, so maybe she wasn't real. She knew three other teens who had died from her class. She was desperate for approval from her parents, so she transferred schools and chose a career her parents would approve. Through a chat room, she could reach out to someone who would notice her.

As Molly tries to keep the Bailor family secrets, she risks alienating a friend from the police force. Molly may have to join forces with Jessie Drake, a police detective in another precinct, to save people endangered by the truth.

Rochelle Krich's website is www.rochellekrich.com.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

The Cipher Garden by Martin Edwards

"That was Warren Howe's epitaph. He dug his own grave." Howe, a gardener, was found killed by his own scythe in a hole he had dug on a job. No one except his family seemed sorry to see him go. He was a womanizer who slept with half the women in the small village of Old Sawrey in England's Lake District. When DCI Hannah Scarlett, head of the local Cold Case Review Team, wants to reopen the case years later, even her own sergeant accuses her of putting the villagers through "ordeal by innocence," forcing them to relive their pasts.

As Hannah tries to unravel the lies and stories, historian Daniel Kind has a mystery of his own. What is the puzzle behind his unusual garden? Why did earlier owners die on the same day, one year after their son's untimely death? Kind, the son of a policeman, has a need to know the answer to the puzzle. He turns to garden designer Peter Flint, whose previous business partner was Warren Howe. Soon Scarlett and Kind, along with Howe's daughter, Kirsty, are uncovering the village's dirty little secrets.

Edwards' story describes the gardens and the Lake District beautifully. The English village setting is perfect for this puzzling mystery. The Cipher Garden is an intriguing, twisted play on an ancient Greek story. It's a welcome sequel to The Coffin Trail.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005


Stacy Alesi, the Bookbitch, is the owner of the website, www.bookbitch.com, where I review books weekly. She lives on the east coast of Florida, and the site might not be updated for a short time because much of the east coast is without electricity, due to Hurricane Wilma. I was appalled to read that as of Oct. 26, Florida Power & Light said they should have Broward and Dade County up again by Nov. 22, two days before Thanksgiving. I can't imagine being without electricity for four weeks.

Here was Stacy's response to my question as to how she was.

I'm fine, my house - not so fine. Lost half my roof,
screened patio is no longer screened, roof gone off
the side patio, my yard is in shambles with trees &
debris higher than my head, basketball hoop snapped in
half and blew away and the pole was filled with
cement, mailbox gone, cars a bit scratched up. No
electricity - I'm using my husband's laptop at the
moment which is plugged into a car battery. On the
bright side, the weather is gorgeous, 50's at night &
low 70s during the day so at least it's comfortable.
Hope to get power back soon and gas is impossible to
buy so we are trapped at home. I won't be able to
update the site until I get my computer back which
means electricity. We got hit much worse than the west
coast - go figure.

Thanks for asking!

Tuesday, October 25, 2005


Dig is the second Morgue Mama mystery by C.R. Corwin, and it's even better than the first one. Maddy Sprowls is "Morgue Mama," a feisty 68 year old librarian at The Hannawa Herald-Union, a newspaper in Ohio. Maddy's own history comes back to haunt her in this latest story.

Fifty years earlier, Maddy was a college student and a member of the Meriwether Square Baked Bean Existentialist Society. She's let go of her past as a bohemian, and she no longer attends the annual dinners to remember the visit of Jack Kerouac. But all of that comes back when Gordon Sweet, a college friend is murdered. Gordon, an archeologist, was leading a dig at the local dump. Was he also digging up the past? Is there a connection with the murder of a college wrestler fifty years earlier?

Maddy is a research librarian, skilled at digging out the facts and digging out people's memories. She's an admirable amateur detective.

On a personal note, it was fun to read a mystery set in Ohio that referred to Sandusky and the washing machine plant in Clyde. That's Whirlpool, where Jim and my Uncle Bob worked.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Marsh Madness

For personal reasons, Christine McCreedy, owner of www.christinesbooklist.com, will be discontinuing that web site. For a few months, I had book reviews posted on her site. The following review was posted in June 2005.

Marsh Madness by Caroline Cousins

If you like small Southern communities where everyone is either related or knows each other, historic plantations, gossipy characters and mystery, Caroline Cousins is the author for you. Or I should say authors. Caroline Cousins is actually three women, Nancy Pate, and her "one-and-a-half times" cousins-sisters Meg Herndon and Gail Greer. (Their mothers are sisters, and their fathers are full cousins.) They use the same cousin-sisters situation for their book's main characters.

In Marsh Madness, Lindsey, who is temporarily living on Indigo Island in the South Carolina Low Country, acts as manager of Pinckney Plantation. Lindsey's cousin, Margaret Ann, is coordinating a large wedding at Pinckney, with the help of her sister, Bonnie, and Lindsey. None of them need a murder before the wedding, a bridesmaid diva hiding from a stalker, and meth problems on the island.

Marsh Madness has two strengths. The setting is beautifully done. The reader can easily fit themselves into the southern atmosphere and lifestyle of Indigo Island. Plantations and weddings, storms and alligators bring the island to life.

Cousins also does a wonderful job with humor. Marsh Madness is a fast-paced funny story, which will keep the reader racing toward the end. The cousins continue to find themselves in situations which lend to the humor in the story. The wedding preparation itself adds to the humor. There's everything from "Pinckney purple" dresses to goldfish carried by the attendants. Cousins places the characters in situations which become funny. If you're looking for enjoyable characters, and a great deal of humor, try the mysteries of Caroline Cousins. Witty storytelling definitely fits with the southern atmosphere.

Marsh Madness can be a confusing story, if you have a hard time keeping all the characters straight. There are a large number of people to remember because the three cousins know everyone on the island, and there are multiple crimes. It's an inviting atmospheric mystery, though, so it's worth sticking with the characters. Marsh Madness is the second mystery by Cousins. It's as fun and frantic as three whirlwind cousins hurling towards a wedding and disaster.

Eye of the Wolf

Christine McCreedy, owner of the website www.christinesbooklist.com, will be discontinuing it for personal reasons. For a few months, I did book reviews on her site. The following book review for Eye of the Wolf was done in July 2005.

Eye of the Wolf is Margaret Coel's eleventh mystery set on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming. Once again, it features Father John O'Malley, a Jesuit priest, and Vickie Holden, a lawyer and Arapaho Indian. Despite their attraction for each other, the two understand their need to deny that attraction. However, case after case draws them together because, as Father O'Malley realized, "people confided in them, and they kept confidences."

In 1874, at Bates Battlefield, Shoshones brought white troops into an Arapaho village, and almost wiped out the trible. For 130 years, the two tribes have lived in uneasy peace on the same reservation. When Father O'Malley receives a myserious phone call which leads to posed bodies on the battlefield, he realizes someone is trying to disturb the long-standing peace. When the bodies are discovered to be Shoshones, attention is focused on one of Vickie's clients. He is an Arapaho. Are the Arapahos out for revenge after all these years? Once again, Coel uses the history of the Wyoming tribes to bring present-day problems to light. The environment and current reservation conditions and life are always part of her stories. She shows respect for the Arapaho tribe, their legends and history. One of the elders referred to Father O'Malley's phone call as, "an untrue voice, an evil spirit wanting to stir up trouble and bring us more death." Whether it's a massacre in 1874, or murder in 2005, Margaret Coel's books reflect what Father O'Malley calls, "the endless changability of evil."

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Marley & Me

John Grogan's book is subtitled, "Life and love with the world's worst dog." Prepare yourself for funny adventures and a tearjerker of an ending. As young newlyweds in south Florida, Grogan and his wife decided to find a puppy to prepare themselves for parenthood. They fell in love with a yellow lab they named Marley, but were horrified when they finally saw his father, who may have been a descendent of the Hound of the Baskervilles. Their little lab was easily housebroken, but he was never broken of his fear of thunderstorms, during which he'd destroy a room, wood and all. He was destructive, hyperactive and flunked obedience training. Grogan was horrified to read Barbara Woodhouse in "No Bad Dogs" when she said, "Some dogs are just mentally unstable." He knew she was describing Marley.

He grew to be almost one hundred pounds, a gentle giant who loved the entire Grogan family, including the three children who came along. And, by the time of Marley's death as an old dog, he had a family that adored him, hyperactivity and all. Grogan said, "He might well have been the world's worst behaved dog. Yet he intuitively grasped from the start what it meant to be man's best friend." After Marley's death, the family mourned. Finally, Grogan was able to write about Marley in his column in the Philadelphia Inquirer. He summed up his life with Marley. "Like any relationship, this one had its costs. They were costs we came to accept and balance against the joy and amusement and protection and companionship he gave us." A perfect summary of any relationship.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Next Man Up

Next Man Up is the latest book by bestselling sportswriter John Feinstein. Subtitled, "A Year Behind the Lines in Today's NFL," it's actually one season with the Baltimore Ravens. Feinstein is such a great sportswriter that I found myself cheering for the Ravens while I read this, despite the fact that I was raised in Cleveland Browns territory.

Feinstein was allowed complete access to the team for the 2004 season. He covered Jamel Lewis' problems with the law, the first year for new owner Steve Bisciotti, and the movement into the new facilities. For me, as a former Ft. Myers resident, he even made Deion Sanders likeable. Each coach, staff member and team member had their place in the story of the year. A brief biography was presented as the name came up, so the reader could understand the background, and how the person fit into the team. No one person became the focus of the book. It was a year in the life of the team, and how individuals came together to form that team.

This is another outstanding effort by one of our best sportswriters.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Now You See Her

Cecelia Tishy, author of the Nashville-bashed Kate Banning series, has started a new series based in Boston. If her new character, Regina "Reggie" Cutter, hadn't attracted my attention immediately, I would have been really mad at some of her actions. Some months ago, someone referred to female characters as "TSTL, Too Stupid To Live." Reggie took too many chances, and went too many dangerous places on her own. But, she's a likeable character, and she was compelled to find answers to try to save a man unjustly found guilty of murder.

Reggie is starting a new life after divorce, living in her aunt's house, and taking over her aunt's job as psychic consultant to the Bostson Police Dept. When a detective brings her a thirteen year old case, he tells her of a young man in prison who might not have killed a politician's son. Reggie travels to bad neighborhoods and interviews powerful people in order to discover the truth behind his death. Her psychic ability might point to the past, but it can't predict her future danger.

Despite her risk-taking, Reggie is a smart woman trying to make it on her own, and she's a likeable addition to the mystery field.


Mary Anna Evans' second mystery, Relics, is even better than Artificacts. She's taken Faye Longchamp and Joe Wolf Mantooth out of Florida for the first time. Even though Faye is still in school working on her degree, she's the supervising archeologist on a fascinating project in Alabama. An entire scientific crew has been put together to study the Sujosa, an isolated group of people who have lived in Alabama for centuries. No one has looked into their background until a local doctor discovered that they don't get the AIDS virus.

Faye is meant to work on a dig to find out more about the Sujosa culture, but with the death of Carmen, the oral historian in a house fire, Faye finds herself digging into the current life of the people, as well as Carmen's stories. Suspicion about the fire leads to more death, and soon Faye and the Sujosa way of life are both threatened.

With the second book, Mary Anna was able to reveal more about Faye and Joe Wolf. They both continue to grow and develop as characters. Faye's career as an archeologist opens a number of opportunities for the series. I'll be waiting for the third book.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Tilt A Whirl

In Tilt A Whirl, Chris Grabenstein introduces one of the best sidekick/narrators since Rex Stout's Archie Goodwin. Danny Boyle grew up in Sea Haven, New Jersey, a touristy resort town. Now, at 24, he's a part time summer cop, who helps the police during tourist season. This summer, he's assigned as driver and assistant to John Ceepak.

Ceepak, who took the job working for an old army buddy who is the police chief, is a former MP who spent thirteen years in the Army, including time served in Iraq. The other cops are amused by his interest in forensic and educational cop shows and his "Code." Ceepak "will not lie, steal, or cheat, nor tolerate those who do."

Sunnyside Playland, a small amusement park, is the scene of a brutal slaying when local billionaire Reginald Hart is shot to death after sneaking onto the Tilt-A-Whirl ride with his daughter, Ashley. When Ashley runs screaming down the street, it's Ceepak and Boyle who respond to her appearance in the street in her bloodstained dress. Everything seems to unfold logically for the two men as their witness leads them to a homeless man who resents Hart as a slumlord. However, an ex-wife, a lawyer, the Dominican Mafia and a kidnapping seem to point to more than a simple shooting.

As Danny observes his partner's investigation of the crimes, he begins to admire and trust him. That makes it all the more disturbing when Ceepak appears to violate his code. Danny's relationship with his partner has changed, and his mentor seems to have deceived him.

Danny Boyle's story of the Tilt-A-Whirl crime comes alive through his unique voice. He grows as a narrator as he relates a story of murder and deception. Grabenstein has written one of the best first mysteries of the year.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Carl Brookins

This was too good to pass up. Mystery writer Carl Brookins wrote this to DorothyL today.

Subject: Readers and Libraries

Dear list members:
I love libraries. I love librarians. Librarians buy my books and talk
about them. Librarians circulate my books to patrons. Some patrons
then go out and buy my books. Tell me you are on the waiting lists for
books at your local library, I will embrace you.
Librarians rule!
Carl Brookins
A Superior Mystery
Old Silver
The Case of the Greedy Lawyers, Sept. 2005

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

The City of Falling Angels

It must be difficult to write a book following the success of one that remained on the bestseller lists for four years. John Berendt, author of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, moves to Venice, Italy in The City of Falling Angels. However, Venice does not come to life as Savannah did in the previous book.

On Jan. 29, 1996, the Fenice Opera House in Venice burned down. Was it negligence, arson, an accident that caused the fire? Everyone in Venice has an opinion. Berendt searches out the people who witnessed or were affected by the fire in order to find a focal point for his story. The city is populated with fascinating characters, but neither the fire nor the characters carry this story forward. By the time the reader finishes, there's little more interest in the city or the people of the city.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Books read in Sept. 2005

Here are the books I read during September.

Sacred Cows - Karen Olson - A journalist is called off an investigation that threatens New Haven insitutions such as Yale and the newspaper itself.

Small Gods - Terry Pratchett - In DiscWorld, a young novice hears the voice of a god.

The Old Buzzard Had It Coming - Donis Casey - In 1912 Oklahoma, anyone might have wanted to murder Harley Day, but Alafair Tucker wants to clear his son and her daughter of suspicion.

Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading - Maureen Corrigan - NPR's Fresh Air book critic on life as an obsessive reader.

Straight Into Darkness - Faye Kellerman - Homicide Inspector Axel Beck looks for a serial killer of women in 1920s Munich, while having to cope with the poltical unrest.

Bait and Switch - Barbara Ehrenreich - The author tries to get a white collar job, spends time with career gurus and in workshops, and fails to get a job.

Talking Back...To Presidents, Dictators, and Assorted Scoundrels - Andrea Mitchell - Life and career of the political journalist.

The Hidden Diary of Marie Antoinette - Carolly Erickson - Novel in which Marie Antoinette keeps a journal of her life from age 14 to her death.

Awaken Me Darkly - Gena Showalter - A woman who hunts aliens who are criminals on earth, falls for an alien.

Solomon vs. Lord - Paul Levine - While lawyers Steve Solomon & Victoria Lord are fighting and working together, they're fighting their mutual attraction.

School Days - Robert B. Parker - Spenser investigates a school shooting.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Gunn, Evans and Sallis

I had a terrific authors weekend. I told Jim it's my kind of happy hour when I get to listen to an author speak for a while. And this weekend, I had the chance to hear Elizabeth Gunn, Mary Anna Evans, and James Sallis.

Friday afternoon, we had Elizabeth Gunn at the Velma Teague Library. I had written to her years ago when her first Jake Hines mystery, Triple Play, was published. At the time, I lived in Ft. Myers, FL, and she wrote back that she was so pleased to have a fan in Ft. Myers. I found Jake to be an intriguing character. He was a police detective in Rochester, Minnesota. He was also a foundling, who had no idea who his parents were, although he was of mixed race, and looked unusual in Minnesota. Over the years and the books, Jake has grown in his relationships with others, his knowledge of himself, and in his career. Crazy Eights is the latest book in the series, and Jake's responsiblities at work, and in his personal life, have increased. Elizabeth spoke of Jake as representing everyman. And, in the next book, DNA will play a major part in crime and in Jake's search for knowledge of his own story.

It was a pleasure to meet Elizabeth. She lives in Tucson, and is a small woman, not much taller than me. She wanted a hug, and then we spent time discussing mysteries - George Pelacanos, Dennis Lehane, Harlan Coben. She said we ought to get together for dinner sometime, and talk books. She was a fascinating speaker who does a great deal of research so that her books are accurate.

Mary Anna Evans also does a great deal of research for her books. Saturday, Jim & I went to The Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale to see her again. She and James Sallis are both published by Poisoned Pen Press. Sallis has a novella out, Drive, that has been favorably reviewed by Marilyn Stasio in The New York Times, and a pick of the week by Entertainment Weekly. But Jim & I went to see Mary Anna.

A few years ago in Ft. Myers, Mary Anna saved my schedule at the Lee County Reading Festival by agreeing to appear when Nancy Pickard had to cancel due to her mother's heart attack. Mary Anna came down from Gainesville, even though her first book, Artifacts, hadn't even been published yet. The audience enjoyed her, and I invited her back the next year when she could at least sell copies of Artifacts. Now her second book, Relics, is receiving good press. It brings back Faye Longchamp, who is now finishing up her degree to be an archeologist. Interestingly enough, Faye, like Jane Hines, is of mixed race. Mary Anna talked about running her books past an archeologist in Louisiana for accuracy. I'm looking forward to reading Relics.

It was great to see Mary Anna again. We also met her daughter, Rachel, who is hoping to attend school at ASU. Jim enjoyed talking to her about Arizona and college while I was able to get my copy of Relics signed. I'm always pleased to see the authors from the Reading Festival, but particularly to see Mary Anna. I really appreciated her help.

Elizabeth Gunn's web site is www.elizabethgunn.com
Mary Anna Evans web site is www.maryannaevans.com

The attached photo is Mary Anna Evans and James Sallis at The Poisoned Pen 9/24/05.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Straight into Darkness

Straight into Darkness is the latest novel by Faye Kellerman. Although it has a mystery as its premise, the book itself is much more than the simple story of a homicide detective tracking a serial killer. Axel Berg is a homicide detective in Munich in the mid-1920s when someone kills women and leaves their bodies in a local park. He and his team try to uncover the secrets behind the deaths.

At the same time, Kellerman is revealing the secrets behind Munich in the 20s. This was a scary time and place to live, even for a policeman like Berg. There is an unease in the air, born of the fear of the political climate. Kellerman describes it as, "Munich had been languishing in a terrible postwar flux. The war had been lost, lives had been demolished, the monarchy had been overthrown, and Russia was eagerly waiting to invade Bavaria." It was a time ripe for the rise of opposition political parties, including the Kommunists(spelling in book), the Social Democrats, and the Nazis. The scariest group was Hitler's Brownshirts, young men that the police such as Berg viewed as hooligans. Hitler is riling the people, and the police oppose that, but are forced to work with him.

Berg is a man that questions authority, and opposes the rise of Hitler. He served in World War I, but questions "Germany's exaggerated sense of maleness and duty and willingness to die for the Fatherland - what propelled the country time and time again into war?"

Berg's own career and life are on a tragic path, as he opposes his superiors, a killer, and the Nazi party. But, the greatest tragedy in the book itself is Germany's path to Naziism and war, what Kellerman calls the "national tragedy."

Sunday, September 11, 2005

The Old Buzzard Had It Coming

I discovered a wonderful new character I hated to leave behind when I finished Donis Casey's first mystery, The Old Buzzard Had It Coming. Hopefully, this will be the first of many mysteries to feature Alafair Tucker, the matriarch of an Oklahoma farm family. Alafair is only 38, but as the strong, wise mother of nine, she certainly deserves to be called matriarch. And, she'll fight for her children, and those she feels deserves help.

It's a nasty January day in 1912 when Harley Day dies. No one regrets the death of the drunk, abusive man, including Alafair, but when it's discovered that he was murdered, Alafair begins to worry. Everyone wanted him dead, but his son, John Lee, is a suspect. And, Alafair was just learning how much her seventeen year old daughter, Phoebe, cared for John Lee. Like a mother hen, Alafair is going to protect her daughter. If her daughter loves John Lee, there must be some good in him, so Alafair determines she'll find Harley Day's killer.

Alafair Tucker makes a logical detective. She understands people, knows the people in this community, and has a great deal of common sense. As the mother of a large family, she should have a number of opportunities to solve problems.

Casey also does a wonderful job with the details of day-to-day life in Oklahoma in 1912. Her description of wash day for a family of eleven shows the amount of work a farm woman did, just in one day. The entire book is filled with such descriptions of daily life.

History, mystery and romance combine in this terrific first mystery.

Check out Donis Casey's web site at www.doniscasey.com.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Award Winners

Bouchercon 36, a major mystery convention, just ended in Chicago. Their web site at http://home.comcast.net/~bouchercon/2005/awards.html, listed all the awards won, and the nominees for those awards. I'm going to list winners, and those nominees of interest to me in each category. For any other nominees, check out Bouchercon's site.

The Anthony Awards are given each year at Bouchercon, the award and conference named for Anthony Boucher. Nominees are suggested by fans and winners are chosen by a vote of registed convention attendees.

Best Novel - William Kent Krueger - Blood Hollow
Julia Spencer-Fleming was nominated for Out of the Deep I Cry. (Met her at the Poisoned
Pen's Mystery Conference.)

Best First Novel - Harley Jane Kozak - Dating Dead Men
J.A. (Joe) Konrath was nominated for Whiskey Sour. (Met him at The Poisoned Pen.)

Best Paperback Original - Jason Starr - Twisted City

Best Short Story - Elaine Viets - Wedding Knife, in Chesapeake Crimes (Elaine did the Lee County Reading
Festival for me a couple times.)

The Barry Awards are given each year by Deadly Pleasures Magazine for the best crime fiction.

Best Novel - Lee Child - The Enemy

Best First Novel - The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Will Thomas was nominated for Some Danger Involved. He's a librarian who spoke at
Poisoned Pen's Mystery Conference.

Best British Crime Novel - John Harvey - Flesh & Blood

Best Paperbac Original - Elaine Flinn - Tagged for Murder

Best Thriller - Barry Eisler - Rain Storm

The Shamus Awards - The Private Eye Writers of America honors the best "P.I." mysteries each year.

Best P.I. Novel - Ed Wright - While I Disappear

Best Paperback Original P.I. Novel - Fade to Blonde by Max Phillips
P.J. Parrish, sisters who spoke twice at the Lee County Reading Festival, were nominated for
Island of Bones.

Best First P.I. Novel - Ingrid Black - The Dead
Will Thomas' Some Danger Involved was also nominated.

The Macavity Awards - Mystery Readers International give out this award, as voted by the members.

Best Mystery Novel - The Killing of the Tinkers by Ken Bruen

Best First Mystery Novel - Dating Dead Men by Harley Jane Kozak
J.A. Konrath's Whiskey Sour was also nominated.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Books read in August 2005

Since I still have over 300 pages to read in Faye Kellerman's Straight into Darkness, I know I won't get anymore books read this month. Here's the summary of the books I read in August.

A Change of Heart - Philip Gulley - Sam, a Quaker minister, tells stories of small-town life in Harmony.

32 Third Graders and One Class Bunny - Phillip Done - Great stories from twenty years of teaching third grade.

Carpe Demon - Julie Kenner - Too much suburban mom and not enough demon hunter in the story of a retired demon hunter forced back to work when she's attacked in her kitchen.

Diary of a Fairy Godmother - Esme Codell - Juv fiction about a witch who wants to be a fairy godmother.

The Big Over Easy - Jasper Fforde - A new series, as Jack Spratt, Detective in the Nursery Crimes Division, investigates Humpty Dumpty's death.

Moving Pictures - Terry Pratchett - When alchemists invent moving pictures, Holy Wood attracts hundreds in the DiscWorld novel.

Welfare Brat - Mary Childers - Memoir of the author's youth as one of seven kids in a white family on welfare.

Reaper Man - Terry Pratchett - Death is relieved of his duties, and DiscWorld goes awry.

For Edgar - Sheldon Rusch - A serial killer is emulating Poe stories.

Witches Abroad - Terry Pratchett - Three witches travel to foreign lands to ensure a godmother doesn't make a girl marry the prince.

Readers' Advisory Service in the Public Library - Joyce Saricks - Third edition of the classic manual.

I'm Just a DJ But...It Makes Sense to Me - Tom Joyner - The top black DJ relates his philosophy of life in his autobiography.

The Restless Sleep: Inside New York City's Cold Case Squad - Stacy Horn - The history of the Squad, the detectives, and four cold cases.

In a Teapot - Terence Faherty - Novella set in Hollywood in 1948 when Scott Elliott and Hollywood Security get involved with the plans to film The Tempest.

Out of Mind - Catherine Sampson - Journalist Robin Ballantyne investigates when a coworker goes missing, despite the opposition of their mutual employer.

The Hunt Ball - Rita Mae Brown - Master of the Hunt, Jane Arnold (Sister), ensures the hunt and the balls will continue as she teams up with the headmistress of a girls' prep school to find the killer of a faculty member.

Presentation S.O.S. - Mark Wiskup - The communications coach demonstrates how to make a successful presentation.

Monday, August 29, 2005

The Hunt Ball

The Hunt Ball is the fourth book in Rita Mae Brown's foxhunting mystery series, and it's just as wonderful as all the others. Once again, Jane Arnold, "Sister," who is Master of the Jefferson Hunt Club in Virginia uses her shrewd knowledge of people to assist the sheriff in finding a murderer. Although, to be honest, in this one, the murderer actually tries to kill someone in plain sight. But Sister puts together the pieces of the crime.

Brown's foxhunting mysteries take place in the short foxhunting season. In this one, the faculty and seniors at Custis Hall, an exclusive girls' prep school, are included in the hunt. Jefferson Hunt Club has a long history with the school. They allow the girls to hunt with them, and, in return, members serve on the board, and are allowed to use the school hall for hunt balls. Things start to unravel when a faculty member is killed the night of the Halloween dance, and Sister suspects the killer might be quite comfortable with the Hunt Club and the school.

Why read The Hunt Ball? Brown's books take the reader into a world very few of us are familiar with, foxhunting and exclusive prep schools. She vividly brings this world to life. In addition, she introduces wonderful lifelike characters such as Sister. These are people you hate to leave when the book is finished. Hopefully, Rita Mae Brown will continue to invite us back into the world of foxhunting.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

In a Teapot

I had never read one of Terence Faherty's Scott Elliott mysteries, but I'm going to look for them now. "In a Teapot" is a novella featuring Elliott, who worked for Paramount until he was drafted into WWII. Now, in 1948, he works for Hollywood Security. Joel Jeffries, who wants to produce a film version of "The Tempest," asks Elliott's boss, Paddy Maguire, for help. He desperately wants some of the prominent actors from Hollywood's British Colony to appear in the film, Ronald Colman, Cedric Hardwicke, Basil Rathbone. However, the entire project is threatened when the juvenile lead starts dating a burlesque queen. Elliott's job is to break off the relationship before the tabloids find out, and before Elliott's wedding in two days. If only it was that simple. Elliott, Paddy, and Elliott's fiancee Ella realize there's something fishy about the dating relationship and the film project itself.

Faherty's tribute to "The Tempest" is filled with small details that bring 1948 Hollywood to life. The involvement with gangsters and burlesque remind me of Eric Stone's description of LA in the 1940s in Wrong Side of the Wall. For those readers who have not read Faherty before, "In a Teapot" is an easy introduction to Scott Elliott and his world. This is a character centered story, and the characters of Scott and Ella invite the reader back.

The Mystery Company, an imprint of Crum Creek Press, has published this first original novella. It serves to purposes. Will readers buy a shorter book than is normally on the market. And, it introduces some of us to an author we might not have read before.

Friday, August 26, 2005

The Restless Sleep

There are 8,894 unsolved murders in New York since 1985. That's according to Stacy Horn, author of The Restless Sleep: Inside New York City's Cold Case Squad. Horn has done a wonderful job in combining journalism and suspense in this story of the Squad's history and some of their cases.

The Cold Case Squad was formed in 1996, and from the very beginning it was a political struggle to keep in alive. It was originally composed of some of the New York Police Department's best detectives, but ones who were lone wolves or black sheep. The changing politics plays a large role in the story of the Squad.

The book also relates the stories of four cold cases and the detectives who worked on them. Sometimes, numerous detectives tried to crack the case over a period of years. Horn selected four fascinating cases. One involved two people murdered, in what looked like drug-related slayings. One case brought together three seemingly unrelated crimes to lead to the mob. In one open case, a young girl was brutally murdered. In another, there were numerous male suspects in the sex-related killing of a woman. The author follows the detectives as they work on the cases, solving a couple and leaving two unresolved.

If you're like me, fascinated by "Cold Case" on television, and novels that feature cold cases, this book is a treat. It's frustrating and maddening to read about the politics and the lack of staff and money for the Cold Case Squad. But it's rewarding to read about the men who have dedicated their careers to the search for killers.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Welfare Brat

I first heard about Mary Childers' memoir, Welfare Brat, on NPR. She was on there talking about her life in a poor white family, one of seven children of a welfare mother. As a child, she knew her mother had numerous children from various men. She hated to see her mother spend the welfare money drinking and bringing men home, and, at times, she dragged her mother out of the bars. When her mother had her last child, soon after one sister was in a serious accident, her mother stopped drinking. Despite a few under the table jobs, the family was already too far into the welfare trap to get out.

Mary Childers wanted out. She yearned for nice clothes and an education. She loved reading, and said, "The library books under my bed are my secret. They take me away to a world of my own imagining where I am content." (p.10) Mary was in the accelerated program in school, graduating at 16, and wanting to get away from the family into the privacy of college. She was the only one of the children to take advantage of the Fresh Air program, living with a family in the country every summer. As a child she said of her mother, "I want to live my life the opposite of how she has lived hers." (p. 64)

Even a child who wants out of the welfare trap has lessons to overcome. "As naturally as a child learns language, I've absorbed that bitterness and fear of being taken advantage of. I stint on babysitting and even schoolwork to avoid the humilation of getting caught believing anything other than the facts of life - disappointment is the most likely outcome of commitment and the poor stay poor while the rich get richer." (p. 174)

As she grew up, Mary said, "It is getting easier to focus on how hard my mother tried instead of how often she failed." Mary got out of that world, where sex and children were easy, along with the handouts. Following her college education, she has a Ph.D. in English literature and is a human resources consultant. Of her family, she said, "Several of us are thriving and able to help others survive because we refuse to accept family habits and inherited disadvantages as if they are destiny." (p.4)

Welfare Brat is a riveting, thoughtful book telling the story of one family, and one child who raised herself out of poverty.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Saint Lawrence

August 10th was the feast day of Saint Lawrence, the patron saint of librarians. He was a deacon who was said to have been roasted on a grill in the hope that he would reveal the names of the Christians on the list he kept as librarian and archivist of the early church. This was the original story, and pictures portrayed him with a book and the grill. However, more recent stories say he was probably beheaded, and that he kept the treasury of the church. As a librarian, I don't mind updated research, but I like the original story that he refused to reveal the names on the list.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Sweetwater Creek

I just reviewed Sweetwater Creek by Anne Rivers Siddons for www.bookbitch.com, but it deserves a much longer review than I can do for that site. It's a wonderful book, with a protagonist you want to hold close to your heart, and hope Emily Parmeter has a happy life. Here's the review of www.bookbitch.com.

"Sweetwater Creek by Anne Rivers Siddons – Disfunctional families is a favorite motif of so many southern novels, and Siddons’ new book is no exception. Emily Parmeter is the young protagonist of this coming-of-age story. The book starts when Emily is eleven, and ends immediately after her thirteenth birthday, but in that time, she watches her family and her life change. At eleven, she has already faced the disappearance of her mother and the suicide death of her favorite brother. Her father and other brothers are only distant figures in her life. Her life revolves around her dog, Elvis, memories of her brother, and her life on Sweetwater Plantation in the South Carolina Lowcountry. She is unwilling to accepts the changes in her body and life until “the summer of Lulu Foxworth.” The troubled twenty-year-old brings a new knowledge to everyone on the plantation as she casts her spell over the Parmeter family, showing Emily’s father the potential for his dog business, showing Emily the potential of a polished life and education, and sharing her darkest secrets with Emily. Since Siddons tells Emily’s story through her eyes, the reader cares about the land and the plantation life, but most of all, the reader cares about this child who is forced to grow up too quickly."

What I didn't get a chance to say in a short review is that Siddons brings the Sweetwater Creek area to life through Emily's eyes. She has a love of the river and creek, and all the land around it, which gives her some of her strength. Towards the end of the book, she tells her father, "Do you remember that time you had to come get me at camp in the mountains, and everybody thought I was just homesick and being a baby? It wasn't that at all. It was that I just couldn't breathe away from saltwater, from the river and the creek. I still can't, really."

Emily will make it. She has her family, Elvis, Buddy, and the strength she draws from the land. Siddons has taken the motif of disfunctional family and southern love of their land, and made it her own.

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Books read in July, 2005

Here's the summary of the fifteen books I read in July. Good reading!

Eleven on Top - Janet Evanovich - Stephanie Plum trieds to quit the bounty hunter job, and becomes a target.

The Merchant of Venice - William Shakespeare - A merchant helps a friend by borrowing money against his ships, which fail to come in before the Jewish moneylender calls him into court.

Forcing Amaryllis - Louise Ure - Trial consultant Calla Gentry reluctantly takes a case in which the defendant reminds her of her sister's brutal rape.

Eye of the Wolf - Margaret Coel - Someone killed Shoshones, and left their bodies on a battlefield, stirring up old memories of a massacre.

This Dame for Hire - Sandra Scoppettone - In 1943, Faye Quick, a secretary who took over her boss' detective agency when he left for war, stumbles over a body.

Wrong Side of the Wall - Eric Stone - The story of Blackie Schwamb, a great baseball pitcher who ended up in prison.

Read It and Eat - Sarah Gardner - Month-by-month book club selections and recipes.

The Nitrogen Murder - Camille Minichino - Gloria, a retired scientist, goes to Berkeley for a wedding, but discovers her friend's fiancee is caught up in murder and espionage.

What My Cat Has Taught Me About Life - Niki Anderson - Stories and meditations for cat lovers.

Killing Time - Linda Howard - A police investigator teams up with an FBI agent when a time capsule disappears & people associated with it are murdered.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - J.K. Rowling - Harry's sixth year at Hogwarts when Voldemort's forces are stronger amidst a great deal of turmoil.

The Death Collectors - Jack Kerley - Detectives Carson Ryder & Harry Nautilus are on the trail of a murderer when they discover the death collectors, people who collect serial-killer memorabilia.

Mew is for Murder - Clea Simon - Theda Krakow, a freelance reporter, finds the body of a cat lady.

Little Chapel on the River - Gwendolyn Bounds - The author finds sanctuary after 9/11 in a small New York town and a pub called Guinan's.

Sweetwater Creek - Anne Rivers Siddons - A coming-of-age story about a young girl in South Carolina who has had nothing but loss in her life.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Cruisin the Blogs About Books

I subscribe to bloglines, a site that collects blogs that I'm interested in, so I can read them when they're updated. I was surprised to find Nikki's World mentioned in one today. The site is Icarus: The Santa Fe Public Library blog, at http://santafelibrary.blogspot.com.

Here's what it said in one paragraph.

There are a lot of blogs where readers (not necessarily librarians, reviewers, editors, authors, but 'just readers') like to talk about books, such as Nikki's World, and one I have lost (please let me know if you have the URL) where someone who has kept a reading log for the past several decades is blogging about what she's reading now and simultaneously about what she read thirty years ago this date.

Thanks, Miriam!

Little Chapel on the River

I don't know how to do justice to this gem of a book by Gwendolyn Bounds. Little Chapel on the River made me laugh, but most of the time I read it with tears in my eyes. She's written a nostalgic book for a small little place that most of us have never been, but she makes it feel like home. And, it's a place we all long to return to.

On Sept. 11, 2001, Bounds was in her apartment across the street from the World Trade Center towers. As an editor at The Wall Street Journal, she only had to dash across the street to work. Only, she and her roommate never made it to work that day, along with a number of other New Yorkers. And, following the collapse of the Towers, Bounds found herself floundering through her life, with no permanent place to live, and no place to go back to work. On a visit to Garrison, New York, she was dragged to a small store and pub called Guinan's. There she found a home, and a second family.

Bounds tells the story of Guinan's, the family that runs it, and the people that congregate there. The small town of Garrison once welcomed Irish immigrant Jim Guinan and his family. Now, he welcomes newcomers and old stalwarts to the friendly little pub. But, just as change came to New York in 2001, change is coming to Guinan's. As Jim ages, and his health gets worse, the small pub community rally around Jim's family to keep the business going.

Guinan's welcomed Wendy Bounds, and made her part of the congregation. In return, she has offered a hymn of praise to the town and the Guinan's community. It's a hymn that touches the heart.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

The Death Collectors

Jack Kerley writes really creepy books, but I certainly can't put them down. Author of The Hundredth Man, The Death Collectors is his second book to feature Carson Ryder, one of the two member Psychopathological and Sociopathological Investigative Team in Mobile, Alabama. Together with his partner, Harry Nautilus, the two investigate crimes that are too weird for the rest of the Mobile Police Department.

In The Hundredth Man, Ryder turned to his brother, Jeremy, for help. The two grew up in an abusive household. Jeremy finally killed their father, and then killed a number of women, surrogates for the mother who never stopped the abuse. Jeremy may be incarcerated, but he also understands the minds of killers. When Ryder is desperate enough, he goes to Jeremy.

In The Death Collectors, Harry is definitely right when he foresees that nothing good will come of their award for Officers of the Year. From the moment they find the body of a woman from a group home, the two men are caught up in murder. When a woman is discovered murdered in a motel, surrounded by candles and flowers, it draws the attention of a retired cop and a journalist for a local TV station. Strange phone calls lead to the story of an artist, killed in a courtroom thirty years earlier. Ryder finally has to call on Jeremy when the trail leads to an odd group of people who collect memorabilia from serial killers, the death collectors.

Thomas Harris did a serial killer as consultant years ago with Hannibal Lector. Jeremy's role is not as important in Kerley's books. He is almost an alter ego for Carson, the dark side of life. The books are police procedurals that follow Carson and Harry as they solve the crimes. But they are creative stories, with likeable characters, despite the creepiness of the crimes. The reader will root for Carson and Harry to succeed in their jobs, and for Carson to succeed in his personal life.

One last comment. I loved the last sentence of Kerley's book. It's not a spoiler to quote it. "He laid the pedal flat and we roared to my place to catch the sunset, about all that's left to do after a long walk through the heart of God."

Jack Kerley's web site is www.jackkerley.com

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Louise Ure's Backstory

M.J. Rose has a terrific blog in which she gives the Backstory for authors. This is from her blog, Louise Ure's Backstory.

Where authors share the secrets, the truths, or just the illogical moments that sparked our fiction. Brought to you by M.J. Rose

Louise Ure's Backstory
By M.J. Rose

It still feels funny to think of myself as "the author of" anything. I've been talking about writing a book for almost fifty years, but for most of that time, talking about it is all I did.

So, after fifty years of dithering, what made me finally do it? It was a conversation with a friend of mine, AK Smiley, not long after September 11. We were talking about what we'd always wanted to do with our lives but had never done. I'll bet lots of us were having that same conversation right about then when all of us were thinking about relevance and impermanence and what we wanted out of life. I told her I wanted to write a book, but was scared to try it because I didn't think I had anything new and remarkable to say. AK is a watercolorist and she pointed to a painting of hers that hangs over my mantle, and said, "Oh, you think nobody's ever painted a horse before?" That's when I knew that a voice was as important as a plot. That the way a character comes to life is as important as what that character does. It felt like permission.

And then she used those three little words that every woman longs to hear, not "I love you," but "I dare you." There went fifty years of dithering.

But how do you start? All these years of wanting to write didn't mean that I had an idea for a book. For me, the inspiration came in two parts. The first was the title. I'd seen a gardening tag at the nursery that told you how to force an amaryllis bulb to blossom. "To force amaryllis, place bulb in a cool, dark place with no water. Then bring it to a brightly lit place, increasing watering as leaves form." Hmmm, some interesting overtones there. And I loved Forcing Amaryllis as a title. What could that book be about?

The story came second. It started to take shape because of a chance comment from my sister, Lee. We'd read about a particularly gruesome rape in Northern California. Lee said that, as sad as that woman's story was, no one really talks about the impact of rape on all the people around the victim, the fathers and sisters and friends. "They all got raped," she said. And she was right.

So, while this book is indeed about the forcible rape of a young woman named Amaryllis, it's also about the effect of that attack on everyone around her. People like her sister, Calla, who even seven years later, fears shadows and lives with her elbows tucked in, and who has to work through that fear to discover the identity of the man who attacked her sister. And just like that gardening tag says, it's about taking something that has been hidden in the dark for a long time, and bringing it out into the light.

I made the protagonist, Calla Gentry, a jury consultant, partially because I seem to get picked for jury duty every year, but also because the field fascinates me. Jury consulting was born during the trials of the Vietnam War protestors, Daniel and Philip Berrigan, but it gained notoriety in the last ten years or so, with big cases like the OJ Simpson and Scott Peterson trials. Jury consultants help lawyers craft and deliver the strongest message to the audience most likely to believe it. They call themselves "persuasion experts," and they are.

I spent most of my life working in advertising, on everything from Shake 'n Bake to the Dancing California Raisins. And it's funny, but that's exactly how I'd describe what we did, too: getting the strongest message to the right audience. And we used the same tools to research that message: questionnaires, focus groups, telephone surveys and strategy testing.

It's just that in Calla's world, the stakes are higher. You're not fighting for market share. You're fighting for someone's freedom. Maybe even his life.

Forcing Amaryllis became a reality instead of a dream with its release on June 20. I wish I hadn't waited so long to take that dare.

Forcing Amaryllis is Louise Ure's first novel.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Charlie, Harry, Joe and Louise

I had a terrific last week and a half - library and book related.

Last Monday, we held a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory party here. We didn't get the morning TV coverage because we had an Amber Alert, but the party was at noon. Warner Brothers had given us a bunch of prizes, including tickets to give away to a preview of the movie. And, we had Cerreta's Chocolate Factory down the street come to make chocolate pizzas with the kids. I read a poem from the book and then turned it over to Cerreta's. Great success! Almost 100 people jammed in our little room, with two TV stations and the local newspaper. I loved the picture on the front page labeled Elbow-Licking Good, showing a little girl trying to lick the chocolate off her elbow.

Then Friday night, all three libraries did Harry Potter Mania from 10:30 pm to just after midnight. We had people standing outside the doors at 9:30 already, and we didn't reopen for that until 10:25. We had a magician, Harry Potter trivia, decorating dragon eggs, Potter Book Bingo, and then at midnight drew numbers for free copies of the books, posters, and who could check out the book. I got my copy of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince yesterday, but I haven't even had time to open it.

That's because I went to The Poisoned Pen last night to hear two mystery writers, J.A. (Joe) Konrath and Louise Ure. What a fun evening! Konrath is a real character, very on. He's written two books, Whiskey Sour and Bloody Mary, featuring a LAPD cop named Jacqueline "Jack" Daniels. He said his next two books are Rusty Nail, Dirty Martini, and then he's going to do The Twelve Step Program.

And, I loved Louise Ure's debut mystery, Forcing Amaryllis. It's set in Tucson, and features a jury consultant who has to deal with her own personal issues when working on a case. I think it should be nominated for Best First Mystery, and I had written and told her so. She said she was printing out my review and putting it on her computer so that she had it when she needed something to lift her spirits.

She was very interesting. Her next book will be a standalone about a blind female auto mechanic who overhears a kidnapping. She worked in advertising for 30 years, and did the California Raisin commercials, among others.

I even won a bookbag showing the cover of the book, which is gorgeous. She had two bags for people wearing the colors on the bag, and since I was dressed all in black, I was a winner! Joe Konrath said he had a contest, too, and he spun two small bottles of Jack Daniels, and whoever they pointed to, won. Personally, I prefer the bookbag, but that's a cute gimmick.

Two interesting stories told by the Poisoned Pen staff - Lee Child, author of the Jack Reacher books, is quite tall, and wrote books for a long time before they were published. When he did the grocery shopping, people would ask if he could reach something on the top shelf. He told his wife he was just a "reacher." Hence, the character's name.

And the last time Clive Cussler was at the store, he was drinking tequila while he signed books. As the evening wore on, he became quite creative with his signatures - ex. Remember the time in the Bahamas...

I had a great time last night, and recommend Konrath's Whiskey Sour and Ure's Forcing Amaryllis. Once I finish Harry Potter, I'll be reading Bloody Mary.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Book Reviewing

Just last month I started reviewing books for two online sites. I review historical mysteries for www.ccmccreedy.bravejournal.com, part of Christine's Book List. And, I've done one book review for Stacy Alesi at www.bookbitch.com. Stacy's been on some of the listservs I'm on, and I met her a few years ago at the Lee County Reading Festival. It's going to be fun to review for both sites. Check them out!

Librarian Song

I wish I could give credit for this, but it was passed on without the author's name attached to it. Kind of cute.

When I was just a baby, before I could speak
I would line up all my letter blocks alphabetically
and now it's my vocation and my passion to assign
every decimal-numbered shelf to every decimal-numbered spine

I'm a librarian, I'm a librarian
and I like it quiet so the pages can be heard
I'm a librarian, I'm a librarian
and I do it for the love of the word

I bring order out of chaos, I shine light into the dark
because power comes from knowledge just like fire from a spark
and like Gutenberg and Luther with press and pen in hand
I take the message to the masses in a form they understand

I'm a librarian, I'm a librarian
and I like it quiet so the pages can be heard
I'm a librarian, I'm a librarian
and I do it for the love of the word

And when the day is over I go home at 5:03
and I give thanks to God and then to Andrew Carnegie
and the U.S. Constitution and Orwell, Poe, and Twain
and I'll return at 8AM to open up again

I'm a librarian, I'm a librarian
and I like it quiet so the pages can be heard
I'm a librarian, I'm a librarian
and I do it for the love of the word

Monday, July 11, 2005

Wrong Side of the Wall

Wrong Side of the Wall by Eric Stone tells the tragic story of Blackie Schwamb, a talented baseball pitcher who was bent on self-destruction. Growing up in the boom days of Los Angeles, Schwamb was attracted to the glamour and money associated with the local gangsters. Before he even tried to make it in baseball, Schwamb associated himself with gangsters, working as an enforcer due to his size. He was probably talented enough to make it to the major league, but his drinking, womanizing and running around with gangsters ruined him. He blew games due to his drinking, didn't show up for days on end, and, finally, killed a man when he had been drinking. He lost the prime years of his career to his time in San Quentin and Folsom Prison.

Ironically, those years in prison became the highlight of his baseball career. He was a successful pitcher against teams that fielded semi-pro and pro players. But, even in prison he was beset by depression.

Wrong Side of the Wall is one of the saddest baseball stories I've ever read. Schwamb's prison career showed his potential, but he couldn't adjust to any success in the outside world.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Senator Barack Obama at ALA

Senator Barack Obama spoke at ALA a week and a half ago. Here's the article from The Chicago Sun-Times about his speech.

June 26, 2005


If the U.S. government resorts to rifling through library records without a search warrant, libraries will no longer be sanctuaries of learning where people can freely think and read, U.S. Sen. Barack Obama told the American Library Association Saturday.

Obama said he is working diligently to make sure the country has a Patriot Act that helps track down terrorists without trampling on civil liberties. He told the applauding crowd at McCormick Place he hopes the U.S. Senate will follow the U.S. House's lead by passing a provision that would require federal agents to obtain a search warrant before going through library records and e-mails.

That way people can visit libraries without the fear of "Big Brother" peering over their shoulders, he said.

"This is an issue that Washington always tries to make into an either-or proposition," the first-term Democrat said. " 'Either we protect our people from terror or we protect our most cherished principles.' But I don't believe in either-or. I believe in both, and I think we can do both. I think when we pose the choice as either-or, it is asking too little of us and it assumes too little about Americans."

The House voted a week ago to sunset a Patriot Act provision that allows for searches of library records. Republicans joined the effort in defiance of President Bush.

But U.S. Attorney Alberto Gonzales and his prosecutors around the country are hoping to reverse that decision in a House-Senate conference committee -- even though they note they have never, in the three years since the act has been passed, requested anyone's library records.

'Window to a larger world'

On Saturday, Obama, citing the struggle to keep literary classics like "Huckleberry Finn" and "Catcher in the Rye" on library shelves over the years, applauded librarians for remaining on the front lines in the fight for privacy and freedom.

He criticized hard-liners, comparing them to dictators and governments throughout history who wanted to squash free thinking.

"The library represents a window to a larger world, a place where we've always come to discover big ideas and profound concepts that help move the American story forward and the human story forward," Obama said. "And that's the reason why since ancient antiquity, whenever those who seek power would want to control the human spirit, they have gone after libraries and books."

Obama also spoke about the need to raise the educational bar and increase reading activity during his 20-minute speech. While describing the challenges parents face in getting children to pick up a book in a video- and DVD-age, Obama took a swipe at Bush.

"Our kids aren't just seeing these temptations at home, they're seeing them everywhere. Whether it's their friend's house or the people they see on television or a general culture that glorifies anti-intellectualism, so that we have a president that brags about getting Cs. It trickles down, that attitude," Obama said.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Forcing Amaryllis

The last time I was so excited about a first-time mystery writer, I was reading Jonathon King's The Blue Edge of Midnight, which went on to win the Edgar Award for first novel. Forcing Amaryllis by Louise Ure is a powerful novel, with a fascinating protagonist. I know some readers were fed up with Calla, the main character, and others said the book's style indicated that it was a first novel, but I don't think they read far enough in the book.

Calla Gentry is a trial consultant in Tucson, a woman who only served as a consultant on civil cases because she was afraid to deal with criminal cases. Seven years earlier, Gentry had been a strong woman who worked in advertising. But, that was before her sister's brutal rape at knife point. Calla lost her sister, Amaryllis, when her failed suicide attempt put her in a coma. Calla also lost her own confidence and sense of security. Amaryllis' rape incapacitated Calla so much that their aunt told Calla she needed to take her life back. She told her, "Just like Amy. It's a life of suspended animation."

When Calla's boss forces her to take on a rape/murder case, she is struck by the similarities between that case and her own sister's. Together with two friends and a private investigator, Calla attempts to link other rapes with Amaryllis'. The descriptions of the rapes, although not written in graphic detail, are not easy to read. The jury selection process in the book, and the trial itself are fascinating. But, it is the change in Calla's character, as she forces herself to move out of her safe surroundings, that is the most fascinating.

Give Calla a chance. In my opinion, Forcing Amaryllis by Louise Ure deserves to be nominated for this year's Edgar for best first mystery.

Readers Advisor News

I just found out that Libraries Unlimited (publishers of the Genreflecting series) used ALA to launch a new electronic newsletter. It's called Readers Advisor News, and you can subscribe to it for free at:


Just passing it on!

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Books read in June, 2005

Good month for reading. Here are the brief summaries of the books I read in June.

Sunday Money - Jeff MacGregor - A year as the author and his wife packed up an RV and followed the NASCAR tour.

White House Nannies - Barbara Kline - True tales from a nanny service for D.C. elite.

Julie and Romeo Get Lucky - Jeanne Ray - When Romeo's back gives out and Julie's pregnant daughter ends up in bed in the living room, disaster follows.

Uncommon Grounds - Sandra Balzo - Maggy Thorsen, co-owner of a coffee shop, finds her partner dead on opening day.

Nickel and Dimed - Barbara Ehrenrich - Bestselling story of the author's attempt to work in 3 cities, and live on minimum wage.

Table for Five - Susan Wiggs - A schoolteacher and a playboy golfer take charge of 3 orphans.

Denial - Stuart Kaminsky - In Sarasota, FL, Lew Fonesca looks for a hit-n-run driver, and a nursing home murder victim.

Tears of the Dragon - Holly Baxter - During the Prohibition, in 1930s Chicago, Elodie Brown, a copywriter, witnesses a murder.

Marsh Madness - Caroline Cousins - Murder, marriage and meth in South Carolina Low Country.

The King's English - Betsy Burton - Terrific story of the adventures of an independent bookseller in Salt Lake City.

To Darkness and to Death - Julia Spencer-Fleming - The Rev. Clare Fergusson & Russ Van Alstyne start out looking for a missing woman, and end up finding tragedy.

Breakfast with Tiffany - Edwin John Wintle- Wintle, a gay artistic lawyer, takes in his troubled 13 year old niece.

Last Shot - John Feinstein - (YA) two teens win a basketball journalism contest, but end up investigating blackmail at the Final Four.

Breakfast with Tiffany

Edwin John Wintle was very content with his life in Manhattan. After law school, he could cultivate his artistic side with his job putting authors and movie studios together. He lived the wonderful life of a gay man with numerous friends in New York. But, he was missing something in his life.

Wintle's niece, "Tiffany," was thirteen. Her mother was an alcoholic, in an abusive relationship, with an ex-husband just out of prison, and two daughters on her hands. Tiffany, the older of the two, ran the streets with the wrong crowd. When Wintle's sister called in a panic, he offered to take Tiffany into his home, his life, and his heart.

Breakfast with Tiffany is Wintle's account of his year with Tiffany as they struggled over her schooling, her friendships, and their relationship. Two needy people had found each other. "Tiffany's arrival had not only changed my day-to-day life but had somehow rearranged me as well, shaking free things I no longer knew I possessed. Living with a child whose entire life lay before her reminded me how to dream, how to believe again that anything was possible, and in working to build my niece's self-esteem through love and encouragement, I was discovering a new sense of my own worth. For the first time since my early twenties, when I faced a blank page on the computer screen, the old fears and listlessness were largely gone. In their place were focus, energy, and spirit." p. 240-241

Uncle Eddy and Tiffany - not quite a match made in heaven. Really a match made from the hell of Tiffany's life. But, a successful match.

Thank you, Lee County!

I just heard from two staff members at the Lakes Library in Ft. Myers (Lee County) Florida that they're using my blog for collection development. Scary! But, thank you. Just wanted to say it's nice to know you still appreciate my suggestions for books. Good luck at the new library!

Monday, June 27, 2005

To Darkness and To Death

Award-winning mystery writer Julia Spencer-Fleming has
written a thrilling story of desperation and tragedy
in her latest book, To Darkness and to Death.

Spencer-Fleming's stories are set in Miller's Kill,
New York, a small town in the Adirondack Mountains.
She has said that the economy, history, and local
names are part of the stories of a community. Crimes
and the stories themselves come out of that
environment. Character is formed by where people
live. She draws on all these elements in her new

The Reverend Clare Fergusson, an army veteran turned
Episcopalian minister, is roused out of bed at 5 am to
assist with a search-and-rescue mission. Millie van
der Hoeven, one of the three heirs to a 250,000 acre
estate, is reported missing. On this crisp November
morning, Police Chief Russ Van Alstyne goes hunting
with a close friend. Neither realizes their
relationship and the town will be threatened by the
events of the day.

As part of the community prepares for a celebration
of the sale of the estate to a conservation group,
another part prepares for the loss of their
livelihood. The local lumber and timber mill industry
is threated by the loss of the lumber rights to the
estate. One group views lumbering as stewardship,
preserving jobs for the next generation. There are
those that view the conservancy ownership of the land
as stewardship, preserving the land for future
generations, and creating new jobs. As people face
loss of jobs, businesses, and land, families are split
and the community is torn apart. Millie van der
Hoeven's disappearance is just the first event that
will trigger twenty-four hours of kidnapping,
blackmail, violence, and destruction.

In that same twenty-four hours, Fergusson and Van
Alstyne confront the truth about their own
relationship. As this series has progressed, readers
have followed the developing feelings between the
Episcopalian priest and the married police chief. As
the story hurtles towards a climax, the two realize
their own feelings are too strong to continue to hide.
Will both plots lead to tragedy in Spencer-Fleming's
latest book?

Spencer-Fleming's To Darkness and To Death is a
masterpiece of setting and local culture. She has
written a tragic story of a community in which
desperation leads to death and destruction.

Check out the author's web site at

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

The King's English

The King's English by Betsy Burton is subtitled "Adventures of an Independent Bookseller." And, what adventures! Betsy writes with enthusiasm about the authors and books she has known and loved. She tells stories about visits from Isabel Allende, John Irving, Jack Prelutsky, Jan Brett, and numerous other authors. She's candid when she tells about her own faults when it comes to the bookselling business - her competitiveness, her struggles to find the right business partners, problems with the growth of chains. For those of us who love lists of books, she offers numerous lists of suggestions from her bookstore, The King's English, in Salt Lake City, as well as from other independent bookstores. As a librarian, who also buys books for love of the author or the book itself, I support her request. Buy from independent bookstores, and encourage the people who love books and love to share books. To those independent booksellers, it's more than a business. It's a passion.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Report on the Poisoned Pen Mystery Conference

Saturday, June 18, I attended a Mystery Conference sponsored by The Poisoned Pen Bookstore in Scottsdale. It was held at the Caleo Resort and Spa, which was very nice. No complaints about the temperature of the meeting room, chairs, the restrooms, or lunch. Everything was done nicely.

Nine mystery writers addressed an audience of 200 or so. John Maddox Roberts was the first speaker. (A little dull.) His SPQR series is set in the 40-50 years at the end of the Republic of Rome, the late Republic. His books are bestsellers in Germany, where they are 4 books ahead of the ones published in this country. The latest mystery to feature Deciuis Caecilus Metellus is SPQR IX: The Princess and the Pirates.

From Rome, we moved to the Middle Ages for the next two authors. I've always admired Sharon Kay Penman's historical novels. I had her autograph a copy of Here Be Dragons because I always loved that title. She said she had to fight with her British publishers to get to use that title because they said it was a joke. They said that British comedians would say their mother-in-law was coming for a visit, and then they'd say, "Here Be Dragons."

She said she likes the Middle Ages to write about because it's a period that is a blend of foreign and familiar, quoting someone as saying it was a "mixed sense of blood and roses." She said people did not live happily ever after or die peacefully in bed. She said research is 50% of what she does when writing a book. It takes her three years to write a historical novel, and 1 year for a mystery. Her latest mystery to feature Justin de Quincy, the Queen's Man, is The Prince of Darkness, set in the 12th century.

Penman introduced Priscilla Royal as an author with a passion for the past, who does research. Royal said that she doesn't fly, so she does research the old-fashioned way, through books, the internet and writing to people. Royal's books are set in the 1270s, and feature a young prioress named Eleanor.

Francine Mathews was a terrific speaker - smart, attractive and funny. She fell in love with Jane Austen when she was a kid, studied the same period in college when she studied the Napoleonic era, and then had no marketable skills when she and her husband moved to D.C., so she went to work at the CIA as an analyst. She writes contemporary espionage fiction as Mathews, and the Jane Austen series of mysteries as Stephanie Barron. Very interesting speaker.

Lunch was good - salad with medallions of chicken, and then chocolate cake. Laurie King was the luncheon speaker. She's personable with a great sense of humor. She writes two series and standalones. Although she talked about the standalones and the Kate Martinelli police procedurals, she concentrated on her Mary Russell series, set in Edwardian England, featuring Russell who meets Sherlock Holmes as a young girl, and later marries him.

Douglas Preston was the best speaker of the day. He was humorous, and discussed his years working at the Museum of Natural History, which was one thing that attracted his co-writer Lincoln Child. Child, who edited Silence of the Lambs, doesn't fly, so Preston does most of the speaking engagements. He said that then he gets to blame Child if people say they don't like something in a book. He wrote the nonfiction book, Dinosaurs in the Attic. Barbara Peters, owner of The Poisoned Pen, said he writes quest novels. Dance of the Dead features their FBI Agent Pendergast. He's working on The Book of the Dead, a novel set in Egypt.

Bill Fitzhugh was a very hyper speaker who spoke too softly about his career in radio, and his two mysteries set in Mississippi featuring a veteran disk jockey. Rqadio Activity and Highway 61 Resurfaced are his two books.

I really went to hear Julia Spencer-Fleming. She lives in Maine, and I didn't know if I'd get the chance to hear her again. She writes a wonderful series set in the Adirondack Mountains of New York, featuring Episcopalian priest, the Rev. Clare Ferguson, and police chief Russ Van Alstyne. She said she was an army brat, which might be why she values setting so much. She feels character is formed by the place where people are living. She said the economy, history and names of people are an essential part of the story. She said crimes and stories come out of that environment. I bought her latest book, To Darkness and to Death.

She also recommended that you study the best in the field before you write. She read 30 books that won the Edgar, Anthony or Agatha awards before she started writing to learn from the best.

Will Thomas was the last speaker of the day. He was a librarian in Tulsa, OK working on a Reader's Advisory program when he realized that most Victorian mysteries are written by women, and feature women. He said he wanted his "bucket of blood," so he writes a series of Victorian mysteries that feature a Private Enquiry Agent and his apprentice, and violence. He said his hard-boiled detectives walk the mean streets of London.

Barbara Peters of The Poisoned Pen put on a great one-day conference. I encourage you to support your local independent booksellers, and the authors.

Friday, June 17, 2005


Two quotes from Betsy Burton's fabulous book, The King's English: Adventures of an Independent Bookseller.

"But the real source of authorial star power is that reading a brilliant novel can be exactly like falling in love, is falling in love. Falling into a book, reveling in its language, recognizing its truth, reading on and on in a state of absolute rapture, unable to pull yourself away from the story..." p. 17

"It's true, I worship at the feet of the best of them. Why ever should I not? I've dedicated my entire adult life to telling customers about the books of writers I admire. So yes, authors - at least the truly great ones - are my gods. They can craft words into sentences that make music and at the same time shed light on the human condition, can make the heart and the mind sing the same heady song. They are geniuses deserving of worship..." p. 21-22

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

This was one of the best books I have ever read! It is about an Afghani boy, growing up, friends with a Hazara servant's boy (Hazaras are kind of like untouchables in India), then moving to California with his father as a teen, meeting another Afghani woman and falling in love, marrying her, and then going back to Afghanistan to see a sick friend of his father's. I could say so much more about this one, but I don't want to spoil it for anyone who will read it. I highly recommend this one! (I actually listened to this one on audio and it was nice to have someone read it to me that knew how to pronounce everything!)


Tears of the Dragon

What do you get when you set the cast of Little Women in Chicago during Prohibition in the 1930s? You get Tears of the Dragon by Holly Baxter (actually Paula Gosling).

Elodie Browne (think Jo March) is an advertising copywriter who helps to bring in money for the family consisting of her widowed mother and three sisters. Mumma (Marmee), Marie (Meg), Maybelle and Alice are the rest of the family. There's even a cousin, Hugh, who Elodie has had a crush on since she was seven.

Elodie's proposal for a radio show leads her to disaster. She stops at the office late one night to drop off the plot, and accidentally gets off on the wrong floor. When she hears that a man disappeared from that floor, the sounds she heard become suspicious. When she sees the same man shot at the home of a wealthy Chinese import dealer, she is intrigued enough to investigate, despite the warnings of a policeman. Can she trust the police in 1930s Chicago? Who can she trust?

Baxter has plopped the cast of Little Women into Depression-era Chicago with success. The family life is reminiscent of the classic, which causes the contrast with the rampant crime and scandal in the city to be all the greater. Elodie is an innocent character, whose curiousity and determination that crime shouldn't pay leads her into the unlikely world of mob rule and Chinese Tongs. Baxter pulls it off successfully.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

The Poisoned Pen conference

This Saturday, June 18, I'm attending a mystery conference sponsored by The Poisoned Pen bookstore. It's called Mysteries Past and Present, and it will be held at the Caleo Resort & Spa in Scottsdale.

Authors will look behind the scenes of writing mysteries and thrillers. They'll talk about the art of ficiton, techniques of research, writing a series of novels and connecting with readers.

Guest speakers Saturday morning are John Maddox Roberts, Sharon Kay Penman, Priscilla Royal, and Francine Mathews, who also writes as Stephanie Barron. Laurie King will be the luncheon speaker, followed by presentations from Douglas Preston, Bill Fitzhugh, Julia Spencer-Fleming and Will Thomas. The day ends with a book signing.

More on Sunday after the conference!