Monday, November 30, 2009

Winners of the Fall Feast Book Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the Fall Feast Book giveaway from Hatchette Book Group. The two books will be going to Michelle F. of Watkinsville, GA, Michelle D. from Eastpointe, MI, and Kira R. from Russell, Ontario, Canada. I've notified Hatchette, and you should be receiving your books shortly. Enjoy!

U is for Undertow by Sue Grafton

Tomorrow is release date for Sue Grafton's U is for Undertow. If you've been disappointed by recent books in the series, don't hesitate to pick this one up. Of course, I'm a cold case fan, so I'm prejudiced, but I think this is the best Kinsey Millhone investigation in recent years.

In April 1988, Kinsey accepted an unusual case. Michael Sutton was referred to her by a police detective who thought there just might be something to his story. Sutton thought it was possible he had information about the disappearance of a four-year-old girl, Mary Claire Fitzhugh, in 1967. Her body was never found, but as a six-year-old, he remembered two men digging a hole, men who admitted they were pirates, to a young boy's pleasure. Twenty-one years later, when the story of the little girl's kidnapping was in the newspaper as an unsolved case, it occurred to Sutton that he might have seen the kidnappers.

The police were right. Kinsey did like to pick at cases, and she was willing to spend a little time trying to find an unmarked grave. In the next two weeks, she found odd clues, ranging from a dead dog to another kidnapped little girl. She also learned how unreliable her client was. How can a detective trust the story told by an unreliable witness?

While working on Sutton's case, Kinsey took care of other business, including her own family issues. After not having a family for so many years, she's overwhelmed by their requests for her attention. A couple people, including her cousin, continue to push, while Kinsey pushes back against the family. Finally, a set of letters pushes her to do her own investigation.

Kinsey is still Kinsey Millhone, stuck in the 1980s, and living her Spartan life. I loved a paragraph in which Kinsey is trying to look sharp while meeting her cousin, a paragraph that sums up Kinsey's lifestyle perfectly. "I'd been using a hand-knit wool scarf along the bottom of the door to the upstairs bath, keeping out the drafts that crept through the crack where there should have been a threshold. I snatched up the scarf, shook off a few woofies, and slung it around my neck....I was as they say, a sight for sore eyes."

As others have said, since Kinsey is stuck in the 1980s, she never ages, but she also doesn't have access to the technology we use today - no Internet, no computer, no cell phone. She's impressed with the fax machine she uses at a notary's. As a librarian who worked in the 1980s, though, Kinsey's use of the public library for reference makes me nostalgic. It's wonderful to see someone who still pulls the directories, making practical use of the reference tools available.

Sue Grafton is a true master at changing the styles of her books, keeping them fresh after twenty-one books. U is for Undertow incorporates Kinsey's viewpoint, along with accounts of people who were involved in events surrounding the 1967 kidnappings. It's fascinating to read the earlier stories, wondering how those people intersect with Kinsey Millhone's latest case. Kinsey hints at the beginning of the case, when she says, "Here's the odd part. In my ten years as a private eye, this was the first case I ever managed to resolve without crossing paths with the bad guys. Except at the end, of course."

It's an odd case for Kinsey Millhone. And, it's a wonderful book for Sue Grafton. U is for Undertow, a cold case, is my favorite Grafton in quite a while. If you've given up on the recent books, pick this one up. And, if you read every one of Kinsey Millhone's adventures, this is a 416 page, comfortable, satisfying book.

Sue Grafton's website is

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


FTC Full Disclosure - I received my copy of U is for Undertow from Sue Grafton's publisher, as a thank you, with no guarantee I would review the book.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Sunday Salon - Sunday Tidbits

By the time Saving CeeCee Honeycutt is published in January, you'll be tired of hearing me praise it. But I want to share Beth Hoffman's good news about her debut novel. It has been chosen to be a Main Selection of the Doubleday Book Club. As of this posting, rights have also been sold to seven foreign countries, Italy, Israel, Germany, France, Korea, the Philippines, and Canada. Not bad for a debut novel! Beth Hoffman's website is

Do you still need some book suggestions for holiday gifts for the mystery readers in your family? My friend, and fellow blogger, Jen Forbus, surveyed authors, bloggers, reviewers, and booksellers, in order to share their suggestions. Check out Jen's blog this week, for all of those suggestions. It's Jen's Book Thoughts.

I have a busy week coming up with so many fun author appearances that it might be a day or two until everything gets posted. Tuesday night, I'm going to dinner with a friend, Patti O'Brien, and Louise Penny and her husband, Michael. I finally get to meet Michael! If read Louise Penny's blog, you've read about Michael, the model for Armand Gamache. I can't wait to meet him. And Louise is one of the nicest people in the world. So, I'm looking forward to dinner. Then, it's off to the Poisoned Pen, where Louise will be appearing with Peter Robinson. She'll be discussing The Brutal Telling, and he'll talk about The Price of Love, a story collection. Summary up on Friday!

Thursday afternoon at 2 PM, Authors @ The Teague will host two San Francisco authors. I haven't met Mark Coggins, author of the August Riordan series, or Michelle Gagnon, who writes about Special Agent Kelly Jones. I'm really looking forward to the program. Coggins' latest book is The Big Wake-Up. And, Gagnon will talk about The Gatekeeper.

If you can't stop by the Velma Teague Library on Thursday, Dec. 3, stop by my blog. I'll be interviewing Joanna Challis, author of Murder on the Cliffs. It's a mystery that introduces a young Daphne du Maurier as the amateur sleuth. Challis is hoping to review the gothic romance. You'll want to take time to "meet" her.

I'm ending my week back at the Velma Teague Library on Saturday, Dec. 5 at 2 PM when Authors @ The Teague presents the Desert Sleuths Chapter of Sisters in Crime. They have a fun anthology that will perfect for a gift for mystery lovers, How Not to Survive the Holidays. This should be a fun panel discussion, since there will be over ten authors there!

This week's Sunday Tidbits - news about Beth Hoffman's forthcoming book, Jen Forbus' book suggestions, and authors on tour. If you're in the Phoenix area, maybe I'll see you at the Poisoned Pen or the Velma Teague Library.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Home for Christmas by Andrew M. Greeley

It takes a lifelong romantic, and a person who believes that God is about love and joy and laughter to create Home for Christmas. Andrew M. Greeley tells the story of a lifelong romance that went off-track, and God's determination to put it right.

Petey Pat Kane and Mariana Pia Pelligrino have been in love their whole lives. And, they first met Father Jimmy Joyce, who would become Monsignor Jimmy, when they were just second graders preparing for their First Communion. He was a powerful force in their lives, but he was long gone from Poplar Grove, Illinois by the time they went to their senior prom, a special occasion that ended so tragically that Peter left town, and didn't return.

Despite his shaky start as the son of an abusive drunk, Peter ended up in Iraq for three deployments, where he was a hero. And, it was the last deployment that changed his life forever. When Peter died for nine and half minutes, his ensuing conversation with God sent him back to earth, knowing God laughs a lot, and he had plans for Petey Pat and Mariana. But, Peter, the boy from the wrong side of the tracks, might have been a hero in Iraq, but he was scared to return to the wealthy girl who loved him.

Home for the Holidays is another Christmas story with a happy ending. But, Petey Pat's conversations with God, known as "the One," puts a different slant on the story, as does Kane's experiences in Iraq. Most Christmas stories do not give the author the opportunity to express an opinion about Iraq. Since Kane had three deployments, three years in Iraq, and three Purple Hearts, he feels he can confidentially tell someone his opinion. "I don't like this war one bit. From beginning to end it has been phony; from 'shock and awe' to 'surge,' the Pentagon has deceived us and the American people. Not enough troops, no WMDs, inadequate armor, no response to roadside weapons, pathetic vehicles like unarmored Jeeps and Humvees, idiots to administer an occupation plan that didn't exist, insufficient Arab speakers, poor care at VA and Army hospitals. This has been a snafued war from day one."

Despite the preaching, against the war, and for a laughing God (an image I like), I enjoyed Peter Patrick Kane and Mariana Pia Pelligrino. And Monsignor Jimmy Joyce was just the right sort of priest to conspire to create a happy ending in Home for Christmas.


Because of Father Andrew Greeley's serious accident a year ago, his family continues to keep his website and a blog active at

Home for Christmas by Andrew M. Greeley. Tom Doherty Associates, ©2009. ISBN 9780765322500 (hardcover), 192p.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Traveling with Pomegranates by Sue Monk Kidd & Ann Kidd Taylor

Traveling with Pomegranates isn't a travel book. It isn't the story of a mother and daughter. It's not an analysis of the changes in a woman's life, or the search for the strength and divinity in ourselves. Instead, authors Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kidd Taylor have combined all of those elements in a book that spans ten years.

In 1998, when Sue Monk Kidd took her daughter, Ann, to Greece, both women were going through major transitions in life. Sue, turning fifty, felt as if she was losing her daughter to adulthood, and losing herself to old age. She had already moved from her home of twenty-two years to Charleston. She combined the trip as a birthday gift to herself and a graduation gift to Ann. This was Sue's pilgrimage, an odyssey at the approach of fifty, a way to acknowledge changes in her life, and her relationship with her daughter and her own mother. Ann, a shy introvert, had been rejected by her chosen grad school. This was her first trip back after an extraordinary journey that woke her interest in Greece. Now, she was depressed, unsure of herself, and felt rejected. She saw her mother as a strong woman who followed her own heart.

This first trip together to Greece was a turning point. Sue was the one who saw the comparison to Demeter and Persephone, "the intersection of mothers and daughters," forced to part ways. While Ann had taken Athena as an icon on her earlier trip, Sue was entranced with the story of Demeter, and fascinated with Mary, particularly in the form of the Black Madonna. Their later trips together, to France, and back to Greece, brought all of the icons together for the two women. They also brought their own fears and goals into focus.

Anyone who read Kidd's The Secret Life of Bees will be fascinated by her chronicle of her evolving interest in bees, the image of Mary, and the writing of that book. The travels of this mother and daughter brought both of them to writing. Sue finally wrote the novels she wanted to write. Ann found her goal in life. Traveling with Pomegranates bogs down at times with too much introspection about Mary and the divinity in women, but, even so, it's a fascinating story of the evolution of two women, in their lives, and their relationship with each other, and their dreams for the future.

Sue Monk Kidd's website is

Ann Kidd Taylor's website is

Traveling with Pomegranates by Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kidd Taylor. Viking, ©2009. ISBN 9780670012108 (hardcover), 285p.

FTC Full Disclosure: Library book

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Winners and a Wintry Contest

Congratulations to the winners of the last contest. Both books are going to California this week. Jane Stanton Hitchcock's Mortal Friends will go to Rochelle B. from Agoura Hills, and Once Were Cops by Ken Bruen goes to Richard D. from La Mirada.

For much of the U.S., it's time to get ready for wintry weather, so I have two books to put you in the mood. Arctic Chill is a Reykjavik thriller by Arnaldur Indridason. The synopsis says, "The Reykjavik police are called on an icy January day to a garden where a body has been found: a young, dark-skinned boy is frozen to the ground in a pool of his own blood. Erlendur and his team embark on their investigation and soon unearth tensions simmering beneath the surface of Iceland's outwardly liberal, multicultural society. Meanwhile, the boy’s murder forces Erlendur to confront the tragedy in his own past. Soon, facts are emerging from the snow-filled darkness that are more chilling even than the Arctic night." If you haven't discovered the CWA Gold Dagger award-winning author, now is your chance.

Or you could win William Kent Krueger's Heaven's Keep. "When a charter plane carrying Cork O'Connor's wife, Jo, goes missing in a snowstorm over the Wyoming Rockies, Cork must accept the terrible truth that his wife is gone forever. But is she? In Heaven's Keep, celebrated author William Kent Krueger puts his intrepid hero through the most harrowing mission of his life."

Both of these books are hardcovers. If you don't want them for yourself, they'd make great gifts for the mystery lover in your family. So, do you want Arctic Chill or Heaven's Keep? 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 "Arctic Chill" or Win "Heaven's Keep." Your message should include your mailing address. Entrants only in the U.S., please.

The contest will end Thursday, Dec. 3 at 6 p.m. MT. Jim will draw the winners at that time. The winners will be notified, and the books will go out in the mail on Friday. Good luck!

Giving Thanks

I love Christmas. I love all of the decorations, the music, the food, and all of the excitement.

But, Thanksgiving is always special. It's a time to slow down before the rush of the Christmas holidays, and just say thank you for the blessings of the last year.

So, I'm grateful for all of you for reading Lesa's Book Critiques for the last year. It's been fun to talk books with all of you in the last year, and I hope we keep in touch here and on other blogs and websites for the next year.

I appreciate all the authors who take time to put their thoughts, and their hearts, out there for all us to touch. I'm thankful for your books, and for all of the publishers and publicists who sent me books in the last year. I hope I continue to make it worthwhile for you to send books. I'll try to continue to share my enthusiasm for them. I don't know what my life would be like without books.

I'm thankful for the career I've had in public libraries, working in them since I was sixteen. I've worked with wonderful people, met great people at the library, and had the opportunity to talk and share books with people in Ohio, Florida and Arizona over the years. And, I'm sending my hugs to all of you I've worked with. Thank you for being in my life.

I'm glad I have all of the cats in my life. They add joy and laughter to every day. I'm glad we were able to add the little one this year, Jinx.

The actual picture of my mother and sisters is terrific, but taking a picture of it distorts it a little. Two years ago, my mother, Elizabeth Growel, and my sisters, Linda and Christie, came out to surprise me for my 50th birthday. These are my favorite women in my life. I love you, and I'm so thankful you're my family.

And, a final thank you to Jim, for twenty-six years. I love you, and I'm thankful for the life we lead now, the books and sports we've shared over the years, the cats we love, and all of our time together.

Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Putting a Face on Harlequin

Harlequin recently announced they were going into the vanity publishing business, with the formation of a new venture between Harlequin Enterprises and ASI Solutions to form Harlequin Horizons, a vanity/subsidy press. The discussion of this, and how it will affect the ability of authors to be members of professional organizations, and eligible for awards, is all over the web. Responses are summarized very well here. Romance Writers of America, Mystery Writers of America, and Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America have all issued statements, as has Sisters in Crime. On a personal level, I have to respect the different organizations that are speaking up on behalf of authors.

All of these organizations are dedicated to protecting the rights of authors. They point out that a vanity press does not benefit authors, and because of that, Harlequin is endangering the rights of their authors to belong to any of the organizations mentioned above, or to be eligible for the prestigious prizes given out by those organizations. All of this information is summed up online, and the site I linked to gives excellent information and responses.

But, let's put faces to Harlequin. If Harlequin continues in their venture (and coming days will show if they will or not), these authors, if they were starting out today, could not join the organizations, if their only published works were through Harlequin. They can continue to belong, but any future books they publish with Harlequin will not be eligible for awards.

Mira is an imprint familiar to many readers of this blog. The Mira line is from
Harlequin. Hank Phillippi Ryan's Charlie McNally mysteries are published by Mira. Her debut novel, Prime Time, was the winner of the prestigious AGATHA Award for Best First Novel, a RITA Nominee for Best First Novel and Best Romantic Suspense, a DAPHNE Nominee for Best Romantic Suspense and RT Reviewers Choice Award Winner and TOP PICK. Now, her next book, Drive Time, would not be eligible for any RITA awards, if Harlequin persists in their plans. It would not be eligible for Edgar awards, either.

Jason Pinter's books are from Mira. His Henry Parker series would not be eligible for Edgar awards. Here's just a few authors whose books are published with Mira: Debbie Macomber, Susan Wiggs, Alex Kava, Kat Martin, Pamela Morsi, Emilie Richards, Heather Graham, Brenda Novak, Rick Mofina, J.T. Ellison, Michelle Gagnon, Kate Wilhelm.

The Luna line would be affected by the statement from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. These are books by Catherine Asaro, P.C. Cast, Mercedes Lackey, and Diana Palmer, among others.

And, of course, there's Harlequin itself. Can you imagine my holiday books without a romance by Holly Jacobs? Can you imagine the RITA Awards given out, and Debbie Macomber, Linda Lael Miller, and Diana Palmer are not eligible?

As I said, go to the earlier website, and read about the controversy. Or, put Harlequin Horizons in Google, and find out what the issues are. They're discussing them all over the blogs. I just thought I'd take a slightly different angle, and mention the authors who will be affected, in some way, by Harlequin's decision. I just wanted to put a face on the issue.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

How Not to Survive the Holidays by Desert Sleuths Sisters in Crime

Are you a little tired of the sweet Christmas stories with happy endings? The Desert Sleuths Chapter of Sisters in Crime has just the story collection for you, How Not to Survive the Holidays.

The anthology has a little bit of crime for everyone. Deborah J. Ledford's "A Christmas Tail" is a story for those of us who are cat lovers. There's something sneaky going on in Connie Flynn's story, "There's a Dead Elf in Santa's Workshop." Try Roni Olson's "Relativity," a traditional mystery about a family trapped by a blizzard at Christmas. JoAnne Zeterberg brings us a protective ghost in "The Gift. And, try two favorites, Judy Starbuck's story of a mystery writer who takes her life into her own hands, "A Christmas Stalking," and Merle McCann's "Yule Night," a historical piece set in 1902.

I'm a fan of short stories, and anthologies provide the opportunity to discover new authors. How Not to Survive the Holidays might be just the gift for the person who needs a break from holiday festivities. Give the gift of crime this year.

How Not to Survive the Holidays by Desert Sleuths Sisters in Crime. DS Publishing,
©2009. ISBN 9780615306650 (paperback), 218p.

FTC Full Disclosure: The Desert Sleuths Chapter of Sisters in Crime will be appearing at the Velma Teague Library for Authors@The Teague on Saturday, Dec. 5 at
2 PM. I was given a copy of the book to read since they'll be appearing at the library.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Treacherous Teddy by John J. Lamb

It's just a crime that The Treacherous Teddy will probably be the last book in John J. Lamb's Bear Collector's Mystery Series. These unique mysteries just didn't sell enough books. I will say Berkley Prime Crime gave them terrific covers by artist Jeff Crosby, and there were five books in the series, but I don't know that they ever found the right market.

How do you market an outstanding police procedural series that appears under the auspices of a cozy series, and includes teddy bear shows and collecting? I don't know how Lamb and Berkley could have done a better job, so I feel we bloggers didn't do a good enough job promoting these books. I only discovered them in the last couple months, so I fell a few years short in getting behind these books. And, I apologize to all of Lamb's fans who are going to miss further adventures from Brad and Ashleigh Lyon.

Saying that, The Treacherous Teddy would actually wrap up the series if it has to do that. Brad and Ashleigh Lyon are quite content with their life in the Shenandoah Valley. Brad, a retired homicide inspector from San Francisco, acts as an investigation consultant to the local sheriff's department. Ashleigh is now a volunteer deputy sheriff. And, they enjoy their lives as bear collectors and artists. They have good friends, including the local sheriff, Tina Barron, and the owner of a local restaurant, a Russian immigrant with a mysterious past.

When The Treacherous Teddy opens, Brad is home working on a bear, and listening to the police scanner when he hears Ash assisting the local game warden until she's sideswiped by a car. Giving up the chase when she's afraid to endanger others, she returns to the farm where the car appeared, and finds a body. Now that Saab is of even more interest to the sheriff's department.

It's a busy time for Brad, Ashleigh, and Tina. They're all involved in the first local bear collector's show, but murder takes precedence. And, there are too many suspects, a local poacher, a neighbor that hated the victim, and the driver of the mysterious Saab. As they wear out, running from one suspect to another, and back to the scene of the crime, a local house goes up in flames. Just what they need, arson on top of murder.

John J. Lamb's mysteries are strong police procedurals, with heart. Brad Lyon uses puns and gallows humor to get through life. And, Brad and Ashleigh are a terrific couple, very much in love after over twenty-five years of marriage. It's a pleasure to read about a married team that respects each other, and enjoys their lives together. I'm going to miss Brad and Ashleigh Lyon.

If this is the last book in the Bear Collector's Mystery series, The Treacherous Teddy takes Brad and Ashleigh Lyon out on a high note. I hope John J. Lamb has success with future books.

John J. Lamb's website is

The Treacherous Teddy by John J. Lamb. Berkley Prime Crime, ©2009. ISBN 9780425230329 (paperback), 320p.

FTC Full Disclosure: Library book

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sunday Tidbits

Today, I'm starting a new feature, filled with newsy tidbits discovered over the last week. Most of them aren't big enough for an entire blog, but I'd like to keep you updated. So, here are a few pieces of the book world.

Leighton Gage had the following information on DorothyL this week. Yrsa Sigurdárdottir, Cara Black, Dan Waddell, Michael Stanley and Gage have always had one thing in common - they write mysteries set in vastly different areas of the globe. So, they've just launched a blog together, Check it out!

Betty Webb will appear at the Velma Teague Library on Jan. 25, for Authors@The Teague, so it's a pleasure to repeat her announcement. Library Journal voted Desert Lost, her new Lena Jones novel, one of the TOP FIVE MYSTERY NOVELS OF 2009. Congratulations, Betty! Betty's website is

And, a note - two of those five top mystery novels were published by Poisoned Pen Press. The other title, also by an Arizona author, was J.M. Hayes' Server Down: A Mad Dog & Englishman Mystery. Nice going, Poisoned Pen!

Last Sunday, I reviewed Lorna Barrett's Bookplate Special, her latest Booktown Mystery. Today, on The Lipstick Chronicles, she discusses a poor review of that book on Amazon. Oh, and Bookplate Special just happens to appear at #27 on the New York Times Mass Market Paperback List today. Congratulations, Lorna!

And, I'm a little late with Jim's tip of the week. Last weekend, he started Stephen King's Under the Dome. He wanted me to tell you then that it's a fantastic read, back to the old Stephen King. He said it will grab you immediately. It hadn't yet appeared at #1 on the New York Times bestseller list, so he wanted to give you the tip, and I didn't get it done. But, at the time, he was curious that he hadn't seen any publicity about the book. There's no information about it on the flyleaf, and no picture of King on the book. So, he wondered if King was just curious what would happen with word-of-mouth. Well, Jim's words say it's 1000 pages that will keep you engrossed.

We'll see if I have enough Sunday Tidbits to make this a weekly feature.

Sunday Salon: PostSecret: Confessions on Life, Death, and God by Frank Warren

A salon is a place for the exchange of ideas, so what better place to discuss Frank Warren's latest PostSecret book than Sunday Salon? It's been two years since Warren's last collection, so some readers might not be familiar with his fascinating compilations. The new book is PostSecret: Confessions on Life, Death, and God.

In 2004, Frank Warren started the PostSecret project, asking people to share their secrets with him by sending them on postcards. Since then, he's received over four hundred thousand postcards, many of them anonymous. People have bared their souls, revealing secrets they never told anyone about their feelings and their lives. Naturally, they're short, usually one or two lines since they're on a postcard. But, all of the secrets of the world can be revealed in those lines. There are stories that will make you smile, even more that will break your heart, and so many that will make you think of your own life. Some stories stay with you once you read it. A co-worker has always remembered an early postcard, "I am a Southern Baptist Pastor's Wife. No one knows that I do not believe in God." It must have been a powerful message because it's included in the Foreward to this book.

Rebecca Alban Hoffberger, Founder and Director of the American Visionary Art Museum, wrote the forward since she asked Warren to curate a PostSecret mini-exhibition in conjunction with a show, "All Faiths Beautiful: From Atheism to Zoroastrianism, Respect for Diversity of Belief." This book is the result, a small book with powerful messages.

Everyone will be struck by different messages, depending on your own life. I do know it feels voyeuristic peering into other people's secrets. But, show this book, or any other PostSecret book, to a friend, and they'll be hooked.

My favorite postcards in this book are my favorites because my father died when he was only 59. One says, "Sometimes when my dad tells me stories I've already heard, I can't help but think about how much I'll miss hearing them when he's gone. I love you, Dad." And, the other is, "If I died today, would there be anything you wish you had said to me?" College students and other young adults are big fans of the PostSecret books. They're for all audiences, but think of them as a gift for a young adult.

Religion, death, sex, families. All of these secrets have been revealed to Frank Warren, and, through Warren, to all of us. They're beautiful, tragic, sad, funny. And, they will move you. They're our lives, with the latest peek in PostSecret: Confessions on Life, Death, and God.

The PostSecret website is

FTC Full Disclosure: Library book

PostSecret: Confessions on Life, Death, and God by Frank Warren. HarperCollins, ©2009. ISBN 9780061859335 (hardcover), 404p.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Christmas Jars Reunion by Jason F. Wright

Jason F. Wright's Christmas Jars was a magical book. Now, he brings back some of the cast, and retells the story in Christmas Jars Reunion, a sequel that tells about how lives can change with a little "change."

As a baby, Hope Jensen was left in a booth at Chuck's Chicken 'n' Biscuits. Now, twenty-five years later, she lost the mother who adopted her, found her birth mother, and lost two men who took her under their wings. And, both of those men wholeheartedly took part in the Christmas Jars tradition, filling jars with change, and giving it anonymously on Christmas Eve to someone who needed it. So, Hope takes the Christmas Jars as a mission, and her plan this year is to give away 1001 jars.

But, somehow, Hope gets carried away, viewing quantities of the Christmas Jars, and publicity for the mission, as important. She links up with a salesman, Al, who sees expansion of the Christmas Jars as a project with potential. Clark Maxwell, who gave up a baseball dream to come home and take over a furniture restoration business, sees the change in the woman he's grown to love, but he allows her to find her own way. It will take a little girl with her own Christmas Jar to remind Hope of the importance of those single jars.

Jason F. Wright's books are Christmas stories with messages, but the Christmas Jars stories show the power of simple acts to bring about change. If you want a Christmas story with a message, this is a warm, touching one, with a happy ending, preceded by a few tears.

Jason F. Wright's website is

Christmas Jars Reunion by Jason F. Wright. Shadow Mountain, ©2009. ISBN 9781606411650 (hardcover), 176p.

FTC Full Disclosure: Library book

Friday, November 20, 2009

Red, Green, or Murder by Steven F. Havill

A couple days ago, I mentioned that the final issue of Mystery News had been published. In the year I reviewed for them, I discovered a few authors, including Steven F. Havill. His books have become some of my favorite. My last review for Mystery News is reprinted here, with permission. It's a review of the most recent book in the Posadas County series, Red, Green, or Murder.

Red, Green, or Murder
by Steven Havill
Poisoned Pen Press
ISBN 978-1-59058-665-5
Police Procedural

Former Posadas County, New Mexico, Sheriff Bill Gastner retired, and is now working as a Livestock Inspector for the state. It’s a job that fits him. He can still visit friends, and he has a chance to travel the rural county. His knowledge of old friends, and the county, will stand him in good stead in this mystery.

Gastner’s official visit to Herb Torrance’s ranch sends him hurtling toward an ambulance, carrying the rancher’s son, after the young man’s knee was crushed in an accident. That one accident allowed for the opportunity for two other tragedies.

When Gastner was running late, due to the accident, he cancelled lunch with an old friend, George Payton. It wasn’t more than a couple hours before Bill received a phone call saying his protégée, Undersheriff Estelle Reyes-Guzman, wanted to see him at Payton’s house. Payton’s son-in-law found him dead, and, as much as Gastner, wanted to think the old man’s time was just up, Estelle thinks there is something suspicious about the death.

If one incident wasn’t bad enough, Gastner received another phone call, saying Torrance’s cattle were in the road, herded by a dog. While the rancher was at the hospital with his son, his ranchhand disappeared, along with his truck, leaving the cattle and dog behind. Gastner, an old sheriff who knows people, doesn’t believe the young man would have left his dog behind, and he travels those familiar county roads, looking for evidence.

Red, Green, or Murder is the sixteenth book in Havill’s Posadas County series. Havill does so many things well in his novels. His descriptions of the border county are vivid, showing the dry, empty land – “the broad sweep of the dry short bunch-grass prairie, rugged mesas with rims crumpling, arroyos so deep you could effortlessly hide a herd of cattle or a tractor trailer.” Havill understands the issues and politics of a border county, and those issues are vital to the storylines. The characters in this series, particularly Bill Gastner and Undersheriff Estelle Reyes-Guzman, come alive, as police officers, and, as people. They are involved with the community, and their knowledge of the people assists in their cases. These are solid police procedurals, involving multiple investigations at the same time. Best of all, Havill’s Posados County mysteries, including this one, are riveting, well-developed stories.

Rating: 5

Courtesy Mystery News, Vol. 27/Issue 5, Oct/Nov 2009.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received Red, Green, or Murder from Mystery News so that I could review it for publication.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Winners and a Crime in the Big City Contest

Congratulations to the winners of the last contest. The Fitzgerald Ruse by Mark de Castrique will go to Tina B. from So Thomaston, ME. Sarah E. of Westminster, CA will receive Floodgates by Mary Anna Evans. The books will go out in the mail tomorrow.

Washington, D.C. or New York City? Which is your preference as a city for crime? Ken Bruen's Once Were Cops brings Michael O'Shea, a member of Ireland's police force, the Guards, to New York City in an exchange program. But, Shea's dream of becoming part of the NYPD becomes the city's nightmare, when he's paired with an unstable cop. Two cops with dark secrets threaten the safety of New York, in Bruen's hard-boiled novel.

Jane Stanton Hitchcock takes readers behind the scenes of Washington's social and political life (one and the same) in Mortal Friends. Reven Lynch's chic Georgetown neighborhood isn't accustomed to brutal slayings, but the "Beltway Basher" has been too close for comfort. Now, a detective wants her to feed him inside information about a murderer he thinks is a society bigshot. It's Washington society at its worst.

So, do you want New York City or D.C.? 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 "Once Were Cops" or Win "Mortal Friends." Your message should include your mailing address. Entrants only in the U.S., please.

The contest will end Thanksgiving evening, Thursday, Nov. 26 at 6 p.m. MT. Jim will draw the winners at that time. The winners will be notified, and the books will go out in the mail on Friday. Good luck!

Winter of Secrets by Vicki Delany

I had two reviews printed in the final issue of Mystery News. Once they appear in print, I'm allowed to reprint them here. Here's my review of Winter of Secrets by Vicki Delany, as it appeared in Mystery News.

Winter of Secrets
by Vicki Delany
Poisoned Pen Press
ISBN 978-1-59058-676-1
Police Procedural

Trafalgar, British Columbia is settling in for the snow storm of the decade on Christmas Eve, and the police are prepared for the holiday and snow related problems. Constables Molly Smith and Dave Evans are teamed up for a twelve hour shift, expecting their share of car accidents and drunken fights. The tragedy of the night is an out-of-control SUV that took a hill too fast, ending up in the river. Despite all the efforts of police and fire, no one could save the two young men. So, the police moved on. When Smith and Evans ran into sixteen-year-old Lorraine LeBlanc, the daughter of two drunks arrested earlier, Molly wished she could help her, but Lorraine insisted she was off to her boyfriend’s for Christmas Eve.

Imagine Molly’s surprise when she found Lorraine at a local B&B, when she arrived to inform the sister of one of the accident victims of his death. Wendy Wyatt-Yarmouth and her brother, Jason, were part of a group of college students who flew in for a couple weeks of skiing. And, Lorraine was there to celebrate a “real” Christmas, thinking she had found true love with Jason. Nothing good could come of wealthy young outsiders with too much money and the local young people, with little or nothing.

Christmas was over by the time Sergeant John Winters returned to the office, but a call from the pathologist’s office would involve him in the Christmas Eve accident. When he learned one of the young men in the SUV had been dead for at least twenty-four hours before going in the river, he called on Smith to work with him on the investigation.

Delany never forgets that Molly is new to police work. She makes the mistakes of a young cop, including one in front of her mother. Through Molly, Delany shows how difficult it is to grow up, particularly in a front of people who know you.

And, the people of Trafalgar add interest and charm to these mysteries. Molly and Winters return, along with the rest of the police force, and a Mountie who shows interest in Molly. There are the town drunks, their daughter, Lorraine, and her brother. Molly’s former best friend reappears, along with the abusive boyfriend who almost killed her. Even those readers meeting Molly’s mother for the first time will be intrigued. Lucky is a true character, an idealist, ex-hippie, who thinks nothing of interfering in police investigations, even Molly’s. Delany creates small town characters as well as anyone writing police procedurals now.

Vicki Delany vividly portrays Trafalgar in the three mysteries in this series. It’s described as an “opinionated, left leaning, artistic, independently-inclined town nestled in the mountains and forests deep inside British Columbia. She brings this town to life, and makes it a familiar, small town, even if a little eccentric. Those readers looking for charming settings won’t go wrong.

Delany never forgets this is a small town police force with more than one case. In Winter of Secrets, the police work everything from car accidents to bar fights and shoplifting. And, of course, there’s the investigation of an accident that could be more than a car accident. But, it isn’t easy for local cops to probe into the lives of influential, well-off people, particularly the lives of the Wyatt-Yarmouth family and friends.

Winter of Secrets is another outstanding police procedural from Vicki Delany. Anyone who enjoys small town police procedurals should try her book, set in eccentric Trafalgar.

Rating: 4.5

Courtesy Mystery News, Vol. 27/Issue 5, Oct/Nov 2009.

Vicki Delany's website is

FTC Full Disclosure: I received the copy of Winter of Secrets from Mystery News in order to review it.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Chocolate: A Love Story by Max Brenner

If you're in the mood for decadent chocolate recipes, sinfully rich, with sensual descriptions, and captivating art work, you'll want to try Chocolate: A Love Story: 65 Chocolate Dessert Recipes from Max Brenner's Private Collection.

Max Brenner is an Israeli chain of chocolate restaurants. If the recipes in this book are a sample of their menu, I want one of the restaurants here in Phoenix. The recipes combine exotic tastes with warm, familiar foods. And, the recipes are all put together with lyrical, romantic commentary. Start with "Optimistic Musings: Morning Chocolate Variations," with twists on pancakes, waffles, and cupcakes. Yonatan Factor's artwork, in shades of browns and oranges, add intriguing commentary to the recipes. Try "Chocolate Therapy: Comforting Pastries," or "Happy Addiction: Concentrated Chocolate."

Who could resist a recipe called "Spy-thriller chocolate Black Forest cake, covered with Alpine whipped cream and cherry, the German double agent on top?" The recipes in this book are too sophisticated for me to make, but the cakes, pies, and drinks look luscious. And, I have someone in mind who will appreciate this impressive book.

Some readers will regret the absence of pictures, but the artwork seems perfect with this luscious compilation. And, anyone who loves chocolate should be able to perfectly imagine this decadent desserts. Chocolate: A Love Story is summed up perfectly by a quote from the book itself. "Chocolate is the substitute for love and will always be there for you."

This is one of the two books you could actually win in the Fall Feast Giveaway. This book, and How to Roast a Lamb By Michael Psilakis, Barbara Kafka, a book on Greek cooking, will be prizes for three winners.

To enter the contest, email me at Email me!. If that link doesn't work for you, the email address is: Your subject line should read, Win "Fall Feast Books". Your message should include your name and mailing address.

This Fall Feast Giveaway will run until Monday, Nov 30 at 6 p.m. MT. No entries accepted after that time. The winners will be drawn that night, posted on the blog, and forwarded to Hatchette Book Group.

Chocolate: A Love Story: 65 Chocolate Dessert Recipes form Max Brenner's Private Collection by Max Brenner, Yonatan Factor (Illustrator). Little, Brown & Company,
©2009. ISBN 9780316056625 (hardcover), 144p.


FTC Full Disclosure - I received a copy of Chocolate: A Love Story from Hatchette Book Groups because I'm running the Fall Feast books giveaway.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Mystery News

I just received the final issue of Mystery News. I've only been reviewing books for them for the last year, but it's been a pleasure. I've discovered new authors through the books they sent me, and it's been a treat to open up the envelope when the new issue arrived. I'm going to miss reading all of the mystery book reviews. The current, and last issue, says it was started twelve years ago. I'm a newcomer to Mystery News, but it's going to be missed.

Thank you, Lynn Kaczmarek, for asking me to review books. Good luck to you and Chris Aldrich, and Black Raven Press, wherever life takes you. I know I'll be meeting you in the mystery world someplace.

Unexpected Gifts by Holly Jacobs

In the past two years, I've read at least seven of Holly Jacobs' romances. Unexpected Gifts, the twenty-eighth she's written for Harlequin Books, is filled with the same type of likable, loving characters that drew me to her earlier books.

Fifteen years ago, Elinore (Eli) Cartwright, a teacher in the George County School District in Pennsylvania, saw the need for a teen parenting programming in the largely rural county. In all those years working with single mothers, she never thought she'd be in the same boat. But, at forty-four, she found herself pregnant, with an older, stuffy boyfriend, who never wanted to be a father, and had no interest in a baby. Her break-up with Arthur, along with her intent to help one of her students, put her together with Zac Keller.

Zac, the manager of his family's chain of grocery stores, had been interested in Eli, but he wouldn't poach as long as she was dating Arthur. As one of six adopted children, he came from a close, loving family, and that's what he hoped to have someday. Although Eli just wanted to be friends, Zac hoped he could eventually persuade her he was interested in her, and her baby. Eli sees more problems than Zac, because she's offering Arthur every chance to have a relationship with his child. And, she knows she's ten years older than Zac. Zac only hopes she'll see he loves her.

Eli's students, her friends and family, and Zac's family, all hope for the best for them. And, those characters add to the warmth and charm of this book. From the very beginning, it's obvious that the relationship will work out for Zac and Eli. And, it's that big, loving family, of adopted brothers and sisters, that offer glimpses of hope. Unexpected Gifts is the story of two people falling in love, despite problems. Zac sums the book up beautifully. "Life happens. What truly defines us as people is how we handle what life throws at us." And, when Holly Jacobs writes more romances, I'll treat them as Unexpected Gifts.

Holly Jacobs' website is

Unexpected Gifts by Holly Jacobs. Harlequin, ©2009. ISBN 9780373783465 (paperback), 320p.


FTC Full Disclosure - I received Unexpected Gifts from the author, with hopes I would review it.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Chasing the Bear by Robert B. Parker

If you read Robert B. Parker's Spenser novels, have you wondered how Spenser developed his code of ethics? How did he become the unusual man he is? Parker answers that question in a novel designed for teens, Chasing the Bear. For teens interested in mysteries, it's an interesting introduction to the entire series. For those of us who have read all of the Spenser books, it answers questions.

While sitting in the Boston Public Garden one day, Susan Silverman, Spenser's long-time love, asks him about his youth. He reminds her that his mother died when he was born. He was raised by his father and his mother's two brothers, Cash and Patrick, all carpenters. The three men lived together, with a dog named Pearl. They all took care of each other. The men taught him to box, read to him every night, and, in their quiet ways, taught him, "There's legal, and there's right." And, they always had each other's back, just as Spenser and Hawk would watch out for each other in Spenser's adult life.

These three men made Spenser feel important, even as a boy. Those lessons, and Spenser's stories of the year he was fourteen, show the man he would become. At fourteen, Spenser became protective of a classmate, a girl who was dragged off by her brutal, drunken father. Spenser rescued her, and later, stood up for a Mexican friend against bullying kids.

Spenser's stories of his youth foreshadow the man he becomes, a man with a code of ethics, who stands up for the underdog, and defends women. And, his anecdotes about the reading his uncles and father did shows why he has an eclectic knowledge of literature.

Spenser fans should find this an important novel, one that provides the background for a favorite character. And, Chasing the Bear, is an interesting introduction for teens. It has suspense, quiet lessons about bullying and sticking up for the underdog, and introduces a fascinating knight errant, with a code of conduct. But, most of all, I recommend Chasing the Bear to those of us who are already fans of Spenser. It's one more reason to admire a favorite character.

Robert B. Parker's website is

Chasing the Bear by Robert B. Parker. Penguin Group (USA), ©2009. ISBN 9780399247767 (hardcover), 176p.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Sunday Salon - Bookplate Special by Lorna Barrett

I've always found that I learn so much about social issues, history, and the world from mysteries, so they're perfect books for Sunday Salon. Lorna Barrett's third book in the Booktown Mystery series, Bookplate Special, is not only the best in the series, but a book that deals with important issues right now. Mystery readers will appreciate all of the comments about mystery authors and books. And, what reader can resist a town of bookstores?

Tricia Miles, owner of Haven't Got a Clue mystery bookstore in Stoneham, New Hampshire, was just angry and frustrated when she asked her former college roommate to leave her apartment. Pammy Fredericks had visited, but her visit went on for two weeks, and Pammy interfered with Tricia's business, and stole and forged a check. It was a relief to throw her out, but Pammy went on to use Tricia as a reference when applying for jobs. To Tricia's horror, it was her sister, Angelica, who hired her to work in her restaurant, Booked for Lunch. Pammy didn't last long there. The last time Tricia saw her, she was making a scene at the opening of the new food pantry. At least that was the last time she saw her, before finding her body in the dumpster behind Angelica's restaurant.

It was a pleasant surprise to find Tricia's old enemy, Sheriff Wendy Adams, wasn't the officer who responded to the 911 call. Instead, a handsome officer, Captain Grant Baker, was in charge of the case, a professional who handled the investigation much more professionally than the sheriff ever did. Even so, Tricia felt obligated to find out why her old friend was killed.

When she asked questions around town, Tricia found out about a whole other layer of society that she didn't know about, the working poor, who often went hungry or needed clothes. The Food Shelf and the adjoining Clothing Closet were there to help those residents of Stoneham. She was shocked to find some of her friends in need of their services, and, even worse, dumpster diving as "freegans," people who salvaged food, claiming too much food was wasted when people needed it.

Anyone can pick up Bookplate Special, even if you haven't read earlier books in the series. But, those of us who have read previous books will appreciate the growth of the characters as personalities. We learn more about them, and watch developing, and changing, relationships. Tricia's romantic relationship changes, and, happily for most of us, there is a change in her relationship with the sheriff's department.

Most of all, it's refreshing to watch Tricia continue to develop. Her eyes are opened to the situation around her, in this rough economy, when even some of the people she's closest to need help, and she was unaware. Barrett uses the food pantry, the Clothing Closet, and the freegans as essential components of the plot. But, these elements also point out the tough economy, and current social needs.

Lorna Barrett continues to build the characters, the stores, and the setting in her Booktown Mystery series. Bookplate Special is the most enjoyable, and the most solid, successful story in the series yet. I'll be waiting for book four, Chapter and Hearse.

Lorna Barrett's website is

Bookplate Special by Lorna Barrett. Berkley Prime Crime, ©2009. ISBN 9780425231197 (paperback), 320p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library copy

Saturday, November 14, 2009

In Too Deep (The 39 Clues #6) by Jude Watson

Jude Watson, who wrote Book Four in The 39 Clues series, Beyond the Grave, picks up the story of Amy and Dan Cahill, in their hunt for the 39 Clues, in In Too Deep, the sixth book. This story is exciting and fast-paced. But, it's more than just a well-written adventure story. In Too Deep explores the secrets behind the death of Amy and Dan's parents, and forces Amy to look deep inside herself.

Amy's only fourteen, but she sees herself as the responsible one. She sees Dan, even though he's eleven, as her baby brother, and doesn't trust herself to tell him about her fears. And, Amy is very fearful. As the two continue their competitive hunt, that will make the family members that win, the most powerful people in the world, Amy can't trust anyone. She thinks the scariest part of the race is "having to be suspicious of every single person on the planet."

And, she certainly doesn't expect to trust Irina Spasky, the former KGB agent that grabs, and warns her. "You are afraid of everything except what you should fear." And, when Irina forces Amy to try to remember her parents' death, Amy only blames herself.

It's another well-written book that takes the reader to Australia, and then Java. The designated audience, ages nine to twelve, will appreciate the descriptions of dangerous spiders and snakes in Australia. They'll probably be fascinated by Coober Pedy, where people live underground. And, the surfing scene, with Amy and Dan's surfing bum cousin, along with one of the family branches, is truly fun. Adults will find the inclusion of Amelia Earhart and Czar Nicholas II more interesting than the target audience.

I've read all six books in The 39 Clues series. Each book provides fascinating history and background of different countries as the various family branches compete against each other, travelling the world. But, as an adult reading these books, I appreciate the deeper examination of character. Irina Spasky's motivations have been analyzed in both book five and six. Watson skillfully relates Irina's feelings, and Amy's fears.

What more can you say about a juvenile novel with a title of In Too Deep, a title with multiple meanings? As the brother and sister continue their hunt, they're in too deep to turn back. The deeper they go in the hunt, the less they trust anyone, even their au pair, Nellie. I'm not playing the 39 Clues game, hunting the clues, but I'm now In Too Deep to let this series go. Book Seven will be out in February. I'll be waiting.

Readers can join the hunt at

In Too Deep (The 39 Clues Series #6) by Jude Watson. Scholastic, Inc., ©2009. ISBN 9780545060462 (hardcover), 206p.

FTC Full Disclosure: Scholastic sent me a review copy of this book, in the hope I would review it.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Christmas Dog by Melody Carlson

Most Christmas books have messages of love, missed love, and salvation in unexpected forms. They're often simple stories, with little need to review. Melody Carlson's The Christmas Dog falls into this category.

Betty Kowalski is a scared, lonely, elderly widow. Her neighborhood is changing. The house once owned by beloved neighbors is now owned by Jack Jones, and he's been nothing but trouble for Betty. He works in the house in the middle of the night, has junk around the yard, and fought over the ramshackle fence that separates their yards. She's afraid of him, and suspects she'd be better off if she sold her house, and moved to Florida with her daughter.

Betty's routine is thrown off when two waifs show up at her door. The first is a mongrel dog she suspects belongs to Jack, because it's just the kind of dirty, ill-kept mutt that he'd own. The other is her step-granddaughter, Avery, a twenty-three-year-old young woman who fought with her mother, and took off hitchhiking, ending up on Betty's door. Both Avery and the dog stretch Betty's limited budget, but she loves Avery, and takes her in. She reluctantly agrees to take in the dog when Avery offers to clean him up and care for him.

Carlson's story tells of three lonely people, and a dog who brings them together. It's a story of love, and rescue. Betty realizes she's made mistakes. "Love had come scratching at Betty's door in the form of a little brown dog, and she had completely missed it. She'd had her chance to welcome it, to receive it, and she had slammed the door in its face." But, as in so many warm books of the season, love, and messages, come in unexpected forms. In Betty Kowalski's case, it comes in the form of an unlikely messenger, The Christmas Dog.

Melody Carlson's website is

The Christmas Dog by Melody Carlson. Baker Publishing Group, ©2009. ISBN 9780800718817 (hardcover), 176p.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Winners and Down South Mystery Contest

Congratulations to the winners of the Southwestern mysteries. Steven Havill's Red, Green, or Murder goes to DaLinda M. from Kooskia, ID, and The Silent Spirit by Margaret Coel will go to Rose R. from Phoenix, AZ. The books will go out in the mail tomorrow.

This week, I have ARCs of mysteries set in the South. The day after Veteran's Day is a perfect day to bring back Sam Blackman, a veteran of the Iraq War, and, now a private investigator, in Mark de Castrique's The Fitzgerald Ruse. Sam's past in Iraq reaches out to haunt him, at the same time he's asked to investigate a cold case involving F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Floodgates takes Mary Anna Evans' character, Faye Longchamp, to New Orleans. She's working on an archaeological dig, when a group of residents find a body that is too recent to be a historical find. Someone used Hurricane Katrina to cover up a murder. If you haven't yet read one of Evans' books, this is the strongest yet. The connection with Hurricane Katrina is fascinating.

Do you want to win The Fitzgerald Ruse or Floodgates? 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 "Fitzgerald Ruse" or Win "Floodgates." Your message should include your mailing address. Entrants only in the U.S., please.

The contest will end Thursday, Nov. 19 at 6 p.m. MT. Jim will draw the winners at that time. The winners will be notified, and the books will go out in the mail on Friday. Good luck!

Cherries in Winter by Suzan Colón

Suzan Colón's family stories helped her through
the rough times when she was laid off from her dream job at a magazine, because of the economy. But, this beautiful book, Cherries in Winter: My Family's Recipe for Hope in Hard Times, contains wisdom to help so many of us through these hard times.

Like her grandmother, and mother, before her, as well as previous generations, when Colón hit a rough spot, she felt "the need to cut back and hunker down." With her grandmother Matilda's (Nana) recipes and writings, and her mother's storytelling as they prepared dinner, Suzan found inspiration for getting through 2009, "when over half a million people have been laid off, banks have gone under, and huge corporations are begging the government for money." She couldn't ask her grandparents how they survived the Depression and the rationing of World War II. But, as she said, she had Nana's files, "proof that we've been through worse than this and have come out okay." It's proof, and recipes, that Colón shares with her readers.

All of the recipes and family anecdotes provided inspiration for Suzan as she cut back, hoped for jobs, studied how her family survived. And, she knew her Nana had dreams that she gave up in order to provide a living. She wanted to stay in school, and go to college, but during the Depression, she was the one who provided a livelihood for four people. She longed to write, and her recipes, poems, and comments are included in her granddaughter's book. Colón knows that dreams sometimes must be put aside for the sake of survival.

But, the most moving part of her book also inspired the title. For there were times the women in the family, down to their last dollars, reached out for beauty in order to survive - spending the weekly money on beautiful vases, or buying cherries in winter. These are Colón's "stories of how our family defied poverty not of the wallet but of the soul."

Suzan Colón may have learned lessons from her family, but she was generous in sharing those lessons of love in Cherries in Winter. There is inspiration, and hope in the book, for all of us in these difficult times.

As a final note, I knew Colón's book was something special when I read the poem her grandmother, Matilda Kallaher, wrote. It's a poem that speaks to me, explains my philosophy of life.


Without my illusions
I should die
Coward, I,
Who cannot face things
As they really are
But always seek
The shooting star,
The Christmas Tree
And only see
What I want to see.

- Matilda Kallaher

Suzan Colón's website is

Cherries in Winter: My Family's Recipe for Hope in Hard Times by Suzan Colón. Doubleday, ©2009. ISBN 9780385532525 (hardcover), 224p.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Most They Ever Had by Rick Bragg

Rick Bragg's best books are about his home and the people he always loved. Once again, in The Most They Ever Had, he takes readers back to Jacksonville, Alabama, and tells the story of the strong people who lived there, and the tragedy of their lives in the mills.

One of the tragedies is that most of them never realized the tragedy, that they were making a living at the expense of their health. But, the mill was still working until 2001, while other textile mills across the South closed, sending the work to Mexico or China. And, despite the lint that destroyed their lungs and their health, or the machine accidents that took limbs, the people of the mill town needed those jobs. One by one, Rick Bragg, puts faces to those people. They were people, like his brother, Sam, who worked in the mill, so Bragg could go to college. These were hard-working people who didn't want much, parents who wanted "just a decent home, a good-running pick-up, and a like-new car every few years."

This is a story of plant closings and lay-offs, a story of the last few years in the United States, but it's a story with faces and personalities, thanks to Bragg. There's Homer Barnwell, who fought through World War II, and couldn't face the mill for long after he returned. He left the mill, but it was his town, and his people, and he stayed there. Clay Hammett told the story of the Nine, the mill's baseball team that was embraced by the entire community during the '20s, '30s, and '40s. And, Charles Hardy's story will break your heart, a man who lost his talent, and his arm, to the mill. It's the story of hard-working men and women who only wanted a decent life.

But, the story of the mill in Jacksonville is also the story of its manager, William Greenleaf. He represents so many rich men who didn't care what happened to the working men. He represents the men who even in the last year or so, retired with money and land while the workers lost their jobs.

No one is as eloquent in speaking for his people as Bragg. And, in this book, he brings them to life, while telling not only their story, but the story of so many workers. And, he reminded me so much of my father's story. No, he didn't have it as bad as the mill workers. But, he always referred to himself as a displaced farm boy, a man who went into the service because he was drafted, and then came home to marry, raise a family, and farm. But, he couldn't raise children, and give them a better future, sending them to college, as a farmer. And, he couldn't own a house as a farmer, the job he loved. So, like so many of Bragg's people, he left that life behind, went to work for DuPont, and, when that plant closed, for Columbia Gas, and then, finally, Chrysler. They were jobs he hated, shift work that might have led to his early death, but he and my mother brought us up in a nice home, sent us to a Catholic school, and put three daughters through college, all with advanced degrees. Even then, he was never happier than when he was out in his garden, as close to the farm as he could get.

So, thank you, Rick Bragg, for telling the story of your people. and allowing me to add the story of my father, Randy Growel. He was another working man who gave so much to provide a future for his children. The Most They Ever Had might be the about the life of one community, but it also represents our parents, who gave so much so we could have better jobs. Sad, isn't it, that our parents jobs have disappeared, along with so many of our jobs today? Bragg knows, and, reminds us, that all most of us want in this country is, "just a decent home, a good-running pick-up, and a like-new car every few years." Thank you, Rick Bragg, and, thank you, Dad.

The Most They Ever Had by Rick Bragg. MacAdam/Cage, ©2009. ISBN 978-1596923614 (hardcover), 250p.


Rick Bragg and Me

Dad and me, 1957

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Green Books Campaign: Incontinent on the Continent by Jane Christmas

This review is part of the Green Books campaign. Today 100 bloggers are reviewing 100great books printed in an environmentally friendly way. Our goal is to encourage publishers to get greener and readers to take the environment into consideration when purchasing books. This campaign is organized by Eco-Libris, a a green company working to green up the book industry by promoting the adoption of green practices, balancing out books by planting trees, and supporting green books. A full list of participating blogs and links to their reviews is available on Eco-Libris website.

Incontinent on the Continent is printed on acid-free paper that is forest friendly (100% post-consumer recycled paper) and has been processed chlorine free.


When I requested Incontinent on the Continent: My Mother, Her Walker, and Our Grand Tour of Italy by Jane Christmas, I expected an enjoyable, warm story of a mother and daughter, and their escapades in Italy. It's quite the contrary. It's not enjoyable, not warm, and the relationship between the mother and daughter certainly didn't live up to my expectations.

Jane Christmas and her mother never did get along. There was a "wary coolness" between them, but it was her father's deathbed request that she "make friends with your mother." He had always been the buffer between them. Christmas says her mother judges the entire world by hairstyles, and Jane usually fails. "Over the years, I have made peace with my hair, but I have not done so with my mother. I wanted us to go to Italy to see if I could finally fall in love with her. This trip was my olive branch."

That trip was a disaster. Neither mother nor daughter were realistic about the trip to Italy. Jane's mother never told her about all of her health issues. She was incontinent, had osteoarthritis in her knees, asthma, heart problems, diabetes, and needed a walker to get around. She was not the ideal travel companion for Christmas, a woman who flew by the seat of her pants, and made no more plans than flying in to Italy, with a rental car waiting. They hadn't even packed proper clothes for the trip, travelling out of season, when restaurants and shops were often closed, and the weather was rainy. And, Italy didn't turn out to be very accessible for a disabled traveller.

In some hands, this disastrous trip could have been very funny. Christmas spent three hundred pages complaining bitterly, resenting her mother's physical condition and infirmities. The most I can say is that at least she was brutally honest about their relationship. And, five weeks together did alert her to her mother's conditions and needs as she aged.

But, to be honest, I felt as if I spent five weeks reading this book since Christmas was so grumpy about the trip. I wouldn't recommend Incontinent on the Continent to anyone, unless they were already a pessimist, "knowing" Europe doesn't live up to North America for food, hotels, or accessibility.

Incontinent on the Continent: My Mother, Her Walker, and Our Grand Tour of Italy by Jane Christmas. Douglas & McIntyre, ©2009. ISBN: 9781553654001 (hardcover), 304p.

FTC Full Disclosure: This book was sent to me through Eco-Libris, to review for the Green Books Campaign.

Monday, November 09, 2009

The Clockwork Teddy by John J. Lamb

If I haven't convinced you to try one of John J. Lamb's Bear Collector's mysteries yet, maybe The Clockwork Teddy will convince you. This mystery combines the best of a police procedural with the teddy bear aspect of a cozy. But, this one is definitely the strongest police procedural yet in the series.

Lamb cleverly avoids "the Cabot Cove Syndrome" by removing his characters from their home turf of the Shenandoah Valley. Since Brad and Ashleigh Lyon are bear artists, teddy bear shows allow them the opportunity to travel and leave town. But, this mystery takes them not only to the Teddy Bear Flag Republic show in Sonoma, California, but back to Brad's former stamping grounds where he worked as a homicide detective with the San Francisco Police Department.

While checking out a booth at the show, Brad witnesses a costumed bear attack the booth, and steal the moneybox. He's a little suspicious when he runs into Merv the Perv, a former cop, intimidating the booth owner, Lauren, immediately after. Lauren reluctantly tells Brad that her son, Kyle, has disappeared. He was a former employee at Lycaon Software, and the company has threatened him, accusing him of theft. When Lauren refuses to cooperate with the police, Brad drops the subject.

But, the whole incident at the teddy bear show has relevance when Brad's former partner has to interrupt their dinner to report to a sleazy motel, the site of a shooting. When Brad rides along, he has the suspicion Kyle is involved, because one piece of evidence is a highly advanced robotic bear. But, it will be quite a while before Brad and the San Francisco Police Dept. find out the actual truth in this case.

Lamb easily intertwines teddy bears, Brad and Ashleigh's family life, and a police procedural. And, Berkley Prime Crime has some of the best cover illustrations for books. Check out this cover by Jeff Crosby. It's another outstanding example of cover art. That's just one more welcome addition to Lamb's intriguing mysteries. The Clockwork Teddy is the best so far.

John J. Lamb's website is

The Clockwork Teddy by John J. Lamb. Penguin Group (USA), ©2008. ISBN 9780425224298(paperback), 288p.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Sunday Salon - Holiday Grind by Cleo Coyle

I can't think of a more appropriate book for a Sunday Salon than Cleo Coyle's mystery, Holiday Grind, since the story opens with Clare Cosi, manager and head barista at the Village Blend coffeehouse holding a tasting. And, before plunging into the mystery, Clare challenges her baristas, and the reader, with the question, "What does Christmas taste like?" She's putting together a tempting menu of holiday coffee drinks, but the reader is immediately tempted to take part in that memory trip.

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

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

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

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

Cleo Coyle's website is

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

***FTC Full Disclosure - This was a review copy of Holiday Grind, sent by the author, in hopes I would review the book.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

November Brown Bag Luncheon

Wednesday was my favorite day of the quarter, the day I hold my brown bag luncheon in my office. Library patrons bring their lunch while I supply cookies, coffee and water, and then I share fifteen books with them. (Actually, this month, I should say I introduced them to fifteen authors because I shared a few books by two of the authors.) Usually the books are new titles, but this month I added a few older titles that they might not have known about. Those older titles were snatched up! Two weeks from now, I'll share a similar group of books with the library system staff at a brown bag luncheon.

Here are the books from this quarter.

Carlson, Melody – The Christmas Dog - A stray dog changes the lives of three people.

Cooper, Gwen – Homer’s Odyssey – The bestselling, true story of a blind cat, and the lessons he taught his owner.

Hinger, Charlotte – Deadly Descent – While doing a local history for her Western Kansas community, Lottie Albright finds herself in the middle of family secrets, and murder.

Janzen, Rhoda – Mennonite in a Little Black Dress – The year after a car accident and her divorce, Janzen returned home to her parents, who are Mennonites.

Kiely, Tracy – Murder at Longbourn When Elizabeth Parker attends her aunt’s How to Host a Murder Party on New Year’s Eve, she doesn’t expect they will really host a murder.

Kimball, Camille – A Sudden Shot - The story of the Phoenix serial shooters.

Lamb, John J. – The Mournful Teddy – Brad & Ashleigh Lyon are bear collectors, and sleuths, in this debut mystery.

McManus, Patrick F. – The Double-Jack Murders – Sheriff Bo Tully goes camping, and takes on a cold case, hoping to draw out an escaped convict.

McNair, Cici – Detectives Don’t Wear Seat Belts - True adventures of a female P.I.

Penny, Louise – The Brutal Telling - The latest Armand Gamache mystery takes him back to Three Pines, where a local favorite is the suspect in a murder.

Piazza, Tom – City of Refuge - Powerful novel of two families coping with Hurricane Katrina.

Pratchett, Terry – Unseen Academicals - The wizards from Unseen University have to field a football (soccer) team, and device new rules for the game.

Radish, Kris – Annie Freeman’s Fabulous Traveling Funeral - When Annie Freeman dies, she asks her 5 best friends to give her a traveling funeral, and act as “pallbearers.” - Also – The Shortest Distance Between Two Women

Ray, Jeanne – Eat Cake - When Ruth’s life falls apart – her parents move in, and her husband loses his job, she dreams about cake, and bakes cakes. - Also - Julie and Romeo, and Julie and Romeo Get Lucky.

Wisdom, Linda – Hex Appeal & 50 Ways to Hex Your Lover (Fiction Paperbacks) Linda Wisdom's sexy, fun stories of witches, vampires, and Fluff & Puff, a pair of bunny slippers.

Brown bag luncheon days are my favorite days of the quarter.