Thursday, July 31, 2008

Winners and Give Me an L Contest

Congratulations to the winners of the ARCs of Denise Hamilton's The Last Embrace. Both copies are heading to Missouri. Kimmy L. in Portageville will receive one, and Caryn St. C. in St. Louis. I'll put them in the mail on Saturday.

This week, it's a give me an L contest, since I didn't really want to say, give me a Jon. I have an ARC of Jon Land's The Seven Sins. Michael Tiranno, owner of The Seven Sins, the grandest casino in Las Vegas, has secrets that he's gone to great lengths to portect. When an unknown enemy threatens everything he built, he and his attorney must tear open his secrets to discover their foe.

Or, you could win High Season by Jon Loomis. It's the debut of the
Frank Coffin series, set in Cape Cod. Coffin returned to Provincetown, Massachusetts to take the job as sheriff. He didn't need a vacationing TV evangelist to be found strangled and dressed in full drag. Now he has to catch a killer, while the body count rises.

So, The Seven Sins or High Season? If you'd like to win one, email me at Email me!. If that link doesn't work for you, the email address is: Your subject line should read Win The Seven Sins or High Season. You can enter twice, once for each title. Your message should include your mailing address. Entrants only in the U.S., please.

The contest will end Thursday, August 7 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 on Friday. Good luck!

Literary Cats

It all started with Dickens. At eight years old, he's not my oldest cat, but he was our first literary cat. He was part of a litter born behind a small lawyer's bookcase in our bedroom in Florida. When the kittens were a little older, his mother moved them to the bookcase in Jim's den. He was my literary kitten, named after Charles Dickens.

Recently, Nikki has shown a great deal of interest in books. For some reason, she found Reeve Lindbergh's Forward From Here : Leaving Middle Age--and Other Unexpected Adventures to be attractive. She'll only be four in November, so it can't be the subject matter. She must like Reeve Lindbergh's writing as much as I do.

And, then last night, the little one thought he'd get into the act. I'm now taking part in Amazon's Vine Program, reviewing books. I was so excited when I received The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. As you can see, Josh was equally pleased. He's only one, but we're already turning him into a literary cat.

How about you? Any literary cats in your life?

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Beneath a Buried House

Bob Avey is on a blog tour this month, and today's my day to review his latest book. Beneath a Buried House is just a creepy book. It's a police procedural, but the eerie atmosphere of this book makes it an unusual police procedural, and the detective is eerie himself.

Tulsa Police Detective Kenny Elliot works on instinct and feeling more than other cops do. He's intuitive, and a little unorthodox. That's why no one in the police department knows exactly how to work with him, including his superiors. That's why he knows the lead singer in a rock band had something to do with his girlfriend's death, and knows the man has a hidden weapon when the cops try to talk to him. That scene is a powerful introduction to Elliot.

After wrapping that up, though, he's sent to investigate a death of a transient. However, it doesn't feel right to Elliot, and, before they know it, Elliot has connected the death of a prostitute, a local bar, a missing man, a fifteen-year-old crime, and a cult in a "time-bypassed" neighboring town. Beneath a Buried House brings the occult and mysticism to the world of crime fiction. It all adds up to a creepy crime novel, with an atmosphere heavy with tension and foreboding.

My complaints about this book lie with the publisher, Deadly Niche Press. The book is so tightly bound that it's hard to read. I had to hold the book open with both hands, and it still was tight and difficult to hold. And, it definitely needed a better editing job. The errors, missed words, and an occasional misspelling, such as manger instead of manager, appeared to be editing problems, not the author's problems.

However, if you're looking for a police procedural that departs from the ordinary, check out Beneath a Buried House.

Bob Avey's website is

Beneath a Buried House by Bob Avey. Deadly Niche Press, ©2008. ISBN 9780937660812 (paperback), 228p.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

How Dolly Parton Saved My Life: A Novel of the Jelly Jar Sisterhood

I'm a sucker for books about a group of women, and their friendship. Charlotte Connors introduces us to four women in How Dolly Parton Saved My Life: A Novel of the Jelly Jar Sisterhood. These are four women with very little in common when the book starts. It's fun to watch them come together.

Each of the four women has a chance to tell her story, beginning with Josephine (Jo) Vann. Jo is the Junior League wife, mother of two. It's her idea to start a company that caters to her friends. She wants to build a catering business made up of successful, independent women who put families first.

Jo reluctantly takes on a partner, Ellie Howell-Routledge, the wealthy daughter of an African American power family in Atlanta. Ellie, who has twins, thinks Jo is just a little stiff, and doesn't know the real reason for Jo's reluctance to work with her.

Daisy, a single mother, is a renowned pastry chef. She was a teenage mother, and has a math whiz teenage daughter. She's also the one whose role model is Dolly Parton, an independent woman who charges through life with gusto.

And, Cate, who has recently broken up with her boyfriend of eight years, brings her background in interior desing into the company. She'll handle bookings, themes, and decorations.

These four women form Jelly Jar Catering, a company where they can bring kids to work, and be successful. However, it's difficult to build a successful business, and, at times, it's even more difficult to build successful friendships.

How Dolly Parton Saved My Life is a little superficial, and doesn't go into as much detail as most readers would like. In fact, Jo and Ellie, who, as owners of the business, should be the primary characters, are not developed as well as they should be, and their motivations are not always evident. Ellie and her feelings seem to be glossed over at times. Daisy is the saving grace of the entire story. She brings the women together, and she shines as a character. More than any other, it's Daisy I'd like to see more of in any future Jelly Jar Sisterhood novels.

It's an enjoyable book, but with better character development, How Dolly Parton Saved My Life, could be a much stronger book.

How Dolly Parton Saved My Life: A Novel of the Jelly Jar Sisterhood by Charlotte Connors. Broadway Books, ©2008. ISBN 9780767926560 (paperback), 304p.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Interview with Meg Waite Clayton

Meg Waite Clayton just returned from her book tour for The Wednesday Sisters, so it was very nice of her to find time to squeeze in this interview. Thank you, Meg!

Lesa - Some of my readers may be unfamiliar with you. Would you tell us a little about yourself?

Meg - I'm one of those lawyer-turned-writers you read about, with the twist that I don't write legal thrillers. My second novel, The Wednesday Sisters, which was published by Ballantine Books just over a month ago, is already a national bestseller and in its third printing. My first, The Language of Light, was a finalist for the Bellwether Prize, an award created by Barbara Kingsolver to support meaningful literature. I've also published stories and essays in magazines like Writer's Digest and Runners' World, and in literary magazines like Shenandoah, Other Voices, and The Virginia Quarterly Review that help writers like me get a foot in the publishing door.

Lesa - What led you to writing, Meg?

Meg - Growing up (isn't that where all dreams start?), I was a huge reader. I dreamed of writing books like A Wrinkle in Time. But I thought writing novels meant being able to leap tall literary buildings in single bounds. The adults I knew were businessmen - not even business women; the "ladies" were moms and teachers and nuns. Even a girl going to law school was a stretch. My husband , Mac, was the first adult to whom I admitted my childhood aspirations to write, and he gave me a great big push. He said, basically, "Your dream, Meg. How will you ever know unless you try?"

Lesa - Would you give us a summary of The Wednesday Sisters?

Meg - The Wednesday Sisters is at its heart about the power of
friendship, and the great joy of coming to believe in oneself.

It opens in 1967 Palo Alto, California - but far from the "Summer of Love" that everyone imagines when you say that. Five women meet in a park while watching their children. They're home makers and moms who, when the story opens, define themselves largely by who their husbands are. The five are very different in some ways. Frankie, the narrator, is a timid Midwestern transplant. Brutally blunt Linda is the athlete among them. Kath is a Kentucky debutant with a big ole heart. Ally is quiet and a little secretive, hard to get to know. And Brett is a science-math brain who wears little white gloves with her miniskirts.

But they connect over a shared love of reading: To Kill a Mockingbird, The Great Gatsby, Pride and Prejudice, Middlemarch, Rebecca and even Charlotte's Web. And they bond when they form a writing group together and begin through their writing to think more seriously about who they are. In the end, the issues the Wednesday Sisters face are issues women continue to face today, and probably will for a long time to come. And like best friends through the ages, they carry each other through the bad times, and celebrate the good.

Lesa - I've read a little about your inspiration for The Wednesday Sisters. Would you repeat it for my readers?

Meg - Three friendships of mine in particular inspired The Wednesday Sisters: my friend Jenn Belt DuChene, my husband, Mac Clayton, and my long-term writing pal, Brenda Rickman Vantrease.

Brenda will tell you she's a Tuesday Sister - the day our Nashville writing group met. Jenn doesn't write, but she's been my best friend since she finagled a room for us together in law school, when we were supposed to be next door neighbors. She is probably singlehandedly responsible for me being able to laugh at myself. And Mac picked up where Jenn left off. ("Two Wednesday Sisters and One Husband" though? Not such a great title, right?) This book is definitely meant to be a hallelujah to them.

The bond between Linda, Kath, Ally, Frankie, and Brett was also inspired by my mom and the friends she has had over the years. I grew up running around the neighborhoods we lived in with the neighborhood kids while my mom and her friends sat at picnic tables playing bridge or visiting as they kept an eye on us. And I know - although only in retrospect - how much they helped each other through. And still do.

Lesa - What are you working on now, Meg?

Meg - I'm one draft into a yet-to-be-titled novel about four friends, three brothers, two lovers and a priest, and the family they struggle to survive. The first draft is lousy, but first drafts always are. I'm so glad to have a full draft, though, as that first round is the tough part of writing for me. I love revision.

Lesa - What have you enjoyed most about the publishing and promotion experience for The Wednesday Sisters?

Meg - My team at Ballantine is amazing, so the whole experience has been great. And of course it's been wonderful to hit bestseller lists. But the greatest joy for me has been hearing from and meeting readers. People in Milwaukee and Louisville and San Francisco have brought friends to my readings, and bought multiple copies of The Wednesday Sisters to send to their friends, their moms, and their daughters. They email me or blog about the novel (the blog response has been amazing!), saying things like: "After I finished The Wednesday Sisters,I picked up a pen and started writing for the first time in ten years." And "I was still laughing and weeping at the same time, but I called all my closest friends just to tell them I love them."

And it always surprises me to hear from male readers. One said he thought the book was even more important for guys to read, because women already have the friendship thing down pretty well, whereas guys have a lot still to learn.

Lesa - And, the last question that I always ask, since I'm a public librarian is, do you have any special memories or comments about libraries?

Meg - Do I ever! I've been a library addict my whole life. My local Palo Alto librarians were a huge help in the research I did for The Wednesday Sisters - as were the Nashville librarians when I was writing The Language of Light. But more importantly, the librarians at the Sierra Madre Library, where I lived for six months in 1970, helped me through one very lonely summer, and made me a reader to boot, an experience I've written about on the ALA's website.

Lesa - Thank you, Meg. Good luck with The Wednesday Sisters and future writing. Thanks for taking time for the interview.

Meg Waite Clayton's website is

The Wednesday Sisters by Meg Waite Clayton. Random House Publishing Group, ©2008. ISBN 9780345502827 (hardcover), 288p.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Sunday Salon: Books: A Memoir

When I think of a "salon," I think of a place to socialize with interesting people, talking about a variety of subjects. Larry McMurtry's Books: A Memoir is perfect for a salon.

The Pulitzer Prize winning author is also a raconteur. Books provides him with the opportunity to ramble on about books, book scouting and collecting, and bookstores. McMurtry said his writing is a vocation, but it's the book trade that is his passion.

McMurtry drops names in his book, but many of them are obscure names of book dealers. However, the stories are fascinating to someone who loves books. Did you know the English title of Moby-Dick was The Whale? Did you know Don Quixote and Sancho Panza were the source of Gus and Call in Lonesome Dove? He mentions his writing, a little, although that isn't the purpose of the book. McMurtry says that his novel, Horseman, Pass By was sold to the movies, and quickly produced. Then he says, "The movie was called Hud, and it did well.

Books is actually about bookstores, book dealing, and the interesting people involved in the trade. McMurtry mentions Second Story Books in Georgetown, a bookstore I loved when I was in grad school. And, of course, he discusses his booktown in Archer City, Texas, and his bookstore there, as well as its earlier incarnation in Georgetown. There's talk of thousands and thousands of books, and intriguing people.

At one point, McMurtry says, "I'm aware that this kind of prattle is exactly the kind of prattle I ought to be avoiding, lest this become a narrative that is of inerest only to bookmen." Well, it is really a book for book fanatics. But, it seemed perfect for a Sunday, particularly when he discussed Evangeline Bruce's salon in Washington. He says, "I was invited a couple of times and went, recognizing that salons organized by great society ladies, gatherings at which important people from the government, business, or the arts mingled and exchanged pleasantires, would very soon be a thing of the past."

Ah, but Larry McMurtry doesn't realize there is still a Sunday Salon, and his book, Books: A Memoir, is a perfect one for the day.

Books: A Memoir by Larry McMurtry. Simon & Schuster, ©2008. ISBN 9781416583349 (hardcover), 259p.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules

I guess I just don't get boys' humor, and I never will. Of course, since I didn't "get" the humor of the Three Stooges, it's understandable that I don't appreciate the humor of Jeff Kinney's Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules.

Greg Huffley kept a journal all through his first year in middle school. Now, as he starts the second year, he has a secret from his summer vacation. Unfortunately, his older brother, Rodrick, knows what really happened to Greg over the summer. And, as an older brother, for months he holds it over Greg's head as a threat. In Greg's journal and cartoons, the reader sees four months of middle school, and the disaster that is a middle schooler's life.

On an intellectual level, I understand why this book, and the previous one, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, were bestsellers. Greg Huffley, the narrator, is a middle child, in middle school, who has problems with his Mom, his older brother, and his little brother. Cartoons appear on every page. And, the humor is perfect for a male audience of boys ages nine to twelve. There's a boy name Peter Uteger. Naturally, the other boys call him P.U. Rodrick's band is called Loded Diper. Rodrick puts fake throw-up on people's cars, and, there are even fart cartoons.

What can I say? It's probably the perfect book to keep boys of that age reading. Give them Captain Underpants books first, and then move them on to Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules. Just don't expect us "girls" to get the jokes.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules by Jeff Kinney. Amulet Books, ©2008. ISBN 9780810994737 (hardcover), 224p.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Friday's "Forgotten" Books - The Persian Pickle Club

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Winners and Contest for The Last Embrace

Congratulations to the winners of the Humorous Book Contest. James J. of Williamston, NC won Bobbie Faye's (kinda, sorta, not-exactly) Family Jewels, and Elizabeth S. from Camarillo, CA won Goodbye, Ms. Chips. The books will go out in the mail tomorrow.

This week, I have two copies of Denise Hamilton's The Last Embrace to give as prizes. Hamilton takes the reader back to Los Angeles in 1949. Lily Kessler, a former spy for the OSS, finds that looking for a killer isn't quite the same job. Lily goes to LA to look for her late fiance's sister, Kitty, an actress who went missing from her Hollywood boardinghouse. When she gets there, Kitty's body is found below the Hollywood sign. Lily turns investigator, looking for a killer in a city with two faces, the glamorous public face, and the gritty city of gangsters, pay-offs, and crime.

If you'd like to win The Last Embrace, email me at Email me!. If that link doesn't work for you, the email address is: Your subject line should read Win The Last Embrace. Your message should include your mailing address. Entrants only in the U.S., please.

The contest will end Thursday, July 31 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 on Friday. Good luck!

King of the Holly Hop

It's been twenty-three years since I lived in Ohio, so Les Roberts' Milan Jacovich mysteries always take me back. It's been six years since the last book in the series, and even Milan seems to be looking back in King of the Holly Hop. It's a sad book. For Milan, and me, there's no going back to the past.

Milan tries. He attends the fortieth reunion of his graduating class for St. Clair High School on the East Side of Cleveland. He sees old friends, his ex-wife and the man she left him for, and misses his best friend who is no longer alive. And, he witnesses an argument between a successful playwright who flings a drink in the face of Dr. Phil Kohn. That makes Tommy Wiggins, the playwright, the primary suspect when Kohn is shot dead in the hotel parking lot.

Tommy's lawyer hires Milan to find another suspect. He finds that the entire class is a suspect. No one liked Kohn. And, worst of all, he finds his classmates have secrets he's forced to uncover. There are the drug addicts, the gay classmate, the fights between the blacks and whites, the women who cheated. Milan finds himself investigating people he considered friends, and destroying the friendships, and his memories, in the process. He discovers everyone is "nursing old wounds." The fortieth class reunion, the murder, and its aftermath forces everyone to "reconnect with the ghosts of childhood."

King of the Holly Hop is a sad book. Milan has aged, lost friendships, and watched the Cleveland he knew disappear. It's a nostalgic look back for him, and for me. I've always recognized Jacovich's Cleveland. He graduated from Kent State University, as I did. The character is about seven years older than me, so I share his memories of places, some that disappeared, such as Cleveland Municipal Stadium and Higbees Department Store. I recognize Terminal Tower, the Taverne of Richfield, even the radio celebrities such as John Lanigan. The Cleveland Browns and the Plain Dealer are part of life in northern Ohio.

But, Milan's investigation proves to him that people and places change, but still resemble their previous incarnations. And, as much as you'd like to hang on to memories, there comes a time it's best to move on. Les Roberts' King of the Holly Hop is a mystery. Who killed Dr. Phil Kohn? But, it's also a transition book. Milan Jacovich can't hold on to his old friends, and old memories. There's a time to close the books on the past, make new friends, and move on with life. No matter how much Milan, and I, would like to believe in our memories, they're probably colored by our nostalgia.

King of the Holly Hop is a fine conclusion to the series, if that's what Les Roberts chooses. However, it also provides the opportunity for a fresh viewpoint in the continued series. What more could a reader, a fan, a person from northern Ohio, really want?

Les Roberts' website is

King of the Holly Hop by Les Roberts. Gray & Co., Publishers, ©2008. ISBN 978-1598510386 (hardcover), 272p.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Last Embrace

Denise Hamilton takes the reader back to Los Angeles, in the heyday of Hollywood, for two violent weeks in 1949 in her first standalone, The Last Embrace. The reader sees the city, and its dangers, through the fresh eyes of Lily Kessler. Her impressions bring the story to life.

Lily was a stenographer and spy for the OSS in Europe. Following the war, she found herself without a job, as so many women were as the men returned. She lost her fiancé, her job, and doesn't have a home. When she visits the woman who would have been her mother-in-law, Mrs. Croggan asks her to go to LA to look for her daughter, a starlet who took the name of Kitty Hayden, and disappeared. But, almost as soon as Lily arrives in town, and goes to the boardinghouse where Kitty lives, the young woman's body is found by the Hollywood sign. Lily feels she owes it to her fiancé's memory to find out what happened. And, once she meets the two detectives in charge of the case, she's even more determined to investigate. Lily doesn't trust the cops to find the truth. She'll keep probing, and upsetting people, until she upsets a few too many people. Two more bodies are found, as Lily continues to push herself deeper and deeper into a dark world.

Los Angeles in 1949 wasn't all glamour. The girls staying in the boardinghouse were wannabe actresses with stars in their eyes. They saw Frank Sinatra singing, fancy restaurants, movies and glamour. But, Lily saw a city of crooked cops on the take where rival gangsters were at war, a world where the movie studios paid off the cops, the newspapers, and abortion doctors. She encountered a city where men could be hounded to their deaths by cops and media, where cover-ups were likely.

Los Angeles became a dangerous city for Lily Kessler, although she falls for a cop, and finds a photographer friend. She discovers that murder investigation isn't quite the same as the spy business. Since she never knows who to trust, she might be heading down the same track as another bright girl, Kitty Hayden.

Hamilton's book has a couple problems. Lily's character is well-developed, but one of the other characters, Harry Jack, almost seems to be dropped midstream. Lily seems to be the only living character against a backdrop of stereotypes. The varying viewpoints sometimes makes the story feel disjointed. However, The Last Embrace vividly shows the contrast between the historic past of a small town, and the growth, with crime, power and ambition. Despite the character issue, this is a meaty crime novel with a great deal that could be used for a book discussion. I can't even touch on all of the topics - the roles of women, the history of LA, crime and the movie studios. In the end, Lily grows to accept LA, in all its dirty history and glamour. If some of the characters are weak, the city of Los Angeles itself is a strong character, in all its grit and glory. The Last Embrace is a crime novel, the story of a time and place, with all its flaws, portrayed with love by Denise Hamilton.

Denise Hamilton's website is

The Last Embrace by Denise Hamilton. Scribner, ©2008. ISBN 9780743296731 (paperback), 384p.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Trade Winds - Murderati

Louise Ure wants to discuss trade paperbacks vs. mass market on Murderati today. I expressed my opinion. If you're a librarian, bookseller, or, most of all a reader, she'd like to know yours. Check it out at Murderati.

Brooklyn Dodgers: The Last Great Pennant Drive, 1957

John R. Nordell, Jr.'s account of the Dodgers' last year in Brooklyn, Brooklyn Dodgers: The Last Great Pennant Drive, 1957, could have been an exciting baseball book. It isn't.

At the All-Star break in 1957, the Brooklyn Dodgers were in fifth place in the National League, five games out of first. At the time, there were only eight teams in the National League. At one point in the season, the Dodgers were in second place, only one game out. That drive should have been an exciting story in this book. It isn't.

Instead, this book is a dry chronicle of game after game, with no suspense. It just plods along, with very little personal details about the players or the games. There were four interesting paragraphs in the book, the intimate opening to chapter 4 in which Nordell's family goes to a game at Ebbets Field. Other than that short section, this book just plods along.

The National League was comprised of all-time greats in 1957. Gil Hodges, Roy Campanella, Johnny Podres, Duke Snyder, Don Drysdale and Don Newcombe played for Manager Walter Alston and the Dodgers. Vin Scully was the announcer. Other National League players included Stan Musial, Hank Aaron playing for the Milwaukee Braves, Frank Robinson, Willie Mays, and Warren Spahn. It was the Dodgers last year in Brooklyn, and there was an exciting pennant race. It's just a shame this book fails to capture the drama of 1957.

Brooklyn Dodgers: The Last Great Pennant Drive, 1957 by John R. Nordell, Jr. Tribute Books, ©2007. ISBN 978-0-9765072-9-1 (paperback), 103p.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Hell Hole

The Jersey Shore portrayed in Chris Grabenstein's Hell Hole isn't exactly the paradise a chamber of commerce would want publicized. Instead, Grabenstein takes us to the world of Sea Haven, New Jersey, where police officers John Ceepak and Danny Boyle deal with the underside of a resort town - the drunken parties, the drugs, the run-down trailer parks.

Danny Boyle, who has grown from a part-time summer cop to a twenty-six-year-old full-time officer, guided by his partner's principles, continues to narrate the stories, with his own cock-eyed point of view. Ceepak is off one night, so Danny is partnered with a summer cop, Samantha Starky, when they're sent to the scene of a loud party. It's a drunken group of Airborne soldiers, returned from Iraq, and they're not too happy about dealing with the police, until they receive a phone call that one member of their group has been found dead, a probable suicide, at a reststop. Danny's not going to allow Sergeant Dixon to drive intoxicated, so he takes him to identify the body. That brings Danny to a crime scene that just doesn't look like a suicide, although he can't say why. However, the drugs found on the scene point back to Sea Haven, just the opportunity that Danny and Ceepak need to get involved in the case.

Only Ceepak and Boyle would want to stick their noses into this case, one involving a Senator, drugs, the partying soldiers, and Sea Haven's own lowlifes, the Feenyville Pirates. Only Grabenstein could so skillfully use this crime to reveal more about John Ceepak's background. Hell Hole becomes a complicated story that digs deep into Ceepak's emotions, dealing with the returned vets and his own memories, the suicide and his own past, and the story of his parents. This is the darkest of the Ceepak mysteries, the most complicated, and the best. Danny Boyle serves to alleviate that darkness. He's grown in the course of the series, but his wry commentaries are needed in these books.

Hell Hole is a complex story, revealing not only how much Danny has changed, but how much it takes for Ceepak to be the man he has become. Grabenstein continues to develop, writing darker, more ambitious stories. He hits his stride with Hell Hole, a dark crime story of politics, drugs, and family. If you've read all of the Ceepak mysteries, you're following the growth of a new master.

Chris Grabenstein's website is

Hell Hole by Chris Grabenstein. St. Martin's Minotaur, ©2008. ISBN 978-0-312-38250-8 (hardcover), 304p.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Sunday Salon - My Staycation

Staycations are all the rage in the U.S. right now, with the high prices of gas and food. I'm finding it easy to stay home this summer. Do you want to know where I spent my "staycation" this week? I was able to travel all over the country, with a stack of mysteries, and one romance.

I started the week in Dorset, Connecticut. Des Mitry is the island trooper there. In David Handler's The Sour Cherry Surprise, she discovers that Sour Cherry Lane isn't as quiet as she thought. Her former boyfriend, Mitch Berger, made a movie entrance when events took a turn for the worse.

It wasn't a difficult trip from Connecticut to New Jersey. I was able to visit the
only all-comedy movie theater in the state in It Happened One Knife by Jeffrey Cohen. Elliot Freed brought back a legendary comedy team. It's too bad their return led to murder.

I was supposed to attend a wedding in Seattle, but a family curse forced the
cancellation. Even so, there was a nice non-honeymoon trip, and a budding romance in Everything But a Bride by Holly Jacobs.

Did you know there's an alternate Manhattan? I was able to join private detective
John Justin Mallory as he slipped into that alternate world in Mike Resnick's Stalking the Unicorn: A Fable for Tonight. Mallory is an interesting person to accompany when he meets up with elves, elephant taxi cabs and a unicorn hunter.

I've been spending quite a bit of time on the east coast, so I made a trip to the Jersey Shore, where it isn't all beaches and beer for Danny Boyle and John Ceepak. They're police officers in Sea Haven, New Jersey, a resort town. Hell Hole, the latest Ceepak mystery by Chris Grabenstein finds Ceepak and Boyle looking into the death of a veteran returned from the Iraq War. They're not getting a great deal of help from his buddies, and it looks like some of their own local citizens might know more than they want to tell. Despite the dark storyline, it's always fun to join Ceepak and Boyle as they investigate, to the tune of Springsteen songs.

It order to flit back and forth between the two books I'm reading right now, I need to do a little time travel. With Denise Hamilton's The Last Embrace, I'm back in Hollywood in 1949, for the investigation into the death of a young woman who went there, hoping to become a star. And, back in my home state of Ohio, it's time for a class reunion
in Cleveland with Milan Jacovich, the private investigator in Les Roberts' King of the Holly-Hop.

The nicest part of this staycation? There are no security lines, no lost luggage, and no crying babies. I can lay on the couch, surrounded by cats, and piles of books. I'm already planning my next couple trips. I think I'm going to New York City to visit with NYPD Detective Ellie Hatcher, in Alafair Burke's Angel's Tip. And, then for a change of pace, I'm heading to Atlanta to meet up with the Jelly Jar Sisterhood in How Dolly Parton Saved My Life by Charlotte Connors.

Do you have any plans for a staycation this summer?

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Stalking the Unicorn: A Fable of Tonight

The first book in Mike Resnick's "A Fable of Tonight" series, Stalking the Unicorn was published over twenty years ago. It's now going to be reissued by Pyr in August, to coincide with the publication of the second volume, Stalking the Vampire. After reading this one, I can't wait to read the second book in the story of John Justin Mallory.

It's New Year's Eve in Manhattan, and Mallory, a failed detective, is contemplating his fate after his business partner ran off with his wife. He's a little surprised when an elf shows up in his office, but he's desperate for money, so he agrees to help him find a stolen unicorn. After a trip to an alternate Manhattan, Mallory finds himself in a world populated by leprechauns, elephant taxi cabs, and, worst of all, a villain called the Grundy. It's up to Mallory to find the unicorn before dawn on New Year's Day, or Mürgenstürm, the elf, with be killed by his guild for losing the unicorn. Or, he'll be killed if the Grundy doesn't get them first.

Mike Resnick's urban fantasy is not as dark as Jim Butcher's or Simon Green's. However, for all of us who enjoy those detective stories set in alternate realities, Stalking the Unicorn is the start of another promising series. It has a likable character in John Justin Mallory, as well as humor and suspense. I'm looking forward to Stalking the Vampire.

Mike Resnick's website is

Stalking the Unicorn: A Fable of Tonight by Mike Resnick. Pyr, ©1987. ISBN 978-1591026488 (paperback), 310p.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Friday's "Forgotten" Books - A Dangerous Road

It's hard to believe it's been eight years since Kris Nelscott's A Dangerous Road was published. This first book in the Smokey Dalton mystery series was nominated for an Edgar for Best Mystery Novel. It had an unusual main character, a fascinating storyline, and it made a terrific book discussion book.

The book is set in Memphis, Tennessee in 1968. The sanitation workers' strike has been going on for almost three weeks at the start of the book. Race relations are getting worse, and marches are becoming riots.

Dalton is an African-American P.I., hired by a young white woman to learn why her mother remembered Smokey in her will. He uncovers a thirty-year-old secret that will shake up his life.

But, it can't shake up his life more than the events that surround Memphis as Dalton's old friend, Martin Luther King, Jr., returns to town to assist with the strikes. The world will soon change for Dalton, and the country.

When I made this book a book discussion group for Black History Month for a group of white women in Florida, they thought it was an unlikely choice. However, A Dangerous Road was one of my better choices, leading to a good discussion, as we all looked back at 1968, and the repercussions in our hometowns. Since most of us were in the Midwest in 1968, we had some interesting stories.

Kris Nelscott's A Dangerous Road really shouldn't be on a list of "Forgotten" books.

Kris Nelscott's website is

A Dangerous Road by Kris Nelscott. St. Martin's Minotaur, ©2000, ISBN 0-312-26264-7 (hardcover), 325p.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Winners, and Humorous Books Contest

Congratulations to the three winners of Julia Spencer-Fleming's I Shall Not Want. On Friday, I'll be mailing ARCs to Rebecca S. from Langsville, OH, Gail H. in Urbana, IL, and Cheryl M. in Oakland, CA.

Let's add a little humor to the contest this week. Winners could win an ARC of Bobbie Faye's (kinda, sorta, not-exactly) Family Jewels. Bobbie Faye Sumrall is on the run through south Louisiana, accused of murder, with a band of psychos and thieves after her, wanting stolen diamonds. If you haven't met Toni McGee Causey's Bobbie Faye, you're missing humor with a southern twist.

Goodbye, Ms. Chips is the latest Ellie Haskell mystery by Dorothy Cannell. Isn't it traumatic enough to return to your old school? Who needs murder on top of it?

So, do you want Bobbie Faye or Ms Chips? You may enter twice, once for each book, if you'd like to take your chances on both of them. If you'd like to win one of the books,email me at Email me!. If that link doesn't work for you, the email address is: Your subject line should read Win Bobbie Faye or Ms. Chips. Your message should include your mailing address. Entrants only in the U.S., please.

The contest will end Thursday, July 24 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 on Friday. Good luck!

Authors @ The Teague

The Velma Teague Library, in Glendale, Arizona, has a full schedule of authors for the rest of the year for the popular series, Authors @ The Teague. Check out this schedule of events.

Since Glendale was the hometown of Marty Robbins, Andrew Means will discuss his book, Some Memories: Growing Up with Marty Robbins, on Aug. 23 at 2 p.m.

We have a very special event on Saturday, Sept. 20 at 2 p.m. We'll host four mysery authors from The Southwest Crime Ink Group in Tucson. Elizabeth Gunn, the author of the Jake Hines series, has started a series set in Tucson, beginning with Cool in Tucson.

Susan Cummins Miller's latest book is Hoodoo.

Broken Heartland is the most recent book, set in Buffalo Springs, Kansas, by J.M. Hayes.

Under the name of J. Carson Black, Margaret Falk wrote Dark Side of the Moon.

In a switch in direction, Thursday, Oct. 9 at 7 p.m., we'll present Stella Pope Duarte with her book, If I Die in Juarez.

Romance novelist, Shelley Mosley, who writes under the name of Deborah Shelley, will discuss her latest book, Marriage 101 on Thursday, Oct. 23 at 7 p.m.

On Monday, Nov. 3 at 6:30 p.m., we'll bring you a true crime author. Kerrie Droban will talk about Running with the Devil: The True Story of the ATF's infiltration of the Hell's Angels, an event that took place in Arizona.

We'll finish the year on Saturday, Nov. 15 with Brent Ghelfi, author of Volk's Game and Volk's Shadow.
Ghelfi will speak at 2 p.m.

Books will be available for purchase at all of the programs, and the authors will sign their books. The Velma Teague Library is at 7010 N. 58th Ave., Glendale, AZ. Call 623-930-3431 for further information.

Join us for Authors @ The Teague. Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Everything But a Bride

The Hungarian grandmother's curse strikes again in Holly Jacobs' charming romance, Everything But a Bride. Vancy Bashalde Salo, as a young beautiful woman, cursed the descendants of the man who left her at the church. When she married him, she realized she'd cursed her own descendants. They would never have a big, beautiful wedding until they married for love instead of for the sake of the wedding.

In the first book in the series, Everything But a Groom, Vancy's oldest granddaughter was left at the altar. In this second book, Noah Salo doesn't even make it to the church. His fianceé, Julianna, breaks up with him at his own stag party. She knows that they really were nothing more than childhood friends, and it wasn't really a passionate love.

When Noah's down in the dumps, it's Julianna's stepsister, Callie, who shows up to cheer him up. Since they share an interest in outdoor sports, Noah suggests they take that paid for honeymoon trip as a non-honeymoon. What could happen when two best friends go away together?

Holly Jacobs writes warm, enjoyable romances, filled with family. Despite the family curse, the Salo family is a big, supportive family who love each other. And, friends and co-workers in the Salo Construction, are part of the family. Everything But a Bride moves quickly because it's hard to leave the Salo family, and, in this case, Noah and Callie. The Everything But..series is rated G. In my opinion that means a good book, good entertainment, and gentle romance.

Holly Jacobs' website is

Everything But a Bride by Holly Jacobs. Avalon Books, ©2008. ISBN 978-0803499041
(hardcover), 186p.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The "Entwhistle Effect"

Doesn't it always surprise you when you never heard of a person or something you read about in a book, and suddenly you read about it in two different books? I know it's synchronicity, however, I'd rather think of it as the "Entwhistle Effect".

I'd never heard of Peg Entwhistle. And, then I read Jeffrey Cohen's It Happened One Knife. She was mentioned as an actress, but, considering the source, I thought he made up the name.

Tonight, while reading Denise Hamilton's The Last Embrace, I came across the name Peg Entwhistle again. Hamilton's

crime fiction is set in Hollywood in 1949, and mentioned Peg Entwhistle as an actress who committed suicide by jumping off the H in the Hollywood sign.

Here's the story as told on Wikipedia. "On Friday, September 16, 1932, Entwistle jumped from the "H" of the Hollywood sign (which then read "Hollywoodland"). Her body would not be found in the 100-foot ravine below until two days later. Acting on an anonymous tip, a detective and two radio car officers found the body of a blonde-haired, blue-eyed woman who was moderately well-dressed. She remained unidentified until her uncle connected the description and the initials "P.E." on the suicide note in the newspapers with his niece's two-day absence.

"After identifying her body, Harold Entwistle filled in some of the blanks for authorities and the press. Entwistle was upset at not being able to impress the studios, and told her uncle that she was going to walk to a nearby drugstore and then visit friends. Instead, she made her way up the southern slope of Mount Lee, near her uncle's home, to the foot of the Hollywoodland sign. After placing her coat, shoes and purse containing the suicide note at the base of the sign, she made her way up a workman's ladder to the top of the "H". The cause of death was listed by the coroner as "multiple fractures of the pelvis."

Would you believe Hamilton did the same thing with another book I'm reading? Yes, I already read the notes at the end entitled, "My inspiration for The Last Embrace". She said, "On most days, it's difficult to envision how the city must have looked in 1949. But cock your head and squint and it falls into focus."

I'm reading Mike Resnick's Stalking the Unicorn: A Fable of Tonight. John Justin Mallory, taken to an alternate Manhattan to help an elf find a stolen unicorn, is told if he cocks his head, he might be able to see the hidden Manhattan.

It's definitely the "Entwhistle Effect".

It Happened One Knife

It Happened One Knife brings back Jeffrey Cohen's loveable amateur sleuth, Elliot Freed, to share his love of classic comedy films, and bumble his way through two mysteries. However, there's more than two features in this enjoyable "Double Feature Mystery."

When Elliot allows his projectionist to show his first film, a pseudo-Western, at the all-comedy theater, he didn't expect Anthony's movie to be a hit. He also didn't expect the only copy of the film to disappear. Why is Elliot the primary suspect in his own theater?

However, that same night, he discovers that one member of his favorite comedy team, Lillis & Townes, lives nearby. Can you imagine Elliot's delight when Harry Lillis agrees to attend a showing of the classic comedy, "Cracked Ice"? And, when Harry's old partner, Les Townes, shows up in the audience, Elliot's in comedy heaven. And, then, Lillis insinuates that Townes murdered his wife fifty years earlier. Elliot is not the type to forget rumors about his idols. Suddenly, he's investigating a fifty-year-old death, and the disappearance of a film.

Although I found Cohen's earlier mystery, Some Like It Hot-Buttered, to be funnier, I appreciate the humor and suspense in this latest book. In fact, there's a terrific scene with a ticking box delivered to the theater. For me, Cohen's greatest strength is his characters, and I'll continue to read his books for the characters even more than the humor. Elliot's eccentricities would either make a reader laugh, or turn them off. It does the same for his ex-wife and friends. He's a loveable man who doesn't own a car because he doesn't want to hurt the environment, but he'll allow others to drive him, and he'll borrow a car. He only shows comedies at this theater, and thinks as if he were playing a role. Police Chief Dutton is not the typical small-town cop portrayed in humorous mysteries. He's understanding, intelligent, and patient with the local problem, Elliot. The teenagers in this series are great characters, particularly Sophie, who went from Goth teen to radical feminist. Cohen creates characters with heart.

Jeffrey Cohen's It Happened One Knife combines great characters, humor, and suspense, with a little slapstick, in the tradition of the best movie comedies. You can't go wrong with Cohen's "Double Feature Mysteries."

Jeffrey Cohen's website is

It Happened One Knife by Jeffrey Cohen. Berkley Prime Crime, ©2008. ISBN 9780425222560 (paperback), 296p.

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Sour Cherry Surprise

David Handler brings back Berger and Mitry, in The Sour Cherry Surprise, however it's an unusual storyline for this mystery series. Some readers are going to be disappointed in the lack of interaction between the two main characters. I felt it was appropriate for the state of their relationship.

Desiree Mitry, the resident trooper in Dorset, Connecticut, broke up with Mitch Berger, and took her ex-husband back. Mitch returned to New York City, where his career as a movie critic has taken off, and he's wildly popular, with the offer of a show in L.A. Mitch only hears about Desiree from his friend, Bella, who emails him because she's mad that Berger and Mitry broke up.

Des, on the other hand, finds herself in the middle of a mess. There's a crime explosion on Sour Cherry Lane, with a nine-year-old girl, Molly, caught in the middle of it. Her parents split, so she's stuck with her mother, who has two men living in the house, and seldom leaves home. Molly's father, a professor, was beat up, and disappeared. There's someone living in a barn, food disappearing, and Des discovers a drug cartel is operating in her territory.

Once again, Handler reveals small town problems can be major. His characters are as enjoyable as ever, particularly Bella and Molly. And, don't worry. Mitch, the movie fan, in true hero style, will rush to Des' rescue. As Bella said, "Berger and Mitry used to be quite the crime-stopping duo here in Dorset." Dorset, and readers, still need Berger and Mitry, even if only for a short time in The Sour Cherry Surprise.

David Handler's website is

The Sour Cherry Surprise by David Handler. St. Martin's Minotaur, ©2008. ISBN 978-0-312-37669-7 (hardcover), 256p.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Sunday Salon - Forward From Here, and Memories

Sometime during the week, I picked up Reeve Lindbergh's book of essays, Forward From Here: Leaving Middle Age - and Other Unexpected Adventures. I've already reviewed the book, but I wanted to go back to one chapter, "Gift from Captiva." Here are the first couple paragraphs of that chapter, dated 2004.

"I am in Florida for a few days, staying by myself on the island of Captiva, not far from the little house on the beach, now long gone, where my mother lived while writing her 1955 book, Gift from the Sea, almost fifty years ago....

"This island was a very different place when my mother was here in the 1950s. There was a small local populartion, little tourism or real estate develoment, and above all, no causeway from the mainland to bring the automobiles and vactioning families of today."

I was lucky. I was the library manager of the Captiva Memorial Library for three years in the in between years, 1990-1993. What special years! The causeway was there, or I wouldn't have been working there. And, there were tourists, and families. But, Captiva was still a close-knit community of islanders who had been living there, or coming back for years. I was lucky enough to meet some of the people that had lived on the island during the pre-causeway years, and I heard some of the stories they told of the early years. When I read Reeve Lindbergh's book, it brought back those stories, so I had to pick up my copy of True Tales of Old Captiva,
, a collection of oral history stories of the island, compiled by the Captiva Library Board, ten years before I became librarian there. They interviewed some of the early residents of the island, and told their stories.

Someday, I'll tell the stories of the people I met while I was on the island. We threw a birthday party for Patricia Neal, and she told stories of her romances and movies. One day, I sat alone in the library while Jean Shepherd, author of A Christmas Story, told me about stories he planned to write. When LaVar Burton was on Upper Captiva, filming Reading Rainbow, I went on a boat with a reporter to that island to meet him. Clifton Fadiman brought books for the library, and Willard Scott visited as a patron. I even answered the phone one night to find a researcher from Jeopardy on the phone, with a question about the island. One night, while watching the show, I heard my answer given. It was a magical three years.

One magical day, Bunty Robb, one of the librarians before me, called me up and told me they were tearing down a house she owned, and I was welcome to stop over, tell the workmen I wanted to go through the house, and I could take any of the books I wanted for the library. Oh, and, by the way, I could go through the house, which was the house Anne Morrow Lindbergh stayed in while she wrote Gift from the Sea. Do you know what that felt like, to walk through that house, by myself, saying, this is where she lived that year when she visited Captiva, and wrote the book? I felt so honored, to be allowed to go through the house, before it was torn down.

Looking back, it was such an honor to be the librarian on Captiva, in those years. It was the last years of the older residents, before houses were ripped up, and big houses built for outsiders on the island. My patrons, the storytellers, died, or moved off Captiva soon after I left. I took those memories with me.

But, Reeve Lindbergh brings up another memory as well. Years ago, I read her children's book, Johnny Appleseed. I loved the illustrations by Kathy Jakobsen, bought the book, and sent it to my mother, saying I would love a wallhanging made using colors and ideas from the book. My mother made me a gorgeous wallhanging called Ohio Memories, with similar colors and patterns. It's a map of
, our home state, with a cardinal, a buckeye, and cities marked where I lived. It's a wonderful memory quilt.

So, Reeve, wherever you are, thanks for the memories.