Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Newbery Winner - The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

It takes a graveyard to raise a child. And, it's a very unusual boy, and an interesting graveyard in Neil Gaiman's Newbery award-winning novel, The Graveyard Book. Gaiman combines wonderful storytelling and suspense, with remarkable characters. It's no wonder this deserving story won this year's Newbery.

I'm sure there are some readers who will object to the opening scene, when a man named Jack murdered most of a family, killing them with a knife, and follows a baby to a cemetery, planning to kill that lone survivor. However, it's a powerful opening, and Gaiman's intended audience will be immediately drawn in. And, Gaiman alleviates the tension with a lighter scene, when the ghosts in the graveyard argue over whether or not they can take in a baby. It takes Silas, a mysterious figure, neither living nor dead, and the Lady on the Grey Horse, to convince the ghosts to adopt him. Silas agrees to act as guardian for the child they name Nobody Owens, Bod for short.

Bod is given the Freedom of the Graveyard, a freedom that protects him within the grounds. The ghosts, along with Silas and a mysterious assistant, educate him, provide him with books, and warn him that he's unsafe if he leaves the cemetery. But, as a boy grows from a year and a half to fifteen, it's natural for him to chafe under those restraints. Bod's learning experiences include a witch, ghouls, and fascinating adventures in and outside the graveyard. He tries to make friends, and, in doing so, calls unwanted attention to his existence.

Gaiman's novel is set in a graveyard, but it's a powerful story of life and death. Bod's story is a coming-of-age story, with humor, tragedy, loss and triumph. Now that it won the Newbery, The Graveyard Book will live as long as children read books. It deserves that honor.

Neil Gaiman's website is

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. HarperCollins Publishers, ©2008. ISBN 9780060530921 (hardcover), 320p.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Friday's "Forgotten" Books - B.J. Oliphant & Shirley McClintock

Have you heard of B.J. Oliphant? How about science fiction author, Sheri S. Tepper? Tepper used two pseudonyms for her mysteries; one was A.J. Orde, and one was B.J. Oliphant. As A.J. Orde, she wrote the Jason Lynx mysteries about a Denver antiques dealer and puzzle solver. But, the series I appreciated was her Shirley McClintock series, beginning with Dead in the Scrub.

Dead in the Scrub came out in 1990, and was an Edgar and Anthony Award finalist in 1991 for Best Paperback. Colorado rancher Shirley McClintock is in her fifties, twice widowed, and a no-nonsense woman. The Washington, D.C. career woman returned home to manage the family ranch after the death of her parents. In this introductory book, McClintock is hunting with two couples she barely knows, and stumbles across a body. When one of her companions is murdered, McClintock turns investigator.

The fourth book in the series, Death and the Delinquent, marked a turning point. Shirley vacations in New Mexico in this one, and she and a teenager girl are both shot. Shirley survives, and the girl dies. She may have been a liar and a thief, but Shirley is determined to discover the killer of a teen. After this book, McClintock moves to New Mexico, and runs a guest ranch, just as Tepper does.

It was a series of seven paperbacks, ending in 1997. But, I remember it as a series with an intriguing, strong woman, who in her fifties, was older than most amateur sleuths in mysteries in the 1990s. Her life as a rancher also led McClintock to be involved with nature and the environment, at a time when it was not yet popular. Nevada Barr's mystery series did not start until 1993. Tepper, writing as Oliphant, may be a forgotten author, but her books foreshadowed mysteries that came later.

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

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Winners and Debut Mysteries Contest

Congratulations to the winners of the autographed mysteries contest. Betty Webb's The Anteater of Death will go to Pauline M. from Midvale, UT, and Death Books a Return by Marion Moore Hill will go to Lillian B. of Cape Elizabeth, ME. The books will go out in the mail tomorrow.

This week, I'm going away the debut mysteries by two authors. When Rosemary Harris was in Glendale a week ago, I had her autograph two copies of her first mystery, Pushing Up Daisies. If you read Wednesday's blog, you'll see that this book was just nominated for an Agatha award for Best First Mystery Novel. So, here's your chance to discover the first story about Paula Holliday, the gardener who expects to dig up dirt, but not mummified bodies.

Or you could win an ARC of Dan Waddell's fascinating mystery, The Blood Detective. Genealogist Nigel Barnes is the London Police Department's only hope in solving a string of murders when the clues on the bodies lead to the city archives, connecting to a string of murders that are 100 years old. It's a complicated, satisfying book.

There will be three lucky winners! Which book would you like to win? 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 "Pushing Up Daisies" or Win "The Blood Detective". Your message should include your mailing address. Entrants only in the U.S., please.

The contest will end Thursday, March 5 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!

A Personal Note

My Uncle Bud, Windsor Smith, died yesterday. He was my mother's oldest brother, and the second oldest of seven children born to Otto and Hildegarde Smith. He was 82.

And, after my Grandma died, Uncle Bud was one of the strongest linchpins that held the family together. This personal note only means something to my family, but it's one reason I blog, and one reason I appreciate words.

My family has loved words and books for generations, and words and books linked us. Grandpa Smith graduated from Ohio State with a degree in journalism. He was Farm Editor of the Fremont News-Messenger, and I treasure a picture of him with President Lyndon Johnson. My Grandma Smith only went through eighth grade, but she was a reader, a woman who enjoyed crossword puzzles. And, she was my Grandpa's proofreader and copy editor. Grandpa trusted her to check his work. Grandpa shared his love of Ohio State and sports with his children. He shared his word skills with his son, while Grandma shared her love of reading with so many of her children and grandchildren.

Uncle Bud graduated from Ohio State, and, eventually wrote the news for WKYC Channel 3 in Cleveland. He was a writer and researcher. He researched family history, wrote one to share with his brothers and sisters, and, for a number of years, linked brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, and distant cousins through a family newsletter. It was always a treat to receive that in the mail, and catch up with family news. And, he shared that family passion for Ohio State.

Today, the women of two generations of the family write the family stories in our round robin letters we send each other. My cousin, Carol Jeanne, and I originally kicked off the letters, but my mother, both my sisters, two aunts, and four other cousins are linked by the stories we share. Uncle Bud's family newsletter might not be published anymore, but the women in the family keep our stories alive. And, we all share that passion for Ohio State.

I blog about my passion for books, something I shared with my grandparents, my parents, my sisters, my husband, aunts, and cousins. And, when my blog is picked up for syndication and published anywhere, I've always said to my mother, "Grandpa would be proud."

There are wordsmiths in this family. Carol Jeanne referred to Uncle Bud as the "Keeper of Memories". But, we've all shared a love of words, writing and reading. Uncle Bud is going to be missed by his wife, his nine children, grandchildren, and remaining sisters and brothers. And, we owe it to Grandpa and Grandma, and Uncle Bud, and, each other, to keep those memories, and the stories, alive.

So, thank you, Uncle Bud, for sharing the memories and words with all of us. Rest in Peace. And, here's a final family tribute, to you, Grandpa and Grandma, and the entire family.


Windsor James Smith

WINDSOR JAMES SMITH age 82. Devoted husband of Janeearlene (nee Dawson). Loving father of Theresa Carlin (Martin), Gregory (Lynn) of Avon, Stephen of Columbia, MO, Victoria, Daniel, Laurel Eckert (Tracy) of Marblehead, Patricia Crane (Dr. Stephen) of Copley, Courtney (Tessa) and Brian. Dear grandfather of 15 and great grandfather of four. W.W.II Army Air Corps veteran. Funeral Mass will be Saturday, Feb. 28, at 11:30 a.m., at St. Bernadette's Church, 2256 Clague Rd., Westlake. Interment St. Joseph Cemetery in Fremont. Friends may call at the DANIEL L. BERRY & DONALD MARTENS AND SONS FUNERAL HOME, 26691 DETROIT RD., WESTLAKE, ON FRIDAY, FROM 2 - 4 AND 7 - 9 P.M. Family suggests contributions to Sisters of Notre Dame, 3837 Secor Rd., Toledo, OH 43623 or the Carmelite Sisters, 3176 Fairmount Blvd., Cleveland Hts., OH 44118.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

2008 Agatha Award Nominees

These are the nominees for the 2008 Agatha Awards. These are my kind of awards - books I've actually read, and recommended to my readers. Congratulations to the nominees. There are some authors on this list that I consider friends, and a number we've hosted at the Velma Teague Library in the last year. Thank you for your books!

2008 Agatha Nominees

Best Novel:

Six Geese A-Slaying by Donna Andrews (St. Martin's Minotaur)
A Royal Pain by Rhys Bowen (Penguin Group)
The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny (St. Martin's Press)
Buckingham Palace Gardens by Anne Perry (Random House)
I Shall Not Want by Julia Spencer-Fleming (St. Martin's Minotaur)

Best First Novel:

Through a Glass, Deadly by Sarah Atwell (Berkley Trade)
The Diva Runs Out of Thyme by Krista Davis (Penguin Group)
Pushing Up Daisies by Rosemary Harris (St. Martin's Press)
Death of a Cozy Writer by G.M. Malliet (Midnight Ink)
Paper, Scissors, Death by Joanna Campbell Slan (Midnight Ink)

Best Non-fiction:

African American Mystery Writers: A Historical & Thematic Study
by Frankie Y. Bailey (McFarland & Co.)
How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries by Kathy Lynn Emerson (Perseverance Press)
Anthony Boucher, A Bibliography by Jeff Marks (McFarland & Co.)
Edgar Allan Poe: An Illustrated Companion to His Tell-Tale Stories by Dr. Harry Lee Poe (Metro Books)
The Suspicions of Mr. Whitcher by Kate Summerscale (Walker & Co.)

Best Short Story:
"The Night Things Changed" by Dana Cameron, Wolfsbane & Mistletoe (Penguin Group)
"Killing Time" by Jane Cleland, Alfred Hitchock Mystery Magazine - November 2008
"Dangerous Crossing" by Carla Coupe, Chesapeake Crimes 3 (Wildside Press)
"Skull & Cross Examination" by Toni Kelner, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine - February 2008
"A Nice Old Guy" by Nancy Pickard, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine - August 2008

Best Children's/Young Adult:

Into the Dark by Peter Abrahams (Harper Collins)
A Thief in the Theater (A Kit Mystery) by Sarah Masters Buckey (American Girl Publishers)
The Crossroads by Chris Grabenstein (Random House Children's Books)
The Great Circus Train Robbery by Nancy Means Wright (Hilliard & Harris)

Congratulations, again!

Jacqueline Winspear & Rhys Bowen at Velma Teague Library

(photo: Rhys Bowen & Jacqueline Winspear)

Jacqueline Winspear, author of the Maisie Dobbs mysteries, was our guest for Authors @ The Teague on Tuesday, Feb. 24. We were lucky that Rhys Bowen picked her up at the airport, so the author of the Molly Murphy, Lady Georgiana (Georgie), and Evan Evans mysteries was able to speak to our audience as well.

Jacqueline started the program by saying since she writes mysteries, she always has to decide what she should say, and not say, so she doesn't reveal too much. She said maybe it's obvious that the reader will encounter madness in her new book,
Among the Mad.

So, in order to provide the background to her book, she turned to Stephen King's book, On Writing, to find out what to say. He said when inspiration comes to an author, it comes from two ideas coming together.

So, Winspear's life provided the inspiration for the background of Among the Mad. She said there were three main sparks. The first came at the age of sixteen, when she changed schools to take her A levels, specialized exams in England. While she attended that school, from 16 to 18, the students were required to do community service on Wednesday afternoon. She chose the social services group. On Wednesdays, she would visit what, at that time, was called the Mental Hospital. At the time it was built in the 1800s, it was known as a lunatic asylum. It's what we would now refer to as a Psychiatric Care Facility. The walls were cement, with glass on top, to discourage people from going over the top. When Jacqueline visited, the gates were open, but at one time they were kept closed to keep patients in, and others out. The building was typical of its time, a Gothic, grey granite building, with a bell tower, and bars on the windows. There was no doubt it was once a lunatic asylum.

Jacqueline's job was to sit and offer companionship. She would do puzzles with the patients, read to them or listen to them read, write letters, and just provide companionship. She started to wonder, even then, where the dividing line was that got some people in, and kept others out. She isn't sure where the idea came from. But, there was one man, in his forties or fifties, who was very intelligent. She had eye surgery then, and he would question her as to whether or not they did this procedure or that test. So she mentioned to a nurse that he seemed so smart. He was a renowned physician, and a murderer. He had been found guilty of justifiable homicide because he killed someone who had broken in, but he went mad after the killing.

There were also three women in their eighties. Since this was about 1971, they had been born in the late 1800s. And, they always seemed just fine to Jacqueline. When she mentioned that to a nurse, she was told they were fine, but they all had children out of wedlock, and in the early twentieth century, those women were institutionalized, and then it reached the point where they could not live outside an institution.

The next event that sparked Winspear's imagination occurred at the end of the 70s or the early 80s. She had a job in London, where Maisie Dobbs' office is now located, that allowed her flexibility to come and go. She used to take lunch in Regent Square where there was a bandstand, and she could listen to the band play music. But, those were years of on-going domestic terrorism. And, one day the IRA set off bombs in eight places in London. One bomb went off under that Regent Square bandstand, killing band members, families, and children. Jacqueline Winspear was on the way to the park, and heard it. She remembers hearing the bomb, and it didn't sound like you think it does. It sounded like a sharp, loud crack. Then there was silence afterward. For a teeny split second, it felt as if humanity was never going to breathe again. There was that silence, and then the sirens. It was a time when people had to be vigilant for themselves, and take responsibility for their own security if you were working in London.

Winspear's third spark was the memories of her grandfather. In 1916, he was in the Battle of the Somme. He came back shell-shocked, and he had been gassed. For the rest of his life, he had a sensitivity to sound. He was emotionally vulnerable. It was a hallmark of young men who were shell-shocked that their mind went from the sound; the percussion of battle was too much.

Jacqueline's grandfather was registered as wounded because he was actually wounded, so he received a pension as an old soldier. By 1915, there were cases of shell-shocked soldiers who couldn't get treatment from neurologists or doctors fast enough. The government was registering the wounded soldiers for pensions, but there were so many that they would not register the mentally wounded as wounded if they were only shell-shocked. Instead, they were sent home to families who often couldn't deal with them, and ended up putting them in asylums. Jacqueline has great memories of her grandfather.

Winspear said when she writes mysteries, Maisie Dobbs is always the mystery. She puts her in situations, and she has to react and change. She has love and lost, gone to war, and has a career.

She went on to read an excerpt from Among the Mad. In the scene, Maisie and her assistant, Billy Beale, had just witnessed a man take his own life. Then, the shopkeepers set out chairs, and made tea for people, because a good cup of tea got the British through everything. After reading, she introduced author Rhys Bowen.

Rhys Bowen said she was really there to act as chauffeur for Jacqueline. But, the books by the two authors parallel each other. March 17 is release date for the eighth Molly Murphy mystery, In a Gilded Cage. Molly is a private investigator at the beginning of the 20th century who came from Ireland to New York. The previous
Molly Murphy mystery is coming out in March in paperback. Tell Me, Pretty Maiden ends in an insane asylum. A girl had been committed against her will, and Molly wants to get her out. It was a time in which men would sometimes commit their wives, if they were interested in another woman. And the concept of psychiatry didn't exist. To treat insanity, they often introduced highly infectious diseases to patients. Sometimes typhoid would induce a fever, and its affect would change the brain. And, sometimes the patient didn't recover.

Bowen said Molly needed a story that was quite as heavy. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the role of women was changing. In a Gilded Cage begins with a suffragists march of Vassar graduates. They suffered from verbal abuse, and had mud thrown at them. Bowen said she traces this to a group of Vassar graduates. Her spark was a visit to an eighty-year-old woman who had a book about Vassar graduates and their travels. These women had great hopes they could do anything.

Those that married and shrank to fit their husband's vision of their role lived In a Gilded Cage. In contrast there is a young woman working for a pharmacist, who hopes to be a pharmacist some day. The book discusses the difference in expectations, and what happens.

This role is very important to Molly's life. Molly is considering marrying her longtime boyfriend, Daniel Sullivan. But his expectations are that she'll give up her work. Is that what she wants?

When the two authors took questions, I mentioned that the atmosphere in London during that time, with a bad economy, soldiers returning, people out of work, reminded me of our current situation. Jacqueline Winspear quoted James Joyce as saying, "History is a nightmare from which I'm trying to awake." She said photographers were not allowed to take pictures of the caskets brought home from Iraq. She said England also tried to keep from the people the human cost of war. The economic depression mirrored the collective depression. The people celebrated the end of the war, and then a few days later, they realized their boys were never coming home. The men of entire factories, streets and towns, such as Acton, were wiped out in the First World War. Eighty to ninety percent of some towns were killed at the Somme, many from Pals Regiments.

In 1914, lots of men joined up because it was patriotic. By 1915, when they realized what war was about, they thought maybe they wouldn't join up. So, the British government encouraged Pals Regiments. Join up with your pals from school, or factory, or street, or whole towns. However, when entire neighborhoods were wiped out, the country couldn't hide the losses. Now, the government no longer allows too many people from one region to be in the same unit. The First World War left whole gaping holes in communities. That war was a collective ache for the country.

Rhys Bowen went on to talk about the large loss of life because the generals fought by sending men over the top, and lost 5000 men to gain a short distance. Just as in Iraq, the background was missing. The generals looked at the map, and never saw the the actual terrain. They sent in the cavalry, and there was fifteen feet of mud. Men and horses drowned. And, when messages were sent saying they can't advance because of the mud, the generals couldn't understand. They made the mistake of planning a war based on the most recent one England fought, with cavalry charges. They should have looked at the American Civil War to see the rise of the machine gun.

Jacqueline Winspear answered a question, saying she was from England, and came to California in her early 30s, planning to take a vacation of three or four months. She had a brother there. But, there was a company there that had broken off from the firm she worked for, and they offered her a job. So, she stayed in California.

It was the perfect ending to answer a question about the name Maisie Dobbs. Winspear said the idea for the books came to her when she was driving along. She just knew her character's name was Maisie Dobbs. She's an everywoman. She's a woman of her generation, the first generation to go to war in modern times.

Jacqueline Winspear's website is

Among the Mad by Jacqueline Winspear. Henry Holt and Company, ©2009. ISBN 9780805082166 (hardcover), 320p.

Rhys Bowen's website is

Rhys Bowen blogs at

Tell Me, Pretty Woman by Rhys Bowen. St. Martin's Press, 2009, ISBN 9780312943752 (paperback), 336p.

In a Gilded Cage by Rhys Bowen. St. Martin's Minotaur, ©2009. ISBN 9780312385347 (hardcover), 288p.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Among the Mad by Jacqueline Winspear

Jacqueline Winspear's newest Maisie Dobbs book, Among the Mad, is one of the most thoughtful, timely mysteries you will read this year, even though the main action is set in one short week in December, 1931. And, it's scary.

On Christmas Eve, Maisie Dobbs, Psychologist and Investigator, is running errands with her assistant, Billy Beale, when she notices a man who appears to be homeless. As she turns around to give him money, he blows himself up. Detective Inspector Richard Stratton of Scotland Yard arrives at the scene, and collects Maisie and Billy as witnesses. When the government receives threatening letters, Scotland Yard calls on Maisie to work on the case, since her name was mentioned in the letter, and there is a possibility of connection to the suicide.

Dobbs, herself a veteran of the war, recognizes the despair in the letter. The writer wants the government to alleviate the suffering of the unemployed, or threatens more than one suicide. She, herself, knows that London can be "a desperate place," with people out of work, returning vets with no jobs, mentally scarred men and women trying to cope with the aftereffects of war. However, even as the threats and dangers escalate, Maisie knows it's like looking for a needle in a haystack to look for one man who is mentally scarred, out of a nation of hundreds of thousands of people who are wounded.

In one short week, Maisie and Scotland Yard face a human time bomb. Winspear allows the reader to feel Maisie's mounting fear and anxiety, along with the deteriorating condition of the author of those threats.

It is a post-war England, suffering from a poor economy, where returning vets suffer from homelessness, shell-shock, and desperation. Winspear uses Maisie and her best friend, Priscilla, as well as the tragic story of Billy Beale's wife, to show the raw emotions of everyone in the country, the fear, and, at times, lack of hope in the future.

Winspear quietly ratchets up the tension in the novel until Maisie Dobbs faces a killer, and her own turmoil, on New Year's Eve. Among the Mad is a thought-provoking, masterful novel.

Jacqueline Winspear's website is

Among the Mad by Jacqueline Winspear. Henry Holt and Company, ©2009. ISBN 9780805082166 (hardcover), 320p.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Upcoming Authors @ The Teague

If you're going to be in the Glendale, Arizona area in the next month, you might want to check out the schedule of authors appearing at the Velma Teague Library. We have a terrific list of mystery authors coming to the library.

Jacqueline Winspear, author of the Maisie Dobbs novels, will be our guest author on Tuesday, Feb. 24 at 3:30. She has won numerous awards for her work, including the Agatha, Alex, and Macavity awards for the first book in the series, Maisie Dobbs. On Tuesday, she will discuss and sign her new book, Among the Mad(Henry Holt and Company).

Cara Black will join us for Authors @ The Teague on Wednesday, March 11. Cara will take us to Paris with her new Aimée Leduc mystery, Murder in the Latin Quarter (Soho Press). Aimée finds herself involved in murky Haitian politics leading to
murder. The setting is the Latin Quarter on the Left Bank of the Seine, in the old university district of Paris.

On Wednesday, March 18, we're bringing a hot and cold team to the library. From Canada, comes Vicki Delaney, author of the second Constable Molly Smith mystery.

Deborah Atkinson Turrell is touring with Vicki. Deborah is joining us from Hawaii, bringing her latest suspense novel featuring attorney Storm Kayama, Pleasing the
Dead (Poisoned Pen Press). I'll have more on this program, closer to the date.

With settings from England to Paris, Canada to Hawaii, and an outstanding group of mystery writers, the Authors @ The Teague programs are bringing the world to the Velma Teague Library. Mark your calendars now, and plan to join us!

The Velma Teague Library is at 7010 N. 58th Ave., Glendale, AZ 85301. Call 623-390-3431 for more information.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Sunday Salon - What Would Google Do? by Jeff Jarvis

Jeff Jarvis is the perfect author to discuss the Google way, with his extensive background in media, from TV Guide to Entertainment Weekly to his popular blog, He teaches journalism at the City University of New York in NYC, and all of his background and experience combines in his analysis of Google's success. It's a fascinating, insightful examination of the company, and how it has changed the world.

The Internet has changed the way the world communicates. Nothing shows that more than the last Presidential campaign in which President Obama's team capitalized on all of the ways to reach voters - from Facebook to Digg to Google, Craigslist, Facebook, Wikipedia, and Digg are all organized to take advantage of the knowledge of their users. Jarvis spends time analyzing the success of these companies that organize the modern world so people can use that knowledge, and then allow people to make suggestions, pointing out what works.

Google, and the other companies discussed, can be viewed as scary, or challenging. Jarvis points out that newspapers are already on their way out because they couldn't adjust to the new way people learned the news. Jarvis examines the changes in the entertainment world and book publishing, because of these companies. And, he, and Google, share their rules, based on connections.

Jarvis spends time exploring Google's rules for a new society, one "built on connections, links, transparency, openness, publicness, listening, trust, wisdom...." It's a society I'd like to live in.

As a reader, and librarian, it makes me think about public libraries, and how we could change. Our biggest problem is the rules imposed on us by our governing bodies, usually city or local governments. To be honest, there would be fewer rules if librarians actually controlled their own libraries - fewer fines, fewer penalties. And, Google has already changed how libraries do business. Everyone starts with Google, looking for answers. If they succeed with books online (and they will), libraries will continue to change. With today's economy, we've seen that one of our most important roles is as an Internet access point for people needing computers to file for unemployment and find jobs.

As a member of the Sunday Salon community, this book shows we've already succeeded in becoming a network to discuss the books we all love. Google, Digg, Craigslist, and the other companies are about building communities. If you came to Lesa's Book Critiques because of Sunday Salon, the network is working. And, if you go from my blog to another one, the network of book lovers is working.

Jeff Jarvis' What Would Google Do? is a fascinating book that has already forced me to make changes on my blog. I'd like to be part of the Internet future, not the past. It's a book to read if you'd like to understand our world.

Jeff Jarvis' blog is

What Would Google Do? by Jeff Jarvis. HarperCollins, ©2009. ISBN 9780061709715 (Hardcover), 272p.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Mystery Author Rosemary Harris at Velma Teague Library

Rosemary Harris appeared at the Velma Teague Library on Friday, Feb. 20, introducing herself as the author of the Dirty Business Mystery Series for St. Martin's Minotaur. She went on to say the first place she appeared after her launch party last year was The Poisoned Pen Bookstore in Scottsdale. She said she had become an online friend with me. Rosemary said you might hesitate to call someone you meet online a friend, but I truly was one. She said, "Lesa knew I was a rank beginner, so she showed up at the bookstore to support me." So, when she had the opportunity to appear at the Velma Teague Library, she jumped at the chance.

Harris said she was an accidental author. She doesn't have five or six half-finished manuscripts. She lives in Connecticut, and one winter was so bad, they had seventeen snowstorms. That winter, there was a small item in The New York Times saying a mummified baby had been identified. She commented that the media has changed in the last five or six years. She was fascinated by this item, and, at that time, she had to dig for the story. She snooped around online, and became more hooked, so she called the doctor who assisted with the autopsy. He was the Director of the Henry Lee Institute at Yale. He told her the baby had not been 100% identified. Harris thought, what if they were wrong as to who the baby was? Her "what if" became her first mystery, Pushing Up Daisies.

Rosemary made her heroine, Paula Holliday, a gardener because Harris is a gardener. It took her one month to write the first thirty-five pages. Then, she hit the wall all first-timers hit. She decided to get past that brick wall by getting to fifty pages. Then the goal was 100 pages. It took her one and a half years to write the whole book, and a year to get an agent. It was torture to send her baby out in the world, and wait. It can be disheartening. After one year, she wrote a strong cover letter, and sent it, along with the first chapter to ten agents. Three answered. Harris said, no matter what you hear, agents don't have jobs unless they have someone to represent.

Harris said her latest book, The Big Dirt Nap, also came from information she read in the newspaper. She has numerous story ideas from articles clipped and filed from papers.

Here's an idea from the papers. Everyone knew the story of the chimp that attacked the friend of its owner, and had to be killed. The lady with the chimp lives near Harris in Connecticut, and she met the chimp. Harris' husband, Bruce, jogs, and a dog followed him home. They identified the owner, and took it home to this unusual property where there were dogs, and a wagon in the Wizard of Oz style. It was a nontraditional home setting. And, then the chimp came out. When she heard about the chimp in suburban Connecticut last week, she knew it was the chimp she'd met. She said that has got to end up in a story. Harris tweaks real-life stories for her books.

The inspiration for the latest mystery, The Big Dirt Nap, was the story of a woman living with her son on a reservation. She wasn't a Native American, but her son's father was. There was controversy as to whether she should be allowed to live there. Harris did research as to laws and history. Then, she made up her own tribe. She said there is a proliferation of casinos in Connecticut. Many people don't know the owner of Subway is backing a tribe in Connecticut in their fight for legal recognition. There are lots of stories behind casinos. There are Malaysian investors. And, there are lots of fun stories about them.

The Big Dirt Nap also includes a corpse flower. That is a plant, native to Indonesia, that only grows in the U.S. in cultivation. It needs to be hand-pollinated in order to bloom, and it only does that every seven to ten years. When it flowers, it smells like rotten meat.

In this story, Paula Holliday goes to a hotel to write a story about the corpse flower, and spend a girls' weekend with a friend. Her friend doesn't show up. But, a guy tries to pick Paula up, and ends up dead, with a hole in his head. She identifies the body, and is stuck there, without her friend, who still doesn't show. The story covers the three to five days it takes a corpse flower to bloom. The denouement of the story occurs when the flower blooms.

According to Harris, there was less pressure with the second book because she had a two book contract. With the first one, you do the happy dance when you write The End. But, the more you write, the more you learn. She said now, she could have changed a number of things in her first book. She thought the first one was funny, but it's only been with the second book that reviewers are commenting on the humor.

Rosemary Harris is working on the third book, to be called Dead Head. It's almost finished. It's another story ripped from the headlines. A while ago, there was a San Diego housewife who had been on the lam for 35 years. She had walked away from a work release program in Michigan, where she had been sentenced to twenty years after selling drugs to an undercover cop when she was nineteen. She was ripped from her middle-class family, and sent back to Michigan. Harris uses this as the basis for the next mystery.

She said she writes mysteries with gardening because she likes digging things up. Gardening and mysteries have parallels, with lots of overlap. To Harris, it's a mystery when anything works in a garden. She finds seeds a mystery.

One thing she learned while writing The Big Dirt Nap is there are over 100,000 missing persons in the U.S. No law enforcement will look for healthy adults unless they suspect foul play. That happens to Paula's friend.

In answer to a question, Rosemary said she includes bits of gardening. She doesn't want to write a craft mystery. Paula has to have a job, so she made her a gardener.

Harris had no idea she was writing a series when she wrote her first book, but her agent asked if she was, and, of course, she said yes. It's easier for an agent to sell a series. If a writer starts with a standalone, there's a lot riding on one book. Many mystery authors write a series first, and then say, but I really want to write a standalone. She said it's probably hard to maintain a long-running series, but, in saying what I really want to write, it negates the importance of the series. It reminds her of actors who say I really want to direct.

When Rosemary wrote Pushing Up Daisies, she was told to take out the one line of sex in the manuscript. When she questioned that, she was told in the lifespan of the series, an author can't have the heroine sleep with a man in every book, or she's not a "nice girl." A series is like real life in that the character has to deal with ramifications.

Harris said she takes her hat off to Sue Grafton and Lee Child, who can keep series characters going. Dana Stabenow recently did a guest appearance on Harris' blog, Jungle Red Writers, where Harris blogs with five other mystery authors. Dana has written sixteen books in the Kate Shugak series. She has a timeline to keep track of all the details, such as foods, friends from the past, and Kate's experiences. It's a big timeline, by the time you get to sixteen books.

In Harris' series, Paula is a gardener because it gives her a chance to be thrown in with lots of people, day laborers, people at the local diner. It's a great job for an amateur sleuth. She can be all around.

When asked if she set out to write mysteries, Rosemary said no. She just ran with the story she wanted to tell. She didn't know the book was going to be the first in a series, or a traditional mystery or a cozy.

In doing her research, she starts from scratch. She does research online. She has a number of email exchanges, with people in Australia, cops, and an expert in Texas called the Poison Lady. People love to talk about what they do. She doesn't have to do a great deal of research because her character is an amateur sleuth. Harris doesn't get too involved in the details of forensics. She writes a traditional mystery about a puzzle, with a smattering of forensics.

She admits she does get criticism and questions about the books. One email said Springfield could not be a college town because there was no college there. However, Springfield, CT is a town that Harris made up; it doesn't exist. So, she could place a college there. Many first time writers get facts wrong about guns. Harris said she used a Taser as a weapon in book two, and she was excited because while she's here in Arizona, she's going to tour the Taser facility in Scottsdale.

When asked about Babe, a character in the books, she said Babe is an aging, but ageless rock-and-roller who owns the diner. Many people like Babe. One young guy in the publishing house wanted her phone number. She did start out as a person Harris knew, but she grew into her own character. Babe is so popular that Rosemary wrote a short story about her, "Growing Up is for Losers." It was nominated for a Derringer, which makes her proud because it was her first, and only, short story. It's on her website.

The second book in the series was supposed to be set at the Philadelphia Flower Show, but she shelved it so she could include Babe in the second book. Series books need secondary characters to bring the books to life.

Harris said she writes a biographical sketch of her main characters - what's in their handbag, refrigerator, so she knows what kind of person she is, and how she will react.

She admitted there is a little of her in all of the characters. "If you don't climb in to their skins, you're just writing words." There is a little of her in each character.

The Dirty Business books are set in Springfield, a fictional town in Connecticut. Harris wanted to avoid the "Cabot Cove Syndrome", in which everyone in a small town is killed. Paula is a gardener, so she can travel. She can work for individuals, companies, write articles. So, she can leave town. Paula is originally from New York, so she might go there in a book, where there are more crimes. And, they don't always have to be murders.

Rosemary Harris uses greed, lust and revenge as themes. She doesn't read serial killer books. Her books are about the puzzle. What do ordinary people do in extraordinary circumstances? Motivation is greed, lust, and revenge.

Rosemary Harris's website is

She blogs at

The Big Dirt Nap by Rosemary Harris. Minotaur Books, ©2009. ISBN 978-0-312-36968-2 (hardcover), 256p.

(Rosemary Harris & Lesa Holstine)

Friday, February 20, 2009

Friday's "Forgotten" Books - The Last Song Dogs

Because I work at a public library in Arizona, readers are always looking for mysteries set in the state. I read Sinclair Browning's Trade Ellis books before I ever moved here, and I don't hesitate to pass them on. The biggest disappointment is that there are only five in the series.

The Last Song Dogs came out in 1999, and was a finalist for the 2000 Shamus Award for Best Paperback. It introduced Trade Ellis, a rancher, a "dirty-shirt cowgirl", and a part-time private eye. She's part Apache, and spends her time working her ranch, Vaca Grande, trying to supplement her income with her private investigation business. As her 25th reunion from Javelina High School approaches, she receives news of the gruesome murders of some of the cheerleaders. Trade, herself, is one of the few remaining cheerleaders, but two others hire her to stop a killer before they end up as the next victims. A class reunion is a perfect time to interview suspects, or point out the remaining cheerleaders to a killer.

The Sporting Club, the second book in the series, was a finalist for the 2001 Shamus Award for Best Paperback. Three more mysteries followed: Rode Hard, Put Away Dead; Crack Shot; and Traggedy Ann. In just five books, Sinclair Browning gave us intriguing Arizona mysteries with a hard-working rancher/detective. It's a fascinating life, when you only have to read about it. It's just too bad there were only five books in the series.

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

Sinclair Browning's website is

The Last Song Dogs by Sinclair Browning. Bantam Books, ©1999. ISBN 9780553579406 (paperback), 272p.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Winners & Autographed Mystery Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the Light/Dark Mystery Contest. Adina W. of Fair Lawn, NJ will receive Meredith Cole's Posed for Murder, and Melissa K. of Virginia Beach, VA will receive the ARC of Vi Agra Falls by Mary Daheim.

In the last week, I had the chance to see two mystery authors, Betty Webb and Marion Moore Hill, so, this week, I'm giving away autographed copies of their latest books.

The Anteater of Death is a departure from Webb's Lena Jones mysteries. It's a treat to read this enjoyable mystery set at the Gunn Zoo, in Gunn's Landing, CA. Teddy Bentley, the assistant zookeeper, is determined to clear the anteater of charges of murder. This marks the debut of a fun series with a terrific cast of characters. Webb's Lena Jones fans shouldn't worry, though. The next Lena Jones mystery, Desert Lost, is scheduled for December release.

The second book in Marion Moore Hill's Scrappy Librarian series is Death Books a Return. Juanita Wills, the librarian in Wyndham, Oklahoma, is researching a local history when she stumbles on an unsolved racial crime fifty years earlier. Why did no one investigate the murder of a young black man, killed in Wyndham after sundown one night in 1959, when he shouldn't have been in town?

So, which autographed mystery would you like to win, The Anteater of Death or Death Books a Return? 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 Anteater of Death" or Win "Death Books a Return". Your message should include your mailing address. Entrants only in the U.S., please.

The contest will end Thursday, Feb. 26 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!

Absinthe of Malice

Pearl, California may appear to be a cute, historic town, but it takes the Lifestyle reporter for the local newspaper to dig out the nasty truth behind the small town in Pat Browning's mystery, Absinthe of Malice.

Penny Mackenzie actually has no plans to move on from her comfortable job at The Pearl Outsider. She's the Lifestyle reporter, while her best friend, Maxie Harper, is the more ambitious one. But, when they hide in a cotton field together one night, and watch a group of teens accidentally uncover a skeleton, it leads to tragedy. For a short time, Maxie stirred up some of the town's old history. However, on the night of a big town event, while Penny waited below in the historic jail turned bar and grille, Maxie died. Now, it's Penny's turn to track down the town's secrets, with the help of an old college boyfriend turned investigator. Pearl's secrets could lead back to the founding of the town, and the Klondike Gold Rush of the 1890s.

Absinthe of Malice is a difficult traditional mystery to describe, without giving away too much of the plot. I'll just say, Penny Mackenzie is a welcome change from so many women in mysteries. Those of us who get tired of women who rush in by themselves, in the dark, when they know the murderer is out there, have a term for them - TSTL, Too Stupid To Live. Penny is a reluctant sleuth, who doesn't want to investigate friends, but wants justice for Maxie. However, she's not a stupid woman. Accidents happen, but Penny tries to protect herself. My kind of amateur sleuth!

Put together a small town mystery, a terrific amateur sleuth, a little romance, and it's a highly recommended crime novel. Check out Pat Browning's Absinthe of Malice.

Absinthe of Malice by Pat Browning. Krill Press, 2008. ISBN 9780982144312 (paperback), 244p.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Guest Blogger - Barbara Levenson

Barbara Levenson is the author of the debut mystery, Fatal February. Before she discusses marketing of books, I'll reprint the summary of the first Mary Magruder Katz mystery, from Barbara's website.

For half Jewish, half Southern Baptist Miami criminal defense attorney Mary Magruder Katz, life starts to spin completely out of control when a minor fender bender turns out to be an unlikely shot from Cupid’s bow.

Carlos Martin, the other car’s driver, isn’t just a distracted driver; he’s distracting. Carlos is charming, handsome, and mysterious. Hardly before she knows what hit her, Mary breaks off her engagement, jumps into a sizzling romance with Carlos, gets fired from her former fiancé’s highbrow law firm, starts her own practice, and lands her first client, Lillian Yarmouth.

But Lillian isn’t just any client; she’s the prime suspect in what’s become the Miami society murder of the year.

While investigating Lillian’s alleged crime of passion, Mary finds that this case, like all matters of the heart, is anything but black and white. And Mary has clearly stumbled onto something that has someone seeing red.

February may be the shortest month of the year, but Mary’s got some long days (and nights) ahead. This month could be a real killer.

Now, I'll turn the blog over to Barbara, so she can discuss marketing books. Thank you, Barbara.

What sells books?

Everyone involved in the book business: writers, publishers, editors, publicists, all have one or more theories.

FATAL FEBRUARY is my first published mystery novel. Writing a book is easy and pleasurable for me. But little did I know that once the book is finished and sold, my time would be consumed with “promotion”. I am not unfamiliar with selling myself, having been through multiple election campaigns as a candidate. Selling my book to the public is a different experience.

The first task is selecting the right art work for the cover. I know this is important. I am one who loves to browse bookstores and am an impulse reader when a book seems to call to me from the shelf. However, my knowledge of art work is confined to enjoying outdoor art shows. I cannot draw. Even the photos I take are generally poorly focused and off center. Fortunately, my publisher, Oceanview, has a wonderful artist who took the job and the decision out of my hands.

Next, the publisher explained that I must get “blurbs” for the back cover. What is a blurb? It’s a short few sentences by another author or celebrity who has read the ‘ARC’, or advanced reader copy of the book, and is willing to say something very nice that will end up in print. So supposing my book is of a certain genre and takes place in a well known location. Another author whose writing falls into those same categories may not be too happy to give a boost to the competition, or their publisher may nix them applauding someone who may drain away readers. On the other end of the spectrum, an author who writes poetry may not be into mysteries. It helps to solve this problem if you have lived long enough to have wide circles of contacts. So more time is spent in areas which consumer the time from writing. Writing is what most writers want to do.

“You must have a website,” is the next directive. This is the place where your readers and reviewers can see what you look like, what the book jacket looks like, what your biography tells them. It seems everyone has a website: doctors, lawyers, authors, teenagers, college kids, store owners. It wouldn’t surprise me to find a website for the men who mow our lawn. More time is eaten up in obtaining the right webmaster, and approving various items to fill the website.

All of these time-eaters occur months before the actual publication date, which I have also learned is an illusion. Long before the actual assigned date of publication, hundreds of people have read this book, posted reviews, and purchased the book on line.

Finally, the big day arrives. Book signings are secured in various parts of the country, travel plans are made, and then the question arises. Where are the next two books? How soon will they be ready?

So what sells books? The end paper in the NEW YORK TIMES Sunday book review recently published two interesting essays. One concerned blurbs and whether they were necessarily read by potential readers, and, if so, did the blurb make the reader decide to invest in the book. The essayist drew no conclusion. I am a voracious reader, but until I was told to secure some blurbs, I could never recall having read any.

The second essay titled SEE THE WEB SITE, BUY THE BOOK, by I.J. Courtney Sullivan, asks the question, “Do elaborate web sites and videos really sell books? The answer: “As in so much of publishing, no one really knows”. Sullivan goes on to say,

“The days of just holing up and writing in solitude are gone. Today you can’t be a successful writer without having a little Barnum in your bones.”

My guess is that all of the promotional tools can’t hurt sales. Younger audiences, in particular, are appreciative of technological advances. They expect to see a website and want to be able to communicate directly with an author. However, if a book is not interesting or exciting, all the promotions in the world will not draw readers to more words from that author.

I’d like to write more on this subject, but I just got a phone call telling me I need a video trailer to enhance “my presence in the world of publishing.” Does anyone know a good videographer?

Thank you, Barbara! Barbara Levenson is giving away a signed copy of her book, Fatal February, to one lucky tour visitor. Go to Barbara’s book tour page,, and enter your name, e-mail address, and this PIN, 9673, for your chance to win. Entries from Lesa's Book Critiques will be accepted until 12:00 Noon (PT) tomorrow. No purchase is required to enter or to win. The winner (first name only) will be announced on Barbara’s book tour page next week.”

Barbara Levenson's website is

Fatal February by Barbara Levenson. Oceanview Publishing, ©2009. ISBN 9781933515526 (hardcover), 264p.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Very Valentine

Lush and passionate are words that could be used to describe other Adriana Trigiani novels, and, her latest, Very Valentine, is no exception.

However, I don't mean sexually passionate when I say that. Valentine Roncalli is a shoemaker, learning to be a craftsman under the auspices of her grandmother, a master. At thirty-three, Valentine lives above the shop with her grandmother. The sign says, Angelina Shoes, Greenwich Village, since 1903, and, if Valentine has her way, the art of designing, and handmaking wedding shoes will go on for years.

Valentine's personal life leaves something to be desired until the night of her sister's wedding when a chef/restaurant owner, Roman Falconi, sees her on her rooftop garden, naked. Roman introduces himself, and the two Italian-Americans struggle to find time for themselves, despite their busy careers.

But, Valentine's biggest struggle is to keep the family business and her home, despite mortgage problems, and her brother's push to sell the valuable property. A contest to design the perfect shoe for Bergdorf Goodman might help Valentine in her struggle. Valentine's father told her that she's a person who has to work hard for everything. In the course of the book, Valentine discovers her passion for the art of shoemaking, and she glories in the discovery of the perfect materials and design. Is she going to be able to hold on to both a lover and a career?

This first book in a proposed trilogy is rich in detail about the art of making shoes. Trigiani is a master of describing volatile Italian-American families, and their passion for life. Her characters are always larger than life people readers wish they knew. Valentine, her family and friends fit that description. And, as in her previous novels, such as Big Stone Gap, she vividly describes the settings, from Greenwich Village to Little Italy to Capri.

In Very Valentine, Adriana Trigini creates a woman, a family, and a world that spring to life from the printed page. It's a shame we have to wait for the next book to learn what happens to Valentine.

Adriana Trigiani's website is

Very Valentine by Adriana Trigiani. HarperCollins, ©2009. ISBN 9780061257056 (hardcover), 384p.

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Big Dirt Nap

Rosemary Harris, author of the Dirty Business mysteries, will speak at the Velma Teague Library, 7010 N. 58th Ave., Glendale, on Friday, Feb. 20 at 2 p.m. as part of the Authors @ The Teague series. She will discuss and sign her books at the free program. Call 623-930-3431 for details.

It's a caper novel, with murder, casinos, bumbling Ukrainian gangsters, a bear, a pitchfork, and a gardener. It must be Rosemary Harris' latest Dirty Business mystery, The Big Dirt Nap.

It's the off-season, so it's the perfect time for Paula Holliday, owner of Dirty Business Gardening, to meet a friend for a weekend getaway. There's the added incentive of the possible flowering of a corpse flower, an unusual addition to the lobby at the Titans Hotel. But, Lucy is a no-show, and Paula finds herself identifying the corpse of a man who tried to pick her up in the bar. Paula can't help poking around though, while she waits for Lucy, who texts messages that tend to get more obscure. She hears rumors about casinos, Ukrainian gangsters, and kidnappings. After a run-in with a smart-alecky police detective, Paula gives up on her friend, only to be followed on the road. When her home is broken into, Paula worries that Lucy might be held somewhere against her will. So, there's one more trip back to Titans Hotel, a place now out of a nightmare. Not the ordinary weekend in the life of a gardener.

Since it's the off-season, there are fewer gardening details in this book than in the debut mystery, Pushing Up Daisies. But, gardening fans will still appreciate details about Paula's business, and, of course, the corpse flower.

Harris' new book is a wacky adventure for poor Paula. Paula is a loyal friend, and she engenders loyalty in return. This is a series with strong secondary characters, particularly Babe, owner of Babe's Paradise Diner. With the trip out-of-town, I found myself waiting for Babe's first appearance, and I wasn't disappointed. If you're in the mood for a fast-paced, quirky mystery, with interesting characters, The Big Dirt Nap might fit the bill.

Rosemary Harris' website is

The Big Dirt Nap by Rosemary Harris. Minotaur Books, ©2009. ISBN 978-0-312-36968-2 (hardcover), 256p.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Hatchette Book Giveaway Winners

Congratulations to the winners of the two Hatchette Book Giveaway Contests. Five people won the With Love from Hatchette, Valentine's Book Contest:

Alyson W. from Shaker Heights, OH
Joan W. from St. Petersburg, FL
Carol Jeanne M. from Gibsonburg, OH
Jennifer C. from New Orleans, LA
Gayle H. from Tecumseh, MI

And, these five people won the eight books in the African-American History Month Contest.

Cindi H. from Edwardsville, IL
Jean P. from Wasilla, AK
Alicia L. from Madision, WI
Danielle F. from Northwood, NH
Victoria K. from Flower Mound, TX

Congratulations! Hatchette will be sending the books out shortly.

Sunday Salon - Marion Moore Hill at The Poisoned Pen Bookstore

Marion Moore Hill, author of the Scrappy Librarian mysteries, and the Deadly Past books, appeared at The Poisoned Pen Bookstore in Scottsdale, AZ on Friday, Feb. 13 and Saturday, Feb. 14. On Friday night, I acted as facilitator. Fortunately, I really only introduced Hill and her books, and she took it from there.

Hill started by saying although she writes the Scrappy Librarian series, she is not a librarian. But, that series began with the character of Juanita Wills. Hill thought librarians tended to be stereotyped, either as the quiet type who would not make a sound, or as the sergeant types, always hushing people. She said the librarians she knew were not like that. They were interested in a lot of subjects. And, many of them had a wicked sense of humor. She also addressed the problem I had with her character when I read Death Books a Return. She admitted Juanita wasn't in the library a lot. I admit, I had a problem with that because I couldn't suspense my disbelief enough to accept a Library Director who had the time to run all around two towns during the work day, working on projects outside of the library.

Bookmarked for Murder, the first Scrappy Librarian book, was about hate groups, and the realization that many residents of towns aren't even aware of the hate groups in their midst. Juanita Wills worked late at the library one night, and, while walking home, saw three men run out of a church. They all had their faces covered. Juanita was frightened, but she heard sounds coming from the church. Upon entering, she found the minister, who had been beaten unconscious. And, there was a hate message on the wall.

Death Books a Return is the second mystery in the Scrappy Librarian series. As Library Director in Wyndham, Oklahoma (a made-up town, somewhere near Tulsa), Juanita is working on a local history. She learns about a murder fifty years earlier that the police never investigated. In Oklahoma, in the 1950s, there were Sundown towns, ones with signs that said black people should not be in town after the sun went down. There were also all-black towns. After the Civil War, Oklahoma had the largest number of all-black towns in the country. They were communities with businesses, law firms, stores. But, many died out in the twentieth century, particularly the 1930s, during the Depression. The businesses had been dependent on the railroads, and many of them went out of business. The story surrounds the death of a young black man in Wyndham in 1959. Why was he in town after sundown?

Hill said she already has an idea for the third book in the series. Juanita Wills will become a literacy tutor. Hill, herself, has been one for about twenty years.

The Deadly Past books, Marion Moore Hill's other mystery series, started with Deadly Will. While doing historical research, Hill learned that Ben Franklin's will set aside money for towns he was associated with, but the money was to earn interest for 200 years before the towns received it. In 1990, those cities received millions of dollars. Hill invented a fictitious acquaintance of Franklin's, Nathan Henry, who also leaves money to his descendants after 200 years. But, some of them die under mysterious circumstances. Henry also left items to be given to his heirs by lottery, and by that time, there are some valuable antiques, including a quilt made by Betsy Ross.

It was obvious that Hill enjoys the research, and the contacts made while doing research. She discussed the experts who helped her with information about early American antiques, quilts, and even the history of fabrics.

When questioned about the hate groups, Hill said she became interested after the story from Texas a few years ago in which a black man was tied to a car, and dragged behind it. She said a lot of things have gotten better, but there is still racism. She wanted to write about an old murder because the story drew her. She said she did not interview members of hate groups, but she did a great deal of reading.

Marion Moore Hill said her librarian character, Juanita Wills, was not modeled on any particular person. She's a composite of a number of librarians. Hill admitted she's particularly found of Wills' assistant librarians, Calvin and Mavis. They don't like each other, but they have an on-going quote war, in which they try to top each other with opposing quotations. She did say there is a little of her in every character, even the villains. She tries to think of the villains, and how they'd think of themselves.

Hill said she read Nancy Drew and other mysteries when she was young, and she wanted to write mysteries. But, she majored in journalism, and went on to be a newspaper reporter, and write ad copy. Twenty years ago, she started writing fiction, but discovered she was not very good at it. She had been teaching writing, but learned that writing is very different from analyzing and teaching fiction. It was very helpful for her to be in critique groups. She has been in three of them, starting with one formed by her friend, Billie Letts.

Hill's next book is in the Deadly Past series. Deadly Design, due out in September, is set in Virginia. The main character, after inheriting money in the previous book, is now in college studying history and literature. It deals with Lynchburg, Virginia, where Thomas Jefferson's second home, Poplar Forest was located. Poplar Forest, a three day horseback ride from Monticello, was Jefferson's getaway home. It's an octagonal house, with octagonal rooms, and a dining room in the center. Hill and her husband volunteered for a week there one summer, helping the archaeologists. They are still working on the grounds, uncovering slave quarters, gardens and buildings. She admitted she had to do a great deal of revision to this book, because she had too much research in it, and needed to let the story come through.

One of Marion Moore Hill's final comments was about her publisher, Pemberley Press. She said she likes working with them, because they allow the author to make suggestions for the covers, and agree to the final design. Death Books a Return is just one of those mysteries with a very attractive cover. Check it out.

Marion Moore Hill's website is

Death Books a Return by Marion Moore Hill. Pemberley Press, ©2008. ISBN 978-0-0771913-6-9 (paperback), 284p.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Death Books a Return

I'm doing something I've never done before. I'm rerunning a review. I spent last night at The Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale, acting as interviewer for Marion Moore Hill's appearance to talk about her books, including Death Books a Return. However, since I was doing the actual interview, I was not able to take notes. Instead, I'm reprinting the review I did when I read the book.

Marion Moore Hill resumes her Scrappy Librarian mystery series with the second book, Death Books a Return. It's natural for a librarian with reference skills to dig into a town's history. It's not so natural for the librarian to become the target of a killer.

Juanita Wills wants to write the history of Wyndham, Oklahoma, but finds a shameful event in 1959. A black high school athlete from the neighboring town of Bryson's Corner was brutally murdered on Wyndham's track soon after embarrassing a number of white boys at a track meet. The case was never solved, and almost half a century later, Juanita still has a hard time finding people willing to talk about the murder.
It doesn't help her research when one of her first sources is killed in Bryson's Corner before she can even talk to him. Suddenly, her research becomes dangerous.

Hill tells a complex story of racial hatred and distrust, revealing the feelings that still last to this day. Her character's interest in the past stirs up emotions in two towns, and two generations. It's a thoughtful examination of racial crimes.
Although I had a few problems with Juanita as a librarian, as a researcher she is persistent. Her insistence on finding answers changes Wyndham, Oklahoma, in Death Books a Return.

Marion Moore Hill's website is

Death Books a Return by Marion Moore Hill. Pemberley Press, ©2008. ISBN 978-0-0771913-6-9 (paperback), 284p.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Friday's "Forgotten" Books - The Bill Donovan Mysteries

Even Michael Jahn, author of the Bill Donovan mysteries, seemed to let the books slip away from him for years at a time while he worked on other projects. But, some of us never forgot those gritty New York mysteries.

In 1982, Jahn introduced NYPD detective Bill Donovan in Night Rituals. Donovan was a cop on the way down in that first book, filled with rage left over from the murder of his father. He had a mysterious past, and was torn between two women, a Cuban-American barmaid, and a multiracial undercover cop. In Night Rituals, Donovan talks Marcie, the cop, into acting as a decoy in the hunt for a psycho killer.

Jahn's mysteries came along in five year intervals for a while, so it's no wonder readers forgot about them. Death Games came out in 1987, City of God in 1992, and, so on until there were ten books in the series. Donovan & Son, the tenth book, came out in 2008, celebrating twenty-five years of the
series. In Donovan & Son, Bill Donovan is a respected, famous NYPD detective, just retired to devote his life to his son, who is paralyzed, and in a wheelchair. Old friends return from previous books, as the father and son become involved in a murder investigation.

I remember these books as gritty depictions of New York City, but stories that also show a love of the city. And, Donovan. Despite his rough beginnings, he had loyal friends who stuck by him. He changes, grows in the course of the series. Bill Donovan is a detective worth finding.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Winners & Light/Dark Contest

Aloha to the winners of the autographed books from Deborah Turrell Atkinson. I think they'll all appreciate an armchair visit to Hawaii this time of year. The Green Room will go to Anne P. from Seattle, WA and Janel G. from Freeland, MI. Fire Prayer will go to Betty C. from Omaha, NE and Jen F. from Lorain, OH. The books will go out in the mail tomorrow.

This week, you have your choice of two ARCs (Advanced Reading Copies), a light, cozy mystery, or a darker one. Mary Daheim's Vi Agra Falls is the light one. It's the latest in her B&B series. Judith McMonigle Flynn's worst nightmare comes true when her husband's ex-wife, and her new, much younger husband move into the neighborhood. They infuriate the neighbors, and, after a party, they find a body dangling from a tree in the backyard.

Meredith Cole's Posed for Murder is the winner of the St. Martin's Minotaur/
Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Competition. Lydia McKenzie, a photographer with her first one-woman show has to turn detective to find a killer, when the models who posed for her pictures turn up dead.

So, do you want Vi Agra Falls or Posed for Murder? You can enter twice, once for each book. 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 "Vi Agra Falls" or Win "Posed for Murder". Your message should include your mailing address. Entrants only in the U.S., please.

Next Thursday night, I'm working "That Thursday Thing" in Glendale. I'm working a booth since the theme that night is donations of new or gently used books for the library. So, the contest will end Thursday morning, instead of Thursday night.

The contest will end Thursday, Feb. 19 at 6 a.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!

Bookmarked for Death

Murder is Binding was a solid debut in Lorna Barrett's Booktown mystery series, but, Bookmarked for Death is stronger as the characters gain depth, and the two sisters, Tricia and Angelica, start to reach out more to each other.

Tricia Miles is the owner of Haven't Got a Clue, a mystery bookstore in Stoneham, New Hampshire, a booktown with a number of bookstores. And, after her previous experience with the murder of another bookstore owner, townspeople think she's the local jinx. Maybe the appearance at the bookstore of bestselling mystery writer Zoë Carter didn't go smoothly, with her rude niece in attendance, but no one thought the author would end up dead in the restroom. And, of course the sheriff will keep the bookstore closed as a crime scene as long as she can. She and Tricia already have an unpleasant history. But, for a while it seems as if everyone is against Tricia, even her boyfriend, editor of the local newspaper. Between the media and the sheriff, Tricia realizes she better investigate, if she wants to reopen her bookstore.

Barrett avoids the Cabot Cove syndrome in this enjoyable mystery, with a victim from the outside. She has all of the elements essential for a strong entry in a cozy series, family, a little romance, recipes and food, a cat named Miss Marple, books, and a little humor. In this case, the humor comes about through a problem that is actually serious, protected Canadian geese taking over the town, pooping on the sidewalks. Tricia is doing a little better overcoming the long-held rivalry with her sister, Angelica. Angelica still has work to do on her domineering habits. And, Tricia has some insecurity to overcome, after her divorce. This is a cozy series with developing characters. And, for those of us who enjoy cozies, Barrett inserts titles and authors of other mysteries. What's not to like in Bookmarked for Death?

Lorna Barrett's website is

Bookmarked for Death by Lorna Barrett. Berkley Prime Crime, ©2009. ISBN 9780425226414 (paperback), 304p.

February Brown Bag Luncheon

Yesterday, I had the most successful brown bag luncheon yet. On a quarterly basis, I do a program in my office. The public is invited to bring lunch. I provide coffee, water and cookies, and I talk about 15 books in an hour. We had 9 people today, with four people who had never attended before. One asked afterward why we weren't doing a webcast of it. Fun program! Next Wednesday, I'll do almost the same program for librarians in our system at a brown bag luncheon. The titles sometimes vary a little because the attendees can check out the books. And, they did!

Here are this quarter's books.

Ault, Sandi – Wild Indigo - Introduces Bureau of Land Management Agent Jamaica Wild, liaison with Tanoah Pueblo in New Mexico, who witnesses a man trampled to death by a buffalo, but can’t convince anyone it is murder.

Bauermeister, Erica – The School of Essential Ingredients - Eight people take a life-changing cooking class every Monday night in Lillian’s restaurant. Sensual book, filled with food - taste, smell.

Collins, Suzanne – The Hunger Games – Each year, the Capitol demands that the district sends two young people in for the Hunger Games, where they fight to the death.

Davis, Margaret Leslie – Mona Lisa in Camelot – How Jacqueline Kennedy brought the Mona Lisa to the U.S.

Dickinson, Amy – The Mighty Queens of Freeville – The advice columnist’s memoir about her life as a single mother, and the town that was home.

Jarvis, Cheryl – The Necklace – Thirteen women & the experiment with a diamond necklace that changed their lives.

Minichino, Camille – The Hydrogen Murder – Scientist turned crime consultant, Gloria Lamerino, is called in to investigate when a physicist is murdered.

Morris, Bob – A Deadly Silver Sea - McGyver on the high seas when a cruise ship is hijacked on its maiden voyage, with Zack Chasteen and his pregnant wife on board.

The American Journey of Barack Obama – Photo biography of Barack Obama, before he was elected President.

Oppegaard, David – The Suicide Collectors – The Despair has covered the earth for five years, and most people have committed suicide. But, Norman, is determined to get from Florida to Seattle to find the scientist who might have a cure.

Penny, Louise – A Rule Against Murder – A tribute to Agatha Christie takes
Armand Gamache and his wife to a resort, where a fellow guest ends up dead.

Richards, Linda L. – Death Was the Other Woman – The mystery that introduces
Kitty Pangborn, secretary to a hard-drinking, hard-living detective during the Depression in LA.

Scotch, Allison Winn – Time of My Life - What would you do if you could go back & take the road not chosen earlier in life? When Jillian wakes up seven years in the past, she’s not yet married, doesn’t have a daughter, and still lives with her former boyfriend.

Todd, Charles – A Matter of Justice - Scotland Yard Inspector Ian Rutledge investigates the murder of a man everyone despised, even his own wife.

Webb, Betty – The Anteater of Death - Teddy Bentley, Assistant Zookeeper, knows the anteater was framed when a body is found in her enclosure, but she has to find the killer in order to save the anteater, and the zoo.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The School of Essential Ingredients

Erica Bauermeister's novel, The School of Essential Ingredients, is one of those special novels to savor. Every bit of it is delectable, beginning with the cover. But, the book itself! From the opening sentence, the book draws the reader into a place that is warm and welcoming. The story envelopes you in sensual experiences of taste, and touch, and smell. And, then it quietly closes the pages itself, and turns out the light on the experience.

Monday nights were special nights at Lillian's restaurant, the night she opened up only for small cooking classes. It was a series of these that brought together eight people who came for different reasons. You get to know them in separate chapters that tell what led them to Lillian's, but they're chapters that expose each person to food, and the feeling and taste that will help them move on with life.

After Lillian welcomes the new class, we meet Claire, the mother of two children, who no longer knows who she is without her children. Another classmate wisely asks her, "What do yo do that makes you happy?" Carl and Helen tell their stories separately, but they are a long-time married couple, who had to find their ways to this point in life. There is the young woman who moved from Italy just four years earlier, the older woman knowing she's losing her memories, the man who lost the love of his life to cancer. Each one of these people, and a few others, find their past, their memories, and their future, through the smell and taste, and experience of shared cooking and food.

The prologue subtly invites the reader in. "Lillian loved best the moment before she turned on the lights. She would stand in the restaurant kitchen doorway, rain-soaked air behind her, and let the smells come to her-ripe sourdough yeast, sweet-dirt coffee, and garlic, mellowing as it lingered. Under them, more elusive, stirred the faint essence of fresh meat, raw tomatoes, cantaloupe, water on lettuce." Who can resist the scents, the light, the warmth of this opening? And, every chapter in Erica Bauermeister's book, every paragraph, is meant to keep the reader totally absorbed in the sensual experiences here. Lillian shares lessons in life, not just lessons in cooking. The School of Essential Ingredients, as Lillian calls her sessions, is much more than a cooking school. When Lillian turns out the light on this season of classes, we're forced to leave the book with a sigh of contentment, and longing for more.

Erica Bauermeister's website is

The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister. G.P. Putnam's Sons, ©2009. ISBN 9780399155437 (hardcover), 256p.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Mighty Queens of Freeville

Amy Dickinson is the author of the syndicated advice column, "Ask Amy". She's also a daughter, a mother, a sister, niece, and cousin. And, she's lucky enough to be all of these in the small town of Freeville, New York, population 458. The Mighty Queens of Freeville, subtitled "A Mother, a Daughter, and the Town that Raised Them," is Dickinson's memoir, a story of women, and love.

Dickinson was as unlucky in love as the rest of the women in her family. "In my family, the women tend to do the heavy lifting while the men - well, the men are nice and fine and they love us for a time." Her husband left her when their daughter, Emily, was only two. She and Emily might have lived in Washington, D.C., and, later, Chicago, but Freeville was always their refuge, the place that was the home of their hearts.

Although Dickinson says she and Emily raised each other, she knows she wouldn't be the advice columnist, and woman, she is without the support of those family members who meet for breakfast every Wednesday morning to share their lives and love.

The Mighty Queens of Freeville is a quiet memoir. Even Dickinson's divorce was amicable. The humor is quiet, and sly. When Dickinson talks about her father abandoning the family, she says, "One advantage to actual abandonment is that it cuts down on marital discord. In order to fight with my father, my mother would have had to locate him first."

In some hands, this could have been a bitter book. Instead, it's an insightful, quietly triumphant story. Dickinson accepted her lot in life, realized she had a family that would always be there for her, and moved on after her divorce. She had strong role models in the family. This book tells of two women who found their way home. It was wonderful to read a memoir that wasn't tragic. Yes, Dickinson's father abandoned the family, and, later, she was divorced. But, she found life after these episodes. And, Amy Dickinson shows that she, and her family, have earned their place as The Mighty Queens of Freeville.

If you'd like to see and hear Amy Dickinson discuss this book, check out her website,

The Mighty Queens of Freeville: A Mother, a Daughter, and the Town That Raised Them by Amy Dickinson. Hyperion, ©2009. ISBN 9781401322854 (hardcover), 240p.