Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Mournful Teddy by John J. Lamb

I'd been reading about John J. Lamb's teddy bear mystery on DorothyL. There are fans of this cozy mystery series who continually mention it, so it was time to try the first book in the series, The Mournful Teddy. All of those readers are not mistaken.

Retired San Francisco homicide cop, Brad Lyon, is settling into life in Virginia's mountain country with his wife, Ashleigh. Remmelkemp Mill, in the Shenandoah Valley, was Ashleigh's family home since the late 1800s. And, Brad and Ashleigh are finding it a peaceful place to build up their teddy bear business, Lyon's Tigers and Bears. It's peaceful until their dog, Kitchener, finds a body in the river behind their house.

Brad convinces Deputy Tina Barron that the man was murdered, but Sheriff Holcomb brushes him off as a pathetic retired cripple, and calls it suicide. Angry, Brad and Ashleigh decide to start their own investigation, with the help of friends and Ashleigh's family. They're up against Holcomb and his "goon son," a cop on steroids. And, they're not sure who else might be involved in the community when they find out the victim was connected to the Steiff Mourning Bear.

Ashleigh's first bear exhibit at the Teddy Bear Extravaganza was supposed to feature the auction of a Mourning Bear. There were 655 Mourning Bears made by Steiff in 1912 to commemorate the sinking of the Titanic. However, the bear, meant to be auctioned for charity, never showed up, and it seems as if the man found behind in the river was supposed to have delivered that bear.

Murder, a missing teddy bear, moonshiners, a minister connected with stolen goods, a rich woman hated by the locals, and, of course, crooked cops. What more do you want in a cozy?

How about a couple married for twenty-six years who are still very much in love? Brad and Ashleigh Lyon are terrific characters who work well as amateur detectives. The bear collector's business will take them into future mysteries. And, as I've said recently about Berkley's paperbacks, it has a terrific cover. Berkley uses some of the best cover artists in the business. All of those readers who commented about this series are correct. The Mournful Teddy is a enjoyable kick-off to the series.

John J. Lamb's website is

The Mournful Teddy by John J. Lamb. Berkley Prime Crime, ©2006. ISBN 9780425211120 (paperback), 304p.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

City of Refuge by Tom Piazza

Tom Piazza's novel, City of Refuge, was originally published to correspond with the third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. The trade paperback just came out last month, with the fourth anniversary. No matter when you read the book, it's a heartbreaking story of a beautiful city, the people who loved it, lost it, and found a way to love it again.

Piazza follows two families to tell the story of the hurricane, and it's destruction. SJ Williams, his sister, Lucy, and his nephew, Wesley, are a black family living in the Ninth Ward, surrounded by friends and memories of family. SJ is a carpenter, with a small business. Lucy is diabetic, and, over the years, has used coke and alcohol. Wesley is a teenager on the verge of trouble.

There are only two points in the book when SJ's life intersects with Craig Donaldson. Craig is the white editor of Gumbo magazine. No one loved New Orleans more than he did, but his wife, Alice, was beginning to feel uneasy about raising their two children in the city. Craig was a romantic who loved the magic of the city, the music, the romance, and it was home.

But, Hurricane Katrinia tore apart the lives of New Orleans' people. Even those who were able to escape, like the Donaldsons, found themselves caught in traffic, sleeping in lounge chairs by swimming pools, and bunking with family members in small rooms. They watched the news reports of their city, and listened to broadcasters who said the city called ruin upon itself. And, even though they found places to stay, those places were not New Orleans.

In contrast, there were the people unable and unwilling to leave. SJ couldn't find his nephew. His sister, Lucy, needed medications, and knew no other life other than the one they had. SJ's business, and the memories of his wife, were in New Orleans. He and Lucy found themselves caught in the flood when the levees broke, until the self-sufficient SJ was able to find a dinghy and get them out. When SJ went back to help others, he lost his family, while Lucy found herself in the Convention Center.

Piazza's novel brilliantly captures the media coverage of the tragedy, but he digs in deeper to tell of the pain and shock of the individuals. They may have been removed to Chicago or Houston, but each person left a part of their heart behind. And, each person grieved in their own time. At times, Craig, who found himself working in Chicago, couldn't accept that life was going on around him. He saw people "going on as if life hadn't been interrupted, as if the greatest single forced migration in American history, since the Dust Bowl, hadn't just happened."

I've read other books about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and the storm itself. But, no one makes it as personal as Tom Piazza. He shows the broken souls, the displaced people who want to go back, but, sometimes just can't. There's quite a difference in the decisions made by Craig and SJ, but both men were compelled to make those decisions, knowing that life had to go on.

City of Refuge is a powerful book, a story that puts a face on the loss of community and life in New Orleans. There's anger at the loss in the city, but Piazza's poet's soul tells of music and life that goes on. New Orleans may have been knocked down, and shrunk, but its people carry the life of the city with them. If you want to understand what happened to the people of New Orleans, try City of Refuge.

Tom Piazza's website is

City of Refuge by Tom Piazza. HarperCollins, 2009. 9780061673610 (paperback), 432p.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Even Money by Dick Francis & Felix Francis

There was a time when a new Dick Francis mystery was a cause for celebration. Readers knew they would get an exciting fast-paced novel with a likable hero, and, quite often learn something new about wine-making or art. Unfortunately, Francis' latest book, written with his son, Felix, Even Money, is uninspiring and dull.

On the first day of Ascot, Ned Talbot, a bookie, meets a man who claims to be his father, Peter. But Ned had lived with his grandfather since he was one, when he'd been told his father and mother had died in a car crash. Now, thirty-six years later, he's suspicious when a stranger claims to have been living in Australia, but identifies himself as his father. Poor Ned is shocked even more when he and Peter are attacked in the parking lot, and the man who leaves Peter for dead had demanded "the money." For some reason, Ned feels he needs to keep that story from the police when they show up to investigate.

Ned's life is now even more complicated. A bookie's life is never easy, although there have been some recent incidents at the track when the Internet and cell phones went down, and he and his team were able to make a little money. But, the big bookmaking companies aren't happy, and they feel as if some small bookies know what's going on. In addition, Ned's wife, Sophie, a manic-depressive, is hospitalized, hoping to be released. His work and personal life are complicated enough, without adding an investigation into the background of the dead man, who might have been a little shady.

Instead of providing the reader with an interesting new background for the hero, Francis gives so much detail about bookmaking and RFID chips in horses that the book is slow-moving and dull. Ned is not even a very sympathetic character. His motives never seemed very heroic in this book. Instead, he seemed to be motivated by revenge and money.

I doubt that I'll be picking up another book by Dick Francis. Even Money was too lacking. It lacked an exciting plot and an interesting hero. It lacks suspense. I'm afraid it's also going to be lacking in reading interest for many of Francis' past readers.

The website for Dick Francis and Felix Francis is

Even Money by Dick Francis & Felix Francis. Penguin Press (USA), ©2009. ISBN 978-0399155918 (hardcover), 368p.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Sunday Salon - Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett

If you're a sports fan who never read one of Terry Pratchett's books, Unseen Academicals is the one you should read. And, if you're one of his millions of worldwide fans, it's Pratchett's observations on sports, sports fans, a little Romeo and Juliet, and racism. And, it's done with his typical wordplay and cleverness. It's another success.

Football (soccer for Americans) is a beloved sport for the people of Ankh-Moorpork, but it's not an organized sport. It's a game for the masses, violent, loud, and one supported by people from the bottom of their souls. Neighborhoods support their own teams, and the other teams' supporters are enemies. It's not the kind of feelings the wizards at Unseen University would understand because they tend to lead an isolated life, and, they're definitely not athletes. But, football will change when the Lord Ventinari, the city's tyrant, decides the university will play, and make rules for the game.

It's going to take someone wiser than than the wizards to organize the sport and the university's team. Who would ever expect that Nutt, assistant to the Candle Knave, would have the organizational skills to force wizards to practice, and form a team? Nutt is more than just as ordinary goblin, and Glenda Sugarbean, head of the Night Kitchen, is one of the first to suspect that.

Up until now, Glenda has accepted her lot in life. She's an accomplished cook whose best friend, Juliet, also works in the kitchen at the university. But, both young women have secrets. Glenda reads romance novels, and has learned a little about life, even though she can't pronounce or correctly understand all of the words in her books. And, Juliet, who is so gorgeous even the celibate wizards are in awe of her, only has eyes for Trevor Likely, son of a football hero, and a friend to Nutt.

Favorite characters from previous Pratchett books make appearances in this book, the Librarian, Samuel Vimes, Commander of the City Watch, and Rincewind the wizard. Unseen Academicals is a treat, filled with Pratchett's humor and play on words. It's a pleasure to watch Glenda and Nutt with their wise observations of humanity, and their skillful manipulation of people. Juliet and Trevor become popular icons, and Pepe, who works for the dwarfs, skillfully utilizes that popularity. And, as always, Pratchett leaves the reader with a satisfying ending (or endings, in this case) in which good triumphs. Unseen Academicals is another entertaining Pratchett success headed for the bestseller lists.

Sir Terry Pratchett's website is

Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett. HarperCollins, ©2009. ISBN 9780061161704 (hardcover), 400p.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Preview of Sherrilyn Kenyon's Born of Night

To be honest, computer problems have limited my blogging time the last couple days, so it's the perfect time to share a book preview with you. More book reviews shortly. Promise!

In the meantime, new from St. Martin's Press is #1 New York Times bestselling author, Sherrilyn Kenyon's 3-book series, 'The League'! With over 19 million books in print, Sherrilyn Kenyon is renowned the world over as "the reigning queen of the paranormal genre that she pioneered long before the world had heard of Twilight." Fans (known as 'Kenyon's Minions') are anticipating this thrilling new series. The first book from 'the League' series, Born of Night, will be available September 29th.

There's even a book trailer for the new book, if you're a fan.

And, for quite a sneak preview, I've linked to the first nine chapters of the book.

Links to Official Sherrilyn Kenyon Sites:

Born of Night by Sherrilyn Kenyon. St. Martin's, ©2009. ISBN 9780312942304 (paperback), 539p.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Almanac of the Infamous, the Incredible and the Ignored by Juanita Rose Violini

Frozen frogs falling from the sky, the Jersey Devil, lost cities, giant birds carrying off children. They might sound as if they're all out of some B movie. Instead, these are all entries in the Almanac of the Infamous, the Incredible, and the Ignored by Juanita Rose Violini.

Violini presents daily stories of the unusual, from Roswell to fireballs. Each short entry ends with a quotation, a secret power, and "To optimize." The entries are interesting, but become repetitious. There are lightning episodes scattered throughout the year, listed for the day or month they occurred. Sometimes it's a stretch to make the connection between the daily entry and the quotation. William James comments, "To change one's life: Start immediately. Do it flamboyantly. No exceptions." I'm not sure how that relates to "Illogical Lightning," except that it's flamboyant. And, the "Secret Power" and "To optimize" leave me bewildered. For that same entry of Illogical Lightning, the "Secret Power" says, " Today's power is the ability to change circumstances in a flash." The "To Optimize" for that day says, "Do what you are afraid to do." I'm afraid, I just don't get those.

My recommendation for this book would actually be as a gift for teens who enjoy the weird and the unexplained. They would gloss over the summary parts that seem disconnected, and would appreciate the Almanac of the Infamous, the Incredible and the Ignored.

Almanac of the Infamous, the Incredible and the Ignored by Jaunita Rose Violini. Weiser Books, ©2009. ISBN 9781578634477 (paperback), 304p.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Winners and a Darker Side Contest

Congratulations to the winners of the Law Enforcement Thriller contest. Singularity by Kathryn Casey will go to Terri D. from Clearwater, FL. Ridley Pearson's Killer Summer goes to Judy L. from Litchfield, IL. The books will go out in the mail tomorrow.

This week, I have two books from the darker side. The first is a nonfiction book, a
tribute to Raymond Chandler. Catherine Corman's Daylight Noir: Raymond Chandler's Imagined City features photographs of Chandler's Los Angeles, locations featured in his novels, along with quotes from the books. It's a black-and-white treat.

Gillian Flynn's Dark Places is a thriller that asks, "Will the truth really set you free?" Libby Day was seven when her mother and sisters were murdered, and her fifteen-year-old brother was sent to prison for the crimes. She survived, after testifying. But, when the Kill Club, a society obsessed with notorious crimes, pushes her to tell about those events, she realizes, her memories, and her testimony, might not be completely accurate.

So, would you like to win Daylight Noir or Dark Places? You can enter to win both, but I need separate entries for each. If you'd like to win one, email me at Email me!. If that link doesn't work for you, the email address is: Your subject line should read either Win "Daylight" or Win "Dark Places". Your message should include your mailing address. Entrants only in the U.S., please.

The contest will end Thursday, Oct. 1 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!

Law Enforcement Thriller Contest Update

The announcement of winners, and the start of the new contest will be late tonight. I have to be at the Apple Store with Jim's computer at 6:15 tonight.

Don't worry! There will still be winners, and a new contest. It will just be later than expected tonight.

Deadly Descent by Charlotte Hinger

Western Kansas historian Charlotte Hinger has incorporated her knowledge of family histories and the state into her first mystery, Deadly Descent. It's an intriguing story of murder, family secrets, and lies.

Lottie Albright is compiling county history books for Carlton County, Kansas when one family's stories blow up in her face. Following Zelda St. John's contribution of a racist account of the history of her Rubidoux ancestors, her twin sister, Fiona Hadley demands the copy of the story. When Lottie refuses to release it, Fiona storms out. Why is Zelda found murdered soon after? Why has Zelda's story disappeared, along with some valuable letters? But, Lottie had a copy since she gave it to her own twin sister, Josie, to analyze, since Josie is a clinical psychologist.

When Zelda's daughter, Judy, insists her Aunt Fiona murdered her mother, Lottie tries to shut down those comments. As campaign manager for Fiona's son, who hopes to be a state senator, Lottie doesn't want the family's dirty laundry aired in the small community. She tries to help Judy, providing her with a job at the historical society. Lottie even takes a job as a volunteer deputy to allow her to investigate.

But, Lottie's job as Carlton County historian should have warned her. "Its families had become tangled in little webs of intrigue." And, as she investigates one family, she uncovers family intrigue in another cold case. Unfortunately, Lottie's digging disturbs a killer who wants to keep family secrets.

Charlotte Hinger's debut mystery is a fascinating look at family dynamics and history. Lottie is an interesting woman, a twin, married against her sister's warnings, to a man much older with grown children. Her own family dynamics are interesting, and, while she sees her jobs as historian and deputy fitting well together, her husband, Keith, sees them as a threat to the family.

While the characters are not at all alike, I would recommend Deadly Descent to readers who appreciate the historic mysteries and family stories of Donis Casey. While Hinger's Deadly Descent is contemporary and darker than Casey's works, family dynamics are important in both. And, the histories of Western Kansas and Oklahoma are vitally important to the stories.

Leo Tolstoy is often quoted for saying, "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Hinger can't go wrong focusing on unhappy families, and their histories. She's given Lottie Albright a great deal of material for future stories. Hopefully, Deadly Descent is just the first of many intriguing Lottie Albright mysteries.

Charlotte Hinger's website is

Deadly Descent by Charlotte Hinger. Poisoned Pen Press, ©2009. ISBN 9781590586457 (hardcover), 250p.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Minotaur Trade Paperbacks

Where have I been? Somehow, I missed the fact that St. Martin's Press is publishing gorgeous trade paperbacks under the Minotaur name. These paperbacks are out at least a year after the hardcovers, so they're not for the reader who must have a book the instant it comes out. But, these are perfect for the library market. We often have to replace hardcovers that are lost or wear out. And, honestly? Some of the trade paperbacks hold up better than some hardcovers nowadays. Affordable replacement copies for the library, in the $13.99-$15.99 range. Just perfect.

So, quick summaries of the latest Minotaur trade paperback releases, since I never knew they existed.

Black Ship is the seventeenth Daisy Dalrymple mystery by Carola Dunn. In 1925, the Honourable Daisy Dalyrmple Fletcher, her husband, and their infant twins move to a larger house, in what appears to be a idyllic setting. But, a dead body is followed by rumors of bootleggers, gangers, and an international smuggling operation.

Chris Ewan's The Good Thief's Guide to Paris takes Charlie Howard, the globe-trotting mystery writer and professional thief, to Paris, where he is caught up in an outrageous heist, just when his literary agent decides it's time they met.
The charming thief soon finds everything out of control.

It's back to Paris for Claude Izner's Murder on the Eiffel Tower. When a woman collapses and dies at the new Eiffel Tower in 1889, bookseller Victor Legris can't accept the official explanation of her death. As he investigates, the deaths begin to multiply.

Stuart MacBride's Flesh House brings to light decades of secrets and lies, when a brutal killer goes missing, and body parts that show up in Aberdeen kick off Scotland's largest manhunt in twenty years.

It must be French month at Minotaur since Pierre Magnan takes readers to Provence in The Messengers of Death. Commissaire Laviolette is brought out of retirement to investigate when a Mlle Veronique is found murdered. A letter left in an unused mailbox leads to a bizarre crime.

For the last two books, we move east. Water Touching Stone is the sequel to Eliot Pattison's Edgar award-winning novel, The Skull Mantra. Since Water Touching Stone originally came out in 2001, libraries may need replacements for the story of Shan Tao Yun, a former Beijing police inspector. Exiled to Tibet, he searches for justice when a revered teacher is slain, and her students are murdered. With an eight-year-old mystery, you might have missed this book entirely.

Laura Joh Rowland takes readers to Japan in 1700 in The Fire Kimono. The strife between Sano Ichiro, the samurai detective, and his enemies, has escalated. Suddenly his mother is implicated in criminal activity, and Sano has three days to clear her name.

England, France, Scotland, Tibet and Japan. I was impressed with the quality of the books, and just wanted to share the world as presented by Minotaur trade paperbacks this month.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Shortest Distance Between Two Women by Kris Radish

I'm a big fan of Kris Radish's novels. I still remember the opening scene of Annie Freeman's Fabulous Traveling Funeral. The black bra scene is a laugh aloud moment, and every woman over forty should read the book. But, for some reason The Shortest Distance Between Two Women lacked that spark.

It wasn't a good time for Emma Gilford's old boyfriend to call. The voice on her answering machine froze her, and disrupted her life. She couldn't handle the annual Gilford reunion. At forty-three, she was the only unmarried one of four sisters, and the one the family depended on. Instead, this year, that voice stopped her in her tracks. She walked out of a reunion planning party, yelled at her a sister, and finally stood up for herself, telling the others what she thought. At the same time, she felt lost as a neighbor told her Marty Gilford, her mother, was sleeping with some man. Emma turns to her garden, and her niece's needs, to get her through.

There is warmth, and love, and laughter in this book, but not enough, and not soon enough. The book seems to drag as Emma drags through life. The final couple chapters of the reunion and a backyard party sparkle a little, but this book never comes to life. The Shortest Distance Between Two Women should be about love and family. Instead, the book was disappointing, one that felt as if 352 pages was the shortest distance I could read to get to the end of the book.

Kris Radish's website is

The Shortest Distance Between Two Women by Kris Radish. Bantam Books, ©2009. ISBN 9780553805413 (hardcover), 352p.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Brutal Telling by Louise Penny

Within the last week, I've read two of the most powerful books I've read this year; first, Nevada Barr's 13 1/2, and, now, The Brutal Telling by Louise Penny. How do I describe the latest Chief Inspector Armand Gamache novel? Penny rips you apart, and then patches you up with poetry and Gamache's kindness.

Once again, Gamache, the head of homicide for the Sûreté du Quebec brings his team back to Three Pines when a body is found in the bistro, and no one knows the man's name. Clara, the artist who serves as the conscience of the village says, "Every Quebec village has a vocation. Some make cheese, some wine, some pots. We produce bodies." But, where did the body come from? Gamache knows there are secrets hidden, and lies told by some of his old friends. His friend, Myrna, owner of the bookstore found the body in the bistro owned by Olivier and Gabri. Is one of these friends capable of murder? Are those clues the poet, Ruth, leaves for Inspector Beauvoir, or poetry scraps? Is the killer one of the close-knit group of villagers, or the threatening strangers opening an inn and spa in the old Hadley house? What about the other strangers, Czech immigrants, or the man seen in the forest? Until someone identifies the body, Gamache has to suspect everyone. And, there, deep in the heart of the forest surrounding Three Pines, Gamache discovers contradictions - the horrifying cruelty man is capable of, along with beauty and peace.

The Brutal Telling is a complex puzzle of storytelling, history, art, and lies. Penny tears apart everything readers have found for comfort in Three Pines, yet leaves the reader with hope for the future. And, she does this with Clara's art, with the story of the murder, and the repercussions in Three Pines. As in previous books, she also leaves the reader wondering about future stories. Tell us more about Annie, Gamache's daughter, and Beauvoir. Tell us more about Clara and Peter, the couple that often reflects the truth of the puzzle. Tell us once more about Three Pines, a village that will suffer loss, and pain, and shock, but will still draw us back.

It's autumn in Three Pines in The Brutal Telling, a time of beauty, change, and death. Those elements merge to make this the most powerful book yet in the Chief Inspector Gamache series.

Louise Penny's blog is at, and her website is

The Brutal Telling by Louise Penny. St. Martin's Minotaur, ©2009. ISBN 9780312377038 (hardcover), 384p.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Guest Blogger at Mystery Lovers' Kitchen

I'm guest blogger today at Mystery Lovers' Kitchen where I'm talking about buckeyes. One more reason to stop by, if you don't know what buckeyes are as a candy!

And, it's always worth a stop at Mystery Lovers' Kitchen!

Sunday Salon - Shooting Stars by LeBron James & Buzz Bissinger

LeBron James has played on two U.S. men's basketball teams, including the gold medal 2008 team. He's the third-highest-paid athlete in the world. He was the youngest player in NBA history to score 10,000 points and topped the league in scoring in 2007-8. He's led the Cleveland Cavaliers to the NBA finals, and has been named the league MVP. It's hard to remember that he's only 25.

So, his youth is one reason that an autobiography is actually about LeBron's youth. Together with bestsellng author, Buzz Bissinger, the two tell the story of his childhood, the basketball friends and coach he found in fifth grade, and his years with those same friends playing for Akron's St. Vincent-St. Mary High School. It's the story of James, a kid from the projects going to a nearly all-white Catholic school, because he promised a friend they'd stick together. It's the story of that group of friends, facing down the black community in Akron when they turned on them for refusing to go to a black high school.

At times, this is a boring book, with all the details of high school basketball games. However, the story that carries the book is not the basketball story, but the story of friendship between those young men. LeBron's story is striking, the kid from the projects with a single mom. But, Willie McGee's is just as heartbreaking, and triumphant. He's a boy who left Chicago to live with his older brother where he could survive, and thrive, in Akron's environment. Any of those five young men could have turned out as angry men. Instead, they graduated from high school, and went on to college and the beginning of their adult lives.

They're only twenty-five. They were Shooting Stars who had a relatively short time together to shine. It's too early to tell what will happen to LeBron James' friends. Undoubtedly, their names won't have the recognition worldwide that his does. But, those young men, and the years on the basketball court together, have made LeBron James the man he is today, teaching him lessons, and giving him a group of friends to count on. This isn't the story of a professional basketball career. Shining Stars is the story of what it takes to become a man who can build a basketball career. And, it's those stories of friendship that shine in this sports biography.

Shooting Stars by LeBron James & Buzz Bissinger. Penguin Group (USA), ©2009. ISBN 9781594202322 (hardcover), 272p.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Detectives Don't Wear Seat Belts by Cici McNair

Cici McNair's Detectives Don't Wear Seat Belts might be subtitled "True Adventures of a Female P.I.", but, honestly, her entire life was an adventure. It's just that her life as a private investigator provides the framework for her memoir.

McNair tells of her life, beginning with her attempt to find a job by leafing through the yellow pages in the New York City telephone book. She had been a journalist, a novelist, and traveled the world, meeting romantic and exotic companions, but in 1994, she was in Manhattan, divorced, broke and living in a borrowed apartment. When she decided she could work as a private investigator, she methodically called firms, went for appointments, and was laughed at. Most detectives were ex-cops who stuck together, and they didn't want to take a change on an attractive brunette. Fortunately, Vinny Parco was willing to give her a chance.

Mixed in with McNair's adventures as a private investigator are stories of her childhood, growing up in Mississippi, daughter of a respected doctor who was an abusive father and husband. She tells of fears for her life, and the freedom she gained when she left home, a freedom that enabled her to travel and live an exhilarating life.

In her chatty style, McNair tells of travels in Africa and Europe, flings with exciting men, from gunrunners to princes, but she always returns to the stories of her job as a private investigator, working undercover, seizures, and routine work on the telephone. She admits, "It was exhilarating, it was secrets, it was sometimes so ticklishly exciting that I couldn't sleep."

Cici McNair gained a respect for the men she worked with. They were there when she had to deal with family issues. They became friends and mentors. They surprised her, and she continually surprised them.

McNair brings a novelist's skill to the telling of her memoir. It's fun, fascinating, and never boring. She claims none of the detectives were in it for the money. "It was all about finding the truth and helping people in terrible situations." Cici McNair always loved the adventure, and it certainly comes through in the book she entitled Detectives Don't Wear Seat Belts.

Detectives Don't Wear Seat Belts by Cici McNair. Center Street, ©2009. ISBN 9781599951874 (hardcover), 354p.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Book Blogger Appreciation Week

This week, book bloggers, publishers, and even some libraries, have been celebrating Book Blogger Appreciation Week. The celebration was started by Amy Riley of the blog, My Friend Amy, "in an effort to recognize the hard work and contribution of book bloggers to the promotion and preservation of a literate culture actively engaged in discussing books, authors, and a lifestyle of reading."

There are hundreds of us out there! It's exciting to see how many people are using the Internet to discuss books. There are mystery blogs, literary ones, ones that review kidlit, YA lit, nonfiction. There are blogs by authors and publishers. There's just a whole world out there. The list of finalists is only a small sample of the large number of blogs nominated, but you might want to check out the list to see a representative sample of blogs. Here's the link -

I follow 93 blogs, and if you check out the sidebar on this blog, you can see the updates as they come in during the day. Probably, over 95% of them are related to mysteries. And, each blog has its own appeal.

I'll give you a quick sample of the blogs I always read. It's in alphabetical order, so no one thinks I'm playing favorites.

Jen Forbus, from Jen's Book Thoughts, has become a friend. After the nice comments she's made about me this week, it almost sounds self-serving to send you to her blog. But, Jen is passionate about mysteries, and enthusiastic in sharing that. She always has unique ideas for her blog. This year, it's been her Six Word Memoirs, written by a wide range of crime fiction authors. And, she's already planning next year's special feature.

Cathy Skye's blog is Kittling: Books. I've never met Cathy, although she lives in Phoenix, but we shared a love of mysteries on a Yahoo group called ARMreading long before either of us began blogging. Cathy just won the BBAW Award for Best Series or Feature. She does readers' polls, shares photos on Wordless Wednesday, and, naturally, reviews books.

If you haven't read Louise Penny's blog, you're missing my favorite blog by an author. Louise is the author of the Armand Gamache mysteries, and her blog is just as beautiful as those books. Check out Louise's blog, at (And, you might want to do it now because her new book, The Brutal Telling, is due out next week!)

Kaye Bailey's Meanderings and Muses is a favorite of many of us who read DorothyL. Kaye's our charming, outspoken friend from North Carolina, with a blog that exemplifies her opinions, her life, and her love of books.

Molly Weston is a media escort who reads over 200 mysteries a year. Is it any wonder I love her blog, Meritorious Mysteries? It's a must read for those of us who are mystery fans.

My Random Acts of Reading is the blog I miss the most. I totally understand why Kay ended her blog after two years. She felt as if she had met her goals, but she had family concerns that were more important to her than spending time working on a blog. I honor and respect her for knowing what is most important to her life. I still miss her as a blogger.

I don't know too many mystery readers who don't also enjoy reading about, or talking about, food. That's why Mystery Lovers' Kitchen, the newest blog I follow, is so much fun. It's a blog written by mystery authors who write about cooking. Avery Ames, Julie Hyzy, Jenn McKinlay (Lucy Lawrence), Riley Adams (Elizabeth Spann Craig), Cleo Coyle, and Krista Davis enjoy sharing recipes and cooking news. They often have visiting mystery authors with cooking tips, and even occasional guests who are not authors. (Check it out on Sunday.)

I could go on and on about the blogs I enjoy. I check out the updates on my blog during the day to see what's happening in the mystery world. I enjoyed Book Blogger Appreciation Week, and the chance to check out other blogs. Even so, my favorite ones are still mystery ones.

What about you? Did you discover and enjoy a new blog this week?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Winners and a Law Enforcement Thriller Contest

Congratulations to the winners in the Lighter Side contest. Elaine Viets' Killer Cuts will go to Blanche R. from Glendale, AZ. The Crack in the Lens by Steve Hockensmith goes to Renee G. from Valleyford, WA. I'll put the books in the mail tomorrow.

This week, law enforcement is the featured topic for the book giveaways. If you haven't yet met Texas Ranger and criminal profiler Sarah Armstrong, you're in for a treat. Singularity was the debut thriller by true crime author Kathryn Casey. I have an ARC of this book that puts Armstrong in a sticky situation. The single mother and Texas Ranger has one of the deadliest cases of her career, a killer who poses bodies in grotesque ways. Casey skillfully intertwines Armstrong's working life and her personal life in a terrific mystery.

Or, you could win an ARC of Ridley Pearson's latest Sheriff Walt Fleming thriller. As sheriff in Sun Valley, Idaho, Fleming has to deal with the rich and famous, and plots against them. He's prepared to handle crime that surrounds the auction of three pricey bottles of wine. He isn't quite as prepared to handle his nephew's disappearance, when a teenage girl, an airplane, and a group of criminals are involved.

Your choices are, Singularity or Killer Summer. You can enter to win both, but I need separate entries for each. If you'd like to win one, email me at Email me!. If that link doesn't work for you, the email address is: Your subject line should read either Win "Singularity" or Win "Killer Summer". Your message should include your mailing address. Entrants only in the U.S., please.

The contest will end Thursday, Sept. 24 at 6 p.m. PT. Jim will draw the winners at that time. The winners will be notified, and the books will go out in the mail on Friday. Good luck!

13 1/2 by Nevada Barr

Nevada Barr is the bestselling author of the Anna Pigeon series, books that feature the park ranger, and crimes in different parks, but always put Pigeon under great psychological strain. Her new book, 13 1/2, emphasizes that strain in an outstanding psychological thriller. This may be Barr's masterpiece.

At fifteen, Polly Farmer ran away from home, where her stepfathers tried to rape her, her mother drank. Leaving her Mississippi trailer trash home, she hitchhiked to New Orleans. That trailer park had been all she could see in her future, and Polly was determined to do better for herself.

Dylan Raines was only eleven years old when he was arrested for murdering his entire family, except for his older brother, Rich. Even Rich had a horrendous leg womb from an ax, the weapon used to kill their parents and little sister in Rochester, Minnesota. While Rich went to the Mayo Clinic, a foster home, and received hundreds of thousands of dollars from sympathetic people, Dylan was labeled "Butcher Boy", and sent to DuWalt juvenile center until he was old enough to be incarcerated.

For the next seven years, Dylan suffers through incompetent psychiatrists, treatment with electric shock and LSD, and learns to harden himself against the guards and doctors. And, despite all efforts, he can never remember killing his family. He only remembers waking up covered with blood, with Rich beside him with his wounded leg. He only knows he's the "Butcher Boy" who killed his family, the youngest boy in juvie. All he has left is his brother, who testified against him, but is always there for him.

By 2007, Polly Farmer Deschamp is "a woman of a certain age, divorced, and with two daughters, seven and nine." She's an English professor with a love of classics when she falls hard for Marshall Marchand, a restoration architect in New Orleans. Before she and Marshall can move on with their relationship, though, she must meet his brother, Danny, the wealthy owner of a chain of drugstores, and Marshall must pass a test given by Polly's daughters. It's a whirlwind courtship for the couple, but the romance seems doomed when Marshall's moods turn gloomy. After a tarot card reader warns Polly that she'll kill her husband, Polly, Marshall, and Danny find themselves on a collision course with the past.

Nevada Barr knows how to twist the story and emotions to keep everyone guessing, characters and the reader alike. 13 1/2 is a suspenseful masterpiece, the story of a killer, lost children, the past, and a living nightmare.

Nevada Barr's website is

13 1/2 by Nevada Barr. Vanguard Press, ©2009. ISBN 9781593155537 (hardcover), 320p.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Devil's Queen by Jeanne Kalogridis

Who was Catherine de Medici? Was she the evil queen responsible for France's St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre? Was she the powerful figure portrayed in history, or was she a wife and mother scheming to keep her husband alive, and her children on the throne? Jeanne Kalogridis tends to the latter viewpoint in The Devil's Queen: A Novel of Catherine de Medici.

Catherine de Medici tells her own story, beginning with the aging queen calling for Nostradamus to cast charts for her children. That opening introduces the woman who was a skilled astrologer in her own right, believing in the star charts, and the influence of birth dates and the stars on destiny. As an orphaned child, living in her aunt's household in Florence, Italy, she was visited by Cosimo Ruggieri, the astrologer who linked their fate together, and predicted she would not rule Florence as its heir, but, would instead be a powerful queen. Yanked from her home, imprisoned by rebels, used as a pawn between the Pope and the King of France, she clung to her astrology as her guide in life.

Jeanne Kalogridis' Catherine de Medici is a character in between. She seems captured by her stars, but she never seems to grow to be as powerful as the historical figure was. It's natural to feel sorry for her in her captive youth, but she never seems to grow from the pitiful figure, going from captive of the Florence rebels, to pawn, to begging her husband's mistress, Diane de Poitiers, to allow her to have sex with her husband in order to preserve the dynasty. Through her entire life, she continues to rely on her astrology, and astrologers to predict her fate. Catherine de Medici appears to be a woman at the mercy of her fate, rather than responsible for it. It's wearing to read about a character when she's a figure of pity throughout the book.

The Afterword says, "Catherine de' Medici lived to the venerable age of sixty-nine. She was an assiduous astrologer, a mathematical prodigy, and - according to many French historians - the most intelligent individual ever to sit on France's throne." Unfortunately, from childhood through the end of the book, she remained a character acting on fear and fate. It might have been more interesting to actually read about a powerful figure, a woman who would come across more as The Devil's Queen.

Jeanne Kalogridis' website is

The Devil's Queen: A Novel of Catherine de Medici by Jeanne Kalogridis. St. Martin's, ©2009. ISBN 9780312368432 (hardcover), 480p.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Murder at Longbourn by Tracy Kiely

Tracy Kiely's first mystery, Murder at Longbourn, is a treat for anyone who loves those traditional mysteries with a country house setting, and a captive set of characters. Think Agatha Christie, with a contemporary setting, and homage to Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It's a satisfying, cozy mystery.

Elizabeth Parker has just dumped her two-timing boyfriend, so the invitation to spend New Year's Eve at her Aunt Winnie's new bed-and-breakfast in Cape Cod is perfect. And, Aunt Winnie's How-to-Host-a-Murder party sounds fun. But, Elizabeth isn't so happy when she realizes she'll be spending the holiday with Peter McGowan. She remembers Peter as her tormentor when she was a miserable fourteen-year-old, and he was older. She suspects he hasn't even matured, but Aunt Winnie seems to depend on him for help at the inn.

It's an odd group that gathers for New Year's Eve, including the man who is planning to take The Inn at Longbourn from Aunt Winnie, his browbeaten wife, and daughter, the town gossip who is dependant on her wealthy college roommate, an unhappy married couple, and a handsome Englishman. Elizabeth has hopes for that Englishman, but when the murder party ends in actual murder, her hopes for romance crash. Elizabeth only knows she, Peter, and Aunt Winnie didn't kill anyone. As she tells Peter, "I have a brain stuffed with useless bits of knowledge and I'm in the middle of a murder investigation and I don't know what to do anymore."

Murder at Longbourn doesn't lock the characters up in the house, but the small group of people at the New Year's Eve party limits the possibilities for a murderer. And, when the killer strikes a second time, Elizabeth knows the people who love The Inn at Longbourn are in danger. She never set out to be a sleuth, but she's determined to save her aunt, and the bed-and-breakfast.

Elizabeth Parker is an interesting departure from the typical mystery heroine, just as Austen's Elizabeth Bennet was an original character. Parker, as narrator, is brutally honest, dislikes cats, isn't fond of dogs, can't cook, and gets headaches with weather changes. Even so, she's determined to help her aunt, in any way she can.

I have to admit I read Pride and Prejudice years ago, and I'm not a big enough fan to recognize the tributes to that work. I do recognize an enjoyable mystery debut, though. Fans of the traditional country house murder mystery should find Murder at Longbourn completely satisfying as a sample of the genre.

Tracy Kiely's website is

Murder at Longbourn by Tracy Kiely. St. Martin's Minotaur, ©2009. ISBN 9780312537562 (hardcover), 320p.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

I can't think of any two books in a series that I've read that have been as exciting, imaginative, and original as Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games and Catching Fire. The second book was just as riveting as the first. It's going to be a long year waiting for the third book.

In The Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen stepped in to take her sister's place in the annual games designed to remind the districts that they were defeated by the Capitol in their rebellion. Katniss and her friend, Peeta Mellark, brought victory home to District 12, but at what cost? Katniss can't spend time with her best friend, Gale. He's forced to work in the mines to survive. And, she realizes she and Peeta may be forced to continue their sham because the entire nation fell in love with the two young lovers. Her very act of saving Peeta may have stirred up rebellion in the other districts. And, she knows the Capitol isn't going to let her act of defiance remain unpunished.

In fact, the Capitol has cruel plans for the young people. On a surprise visit, President Snow even indicates to Katniss that she holds the fate of many people in her hands, and she needs to live up to expectations on the annual Victory Tour. When Peeta and Katniss are unceremoniously snatched from District 12 to make the rounds of the other districts, they discover a great deal of unrest. And, the change in Peacekeepers at home is just one sign that the Capitol will crack down on any signs of insurrection. But, it's the Quarter Quell, the celebration of the seventy-five years since the districts' defeat, that will change Katniss' life, and, possibly the country, forever.

Collins' second book in the series is an enthralling, fast-paced story. The main characters, along with some minor ones that reappear, are more developed. And, the symbolism is stronger. On the cover of the book in a mockingjay, Katniss' symbol, a symbol that became important to the people in the district. "A mockingjay is a creature the Capitol never intended to exist. They hadn't counted on the highly controlled jabberjay having the brains to adjust to the wild, to pass on its genetic code, to thrive in a new form. They hadn't anticipated its will to live."

The Hunger Games and Catching Fire may have been written for young adults, but any readers who hunger for suspense, adventure, and excitement should try them out. Ray Bradbury's characters from Fahrenheit 451 would be right at home in Collins' future world where the Capitol monitors the lives of its citizens, and gives them reality TV shows to keep them under control. Catching Fire, with its cliff-hanger ending, continues to catch fire in the reader's imagination, long after the book is over.

Suzanne Collins' website is , and Scholastic has a link for the book,

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins. Scholastic Press, ©2009. ISBN 9780439023498 (hardcover), 400p.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Sunday Salon- Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451: The Authorized Adaptation

Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 is the selected book for Maricopa County's The Big Read in October. So, I did something a little different, and read the graphic novel. Ray Bradbury authorized Tim Hamilton's version of the book, and wrote the introduction. I'm glad I read the graphic novel, if only for the introduction.

Before I discuss the introduction, I'll just say Hamilton's illustrations provide an appropriate stark background for the story of Guy Montag, the fireman whose encounter with teenager Clarisse McClellan changes his life. Clarisse makes him think, and question his job burning books. It's ironic that the only books that were allowed to survive were comic books, and this version is a graphic novel. It's an intriguing way to tell the story.

Actually, though, it's worth reading this version for Bradbury's comments. He tells of the slow evolution of this story, beginning with his encounter with a police officer when he and a friend were out walking. And, he acknowledges that there are parts of him in all of the characters.

But, Ray Bradbury also challenges readers, and it's a challenge I'm passing on. Here's Bradbury's challenge. "Finally, may I suggest that anyone reading this introduction should take the time to name the one book that he or she would most want to memorize and protect from any censors or firemen. And not only name the book, but give the reasons why they would wish to memorize it and why it would be a valuable asset to be recited and remembered in the future. I think this would make for a lively session when my readers meet and tell the books they named and memorized, and why."

I pick - A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. It's a story that has always haunted me. Even those who have never read the book know parts of the opening - "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way. . . ." And, many of us know Sydney Carton's final words, "It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest I go to than I have ever known."

I pick that book for the beauty of those phrases, but also for its themes of redemption and rebirth, love and violence. And, of course, there's the setting itself, London, and, Paris during the French Revolution. If there comes a time when we have to memorize books in order to save them, it's a story of heroism, and man's ability to rise over the violence. It's also a story of the revolution, one necessary for change, but violent. And, of course, there's the romance and tragedy of the story.

So, I pick A Tale of Two Cities. I challenge you. What book would you memorize to save it? Why?

Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451: The Authorized Adaptation by Tim Hamilton. Hill and Wang, ©2009. ISBN 9780809051014 (paperback), 150p.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

DeKok and the Mask of Death by A.C. Baantjer

I've become a fan of Dutch author A.C. Baantjer and the translations of his DeKok police procedurals. Here's my review of DeKok and the Mask of Death, as it appeared in Mystery News. It's reprinted here, with permission.

DeKok and The Mask of Death
by A.C. Baantjer
Speck Press
ISBN 978-1-933108-30-8
Police Procedural

Inspector DeKok enjoyed his walk to Amsterdam’s famous police station on Warmoes Street in the heart of the Red Light District until he had a premonition of impending disaster just before he entered the building. However, he was determined not to allow a case or his boss, the commissaris, to stop his vacation, a chance to see Operation Sail Amsterdam as the sailing ships entered the port.

Despite his wishes, DeKok was intrigued by a young man’s visit to the station. He reported a missing woman, his girlfriend, who entered Slotervaart Hospital, and never came out. There was nothing unusual about that, except the hospital claimed they had never heard of her, and never admitted her. Vledder, DeKok’s partner and apprentice, was convinced the boyfriend either made up the story or killed the young woman. DeKok thought there might be something more to the story. He knew there was something odd when he received the report of a second woman referred to the same hospital, by the same doctor, with the same results. Slotervaart Hospital claimed they never heard of her. How many women, claiming they were tired and listless, have disappeared?

Baantjer’s police procedurals featuring Inspector DeKok reflect the author’s knowledge. He was a detective inspector of the Amsterdam police for almost forty years. His knowledge of crime and character brings richness to his writing.

But DeKok himself is Baantjer’s masterpiece. In DeKok and The Mask of Death, we see him as an old inspector, deceptive because he ambles and appears “gray”. He is still shrewd, though, with excellent interviewing techniques. He’s very fair and nonjudgmental in his treatment of citizens and criminals alike. However, he was often rebellious in dealing with authority. He’s not perfect, and has idiosyncrasies, such as the habit of spelling his name when introduced. But, “Under it all, he retained his innate compassion and sympathy for the victim.”

In contrast, Vledder, DeKok’s partner, appeared young and impetuous. He proposed one theory after another, jumping to conclusions and taking action without much forethought. DeKok was patient with the younger man, never knowing when some random idea might strike a chord.

Baantjer’s police procedurals are masterpieces of the style. DeKok and the Mask of Death has a weakness in that the reason for the disappearances is easily guessed, although it’s a very timely story. However, since this edition appears in English twenty-two years after the original Dutch publication, the motivation for the disappearances was probably not as easy to surmise at that time.

More than fifty novels in the Inspector DeKok Investigates series were published in the Netherlands, beginning in the 1960s. Speck Press has published a dozen translations. Hopefully, they will continue to produce these outstanding police procedurals. Lovers of police procedurals can’t go wrong with Baantjer and DeKok.

Rating: 4.0

Reprinted, with permission, from Mystery News, Volume 27, Issue 4, August/September 2009.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Down in the Flood by Kenneth Abel

When I reviewed Mary Anna Evans' Floodgates, I had just read Kenneth Abel's Down in the Flood. It was interesting to see the difference in the treatment of Hurricane Katrina. Here's my review of Down in the Flood, as it appeared in Mystery News. It's reprinted here, with permission.

Down in the Flood
by Kenneth Abel
St. Martin’s Minotaur
ISBN 978-0-312-37719-9
Crime Fiction

On the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, Kenneth Abel brings readers a novel that is difficult to classify. It’s the third in the Danny Chaisson series, and it would definitely be easier to read this book after reading the earlier two. Technically, the book could be classified as amateur detective since Danny is a lawyer, but he, and this book, are so much more that that. This is a dark, gritty novel about an ethical man trying to do the right thing, against enormous opposition.

Danny Chaisson was once a New Orleans prosecutor. After taking down some powerful figures for the FBI, he’s an independent lawyer with a small practice. When the U.S. Attorney’s office investigates IndusCrete, a company that may have sold bad concrete, an engineer named Louis Sams asks for help. He’s been pressured by the FBI to testify against the company’s owner, Gerald Vickers. In return, they’ll help Sams’ son get out of legal trouble. Danny and Sams have two problems. Vickers’ business partner, Jimmy Mancuso, is a powerful mobster. And Louis Sams is an honest man. Instead of putting himself under FBI protection, Sams insists on putting in one more day at work, even though two ex-cops, employed by Mancuso, have shown up looking for a snitch.

When Sams disappears, it’s too late for the FBI to help him out. It’s August 27, 2005, and Hurricane Katrina is bearing down on the city. Danny’s FBI contact tells him Sams disappeared, but the FBI is pulling out. Danny’s wife, an ATF agent, is required to stay in town, but Danny’s supposed to follow his mother-in-law and daughter out of town. Despite his family, and, despite the hurricane, Danny is compelled to do what he can to find Sams, a man who might be in danger.

Abel’s novel is a troubling book. It vividly describes the conditions for those people left behind, as Danny rides out the storm in a warehouse owned by a friend, Jabril, who opened it up to protect his community. Jabril and Danny share the gallows humor necessary to survive under terrible conditions. But, they are both determined to save the people they can. Danny is determined to find Louise Sams. He knew if he didn’t, Sams would be just one more dead man, in a city full of the dead, “A whole city of victims.” But, Danny was convinced, “Every man matters, if only for a moment.”

Through hurricane, flooding, and looting, Danny continues to look for Sams. He and Jabril agreed, “You do what you can, even if it isn’t enough.” There is corruption, criminals, and victims in this book, but it’s not a typical crime novel. Kenneth Abel’s story points out the corruption and criminal behavior in New Orleans, both before and after the storm. He takes readers back into those terrible days in August, back into the lives of the people left behind, “silent people contemplating the end of the only world they’d ever known.” Abel tells readers about crime on a grand scale.

And, he gives us Danny Chaisson, the kind of guy who stays with a mobster in the hospital when he realizes there was nobody else there for the man. There’s no one I’d rather have on my side than Danny, an ethical, moral man, not a superhero, but a dedicated, loyal man who tries to do the right thing.

There’s a little too much that happens by accident at the end of the book. And, it would have been easier to follow at times, if I had read the earlier books. But Abel’s description of the hurricane, and the behavior of one ethical man, makes up for the minor flaws in the book.

Rating: 4.5

Reprinted, with permission, from Mystery News, Volume 27, Issue 4, August/September 2009.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Winners and On the Lighter Side Contest

Congratulations to the winners of the Cats in Crime mysteries. Blaize Clement's Cat Sitter on a Hot Tin Roof will go to Jae P. from Glendale, CA. Shades of Grey by Clea Simon will go to Phyllis G. from Cheyenne, WY. The books will go out in the mail tomorrow.

This week, I have two crime novels on the lighter side. The Crack in the Lens is the latest book in Steve Hockensmith's Holmes on the Range series. If you're not familiar with them, they feature cowboys Otto “Big Red” Amlingmeyer and his brother Gustav “Old Red” in 1890s Montana, who got interested in being detectives after reading a Sherlock Holmes story. When they decide to search for the killer of a sweetheart Old Red once had in Texas, they find themselves in the "middle of a riot at the local cathouse, on the wrong end of a lynching party, and forced to commit the greatest crime a man can in the state of Texas, stealing horses."

Or you could win an autographed ARC of my favorite in Elaine Viets' Dead-End Job
series, Killer Cuts. This time, Helen Hawthorne has a terrific boss, as she works at Miguel Angel's Fort Lauderdale hair salon. So, when he does the bride's hair at her wedding to a notorious TV show host, and Miguel becomes a suspect in the man's murder, Helen is determined to clear his name.

Would you like to win The Crack in the Lens or Killer Cuts? You can enter to win both, but I need separate entries for each. If you'd like to win one, email me at Email me!. If that link doesn't work for you, the email address is: Your subject line should read either Win "Crack in the Lens" or Win "Killer Cuts". Your message should include your mailing address. Entrants only in the U.S., please.

The contest will end Thursday, Sept. 17 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!

Close Encounters of the Third-Grade Kind by Phillip Done

Phillip Done's Close Encounters of the Third-Grade Kind is one of the books being given away in the Hatchette Book Group Back to School contest that I'm running. It's worth entering the contest just for the chance to win this book. If you're an elementary school teacher, or know one, buy this book. Done tells the story of one school year in his life as a third grade teacher. It's a superb follow-up to 32 Third Graders and One Class Bunny: Life Lessons from Teaching.

Done's book is subtitled "Thoughts on Teacherhood." Like the previous book, it's laid out in the form of a school year. In August, he talks about buying school supplies, and gives suggestions to new teachers for preparing their classroom. The following June, he relates lessons he's learned from his students. In the months in-between, he tells stories of reading to his students, celebrating holidays, and playground duty. There are a couple stories that will bring you to tears, but the laugh aloud moments fill this book. Wait until you read about the second grade teacher whose students set leprechaun traps! And, time after time, Done proves that Art Linkletter was right. "Kids Say the Darndest Things."

Done has spent twenty-five years in the classroom, and, even after all those years, he still loves the kids, and enjoys them. That love comes across in all of the sparkling moments in this book. He tells of his own childhood, admitting he was no different than the kids he teaches. Kids are still the same. His stories encourage the reader to look back at your own school years. When he told about the Tooth Fairy, I remembered staying over at my older cousin's where we planned to stay up and see the Tooth Fairy. I was only in kindergarten. She fell asleep, but I stayed up, and in the morning, told her that her mother was the Tooth Fairy. My aunt was so mad at me. Those Tooth Fairy stories made me laugh, as so many of the other stories did.

Win this book, or buy it. But, share it with elementary school teachers. They'll thank you for it. Phillip Done captures all of the heart and warmth of teaching. And, if you never had a teacher as interesting as Mr. Done, you'll be jealous of his students. Those are lucky kids that have gone through Phillip Done's classrooms over the years. They're the ones that brought him to Close Encounters of the Third-Grade Kind.

Oh, and Mr. Done? I used to feed Pringles to a wild rabbit. ;)

Phillip Done's website is

Close Encounters of the Third-Grade Kind by Phillip Done. Center Street, ©2009. ISBN 9781599951485 (hardcover), 336p.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Sir Terry Pratchett, Presented by Authors @ The Teague

What an honor to host Sir Terry Pratchett at the Velma Teague Library! Actually, we expected a large crowd, so the event was held in the Glendale City Council Chambers. People stayed over from the North American Discworld Convention, including men from Switzerland and Mexico. One fan flew in from San Francisco, just for this event. And, one woman drove up from Yuma.

It was definitely a fun program, filled with laughter, beginning with his introduction. After I introduced him as Sir Terry Pratchett, he said that always bothers him to be called Sir Terry in America. Didn't we fight a war not to have to say Sir Terry? Well, actually we fought it because we owed England money, and we didn't want to pay up.

He said, when they call you and say they'd like to knight you, they're very nice about it, saying they would fully appreciate that you might not want to be knighted. But, the family gets to go. He said when he went to be knighted, two burly policemen pulled him over, and told him, park over there, and we'll come get our books signed later. He went with his wife, daughter, and mum. His mum is about the same age and same size as the queen, so they could have swapped places in the dark. They had tea, and then went off with a flunky to go through the whole kneeling bit. It wouldn't be proper to pull the queen over. It was good fun, and she whacked him on the shoulder with a sword.

He said it's nice to be a knight, usually when dealing with bullies. He said we could use a few knights in America, especially when dealing with Homeland Security. He said he hopes that the English Customs men aren't as cheeky to us when we go to England, as Homeland Security was to him. Terry asked, "Do they ever smile?" He said maybe England should send a few over to us to teach them how to smile. He said a couple of them would have made Mr. T run away. He gave his name to one of them, and, when asked, said he was a writer here for a convention. Pratchett said, you don't want to hear customs get on the phone, call someone, and say, "I got him." Another man came over, and said, "I can't make the convention. Would you sign this book for me?" So, after he signed to his "best friend, Stan", Stan went back to his own line. So, there were two lines waiting while Terry Pratchett signed Stan's book. Once Stan had left, "Mr. T" said to Terry, "I need to see your I.D." Even while pulling out his passport, Terry looked at him, and said, "Stan didn't." And, "Mr. T" gave him a little smile.

Instead of a formal talk, Terry walked in front of the podium, and said, "You know me and what I do. Ask me a question." After a few gasps that they would actually get to ask him questions, the first one was, "How are you holding up in this heat?" He responded, "You have ferocious heat and ferocious air conditioning. The air in my hotel room didn't need to be that cold. It could be brought down to the temperature of a spring day."

Someone said, "You've always said you have quite a sense of timing. You took a job in a nuclear power plant at the time of Three Mile Island. How's your sense of timing now?" He answered that he's more in control of his own destiny now.

He went on to talk about that. He said tug-of-war is played with a rope. There was a tug of war at Three Mile Island, and the rope broke. Lots of fingers were caught up in that rope. Apart from Chernobyl, the most damage ever was done at Three Mile Island.

Pratchett went on to say, they always say, we're putting in three completely independent fail-safe systems, and they're all a long way apart. However, the cables for all three fail-safe systems go in one cable in one wall.

Terry said a power station is a small town, with its own sewage system. And, naturally, the man sweeping up items there swept three pieces of radioactive iron into the sewage system. So, there's 800,000 gallons of sludge, with a small number of radioactive pieces that can't be seen. So, there's a meeting of the people who know about radioactivity, and the people who know about sewage plants. And, the sewage people say they know sewage, but they're not going to handle it when it's radioactive. And the radioactivity people say they know about radioactivity, but it's the shit that worries us. Terry said he never had to sign anything when he worked in a nuclear power station. How do you find tiny particles in great piles of sludge? Pump it out, and then take it to an enormous coal power station, and feed it carefully in there. Then beep, beep, beep. All three of the pieces were found. They got it 100% right that time. But, weird stuff happened there, including a man who was too radioactive to come in to the power station. He eventually gave his six months notice. Now, he has enough money so he never has to do another honest day's work.

When asked what he was reading, Terry replies, he's been away from books for a few days, but at home, he's reading London Labor and the London Poor. The author was a social reformer. It's set in Georgian England. The Thames was a sewer at the time. And author was appalled by what he found. London was so unbelievably awful that even Morpork was better. At times, soot was London's most valuable export. People used to forge it, fake soot. Chimney sweeps would clean chimneys for free to get soot.

London was actually, people who have jobs, and the underclass, just as right now in England. Everyone was scared, a bit like America right now since you don't have a National Health Service. One accident, and you're in the poorhouse. Charity did not come from the rich, but from the not too poor to the poorer than them. Charity rained from the lower middle class to lower class. Nothing was wasted. House dust was sold for fertilizer because it had human skin in it. Paper was recycled. Metal was valuable. This was just as Queen Victoria was coming to the throne. One thing to say for Prince Albert is that he was a reformer. The River Thames finally gave up, and it made such a great stink that Parliament couldn't sit because of the stench. Then, the English built the best sewer system ever.

Terry was asked how he got into the head of a nine-year-old girl, Tiffany, in his books, since he did it so well. He asked if we had Girl Scouts, Brownies, here. He said he had been contacted by a Brownie troop that wanted to do a spoof for a show. Can we photograph you being kidnapped? They would take that photograph, and use a stand-in to do the rest, since one girl's father looked enough like Pratchett. He said they'd have to film the kidnapping, and he wanted to coordinate it, but they had to bring a rubber chicken. He wanted to have two girls stand behind him as he was signing; then one girl would pick up his hat, and the other would hit him over the head with a rubber chicken. Hit him, and then while he slumped, they were to put his hat back on. The problem was, people saw him signing, and he would have to say, wait, I'm going to be hit by a rubber chicken. He has a plaque now, saying he is a Brownie Guide.

He said, actually, you just watch. He said girls are different, and I just watch and take notice. He could do a monograph on how people clap. An author has to be interested in people. He will talk to anyone who takes the time to talk.

Anything interests him. In Nation, they dipped a womb in a bucket of tar. Only the Royal Navy might have done that. Nation was just channeled. It pured through him.

He said the Victorians never actually covered furniture legs because they were indecent. That was a gag. The mid-Victorian period was a time of "things". People didn't own things before. But, manufacturers were making things, and people wanted as many things as possible. Terry knew a woman who lost her husband, but as he kid, when he went to her house, it was so cluttered with things that Terry thought maybe her husband was in there somewhere.

He leads an inquiring life, and it comes out as a story.

When asked if he was going to incorporate Twitter into any books, he said he doesn't Tweet because he has real flesh and blood friends. He said he was on the Internet about as soon as it was around. Then he asked, "Don't you people want me to write the books?"

A question from the audience began, your books contain a number of moral and ethical dilemmas. Are there any philosophers you admire? Terry Pratchett answered, "Jesus was pretty good." Pratchett said he considers himself a humanist. His god is the god of Carl Sagan and Spinoza. Science is a sacrament. He thinks people should abide by the Golden Rule. Terry said we should close churches, and just put up signs, "God is love. What part of this don't you understand?" He makes up his philosophy as he goes along.

Terry was asked if he had advice for someone going into the priesthood, and the man who asked the question admitted he was thinking of going into the Greek Orthodox priesthood. Terry answered, it's all work and no technique. You don't hear of priests being laid off, but no one is sinning now, so there's not much confession lately. He said one of the long-term triggers for the Industrial Revolution was the closing of monasteries by Henry VII. Craftsmen such as herbalists and carpenters were pushed out into the world. They took apprentices, and those skills were one of the long-term triggers. Pratchett went on to say the priesthood is an interesting job, one of the most interesting, other than his. He asked, Thou Shalt Not Kill should be actually read as Thou Shalt Not Murder, shouldn't it, and the audience member said yes, that's closer to the Hebrew.

Terry said people shouldn't read the Old Testament unprepared, or they come away thinking we're in the hands of a maniac. He said it's actually a guide for getting an argumentative people across the desert, filled with cooking and building tips. He wishes more people would read the New Testament.

When asked who his favorite characters to write about were, Pratchett answered Vimes or Tiffany. But, Tiffany isn't as much fun to write about now that she's older. He said witches were wise women. He knew a nurse once who admitted she had helped people die. She also said she carried shoe boxes with her because she was a nurse/midwife in rural areas with small gene pools, and babies often didn't live. The shoe boxes were just the right size for burials. Granny Weatherwax came from these stories. All those stories are tools for an author. He interviewed an elderly postman, and some of Going Postal came from those stories.

Pratchett said you must be hugely interested in people to be a successful author, and particularly doing what he does.

He said he can remember the '60s, so that means he wasn't there. He was too busy working a job, and trying to have sex. He said those who wanted rock-n-roll and drugs, didn't have sex.

He mentioned his wife, Lady Lynn, who isn't so sure about that title, but it impresses her mum. In his inimitable style, he told of his first date with her. He had no money, but Chinese restaurants were new, so he asked if she wanted to go to one. So, with his lack of money, he couldn't afford to take a taxi all the way from his town to hers, pick her up, and go to dinner, and back. So, he worked it all out. He got dressed up, then put his motorcycle gear on over that. And, it's raining. So, he rode his bike, got off in a farmer's field, dropped the bike, put his motorcycle clothes on top of it, and then ran to her house, just in time to get there when the taxi did, so she thinks he arrived in the taxi. They had a nice meal, and the taxi picks them up. They have a chaste little first date kiss. He pays off the taxi driver, then goes back to the farmer's field, gets into his wet motorcycle gear, and it takes four or five times to start the bike. Then, halfway home, it conks out, and he had to push the bike home.

When asked if Mr. Dibbler, who can sell anything to anybody is based on an actual person, Terry said as a boy he would accompany his Granny to street markets, and they were full of Dibblers, who were selling cheap crockery, "Cutting-Me-Own-Throat" to sell it. He listens to language, how people speak.

When a man died, he was lying in his coffin and people came in to have a glass of sherry, and greet the widow. The man had been on holiday, and dropped dead at his door. Terry's Granny said, "Well, he looks well." And, the answer was, "Yes, undertaker's done good."

One question concerned the editing of his American books. Pratchett said it's been better in recent years. At times, he's argued with his editors, such as when Mister should be spelled out. John Wayne never said, go for your gun M-R.

Terry reminded the audience he has Alzheimer's. He said he will not die of Alzheimer's, but he doesn't like the term assisted suicide. As a journalist, he's seen suicides, such as a woman throwing herself from a bridge. But, he's been writing and making arrangements. In his mind, that doesn't fit the frame of suicide. It's adult homo sapiens looking the inevitable in the face, and making sensible decisions.

He had problems with his books, up until the '90s, when two publishers collided, and suddenly he had an editor who knew his name, and liked his stuff, and a publicist who felt the same. Up until then, his books were poorly published and publicized. Because of the changes in wording for American books, when he would come to the United States, fans would have U.K. hardcovers semi-legally in the U.S. But, in the
'90s, the language was allowed to stand. He said he doesn't put a lot of odd language in the books, because Morpork wouldn't come out right. But, when told Webster's wouldn't allow it, he tells them what they could do with Webster's. But, for his children's books, for American kids, it's sensible to have American usage.

Pratchett was asked if he has plans for another Night Watch book. He said he's been feeling chipper, and has a dictation machine in his office. Fortunately, the people who built it are nerdy and Discworld fans. He's dictated more than 10,000 words of a book. He's speeding along with it. They dumped Discworld books into the memory of the machine, and it knows how words should sound. So, if it doesn't recognize a word, he asks for the Spellbox, and he can choose which one is correct. It's going faster than a keyboard.

He told the audience he has a rare disease. He has a large brain, which is unusual, with lots of brain cells. But, it upsets him that so many of those brain cells are used up by lyrics from '60s advertisements. Terry said we should disinvent television. He feels it's the sole excuse for what's going wrong with civilization. Babies are put in front of TV to amuse them.

But, he said the best thing you can do for a child is develop their vocabulary. The more words you know, the more articulate you can be. The better you can express yourself, the happier you are. He said kids love semi-made-up Scottish language in his books. He combines Gaelic and Glaswegian slang, and kids think it's dirty words. Kids are built to be learning.

In his new book, Unseen Academicals, Glenda is uneducated, but she taught herself to read. She reads cheap novels, but she's never heard words spoken, and doesn't know exactly what words are or how to say them, words such as boudoir or reticule. So, when a woman asks her to join her in her boudoir, and she sees forty people there, she's relieved because she didn't know what a boudoir was. Pratchett said education advances through women. They read, and shared, cheap novels. Then, they taught their daughters to read. Mothers made sure their daughters, and some sons, were literate.

So, someone asked Terry what he read as a child, and he said, nothing. He said reading was associated with pain. He had to learn words in school. He said when he was eight or nine years old, his uncle gave him a copy of The Wind in the Willows, and he was reading it in London. All the way home, he was reading it by streetlights. He was hooked by the time he got home. By the next week, he was a member of his local library, and helping the librarians on Saturday. He read children's books and adult books at the same time, with no distinction. School didn't show him reading pleasure; it was a chore. His mother did bribe him to read, offering 6 pence a page.

When asked if he and Neil Gaiman would write another book together, like Good Omens, he said neither wants to do another. He said, "He does his thing, and I do mine." He said then it was easy for two guys. Now, it would be problematical. He said it's not likely they'd do another because there is no obvious reason to do it.

Pratchett was asked if there's anything that appeals to him about America or anything that annoys him. He said Americans don't despair easily. He said people in Europe, and, particularly, England, are cynical. He loved the way we celebrated our new President, although we all know how we'll feel in a few years. He thinks America is the last best hope for mankind, because we have so many examples of mankind. Every individual person is important in America. G.K. Chesteron said, "I pity the man who believes in socialism because he believes in something that doesn't believe in him."

An audience member asked if he had plans for someone to continue Discworld after his death. Terry responded that his daughter, Rhianna Pratchett, is as sharp as a tack. She's a writer of computer games. She and his publicist will have the responsibility for Discworld. But, there's no hard and fast decision, because would she do it because of the money, or because she wanted to? He said he'll be dead, so he won't be a major player in the decision. But, he's renewing copyrights, and it would be nice if things happened. He said his daughter could do it if she wanted; she has talent. But, it's her life, and he won't put his hand on it beyond the grave.

When asked if he had the chance to see the Grand Canyon, he said not on this trip. But he went to Tombstone, and had a good guide, author Emma Bull. He said he didn't know that, basically, the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral took place in a place the size of a phone booth. He said Wyatt Earp died in 1929, but England thinks it was in the 1880s. Pratchett said history is closer than people think. In the science of Discworld, grandfathers is a way of measuring time. Fifty years is a grandfather. Actually, measured that way, the pyramids are not that far back.

Terry Pratchett said it's far too dangerous living here on earth. There have been a number of times that life forms have been destroyed from space. He'd advise us to get off the planet as soon as possible. A Mars or moon colony would be fail safe.

He was asked if he has a recurring theme in his books, and he answered, "Smart is better than dumb." He said another book helps his characters in every book. His characters share the way he thinks of things.

He ended by telling about his books made into movies. He likes the small company that made them, because he could tell them things needed to be changed. So, after Hogfather, he had lots of leftover plastic teeth. So, he took them with him to a conference in Australia.

Pratchett said he likes Australia. Every Englishman feels at home in Australia. He never felt at home in America. But, Australia was colonized by Cockneys.

So, he went through Customs in Australia, and had the plastic teeth with him. He was asked if he had any animal products, and he said no. So, the woman at Customs asked him what he had in his suitcase, and he said, lots of plastic teeth. When asked why, he said, "I don't think it's any of your business," an answer he knows he couldn't have given in the U.S. She said, OK. And, then he asked if she wanted to know about the black box marked "Death". In it, was a statue of Death. Then, he asked her if it was the strangest luggage she'd seen all day. She said, yes, but it was only 10:30, and the the Japanese were coming next.

Thank you to Sir Terry Pratchett, the North American Discworld Convention, the Poisoned Pen Bookstore, and the staff and volunteers from the Velma Teague Library who made this a very special event for visitors from around the world.

Sir Terry Pratchett's website is