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

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

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, part of Christine's Book List. And, I've done one book review for Stacy Alesi at 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!