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!

Tuesday, June 14, 2005


Stuart Kaminsky's Lew Fonesca series is the only one of his series that I've read. Something about Fonesca, the lost soul whose wife was killed by a hit and run driver, appeals to me. Fonesca drove from Chicago until his car died, in Sarasota, Florida, and that's where he stayed. He's so lost, but attracts the most unlikely friends - a rich alcoholic woman, an abused teen, a Dairy Queen owner, the homeless man who sleeps in the restroom. I know one of the attractions is also the setting.

Denial is the latest Fonesca mystery. Lew works two cases - a young boy has been the victim of a hit and run driver, and a woman in a retirement home swears she saw someone murdered. As he gathers his friends around him to help in his search for answers, he continues to feel haunted by his wife's death.

As I mentioned, the setting brings back memories. Fonesca goes to the Asolo State Theater, the Sarasota Public Library, and the Opera House, all places I've been. The Ringling Museum and the history of Sarasota are also mentioned. I may have moved on to Arizona, but it's always interesting to read about places you've known. It's one reason I also enjoy Les Roberts' mysteries set in Cleveland. Familiar settings connect you to the stories.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Eric Stone, author

Yesterday I went to the Poisoned Pen Central in Phoenix to hear Eric Stone talk about his new books. He has two out right now. His detective thriller, The Living Room of the Dead, introduces Ray Sharp, an American journalist who gets mixed up with the Russian white slave trade in a story that moves from Hong Kong to Macau to Russia.

I was particularly interested in his book, Wrong Side of the Wall, the true story of Blackie Schwamb, a pitcher for the St. Louis Browns who ended up in prison where he played ball, pitching against major league and minor league players on visiting teams. Eric interviewed Schwamb for the book, and his stories about the interviews are fascinating. I bought Wrong Side of the Wall, and am looking forward to it.

And, Eric was raffling off tickets to the Arizona Diamondbacks/Minnesota Twins game, and I was lucky enough to get the tickets. Jim couldn't go, so I took a co-worker. And we met Eric at the game. First, I have to say, what wonderful seats! Section O turned out to be right behind the Diamondbacks dugout. I never had such great seats! Eric's great company, since he's a baseball and Dodgers fan. We talked about baseball and his book tour (although I probably talked too much). He certainly has the right attitude for a first book tour - that this is the time to get to know the booksellers so that when his next book comes out, they say, "Oh, another Eric Stone." He's a very nice guy - even walked us to the car afterward. I hope he has a good book tour. Certainly should be a fun one since he's going to ballgames throughout the country as he tours.

His web site is Check it out!

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Whiskey Sour/Macavity Awards

Whiskey Sour by J.A. Konrath is one of the books nominated for this year's Macavity Awards in the best first mystery novel category. His second book, Bloody Mary, is due out at any time. I recently signed on to his blog, and was pleasantly surprised to receive email from him asking for my address. He sent me a paperback copy of Whiskey Sour, and a great coaster similar to the book cover, that was autographed. I'm just waiting for Bloody Mary now.

Whiskey Sour features "Jack" Daniels, a lieutenant in the Chicago Police Dept. She's a 20 year veteran, trying to deal with her personal life, while searching for the Gingerbread Man, a serial killer. The murders are brutal, but Konrath handles everything with a touch of humor. I wish him luck!

Here are the nominees -

Macavity Award Nominations 2005
(for works published in 2004)
The Macavity Awards are nominated and voted on by members of Mystery Readers International. Winners will be announced at Bouchercon in September 2005.

Best Novel

The Killing of the Tinkers, by Ken Bruen (St. Martin's Minotaur)
Cold Case, by Robin Burcell (Avon)
Darkly Dreaming Dexter, by Jeff Lindsay (Doubleday)
High Country Fall, by Margaret Maron (Mysterious Press)
California Girl, by T. Jefferson Parker (HarperCollins)
Playing with Fire, by Peter Robinson (William Morrow)

Best First Novel
Uncommon Grounds, by Sandra Balzo (Five Star)
Summer of the Big Bachi, by Naomi Hirahara (Delta)
Whiskey Sour, by J A Konrath (Hyperion)
Dating Dead Men, by Harley Jane Kozak (Doubleday)
Misdemeanor Man, by Dylan Schaffer (Bloomsbury)

Best Nonfiction
Famous American Crimes & Trials, by Frankie Y Bailey & Steven Chermak, (Praeger Publishers)
Just the Facts: True Tales of Cops & Criminals, by Jim Doherty (Deadly Serious Press)
The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Short Stories, edited by Leslie S. Klinger (W.W.Norton)
Latin American Mystery Writers: An A-to-Z Guide, by Darrell B. Lockhart (Greenwood Press)
Forensics for Dummies, by D.P. Lyle, MD (Wiley Publishing)

Best Short Story
"Viscery" by Sandra Balzo (EQMM, December 2004)
"The Widow of Slane" by Terence Faherty (EQMM, March/April 2004)
"The Lady's Not for Dying" by Alana White (Futures Mystery Anthology Magazine, Winter 2004)

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Uncommon Grounds

I just finished Uncommon Grounds by Sandra Balzo, which was nominated for an Anthony Award for best first mystery novel. What a treat! Balzo created an interesting character for a small-town cozy. Maggy Thorsen invested everything she had in Uncommon Grounds, a coffee shop. On opening day, she found one of her partners dead on the floor, electrocuted by the expresso machine. Is her other partner the killer? Was it a freak accident that Patricia Harper was killed, and not either of the other women? Maggy uses her friendship with the local police chief to run interference as she tangles with the new sheriff.

Balzo has created a believable character, using her own background in banking and event planning in the book. Maggy could investigate this crime, because she knew all the people involved since it was a small town where she had lived for a while.

In contrast, I couldn't finish Maureen Robb's first mystery, Patterns in Silicon. Lea Sherwood is a restaurant owner in San Francisco. When her ex-boyfriend, CEO in a software company, dies in her restaurant, she investigates because she is a suspect. However, I found it too implausible that staff at a secretive software company would waste time answering Lea's questions. What did she know about the software business anyways?

I'm always looking for new mystery authors, but their main characters have to be true to themselves. Even in a fantasy, the reader has to be able to believe in the main character. Balzo accomplished that with Uncommon Grounds.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

White House Nannies

I lived in Washington, D.C. for a year while I was in grad school. I loved the excitement and politics of the city. Jim's a political junkie. And, my sister worked for our Congressman and the U.S. Attorney General while in college. I'll take the stories of Washington insiders anyday over the Hollywood gossip.

That made Barbara Kline's gossipy book, White House Nannies, perfect for light reading. Kline owns a business that matches nannies with Washington's political and social elite. She drops names of clients such as Mary Mataliln and James Carville, and Chris Matthews. She tells of the foibles of the nannies and their employers. But, most of the book tells of a high-powered couple, their son, and nannies, in order to show the evolving relationships between the business, the families and the nannies.

Kline tells how she found her niche, and works hard to keep her business and networks up-to-date. It's a fun, informative book.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Books read in May, 2005

Lots of nonfiction this month for some reason. Here are the brief summaries of the books I read this month.

A Voice for the Dead - James E Starrs & Katherine Ramsland - Starrs, a forensic investigator, examined the deaths of Dr. Carl Weiss, Jesse James, and others.

The Little Guide to Your Well-Read Life - Steve Leveen - Suggestions as to improving the number & quality of books read.

Being Perfect - Anna Quindlen - Thoughts about over-trying for perfection in life.

Dead Run - P.J. Tracy - Two police forces and the Monkeewrench team join forces to search for a cop and the two Monkeewrench women who disappeared on the way to Wisconsin.

Oh My Stars - Lorna Landvik - In the 1930s, a young woman bent on suicide joins up with a small group of musicians & everyone's lives change.

Call of the Mall - Paco Underhill - Business portrait of a mall.

The Spice Box - Lou Jane Temple - In 1864 New York, Irish immigrant Bridget Heaney's new job as a cook is disrupted when she finds the murdered body of her boss' son.

13 Seconds: A Look Back at the Kent State Shootings - Philip Caputo - Revisits Kent State 30 years after the shootings.

A Good Yarn - Debbie Macomber - Once more, three women become friends of Lydia's at the yarn shop on Blossom Street.

Take Big Bites - Linda Ellerbee - The journalist's story of her life, adventures and food.

Dead Beat - Jim Butcher - The 7th Harry Dresden novel in which the Chicago wizard tries to prevent necromancers gaining power and killing thousands.

Honeymoon with My Brother - Frank Wisner - When Wisner's fiancee backs out, he travels the world for a year with his brother, Kurt.

Who's Afraid of a Large Black Man - Charles Barkley - Interviews about racism with people such as Tiger Woods, Bill Clinton and Morgan Freeman.