Monday, March 31, 2008

Comfort Food

I recently reviewed Kate Jacobs' novel, Comfort Food, for the April 1 issue of Library Journal. Here's the review, reprinted with permission.

Jacobs, Kate. Comfort Food. Putnam. May 2008. c.352p. ISBN 978-0-399-15465-2. $24.95. F

Jacobs follows her debut novel, The Friday Night Knitting Club, with this much stronger second effort. About to turn 50, Augusta "Gus" Simpson is feeling old. When the ratings of the cooking show she hosts fall, the network owner forces Gus to take on a new producer, a new format, and a new cohost, Carmen Vega, Miss Spain 1999. Despite Carmen's culinary institute degree, Gus is not impressed, and it's dislike at first sight. However, the trial show, thrown together with the assistance of Gus's two daughters, an ex-boyfriend, and the hunky producer, ends up a hit, and suddenly, Gus must nurture this uncooperative group. Jacobs adds a touch of reality by including celebrity chefs such as Rachael Ray. The book's only flaw is the unnecessary addition of a character who wins an appearance on the show. Otherwise, Gus and the show's cast, with their humor, moods, and romance, are the sparks that bring this warm and irresistible story to life. Highly recommended for all public libraries. - Lesa M. Holstine, Glendale P.L., AZ

Copyright © 2008 Cahners Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. Reprinted with permission.

As a point of interest, Julia Roberts is set to star in the movie adaptation of Jacobs' first novel, The Friday Night Knitting Club.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Getting Away Is Deadly

Sara Rosett takes her Air Force wife, Ellie Avery, to Washington, D.C. for her latest Mom Zone mystery, and it's a treat for anyone who has spent any time in D.C. However, for Ellie, even a week's vacation involves her in trouble, as she discovers in Getting Away Is Deadly.

Ellie only planned to accompany her friend, Abby, on a vacation while their husbands were in classes. But, Ellie can't say no. So, she found herself setting up a meeting with a veteran who might know the story behind the death of her cousin's father in Korea. And, she agreed to put her organizational skills to work for a small project for her sister-in-law's boss. And, she saw a man pushed from the platform at the Metro. Suddenly Ellie was involved in a murder investigation, a possible terrorist plot, and a fishy story about Korea. How does a pregnant Air Force wife get into so much trouble?

Rosett's stories always have complicated plots for Ellie to follow. The strengths of her stories lie in the small details, and the realism of Ellie's life. Her husband and daughter are very important to her. As I've mentioned when reviewing Rosett's books before, she doesn't forget about her daughter in the course of an investigation, which brings this cozy series to a higher level than some others. As an Air Force wife, who moves frequently, she values her friends.

The one feature that has become a weakness is the element originally used to set the series apart. Ellie has an organizing business, and organizational hints are included in each book. After a couple books, the author seems to be reaching to try to come up with new suggestions. This feature should just be dropped. What actually sets the series apart is Ellie's life as an Air Force wife.

Sara Rosett has left herself with a number of options for new mysteries, as Ellie and Mitch move from assignment to assignment. They meant to take a short break before their next move, but they discovered, for Ellie, Getting Away Is Deadly.

Sara Rosett's website is

Getting Away Is Deadly by Sara Rosett. Kensington Books, copyright 2008. ISBN 0-7582-1340-9 (hardback), 256p.

Friday, March 28, 2008

My Husband, the Reader

Joy, one of the winners from a recent contest, emailed me today and said how much fun it is to receive books in the mail. She's right. No matter how many times I receive a book, or a box of books, it's always exciting. It reminded me that one reason I married my husband was because of his excitement when books arrived in a delivery.

I met Jim at the Huron Public Library in Ohio. Jim's a reader. He was in the library every few days to pick up a couple more books. We would talk about books, and he was always as excited about new books as I was. I let him come behind the desk when I opened new boxes of books, so he could see the new arrivals. I first realized how much I liked him when he went to Florida for the winter. I said to my staff, "I miss Jim Holstine. He's the only person who gets as excited about new books as I do."

Jim and I still spend evenings reading. When my father-in-law was alive, he would come out of his room, and say, "It sure is quiet in here." Jim's response was, "We got married to read."

Here's to everyone who takes pleasure in the arrival of a new book. Here's to you, Jim!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Winners and Louise Penny contest

Congratulations to the winners of the Shanghai contest. Robert B. of Columbia, MO won Red Mandarin Dress by Qiu Xiaolong, and Joyce K. from LaSalle, IL won the autographed copy of The Shanghai Tunnel. The books will go in the mail tomorrow.

And, Sharon L. from West Monroe, LA was visitor number 40,000 to the blog, so I'll be contacting Sharon to allow her to pick a book.

When I met Louise Penny at the Poisoned Pen, I bought paperback copies of her earlier books and had them autographed. If you haven't started the award-winning Still Life, the first in the Three Pines mystery series, now is your chance to win a copy. That book introduces Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, and the wonderful Quebec village of Three Pines.

Or you could win A Fatal Grace , the second book that sends Gamache back to Three Pines for a bitter winter.

Would you like to win Still Life or A Fatal Grace? If you'd like to enter for both books, please send two emails. Email me at Email me!. If that link doesn't work for you, the email address is: Your subject line should read Win Still Life or A Fatal Grace. Your message should include your mailing address. Entrants only in the U.S., please.

The contest will end Thursday, April 3 at 6 p.m. PT. Jim will draw the winners at that time. The winners will be notified, and the books will go out in the mail the next morning. Good luck!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Bulls Island

Anyone who has read Dorothea Benton Frank's earlier books, such as The Land of Mango Sunsets, will know what to expect with Bulls Island. The characters may be stereotypes, but Frank tells a good story. And, she describes South Carolina with as much love as any other author.

Betts McGee is quite happy with her job at a private equity firm in New York City, where she lives with her son, Adrian, who is about to leave for college. However, she's horrified when she receives a job assignment on Bulls Island, off the coast of Charleston. She's kept her previous life in Charleston a secret from everyone, including her son, who doesn't know he has a family, and a father, in Charleston. Now, Betts will be forced to face the man she still loves, and the two families that rejected her. She's going to be working with Langley Development, owned by J.D. Langley and his parents.

J.D. Langley gave up on life the day Betts, his childhood sweetheart, walked out. He went to law school, and married, but he still carries a torch for Betts. He doesn't know Betts was pregnant with his son. All he knows is that his mother caused the rift that tore them apart. Now, her plans to develop Bulls Island might bring them back together again.

Frank's characters are always stereotypes. They are also very melodramatic and Southern. Despite the drawbacks, I continue to pick up Frank's books. Her books are fast-moving, with interesting story lines. Bulls Island contains everything from a tragic car accident, family alienation, and drug addiction, to a giant alligator. Frank is one of the few authors who can pack all of that in, plus a grown son no one knew about, and an explosive ending. Her stories are always packed with life-changing events.

With one of her books, I always know I'll be returning to South Carolina, with the heat, humidity, and the lush lifestyle. And, Dorothea Benton Frank's Bulls Island isn't a bad place to visit.

Bulls Island by Dorothea Benton Frank. William Morrow, ©2008. ISBN 978-0-06-143843-1 (hardcover), 352p.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Charm City

With the March publication of Laura Lippman's tenth Tess Monaghan mystery, Another Thing to Fall, it's a perfect time to look back on Tess' career as told by Lippman. Her second mystery, Charm City, was originally published as a mass market original. Recently, William Morrow published the first collectible hardcover edition of that book.

Charm City is set in Baltimore in 1997. Having left her job as a newspaper reporter, Tess Monaghan is working full-time for a lawyer, working on a private investigation license. She's twenty-nine, and lives with her boyfriend, Crow, above her Aunt Kitty's bookstore. When she stumbles on a publicity event that announces that Wink Wynkowski will try to bring an NBA team to Baltimore, she doesn't realize she'll soon be thrust into the middle of Wynkowski's world. The local newspaper, the Beacon-Light, prematurely releases a front page article about Wink's past. The paper's editorial board hires Tess to look into the news leak. Before she knows it, she's probing into Wink's suicide, and his life. As a former reporter, Tess is the perfect investigator for the story.

So why would Tess also want to disrupt her life by taking in a mistreated greyhound? When her Uncle Spike is beaten in a robbery attempt at his bar, he turns his new dog, Esskay, over to Tess. Along with the dog comes threats and Spike's secrets. But, Spike is in a coma, so it's up to Tess to find out why the dog, and now, Tess, are in danger.

Tess Monaghan has grown and changed over the course of this series. It's a treat to go back and read her early story, and remember the younger woman, growing into her relationships with Crow and her dog. At the same time, we can watch her growing as a private investigator. Lippman loves her home city of Baltimore, and she created a character who also knows and loves the city. She also created a character who is an intuitive, careful investigator. She skillfully puts together a case, and tries to carefully back up her facts. Although it's not the first book in Lippman's award-winning series, Charm City is a successful introduction to Tess Monaghan and Monaghan's Baltimore.

Laura Lippman's website is

Charm City by Laura Lippman. William Morrow, ©2007. ISBN 978-0-06-121003-7 (hardcover), 308p.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Alpine Traitor

The twentieth book in a mystery series might be repetitive or stale, but Mary Daheim's The Alpine Traitor is one of the strongest stories in her Alpine series. It's a complicated, twisted story that reaches back into Emma Lord's past.

Emma Lord thinks of herself as a middle-aged mother and newspaper publisher in the small town of Alpine, Washington. Over the course of her life in Alpine, her son, Adam, grew up and left for the priesthood; she found and lost Tom Cavanaugh, the man who was her former lover and Adam's father; and she put together a comfortable life with friends on her staff, such as Vida Runkel and Leo Walsh. As in many old detective novels, Emma's comfortable existence is disrupted when a beautiful blonde shows up in her office.

Emma doesn't suspect anything when the ditzy blonde disappears. It's only when a man walks in and says he's making an offer for Emma's newspaper, the Advocate, on behalf of the Cavanaugh family, Tom's children, that she's uneasy. And, when that same man turns up murdered in a local motel, Emma's life starts to spiral out of control. Appearances can be deceiving, as she learns when a second shooting occurs, and this one is too close to home.

Mary Daheim brings back all of Alpine's familiar characters. But, it's the story from Emma Lord's past that continues to haunt this series. The Alpine Traitor won't disappoint readers.

Mary Daheim's website is

The Alpine Traitor by Mary Daheim. Ballentine Books, ©2008. ISBN 978-0-345-46818-5 (hardcover), 337p.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Carrot Cake Murder

Joanne Fluke's latest Hannah Swensen mystery brings a black sheep back to Lake Eden, Minnesota for a family reunion, a reunion that ends in murder.

Lisa Herman, Hannah's business partner, and Lisa's husband, Herb, planned a joint family reunion for the Bessemans and the Hermans. Over one hundred people return, but everyone is shocked when Herb's long-lost Uncle Gus shows up. However, only Gus' sisters seem happy. Everyone else in town seems to have a problem with Gus. He rejected many of the women, fought with some of the men, and borrowed money from everyone. It's quite shocking to see a well-dressed Gus drive up in a Jaguar. It's not such a shock when Gus ends up dead.

Once again, Fluke puts Hannah Swensen in the middle of a murder investigation. However, most readers won't be pleased to discover that she still can't choose between her two boyfriends, Norman and Mike. It's really frustrating for long-time readers of this cozy series. This series is one that hasn't actually aged very well, with Hannah's continuing indecision in her personal relationship. Carrot Cake Murder is no better or worse than any of the other books in the series. The greatest strength of this series has become the recipes, not the mysteries themselves.

Joanne Fluke's website is

Carrot Cake Murder by Joanne Fluke. Kensington Books, copyright 2008. ISBN 978-0-7582-1020-3 (hardcover), 326p.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Shanghai Connection Contest and Winners

Congratulations to the winners of the last contest. Leslie R. from Victory Mills, NY won the autographed copy of Cara Black's Murder in the Rue de Paradis. Joy Kinley from Southfield, MI won the autographed copy of Libby Fischer Hellman's Easy Innocence. The books will go out in the mail tomorrow.

For this week's contest, I'm offering two books with a Shanghai connection. Sharan Newman autographed a copy of The Shanghai Tunnel, her new mystery. It's the story of Emily Stratton, a woman who grew up in China, the daughter of missionaries. After her parents are murdered, she married a wealthy entrepreneur from Portland, Oregon. She doesn't realize that marriage, and her husband's subsequent death, will throw her a search for the secrets of his seedy past. The Shangai Tunnel is the first in Newman's series featuring Portland's Emily Stratton.

Or, you could win an ARC of Red Mandarin Dress, Qiu Xiaolong's mystery featuring
Chief Inspector Chen Cao of the Shanghai Police Department, who has to deal with Shanghai's first sexual serial killer.

Do you want an autographed copy of The Shanghai Tunnel or the ARC of Red Mandarin Dress? If you'd like to enter for both books, please send two emails. Email me at Email me!. If that link doesn't work for you, the email address is: Your subject line should read Win Snanghai Tunnel or Red Mandarin Dress. Your message should include your mailing address. Entrants only in the U.S., please.

The contest will end Thursday, March 27 at 6 p.m. PT. Jim will draw the winners at that time. The winners will be notified, and the books will go out in the mail the next morning. Good luck!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Murder Is Binding

If you're a fan of traditional mysteries, with the village setting, you'll wish you could visit the small town Lorna Barrett creates for her new book, Murder Is Binding. In order to fend off financial collapse and attract, the village brought in antiquarian and speciality booksellers. However, someone also brought murder to a town once known as the "Safest Town in New Hampshire."

Tricia Miller is the owner of Haven't Got a Clue, a charming mystery bookstore with its own cat, Miss Marple. She's quite content with her lonely life building up her business. That life is totally disrupted, all in one day, when her older sister, Angelica, arrives in town, and Tricia finds the body of the septuagenarian bookseller who owned a ccokbook bookstore, The Cookery. With a sheriff convinced that Tricia is her prime suspect, and local residents that consider her the town jinx, Tricia finds herself even more isolated. Who would have ever thought she might need Angelica's help? Their sibling rivalry is still strong, although both women are in their forties. But, at least Angelica believes Tricia is innocent.

Lorna Barrett has created an atmospheric, cozy mystery set in a town that will call readers back. The solution to the local crimes is easily guessed. However, readers will eagerly await the chance to return for the next "Booktown Mystery." Stoneham, New Hampshire, and Tricia and Angelica will be calling us back.

Murder Is Binding by Lorna Barrett. Berkley Prime Crime, ©2008. ISBN 9780425219584 (paperback), 288p.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Barack Obama's Moving Speech

If you appreciate language, and the beauty of words, you should read Barack Obama's speech, made today in Philadelphia. No matter who you are voting for in November, you should read this inspiring speech, a speech that has been called "brilliant."

Here's the link:

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Long Goodbye - Chicago's One Book

On Friday, Mayor Dailey announced that Raymond Chandler's The Long Goodbye has been selected for the Chicago Public Library's "One Book, One Chicago" program. This is the first time a crime novel has been selected.

The Outfit, A Collective of Chicago Crime Writers, will be discussing the book, and the program on their blog, if you're interested in following the discussion. Libby Fischer Hellman gave me a heads up last Monday, since she's one of the members. The other members are Sean Chercover, Barbara D'Amato, Michael Allen Dymmoch, Kevin Guilfoile, Sara Paretsky and Marcus Sakey.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

State of the Onion

Jennifer Cruise and Bob Mayer already proved, in Agnes and the Hitman, that a frying pan can be a deadly weapon. Now, Olivia Paras, White House Assistant Chef in Julie Hyzy's State of the Onion, uses a skillet with equal efficiency. She proves it can be a weapon of self-defense, and a tool to save the nation.

When arriving at the White House one day, Ollie witnesses a man running across the lawn, pursued by Secret Service agents. When they fail to catch him, and he runs straight at her, Ollie coldcocks him with a commemorative skillet. As she's rushed from the scene, she overhears her victim address the Secret Service agents by name.

Ollie should have too much on her plate to find herself in the middle of a mystery. The White House Executive Chef is retiring, and Ollie is competing for the position, against a television chef who knows the First Lady. However, when her Secret Service boyfriend lies to her about the man on the lawn, she is just stubborn enough to poke around. She never expects to witness a murder at the merry-go-round on the Mall. Suddenly, Ollie's life becomes more complicated. In a brief week and a half, she has to help with a state dinner, keep the White House kitchen running smoothly despite stiff competition for the job she craves, and thwart an assassin who knows she saw him. It's not an easy job juggling the White House china.

Hyzy creates a likable heroine in the fun debut novel in the White House Chef Mystery series. The reader roots for Ollie's success, both as an amateur detective, and in her competition for the Executive Chef position. Julie Hyzy's new mystery is a fast-paced page turner. It's hard to believe Olivia Paras' story covers only a week and a half. However, it just might be one of the most important periods in White House history. Olivia Paras might have to save the country's good name, as well as the State of the Onion in the White House kitchen.

Julie Hyzy's website is

State of the Onion by Julie Hyzy. Berkley Prime Crime, ©2008. ISBN 978-0425218693 (paperback), 325p.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Through a Glass, Deadly

I wanted to read Sarah Atwell's debut mystery, Through a Glass, Deadly, because it was set in Tucson. However, if I had seen it in a bookstore, the gorgeous cover would have reached out and grabbed me. Atwell's story is as intriguing as the book cover.

Emmeline Dowell, Em, is a glassblower who runs a shop and teaches glassblowing lessons in Tucson's Warehouse District. She's a strong woman, a loner, but she collects strays, dogs and people. When Allison McBride shows up, alone, scared, and lying about her past, Em takes her in, feeds her, and offers her a job. Of course, that was all before Em finds Allison's husband, Jack Flannery, murdered, with his head stuffed in the glassblowing furnace. Em immediately flies into protective mode. And, when she can't stop the police and FBI from interviewing Allison, she decides to poke around. "If somebody died on my property, I felt I had every right to know why." She is protecting her good name and reputation, as well as her new friend.

When a little investigation leads to another murder, and a run in with the Irish Mob, Em and her brother, Cam, are in as much danger as Allison. But, Em digs in, and won't let go. Through a Glass, Deadly, gives Em Dowell the chance to show she's not as fragile as her glass.

However, "glass breaks if it has a flaw, and tension in the flaw." There is a jarring flaw in this book. In order for Em to find out what is happening, she's allowed to participate in Allison's interrogation. Sections of the book felt unrealistic because a civilian would not have been allowed to participate, even if she was the ex-lover of the police chief. More than once, the police in the book are made to appear incompetent.

Despite that major flaw, Through a Glass, Deadly, is a sparkling debut. The characters are captivating, particularly, Em. With a little polishing, Sarah Atwell's new glassblowing series will be a treasure.

Sarah Atwell's website is

Through a Glass, Deadly by Sarah Atwell. Berkley Prime Crime, ©2008. ISBN 978-0-425-22047-4 (paperback), 280p.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Louise Penny at The Poisoned Pen

Last night, I went to see Louise Penny at The Poisoned Pen. Louise is just as kind as her character, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache. She's warm and personable. Before the formal introduction, Louise went around to the audience, introduced herself, and spoke to each person. And, funny! She has a witty sense of humor, with no unkindness. The audience appreciated her warmth and style. With only one teen in the audience, Louise started by asking her age, and when she was told thirteen, she asked if she'd read Rick Riordan's mythological series, Percy Jackson and the Olympians. She made a connection with everyone in the room.

Barbara Peters, owner of The Poisoned Pen, held an interesting conversation with Louise Penny. In fact, she began by introducing her in French, and then explaining what she had said. Louise lives in a French village in Canada, about an hour and a quarter from Montreal. She said actually the English speakers and French speakers in Canada get along fine. It's only in politics that the English and French doesn't work.

Louise explained that Chief Inspector Armand Gamache could not be English. The major cities all have their own police forces, but in Quebec, the Sûreté investigates crime outside of the major cities. So, Penny's inspector had to be exotic and work for the Sûreté. It was the only way she could send him to villages, such as Three Pines, the setting of the series. Because Quebec follows the Napoleonic Code, they have different laws from the rest of Canada. The British Commonwealth stresses individual rights, while the French emphasize the common good, not individual rights. The audience laughed when Louise slyly said, "It's not really considered a crime to murder someone who is English."

Penny said she worked for twenty years as a journalist for the Canadian Broadcasting System. However, she got jaded and cynical, and started to see everything as dark. She was forty years old and had turned into a person she didn't like. She quit work, and her husband said the best thing he could have said to her. "If you want to quit work and write a book, I'll support you." She said that's right up there with I love you.

Barbara Peter talked about giving Louise Penny the Dilys Award last year for Still Life. The Dilys Award is for the mystery that independent booksellers most enjoyed selling. Louise said that was the first U.S. award she won. When she submitted Still Life, nobody wanted it. Fifty or sixty publishers rejected it. It was an international failure before it was accepted in the U.K. That's why her books come out in the U.K. first. When she submitted it in Canada, she was told nobody would be interested in a mystery set in Canada. Barbara talked about village mysteries, traditional mysteries set in villages, making a comeback. The popular mysteries from Scandinavia right now are set in villages. Village mysteries can be set anywhere, so there is no reason they can't be set in Canada.

Three Pines, the setting of Penny's books, might be referred to as mystical or mythical. It's an idyllic village, where villagers don't lock their doors. Louise commented that if they don't lock their doors by now, after the murders in three books, they deserve to be slaughtered. She said Gamache does investigations all over Quebec, and other cases are referred to in the books, but she writes about his cases in Three Pines. She's going to kill off as many people as she wants in the village. She said her next book is a shout out to Agatha
Christie, and her book, And Then There Were None. Gamache is at a remote lodge, celebrating his wedding anniversary, when he's called out to Three Pines. Book Five is set totally in Three Pines, and Book Six is set half in Three Pines and half in Quebec City during Carnival.

Louise said she had so much fun designing Three Pines. She wanted to create a sense of belonging, a place for friends, and a place not to be alone. It was a place she wanted to be. It's a place with friends, a bistro to eat at, a used bookstore, a bakery, a Bed and Breakfast, and a general store. She wants to bring in more of the permanent villagers in the books.

The reader also gets to see police politics as well. You get to know Gamache as a man of integrity, a kindly and good man. He makes conscious choices. The contrast is the internal Sûreté politics, and the Byzantine way in which they work out their differences.

Before she read from The Cruelest Month, Louise pulled out her handwritten notebook for her next book. Each book gets a notebook, with dividers for ideas, plots, quotes, and notes. Penny said the advice she gives new writers is to persevere. Believe in yourself, and keep sending the book out. She also advises them to read poetry.

She then summarized the beginning of The Cruelest Month. She researched to find out how late Easter could be because she wanted to set the book in late April. It's a transition month in which any weather could occur. That gives a feeling of unease, when you don't know what might happen.

She said the villagers have had better ideas than to hold a séance at the old Hadley House at night. When she read the séance scene from The Cruelest Month, the audience was totally absorbed. She's a terrific reader, and her pacing and emphasis had us hanging on her words, and laughing at the scene. She has a dramatic reading voice, and it was wonderful to hear it read in her Canadian accent. When Barbara asked her if she read her own recordings of the books, she said no, but said A Fatal Grace was just nominated for an Audie Award for best mystery, an award for audiobooks.

She said she thinks her biggest audience is in the States, just because of the sheer numbers. However, in Canada, she could feel the rise of popularity and awareness. With her third book, she appeared on the covers of magazines, and on news shows. She said for an author, she thinks the tipping point is when booksellers are asked for the book, not by the title, but with the question, "Do you have the latest Louise Penny?" That happens through word of mouth. With her first book, no one had read it. She said she was serious about word of mouth. When she picks up a new author, it's first because a friend recommends it. Second, is if a favorite bookseller recommends it. It's seldom a review that causes her to pick up a book.

Louise said she reads poetry, which needs to be read aloud. When asked if she reads her own books aloud to see how they sound, she said no. Her editor suggests it, but she's resistant. She does do a lot of editing. She loves editing. She said things do become clear when you read it aloud. She thinks she's just lazy. She took one of those personality tests in a woman's magazine, and her overriding personality trait is sloth.

When asked about Clara and her artistic career, and her relationship with Peter, Louise said Clara's career in on the ascendancy. Readers will see her career in subsequent books.

Someone mentioned how rude the villagers can be to each other. However, they love each other. They're diverse characters. Ruth's poetry is actually Margaret Atwood's from a book called Morning In The Burned House.

One audience member said her books are positive books, with positive people who have a benevolent view of the world. She was asked how she maintains that positive view. Louise said she has a keen sense of gratitude. She has a genuine understanding of how fortunate she is, and that she's being blessed.

Most of the people in Three Pines are wounded when they arrive there. It's really only found when it's needed. Three Pines is a state of mind inside all of us. Barbara, and others, mentioned places such as Brigadoon, Shangri-La, and Narnia. People choose to go there because they need to be there.

She said if there's a fear of loneliness and loss, the fears grow into terror. When you let it go, you can see goodness exists. The books are about love and friendship. Still Life is about choice. A Fatal Grace is about belief, becoming what we love, and the third book, The Cruelest Month, is about redemption.

Louise said she can be lazy, but she's a person of extremes. She's extremely disciplined when writing. She gets a book written from January to June by writing 1,000 to 2,000 words a day. She does nothing in the summer, lies by the pool with the dogs, watches TV and eats gummy bears.

I thought the nicest thing she could have said was that Gamache is her husband, Michael. She sees Gamache as a father figure, similar to Ben Cartwright or Walter Cronkite. She was influenced by them.

She said traditional mysteries aren't fashionable right now. But she's writing to her interest. Barbara Peters said traditional mysteries might reappear soon because they're cyclical. She said genre fiction goes through cycles, and it's time for something fresh. Mysteries were popular in the '90s, and now thrillers are popular. But, the classic form still works.

Louise said she's judging Best First Novel for the Ellis Awards right now. The awards are named for Arthur Ellis, the name always used for Canada's executioners, so they could remain anonymous. The award itself is a hanged man. She said there's been discussion as to whether or not books were actually mysteries when they read more like literary fiction. They're not classic crime fiction. Barbara said she felt the difference is that crime fiction has a story, and literary fiction often doesn't have a story. The name crime fiction embraces thrillers and all manner of mysteries.

It was so nice to finally meet Louise Penny. She hugged me, held my hands, and thanked me for the support from the very beginning. In emailing friends today, who met her last night at The Poisoned Pen, we all agreed we wanted to be Louise Penny's friend, and spend time in Three Pines with her.

Louise Penny's website is

Her blog is at

Winners of A Beautiful Blue Death

Congratulations to the winners of the copies of Charles Finch's A Beautiful Blue Death. The autographed copy will go to Bonnie C. in Wewahitchka, FL, and the ARC will go to Ruth B. in Winchester, VA. I'll put them in the mail today.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Baby Shark's High Plains Redemption

Robert Fate's first book, Baby Shark, has been optioned for a film. That film company better find the right actress soon, because Fate's third book, Baby Shark's High Plains Redemption, is another action-packed, page turner. His fast moving crime novel is as vivid and colorful as any movie.

In the third book in his hard-hitting series, Fate dumps Kristin Van Dijk (Baby Shark), and her partner, Otis Millett, into the middle of a bootleggers' fight. As usual, the two private investigators accepted a simple job that escalated into disaster.

Otis accepted a job to rescue Savannah Smike, a redheaded piano player who had been kidnapped from her boss and boyfriend, a bootlegger named Travis Horner. When Kristin interrupted at the tavern, she found a beat-up Otis, and a young woman who didn't seem to be all there mentally. Suddenly, everything falls apart as one group of gunmen after another appear. It takes everything she has for Kristin to rescue Savannah and Otis. When they finally get Savannah home, they discover she's the daughter of Bull Smike, a powerful bootlegger in his own right. Otis and Kristin are suddenly targets, although they're not quite sure why someone is out to get them. The two detectives earn every penny, as they fend off hired killers.

Kristin knows she has a brutal, vicious job, one that most other women couldn't handle. However, after the murder of her pool hustler father, and her own rape, she had vowed she would never be a victim again. She has a hard time resolving her feelings for a police officer with her job. She says, "We work on the edge of the law...It gets blurry out there where Otis and I deal with things." Kristin Van Dijk is a killer with a conscience. She's a strong young woman, who kills a man who beat her up, and then examines her ruined suede purse. "I didn't know why I ever thought I could have anything nice." There's always a sly humor in Kristin's world, despite its cruel nature.

In 1957, Oklahoma is a dry state, where bootleggers pay off the "three P's," police, politicians and preachers. It's a violent time, one that comes to life as a visual treat. Fate vividly describes the Friday Night Fights, with its crowds, sexy women and well-dressed men, and smoke filled room. His descriptions of the cars, the roads, and the people, paints a picture of Texas and Oklahoma in the 1950s. And, Baby Shark's return to the pool halls to deal with the killers on her own turf, is a riveting account.

Baby Shark's High Plains Redemption marks Kristin's welcome return, along with her "family," Otis, Henry and her dog, Jim. It's a powerful story that examines a vicious part of American history. Baby Shark continues the fight against dangerous men, in an intense novel that never lets up its blistering pace.

Robert Fate's website is

Baby Shark's High Plains Redemption by Robert Fate. Capital Crime Press, ©2008. ISBN 978-0-9799960-2-3 (paperback), 288p.

Contest for Autographed Books - Hellmann & Black

When I announced last week's contest, for two copies of Charles Finch's A Beautiful Blue Death, I forgot I wouldn't be home on Thursday night. I'll have Jim pick the winners on Friday morning, and I'll announce them at that time, and mail them then.

However, I don't want to keep you in suspense as to this week's contest. I'm offering two books this week from authors I met this week. Cara Black, Libby Fischer Hellmann and Sharan Newman all gave me autographed copies to offer as prizes. This week, I'll offer the first two. Sharan's will be offered next week, along with another book.

Easy Innocense is a dark story by Libby Fischer Hellmann. Private investigator Georgia Davis uncovers a case in the wealthy Chicago suburbs. What do teenage girls do to make enough money to be part of the in crowd? It might be worse than you think.

Cara Black's latest Aimée Leduc mystery is Murder in the Rue de Paradis. When her
lover is murdered, Aimée searches for answers in Paris' Little Istanbul district. She's soon embroiled in trouble right out of today's political turmoil.

So, do you want to win an autographed copy of Cara Black's Murder in the Rue de Paradis or Libby Fischer Hellmann's Easy Innocence? If you'd like to enter for both books, please send two emails. Email me at Email me!. If that link doesn't work for you, the email address is: Your subject line should read Win Rue de Paradis or Win Easy Innocence. Your message should include your mailing address. Entrants only in the U.S., please.

The contest will end Thursday, March 20 at 6 p.m. PT. Jim will draw the winners at that time. The winners will be notified, and the books will go out in the mail the next morning. Good luck!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Libby Fischer Hellmann, Cara Black and Sharan Newman at the Tempe Public Library

It was a treat to go to Tempe Public Library to hear and meet three authors yesterday. In fact, I met Libby Fischer Hellmann, Cara Black and Sharan Newman in Tempe Connections Cafe, and talked with them for about twenty minutes before their actual appearance for the library. Sharan Newman is definitely a researcher. She spent most of that time asking about me and my blog, and I didn't get the opportunity to ask them many questions.

After introductions to the audience, Libby acted as moderator, and asked the other authors to talk about their current books. Sharan Newman said The Shanghai Tunnel is a departure for her. She has been a medieval historian since the early 70's. Her earlier books are set in 12th century Paris or early England. She said she had ranted and raved against Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, until finally she sold a proposal in three days to write The Real Story Behind the Da Vinci Code. She's now written another nonfiction book, The Real Story Behind the Templars to show the actual history of the Templars. She became interested in the history of Portland, Oregon when she read about a Chinese cemetary from the late 1800s that was found under a road. In fact, people can tour the Shanghai tunnels. She researched the shipping industry in the late 1860s, and had to go out and learn something out of her medieval field. She researched in the city archives and the private collections at Reed College. In fact, she admitted she gets carried away when talking about her research.

Cara Black is married to a bookseller in San Francisco , and has a son who is a freshman in college. She talked about her mystery series, set in Paris, featuring Aimée Leduc, who is half American and half French, and has a penchant for bad boys. The series is set in the mid-90s. Aimée's partner is a dwarf and a computer hacker. The series begins in 1993, and is now up to August 1995. That period was a fascinating period in French history. There was an airliner hijacked in Marseille. The government had to come back from vacation to deal with it. The country that had been a shelter for immigrants experienced a period of unrest. Cara uses that unrest as a background for her latest book, Murder in the Rue de Paradis. Aimée, who is unlucky in love, has just returned from a boring date when investigative reporter, Yves, returns from Egypt, and proposes. She accepts, but her short engagement ends in tragedy.

Libby Fischer Hellman said her new book is her fifth novel. She writes a series featuring Ellie Foreman, a single mother whose mysteries are part "Desperate Housewives" and part "24". Those mysteries have some humor. One character in that series, Georgia Davis, is a cop who captured Libby's attention. She's the dark to Ellie's light.

Easy Innocence is Georgia's own book. It was a book started from fear. Hellmann's daughter had just started high school, and Libby was just recently separated. She knew about the hazing incident that had happened in a suburb of Chicago, one that involved a number of girls. She thought, what if a girl was murdered during that hazing? She knew how great the peer pressure was on kids who lived on Chicago's wealthy North Shore. What do you do if you can't afford everything, and want to fit in? Easy Innocence is about what girls do to get money to get acceptance by their peers. Libby said it's based on the truth. It's a dark book. Libby wanted to write about Georgia, but knew she couldn't write a police procedural because she didn't have the background. So, Georgia was suspended from the police force at the end of the third book in the Ellie Foreman series. She's now a private investigator. Ellie does make a cameo appearance in Easy Innocence.

Libby asked the other writers what came as a surprise to them in writing this book. Sharan said when researching The Shanghai Tunnel she was surprised how many conveniences there were in Portland in the 1860s. In contrast to the city where they discussed whether to use macadam on the roads, there were still bears in the woods nearby.

Cara said while investigating the Turkish community of Little Istanbul in Paris, she discovered that the Kurdish Cultural Institute was just around the corner. Knowing that the Kurds and Turks usually don't get along, she was intrigued.

Hellmann noted that crime fiction is a great platform for exploring politics and social issues while still including suspense in a book that keeps you up at night. They all agreed that credibility is important. Libby said she does ten times as much research as she actually uses in her books. Cara said she has a friend who is a retired French police officer who helps her. When asked why, he said he wants her to get it right. She may spend days doing research and talking to people, and it ends up in three lines. But, she now can make files of her research and keep it on the computer for future reference.

According to Sharan, sometimes her research exposes errors made in other books. She mentioned her book, The Truth Behind the Da Vinci Code. Sometimes she's found errors in her own books, and had to change plots when she found out the facts were wrong. She said people remember better when they learn from fiction, so it's better to get it right. You have to get it right when you know the truth, even if you're the only one who knows it.

Libby asked, why do they write, and why crime fiction.

Cara responded, she came from a Francophile family. Her father loved good food and wine. He had gout and was proud of it. She went to French schools, and learned archaic French from the nuns. She found that out when a kindly man in France told her the words she was using hadn't been used in centuries. She lived in Switzerland for a while. In 1984 she went back to France, and friend took her to the Jewish ghetto. She said that was where her mother had lived. At age fourteen, during the French Occupation, she came home from school, and found her entire family gone. The concierge allowed her to live in the apartment for one year, and fed her. After the occupation, she stood with others, holding a sign saying, "Have you seen my family?" A former neighbor said she had seen her sister getting on a train in Auschwitz. Ten years after that conversation with her friend, Cara went back to France. She wanted to tell the story about a young child during the Occupation, and decided to tell it as a detective story. It took her three years to write the story set in Paris.

Libby said she started writing fiction ten or eleven years ago. She had written nonfiction, but she read espionage, Len Deighton, John le Carré. After her father died, she went into her basement, and three months later emerged with her first mystery novel. It was lousy, and is locked away. However, she got an agent in New York, who couldn't sell it. He told her she needed a new character, a new plot, and a new agent, and he quit. She learned the value of writing short stories, though. She wrote one set in the 1930s in a Jewish suburb of Chicago. An undercurrent in that story led to the character of Ellie Foreman, and her first published book. There are four books in that series.

Sharan's three younger sisters take credit for her writing. She made up stories to entertain them. At twenty-three, she wrote her first novel, a young adult novel that grew from an academic paper. She went on to say there are writers, and people who want to say they've written a book. A real writer is obsessed with getting it down, not even willingly at times.

Cara agreed, and said she will sit at the computer for hours, and obsess over the right adjective. Libby said she works at it, and always second guesses herself. Cara said she took a class for poetry writing in which people obsessed over commas and metaphors. She said mystery writers are jugglers, of dialogue, characters, plot and red herrings.

Libby Hellmann said she likes editing. When she edited the anthology, Chicago Blues, she felt very confident. She mentioned that "Blue Note," Stuart Kaminsky's story in the book, was nominated for an Edgar.

They were all asked about their characters when an audience member said, Sharan said she was in love with Solomon, one of her characters. You all talk as if your characters were real. Sharan responded that characters do unexpected things. Cara agreed, and said she had a killer change on her. They all agreed that killers may change as they write.

Libby asked about outlining, and Sharan said she takes notes, but doesn't outline. She researches and absorbs things, but doesn't outline. She writes by the seat of her pants. Cara starts with place. She looks for a place to speak to her. What kind of crime would take place there? What would Aimée be doing there? She reported that Peter Lovesey outlines with hundreds of pages, and then takes two to three months to write the book.

Libby responded, "If I outline, why write the book?" It would be stale by then. Once you're in the character's head, they lead the way. Ellie is the light side; Georgia the dark.

Cara writes in alternate viewpoints. While her son was young, she wrote in sweats, and drove carpools. Writing was a way to get out of yourself and go somewhere else. She escaped to Paris.

They were all asked, what did you think you'd do when you grew up? Sharan wanted to be an archeologist, but her allergies were too bad. So, she went into history. Cara wanted to be Eloise from the children's books. Then, she wanted to be Christine Amanpour, an investigative reporter. Libby wanted to be a filmmaker, and has a degree in film. However, as a writer, she has complete control, unlike in films.

They closed by telling what they were working on. Cara said Aimée finally goes to the Left Bank in a book scheduled for March 2009, Murder in the Latin Quarter. Sharan is working on a couple nonfiction proposals, and a sequel to The Shanghai Tunnel. In that one, a Chinese widow comes to Portland, and discovers what a bad man her husband really was. Libby's next book is a standalone thriller, Set the Night on Fire. It's set in the period of the 1960s that begins at the Democratic convention in Chicago and goes through Kent State.

Libby Fischer Hellman, Cara Black, and Sharan Newman are all passionate about their work. If you get the opportunity to hear any of them, grab it. Thank you to all three of them for the time they gave me. It was a pleasure meeting all of you.


Personal notes: Yes, I have a picture of Sharan Newman, but she asked that I use the book cover instead.

And, thank you to all three writers, who donated copies of their recent books and autographed them so I can offer them in future contests. Check out the cover of Cara Black's new book. She took the photograph used on the jacket.

Libby Hellman is a terrific moderator. If you need a panel moderator, you won't go wrong in asking her.

It's wonderful to see how authors support each other. Despite her busy schedule, Donis Casey, author of The Drop Edge of Yonder, was in the audience. It was nice to talk to Donis again.

And, thank you to librarian and mystery fan, Patti O'Brien, who attended and went to dinner with me. It's always fun, Patti!

Libby Fischer Hellmann's website is

Easy Innocence by Libby Fischer Hellmann. Bleak House Books, ©2008. ISBN 978-1932557695 (hardcover), 396p.

Chicago Blues - editor Libby Fischer Hellman. Bleak House Books, ©2007. ISBN 978-1932557497 (paperback), 424p.

Cara Black's website is

Murder in the Rue de Paradis by Cara Black. Soho Press, Inc. ©2008. ISBN 978-1569474747 (hardcover), 305p.

Sharan Newman's website is

The Shanghai Tunnel by Sharan Newman. Forge Books, ©2008. ISBN 978-0765313003 (hardcover), 336p.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Left Coast Crime - Award Winners

Congratulations to the winners of the awards presented at Left Coast Crime this weekend.

William Kent Krueger, THUNDER BAY - winner of the Dilys Award for the book independent booksellers most enjoyed selling over the past year.

Elaine Viets, MURDER WITH RESERVATIONS - winner of the Lefty Award for the most humorous mystery published in 2007.

Margaret Coel, THE GIRL WITH BRAIDED HAIR - winner of the Rocky Award for the best mystery set in the Left Coast Crime geographical region in 2007.

Rhys Bowen, HER ROYAL SPYNESS - winner of the Arty Award for best cover art on a mystery novel published in 2007.

Congratulations to the winners, and the nominees.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Zoë Sharp on Fiction Nation

If you have XM radio, don't miss the chance to hear Zoë Sharp this weekend on Fiction Nation. Sharp, the author of Second Shot: A Charlie Fox Thriller, will be interviewed by Kim Alexander, host of Fiction Nation. That's this week on Fiction Nation, on Take Five, XM 155 on Saturday March 8th at 6pm, on Sunday March 9th at 10:00am and 8:00pm, and on Monday, March 10th at 12:00 midnight and 3:00am. You can also hear Fiction Nation on Sonic Theater, XM 163, on Thursday, March 13th 2008 at 3:00pm. All times EST.

If you don't have XM Radio, next week you'll be able to read the interview on Fiction Nation's site,

Zoë Sharp's website is

Jane Cleland's site for antique lovers

Jane Cleland, author of the Josie Prescott antiques mysteries, has a website that antique lovers might really enjoy. While waiting for the next book in the series, Antiques to Die For, you might want to play "What's It Worth? You Be the Judge." How are your skills in determining the price of antiques?

Jane's website is

Winners & A Beautiful Blue Death contest

Well, the modem at home failed last night, so I'm a little late announcing the winners of the last contest. Congratulations to Sherry M. of Carrollton, TX and Amanda K. from Ft. Wayne, IN. They'll both received autographed copies of Knee High by the Fourth of July by Jess Lourey.

This week, an Agatha Award Nominee has provided an autographed copy of the book that's up for an award. Charles Finch sent a hardcover copy of A Beautiful Blue Death, which has been nominated as Best First Novel. The book is "Equal parts Sherlock Holmes, Gosford Park, and P.G. Wodehouse," introducing a Victorian gentleman, Charles Lenox, as the detective, and his friend, Lady Jane. I also have an ARC of the book to give away.

The winner of the autographed book will be selected at random. If you'd like to win either copy of A Beautiful Blue Death, email me at Email me!. If that link doesn't work for you, the email address is: Your subject line should read Win Blue Death. Your message should include your mailing address. Entrants only in the U.S., please.

The contest will end Thursday, March 13 at 6 p.m. PT. Jim will draw the winners at that time. The winners will be notified, and the books will go out in the mail the next morning. Good luck!

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

The Cruelest Month

There are very few books that I linger over so I can hold onto them, and savor every word. Louise Penny's mysteries are always that satisfying, and her latest, The Cruelest Month, is no exception.

The third book in Penny's Inspector Armand Gamache series takes the reader and Gamache back to Three Pines, a small village in Quebec. This time, the setting is springtime, beginning with Good Friday. It seems to be an enchanted time of Easter egg hunts, flowers and eggs hatching, until a psychic comes to town, and a séance is planned. The local poet gives a word of warning, a foreshadowing that hangs over the entire book. "Not everything that rises up is a miracle. Not everything that comes back to life is meant to." And, when the first séance fails, and the next one is moved to the old Hadley house, a scene of kidnapping and murder, the foreboding sense grows worse.

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, head of the homicide team, returns to Three Pines, and the scene of previous violence, when a woman dies at the Hadley house. He needs to answer the question, "Is it possible to be scared to death?" Once again, he must probe into the lives of the villagers, questioning and listening carefully, to uncover treachery and betrayal. And, once again, he's forced to confront his own past, a case that once tore the Sûreté, the police force, apart. He finds his own story running parallel with his investigation, another story of deception, treachery and betrayal.

Louise Penny is a master storyteller. Three Pines is a living village, a warm, peaceful place despite the emotions that occasionally disrupt it, tearing it apart. Anyone would want to hang out at the bistro or the local bookstore. Penny's characters come to life as people the reader would like to know - Gamache, the artist, Clara Morrow, and the poet, Ruth Zardo. There's humor, love, and betrayal, in every one of Penny's mysteries. Readers of traditional mysteries will relish the return of familiar characters, and the charming village. Despite the setting and characters, though, these books are serious studies of human behavior, with all the petty jealousies, longings and emotions. In each book, Penny skillfully weaves Gamache's career storyline into the story of murders in Three Pines.

The Cruelest Month, although not the last book in the series, brings Gamache back to Three Pines at a time of crisis in his own career. She starts at Three Pines with a story that takes the villagers to the old Hadley house for a scene that builds emotional tension. And, Gamache returns to the house for an intense scene that affects his entire career. If you haven't yet read any of Penny's award-winning mysteries, you're missing the works of a master.

Louise Penny's website is And, don't miss her blog. Her blog is as beautifully written as her mysteries.

The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny. St. Martin's Minotaur, ©2007. ISBN 978-0-312-35257-8 (hardcover), 320p.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Interview with Betty Webb

I just finished Desert Cut, the latest Lena Jones mystery. It's a very powerful story, as are some of Betty Webb's earlier books in the series. I feel so honored that Betty agreed to answer some questions about her books.

Lesa - Betty, would you tell us about Lena, her background, and some of her past cases?

Betty - Lena was found at the age of four, lying beside a Phoenix roadway, with a bullet in her head. When she emerged from her coma, she couldn't remember her name, who shot her, or who her parents were - total amnesia. The name "Lena Jones" was given to her by a social worker. Because of behavior problems, Lena wasn't deemed a candidate for adoption, so she was placed in the foster care system. Some were okay, but in at least one, she was beaten and raped. She eventually became a Scottsdle police officer, but after being shot up in a botched drug raid, she opened up her own private investigation business. Since her emergence in "Desert Noir," where her best friend - an art dealer - was murdered, she has gone on to investigate a polygamy compound in "Desert Wives," the niche publishing industry in "Desert Shadows," the real-life escape of German prisoners of war in "Desert Run" (a cold case file), and now a particularly hideous form of child abuse in "Desert Cut."

Lesa - You were a journalist before you turned to writing mysteries. How does your background impact the Lena Jones books?

Betty - Being a journalist gave me instant access to "hidden" stories, stories which were deemed too hot to handle by most industries. Also, my background as a journalist gave me terrific research skills - and the ability to know when someone was lying to me.

Lesa - Tell us about this latest Lena Jones book, "Desert Cut."

Betty - In "Desert Cut," Lena discovers a small town with a big secret. Los Perdidos, in Southern Arizona, has a large immigrant population, but not merely Hispanics. As has been happening in states all around the U.S., African and Middle Eastern immigrants have been brought in to provide cheap labor, but this clash of cultures turns out to be explosive.

Lesa - Your books have very powerful statements to make about social issues such as polygamy. Does fiction allow you to do more with social issues than journalism did?

Betty - Weirdly enough, yes. No one was writing about polygamy before "Desert Wives" came out, but a few months after it hit the bookstores, everybody and his dog was writing about it. And I am proud to say that "Desert Wives" played a major part in getting the law about polygamy changed here in Arizona. Before "Desert Wives," our legislature saw polygamy as a freedom of religion issue; after "Desert Wives," they could no longer turn their back on the rampant incest and child rape in the compounds, as well as the millions of dollars of welfare fraud the "prophets" were enjoying. I'm hoping for the same result with "Desert Cut."

Lesa - Lena's stories are set in Arizona. You seem to have a love/hate relationship with the state, its history, and its present. How do you actually see Arizona?

Betty - I've lived in Arizona since 1982, and during that time, I've seen the beautiful raped by developers. Gorgeous desert vistas are now covered in strip malls and housing developments. I spend a lot of time grinding my teeth about it.

Lesa - Am I correct in that you're starting another series? What can you tell us about it?

Betty - Yes, and believe it or not, it's a "traditional" mystery (otherwise known as a cozy). I'm a volunteer at the Phoenix Zoo, and one day, when I was working with the monkeys, I thought, "You know, there's got to be a book in this." So I wrote one. The first book in the new series is "The Anteater of Death," and it's set in a coastal California zoo, where a dead man turns up in the anteater enclosure. The anteater was framed! My sleuth in this series is Teddy, a poor little rich girl who has rebelled against her wealthy family by taking a job as a zookeeper. "The Anteater of Death" is due out in March '09, and there'll be another book every year in the series, featuring a different animal. Oh, and by the way, those books will be released under the pen name of Jo Howell.

Lesa - You won't leave Lena's fans hanging, will you? What are the plans for more Lena Jones books?

Betty - As of this point, there are 5 more books planned, and yes, in the 10th book, Lena will discover EVERYTHING about her mysterious past. But the series just might not stop there. What she discovers won't exactly set her anxieties to rest!

Lesa - As a librarian, I always end my interviews with a question about libraries. Betty, do you have any stories about the role libraries played in your life or career?

Betty - Wow, where to begin? Ever since I learned how to read at the tender age of 3 1/2, librarians have been my major role models. One even let me sneak books out of the adult section when I was only 10. Bless her! No matter where I lived, librarians always took me under their wings, told me what books I should be reading, what I might find too silly for words, and - during my current incarnation as a mystery novelist - helped me with my research. Librarians are angels, every last one of them.

Lesa - Thank you so much, Betty, for the interview, and the Lena Jones books.

Betty Webb's website is

Desert Cut by Betty Webb. Poisoned Pen Press, ©2008. ISBN 978-1590584910 (hardcover), 277p.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Desert Cut

Betty Webb, author of Desert Wives, a mystery that exposed polygamy in Arizona, has written another powerful mystery, Desert Cut. I was shocked and outraged, and most readers will be horrified when they read Webb's story, one that exposes a cruel practice affecting millions of girls.

Lena Jones was scouting movie locations in southern Arizona, when she uncovered the mutilated body of a young black girl. The child's body brought back Lena's memories of her own haunted childhood. As an ex-cop and private investigator, she was determined to find answers to the death of the young girl dubbed "Precious".

However, Lena met resistance in the small town of Los Perdidos. After discovering that another young girl had disappeared, she found a town sheltering refugees from Somalia, Egypt and other countries in Africa and the Mideast. Lena encountered a charlatan running a non-denominational church, two child predators, and a culture of racism in a town symbolic of Arizona's past and present history. The sheriff is convinced that Lena has stirred up the community, when two more girls disappear, and vigilante justice turns to murder.

Although Lena Jones seems unnaturally obsessed with a case that she hasn't been hired to investigate, Webb reveals enough of Lena's childhood that the reader accepts that obsession. She takes child abuse personally because of her own background. She's the victim of a gunshot wound from a mother who disappeared and left her to make her way through a series of foster homes.

Once again, Betty Webb paints a picture of Arizona as a beautiful state, with a violent past, and, at times, a violent present. Her journalistic background allows her to rip a brutal, tragic story from the newspaper. Her skills as a mystery writer allow her to tell that story through the eyes of Lena Jones, a woman whose heart bleeds for innocent children. Desert Cut is a story that should be read by anyone concerned with human rights, and the rights of children.

Betty Webb's website is

Desert Cut by Betty Webb. Poisoned Pen Press, ©2008. ISBN 978-1590584910 (hardcover), 277p.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

April Treasures in My Closet and Possible Bestsellers

There are a few guaranteed bestsellers coming out in April, but there are also some fun mysteries and a book by one of my favorite authors. First, the treasures in my closet, a collection of mysteries to be published in April.

What's in my closet right now? What's better for a librarian or reader than the first book in a new series, "A Booktown Mystery"? Murder is Binding is the first in Lorna Barrett's new series. Tricia Miles moved to Stoneham, New Hampshire to open a mystery bookstore. When she finds a body in a cookbook store, she realizes competition can be deadly.

Antiques appraiser Josie Prescott returns in Jane K. Cleland's latest mystery, Antiques to Die For. New Hampshire seems to be a hot bed of crime, as that's the setting for this book, in which Josie searches for a treasure for the bereaved sister of a murdered friend.

Air Force wife, Ellie Avery, is the right woman to clean up Washington, D.C. when she arrives as a tourist in Sara Rosett's new book, Getting Away Is Deadly. A pregnant wife shouldn't have to deal with murder in the nation's capital.

In Dorothy Cannell's Goodbye, Ms. Chips, Ellie Haskell finds herself tracking a murderer at her old boarding school.

Retired NYPD officer and PI Moe Prager trails graverobbers and his family secrets in Reed Farrel Coleman's Empty Ever After.

Nicci French hands Nina Landry a mother's worse nightmare in the thriller, Losing You. No one believes her when her fifteen-year-old daughter disappears, and Nina knows something is wrong.

Easy Innocence, Libby Fischer Hellman's latest book, takes former cop, and now PI, Georgia Davis into a dark world in Chicago, where preppy schoolgirls have learned how much their innocence is worth.

Rural Minnesota is the setting for Deputy Billy Lafitte's disaster, tracking a cell of terrorists, with a severed head in his truck's cab. Yellow Medicine by Anthony Neil Smith takes the lawman from Mississippi into an unfamiliar world.

If you're not interested in mystery treasures, check out the novels that should hit the bestseller lists. David Baldacci is back with The Whole Truth, in which a journalist and a man who only desires peace collide with a defense contractor. Jim Butcher brings back Harry Dresden in Small Favor: A Novel of the Dresden Files. Mab, ruler of the Winter Court, is calling in her marker, and Harry's favor traps him in a nightmare. LAPD Detective Milo Sturgis teams up with psychologist Alex Delaware to deal with a crafty killer in Jonathan Kellerman's Compulsion. What would a month be without a book by James Patterson? Sundays at Tiffany's reunites a lonely woman with her imaginary childhood friend. Ed Eagle's life is in danger when his murderous wife escapes police custody in Stuart Woods' Santa Fe Dead.

And, if you're not interested in mysteries or the typical books that hit the bestseller lists, try a book by one of my favorite authors. Searching for Paradise in Parker, PA is Kris Radish's novel about Addy Lipton's crusade to make some changes in her life, and revive her dreams.

April certainly shouldn't be a boring month for anyone who loves books. Now is the time to request these books at your local public library, or order them from your favorite bookstore.