Sunday, May 31, 2009

Sunday Salon - Edgar Winner - The Postcard by Tony Abbott

Tony Abbott's mystery, The Postcard, is everything a reader should expect of the Edgar Winner for Best Juvenile Mystery. It's fast-paced, intriguing, with two captivating lead characters, and an original plot. It sucked me in from the very beginning with the words, "She died today."

At thirteen, Jason Huff, is smart enough to know his family is falling apart. His mother is a big shot at a Boston bank, while his father goes from one job to the next. So, when his mother packs him off to St. Petersburg, FL to be with his father, whose mother just died, Jason knows nothing good will come of it. And, he hates St. Petersburg, with its heat and humidity, old people, and cruddy houses. And, he thinks Dia Martin, the girl down the street, is just plain weird, with her lawn mowing, sarcastic humor, and the names she calls him. But, when Jason's father falls off a ladder and ends in the hospital, it's the old lady next door, and Dia, who come to his rescue. Jason has discovered he needs to stay in Florida, and doesn't want to go home.

It all started at his grandmother's funeral, when a really odd group of people showed up. And, the eulogy mentioned Marnie, which wasn't his grandmother's name. Things just get weirder when Jason receives a phone call that says, "So how smart are you?" That phone call leads him to a sixty-year-old postcard, and then on a wild chase with Dia.

Jason grows up in the course of the story, beginning with the sympathy he suddenly feels for his father. Although he lost a grandmother he never really knew, it dawns on him that his father lost his mother, a woman he might have had problems with, but his mother nonetheless. And, in the course of The Postcard, Jason realizes the story he's reading is blending into real life. But, he's mature enough to realize that we all have stories in our lives, and sometimes its more important to know what we believe about life, than what other people see.

Abbott skillfully combines postcards, an old magazine and a historical St. Petersburg with modern life. It takes a thirteen-year-old boy to discover the romance and mystery present in all of those elements. And, it takes The Postcard to capture the magic of the past in a riveting, suspenseful caper.

Tony Abbott's website is

The Postcard by Tony Abbott. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, ©2008. ISBN 9780316011723 (hardcover), 368p.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Frederica by Georgette Heyer

If you're curious as to why I've been reading and reviewing so many of Georgette Heyer's romances, I was contacted by Sourcebooks Casablanca, and asked if I was interested in receiving some of the reprints. Since I last read Georgette Heyer over 35 years ago, I thought it was a nice way to become reacquainted. The books are trade paperbacks, with enticing covers; affordable editions for readers and libraries alike. And, the publisher might have sent me copies (as many do), but, if you read my review of The Convenient Marriage, you'll see I wasn't excited about that one.

Frederica is another story. I can recommend this book wholeheartedly, and with enthusiasm. What a treat! As in most of Heyer's romances, it starts with a wealthy bachelor, who loves his clothes and his horses, but only toys with women. Naturally, he's been "the most brilliant catch on the Matrimonial Market." In this case, it's Vernon, the Marquis of Alverstock, who refuses to hold coming out balls for his niece and the sister of his heir. He's never been interested in any of his nieces or nephews, and isn't going to start to take an interest at his ripe old age of thirty-seven.

But, Lord Alverstoke is struck with a wicked idea when his secretary tells him he received a visit from a woman claiming to be a distant cousin, who has a beautiful sister. When he calls upon Frederica Merriville, she tells him she rented a house in order to bring her younger sister out in society, and brought along her two younger brothers. Frederica is a composed woman of twenty-four, mistress of her household for years, who was hoping he would help launch her sister, Charis. Alverstoke thinks it would be marvelous to trick his sisters, throw the ball, and launch a young girl so much more beautiful than his own niece. He's immediately impressed with Frederica's manner, and agrees to pretend to be their guardian.

And, suddenly Lord Alverstoke, a man with no interest in anyone other than himself, finds himself caught up the Merriville family dramas. Before he can catch his breath, he's rescuing Frederica's dog, taking twelve-year-old Felix to a foundry, and allowing sixteen-year-old Jessamy to drive his horses. But, it was Frederica that caught his attention. "He liked her composure, her frankness, the smile in her eyes, her ready appreciation of the ridiculous, the gay courage with which she shouldered her burdens too heavy for a girl to bear, the way she caught herself up guiltily on a cant phrase culled from her brothers' vocabulary,...but what was there in all that to disrupt his present life, and to place his untrammelled future in jeopardy?"

Frederica is a fun, charming book. What's more fun than two interesting people sparring verbally with the wit so common in Heyer's books? Heyer's books may have a common theme of romance, but this one, with a man falling for a strong woman with a family to care for, will undoubtedly remain one of my favorites. Frederica is a keeper, going on my bookshelf. It's my favorite, so far, although I have high hopes for The Grand Sophy, due out in a few months.

Frederica by Georgette Heyer. Sourcebooks Casablanca, 2009. ISBN 9781402214769 (paperback), 446p.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Red and Me: My Coach, My Lifelong Friend by Bill Russell

Bill Russell certainly intended to write a book about his friendship with Red Auerbach when he and Alan Steinberg collaborated on Red and Me: My Coach, My Lifelong Friend. But, before the reader can get to the messages about friendship, you have to get past Bill Russell's ego.

Basketball is the framework for the lessons of friendship between two men who may appear to be unlikely friends. Auerbach was a short, feisty Jew who grew up in Brooklyn. Russell grew up in the rural Deep South, and then in segregated Los Angeles. But, their attitude of teamwork, and commitment to always winning as a team brought them together. They shared the Boston Celtics pride, "Commitment, loyalty, and devotion came with the uniform." Their respect for each other's work ethic grew into an unspoken friendship that lasted years after they both retired from the Celtics.

Russell relates stories of shared friendship. However, he also tells so many stories of himself that it became too much about Bill Russell. No one can deny that Russell was one of the best professional basketball players of all time. But, it seems too much like bragging as he says, I was going to be the "dominant defensive force in the NBA." And, he continues to tell how important he was to the team, and that Auerbach knew he needed time off since he carried the team.

I had mixed feelings when I finished Red and Me. I respect a friendship that was based on understanding, trust and respect. But, I just felt as if the book, at times, became all about Bill Russell. I understand that "basketball set the stage for our relationship to evolve." I just had mixed feelings as to Russell's manner of telling this story. If the reader doesn't like Bill Russell, don't read the book.

Red and Me: My Coach, My Lifelong Friend by Bill Russell. HarperCollins Publishers, ©2009. ISBN 9780061766145 (hardcover), 208p.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Winners and a Mothers and Murder Contest

Congratulations to the winners of the autographed mysteries from last week. Blood Moon will go to Sandy O. of Ely, MN. Consigned to Death by Jane K. Cleland goes to Sharon C. in Greenwood, AR. The books will go out in the mail tomorrow.

This week, I have two books involving mothers who turn amateur detective following murder. To Hell in a Handbasket is an autographed ARC by Beth Groundwater. If Claire Hanover has to solve a murder case herself, she will. Her daughter, Judy, might have seen the killer on the Colorado ski slopes, and Claire isn't going to let anyone hurt her daughter.

Or, you could win an ARC of Magnolias, Moonlight, And Murder by Sara Rosett. An Air
Force wife and mother, Ellie Avery is busier than ever, moving into a new house in Georgia, and trying to cope with two children under the age of four. It was only supposed to be a relaxing walk with the dog. That walk wasn't supposed to lead her to a corpse.

So, would you like to win To Hell in a Handbasket or Magnolias, Moonlight, And Murder? You can enter to win both, but I need two separate entries. 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 "Handbasket" or Win "Magnolias". Your message should include your mailing address. Entrants only in the U.S., please.

The contest will end Thursday, June 4 at 6 p.m. PT. Jim will draw the winners at that time. The winners will be notified, and the books will go out in the mail on Friday. Good luck!

The 39 Clues - Books 2 & 3

Rick Riordan started the 39 Clues series with an exciting book that introduced the Cahill family, particularly Amy and Dan Cahill, a fourteen-year-old, and her twelve-year-old brother, orphans who set off on a quest to find a family treasure, competing against other family members. When I reviewed The Maze of Bones, I wondered how other authors would handle the storyline and characters. The next two authors have handled the storyline with mixed results. Remember, though, the books are designed for ages nine to twelve, so I am undoubtedly a little more critical than most readers. However, I won't make the assumption another reviewer did, faulting the series because readers might use it for homework assignments. I certainly hope not. The books are adventures.

In book two, One False Note by Gordon Korman, readers catch up with Amy, Dan, their au pair, Nellie, and their cat, Saladin, on a train from Paris to Vienna. After following clues left by Benjamin Franklin, a distant ancestor, they are tracking Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. When their grandmother Grace died, the orphans discovered they belonged to one of the most powerful families the world has ever known, a family of history's geniuses, visionaries and global leaders. But, in order to find the 39 clues to the family history, the small group must compete against other family members, with more money, training, and strength.

Korman's contribution to the series lives up to the high expectations set by Riordan. It's another fast-paced book, filled with some historical information, and, for a librarian, an appreciation of the value of library research. Amy and Dan learn to rely on each other a little more, but they remain typical siblings, squabbling when things don't go right. It's a perfect book two, an exciting, action-packed adventure, with a little progress toward the goal, and ruthless competitors.

On the other hand, I found Peter Lerangis contribution for book three, The Sword Thief, a disappointment. But, readers may enjoy the fight scenes, the ninja, and the swords more than I did.

When Dan and Amy lose their seat on a flight to Japan, thanks to a trick by two cousins, they are forced to ally themselves with their Uncle Alistair Oh. His private jet quickly takes them to their destination, where they are chased by Yakuza, members of a crime organization. Fortunately, they are reunited with Nellie. Unfortunately, to find the next clue, they must work with those same cousins who kicked them off the plane, Ian and Natalie.

There was information about a historical family member, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the man who unified Japan, and decreed that only samurai could bear arms. However, it seemed this book was one chase after another, followed by dirty tricks. There was a little more about the family line, but this book just didn't seem to have the plot development the earlier two books had.

I will say, though, these are books designed to go along with clues and an Internet game. In saying that, both One False Note and The Sword Thief do succeed in moving the characters on to another country, providing additional clues, and keeping the reader's interest. So, if your young reader enjoys action and adventure, you might want to try them on the 39 Clues. Just a warning. If they become hooked, Book 4, Beyond the Grave by Jude Watson is due out in June, followed by The Black Circle by Patrick Carman in August. But, there's nothing wrong with having a reader hooked on books.

The website for the game is

One False Note by Gordon Korman. Scholastic, Inc., ©2008. ISBN 9780545090605 (hardcover), 174p.

The Sword Thief by Peter Lerangis. Scholastic, Inc., ©2009. ISBN 9780545060431 (hardcover), 156p.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Guest blogger, Beth Groundwater and an Interview with a Character

Today, Beth Groundwater, author of To Hell in a Handbasket, has allowed an interview with Judy Hanover, one of the characters in the book. Judy, and Beth, will both be available for questions afterward. Following the interview, there is another short note, and a contest announcement. But, first, an interview with Judy Hanover.

More News from Summit County, Colorado

Ina Bigjam, reporter for the Summit Daily News, the local newspaper covering events in Breckenridge, Colorado, offers this extraordinary report to the readers of Lesa's Book Critiques blog*:

I spoke with Judy Hanover about the death of Stephanie Contino at the Breckenridge Ski Resort yesterday. Judy is visiting Summit County with her family while on spring break from a semester studying in France and was the first on the scene of Ms. Contino's accident. I filed an interview with Judy's mother, Claire Hanover, on May 4th at The Lady Killers blog. Here's my interview with Judy:

Judy, thank you for talking to me today. I know this tragic accident has been traumatic for you, being the first one to find the deceased.

I keep hoping I'll wake up from this nightmare and find out that it's not true, that Stephanie is still alive. She had her whole life ahead of her. It’s not fair for her to die in such a stupid accident!

But your mother told me she doesn't think it was an accident.

She has some wild theory that a skier deliberately ran into Stephanie, but I think it was that crazy, out-of-control snowboarder we saw. Right before Stephanie hit that tree, we were standing on the side of the slope, chilling out. He made a fast turn too close to us and sprayed us with snow. One of the last things Stephanie said was that he needed to be taught some manners. Now he needs to be locked up.
How could he have caused the accident if he'd already gone past you?
He stopped in the woods, probably to smoke a joint. He looked like a stoner. After we got away from my folks, Stephanie got ahead of me because she's a faster skier. Then the snowboarder came out of the trees and sped past me and around the curve. I heard a thump. Then I saw Stephanie—and all that blood.... I screamed. I couldn't stop screaming and crying even after my parents arrived. It was terrible!

Yes, it truly was awful. Did you know Stephanie Contino well?

Her brother, Nick, is my boyfriend. I talked to her on the phone a couple of times, but this trip was our first chance to hang out. I was looking forward to that. I was just, like, getting to know her and now she's gone! And I feel so guilty. Maybe if I’d been with her this wouldn’t have happened. Now I'm worried about how Nick is going to handle this.

Your mother told me that she thinks you may be in danger.

That's ridiculous. Because of her crazy theory my mother wants me to leave Breckenridge with her, just when Nick's family needs me the most. His mother, especially. I want to do what I can to comfort her.

Does your mother overreact often?

She's ready to freak out if anything threatens her family, especially one of us kids. That's why I haven't told her much about what I've been doing in France. God, if she finds out I got a tattoo, she'll go ballistic!

So you plan to stay in Breckenridge?

Heck, yeah! Nick and his family need me. You know, he and I were hoping this week would be fun, and a good chance for our folks to get to know each other. Now it's all gone to hell in a handbasket.

Pardon me for asking, but do you and Nick intend to get married?

Maybe. I don't know. He hasn't asked me yet. I feel like we're really serious about each other, though. I know Stephanie's death is tearing him up inside, and I plan to do whatever I can to help him get through it, the funeral and everything. A funeral. A funeral for my boyfriend's sister. God, I can’t believe it.

At this point, I concluded my interview with Judy Hanover. You can be assured that I’ll be following this story closely for the Summit Daily News. This has been Ina Bigjam, reporting.

*Note: This interview took place after the events chronicled in chapters one and two of Beth Groundwater’s mystery novel, To Hell in a Handbasket, the second in the Claire Hanover gift basket designer mystery series. For reviews, excerpts, discussion questions, and more information about the book, and to see where Beth will be signing copies this summer, please visit her website: . You can purchase To Hell in a Handbasket, and the first in the series, A Real Basket Case, by ordering them at your local bookstore, or by going to one of the following links:


Contest announcement:

If you comment on this article or ask Judy or Beth a question today, or comment on Beth's blog ( anytime during her May blog book tour, you will be entered into a drawing for an autographed set of both books in the Claire Hanover gift basket designer mystery series: A REAL BASKET CASE and TO HELL IN A HANDBASKET. Good luck!

Judy Hanover has agreed to answer questions from Lesa's Book Critiques blog readers, as has author Beth Groundwater, so have at it!

To Hell in a Handbasket by Beth Groundwater. Five Star, ©2009. ISBN 9781594147593 (hardcover), $25.95, 268p.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Summer on Blossom Street by Debbie Macomber

Debbie Macomber has a formula for her Blossom Street series, and her latest book, Summer on Blossom Street, doesn't depart from that formula. Lydia Goetz, owner of A Good Yarn on Seattle's Blossom Street, offers a knitting class, and a small group of needy people take the class, and find their lives changed. But, it's a successful formula, and the books are heartwarming. So why mess with success?

It's summer, the perfect time to give people the chance to change, so Lydia's new class is Knit to Quit. Phoebe Rylander signs up, trying to get over a man. She's just broken her engagement to a man her mother adores, and she knows she'll be tempted to go back to him. Bryan "Hutch" Hutchinson has a prescription to attend the class. His doctor sent him to it, knowing his patient needed to lower his blood pressure and learn to relax, before his business kills him as it killed his father. And, Alix Turner, already a friend, the baker at the cafe across the street, needs to quit smoking before she and her husband can try to have a baby.

Macomber skillfully brings the group together, and throws in Lydia's friends from earlier classes. Slowly, Macomber is building a group of friends and family for Lydia. It's a close-knit community (pun intended) that comes together on Blossom Street. And, for those of us who are fans, Summer on Blossom Street is one of the stronger entries in the series. It's the type of book we all need occasionally. These are nice people who have troubles, and find a way to work through them. The Blossom Street books are feel good stories. Who doesn't want a book with a happy ending now and then? And, after a few tears and smiles at the end, there's a hint of a continuing story. It's a welcome hint for readers of this charming series.

Debbie Macomber's website is

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Summer on Blossom Street by Debbie Macomber. Mira, ©2009. ISBN 9780778326434 (hardcover), 368p.

Monday, May 25, 2009

The Convenient Marriage by Georgette Heyer

As I mentioned on Saturday, Sourcebooks Casablanca is reprinting Georgette Heyer's books. The Corinthian was a fun book, with two charming protagonists. Unfortunately, I was only irritated by the heroine of The Convenient Marriage, so it took me a while to read. It's harder to get through a book when the lead character is childish and dislikable.

I had high hopes for Horatia Winwood. At seventeen, she was the youngest of the three Winwood sisters, and their mother needed them to make good marriages because the family heir had large gambling debts. But, Horatia's older sister, Lizzie, was in love with a military man, so when the Earl of Rule offered for her hand, Horatia asked if she could marry him instead. At that point, I thought Horatia had spunk, and, evidently Rule thought the same thing. He agreed to marry her, and shocked society, his mistress, and his enemy, by marrying the youngest Winwood daughter.

It turned out that Horatia actually was a bratty child, delighting in the money, the clothes, the gossip, and society. She proceeded to lead Rule in a merry dance, while he indulged her, paying her gambling debts, and for her clothes. In the meantime, Lethbridge, Rule's enemy, proved to be very clever in dealing with Horatia, flirting with her, and using her to get revenge on Rule. With Lethbridge and Rule's mistress, hoping for the destruction of the marriage, Horatia did everything she could to play into their hands.

Georgette Heyer always carefully researched her books, accurately portraying Regency society. Although many men married younger women, and spoiled them, I wasn't enthusiastic about the arrangement. There were too many other characters gossiping about Horatia and Rule, with not enough interaction between the couple. After the fun, charming couple of The Corinthian, I found The Convenient Marriage to be a disappointment.

The Convenient Marriage by Georgette Heyer. Sourcebooks Casablanca, 2008. ISBN 9781402217722 (paperback), 307p.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Sunday Salon -To Hell in a Handbasket by Beth Groundwater

Don't mess with Mama Bear. Mothers will be able to identify with Claire Hanover, who goes into protective mode when her daughter is threatened in Beth Groundwater's To Hell in a Handbasket.

Claire Hanover had hoped to have time with her daughter, Judy, when she and her husband, Roger, brought her home from her spring semester in France, and took her skiing in Breckenridge, Colorado. But, twenty-one-year-old Judy made plans to meet up with her boyfriend's family, getting to know them. Judy and Nick's sister, Stephanie, became friends instantly, so much so that when a snowboarder almost ran them off the slope, they chased after him. Claire and Roger allowed the two younger women to go ahead, but took off immediately when they heard Judy's scream. They found a tragedy, Stephanie's body crumpled at the base of a tree.

Judy blames the snowboarder, but Claire is a little suspicious because she found ski tracks heading directly toward Stephanie. Unfortunately, when the ski patrol arrived, the tracks were obliterated. Claire doesn't have evidence to convince Sheriff's Detective Owen Silverstone, but she has her suspicions. And, all of her instincts say there was someone other than the snowboarder involved.

When she meets Nick's family at the hospital, Nick and his father's actions do nothing to allay Claire's suspicions. Her hackles rise, when she realizes she knows nothing about the young man her daughter likes. Judy won't like it, but Claire Hanover will do everything she can to ensure her daughter's safety, even if it means pushing herself into the investigation of a suspicious death.

Claire Hanover says, "I'm a gift basket designer, a mother, and a wife, and that's all." Those are the roles that are important to her, and the reasons she found herself caught up in two mysteries, first in Beth Groundwater's A Real Basket Case, and now in To Hell in a Handbasket. She's a mother afraid to let go of her adult daughter, and facing threats to her family. She'll work hand-in-hand with the police, but nothing will stop her from protecting Judy when she's in danger.

Groundwater's book is a fast-paced family mystery, for readers who enjoy Diane Mott Davidson's books. The book has the same family feeling that Davidson's fans will appreciate.

Of course, this is Claire Hanover's story, To Hell in a Handbasket. To read Judy's side of the story, check back here on Wednesday, May 27, when Judy Hanover gets a chance to air her views.

If you comment on Beth's blog ( anytime during her May blog book tour, you will be entered into a drawing for an autographed set of both books in the Claire Hanover gift basket designer mystery series: A REAL BASKET CASE and TO HELL IN A HANDBASKET. Good luck!

To Hell in a Handbasket by Beth Groundwater. Five Star, ©2009. ISBN 9781594147593 (hardcover), 268p.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Corinthian by Georgette Heyer

Sourcebooks Casablanca is bringing back Georgette Heyer's novels in affordable trade paperback editions. Heyer wrote over fifty novels, including her beloved Regency romances, mysteries, and historical fiction. It's a pleasure to read old favorites, such as The Corinthian.

Sir Richard Wyndham's mother and sister are determined to see him married. He's a Corinthian, a man devoted only to the pursuit of pleasure. As a member of British high society's ton, Wyndham is probably only second to Beau Brummell. But, at 29, he's intelligent, disillusioned with life, and bored to death. However, he's seen as the "biggest catch on the Marriage Mart", with his good looks and wealth, and, according to family, he needs to settle down and marry, even if he doesn't love the woman who thought there was a family understanding for five years. As his sister claims, "If one thing is certain, it is that Richard has not one grain of romance in his disposition, while as for adventure -! I dare say he would shudder at the mere thought of it. first, last, and always a man of fashion, and he will never do anything unbefitting a Corinthian. You may take my word for that!"

So, why did Richard disappear, leaving no word, leaving his valet, with only a crumpled cravat, a shawl, and a golden curl behind? After a night of drinking, and about to make the worst mistake of his life, Wyndham came about a youth climbing out of a window. When he caught the young one, he discovered seventeen-year-old Penelope Creed, fleeing from a marriage with her odious cousin. Pen begged Wyndham to help her escape, saying she was an heiress running away, and, since he himself felt like running away, he fell in with her plan. However, their journey to her family home and her childhood love, wasn't at all what either expected. A stage accident, a thief, and Pen's exaggerated tales sent them on quite an adventure, quite a change for a bored man. It could only lead to trouble, and romance.

The Corinthian remains one of my favorite Georgette Heyer books. Richard Wyndham is a wonderful character, with that dry humor of so many of Heyer's heroes. He's patient, understanding, and takes Pen under his protection. Penelope Creed is bright, witty, and a charmer. It's a match made only in a Georgette Heyer book. But, for this fan, The Corinthian is a treat, and a keeper.

The Corinthian by Georgette Heyer. Sourcebooks, Incorporated, 2009, ISBN 9781402217692 (paperback), 261p.

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Friday, May 22, 2009

Interview with Tony Abbott, Edgar Award Winner

I recently had the chance to interview Tony Abbott, Edgar Award Winner for Best Juvenile Novel, The Postcard, The picture shows Abbott, on the left, accepting his Edgar Award from author Chris Grabenstein. I hope you enjoy the opportunity to "meet" Tony Abbott.

Lesa: Thank you, Tony, for taking time to answer questions on Lesa's Book Critiques. And, congratulations on winning the Edgar Award for The Postcard. How did you find out your book had been nominated for an Edgar for Best Juvenile Book of 2008?

Tony: Thank you. It's a thrill, certainly, one of the major moments in my professional life. I happened to be visiting several schools in Scottsdale in the middle of January. On the afternoon of my last day there, I logged into my email at the hotel, and there was a message from Alvina Ling, my editor at Little, Brown with the news. I was ecstatic, told my wife and one of my daughters who were with me, and we went out and celebrated. It was a lovely and exciting moment.

Lesa: I'm afraid, unless they have children or grandchildren of the appropriate age, many of my readers may not have heard of you.? Would you tell us about yourself?

Tony: Ah, yes. The publishing industry often favors authors with word-of-mouth marketing. I have been publishing for about fifteen years (in fact, my first book, Danger Guys, appeared in May 1994), and have made a little name for myself in the writing of series fiction for the elementary grades. My most popular series is a fantasy called The Secrets of Droon (also celebrating an anniversary this month -- of ten years of continuous publication). It's from Scholastic and on my desk right now is my 42nd book in that series. They appear three times a year. I've written other series over the years, including a new one, a ghost series, called The Haunting of Derek Stone, also with Scholastic. Among my hardcover novels are Kringle (Scholastic, 2005), and Firegirl (Little, Brown 2006).

Lesa: What made you decide to be a writer, and why did you choose to write children's books?

Tony: I was not the best reader, but was inspired by some favorite books to try my hand at putting words together. I liked it, and continued. In high school I wrote short stories. In college I wrote poetry almost exclusively. After that, some non-fiction things, book reviews, encyclopedia entries, and so on. I was re-introduced to children's books when my first daughter was born. After many many failures, I hit on the short, elementary-age novel, and wrote Danger Guys.

Lesa: As a former Florida resident, I'm intrigued by The Postcard. Would you tell us about it?

Tony: The Postcard combines many inspirations. I guess I can start with the postcard itself. I do collect the old linen color lithographed ones from Curt Teich and others. I started collecting the hot states because I loved the wild artificial colors. As it happens, my grandparents moved to St. Petersburg, FL, to retire in the late 1950s. I visited them several times over the years, both from Cleveland where I was born and Connecticut where I live now, and was very fond of the place, and the atmosphere and roadside kitsch of old Florida, or "Old Florida", I guess I should say. There was a day when I was looking at my cards and wondered how interesting it would be if someone had included an almost invisible clue on an otherwise blank postcard that remained more or less undiscovered for seventy years. If someone found it now, what would they do? I began to imagine the boy who finds the card, and realized that the mystery had to be personal, about his family. Jason came to me as a boy in a family that was breaking apart. Also as a Northerner coming down to Florida in the summer, with all the heat that implies. Another element was the old pulp magazine covers, and I thought at first that the seventy-year-old mystery would involve an artist of those kinds of covers, but I soon realized that it would be a pulp writer instead, and then the remaining pieces fell into place: I would have to write the chapters of the old crime story that the postcards lead Jason to.

Lesa: The Secrets of Droon has been a very popular series. Which do you prefer, writing a series like that, or a standalone like The Postcard, and why?

Tony: I love Droon, I love the characters and the fun plots. Writing a book like The Postcard satisfies me on a much deeper and more "important" level. The creation of scenes between people, the comedy, the storylines possible in novels like these are my true love. Nothing thrills me quite as much as getting a conversation between two people exactly right. I am trying to evolve into writing one or two novels a year, but Droon and my other series is what I am known for.

Lesa: Tony, who would you say influenced your writing? Who do you like to read now?

Tony: Since writing The Postcard, I've been on a streak of reading Southern writers: Faulkner, of course, who is perhaps my favorite; Flannery O'Connor, Styron, Capote (early), Ellison, Wright. I love them and find worlds enough in them to last me quite a while. Dickens, of course, for character and the weaving of storylines. Toni Morrison. Richard Yates. John Cheever.

Lesa: Can you tell us about the book you're working on now?

Tony: I can't tell you much. It's been passed over by a couple of publishers and I am finishing a draft for a third. It is a historical novel, I suppose, though I think ultimately not so much, and something of a combination of fiction and memoir. If that makes sense. We'll see.

Lesa: Tony, on your website, you talk about your dog, Comet, as the model for the Droon character Batamogi, king of the Oobja people. So many of my readers are animal lovers. Would you tell us about Comet?

Tony: Comet is a Pembroke Welsh Corgi. He is the best family dog, loves people, is very mild, and loves to play. He is an old puppy now, 14, but still a puppy. After a day of sleeping most of the time, he will all of a sudden challenge my wife and I to a game of chase. I chase him around the coffee table before breakfast and dinner, and he seems to like it. He sleeps in my room most of the day when I'm writing.

Lesa: And, my last question, Tony, is one I always ask. As a children's author, I would guess you have an answer. I'm a public librarian. Do you have any special memories or comments about libraries?

Tony: I grew up in Cleveland Heights, which as I recall, was a bit far from the library, so my main memories of very early on are of the Cleveland Bookmobile. I loved that bus! It would stop at the corner in front of my house (I'm not sure how often, once a month, maybe?), and my brother and I would go with my mother and search the shelves and get books. My parents were teachers, so there were always books in the house. I'm sure I would have been awed by a really big library when I was that young, but the bookmobile was so approachable, friendly, and alive. I should also point out that I worked in a library for several years. It was a college library and I was in charge, at the end, of the books put on reserve for the students. I was . . . "reserves clerk." I met my wife at that library, but I like to think it was more my native charm and not because of my exalted clerk status.

Lesa: Ah, another person who met their spouse while working at the library, as I did. Tony, thank you so much for taking the time to answer some questions. Good luck with all of your books.

Tony Abbott's website is

The Postcard by Tony Abbott. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, ©2008. ISBN 9780316011723 (hardcover), 368p.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Winners and Autographed Mystery Contest

Before I congratulate the winners of the Light or Dark Contest, I'd like to apologize to them. I always send an email note to the winners, but, we're disconnecting the Internet until tomorrow night as soon as I publish this email, so I won't have time. We're moving everything out of our place so it can be recarpeted. Tomorrow night I'll be back online.

So, congratulations to Shirley B. of Caseville, MO, winner of Louise Ure's The Fault Tree. And, Tisa A. of Yelm, WA will receive Evelyn David's Murder Takes the Cake. They'll go out in the mail immediately.

This week's giveaways are autographed mysteries. I had the chance to meet Australian author Garry Disher this week when he was on his U.S. tour for Blood Moon. I have an autographed copy of that terrific police procedural, featuring Inspector Hal Challis and Sergeant Ellen Destry. And, in case you're wondering, you don't have to have read previous books in the series. Disher does a wonderful job providing the backstory so you can step right into this book. Here's a chance to discover an author and series that might be new to you.

Or, you could win Consigned to Death, the first Josie Prescott Antiques
mystery by Jane K. Cleland. This first book finds Josie under suspicion soon after she opens her business. This isn't the way to start a new antiques and appraisal business.

So, would you like to win Blood Moon or Consigned to Death? You can enter to win both, but I need two separate entries. 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 "Blood Moon" or Win "Consigned to Death". Your message should include your mailing address. Entrants only in the U.S., please.

The contest will end Thursday, May 28 at 6 p.m. PT. Jim will draw the winners at that time. The winners will be notified, and the books will go out in the mail on Friday. Good luck!

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

If you're a mystery reader, sooner or later this year you'll hear about Alan Bradley's crime novel, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. The courage and personality of its main character, and the complicated mystery, has caught the attention of readers. The book won the Debut Dagger Award in 2007, presented by The Crime Writers' Association. Now published in the United States, it's one of the hottest books out there.

Meet Flavia de Luce. She's the eleven-year-old narrator of the story, set in a small English village in 1950. She longs for love from her widowed father, but understands her family doesn't easily show affection. She lives at Buckshaw, a house that has been in the de Luce family for centuries. Her older sisters victimize her, but Flavia is adept at revenge. She has two passions in life, her chemistry lab, and, as she says, "My particular passion was poison." Did I mention that Flavia is brilliant?

When Flavia snoops one night, she only hears part of the argument her father has with a stranger, an argument in which her father says they killed someone. Before she can learn more, Dogger, the family chauffeur turned gardener, drags her away. When she finds a man's body in the garden the next morning, and he dies in front of her, her reaction is typical for the Flavia readers will get to know. "I wish I could say I was afraid, but I wasn't. Quite the contrary. This was by far the most interesting thing that had ever happened to me in my entire life."

When Flavia's father becomes a suspect, she knows she can solve the case, a mystery that may go back to the years when her father was in school. Time after time, she flies off to the village on her trusty bike, Gladys, to ask questions, research at the library, and find answers.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie may not be for every reader. I loved Flavia, her intensity and her grit. At times, she was precocious. At other times, when fighting with her sisters, she was an eleven-year-old who turned from "Flavia the Invisible into Flavia the Holy Terror." And, she was just as ingenious and heroic as any amateur sleuth. Those readers who can't suspend disbelief and read about an intelligent eleven-year-old solving a complicated case, shouldn't pick up the book.

Those readers eager for an original heroine, and a complex, at times, amusing, mystery, will appreciate The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. I wouldn't be afraid to give this to readers who loved Harry Potter. There's something about Flavia that reminds me of the lonely Harry. Yes, it's marketed as an adult mystery, but there is no reason other precocious young people won't enjoy reading about Flavia. And, following the success of this one, there will be a sequel. It's almost scary to think about Flavia getting older in the next book. Alan Bradley might not have written this book until he was in his seventies, but for the Canadian author, the first novel is a charm.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley. Delacorte Press, ©2009. ISBN 9780385342308 (hardcover), 384p.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Garry Disher's Appearance for Authors @ The Teague

I was very fortunate to have the chance to act as author escort for Australian author Garry Disher today, picking him up at his hotel, taking him for his appearance at the Velma Teague Library, and then taking him back. The Velma Teague Library was one of only two libraries Garry is speaking at on this book tour.

Garry Disher is the Ned Kelly Award winning author for his crime novel, Chain of Evidence. He's now on tour for the fifth Challis/Destry mystery, Blood Moon.

Before he could even start the program, an audience member asked about the spelling of his name, Garry. He said his family was originally from Scotland, so his name comes from places such as Glengarry. He lives in Australia, about an hour and a half from Melbourne.

Garry started the program by telling us that his love of books came from his childhood. His parents were readers, and there were always books in the house. He said you have to be a reader before becoming a writer. He taught Creative Writing, and he said invariably 30%-40% of his students were not readers.

But, his family lived in rural Australia, and they received books from the Country Lending Library, a train that came from Adelaide once a month. They couldn't select titles, but they could ask for types of books, so his father received books about WWII, his mother received romances, and he received children's books. He learned to create stories from his father, who told his own stories every night, ones he made up. His father also taught him pacing because he never finished the stories. He would say, I'll finish tomorrow night, and he never would. His stories were always cliffhangers.

So, Disher wanted to be a writer since childhood. He wrote short stories in college, and then went to London with friends. He traveled Europe, worked on a kibbutz in Israel, and then went on his own to South Africa, where he stayed for two months because he ran out of money and couldn't get home.

Back in Australia, he said he took an Australia history degree. Since he writes literary novels as well as crime novels, that degree helped him with the research experience. He's written books about Australia's Depression, and the war years. He had some stories accepted for publication, which led to a Creative Writing scholarship to Stanford in California. He was in his mid-twenties, in a very small program with others, including a woman in her 60s who was working on a story that went on to win the National Book Award. it was a small class, an intense workshop.

After Disher had a book of short stories published, he taught 10 week creative writing workshops. Then he taught creative writing at Technical and Further Education (TAFE) institutes. He taught part-time, and wrote part-time for ten years. Finally he quit to write full time. Disher said his income immediately plummeted. But, he is one of the Australian authors who now makes a living writing. However, in the early years, in order to survive he worked odd jobs such as driving a taxi, and writing book reviews. The average income for an Australian author is less than $10,000 a year.

Garry said he's written about 45 books, of various types, mostly fiction. He has written books for children and teens, some of them published in the U.S., including The Bamboo Flute and The Divine Wind. It was just by chance that he started writing children's books. When he was at Stanford, he wrote a final story called The Bamboo Flute. Disher's father left school at 12 in the 1930s in the Great Depression. He said he had a teacher that thrashed him with a cane. His only happy memories of school were of a bamboo flute that he made himself, and learned to play. He could play by ear, until he lost the tips of his fingers to a harvesting machine. Garry said he always felt so sad for this father, so he wanted to write the story for him. When he wrote the adult version, he wasn't finished with the story or character, so he redid it for children. He usually writes for teens.

Disher has also written literary novels, but they were not published in the U.S. He has two series of crime thrillers. The first books featured a bank robber, Wyatt. Those six books are scarce, and out-of-print. It's difficult to get copies of those because there is an underground readership for the Wyatt books. According to Disher, all fiction is driven by questions. For the Wyatt books, the question is, "Will he get away with it?" This series was inspired by Donald Westlake, who wrote about Parker, a bank robber, under the name of Richard Stark. Disher wanted to write about crime from the other side. The seventh book in that series will be out next year, after a gap of 10 years. It's at the editor's right now, with a tentative title of Dirty Old Town.

Blood Moon is the fifth in the Challis and Destry series. He showed us the Australian copy. In Australia, the books come out in trade paperback. They don't have a tradition of hardcover there, because books are so expensive.

John Harvey's Inspector Resnick books inspired Disher to write this series. They are police procedurals. Disher said he likes the regional setting rather than major metropolitan cities. Cities are anonymous. Harvey's books take place in Nottingham, England. Disher's take place on the Peninsula, an area defined by the coastline. It's near Melbourne, with a number of pretty little towns. Disher said setting is vital to fiction, particularly crime novels. Although Disher uses the Mornington Peninsula as the setting, he changes the town of Hastings to the fictional town of Waterloo, because he doesn't want residents to criticize the books if he changes locations or adds buildings to the town.

The series has a central character, Detective Inspector Hal Challis, but also a staff of characters. There are about thirty in the regional office. Disher said he likes a cast of characters, like Resnick's. There is always a central mystery in the books, but the police are investigating other mysteries as well.

Disher said it's important to provide a sense of place and community. The books include the public and private lives of the characters, including workplace tension. It provides the mood of the place. Disher said he's seen changes after seventeen years living on the Peninsula. The towns have doubled in size. Young families moved in, but, now, with the economy, many of them can't afford their houses. There are not enough schools for primary-age children. All of this causes strain, but, especially on the police. They feel it with the staff shortage. It may take a long time to respond to a call because there are only two or three cars on the road. At the same time, there are some of the richest homes in Australia in the area. There are extremes of rich and poor there.

But, Disher said the story comes first. He wants them to be good mysteries. He writes different sorts of mysteries. Chain of Evidence, the book that won the Ned Kelly Award for Best Novel, features people that disappeared. According to Disher, his books are not necessarily whodunnits, but why done it. He finds that more interesting.

Disher talked about the progression of mysteries, saying thirty to fifty years ago, in the American tradition, a private eye had a bottle of scotch in his desk drawer, and a woman with big breasts would come in and ask for help. But, the reader never met the private eye's family. They had no sense of his community.

But, when Sara Paretsky and Sue Grafton came along, the major thrust of women's mysteries dealt with more personal issues. Characters who had to deal with ailing relatives, aging parents, even what was in the refrigerator to eat, were more real to us. We could relate to these characters. They weren't super heroes. We felt closer to them, although they would act when we didn't.

Garry was asked if his characters had major flaws, and he said sometimes it's not a flaw, but something makes him a sympathetic character. He then gave Inspector Challis' background. In the early novels, he worked in a different region, a rural one. One of the books is based on an actual case. Challis' wife had an affair with another policeman, and they conspired to kill him. They were caught, but this situation is the base to show readers something about Challis. He questions himself. Where did I go wrong? Why did she fall out of love with me? He doesn't hate or condemn her. He lets her call him from prison, but he doesn't love her anymore. This shows a side of Challis.

There is unresolved sexual tension between Challis and Sergeant Ellen Destry from the beginning of the series. Destry has a shoplifting habit. She hates herself for doing it, and feels guilty. Then, she'll return the item. But, in other ways, she's honest.

Scobie is a constable whose wife was sacked by email, and she didn't take it well. In Blood Moon, she is attracted to a fundamentalist, crackpot church.

Disher said, yes, he did get sick of writing the Wyatt series for a while. He still wants to write general fiction and books for children. When asked how he makes the switch from children's books to crime novels, he said most of those books are for teenagers. Themes can be darker for teens. But, the writing should be treated just as seriously. Disher said some of the best fiction in Australia and the United States is fiction for Young Adults.

When he read from Blood Moon, he commented that some of his storylines are based on actual cases or newspaper stories. The scene he read about he destruction of a house was based on such a case in Australia.

Garry said he tries to appeal to the reader's senses. Early on, he offered a story to be workshopped at Stanford. It was an internal story about a woman who sees an old boyfriend in a bar. But, afterward, one of the women told him, "Your writing suffers from sensory deprivation." He asked her what she meant, and she said, she can't see the character, or smell the smoke in the bar, or taste the pretzels. The story is all in your head, but I don't experience it. This lesson was one of the best he learned.

When asked about similarities between Australia and the U.S., he said there are more similarities than differences. But, he noticed three differences. He reads mostly American crime novels, and there is a multitude of police forces, and they don't work together. There are federal police, state police, sheriffs, local police. In Australia there are only two types, federal, and each state has there own, and that's it. The District Attorney is not elected, but appointed by the state. And, third, there is little gun ownership. Even farmers and ranchers need special permission to own guns. There was a terrible mass killing at one time in Australia, and, in response, all guns were banned. There are some, mostly illegal, but not to the extent in the United States. He wondered how does it affect crime in the U.S. Would it affect the crime rate if there were not so many guns?

Disher said he learned something from Ed McBain's 87th Precinct books. McBain's characters didn't grow older. Garry said in the first Wyatt book, he mentioned he was a Vietnam vet. By the seventh book, he doesn't talk about that, because if he had continued to age him, he would be in his 60s, not exactly the right age for a bank robber.

Disher ended his presentation by saying he does have an idea for another series. His talk was fascinating about writing and his books.

On the way back to Scottsdale, Garry and I had a wide-ranging discussion of the world of crime writing. He is a fan of Tony Hillerman. We discussed Jonathon King's descriptions of Florida, and Charles Willeford's, when we talked about authors who specialize in regions. I mentioned that Soho Press publishes regional mysteries, with Cara Black's books set in Paris, and Leighton Gage's Brazilian mysteries. That took us to Arizona publishing, and I recommended Poisoned Pen Press. When I said Desert Run was my favorite one of Betty Webb's books, because of the connection to the German POW camps here in Arizona, Garry said he had written a literary novel about an Australian man of German descent, who found himself interned during WWII because of his sympathy with the Germans. He went on to say one region of Australia had been settled by Germans, who actually started the winemaking industry in the country. We had time to discuss the support crime novelists give each other, whether they are in Australia or in the United States. In fact, Cara Black is going to take Garry to some of his events in the East.

How could I resist the opportunity to spend the time talking crime fiction with an author? I hope others get the chance to hear Garry Disher talk about writing and his crime novels on his U.S. tour.

Blood Moon by Garry Disher. Soho Press, ©2009. ISBN 9781569475638 (hardcover), 386p.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Anthony Award Nominees

The nominees for the 2009 Anthony Awards were announced today. The awards will be presented at Bouchercon 2009, the World Mystery Convention, held Oct. 15-18 in Indianapolis. Congratulations to the nominees!

2009 Anthony Award Nominations

Best Novel

Trigger City by Sean Chercover [William Morrow]
The Brass Verdict by Michael Connelly [Little, Brown and Company]
Red Knife by William Kent Krueger [Atria]
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson [Knopf]
The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny [Minotaur]

Best First Novel

Pushing Up Daisies by Rosemary Harris [Minotaur]
Stalking Susan by Julie Kramer [Doubleday]
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson [Knopf]
Death of a Cozy Writer by G. M. Malliet [Midnight Ink]
Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith [Grand Central]

Best Paperback Original

The First Quarry by Max Allan Collins [Hard Case Crime]
Money Shot by Christa Faust [Hard Case Crime]
State of the Onion by Julie Hyzy [Berkley]
In a Dark Season by Vicki Lane [Dell]
South of Hell by P. J. Parrish [Pocket Star]

Best Short Story

“The Night Things Changed” by Dana Cameron from Wolfsbane and Mistletoe [Ace]
“A Sleep Not Unlike Death” by Sean Chercover from Hardcore Hardboiled [Kensington]
“Killing Time” by Jane K. Cleland from Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine (November)
“Skull and Cross Examination” by Toni L. P. Kelner from Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine (February)
“Scratch a Woman” by Laura Lippman from Hardly Knew Her [William Morrow]
“The Secret Lives of Cats” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch from Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine (July)

Best Critical Nonfiction Work

African American Mystery Writers: A Historical and Thematic Study by Frankie Y. Bailey [McFarland]
How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries by Kathy Lynn Emerson [Perseverance Press]
Anthony Boucher: A Biobibliography by Jeffrey Marks [McFarland]
The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective by Kate Summerscale [Walker & Company]

Best Children’s/Young Adult Novel

The Crossroads by Chris Grabenstein [Random House]
Paper Towns by John Green [Dutton Juvenile]
Kiss Me, Kill Me by Lauren Henderson [Delacorte]
The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey by Trenton Lee Stewart [Little, Brown]
Sammy Keyes and the Cold Hard Cash by Wendelin Van Draanen [Knopf]

Best Cover Art

Death Was the Other Woman designed by David Rotstein and written by Linda L. Richards [Minotaur]
Death Will Get You Sober designed by David Rotstein and written by Elizabeth Zelvin [Minotaur]
The Fault Tree designed by David Rotstein and written by Louise Ure [Minotaur]
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo designed by Peter Mendelsund and written by Stieg Larsson [Knopf]
Money Shot designed by Steve Cooley and written by Christa Faust [Hard Case Crime]

Special Service Award

Jon and Ruth Jordan
Ali Karim
David Montgomery
Gary Warren Niebuhr
Sarah Weinman

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the White House by Charles Osgood

If you've missed the excitement of the Presidential campaign, Charles Osgood's book offers you the other side of running for President, "The funny, unpredictable, humorous side."

And, there are some funny anecdotes in this book. It focuses on the election campaigns, beginning with the 1948 one, Truman vs. Dewey. Each chapter covers a different campaign, including the facts as to who the candidates were, their Vice-Presidential running mate, and the number of popular and electoral votes they received. The book ends with the election of 2004, Bush vs. Kerry.

Many of the quotes and jokes in this book are from the candidates themselves. If you're a fan of political trivia, this book will bring back memories. My favorite quote, though, was from Harry Truman, written after his terms of office were over. He said, "There's no reason why a woman shouldn't be in the White House as president, if she wants to be. But she'll be sorry when she gets there."

Subtitled, "Humor, Blunders, and Other Oddities from the Presidential Campaign Trail", Osgood's collection is a fun look back at campaigns.

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A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the White House: Humor, Blunders, and Other Oddities from the Presidential Campaign Trail by Charles Osgood. Hyperion, ©2008. ISBN 9781401322298 (hardcover), 256p.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Next Thing on My List by Jill Smolinski

There have been books about life lists in the last few years, but Jill Smolinski's novel, The Next Thing on My List, puts a whole new spin on life lists. What if you had to fulfill someone else's dreams on a list?

June Parker was adrift in her life, and in her marketing job for L.A. Rideshare. But, one Weight Watchers group completely changed her life, when she offered Marissa Jones a ride home, and had an accident. It could have been blamed on the truck that lost a dresser into the road ahead of them, but June blames herself, thinking she killed Marissa. For some reason, she keeps the slip of paper she finds, Marissa's list of "25 Things to Do Before My 25th Birthday". It isn't until six months later when she runs into Marissa's brother, Troy, at the cemetery, that she boldly announces she will finish Marissa's list.

It might have been a fun list for Marissa, but June, who has spent her life procrastinating, and not finishing projects, will have a hard time. She has to run a 5K, show her brother how grateful she is for him (a brother she doesn't appreciate), and "Make Buddy Fitch pay". There are eighteen items left on the list, and if June is going to finish it before the date of Marissa's twenty-fifth birthday, she's going to have to find resources she didn't know she had, and a support network of friends, people she never made an effort to get to know.

The Next Thing on My list should make you laugh, and think a little. June just drifted along, until suddenly someone else gave her a purpose in life. The reader feels sorry for June, a woman who feels guilty that she lived, when she had nothing to live for, while Marissa had so much. Sometimes, it takes someone else's death to give a person a reason to live. Smolinski's The Next Thing on My list is warm and funny, and a little bit wise.

Jill Smolinski's website is

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The Next Thing on My List by Jill Smolinski. Shaye Areheart Books, ©2007. ISBN 9780307351241 (hardcover), 304p.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

100,000 Visitors - Thank You!

I reached 100,000 visitors on my blog just after 5:30 PT tonight. Thank you!

To be perfectly honest, I probably reached that number about a month ago, because I didn't install the counter immediately, and there was a lengthy period of time when the counter wasn't working. But, I'm celebrating right now!

If you are the first person to comment here, please give me your email address, and I'll contact you to send you a free ARC or book from my closet. I'll give you a choice of three or four titles.

And, thank you to everyone who reads my blog, comments, enters the contests. And, naturally, thank you to the authors and publishers who send me books. And, from all of us to the authors - thank you for your interviews, your time, and, most of all, your wonderful books.

And, Jim? Thank you for putting up with all the time I spend on this blog, because I love it.

It's a pleasure to share my love of reading with all of you.

Sunday Salon - The Family Man by Elinor Lipman

I adore Henry Archer. Elinor Lipman introduces the gay retired lawyer in The Family Man, the kind of man so many of us would love to have as a friend. He's a man who is content with his life, but doesn't realize it could be so much richer.

Henry only meant to be nice when he sent a note of condolence to his ex-wife when her husband of twenty-four years. But, Denise took it as a chance to dump her problems on him. And, while Henry was at her apartment, he noticed a picture of the daughter he had shared with her for two years, when Thalia was three and four. Henry never regretted losing Denise, only Thalia. So, when he recognized her as the girl who takes his coat at his hair salon, he sets out to reconnect. He learns she's an aspiring New York actress, and, before long, finds himself wanting to be father again to the daughter he lost.

Denise bumbled through so much of her life, alienating her daughter, and her stepsons. She does try, though, even setting Henry up with some of her gay friends. Despite reservations, Henry tries to help her a little, because his life only gets better, as Denise's seems to fall apart.

Up until now, The Inn at Lake Devine has been my favorite Lipman novel. All of her books have wonderful characters, people with a wry way of looking at life. Lipman's characters often cut through the hypocrisy of life. Elinor Lipman writes social satire, fun novels with underlying messages of acceptance. And, Henry Archer, is a kind, gentle man who exemplifies the best of Lipman. He's perfect for The Family Man.

Check out Elinor Lipman's website, with the subtle music, at

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The Family Man by Elinor Lipman. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, ©2009. ISBN 9780618644667 (hardcover), 320p.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

May Brown Bag Luncheon

Every quarter, I look forward to two Wednesdays, the days I do my brown bag luncheons. I do one for library patrons, and one for staff. It's my chance to share 15 books a quarter with people who enjoy talking about books. And, if you look at this list, there are some older titles on it, as well as new ones.

Here's the list of books I talked about this quarter, although next week, when I do it with the staff, some of the titles will be different. The patrons liked some of them well enough to check them out.

Cleland, Jane K. – Killer Keepsakes - When Josie Prescott’s assistant at her antiques business disappears, she realizes she doesn’t know anything about her.

Clement, Blaize – Cat Sitter on a Hot Tin Roof - Cat sitter Dixie Hemingway thinks she’s found a kindred spirit in Laura Halston, until the woman is murdered, and Dixie discovers everything Laura told her was a lie.

Codel, Esmé Raji – Educating Esmé - The story of Esme Codell’s first year as a teacher in an inner-city Chicago school.

Dallas, Sandra – Prayers for Sale - Eighty-six year old Hennie Comfort tells the story of her life to a young wife in the mining town of Middle Swan, Colorado.

De Castrique, Mark – Blackman’s Coffin - An Iraq war vet finds himself investigating the murder of a fellow amputee, along with a mystery going back to 1919in Asheville, NC.

Delany, Vicki – In the Shadow of the Glacier - Trouble for Constable Molly Smith & Det. Sergeant John Winters in Trafalgar, British Columbia, when a bequest to build a garden for draft dodgers tears the town apart.

Deveraux, Jude – Lavender Morning - When Jocelyn Minton inherits an eighteenth century house she never knew existed, she discovers everything she knew about her benefactor was wrong.

Fairstein, Linda – Final Jeopardy - It comes as a shock when Assistant D.A. Alexandra Cooper finds her obituary splashed across the front page.

Fowler, Earlene – Love Mercy - Can a grandmother and granddaughter bridge the gap caused by years of estrangement, and bring family and friends together?

Gulley, Philip – I Love You, Miss Huddleston - Gulley’s stories of his years growing up in the 1970s in Danville, Indiana.

Lippman, Laura – Life Sentences - When a bestselling memoir writing tries to write a third book, she discovers her own story might be build on lies.

Osgood, Charles – A Funny thing Happened on the Way to the White House - Beginning with the election of 1948, Osgood covers the humor of the Presidential campaign trail.

Pintoff, Stefanie – In the Shadow of Gotham - In turn of the century New York, a detective consults with a criminologist following a brutal crime.

Ramsay, Frederick – Artscape - Ike Schwartz, the new sheriff in Picketsville, in the Shenandoah Valley, has to investigate the theft of art work from the local women’s college.

Reichl, Ruth – Not Becoming My Mother & Other Things She Taught Me Along the Way - The story of Reichl’s mother, a woman she told stories about in previous books, although she never knew the whole truth.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Author Interview-Stefanie Pintoff, In the Shadow of Gotham

Here's a heads-up everyone. Stefanie Pintoff is an author to watch. She was the Winner of the 2008 St. Martin's Minotaur/Mystery Writers of America Best First Crime Novel Award for her debut book, In the Shadow of Gotham. Fortunately for us, Stefanie was willing to take time for an interview, so I could introduce her to you.

Lesa: Stefanie, I just wanted to let you know I was impressed with your debut novel, In the Shadow of Gotham. It won the first Minotaur Books/Mystery Writers of America Best Crime Novel competition. How did you come to enter the competition, and how did you hear you won?

Stefanie: Thank you very much! You know, while my contest was brand new last year, St. Martin’s has sponsored other national contests for years – and they’ve launched some pretty amazing careers, including those of Steve Hamilton and Michael Kortya (past winners of the best private eye contest), and Donna Andrews and Julia Spencer-Fleming (past winners of the best traditional contest). So when I noticed the new Minotaur/MWA Best First Crime contest on the Minotaur website, I decided I would apply. Because it was a broader contest, encompassing all types of crime fiction, it was a good fit for my historical mystery.

The contest deadline motivated me to finish my manuscript, and I mailed it off two days before it was due. I heard nothing for three months and – just when I had almost entirely forgotten about it – I got a phone call from my editor at Minotaur saying I had won. Then everything changed. One month, I was learning how to query an agent; the very next, I was at the Edgars banquet receiving the award and meeting some of my favorite authors – on the verge of becoming a published author myself.

Lesa: You're a promising new writer. Would you tell us about yourself?

Stefanie: I’m a New Yorker whose love affair with the city began the moment I moved here for school. I grew up as an army brat, but now I’ve lived in New York almost seventeen years – much longer than anywhere else. I first attended Columbia Law School, earning my J.D., and then I returned to academic studies and earned a Ph.D. from New York University. Obviously I really liked school!

Throughout it all, I was captivated by the city’s history, so I began frequenting all the tours and special exhibits that various organizations in NYC regularly offer – from the AIA (American Institute of Architects) to the New York Public Library and the Historical Society. And I’ve definitely put this interest to use in writing my mystery series.

I worked very briefly as a lawyer and for longer as a teacher, but I now write full time. I live just north of NYC in Westchester County with my husband and our wonderful seven-year-old daughter.

Lesa: You have a Ph.D. in literature. When did you decide you wanted to write? Why did you want to write crime fiction?

Stefanie: I think like a lot of writers, I was a voracious reader first – and even now, nothing compares to the pleasure of losing myself in the pages of a good book. I decided I wanted to write when I became a mom. I was waffling whether to return to teaching or not, when my husband made a suggestion: hadn’t I always wanted to write a book myself? I had, so I decided to stay home with my daughter and write my first book. Of course, that didn’t work very well until she entered kindergarten – but my efforts formed the beginning of what became In the Shadow of Gotham.

Why crime fiction? The simple answer is that it’s the genre I’ve always loved best, and I wanted to write the sort of novel I most enjoyed reading. For me, the appeal is found in how crime novels embrace a world that’s fundamentally chaotic and unjust, and – if they don’t entirely re-order it – at least they make it easier to understand.

Lesa: In the Shadow of Gotham is a fascinating historical mystery. Would you tell us about the book?

Stefanie: In the Shadow of Gotham is a novel that explores the intersection of a terrible murder, the fledgling science of criminology, and my detective’s own story. In November 1905, Detective Simon Ziele has just left the city, hoping to rebuild his life in a small Westchester town following the loss of his fiancée in the Slocum steamship disaster (the worst disaster to strike NYC prior to 9/11). But the brutal murder of a young woman draws him right back in – and his investigation is further complicated when noted criminologist Alistair Sinclair becomes involved. Alistair is convinced the killer is someone he interviewed in the course of his experimental research into the criminal mind. And though Ziele remains suspicious that the solution may not be so simple, he works with Alistair and proves himself more than up to the task of adapting tried-and-true detective methods to the sometimes unorthodox innovations of new forensics.

Lesa: I found it intriguing to read about a criminologist working with criminals at the beginning of the 20th century. Can you tell us about that practice at the time?

Stefanie: I think because modern-day criminal profiling is so popular on television and in contemporary books, many people don’t realize it has roots that stretch far back into earlier centuries and draw from many different disciplines – law, biology, and sociology as well as early psychology.

In 1905, more innovative criminal scientists were beginning to challenge the prevailing opinion that criminal behavior resulted from a flaw of nature – a view popularized by Lombroso’s theory of the “born criminal.” Scientists like my Alistair Sinclair sought to disprove these notions by interviewing and learning from a variety of violent offenders. This practice was not uncommon, but it was highly controversial: people worried that if we came to understand the criminal too well, then we might excuse (and not punish) his or her behavior.

And as I mention in the book, Alistair’s access to more violent criminals was also limited by a virtual race against time. Unlike today, when convicted murderers typically spend years on death row before facing the executioner, justice worked fast in turn-of-the-century New York. Appeals were adjudicated in months, not years – and the execution date usually followed within weeks, if not days. So someone like Alistair had very little time to gain the trust of and then interview the worst offenders.

Lesa: In my review of the book for Mystery News, I said in some ways the writing reminded me of Dennis Lehane's Shutter Island. Who would you say influenced your writing? Who do you like to read now?

Stefanie: I enjoy a wide variety of crime fiction (including Dennis Lehane’s) – and I certainly learn something from everything I read. But I’d say my influences are largely classical works from mid-to-late-19th and early-20th-century detective fiction: Poe, Collins and Dickens followed by Christie and Conan Doyle. And because of their wonderful portraits of old New York, I can’t omit mentioning Dreiser, Wharton, and more recently Doctorow.

In terms of what I like to read, my first love will probably always be historical fiction. I thoroughly enjoyed Louis Bayard’s The Black Tower and I’m looking forward to Drood and The Last Dickens. But right now I’m reading something very different: Louise Ure’s latest, Liars Anonymous, which is terrific.

Lesa: I thought Louise Ure had an unusual lead character in her book. In yours, I really liked Simon Ziele. Are you working on a book that will bring him back? If you're working on another book, would you give us a sneak peek?

Stefanie: Thank you! There’s a lot of myself in him, so I’m glad you find him appealing. He will be back next year in The Darkest Verse – which takes him into the heart of the theater district to investigate a killer who targets actresses of the Great White Way, leaving his writing as a calling card. It’s been great fun researching the history of Broadway and Times Square at the turn-of-the-20th-century – as well as the budding science of handwriting analysis, which plays a pivotal role in this sequel. And of course Ziele will be partnering once again with Alistair and Isabella to track down a killer as brilliant as he is ruthless.

Lesa: Stefanie, what has been the most exciting thing about being a published author? What have you enjoyed the most? Is there anything that surprised you?

Stefanie: There is no single sensation more exciting than walking into a bookstore or library and seeing my novel – transformed from the story in my head to a real book that others will hopefully read and enjoy.

What I’ve enjoyed most is the chance to meet and get to know others involved in the mystery community, including authors, readers, librarians, and booksellers. I’ve been very pleasantly surprised by how warm and helpful everyone in the mystery community can be – and I’m not the first to find it ironic that people who read and plot crime for a living are among the nicest I’ve ever met.

Lesa: I'm going to say thank you, and wish you good luck with your writing career. I have one final question. I know you used the New York Public Library for research. I'm a public librarian. Do you have any special memories or comments about libraries?

Stefanie: Just in the last several years, more and more collections of materials are moving online as documents are digitized. While this makes it easier for researchers – and the greater accessibility is wonderful – I do fear something is lost. For example, when looking at the old restaurant menu collections housed at both the New York Public Library and the New York Historical Society, there is something an online picture cannot replicate about the look and texture of the real document.

Going into a library – especially a major research library – is always something of an adventure. You never know what you’ll find … and sometimes your original search actually leads you to something far more surprising and interesting. For example, I was researching the various newspapers of the day popular in 1905 when I was reminded of the story about William Randolph Hearst and how the Tammany Machine stole the mayoral election right out from under him. It’s a tale of voter fraud and intimidation that is shocking, even by looser standards of the day – and of course I incorporated it into my novel. I would have found it later on, either online or in one of many books about New York City history. But the process of discovery wouldn’t have been as much fun.

Thanks so much, Lesa, for inviting me speak with you here today; it’s been a pleasure.

And, thank you, Stefanie, for taking time to answer questions. If readers enjoy historical mysteries, I highly recommend In the Shadow of Gotham. I think Stefanie Pintoff is only on her way up.

Stefanie Pintoff's website is

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In the Shadow of Gotham by Stefanie Pintoff. St. Martin's Press, ©2009. ISBN 9780312544904 (hardcover), 400p.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Winners and a Light and Dark Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the autographed books by Donis Casey. This one was a little odd. Jim picks the winners by random. There were 334 entries, and both winners come from Minnesota. The Sky Took Him will go to Sue F. in Crosslake, MN, and The Drop Edge of Yonder will go to Jane H. in Minneapolis. They'll go out in the mail tomorrow.

This week, I'm offering autographed light and dark mysteries. The light one is
Evelyn David's fun mystery, Murder Takes the Cake. Stolen caskets, Thanksgiving, wedding plans. Any of those could cause problems for Mac Sullivan and Rachel Brenner. But all of them at one time? It's a recipe for disaster, and humor.

Louise Ure's The Fault Tree is the dark mystery, a nominee for the Macavity award for Best Novel. Arizona auto mechanic Cadence Moran is the only witness to a murder. But, Cadence only heard the murder; she's blind. And, now the killer believes she saw him.

So, light or dark? You can enter to win both, but I need two separate entries. 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 "Murder Takes the Cake" or Win "The Fault Tree". Your message should include your mailing address. Entrants only in the U.S., please.

The contest will end Thursday, May 21 at 6 p.m. PT. Jim will draw the winners at that time. The winners will be notified, and the books will go out in the mail on Friday. Good luck!

Blood Moon by Garry Disher

Garry Disher's Blood Moon is worth reading for a number of reasons. How many crime novels have you read lately set in Australia? How many of them have a well-developed cast of police in a modern police procedural? How many of those books are written by the winner of the Ned Kelly Award for Best Australian Crime Novel?

Even if you haven't read the four novels that preceded Blood Moon in the series, you can pick the storyline up easily. It doesn't take long to like Detective Inspector Hal Challis. He and Sergeant Ellen Destry just started living together. Since he's her boss, they are not yet sure what problems they'll face.

But, for the police department in Waterloo, on the Peninsula, southeast of Melbourne, the first problem they face is Schoolies Week. It's similar to our spring break, but students who just finished their twelfth year exams take off to the coastal communities to party. As students converge, the force tries to help with all of the typical crimes associated with students and townspeople, including date rape.

At the same time, they have a case that catches the attention of the press and politicians when the chaplain at a prestigious school is found beaten, in a coma, on his front lawn. The case of a missing woman seems minor, but the small force may find themselves with murder on their hands.

As in all good police procedures, the police deal with a number of crimes at the same time. As Disher tells of those stories, he skillfully develops the characters of different officers. And, he does an excellent job revealing Hal Challis' past and his character, in short glimpses. Challis didn't like attention. "He liked to slip through life unnoticed." And, his thoughts about his work are interesting. "The job promised continued human misery and droning days." Then there's the comment about "Paperwork that swamped his days and gave him a permanent low-level sense of anxiety and aggravation." But, maybe this is the most insightful comment that Hal was a private man whose "Daily work demanded that he uncover people's secrets."

Blood Moon is all about secrets. It's about Ellen Destry's secrets that might shock the reader. Other officers have secrets that are revealed in the course of the book. Then there are all the little secrets in people's lives that lead to violence. It's a powerful book about secrets that come to light under Australia's, and Garry Disher's, Blood Moon.

Garry Disher will appear at the Velma Teague Library in Glendale, Arizona on Tuesday, May 19 at 2 p.m. at part of the Authors @ The Teague series.

Blood Moon by Garry Disher. Soho Press, ©2009. ISBN 9781569475638 (hardcover), 386p.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Laurie R. King at the Poisoned Pen Bookstore

Laurie R. King was coming to the end of her Fifteen Weeks of Bees tour when she appeared at the Poisoned Pen Bookstore. There have been all kinds of promotions online, from her website to Mary Russell, King's character, blogging and on Twitter. King noticed that the first book in the series, The Beekeeper's Apprentice, was fifteen years old, and the new book in the series, The Language of Bees, also had bees in the title. Sherlock Holmes was a beekeeper who wrote Practical Handbook of Bee Culture. Quoting directly from King's website, "However, Holmes’ Handbook then disappeared for decades, until The Language of Bees, volume nine of the Mary Russell memoirs, offered enticing glimpses of its contents.

"Now, in celebration of the honeybee and in support of Heifer International’s efforts to provide poor communities with assistance in their agricultural (if not philosophical) endeavors, this exclusive facsimile booklet of Holmes’ Practical Handbook excerpts is available.

"Just donate two hives ($60) to the Team LRK page of Heifer International by May 20, 2009, and you not only get the Holmes beekeeping booklet, but a pot of Heifer community honey, and a chance at having a character in the next Holmes and Russell novel named after you."

King quickly said, that's "a chance" to have a character named after you because every name isn't appropriate for 1920s England.

In her interview, Barbara Peters, owner of the Poisoned Pen, asked Laurie King why the character's name is Mary Russell. She said she had just finished her M.A. thesis, and had all kinds of books on her shelf about women and theological issues. She was playing with names, knowing that the young woman was going to meet Sherlock Holmes. While looking at the shelves, she noticed a book with an author whose first name was Rosemary. She said Rosemary wouldn't do, but Mary would work. And, then, from another book, she took the last name of Russell. Two years ago, an African theologian wrote to her from a friend's house, talking about books and asking if she was related to Noel King, who is her husband. Laurie said that the friend, Letty Russell, was the author whose book gave Mary Russell her last name.

In The Language of Bees, Holmes and Russell are heading back to Sussex. They had left England in the beginning of 1924, and now it's August. But, Mrs. Hudson was probably not taking care of the bees. And, at the beginning of this book, Holmes learns that one of his hives has gone mad.

When asked about the beekeeping, since Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had Holmes retire to keep bees, King said beekeeping was a refuge for philosophers at one time. They studied bees as an example of divine will, and observed the communities.

In planning a series, King said it's like a trunk that you put everything in, not knowing what you'll need to take out. But, she also had Doyle's trunk to deal with. She said she took his material out, and repacked it. But, Doyle's Holmes was Victorian England, and there are few traces of him after the Great War. King said she explores her own character, Holmes, and what would such a man be confronted with by a largely different society after the War. She thinks Holmes would be mentally flexible enough to make his own niche. In Doyle's stories, a lot of exotic people went to Holmes in London, and he didn't have to travel. King sends him around the world.

Doyle did say in the three years of The Great Hiatus, Holmes went to Mecca and met the Dalai Lama in Tibet. King doesn't like to read other authors' pastiches because she doesn't want their ideas as to what Holmes was doing in those years. He could have been doing anything in those three years. Laurie said she's comfortable with those years because her husband was born in India, and she has met the Dalai Lama. She feels she's not only introduced people to the Holmes stories in her books, but also to Rudyard Kipling's Kim.

In the opening pages of The Language of Bees, Mary Russell and Holmes are returning to Sussex, and they've been told there is a puzzle. One of Holmes' hives has gone insane. The theme of the book is the hive of bees as a way of looking at communities. Holmes' life ties into that theme of community. He has a wider family than people knew. He has his brother, Mycroft, and a long lost son. That was set up in the second Russell/Holmes book, with a reference to his lovely, lost son.

Since that second book, A Monstrous Regiment of Women, readers have asked King about the son. She just responded that it was in one of the Russell memoirs she had yet to decipher because Mary's handwriting was so bad. But, it's not a new idea that Irene Adler was the mother of Holmes' son.

In The Language of Bees, Holmes' son has a missing wife, and he brings the case to his father. Peters asked if he would have come to his father if that wouldn't have happened, and King replied that he would have. Damian had arrived in England just as Holmes and Russell were leaving at the beginning of the year. He's older than his stepmother, but Mary Russell is completely devoted to Holmes, who was 57 when she met him at 15.

King said she doesn't know the entire story when she starts it. She writes around the basic plot. She knows that, writes the first draft, and then goes back and looks at subplots to see what story elements interest her.

When Laurie and Barbara talked about publishing, King said when an editor wants to bully you, they blame "Sales". "Sales" doesn't like the title. "Sales" seems to have some authority.

Peters said Laurie's books are totally unpredictable. She writes the Kate Martinelli mysteries. And, she asked if Folly, a standalone, was her most successful book, because it's consistently the steadiest seller for Poisoned Pen. King wasn't sure. It is a standalone, but it's also part of her San Juan cycle, set in the San Juan Islands of Washington. Those books are Folly and Keeping Watch. King said she'd like to do a third, featuring a tattooed philosopher boatman who delivers things.

Folly, a Macavity winner for Best Novel, is another book that talks about community. A woman moves there to be alone, but finds a community she didn't expect.

Barbara Peters asked King what she was working on now. King said it's called The Green Man. The Language of Bees actually ends with those three dreaded words, "To Be Continued". And, she did that because she was annoyed at reviewers who reviewed The Game. Three of them mentioned a balcony that fell, and said King was slipping because she hadn't tied up all the minor matters, including the balcony. Locked Rooms, the next book, did tie up the details, and King planned it that way. So, this time, she wrote "To Be Continued", so the reviewers would know that the loose ends would be tied up in the next book, and the plot finished.

Laurie King said she's been doing two Russells in a row. She said there's a new character she's in love with in the next book, The Green Man. She's energized by writing other characters.

Peters asked her why authors like trilogies. King said she likes a limited series of three or four books. A long novel with three or four segments becomes multiple books. She planned the Russell series as early as the first book, The Beekeeper's Apprentice, because it only makes sense as part of a series. The first book was setting up the rest of the series. But, when she wrote the first Martinelli, A Grave Talent, she thought of it as a standalone, and not even a crime novel. She didn't think of it as a category book.

Laurie R. King ended with the advice she gives first time writers who say I have a book, and now I have to sell it, and then I have to promote it. She said they should be writing their second and third book right then because if their book gets accepted, the first thing they will be asked is, and what else do you have. She said, "If you want to be a writer, you have to continue to write."

Laurie R. King's website is

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The Language of Bees by Laurie R. King. Bantam Books, ©2009. ISBN 9780553804546 (hardcover), 432p.