Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year's Salute to the Decade

As we wrap up the decade, what better time to mention my favorite books of the last ten years? And, yes, I did keep track of all of the books I read this decade, so I can look back, and say, these are the books that still resonate with me. Here's my toast to ten years of book-related pleasure.

But, let me start by mentioning some of the best book-related events of the last ten years. Three items top the list. In 2008, my niece, Elizabeth, challenged me to see who could read the most books. She was in fourth grade by the time we finished (fifth now), and she beat me. It was a fun way to keep both of us reading. My mother made me a pillow that says, "I had a father who read to me," with a picture of my Dad, and then she ended the decade on a high note, with the gift of the Little Women purse.

It's been a wonderful book-related ten years. I had a great time for five years as Chair of the Authors' Programming for the Lee County Reading Festival in Florida. I worked with wonderful friends, and great authors. Thanks to the Reading Festival, I met Stacy Alesi, the BookBitch. She allowed me to review for her for a few years, until I became so involved in my blog, I couldn't keep up. Thanks, Stacy! And, I learned to blog once I arrived here in Glendale, Arizona, when my boss sent me to a workshop. I want to thank all of the authors I've met via my blog, and Barbara Peters at the Poisoned Pen for introducing me to many of them, and giving me the chance to host them at the library. We've now been hosting authors for Authors @ The Teague for just over two years. It's been a wonderful way to bring authors to the community. In the last five years, I've reviewed books for Library Journal, Mystery News, and now, thanks to Janet Rudolph, for Mystery Readers Journal. Thank you to all of the editors for allowing me to share my opinions. I also had the chance to teach Readers' Advisory classes at libraries in Arizona, a fun experience. A special thank you to Jen Forbus, who continues to push me to do more as a blogger, and do it better. Thank you to the bloggers who have allowed me to have a day to talk about a book, my life, or even food! And, of course, the most appreciation goes to Jim, who encourages me in every book-related activity, bought me cameras, and, most of all, reads right alongside me every night, so I can read as much as I do. Thank you, Jim.

Now, here's my toast, year by year, to the books and authors that meant most to me over the last ten years. In 2000, I discovered Dennis Lehane's Kenzie and Gennaro mysteries. Darkness, Take My Hand was my favorite. I corresponded with Dennis for two months before hosting him at the Lee County Reading Festival. He was funny, honest about his weakness as a moderator, and, since he was writing Mystic River at the time, answered my emails immediately. (I think he was trying to avoid writing.) Now, after the success of his standalones, we may finally see another Kenzie and Gennaro book. I read 148 books in 2000, but it's Dennis Lehane's books that stand out.

I have to say, I read 146 books during 2001, but not one book stood out. It was a good year of reading, but there was nothing exceptional.

In 2002, I drove Jim nuts when I stumbled on Emily Rodda's Deltora Quest series, and tore through them, totally ignoring him while I read the books. It was an intriguing fantasy series. I found Margaret Coel's mysteries, and read everything she had written about the Wind River Reservation. And, I fell in love with Jonathon
King's debut novel, The Blue Edge of Midnight. The book went on to win the Edgar Award for Best First Novel, and deservedly so. So, a toast to a book that I pushed so much at my library that we more than doubled the circulation over any other branch in the system. This first Max Freeman mystery included the most atmospheric description of the Everglades that I ever read. These were my favorite books of 2002, out of 170 I read that year.

No matter how you feel about the book, 2003 was the year of Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code. It was also the year I discovered Jim Butcher's Dresden Files, a series I'm still reading. I read 130 books in 2003. In 2004, I changed jobs, moving from Florida to Arizona. That meant much of the year was in upheaval, so I only read 97 books. None of those books stood out.

2005 brought the debut books for two authors who still remain favorites. Louise Ure went on to win the Shamus Award for Best First Novel for Forcing Amaryllis, a book that still has one of the most striking covers I've ever seen. And, Chris Grabenstein's first Ceepak novel, Tilt-A-Whirl, won the Anthony for Best First Novel. A toast to two of my favorite authors. You were the highlights of the 145 books I read in 2005.

2006 was so special. I read 154 books, including Robert Fate's Baby Shark, Louise Penny's Still Life, and Tallgrass by Sandra Dallas. Now, Baby Shark is looking like it will be release shortly as a movie. Since Still Life, Louise Penny has become a special person in my life. I've had dinners with her and her husband, Michael, along with a couple book friends, Patti and Kay. I own autographed copies of all of her books. Her books appear on my favorites list every year. And, no one writes more beautiful blogs. I've loved Sandra Dallas' books since reading Persian Pickle Club. But, I encouraged so many people to read Tallgrass. Now, it looks as if I'll finally have the chance to meet her in May, 2010, when she comes to Phoenix to discuss her new book, Whiter Than Snow.

2007 marked the end of the Harry Potter Decade, when J.K. Rowling's final book in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was released. Even more than The DaVinci Code, this was a series that dominated the years between 1999 and 2007. Bookstores and libraries held midnight release parties. J.K. Rowlings' books changed the NYTimes Book Review bestsller lists. Kids and adults throughout the world were reading, and talking about Harry, Hermione, and Hogwarts. And, just like everyone else, I preordered this last book, so I could own my own copy and have it on publication day. It was just one of the 164 books I read in 2007.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows was my favorite book of 2008. It was popular with book clubs, featuring a little known story of World War II. It was one of 169 books I read that year. (But, Elizabeth still beat me in our challenge.)

I ended this year with 201 books, a record for me. It was the year I read two fantastic young adult fantasy books by the same author, Suzanne Collins. Her books, The Hunger Games and Catching Fire were riveting, and I can't wait for the third in the series. But, it was also the year I found a new author, and new friend. Beth Hoffman's book straddles two years, and two decades. Most people won't get a chance to read Saving CeeCee Honeycutt until January. I was lucky enough to be assigned Beth's debut novel by my editor at Library Journal. Beth emailed to thank me after the starred review appeared, and we've been writing each other ever since. I'm not going to get a chance to see her on her book tour in 2010, but I wish her all of the luck in the world. Her book, and our new friendship, is one of the highlights of 2009.

I read 1524 books in the first decade of the 21st century. And, since I seldom finish books I don't enjoy, those books represent hours of pleasure. Thank you to all of the authors who shared their thoughts and hearts over those years. And, thank you to all of the bloggers I've "met" who've commented here, and allowed me to comment on their blogs. So, here's my toast to authors, bloggers, books, and readers everywhere. The last decade was a special one. And, here's a salute, with hope, to 2010, and the next decade of books (in whatever shape they take). I'm sure readers will still be sharing our opinions somehow. It's been my treat to share my love of books with all of you. So, Happy New Year's, and, Cheers!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Book 200 - John Feinstein's Change-Up

For some reason, it seems perfect that my 200th book of 2009 should combine a little of everything I tend to review. John Feinstein's Change-Up is a mystery featuring two teens. It's set during the World Series, includes real people, journalists, in it, and, even has a touch of romance and jealousy. So, there's mystery, young adult literature, sports, journalism, a little history with actual people, and romance. Thanks, John Feinstein, for winding up the year perfectly.

Change-Up is the fourth book to feature teen sports reporters Stevie Thomas and Susan Carol Anderson. They've covered the Final Four, the U.S. Open, and the Super Bowl. This time, they're working for Washington newspapers, covering the World Series between the Washington Nationals and Boston Red Sox. It's Stevie who stumbles across a story featuring Nationals pitcher Norbert Doyle, who never pitched in the major leagues, and suddenly finds himself a starter. He raised two twins on his own after his wife was killed by a drunk driver. It seems to be a made-for-television story, but something's wrong. Susan Carol gets caught up in the story told by Doyle's glamorous son. And, as Stevie uncovers inconsistencies in the story, Susan Carol gives him the cold shoulder. After a few trips to Lynchburg, Virginia, where the accident occurred, Stevie is just more confused about the true story of Norbert Doyle.

John Feinstein's teen mysteries always have a realistic atmosphere. Although the main characters are fictional, he peppers the story with so many real people and baseball anecdotes that the story rings true. Feinstein is an insider in the world of sports, so he includes Bob Ryan, from the Boston Globe and Sports Reporters, Bud Selig, Tim McCarver, and the entire Red Sox team. If there's a quibble with the story, it's Stevie's trip to Lynchburg, by himself, as an investigative reporter. However, what mystery doesn't demand a suspension of disbelief? Feinstein's stories are so enjoyable for the sports and mystery fan that it's hard to quibble with small points.

I highly recommend all of John Feinstein's teen books to mystery lovers who enjoy sports. As I said, Change-Up has everything I ask for in a book. It's a perfect way to finish off 2009.

Change-Up by John Feinstein. Alfred A. Knopf, ©2009. ISBN 9780375856365 (hardcover), 336p.


FTC Full Disclosure - Library Book

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey

Richard Kadrey's Sandman Slim isn't for everyone. It's for those of us who were fanatics about the TV show, Brimstone. Fans of Simon R. Green's Nightside series will appreciate this novel. It's just as sick, depraved, and totally irreverent about religion as Green's books. In other words, it's a raw, violent book, with an anti-hero who is totally out of control. There's non-stop action, humor, unforgettable characters, and it's terrific supernatural fantasy.

James Stark was a nineteen year old magician in L.A. when his "friends," other magicians in the Circle, sent him Downtown, to Hell. He was the "first and only living human to ever set foot in Hell," and with each fight he had there, he became harder and harder to kill. Eleven years later, after a career as a successful hitman in Hell, where he acquired a nickname, Sandman Slim, Stark escaped. He smuggled three items out, a black blade, a Veritas coin that never lies, and the Key to the Room of Thirteen Doors. And, he only had one goal - to kill the magicians who sent him to Hell, and killed his girlfriend, Alice.

In some ways, Stark hasn't grown up. He wastes precious time and energy stomping around in anger. He's judgmental about others, despite his own life. And, with his one-track mind, finding Alice's killers, he alienates others who would be his allies, from Vidocq, the two-hundred-year-old Frenchman (yes, that Vidocq, the thief who became founder of the Sûreté Nationale), to the manager of a porn video store, to an angel. Even so, he finds some unusual friends to join in his fight against Mason, the magician he hates the most. As Candy, the assistant to the mysterious Dr. Kinski, says, "We're all family now. All the funny little people who live in the cracks in the world."

Oh, there are cracks in the world. And, Sandman Slim is only going to make those cracks worse as he fights for revenge against the killers of the only person he ever loved. Kadrey's novel is 400 pages of drama, turmoil, and one man's Hell, brought to earth. And, Lucifer himself hints to Stark that there just might be more problems in store for Sandman Slim.

Richard Kadrey's website is

Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey. HarperCollins, ©2009. ISBN 9780061714306 (hardcover), 400p.

FTC Full Disclosure: Library Book

Monday, December 28, 2009

Eggs Benedict Arnold by Laura Childs

It would be hard to live in Kindred, and not spend every waking hour eating at the Cackleberry Club café. The three women who run it, Suzanne Dietz, and her partners, Petra and Toni, are serving up great food and friendship. And, when a friend becomes a murder suspect, they're even willing to step in and do a little investigating, as they do in the second book in the Cackleberry Club mystery series, Eggs Benedict Arnold.

In their forties, the three women found themselves in a period of transition. Suzanne's husband died. Petra had to put her husband in a nursing home, and Toni's slightly sleazy husband left her for a younger woman. Even though they own the Cackleberry Club, and it's adjoining bookshop and knitting store, they take on additional projects. When they close up the Library Committee's bake sale fundraiser, Suzanne takes a cherry pie to Ozzie Driesden, owner of the local funeral home. But, her discovery of his body almost lands her on a slab as well, as she's chloroformed, and left on the floor there. So, even though a friend who becomes a suspect asks Suzanne to ask questions, this investigation has a personal aspect for Suzanne.

Childs' latest mystery is complex, with a surprise killer. And, as with many cozies, there are recipes included. But, the three owners of the Cackleberry Club are the greatest strength of this book. Their café, with its attached shops, is "a center for female bonding for the tri-county area." Suzanne Dietz has a wonderful attitude about life, one she explains to the man she's interested in getting to know. She has a generous heart, and finds it hard to turn down her friends, even when they're as reckless and spontaneous as Toni. Petra is a rock, the baker and chef who keeps the business going, while the other two owners are poking around, and getting in trouble. And, it's evident that Suzanne is gutsy, and curious, as she says, "Wondered about the wisdom of taking things into her own hands. Bad idea. Really bad idea." But, the reader knows Suzanne will plunge into danger, and find a killer, in this enjoyable mystery.

I've sampled Laura Childs' other series, the Tea Shop mysteries, and the Scrapbook mysteries, but the Cackleberry Club mysteries, with those three women, are my favorites. Suzanne and her friends will make readers feel welcome to the Cackleberry Club, even when they end up with Eggs Benedict Arnold.

(Oh, and the recipe for Frozen Lemonade Pie? Made it with a lemon snap crust instead of graham crackers. To die for!)

Laura Childs' website is

Eggs Benedict Arnold by Laura Childs. Berkley Prime Crime, ©2009. ISBN 9780425231555 (paperback), 336p.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received an ARC from the author, in hopes I would review it.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Sunday Salon - Time Travelers Never Die by Jack McDevitt

I'm finding it hard to get into books this time of year, so I turned to something different, a time travel novel that is also perfect for Sunday Salon. Jack McDevitt's Time Travelers Never Die provides two men with the opportunity to hold conversations with everyone from Galileo to Benjamin Franklin, the perfect salon.

Adrian Shelborne's funeral provides Dave Dryden with the opportunity to reflect on his adventures with Shel. Shel was the second time traveler, following in his father's footsteps, and, fortunately for Dave, he needed a companion.

And, the two men were following in Michael Shelborne's footsteps, because Michael totally disappeared one night from a locked house. Two weeks later, Shel was given an envelope with instructions to destroy his time-travel devices. Fearing that Michael was caught somewhere in the past, Shel took Dave, a linguist, with him on a trip to look for his father. Their travels took them to Galileo's Italy and the March at Selma in 1965 before they found someone who remembered his father, in the Library at Alexandria. But, their efforts to find Michael Shelborne continue to land them in strange situations, while giving them the opportunity to meet fascinating people from the past.

It's compelling to watch the two men travel through time. Shel is the extrovert, introducing himself to Ben Franklin, Socrates during his last day before he drank poison. And, he's the one that is loved by Helen, a woman Dave had hoped to include in his own life. Dave, the loner, is the scholar, the one who brings back plays by Sophocles, and befriends Aristarchus, the librarian in Alexandria. And, it's Dave that will have to step in when Shel discovers the horror of his own future.

One of the characters remarks "There was an especially moving aspect to sitting in an event armed with a historical perspective." The two men know what will happen at Selma, during the Lincoln-Douglas debates, even during sporting events. It's absorbing to watch them move from event to event, meeting Churchill before he's famous, and Socrates on his last day. And, anyone who loves libraries will appreciate the scenes at the Library of Alexandria, and will love Aristarchus. But, there's something missing in this novel. As much as I enjoyed the time travel, the book lacked that dramatic event that would carry the story. It just became a sequence of events until the last page.

I wanted more from Dave, in particular. The characters let me down, somehow, in this novel, and just became travelers. They didn't seem to participate in their own lives, which may have become the problem for the novel. It lacked drama.

As much as I like Jack McDevitt, and time travel, I'd recommend Time Travelers Never Die, with the caveat that it's a story of time travel that lacks emotion, and heart. There are engaging glimpses of the past, but not enough drama to carry the story.

Jack McDevitt's website is

Time Travelers Never Die by Jack McDevitt. Penguin Group, ©2009. ISBN 9780441017638(hardcover), 384p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library Book

Saturday, December 26, 2009

A Little Women Story

Amazing how you believe one thing for years, and then open a book, and discover something else. I always told people my Dad bought my first adult book, a copy of Little Women, when I was in first grade. Then, today, I opened up that book, and saw the date July 1964 in the front of it. Dad bought that book for me in the summer after first grade. My mother said she thought it was after my first report card as well, but she said he must have bought it after my last report card from first grade. That doesn't spoil the fact that Dad bought me a book I couldn't yet read, knowing I'd read it someday, and the fact that I always cherished it.

Little Women has always been special to me. Is there a girl who read that book and didn't want to be Jo? I went to see the play seven or eight years ago, at the Naples Philharmonic. It was good, but it wasn't as special as the book.

Then two years ago, my Mom gave me a little box with a bookmark in it, and the box was lined with endpapers from Little Women. A priceless gift, filled with memories.

This year, Mom outdid herself. She wanted to be SKYPEd when I opened one particular box from her last night. When she told me the story, and I sat and cried, she said she didn't mean to make me cry. Mom and my sister, Linda, went to a craft show, and came across a woman who made purses from book covers. By the time Linda said you should get Little Women for Lesa, and they went back, it was gone. So, Mom placed an order for a purse made from the book covers, the front, the spine, and the back of the book. Isn't it gorgeous?

And, here's my original copy of Little Women, my first adult book, alongside the purse (which I will never actually use). Thank you, Mom. Thanks for memories.


Addendum - My mother sent me the name, phone number and website for the woman who makes these purses. I know at least one reader asked. Her name is Gina Marie, phone #708-825-3273

And, Mom told me something I didn't remember. Little Women means a great deal to my mother as well. Her oldest sister named her after Beth.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Jim and I wish you a Merry Christmas. We hope your Christmas is filled with love, and time spent with your loved ones, your pets, and, of course, books. From our house to yours, Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve Traditions

Last year at this time, I talked about our Christmas traditions, and how important reading is to me and Jim as part of those traditions. But, a new friend asked me recently what we do for Christmas. In answer, I'm reprinting last year's blog entry, because it's special to me. I hope your holiday traditions are just as special to you. And, I hope you find time in the hustle and bustle of the holidays to find a little time for reading.

Do you have Christmas traditions that are special to just you and your family? Jim and I have lived away from family for almost twenty-four years, so we've made our own Christmas customs. For the ten years my father-in-law, Harry, lived with us, we shared those special moments with him.

Jim's family always celebrated on Christmas Eve, and, depending on my father's work schedule, we sometimes did. So, we open presents on Christmas Eve. I make appetizers, and about 7 p.m. or so, we start our celebration. But, before ever opening presents, we start with readings. What is more appropriate for two people who met and married in a library? Jim always reads the Nativity story from the Bible. I read, and cry over, The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry. And, Jim reads a special letter that combines faith, and hope, and magic. On Christmas Eve, I'll share one of our traditions with you, my friends from my blog. Here is "Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus."

Eight-year-old Virginia O'Hanlon wrote a letter to the editor of New York's Sun, and the response was printed as an unsigned editorial Sept. 21, 1897. The work of veteran newsman Francis P. Church is the most reprinted newspaper editorial in history, appearing in dozens of languages in books, movies, and other editorials.

"DEAR EDITOR: I am 8 years old.
"Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.
"Papa says, 'If you see it in THE SUN it's so.'
"Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?


VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except [what] they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You may tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Shelf Discovery by Lizzie Skurnick

In June of 2007, I reviewed Jennifer O'Connell's Everything I Needed to Know About Being a Girl I Learned from Judy Blume. Lizzie Skurnick's Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading feels as if it was written as a companion piece, with a slightly different slant. While O'Connell's book included essays by twenty-two authors discussing the influence of Judy Blume's books on their works, this book discusses teen literature in depth, including many of Judy Blume's works. Both books have pictures of girls reading on the front, and Meg Cabot contributed to each.

Laura Lippman introduces this work, mentioning a phrase that haunted her until she realized it came from a "Beany" Malone novel. She goes on to say Lizzie Skurnick wrote these essays as a regular feature, Fine Lines, for On a website for women, these essays about books read, and shared in memory, by so many, proved to be popular.

I'm older than Skurnick and some of the other authors with essays here, Meg Cabot, Jennifer Weiner, and Lippman, but we still share many of the same titles. However, Skurnick read them in much greater depth than I did, and her analysis of these books, as they relate to a girl's life, is fascinating.

The book begins with a girl's childhood, and moves through puberty, chapters on girls in danger, girls and survival, problem books, and teens dealing with the supernatural, before moving into adulthood. There are authors who dominate these books. Judy Blume's books are analyzed, from Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret, to Deenie, then Forever and Wifey. Skurnick is fond of the heroines in Madeleine L'Engle's novels, and analyzes her feelings for those characters, Meg and Polly and Vicky. There's discussions of Lois Duncan, and her use of the same conceits over and over again. There are old-fashioned books, and romances.

Skurnick's format is fun, and interesting. Longer pieces are called "Book Reports," and she analyzes a character and plot, and why she, and many girls, liked those books. Shorter pieces are called "Extra Credit." She's opinionated, and passionate about the books and their influence on her life. I love her enthusiasm for the stories, and the characters. And, she shows us what we've had in common as we grew up.

As I said, I'm older than the authors, and many of these books came out in the years just after I was out of high school, when authors seemed to discover teens as readers. I was lucky enough to take Adolescent Lit in college and grad school, so I kept up with this reading. These aren't contemporary stories. These are books Skurnick calls "Teen Classics," so they're titles and authors we know - Duncan, Blume, Laura Ingalls Wilder, even Jean Auel and V.C. Andrews.

Feeling a little nostalgic this time of year? Once you get through all of the family activities, you might want to try to find Skurnick's Shelf Discovery. I'm willing to bet that if you're reading this blog entry, as a youngster you were an avid reader, just as I was, and just as Skurnick was. And, I'm willing to bet that most women will find memories of some of their beloved books in these pages.

Lizzie Skurnick's website is

Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading by Lizzie Skurnick. HarperCollins, ©2009. ISBN 9780061756351 (paperback), 448p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library copy

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Winner of Holiday Grind

Congratulations to Sharon R who won the autographed copy of Holiday Grind by Cleo Coyle. Sharon's name was drawn at random, but I'm not putting her city because I just thought it was perfect that the winner of this book lives on Brewers Lane. She wanted her book autographed, "Peace, Love, Coffee," and I sent Cleo the inscription.

I wish I had 134 copies to send to everyone. I don't, but I can give all of you the chance to talk to Cleo. She's chatting this month at LibraryThing. Cleo's chat runs until December 30. Here's the link to chats, Stop by and talk to her!

And, if you stop back regularly for the contests, the next one will start on Thursday, Jan. 7. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy your holidays, no matter what you celebrate!

The Perfect Christmas by Debbie Macomber

I admire authors who continue to come up with original ideas for familiar themes. Debbie Macomber loves Christmas, and year after year she has a new Christmas book, with a twist. This year, it's The Perfect Christmas.

At thirty-four, Cassie Beaumont has a successful career as a biochemist, a good friend in Angie, and a brother she loves, although she seldom sees him. But, she's ready for more. She wants to marry, and have kids. But, she hasn't dated a man that could live up to her high expectations. When Angie suggests Cassie tries a matchmaker, she's intrigued.

It will cost her $30,000, but isn't the rest of her life worth it? So, Cassie meets with Dr. Simon Dobson, who guarantees he'll find her a husband, or she gets her money back. There's just one hitch. Cassie has to do three Christmas-related tasks before she can meet the man that would be "the most suitable one." And, they are three tasks that are could easily lead to disaster. Dobson irritates Cassie, with his aloof manner, so she's determined to prove that she can succeed, and become the perfect wife. But, each time she takes a step toward her goal, she becomes more intrigued with Dr. Simon Dobson.

I don't need to sell any of Debbie Macomber's fans on her latest Christmas book. It was already on the bestseller lists by the end of October. But, if you haven't read one of her enjoyable Christmas stories, it might be time to give yourself a treat, and ponder The Perfect Christmas.

Debbie Macomber's website is

The Perfect Christmas by Debbie Macomber. Mira, ©2009. ISBN 9780778326823 (hardcover), 240p.

FTC Full Disclosure - The review copy was sent to me by Debbie Macomber's publicist, with the hope I'd review it.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Everything But a Christmas Eve by Holly Jacobs

If you want a funny, short, romantic story for the holidays, try Holly Jacobs' Everything But a Christmas Eve. It's a terrific addition to the Everything But... series. Jacobs' books in that series are always warm, and charming, just the perfect prescription for the hustle and bustle of the season.

Now that all of Vancy Bashalde Salo's children and grandchildren are married, she's bored. When her best friends suggest she take up matchmaking, she latches on to the idea. And, she knows just who she's going to try as guinea pigs. Eve Allen is the new office manager for Salo Construction, so Vancy invites her to dinner, along with TC Potter, the Salos' neighbor.

Vancy doesn't know that Eve ended a bad relationship. She also doesn't know that Eve and TC have a history that goes all the way back to kindergarten. But, Vancy wouldn't care, because she's convinced she's putting two people together who will be soul mates.

Eve is the woman who says, "Christmas seemed to be a season when things went wrong for her." And, TC, one of "America's Most Eligible Bachelors," is playing Santa at the mall, and understands the romance behind "The Twelve Days of Christmas." It might seem as if these two people will never get together. But, it's a Christmas romance. It might just take a dog named Bert, and a matchmaker named Vancy Bashalde Salo, but I think there will be a happy ending to Everything But a Christmas Eve.

Holly Jacobs' website is

Everything But a Christmas Eve by Holly Jacobs. Avalon Books, ©2009. ISBN 9780803499843 (hardcover), 176p.

FTC Full Disclosure - The author sent me a review copy of the book, hoping I would review it.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Sunday Tidbits

DorothyL went on hiatus, and blogging seems to be slowing down this time of year. Everyone seems to have their lists of favorite books, or favorite Christmas food. But, there are a few tidbits to share this week.

Janet Rudolph collected, and compiled, The Best Mysteries of 2009 lists from a number of reviewers, bloggers, and bookstores. It's a great place to pick up titles you might have missed during the year. You can find it here.

Do either of these book covers look familiar?

I gave away Mark Coggins' book just last week. And, I reviewed Death Was in the Picture. But, both books are being recognized for another reason, their cover art. The Rap Sheet is holding it's annual "Best Crime Fiction covers" competition, and you can vote. Pick your favorite from twelve covers.

If you're going to miss your mystery suggestions, with DorothyL on vacation, check out Janet Rudolph's list of Christmas mysteries. There are five different posts, but you can get to them from here. There are enough Christmas mysteries to keep you entertained this Christmas, and, probably, for the rest of your life!

As the East Coast braces for snow this weekend, England already has it. And, Dan Waddell says they don't know what to do there with snow. If you haven't yet checked out the blog, Murder is Everywhere, now's your chance.

You're already seen my list of favorite books of 2009. Stacy Alesi, the Bookbitch, reads tons of thrillers, as compared to the mysteries I read. So, here's Stacy's favorite books of 2009.

A little of something for everyone this week, ranging from Christmas mysteries to cover art. Enjoy your Sunday Tidbits!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Body in the Sleigh by Katherine Hall Page

Katherine Hall Page combines the beauty of the most innocent celebrations of the Christmas season with the brutality of drug trafficking, and the violence it brings to even the smallest, most isolated communities. The Body in the Sleigh, the eighteenth Faith Fairchild mystery, is a fascinating study in contrasts.

Faith Fairchild and her husband, the Reverend Thomas Fairchild, needed the refuge of their summer home in Maine after a difficult fall, deaths, and health problems. Scooping up their children, they moved to Sanpere Island, where they did little more than sleep, eat, and spend time together as a family, enjoying the Christmas customs on the island. And, it was while doing just that, enjoying a display at the local historical society, that Faith found the body of a young woman in a sleigh.

When Faith hears from a friend, Mary Bethany, that she found a baby on her doorstep, the immediate conclusion is the baby belonged to the dead woman. Can there really be two troubled women in such a small community? But drug dealers have found their way to Maine, and they've wormed their way into the lives of many young people. Faith, who thought Maine was so peaceful, and Mary, a quiet woman who lived alone, raising goats, are going to find their lives interrupted by strangers, and violence.

Page skillfully uses the beauty of the community, and the community life of iceboating, meals together, and innocent activities to contrast with the ugly, dirty lives of the drug dealers and users, lives that are often violent, ending in tragedy. In fact, the violence is even more graphic because of the contrast in the island life of most of the residents, and, the isolated life led by Mary Bethany. It's a troubling story that points out how pervasive drugs have become, even in small communities.

Page's fans will eagerly scoop up The Body in the Sleigh, with its traditional mystery and inclusion of recipes. And, librarians should scoop it up for the glowing tribute to libraries and librarians. Thank you, Katherine Hall Page, for that beautiful dedication.

Katherine Hall Page's website is

The Body in the Sleigh by Katherine Hall Page. HarperCollins Publishers, ©2009. ISBN 9780061474255 (hardcover), 256p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Review copy sent by the publisher, in hopes I would review it.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Favorite Books of 2009 - A Reader's Dozen

Everyone is doing their Best Lists, and I've already sent my Best of the Best Mysteries to Janet Rudolph for use on her blog in the next couple days. So, it's a good time to look back at the last year, and mention the items I reviewed, and gave stars to in my book diary. I'd never presume to say these are the best books of 2009, but they were my favorite books this year.

In looking at these titles, I can see how obvious it is that I read for character, and then plot. All of these books have interesting characters that carry the story. If you don't remember these 2009 titles, I've linked to my original review.

Here are the books I gave stars to this year, in the order in which I read them.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins - A teen novel, and what a debut! A young woman competes against other teens in a battle to the death.

The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister - Monday nights in the cooking class at Lillian's restaurant brought the class together, but it was food that brought eight people to life.

Dog On it by Spencer Quinn - Debut mystery that introduces Chet (the dog) who narrates the story of an investigation with his owner, Bernie, as they search for a missing girl.

Prayers for Sale by Sandra Dallas - An elderly mountain woman shares her life story with a young woman, hoping she'll make it through a harsh life.

Turn Coat by Jim Butcher - The latest book in the Harry Dresden series is the best one yet, whether you read the books for humor, suspense, adventure, fantasy, or the character of Harry Dresden, the only wizard in the Chicago phone book.

Bloodhound by Tamora Pierce - Beka Cooper and a fellow dog (think cop) investigate counterfeiting in the long-awaited teen novel.

The Lost Recipe for Happiness by Barbara O'Neal - A chef, badly injured in a car accident, suffers in body and soul, until she finds a soul mate when she's asked to open a restaurant.

A Bad Day for Sorry by Sophie Littlefield - Debut mystery that introduces a feisty woman, a 50-year-old widow named Stella Hardesty, who makes men pay who abuse their wives.

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins - The only author to make the list twice, since her second in the series is just as riveting as the first.

13 1/2 by Nevada Barr - Barr's masterpiece is not an Anna Pigeon novel, but the story of a runaway, a murderer, and his brother, who end up in New Orleans.

The Brutal Telling by Louise Penny - A powerful story from Penny, who turns our perceptions of the residents of Three Pines upside down in the latest Armand Gamache mystery.

Faces of the Gone by Brad Parks - Another debut mystery. This one introduces Carter Ross, an investigative reporter with a heart.

I've read 193 books so far this year. These are the dozen that top the list, my favorites. However, there's a 2010 publication that I'm sure will grace next year's list, Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman. And, I wanted to mention a series I discovered, that will be ending. Thanks to John J. Lamb for enjoyable hours reading his Bear Collector's Mystery series.

There are still thirteen days left this year. I reserve the right to add a book to this list, if one of them is exceptional. And, every book I read this year was exceptional in some way, or I wouldn't have finished them. So, thank you to all of the authors, for hours of reading pleasure. But, the books mentioned here are my "Reader's Dozen."

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Winners of this year's second last contests

There's one more contest running this year, the contest for the autographed, personalized copy of Holiday Grind by Cleo Coyle. But, that's the last contest for this year. I hope you continue to read the blog over the holidays. On January 7, I'll announce the first book contest of 2010.

But, I did want to announce the winners of the most recent contests. In the Hatchette Book Group contest, Karen B. from Bloomington, MN and Kathy M. from Brantley Co. Library in Nahunta, GA will receive sets of the Christmas books. Carol K. at the Saxton B. Little Free Library in Columbia, CT won a set of the Kwanzaa books. I've notified Hatchette, and they'll be sending out the books.

The autographed copy of Mark Coggins' The Big Wake-Up will go to Buddy G. from Jefferson, GA. The Gatekeeper by Michelle Gagnon will go to Tiffany S. from Everetts, NC. Those books will be mailed tomorrow.

Thanks to everyone who has entered contests in the last year. I hope you continue to read the blog. There will be more terrific contests in 2010. Wait until you see the autographed first editions I'm offering on January 14!

Faces of the Gone by Brad Parks

Harlan Coben is quoted on the front of Faces of the Gone saying, "Terrific Debut." Actually, Brad Parks' debut crime novel is so terrific that it's one of the best mysteries I've read this year. Faces of the Gone introduces a fresh, attractive protagonist, and a fascinating story.

When four bodies are found shot execution style in an empty lot in Newark, New Jersey, it's a little much even for the cynical media. The story attracts attention from all over, but the police quickly connect the murders to a robbery at a local bar. And, the Newark Eagle-Examiner leads with that story. But, something just doesn't feel right to investigative reporter Carter Ross.

Ross admits he's as WASP as it comes, but he's learned to work the streets of Newark. And, his sources indicate that those four dead people, ranging from a dealer to a dancer who was hustling to feed her kids, had one thing in common. And, it wasn't the robbery of a local bar. But, Ross' new headlines put him dead center in a target for the man behind the murders, a man called "The Director." And, once Carter is faced with losing everything, he's determined to find answers.

Carter Ross is a wonderful addition to the ranks of investigative reporters in crime novels. He's a reporter with a heart, one who has learned to "approach people with respect, listen hard, and genuinely try to understand their point of view." As he talks to family members of the dead, he truly begins to see the "Faces of the Gone." But, at the same time he's skilled at his job, he's hopeless in personal relationships. That leads to some of the funniest scenes in the book - his fear of the female city editor, on the prowl for a sperm donor, his relationship with the gay intern, Tommy, his inability to make an intelligent comment when dealing with the executive editor. Ross is a hero, despite himself. And, the world of the Newark Eagle-Examiner is an excellent background for a crime novel, with Ross the perfect amateur sleuth with investigative skills.

Brad Parks was a reporter with The Washington Post and The Star-Ledger. He brings the newsroom to life with humor and love. Some of the enjoyable scenes arise from the rivalry between print and TV media, and the disdain they exhibit for each other.

Faces of the Gone is more than a successful debut. It marks the debut of a new hero, a compassionate investigative reporter in a book marked by humor that doesn't detract from the tragedy of the story. Faces of the Gone, and Brad Parks, are destined for success.

Brad Parks' website is

Faces of the Gone by Brad Parks. St. Martin's Minotaur, ©2009. ISBN 9780312574772 (hardcover), 336p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Received a review copy from the publisher, in hopes I would review it.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

When the Game Was Ours by Larry Bird and Earvin Magic Johnson

It was a rivalry made in basketball heaven. Their NCAA championship game changed college basketball and made March Madness a national obsession. Then they dominated their teams and their sport in the 1980s, on teams that fought year after year for the NBA championship. And, to this day, even in retirement, it's still Bird and Magic. And, their story is told their way in When the Game Was Ours by Larry Bird and Earvin Magic Johnson with Jackie MacMullan.

Earlier this year, I reviewed When March Went Mad, the story of the college year that led to the most famous NCAA Final game. But, I certainly didn't know that Bird and Magic were teammates at the World Invitational Tournament the summer before they played in that game. They admired the other player's skills, and the following February, they faced off - Larry Bird and his Indiana State team, and Magic Johnson from Michigan State, young men who stayed close to home in college, but caught the imagination of the nation in one game. And, basketball fans never let go as we followed them to the Celtics and Lakers, and watched their teams challenge each other year after year. This book captures the determination of both players, and takes them to their final years in basketball. It showed how they both studied the skills of the other player, wanting to best them, and eventually found a way, through that admiration, to be friends. Bird was there for Magic when he announced he had the HIV virus. Johnson dragged Bird on to the Dream Team, where they were co-captains, bringing the gold medal back to the United States.

If you're a basketball fan, you probably know the basics of their story. The book doesn't go too deeply into personal feelings, if that's what you're looking for. But, if you want the story of two basketball players, and the years they dominated their sport; if you want to read about two men who challenged themselves, their teams, and each other to greatness, try this book. Nowadays, there is Kobe and King James, Dwayne Wade. The years of Michael Jordan are over, but he dominated the sport by himself, with no great rival. But, just as they made March Madness a must-see event, Bird and Johnson focused the sports world's attention on pro basketball, and changed the sport forever. This is a satisfying story, for any fan who wants to read about men who were passionate about basketball, and winning. When the Game Was Ours allows two Hall of Fame players to acknowledge that, in the minds of the fans, and the world, Larry Bird and Earvin Magic Johnson will always be together.

When the Game Was Ours by Larry Bird and Earvin Magic Johnson with Jackie MacMullan. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, ©2009. ISBN 9780547225470 (hardcover), 340p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Special Holiday Grind Contest

I know it's unusual for me to kick off a contest on Tuesday, but I'll find out how many of you are paying attention. And, I have a very special giveaway this week.

Cleo Coyle, author of Holiday Grind, is offering one reader a personalized copy of the book, to be sent directly from her. So, this time, you have to give me your mailing address, and tell me what you'd like the autograph to say. We're running the contest in conjunction with her appearance on LibraryThing. Cleo has a LibraryThing chat there, starting tomorrow, and running until December 30. Here's the link to chats, Stop by and talk to her!

I'm running the Holiday Grind contest for just one week, so Cleo can get the autographed book in the mail to one lucky winner. If you'd like to win, email me at Email me!. If that link doesn't work for you, the email address is: Your subject line should read Win "Holiday Grind." Your message should include your mailing address, and, if you'd like the autograph personalized, what you would like it to say. Entrants only in the U.S., please.

The contest will end Tuesday, Dec. 22 at 6 a.m. MT. Jim will draw the winner at that time. The winner will be notified, and I'll send your address and message to Cleo. Good luck!


So, here's my earlier review of Holiday Grind, if you want a refresher before you enter the contest.

The story opens with Clare Cosi, manager and head barista at the Village Blend coffeehouse holding a tasting. And, before plunging into the mystery, Clare challenges her baristas, and the reader, with the question, "What does Christmas taste like?" She's putting together a tempting menu of holiday coffee drinks, but the reader is immediately tempted to take part in that memory trip.

Before the book becomes too cozy, though, Coyle skillfully sets the trap for Clare and the reader. Alf Glockner, a Traveling Santa, and the inspiration for the Village Blend's "Taste of Christmas," fails to show up for the party, so Clare goes looking for him. She's familiar with Alf's route as a Traveling Santa, but she doesn't expect to end up in a deserted alley, finding his body. And, it's evident this isn't going to be a cozy when Clare's first thought is, "Someone had mugged and murdered Santa Claus!"

It's too bad footprints were erased when police chased another mugger down the alley, running right over Clare. She knew there were clues, but the detectives that arrived weren't prepared to take her seriously. Fortunately, her boyfriend, Detective Mike Quinn, understands her need to find the killer of her friend, Alf. And, Clare has a few other allies in her search for a murderer.

Holiday Grind is the eighth book in Coyle's Coffeehouse Mystery series. However, I hadn't read previous books, and you don't need to have read them to enjoy, and appreciate, Clare, Village Blend, and the supporting cast of characters. Cleo Coyle expertly introduces Clare, her baristas, and her ex-husband, Matteo Allegro, who is a coffee broker, and buyer for the coffeehouse, and Cleo's partner in the business. And, her relationship with her ex-mother-in-law, Madame Dreyfus Allegro Dubois, is wonderful. Madame is Clare's boss, her landlord, her former-mother-in-law, the biggest champion of Clare's daughter, Clare's best friend, and, fortunately for Clare, a well-connected snoop. And, there's Mike Quinn, a police detective with a past that could spoil Christmas, and his own cold case that's heating up at the holidays.

Coyle's Holiday Grind includes tons of coffee hints, drink recipes, and other holiday recipes. But, it's not all sugarplums and cookies for Clare Cosi. Alf's death thrusts her into an investigation that turns violent. If you're looking for holiday reading that isn't all sweetness and light, Holiday Grind offers the perfect combination of Christmas atmosphere, a well-developed cast of characters, and a complicated mystery.

Cleo Coyle's website is

Holiday Grind by Cleo Coyle. Berkley Prime Crime, ©2009. ISBN 9780425230053 (hardcover), 384p.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Bed of Roses by Nora Roberts

I'm hooked on Nora Roberts' Bride Quartet. Bed of Roses is the second book in the series, one that focuses on four childhood friends who run a wedding business called Vows. The books are predictable romances, but if you're looking for a fun romantic story with enjoyable sex scenes, you can't go wrong with Nora Roberts.

In the first book in the series, Vision in White, Mac (Mackenzie), the photographer in the business, fell in love, and found the man she's planning to marry. Mac is now engaged, and Bed of Roses turns attention to Emma (Emmaline) Grant, the florist. Emma is the romantic of the group, dreaming of a man who'll sweep her off her feet, and love her as her father loves her mother. Jack Cooke, an architect she's known for years, is just the opposite. The child of divorce, he's dated around, and he's afraid of commitment.

It's obvious to all of Emma's friends that she's in love with Jack. But, she's afraid their romance could complicate the work he does for Vows, and their friendship. As one of her assistants says, it's awkward "Moving from friends to friends with benefits." And, as in most romances, the couple falls in love, events tear them apart, and then there's a happy ending. It's easy to see how this romance is going to turn out. The story is just how Emma and Jack get there.

Parker Brown and Laurel McBane still have stories to come in the Bride Quartet. Those romances are already foreshadowed in this one when Parker meets someone, and Laurel has a run-in with the man she's always loved. Laurel is the pastry chef at Vows, so her romance, due out in May, will be called Savor the Moment. The romantic relationships are as obvious as the titles. But, when you're in the mood for a good romance, who really cares? Roberts delivers attractive, interesting women in sexy relationships. Bed of Roses was another quick, romantic story from an expert.

Nora Roberts' website is

Bed of Roses by Nora Roberts. Berkley Books, ©2009. ISBN 9780425230077 (paperback), 358p.


FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Blogging Writer Award

This was the nicest award to receive. Elizabeth Spann Craig, at Mystery Writing is Murder, presented her own award today, an award for the blogs she reads regularly. She presented it to blogs by writers or about writing.

And, here was Elizabeth's wonderful comment. "**Lesa Holstine isn’t a writer. But she’s one of us." Thank you, Elizabeth, for including me. You know how much I love writers, and appreciate your hard work. And, thank you for stopping by daily, with your thoughtful comments.

Sunday Tidbits

I didn't get a chance to cover Sunday Tidbits last week, so I'm a little late with this news release. But, Mystery Scene Magazine recently announced that Lawrence Block will be writing a column for them.

Here was the news release. New York, NY — Mystery Scene Magazine is pleased to announce a new column by Lawrence Block, a Mystery Writers of America Grand Master and fourtime winner of the Edgar Allan Poe and Shamus Awards. One of the most celebrated mystery writers of all time, Block has written over 60 novels, including the bestselling Matt Scudder and Bernie Rhodenbarr series, as well as numerous short stories and screenplays such as Wong Kar-Wai’s My Blueberry Nights. He will bring a treasure trove of memories, anecdotes, and insights from a literary lifetime to his Mystery Scene column “The Murders in Memory Lane.”

In his typical direct style, Block’s debut column in the 2009 Holiday Issue relates how the writer Stanley Ellin once put one over on Simon & Schuster editor Lee Wright. Funny, clever, and riotously inappropriate, the cast of characters also includes fellow jokester and writer Donald Westlake: “[Ellin, Westlake, and Wright] are all gone now, and it struck me that, if I wasn’t the only person around who knew the story, I was probably the only one at all likely to tell it. And was it worth the telling? I decided it was,” says Block.

Future columns promise more intimate stories, including drinks and sobriety with Edgar Award-winning writer Ross Thomas. “Larry is a gifted raconteur,” said Mystery Scene Editor-in-Chief Kate Stine, “and he’s also a perceptive critic of his fellow writers’ work. ‘The Murders in Memory Lane’ offers a true insider’s look at the mystery genre over the last 50 years. We’re absolutely delighted to have one of the all-time greats of mystery fiction contributing to Mystery Scene.” “The Murders in Memory Lane” continues the lively, must-read coverage of the mystery world that the award-winning Mystery Scene has provided since 1985. With each anecdote, Block shares insights and life lessons that will inspire and amuse readers, while offering a rare glimpse into the life and times of one of America’s most prominent crime writers.

The celebrated Lawrence Block is a Mystery Writers of America Grand Master as well as a fourtime winner of the coveted Edgar Allan Poe Award. He has received four Shamus Awards and “The Eye” Lifetime Achievement Award from the Private Eye Writers of America. He is also the recipient of prizes in France, Germany, England, and Japan and in 2004 the British Crime Writers’ Association awarded him the Cartier Diamond Dagger for Lifetime Achievement. The prolific Lawrence Block has written more than 60 books and numerous short stories and screenplays. Block is a devoted New Yorker and an enthusiastic global traveler who has visited more than 100 countries. For more information visit

Co-published by Kate Stine and Brian Skupin, Mystery Scene offers expert and entertaining interviews, articles, and commentary about the entire world of crime fiction. Its highly-regarded reviews cover novels, films, TV shows, audiobooks, small press titles, children’s books, reference works, and short stories. In 2011, Brian Skupin and Kate Stine will be Fan Guests of Honor at the Bouchercon World Mystery Convention. Mystery Scene has received the Poirot Award (2009) from the Malice Domestic Convention, the Ellery Queen Award (2006) from The Mystery Writers of America, and the Anthony Award (2004) from the Bouchercon World Mystery Convention.
For more information visit

(Lawrence Block's photo is with permission. Photographer: Ichiro Okada)


Earlier this week, Mystery Writers of America announced the 2010 Grand Master, Raven and Ellery Queen Award Recipients.

"Dorothy Gilman, celebrated author ofthe Mrs. Pollifax series of spy novels, has been chosen as this year’sGrand Master by Mystery Writers of America (MWA). MWA's Grand Master Award represents the pinnacle of achievement in mystery writing and
was established to acknowledge important contributions to this genre, as well as significant output of consistently high-quality material. Gilman, a New Jersey native, has written and contributed to over 30 books that feature uncommon and unique characters. Her writing has continually kept readers coming back for 60 years."

"Two extraordinary members of the mystery community with a collective respect for the genre will also be honored by MWA with the Raven Award at this year’s Edgar Banquet. Zev Buffman, distinguished Broadway Producer, and the Mystery Lovers Bookshop, one of the largest specialty mystery bookstores in the U.S., will each be presented with Raven Awards. Established in 1953, the award is bestowed by MWA’s
Board of Directors for outstanding achievement in the mystery field outside the realm of creative writing."

"The 2010 Ellery Queen award is being awarded to Barbara Peters and Robert Rosenwald of Poisoned Pen Press (PPP). The Ellery Queen award is given to editors or publishers who have distinguished themselves by their generous and wide-ranging support of the genre. Barbara Peters and Robert Rosenwald founded Poisoned Pen Press in 1996. Its original mission was to publish reference and out of print books but it quickly shifted gears to original work and today averages 36 new novels a year
with a backlist fully in print. The press' authors have earned numerous award nominations and wins and a basket of starred reviews."

Congratulations to all of the nominees, but, a personal congratulations to Barbara Peters and Robert Rosenwald.


This news has been all over the book community, but, in case you missed it -

- Publishers Weekly, 12/10/2009 9:37:00 AM

"As part of the sale of its business to business publications, Nielsen
Business Media has announced that it is closing its book review publication
*Kirkus Reviews* as well as *Editor & Publisher*. No details on the closing
have been released yet. Nielsen is selling its major publications, including
*The Hollywood Reporter* and *Adweek* to e5 Global Media Holdings."

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Sunday Tidbits on Saturday

There's so much book and publishing news out there this week, that I needed two days to pass on some of the information. Here's a great site, the link to's Second Annual Author Holiday Blogs feature, "where authors are sharing stories about gift giving and getting, holiday traditions, memories and more. The blogs can be read at:

"Pieces from such authors as Stephen Coonts, Hallie Ephron, Robert Goolrick, Wade Rouse, Mahbod Seraji and Donna VanLiere have already been posted. The upcoming lineup will include guest blogs from Sandra Brown, Sandra Dallas, Barbara Delinsky, Jamie Ford, Kristin Hannah, Marcia Muller and Lisa Scottoline --- plus many more! The feature will be updated through Christmas Day."

This is one of my favorite sites, and I read it regularly, so I hope you take the time to stop by.


Lisa Roe, known as Online Publicist, has a special project right now, The Dewey Tree. Here's some information about it, from her site, and then I'll link directly to the Dewey Tree page.

"As I write this, I think of a favorite blogger who passed away this time last year. Her spirit lives on in the Dewey Read-a-Thon, Weekly Geeks, and The Bookworms Carnival. She loved reading. She loved books. She supported Banned Books Week and believed everyone had the right to reading material. In her honor, I'm calling this donation project The Dewey Tree. It's a little bit The Giving Tree, a little bit Dewey, a little bit charity. :-D

"Here's what you do:
*Gather up the books you can live without. It can be 4 books, 10 books, or 20 books!
*Find a worthy group you would like to donate your overflow books to. It can be your local library, a literacy campaign (mine will go to the literacy center I volunteer for), or overseas. There's a great list of book donation sites here on the ALA. Find a charity that speaks to you!
*Then take a picture of your donation and email it to me (onlinepublicist [AT] gmail [DOT] com). It can be a pic of the mailing label on your package, one of your kids giving a box of books to a librarian, or you handing books over to your literacy center. Be creative and have fun!

"I will accept pics (and will post favorites) until January 4, 2010. At that time, I will enter the names of all who sent donation pics into and choose three. Those three winners will receive custom made totes from me! I will email you pics of my available fabric and have you build one you like.

"And here is the official The Dewey Tree donation project button! Please help me spread the word (and the button!) to bring our book blogging community together in the spirit of spreading the love of reading."

Check out Lisa's site to see pictures of some of her bags, and find out information for submitting your pictures. Here's the link,

Friday, December 11, 2009

Sue Grafton, Presented by Poisoned Pen Bookstore

Sue Grafton doesn't do many speaking engagements on her book tours anymore, so it was a rare opportunity to hear her when the Poisoned Pen Bookstore brought her to the Arizona Biltmore on her U is for Undertow tour.

I attended with a friend and librarian, Cathy Johnson. When we walked in the door, Sue was working the crowd, so I reintroduced myself, reminding her I had hosted her twice in Florida, and picked her up at the airport. She looked at me, and said, "Kind of a vagabond, aren't you?" She was just as kind and warm as always, and spent a half an hour going through the audience.

Barbara Peters, owner of the Poisoned Pen, introduced Sue by saying they go way back to the beginning of the bookstore, when she contacted Sue, and asked her to appear at the new bookstore. Sue said, so you're asking me to change my entire schedule and come to Arizona, and Barbara said, yes. And, she did. Barbara and Sue said they're aging together.

Sue said her current tour was almost over. She left Louisville, went to New York, back to Louisville, then to Atlanta, Kansas City, and Houston. So, she thought, I'm going to Phoenix, and I can finally get warm. Instead, with our current cold weather, she was huddled in the cold while people here were in their shirtsleeves.

Barbara responded that we're always lucky to have her in Phoenix, since she spends half her year in Kentucky and half in California. She said she was very grateful that the event was being held at the Biltmore, because most of the time people stand in a conga line, wrapping around the bookstore to get books signed, and it sometimes cold in December, as now. Then, she told Sue the people in shirtsleeves ere from New Jersey, and the ones wrapped up were from Phoenix.

Barbara thanked the Biltmore for partnering with the bookstore for the celebration of the 21st Kinsey Millhone book. She told the audience they are projecting the end of the series for 2020, and Barbara promised she'd be there for that book, even if the bookstore closed, and she had to rent a shed. Then she asked Sue about the people who were "betting against her" when the series started.

Sue acknowledged that she said when she started the alphabet, there were people betting she couldn't write the entire series. When, she reached M, she said readers were cheering for her to finish. So, when she's asked what she's going to do with Z is for Zero, she told us she's going to hold therapy sessions to help everyone through their separation anxiety, and we'll all hold hands and hum. She said she's going to take a long nap, and then party. But, she assured us she's going to live to 108, so she'd have time for two quick series. They might be about old people, though.

Barbara asked her if she has the manuscript of Z is for Zero in a vault somewhere, in case something strikes her down before the end. The answer was, there's nothing in a vault anyplace, so we'd better root for her to stay alive. She asked the audience to make a commitment to make it for the next ten years, so we could come back. She told us she was going to make us sign a paper saying we'd be there. Barbara said she hated to tell Sue this, but when an author passes on, people come into the bookstore, and they don't say, "I'm going to miss Sue." They say, "What about Kinsey?"

Grafton said it was very cheeky of her to start a series, using the alphabet. She'd never written a mystery before. But, it was a sign she was committed to the future, a way to say, I'm shooting an arrow out, planning an entire series. But, the books are getting harder to write, and she has five to go. Everyone has their own demons, and she's had to outargue her demons. Every book is a struggle, a challenge. And, if you don't like one book, big deal. "I did twenty-one you liked." She said she never lets go, and never cheats with her book. She said she tries to get pity sales, and asked us to just buy one book.

She admitted she thought she'd write five or six books, and get the hang of it, and whiz through to the end. It was a sign she was young.

When asked which decisions she would not have made about the series, Sue responded she would have done everything the same. It's like life. Haven't we all done things we'd regret, but we'd live our life over again, with the divorce and the decisions?

She did make a critical decision that Kinsey would not age one year per book. When the series ends, it will be 1990, and Kinsey will turn 40. That's a good age. We won't have to watch her go through menopause. Sue assured everyone, though, that Henry Pitts and his siblings will survive. His sister is only 99, and she doesn't feel bad, so why should she die?

Grafton said she wouldn't make different choices. In J is for Judgment, she thought it would be fun to have Kinsey investigate herself, and she found cousins and a whole family. Half of the readers loved it, and half were bored. So, she didn't pick that storyline up again until M is for Malice. In L is for Lawless, Kinsey was stranded, and forced to call her cousin, Tasha. Can you imagine how mortifying that was for her? But, she didn't know how to resolve the family issues. And, it's been many years, but finally, after T is for Trespass, she resolved a letter from a reader who said, "If you don't settle that family business, I'm never buying another book. So, Sue wrote back, and said, whoa, I'll take care of that. So, in U is for Undertow, she settled the family issues, and that's enough of the family for now.

Barbara commented that we all know Sue lives in Santa Barbara, although now she spends more time in Louisville. But, she said in Santa Barbara, there's a long shadow cast by Ross Macdonald. He wrote a long series featuring Lew Archer. He thought a detective should not be visible. Sue said she was originally going to do that with Kinsey, and make her a shadow. But, she said Macdonald was so wrong, but he was an old man. Grafton said readers want a continuing character to have depth, quirks, a history.

Barbara mentioned that in U is for Undertow, the story goes back to the 1960s, a turbulent time. Did she plan that? Grafton replied, "I don't tell the book what's going to happen. The book tells me." It takes a year for her to understand the story.

Sue said she's told this before, so if we heard it, we could ignore it. She keeps journals of each book on the computer. The whole journal is there, with every trivial thought and idea. She puts her emotional state there on paper. That keeps her from sabotaging her work. She struggles internally. All of her research and everything else is in that journal. If she has an idea for a dialogue that comes later in the book, she puts it in the journal, and when the right part comes, she just inserts the dialogue. Grafton said her journal is boring. There are no treasures in it. Sometimes she makes nasty remarks about other writers, and then erases them because if she gets run over, people won't think, boy, she was a bitch. She tries to appear much nicer than she is. Sue said 1 out of 30 days her writing is dynamite. The other 29, it's stupid, but she never knows which day is going to be good, so she has to write every day.

When asked about her research, Sue admitted she's had to humble herself. She said it's a real boat on the cover of J is for Judgment. She was interviewing someone about the book, standing there with her notebook, and asked, what's that part that sticks up. "Well, Sue, that's called the mast."

Barbara thought she remembered that Sue went undercover as a chambermaid for one book. Sue said, no, she's a housewife, so she doesn't need to do that. (And everyone laughed.) According to Sue, at one time she worked for a friend who ran a home domestic business. Grafton was poor, and had kids, so she cleaned toilets, and cleaned up after people. So she knows how to clean toilet bowls, and has a back-up plan if she ever needs it.

Sue said she believes in Jungian psychology, the ego and the shadow. There's what you'd like to be seen as. Grafton would like people to see her as cheerful, cooperative, kind, and helpful. Then there's the real self, the shadow. We put those traits behind us. If you look at people you truly despise, they carry your shadow. We project our shadow on others, and denounce them.

Grafton said when she writes, she has to disconnect the ego, and let the shadow come through. The shadow is right brain; the ego is left. She writes in her journal, and that's her shadow. She'll do anything - self-hypnosis or anything, to get a piece that really works. She needs to meet the shadow. Families usually have a black sheep, and they are the shadow in the family. Barbara commented that writers of crime fiction have to have shadows for people to want to read the story. We read crime fiction to get rid of our own shadows. In fact, she was recently editing a book, and told the author to kill a person, to get rid of the shadows.

Barbara mentioned that Sue Grafton has received many honors. She was named a Grand Master by MWA. (And, it was just announced that Dorothy Gilman, author of the Mrs. Pollifax books, will be the 2010 Grand Master.) Sue's also received the Diamond Dagger, the U.K. equivalent of Grand Master.

Sue said it's very nice to get the awards and accolades, but her job is not to get stuck on herself. That doesn't help her write. Reviews don't help either. If they're bad, and say her books are crap, how does that help? And, good reviews don't help either. All of those ceremonies are great, but Grafton said her battle is in the chair. She appreciates the honors, but it doesn't help if she thinks of herself as "hot shit."

Barbara told a story of a Diamond Dagger winner who outraged people when he had it made into an earring for his wife. People were upset, saying she had no right to wear it because she didn't win the Diamond Dagger.

She went on to announce that U is for Undertow will be #1 on the New York Times Bestseller list on Sunday. She'd heard it from Sue's publicist. They both went on to thank the audience. They said we had to buy books. It's the reader's job to buy books, and the author's job to make it worthwhile.

Then, questions were taken from the audience. How did Sue come up with the name Kinsey? Grafton said she was working in Hollywood, and reading the Hollywood Reporter. She saw a column in which it mentioned a baby named Kinsey. She liked the name, and snatched it. Millhone was probably taken out of the phone book. It has no meaning.

Which comes first, the title, such as V is for..., or the story. The answer was, it varies. When Grafton first started the series, she sketched out crime related words, and used them for A-D. But, she had planned to call E, E is For Ever. She switched it to "Evidence," and the story just came. For a long time, she thought F would be forgery, but she found it boring. When she made it "Fugitive," she could hear the story. K was for kidnapping, and she wrote four chapters, and realized kidnapping is a federal crime. No one was going to hire a small-town detective for a kidnapping case, so she dumped it. That was the book that caused her to say to her publicist, I have to have more than a year to write the books. Sue liked Q is for Quarry, with its double meaning. The latest book is U is for Undertow. She admitted she gets out the dictionary, and makes a list of words that might work. There's no hard and fast rule for the title and plot.

Barbara confessed she had wanted T is for Lipton, and, when Sue came to the bookstore, she brought a box of teabags, with T is for Trespass on them.

With S is for Silence, there was a switch in time, and multiple points of view. With T is for Trespass, Sue said sometimes the content dictates the form. When Solana Rojas, the villain, took over, she had to tell that story from her point of view. Grafton said she doesn't make it up in advance, but she can't imagine telling a story from Henry or Rose's point of view. People might like it just because they'd like to see Kinsey from another point of view.

Grafton mugged to the audience, saying she's taking heavy mediation, and has a live-in therapist, trying to keep things fresh. How does she do it? "I only have five more times, baby!" She said it helps to see readers, and converse with us. She also said the journals help. It helps to look back, and see her previous battles.

She said her tour was done on Thursday. Then she does Christmas, since we all have to do Christmas. And, in January, she has to do battle again. She runs 5.4 miles a day, five days a week, to deal with her stress.

Barbara mentioned that Grafton has had the same editor, Marian, for the entire series. "How would you feel writing without her as an editor?" The answer was scared. Sue said she's had the same agent since B is for Burglar. She said Steve, her husband, is her first reader of her manuscript, but he doesn't get to see it until it's done, because she has to write the entire book. Then, if he says it's OK, she'll send it to Marian and Molly. Then, she waits to hear what they thin.

The final question involved another format, the audio, and why didn't Judy Kaye do the most recent one. Sue replied that Judy Kaye does all of her audios for Random House. She said Books-on-Tape may have another narrator, but, otherwise, if it's not Judy Kaye on the audio, it might be a pirated version.

Barbara ended by asking Sue to tell us about her train project. Sue said her husband, Steve, had this wonderful idea to get a private train car, and take it at the end of her tour. So, there were three couples, and the plan was to get on the train at the end of the T is for Trespass tour. They were going to go from Louisville, up to Cincinnati, and then to Chicago, and across North America. They had their pjs, and train movies, and a private chef, and they were all set for a romantic trip. But, it started to snow, and unbeknownst to them, the snow was packing up under the train. And, over time, because of that, one toilet after another, and the showers, began to break down. So, it was a romantic idea until the toilets and showers broke down. They had to fly home. Sue said it was the best half day ever on a train.

Sue Grafton then signed books, and, gracious as ever, insisted people check pictures, and make sure they were good ones before they walked away. And, then she signed my book.

"Hello, Everyone...Read Lesa's Blog! Sue Grafton"

Sue Grafton's website is

U is for Undertow by Sue Grafton. G.P. Putnam's Sons, ©2009. ISBN 9780399155970 (hardcover), 416p.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Winners and Our San Francisco Authors

Congratulations to the winners of the Canadian Authors Contest. For some odd reason, both books are going to Illinois. Leslie D. from Elk Grove Village won the autographed copy of Louise Penny's The Brutal Telling, and Dorothy D. from Troy will receive Gallows View by Peter Robinson. The books will go out in the mail tomorrow.

I have autographed books to give away this week from the San Francisco authors who appeared for Authors @ The Teague. When August Riordan witnessed the death of a young woman, the private detective didn't realize he was getting caught up in something odd. He's hired to find a body buried under a false name. There are three groups of people competing to get the body back. One group, the current government, hires a woman named Isis to recover it. She's an expert in Egyptian mummification techniques, and she has her own reasons to want the body. She's sort of creepy. The old ex-military group wants the body to destroy it. And, there is a group of Argentinians who want to restore the body. Riordan is caught between the three groups. Oh, did I say he's looking for the body of Evita? It's Mark Coggins' The Big Wake-Up.

Or, you could win The Gatekeeper by Michelle Gagnon. It's a story that deals with hate groups right here in the United States, as Special Agent Kelly Jones' problems start in Phoenix. But, a kidnapping, murder, border issues, and terrorism are problems that strike throughout the southwest, as there is the possibility of the worst homegrown attack on our soil.

Do you want to win The Gatekeeper or The Big Wake-Up? You can enter to win both, but I need separate entries for each. 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 either Win "The Gatekeeper" or Win "The Big Wake-Up." Your message should include your mailing address. Entrants only in the U.S., please.

The contest will end Thursday, Dec. 17 at 6 p.m. MT. 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!