Sunday, January 31, 2010

Sunday Tidbits - March Treasures in My Closet

March looks like a good month for crime fiction. I have some very interesting books in my closet with release dates in March. So, let's talk crime!

Murder in the Palais Royal is the tenth book in the Aimée Leduc series by Cara Black. Aimée's partner in Leduc Detective in Paris has been shot, and the authorities suspect Aimée. Then the tax authorities descend on them. Is someone out to get revenge? You can pick up Murder in the Palais Royal to find the answers. Or maybe Cara Black will reveal a few secrets when she appears for Authors @ The Teague on March 11.

The one book that isn't a crime novel here is Sandra Dallas' Whiter Than Snow. One of my favorite authors has a recurrent theme of forgiveness, redemption and survival in a story of an avalanche in Colorado in 1920. Nine children were swallowed up by the snow, but only four survived. This is the story of their families. I'm finally going to get a chance to meet Sandra Dallas when she speaks to librarians here in Phoenix in May!

I can't wait to read the first book in a new series by Nancy Martin. In Our Lady of Immaculate Deception, she introduces Roxy Abruzzo, the grandniece of a Pittsburgh Mafia boss. Roxy is trying to go straight so she can focus on her architectural-salvage business. But, old habits die hard, and one of her old habits sets off a chain reaction of murder and mayhem. Sounds fun! And, Nancy's going to be a guest blogger here on March 2, so you'll have a chance to question her and read her comments.

Freeze Frame is the fourth book in the Enzo MacLeod cold case series by Peter May. This one takes forensics ace MacLeod to a tiny island off the coast of Brittany in France. He's interested in a study preserved for almost twenty years after the owner's murder. However the locals have no desire to see the infamous murder publicized again. It may prove to be one of Enzo's most difficult cases.

Michael Norman puts his characters On Deadly Ground. Southern Utah's Kanab is a community bitterly divided by the politics of land management. Environmentalists are pitted against a powerful citizens' group led by a rancher. But, when an environmentalist is killed, the local sheriff turns to J.D. Books for help. Books is the new Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Ranger. There are secrets, a reclusive witness, a Las Vegas business group, and, more trouble when a contract killer appears in Kanab.

I love the cover of Clea Simon's new Dulcie Schwartz feline mystery, Grey Matters. No one seems to have time for Dulcie. She's working on her doctoral thesis, but her adviser seems distracted, and university politics could end her plans. Her roommate is quitting school, and her boyfriend isn't around. When Dulcie discovers the body of a fellow grad student, she thinks it couldn't get any worse. Even Mr Grey, the wise ghost of her late cat isn't helping, so Dulcie just might be on her own.

Keith Thomson's debut thriller, Once a Spy, has a terrific premise. Charlie Clark has to take a break from his lousy luck at the track to pick up his father, Drummond, who, thanks to Alzheimer's Disease, wandered away from home. They find Drummond's apartment blown sky high, and then bullets start flying. However, Drummond Clark does remember how to hot-wire a car, and Clark realizes there is more to his father than he thought. So, what happens when a successful spy can't remember his past? Charlie and Drummond will be on a wild chase, escaping terrorists and the CIA.

Hush is Kate White's first stand-alone thriller. When Lake Warren's husband sues for full custody of their two kids, she doesn't think things can get any worse. But, what if she has a one-night stand, and finds her lover's throat slashed? What if she has to lie to the police so she doesn't lose custody? What if her actions snowball out of control?

Teddy Ruzak's latest client is a good looking dame who suspects her husband is cheating on her. When Teddy's client disappears, he doesn't know if this is a divorce case, or murder. Find out in Richard Yancey's The Highly Effective Detective Plays the Fool.

And, those are just the March Treasures in My Closet. Wait until tomorrow, when I can tell you about a great selection of forthcoming books, all with March release dates!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Lou Berney for Authors @ The Teague

What a surprise to hear Lou Berney's interpretation of his debut novel, Gutshot Straight. He told the audience at the Velma Teague Library that it was a combination of Elmore Leonard's Get Shorty, with swindlers, set in the jungles of Panama. He asked if we all knew Walt Disney's version of Snow White. He said Gutshot Straight was his version of Snow White. What if Snow White was a con and a thief?

In Gutshot Straight, Shake, just released from prison, is hired by the woman who heads the Armenian mob in L.A. to deliver a package to a man in Las Vegas. But, Shake discovers his "package" is a young woman who claims to be a housewife. Shake is actually a decent, nice guy, and he makes the decision to let the woman go. Suddenly, he's on the run to Panama with Gina, chased by the Armenian mob, and guys from Vegas. Lou said every time he felt the action slowed a little, he threw in another bad guy.

He said his version of Snow White, Gutshot Straight, is not exactly Disney's version. It has humor, lots of twists and turns, but it's actually a love story between a man who doesn't trust anyone, and a woman who can't be trusted.

Gutshot Straight is a poker term. It's a reckless gamble, a straight missing the middle card. And, Berney's book features people who are trying to change who they've been their entire life. They're trying to be good people after a lifetime of crime, a reckless gamble.

In 2007, Lou Berney was writing screenplays for a living, and living in Oklahoma City. He also spent a great deal of his time mixing paint. Berney's father had Alzheimers, and stayed busy doing paint-by-number pictures. Lou said his father was amazing, fast and good, before he died. But the company that did paint-by-number pictures used to send about sixty little pots of paint. Now, they send six or twelve tubes of paint, and you have to mix it yourself. Lou's job was to mix the paint for his dad. He said his father was fast, and he was constantly behind in mixing, and he was always covered with paint.

One cold day, his agent called and said there was good news and bad news. In Hollywood, that means there is bad news, and worse news. The bad news was the Writers Guild was on strike. The worst news was the two projects Berney had been working on were dead for that year.

Lou said he lives in Oklahoma City, so he couldn't get together on the picket line with other writers and yell at executives in their SUVs. So, now he was stuck in Oklahoma City, in the cold weather, just mixing paints. Berney wrote a novel as his escape. He set the second half of Gutshot Straight in Panama, so he could go someplace warm and tropical in his mind, a place with good food and beaches. When people talking about reading to escape, he was an author writing to escape Oklahoma City in the dead of winter. His goal was to write a fun novel that had depth.

Berney repeated that the main inspiration for his book was Snow White. Lou had two older sisters who babysat and kept him entertained with movies. When he saw Walt Disney's Snow White, it made two big impressions. First, he was deeply, powerfully attracted to the evil queen. Then, he thought, that huntsman is going to be in so much trouble for letting Snow White go. So, Shake is Berney's huntsman. He said it takes a special type of person to go from being one type of person, crooked, to another. Lou said there has to be consequences.

Lou Berney said he used concrete information as parts of the book. He was interested in international marriage, the 21st century version of mail-order brides. Middle-aged men go on tours to foreign countries to bring home wives. It's a very lucrative business for those who run the businesses, but it's a little creepy, too. And, it became part of Gutshot Straight.

Another element that became part of his book came from an experience he had while living in San Francisco. While taking BART, he met an older man, big, who looked ex-military. He turned out to be a retired cop from Texas, who had once worked as a bouncer in one of Jack Ruby's strip clubs in Dallas. The ex-cop said Dallas in the early 60s was like the Wild West. You could beat someone almost to death with bare hands outside a bar while off-duty cops cheered you on, and then bought you drinks. He said the man's eyes grew distant, and then he said, "Those were the days."

Berney must have been an interesting boy. He included an episode from his childhood in his book, when a character was hit in the head by a full beer can thrown from six feet away. That happened to Lou when he was thirteen, and, even then, as he wobbled away, he thought, that was a heck of a throw.

When Berney writes screenplays, he says they're 110 pages, and that's it. There's no room for anything except the characters and action. He's always cutting when he writes screenplays. William Faulkner said, "Kill your darlings," and that's no problem when writing screenplays. But, a novel is just the opposite. Berney said he likes a novel that sprawls and welcomes everyone in; the more the merrier. He said he writes his novels for himself, but when writing screenplays, he writes for producers, agents, and everyone else. That's not a healthy way to write, and that's why screenplays are all similar. But, you can be quirky in novels. He said screenplays are like political candidates. You can't afford to offend anybody, so they're all the same.

It was fascinating to hear Lou Berney say the criminals in Gutshot Straight reflects his experiences. He worked restaurant kitchen jobs, and a whole circus full of criminals worked in the kitchens. Lou found it entertaining to work with ex-cons and reprobates. They had wonderful stories and personalities. He said at that time, restaurants hired anyone. If you could chop something up, you were hired. He said many of them were capable of being good people. They weren't so hard-boiled.

When asked if he's done any fantasy film casting of the book, he said he didn't do that while writing. Shake and Gina were real people to him, and that's how he sees them. But, he said he could see Nathan Fillion, who appeared in Firefly, as Shake. He said Sienna Miller or Michelle Monaghan could be Gina. In answer to a question about a producer, he said he liked David Fincher, who directed Fight Club, but this wouldn't be his normal type of movie. He said Gutshot Straight is under negotiation, but he doesn't really think it's cinematic. It would have to cut, and some of his favorite characters would have to be cut from a film.

Lou Berney thinks twenty-five years ago, Hollywood did a better job with movies aimed at adult audiences. He said now they make them for fourteen-year-olds. When it was mentioned that usually books are better than the movies, he said, there were some movies that were better - The Godfather, Jaws, but then he admitted those were done a while ago. But, now books are flattened out in the movies so they can reach the biggest audience, and not offend anyone. In Berney's opinion, TV does a better job than the movies now.

When asked how he became a screenwriter, Lou said he published a book of literary short stories while in grad school. He went to the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Then he moved to California and taught before he was accepted in a screenwriting program at Paramount. It's a program that doesn't exist anymore, but, at that time, if you'd published anything, you might get accepted into the program so you could learn the business. Students were paid one year's salary while in the program.

Lou said he's recently worked on an adaptation of a book called Travel Writing that Rob Reiner is supposed to direct. And, he's worked on a musical family Christmas movie. He said for those jobs, he's paid up front, whether the movies are made or not. But, he has to make pitches to get the job, and you usually end up doing twice as much work before getting the job. He said sometimes the salary works out to minimum wage. He said if a studio hires him, and the movie isn't picked up, he gets paid, but not the big bucks he would get if it was picked up. He's written a script he likes, but his agent said it's not the right time for it. Right now, they want thrillers they can make for under $30 million.

When asked if he's working on another novel, he said he is, but, first the ideas simmer. Then he takes notes, followed by an elaborate outline. Berney is working on two books, a sequel to Gutshot Straight, and a deeper, darker literary novel in the Kate Atkinson vein.

When asked which screenplay he's proudest of, he said it was a one hour drama pilot for ABC with Jerry Bruckheimer's company. He said they were great people, and so generous. Although they're some of the most powerful people in Hollywood, they deferred to him when it came to the script. He loved the project about a junior faculty at a Southern university, and it was hard to let it go after spending six months on it. But, with the luck of the draw, ABC had a similar show and they went with that. He said although Bruckheimer's company wanted to try to sell it elsewhere, it was work for hire, and ABC owned it. They killed the project.

Lou Berney summarized his debut novel, Gutshot Straight, as a fun, fast, romantic crime caper. It has action, thrills, and Panama. He said he expected Panama to be a big ditch, but it's a beautiful country, very cosmopolitan with beaches, a great history, and a beautiful city.

Lou Berney appeared for Authors @ The Teague one day, and his book will be mentioned on the Today Show the next. Not bad for a debut novelist, and his terrific novel, Gutshot Straight.

Lou Berney's website is

Gutshot Straight by Lou Berney. William Morrow, ©2010. ISBN 9780061766046 (hardcover), 294p.

Friday, January 29, 2010

This Book is Overdue by Marilyn Johnson

I admire Marilyn Johnson's interest in off-the-wall subjects. First, she wrote about obituaries and the people who wrote them, in her fascinating book, The Dead Beat. In her new book, she turned to librarians as her subjects. How can a librarian not love the title of her latest? It's This Book Is Overdue!: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All.

Johnson became interested in librarians when she was writing her previous book, and discovered that librarians had some of the most interesting obits. She said she "Began to get the idea that librarias were where it was happening - wide open territory for innovators, activists, and pioneers." She sees librarians as people who value service to others, along with "truth, free speech, and universal literacy." And, she interviewe librarians on the web, followed their blogs, met them in Second Life, and the New York Public Library. She talked to the Connecticut librarians who fought the Patriot Act, librarians who took reference to the streets, and ones who taught computer skills to the world. Johnson admired the work of archivists, and public librarians who opened their doors to the world.

Johnson may have gone on a little bit too much about Second Life, but, for those of us who are still excited about our work in libraries, regret the loss of so much in bad economic times, but still want to share books and information with the world, This Book is Overdue is a challenge, and a reward. We have work to do to keep up with our patrons, or, as one librarian said, our readers. Even so, it's nice to know how Marilyn Johnson, one patron, feels about librarians. "I was under the librarians' protection. Civil servants and servants of civility, they had my back. They would be whatever they needed to be that day: information professionals, teachers, police, community organizers, compuer techncicians, historians, confidantes, clerks, social workers, storytellers, or, in this case, guardians of my peace." Thank you, Marilyn Johnson, for showing all of us what librarians can do for the world, when given a chance.

Marilyn Johnson's website is

This Book Is Overdue!: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All by Marilyn Johnson. HarperCollins, ©2010. ISBN 9780061431609 (hardcover), 288p.


FTC Full Disclosure: I requested this book from the publisher, so I could review it.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Winners and a Poisoned Pen Press Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the last contest. Leighton Gage's Dying Gasp will go to Lex R. from Belleville, NJ. Marina M. from Eugene, OR won the ARC of Frederick Ramsay's Predators. The books will go out in the mail tomorrow.

Poisoned Pen Press is one of my favorite mystery publishers. I reviewed two books they published this week, so it's the ideal time to give away a couple of their ARCs.

When Betty Webb appeared at the Velma Teague Library on Monday, she signed an ARC of her latest Lena Jones mystery, Desert Lost. This is the perfect introduction to Lena, and her Scottsdale, Arizona business. As Betty said, she gives you enough information about Lena in each book that you don't have to start at the beginning of the series. So, if you've been curious about this series, or, if you just want to read the new book, now's your chance to enter to win a copy.

I just reviewed Jeffrey M. Siger's Assassins of Athens. Now, meet Andreas Kaldis in the debut mystery in the series, Murder in Mykonos. I have an ARC of the book that found him exiled to Mykonos, a beautiful spot, but an island that harbors a serial killer. Now, Andreas, exiled for being politically incorrect, must deal with a local government that doesn't want to drive away tourists. A serial killer can't exist on their beautiful island.

Two more gems from Poisoned Pen Press. Do you want to win Desert Lost or Murder in Mykonos? 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 "Desert Lost" or Win "Mykonos." Your message should include your mailing address. Entrants only in the U.S., please.

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

A One-of-a-Kind Family by Holly Jacobs

I'm a little early with the review of Holly Jacobs' A One-of-a-Kind Family, but sometimes a book just fills a need. Today, I needed a gentle romance with a little humor, and Holly's books are always perfect escapes.

At the same time, Jacobs is very good at subtly pointing at issues. A One-of-a-Kind Family is the story of Anna Chapel, one of the two staff members of The Sunrise Foundation in Whedon, PA. She's a life coach who helps each client with their individual and medical needs. When Liam Franklin arrives at The Sunrise Foundation, he thinks he's only looking for a babysitter for his thirty-year-old brother, Colm. But, Anna sees potential in Colm that Liam never dreamed about.

As Anna teaches Colm to be more self-sufficient, Liam is reluctant to let go of his brother. He's always been the "lucky" twin, the one able to lead a normal life. But he always saw himself as the protector of his brother. As Anna and Liam argue over Colm's future, Liam's fears may tear apart the relationship the two are building.

While this is a romance, Holly Jacobs also shows that people with exceptional needs also have exceptional qualities. A One-of-a-Kind Family is another stellar romance from a special author.

Holly Jacobs' website is

A One-of-a-Kind Family by Holly Jacobs. Harlequin, ©2010. ISBN 9780373716159 (paperback), 256p.

FTC Full Disclosure: The author sent me a copy of the book, in hopes I would review it.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Assassins of Athens by Jeffrey Siger

Jeffrey Siger's Murder in Mykonos introduced Police Chief Andreas Kaldis, exiled from his police job in Athens because his investigations rubbed some powerful people the wrong way. It only took six months for him to return to Athens, as Chief Inspector in the Greek Police Special Crimes Division. As one of the most powerful, and feared, men in the police force, he was able to bring his assistant, officer Yianni Kouros, with him. And, he's going to need all the help he can get in dealing with the Assassins of Athens.

When the body of the son of a prestigious Greek family is found in a dumpster outside "perhaps the seediest gay bar in the seediest section of Athens," Andreas knows someone is sending a message. He knows the family is stunned when he informs them of the death, but he didn't expect them to sell their property and leave Greece.

Everyone in Athens seemed to know that the boy's father, Zanni Kostopoulos, was at war with the powerful Linardos family, owners of The Athenian newspaper. And, power struggles are common in Greece. But, who would attack the children of the powerful? Andreas and his team can handle the investigation in the bars and streets of Athens, but it's going to take a special connection to give them a link to the elite. So, who is pulling the strings that brings a call from one of the most powerful media figures in the country, a man who has a strange story of conspiracy? And, what is Chief Kaldis to believe? He knows "Greeks see a conspiracy in the number of raisins in a cereal box."

Siger's first novel involved an intriguing mystery on Mykonos, but Assassins of Athens is even better. It's a complex police procedural involving politics, powerful, wealthy people, and men who have their own motives for violence. And, the Greek history, as told to Andreas, is fascinating. Siger's story also includes well-rounded characters, from Kaldis and his family history, to Andreas' powerful secretary, Maggie, a woman with secrets. In fact, the stories behind the individual characters are as complex as the story of Greek politics. Assassins of Athens is a police procedural with mystery, violence, a little romance, and light touches of humor. Let's hope Siger finds the appreciative audience he deserves.

Jeffrey Siger's website is

Assassins of Athens by Jeffrey Siger. Poisoned Pen Press, ©2010. ISBN 9781590586891(hardcover), 286p.

FTC Full Disclosure: The publisher sent me a review copy, in hopes I would review it.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Betty Webb at Velma Teague Library

With the Scottsdale setting of her Lena Jones mysteries, Betty Webb's programs are always popular ones at the Velma Teague Library. It was a packed room to hear her talk about Desert Lost, the sixth book in the Lena Jones series. Library Journal picked it as one of the top five mystery novels of 2009.

For those who weren't familiar with her books, Betty told the story of Lena Jones' life. At the age of four, she was found beside Thomas Road in Phoenix, shot in the head. She was in a coma for several months, and when she came out of the coma, she was brain damaged. She couldn't speak, didn't remember her parents, didn't know who shot her. Social Services advertised for a few months, but no one came forward to say they were her parents. She was too troubled to be adopted, so she ended up in the foster care system in Arizona. Sometimes foster care works out, but Lena's was a bad experience. In one home, she was raped, and in one, she was starved. But, she's a survivor. However, she does bring some of her problems to her cases.

Lena attended ASU on scholarship, studying Police Science. She joined the police force in Scottsdale, but was shot in a drug bust gone wrong. When they tried to give her a desk job, Lena opened her own detective agency in Scottsdale, Desert Investigations. She continues to try to solve the mystery of her own life, as well as other cases. In the tenth book, Lena and the readers will learn the answers to her life; if her paretns are alive, why she was shot, what happened.

Lena is definitely not lucky in love. Many foster children have problems in that area. They either can't make emotional attachments, or make inappropriate ones. Lena goes back and forth, doing both. At the start of Desert Lost, she's in the middle of a relationship with Warren, an Oscar-winning film director. That's an inappropriate relationship.

The second book in the series, Desert Wives, has been Webb's best seller so far. That novel involves the polygamy compounds in northern Arizona. Lena went underground as a wife to discover who killed one of the prophets. One of Lena's clients, a runaway from the compound, was blamed for the murder, so Lena investigated. Desert Wives was optioned by Lifetime for a TV series or movie. It hasn't happened yet, but it was sold in 2001, even before the book came out, and the check comes in every January. Webb said she's had nine years of checks, so she likes Hollywood, which is why she involved Lena with Hollywood.

In some ways, Desert Lost is a return to Desert Wives. At the beginning of the novel, Lena is on a stakeout in an RV storage lot. The lot has been hit by a rash of taggers, so she was hired to catch the taggers. That night, she hears a noise, and, when she investigates, finds a dead woman who was dumped there. Lena didn't recognize her, but knows she's a polygamist by her dress and hair. Sister wives can be identified by their hair, a pompadour in front, with a long French braid. They wear prairie dresses.

Betty Webb said there is a small polygamist compound in Tempe, and one in Mesa. She's related to some of the polygamists in Mesa. She said some members of the Alabama branch of her mother's family moved to Salt Lake City, but when the Mormon Church ended polygamy in 1890, her family members disagreed, and moved to Mesa. She was invited to lunch with her family, when they discovered each other through genealogy, but that lunch didn't last long. Webb also said a couple of Warren Jeffs' sons are attending ASU, majoring in finance, so they can handle the extensive financial dealings of the group.

In 2002, when Desert Wives was published, the welfare system had not yet been overhauled, and the FLDS was involved in welfare scams. The reason young girls are "married" is because thirteen-year-old girls are fertile. If a girl has a baby at thirteen, they could have lots of babies before menopause. The church is all about babies. At that time, there was no limit to the amount of welfare a single mother could collect on her children. There is no actual legal marriage. Instead there's a mishmash written up. If a man has ten "wives," and each "wife" has ten children, they're all illegitimate. There may be one hundred children in a household, and each child got welfare. In 2002, that was $550 per child, per month, so there may be as much as $55,000 coming into a household per month, with all checks forwarded to the prophet. There's a great deal of incest in a polygamy compound. It's been estimated that approximately 65% of children born in the compounds have serious birth defects. So, SSI and SSDI payments continue through life for each disabled child. Incest problems continue. Since the revisions to welfare, SSI and SSDI payments have taken over. The compounds operate for money, not religion, as they would have people believe.

Webb said some compounds are so crowded that they've been opening outposts in other states. Eldorado, Texas is the one that many people will recognize, but there are outposts in Wyoming, Seattle, Colorado, Canada, and Mexico. The women and children are in all of those places. It's important to keep all the girls pregnant, which is why Warren Jeffs had his own plane, and would fly around to different compounds. He had seventy-five known "wives," and, no one knows how many children.

Lena discovered that polygamist compound in Scottsdale. Betty said she does believe there is one there. She's identified a building with all of the features. Lena Jones wanted to know who killed that woman, and why, and why are they in Scottsdale? The women are kept behind barbed wire fencing, but it's only the most loyal women who go to outside compounds, not the women who are likely to run away.

So, here's the situation. If one man can have ten wives, there will be nine men with no wives. Webb asked if we noticed how few boys there were in the Eldorado raid? Polygamists get rid of the extra men, sometimes when boys are as young as thirteen. Vans are loaded, and the boys are dumped in Salt Lake City, Flagstaff, and Phoenix. Most of the boys can't read beyond the second grade level. They've been homeschooled, and the education is mainly religious indoctrination. They only have the basics of reading and writing. So, the boys are dumped on streets, and many become male prostitutes in order to survive. A few get into shelters, and get a remedial education, and construction jobs. They have a hard time adjusting to the outside world.

In Desert Lost, Lena learns the dead woman had a dumped son who was trying to get back to her. So, who killed the polygamist, and why? In real life, a woman who was battered to death was usually killed by her husband. But, this is a novel, and it could be anybody.

Betty said it was difficult to see polygamy from the boy's point of view. She tries to enter into the head of everyone in the book. She does research, and knows Flora Jessup, a former sister wife who escaped. Webb said she had an interesting conversation with one of the lost boys. But, it was a difficult conversation because language has a different meaning to them. The words "truth," "God," and "obedience," have a different meaning than we understand.

Lena Jones hopes the boy didn't kill his mother. The boys are never allowed to talk to their parents after they've been thrown out. Polygamists begin to break the parent bond early. The children live in dormitories, and there is not the strong family bond we've been given to believe.

Betty Webb was asked about the God Squad, and she said those are the men who carry out Warren Jeffs' wishes, his henchmen. Two of the men are in prison for murder.

One audience member mentioned that her family doesn't go to Peter Piper Pizza because they understand the FLDS owns the arcade machines. Webb agreed, and said polygamists also own some of the gaming machines in casinos, not all of the casinos, but many of them.

Webb was asked about Jimmy Sisiwan, Lena's partner in Desert Investigations. Betty said she lives over by the Salt River Indian Reservation. When Betty was starting to write the series, she knew that 75% of private investigation is done on the Internet. She was interested in that kind of investigation, and knew Lena had to have a partner do work the computers, and bring in money. One day, Betty was shopping at the Fry's near the rez, waiting for checkout, and she overheard a conversation between a father and son. The boy said he wanted a MAC so he could play more games, and the father said you're not getting a computer for games, but for school. When she turned around, it was a Pima father and son, so Jimmy Sisiwan became a Pima Indian.

When asked about the HBO series, Big Love, Webb said it glamorizes polygamy. She said the woman who wrote the book it's based on was a romance novelist with no clue about polygamy. The show features a good looking man, married to three women who live in nice houses, and look good.

Betty did say, if you drive up the highway toward Utah, Colorado City is one one side, and Centennial City is on the other. Those are two different types of polygamy towns. In Centennial City, grown women made the choice to live in a polygamist relationship. They have nice homes, and the schools are good. Colorado City is the bad situation with poor schooling and young girls as "wives." In Centennial City, adults are making their own informed choices.

Webb was asked about Lena as a character. She said she wrote the first chapter of Desert Noir, and knew it was going to be a mystery, but she didn't know who her detective would be. She didn't know if it would be a dark and bleak mystery, or a light and funny one. So, she wrote the first chapter, and went to bed. Lena Jones came to Betty in a dream. Every bit of Lena's life was in the dream, and Betty knows what will happen in book ten, when Lena's life story is revealed.

When asked about the foster child aspect of Lena's life, Webb said she went to junior high and high school in Detroit, and one of her close friends was a foster child. But, Webb herself wasn't one. Many former foster kids have become fans of the series. She said she feels like Lena's the daughter she never had.

One question was about Betty Webb's own background. She replied that she wrote her first book at fourteen, but it didn't sell. Interestingly enough, it was called Desert Mane, because she loved horses. She went to an art school for high school, and then went to LA, and eventually became a graphic designer, saying she would write a novel by the age of thirty. When she turned thirty, she remembered that, so she wrote a novel; it was published, but she won't tell the name of it. Then, she went back to her advertising career. Over time, she became more involved in copywriting, and eventually became the creative designer, combining copy and design.

By the time she was living in Phoenix, she was a single mom, attending a singles group at a church in Phoenix, where the leader of the group was a theater critic for a newspaper. He asked her to do some theater reviews for him, and then other editors called, and asked her to do them. Eventually, the Tribune called, and, for fifteen years, she worked full-time for them. The last five years, she was also writing the Lena Jones books. Then, she retired four years ago, and writes and blogs.

Betty was asked if the Mormons put any pressure on her, and she said, no, but she receives nasty emails from fundamentalists. She said it can be confusing since the Mormons are the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints, and the polygamists are the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints. It can be confusing, but if fundamentalist is in the name, they're polygamists.

It was mentioned that Betty uses real Arizona landmarks in her books, and she said, yes. She loves Scottsdale, and loves to write about it. In March, she's taking a trip to another location in Arizona to write about it for the next book.

Jimmy Sisiwan was mentioned, and Betty said he was adopted at a time when Indian children could be adopted by white couples, and Jimmy was adopted and raised by a Mormon couple. But, as so many adopted children do, he wanted to learn about his roots, and he went back, and lives on the Salt River Reservation, and he isn't a Mormon.

A question came up about the fundamentalists, and Betty reminded everyone they can't be arrested for polygamy because they actually aren't married. She said the age of consent in Arizona is sixteen right now, and there's a push to make it eighteen.

Before closing, and signing books, Betty was asked about her other series. She said she's a volunteer at the Phoenix Zoo, and one day, was entranced watching the giant anteater. So, she would work on the dark Lena Jones mysteries in the morning, and the fun, light story about a zookeeper in California at night. Betty spent one summer living on a houseboat, so she put her zookeeper on a houseboat in Moss Landing, California. One day, Betty's editor at Poisoned Pen Press, Barbara Peters, mentioned that she has to take all the funny lines out of the Lena Jones books. Webb said that's OK, she wouldn't put as many in because she had written a lighter book. When she told Barbara it was a book about a zoo, Peters wanted to see it. That book became The Anteater of Death. Webb just finished the second book, The Koala of Death. Lena Jones' life is complicated, but the zookeeper, Teddy (Theodora), has an uncomplicated life, and her story is told in funny books. Teddy enjoys life, and her relationship with the local sheriff. There's lots of poor little rich girl stuff in this series.

As always, Betty Webb was a hit with our audience, and spent time signing books, and answering questions after the program.

Betty Webb's website is

Desert Lost by Betty Webb. Poisoned Pen Press, ©2009. ISBN 9781590586815 (hardcover), 264p.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Diane A. S. Stuckart, Guest Blogger

Today, I'd like to welcome guest blogger, Diane A. S. Stuckart. Diane is the author of a mystery series featuring Leonardo da Vinci. But, she's going to give you her own background, and the story of her books, so I'm going to turn the blog over to Diane. Thank you, Diane!

Thanks to Lesa for letting me stop in and talk about bit about myself and my books. I'm a former historical romance author who previously wrote for Pinnacle and Zebra Books as ALEXA SMART and ANNA GERARD. I decided a few years back to make the switch to mystery writing when I realized that my romances tended to be littered with dead bodies. I eased my way into the field by writing short stories with mystery themes for various anthologies. Then, right around the time a certain blockbuster novel was about to debut on film, one of my former romance editors asked me if I'd be interested in writing a mystery series featuring Leonardo da Vinci as an amateur sleuth. Of course, I said yes.

Despite my eagerness to take on the project, however, I have to admit that I really didn't know all that much about Leonardo back then. Oh, yes, I knew that he was a genius, and that he had painted the Mona Lisa and a few other famous pictures. I'd also seen that red chalk drawing of the grumpy old guy that was supposed to be Leonardo's self-portrait--yep, and read that blockbuster novel, too--but that was the limit of my acquaintance with him. But now that I had a proposal to write, I swiftly remedied my ignorance by trotting down to the local bookstore . I picked up one of those "dim-witted person's guides" to Leonardo, along with a copy of his notebooks, and started reading.

A couple of days later, although I was much better versed in my subject, I still wasn't quite feeling the love for the guy who was going to be my new series character. Remember that I'd come from the romance field; thus, I was used to building my stories around handsome, dashing heroes, and not grumpy old men. But as I continued to read, I discovered that Leonardo actually had been considered a handsome, dashing guy in his youth, to the point where he'd served as the model for several artists' works. And it seemed that Leonardo was known to his contemporaries for his strength and athletic ability, as well. I also learned that many art historians believed that the grumpy guy drawing was not Leonardo, but rather his uncle or his father. Hmm...the Florentine, as he was known, was beginning to look like hero material, after all.

But what won me over was the letter that a 30-year-old Leonardo sent to Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan. Leonardo was anxious to leave Florence, where he'd trained as a painter in another master's workshop, and find a patron of his own. The letter to Ludovico was, in effect, his resume. In addition to his marvelous skill as a painter, Leonardo was a vastly talented sculptor, musician, architect, and inventor. He knew that the bellicose Ludovico was in the market for someone who could design weapons of war for him, as well as build a magnificent sculptural tribute to his late father. And though Leonardo didn't exactly pad his resume, he emphasized the inventing and sculpting skills over his painting abilities to win the job. He stayed on in Milan for almost 18 years. There, with Ludovico footing the bill, he pretty much had free rein to indulge his wildest ideas...most of which, in the end, were confined to his famous notebooks.

Combining Leonardo's grand fancies with the sly politics of Ludovico's court seemed to make for an ideal backdrop for adventure and murder. Bingo, I had my setting! And, since Leonardo was a relatively young man when he first arrived in Milan, I could make him an intellectual action sleuth, a Holmes-ian detective using his inventive skills and vast knowledge of anatomy to help solve murders. But, as with the aforementioned Sherlock, my version of Leonardo needed a "Watson" to tell his story, someone who could be impressed with the Master's grand intellect, do the grunt work, and, in general, serve as his foil.

Enter Leonardo's boy apprentice, "Dino"...who is, in reality, a young woman named Delfina. Though a talented painter, as a female, Delfina could never buy herself an apprentice in a workshop like Leonardo's. And so she has disguised herself as a boy to become one of a score of other youths toiling under the Master. Soon after her arrival at the workshop (book one in the series, THE QUEEN'S GAMBIT), she stumbles over the body of the duke's murdered cousin. When Ludovico charges Leonardo with learning the killer's identity, "Dino" is drafted as the Master's right hand "man" to help investigate the crime. In emulation of the Master--and, like Holmes' Watson--Delfina keeps a notebook where she records Leonardo's deeds, along with her own commentary regarding those events.

Why did I make Dino a female instead of a boy? There were many reasons, the least of which was because I was used to telling a story from a woman's viewpoint. Maybe another time, I'll spill that particular secret. In the meantime, Delfina keeps stumbling over dead bodies, and she and Leonardo are on their third adventure together in A BOLT FROM THE BLUE. With enough support from the readers who enjoy the series, the pair will be back for many more tales in the future. As for me, these days I am definitely feeling the love for Leonardo. The multiple stacks of research books under my desk which cover his life and times are proof of that!

Thank you, Diane! Diane's website is

A Bolt from the Blue by Diane A. S. Stuckart. Berkley, ©2010. ISBN 978-0425232170 (paperback), 336p.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Sunday Salon - Gutshot Straight by Lou Berney

Sunday Salon is the perfect time to introduce an author who writes my type of book, a fun caper novel. Not since Robert Fate's Baby Shark have I read a book that has larger than life characters, big enough to demand to be on the big screen. It's no wonder that Lou Berney is a screenwriter. His debut novel, Gutshot Straight is a fast-paced, now you see it, now you don't, novel. This novel should go straight to the movies. And, even then, it's going to be hard to keep up with the switches in this comical caper novel. Anyone who is a fan of Stephen Cannell's King Con, Jeffrey Archer's Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less, or the classic film, The Sting, needs to read this story.

Nothing is what it appears to be in this book. Just before he's released from prison, Charles "Shake" Bouchon seems to be just a mild-mannered wheel man capable of stealing or driving a car. But, at forty-two, Shake has a few surprises for the tough con who wants to take him out. And, Shake's thoughts of going straight last only until he gets off the bus in L.A., when Alexandra Illandryan, the boss, the pakhan, of the Armenian mob, picks him up, and offers him a simple job. Drive a car to Las Vegas for her, turn it over to someone in a parking lot, pick up a briefcase, and bring it back to her. Just a $20,000 simple job, right?

As much as Shake wants to cooperate, he didn't count on finding a young woman named Gina in the trunk of that car. An associate once told Shake "He was too nice for this business but not nice enough for any other." So, the poor sucker instinctively wants to protect Gina from the Whale, Dick Moby, the man who ordered her to be picked up. Shake believes Gina when she tells him she's just a Morman wife and mother with a husband with gambling debts, and she must have been kidnapped to be killed because of her husband. Poor Shake. He's going to learn quickly to NEVER, EVER believe anything Gina tells him.

But, Gina has a charming way of working her wiles on men and women alike. Everyone from strippers to businessmen, escaped felons to Shake, trusts Gina to play fair. And, suddenly, Gina and Shake are on the run, first in Las Vegas, and then in Panama, as they scheme for their own share of a pot of money. It's an unlikely treasure that takes them to Panama, and, it's equally unlikely that this pair will ever succeed. There are thugs on their trail from the moment Shake decides not to turn Gina over to the Whale.

Anyone who enjoys fun characters, and a caper novel in which thieves con other thieves, will enjoy Gutshot Straight. Shake and Gina are charming thieves, and you can't help but root for them against the scummy thugs who are after them. But, just a warning. NEVER, EVER believe anything Gina says. Now, we just need to see who will play Shake and Gina in the movies. Lou Berney's Gutshot Straight deserves to be seen as well as read.

Check out the book trailer for Gutshot Straight.

Lou Berney's website is

Gutshot Straight by Lou Berney. William Morrow, ©2010. ISBN 9780061766046 (hardcover), 294p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Lou Berney will be appearing for Authors @ The Teague on Friday, Jan. 29 at 2 PM, so he sent me a copy of the book ahead of time.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Eggsecutive Orders by Julie Hyzy

Julie Hyzy won the Anthony and Barry Awards for Best Paperback for her first White House Chef mystery, State of the Onion, but the third book in the series, Eggsecutive Orders, is also the best. That's no "eggsaggeration."

White House Executive Chef Ollie Paras should be on top of the world. It's time for her staff to get ready for the Easter celebration, the dinner and the Easter Egg Roll, and her mother and grandmother are finally coming to visit. She should be anticipating her family's visit to the White House, and the fun of Easter. Instead, on the morning her family is due to arrive, she's escorted to the White House by the Secret Service, and her entire kitchen staff is suspended from their duties. It's only then that she learns a guest died at dinner the night before. Until the cause of death can be determined, the food, and the staff, is suspect.

Her mother and nana came to visit Ollie, and she could look at the suspension as the perfect vacation time. But, she feels responsible for her staff and the kitchen, and she has a hard time sitting on her hands. But, it's not just her job and her staff that is threatened. Her boyfriend's job on the Presidential Protection Detail is also threatened, and Tom has been warned to keep an eye on Ollie, and prevent her from interfering in the investigation. But, when she becomes a target for a newspaper columnist, and her mother shows an interest in a man who is connected to the dead White House guest, it's just too much for Ollie. Somehow, she has to get back into the kitchen, and find a killer.

Although I enjoyed both of the previous books, and Ollie's work in the kitchen, it was refreshing to see her out of her element. By forcing Ollie to stay home, Hyzy added another element to Ollie's life. We met her family, enjoyed a little bit of Washington as she showed them around, and learned more about the personal life of Bucky, the irascible chef. There's also the fascinating "locked White House" mystery. Not too many people would have had access to the dead guest. Top it off with a climax at the annual Easter Egg Roll, and Eggsecutive Orders is another "eggcellent" mystery feast served up by Julie Hyzy.

Julie Hyzy's website is She's also one of the authors at Mystery Lovers Kitchen.

Eggsecutive Orders by Julie Hyzy. Berkley Prime Crime, ©2010. ISBN 9780425232033 (paperback), 352p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I bought this book.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Inaugural Lesa's "Creative Writer" Award

I've received a few awards lately, and had to come up with a total of seventeen items that people didn't know about me. So, a regular reader here suggested that I give out an award, Lesa's Bald-Faced Liar, whoops, I meant to say "Creative Writer" Award. Anna even designed this award for me! Thanks, Anna!

Now, I get to make up the rules.

1.Thank the person who gave this to you.
2.Copy the logo and place it on your blog.
3.Link to the person who nominated you.
4.Tell us up to six outrageous lies about yourself, and at least one outrageous truth.
5.Allow your readers to guess which one or more are true.
5.Nominate seven "Creative Writers" who might have fun coming up with outrageous lies.
6.Post links to the seven blogs you nominate.
7.Leave a comment on each of the blogs letting them know you nominated them.

Most of all, since many of us have run out of items to tell about ourselves, have fun making up those outrageous stories!

So, here are my outrageous truths and lies. Go ahead and guess. I'll tell you this afternoon which one or more are true.

1. Willard Scott was one of my library patrons.

2. Jim Leyland, Manager of the Detroit Tigers, is my mother's second cousin.

3. George Clooney was my first boyfriend, and he was as nerdy looking as I was.

4. My hometown is on Lake Erie. I saved a kid from drowning in the lake when I was in high school.

5. At a Mets/Marlins game, Jim paid for the billboard to flash, "Lesa Loves Mike Piazza."

6. I won first place at the state fair with the cat quilt I made.

7. Jim is my second husband. I met both of them at the library.

So, which of these are true? I'll tell you if you're right later today!

I think these seven bloggers can EASILY come up with seven outrageous stories.

le0pard13 at Lazy Thoughts From a Boomer

The women at Mystery Lovers Kitchen. You're all writers. I know you can come up with something creative!

Kaye Barley at Meanderings and Muses

Kay at My Random Acts of Reading

Bermudaonion at Bermudaonion's Weblog

Inside a Book at Inside a Book

Cathy at Kittling Books

And, Jen? Consider yourself a winner of this award, but I know you're behind in your book reviews, so you don't have to come up with seven outrageous items.

Looking forward to your stories!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Winners and Exotic Mystery Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the last contest. Laura Lippman's Hardly Knew Her will go to Cathy W in Irving, TX. Darcy O. from Apple Valley, MN will receive Tami Hoag's Deeper Than the Dead. The books will go out in the mail tomorrow.

It hardly gets more exotic than Botswana and Brazil as settings for crime novels. This week, I'm giving away an ARC of the latest Chief Inspector Mario Silva Investigation by Leighton Gage, Dying Gasp. Silva and his team end up in a hellhole on the Amazon as they look for the missing granddaughter of a prominent politician. Why does that small Brazilian city also seem to have a connection to the snuff film industry?

If you don't want a gritty police procedural set in Brazil, you might prefer Botswana as a setting. Frederick J. Ramsay's Predators takes readers to Botswana, where a maneating tiger fights for his life, while greedy players in a large development firm wait to attack an aging CEO. This book, meant to be a standalone, is now planned as the first in a series. Ramsay wrote a crime novel that is his tribute to a country he loves.

You have the chance to win Dying Gasp or Predators. 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 "Dying Gasp" or Win "Predators." Your message should include your mailing address. Entrants only in the U.S., please.

The contest will end Thursday, Jan. 28 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!

Awards at Left Coast Crime

The nominees for awards to be given out at Left Coast Crime 2010 in Los Angeles have been announced. Left Coast Crime will be held from March 11-14th.

Here are the nominees for the various awards.

The Lefty Award for a humorous mystery -

Donna Andrews - Swan for the Money
Mike Befeler - Living With Your Kids Is Murder
Denise Dietz - Strangle a Loaf of Italian Bread
Rita Lakin - Getting Old Is a Disaster
Kris Neri - High Crimes on the Magical Plane

The Bruce Alexander Award for a historical mystery set before 1950.

Tasha Alexander - Tears of Pearl
Rhys Bowen - In a Gilded Cage
Rebecca Cantrell - A Trace of Smoke
Gary Phillips - Freedom’s Fight
Jeri Westerson - Serpent in the Thorns

The Panik Award for LA noir in honor of the deceased Chairman, Paul Anik, given
this year only at Left Coast Crime 2010:

Gar Anthony Haywood - Cemetery Road
Gregg Hurwitz - Trust No One
Linda Richards - Death Was in the Picture
Stephen J. Schwartz - Boulevard

Congratulations to all of the nominees!

Guest Blogger, John J. Le Beau

Today, I'm happy to welcome a very interesting guest blogger, John J. Le Beau. Dr. John J. Le Beau is Professor of Strategy and Security in the College for International and Security Studies at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies in Garmisch, Germany, and a permanent faculty member of the Marshall Center’s Program on Terrorism and Security Studies.

Dr. Le Beau is also Chairman of the Partnership for Peace Consortium’s Combating Terrorism Working Group (CTWG), which enjoys a broad international membership. The CTWG is currently addressing the issue of intelligence cooperation against the terrorist target.

Dr. Le Beau is a former Senior Operations Officer who retired from the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in 2005. Most of his intelligence operations career was spent on assignment outside of the United States, including in locations experiencing active terrorism. His intelligence duties included assignments as chief of an operational facility in Europe engaged in counter-terrorist and counter-proliferation operations and intelligence collection, Program Manager of a human and technical collection program involving the Middle East, Operational Chief for an intelligence collection program directed at transnational issues and a counter-insurgency officer in an active conflict area. In addition to several classified intelligence assessments for the United States Intelligence Community, Dr. Le Beau has authored various articles and papers on the topics of international terrorism and insurgency

He's the author of the novel, Collision of Evil, summarized here. "As evening falls against the majestic backdrop of the Bavarian Alps, Charles Hirter, an American tourist, is savagely murdered. In the peace, quiet and pastoral splendor of this magnificent setting, Charles Hirter draws his last breath. Was Charles simply in the wrong place at the wrong time?

"Kommissar Franz Waldbaer, the German detective in charge of the case, faces an investigation that yields neither clues nor suspects nor motives. A gruff, go-it alone detective, Waldbaer is dismayed by the arrival of Robert Hirter, the victim's brother, who insists on joining the investigation. But there is more to Robert than meets the eye.

"As Robert and the Kommissar uncover a nefarious nexus of evil past and evil present, they find themselves probing dark, long-forgotten episodes from the Third Reich in order to identify the present threat.

"Thrust into a violent world of fanatic passions, malevolent intentions and excruciating urgency, Robert Hirter and Kommissar Waldbaer must race against the clock to stop a sophisticated, covert, and deadly plot."

In Dr. Le Beau's guest blog, he discusses his characters. Thank you, Dr. Le Beau.

Germans and Americans: ‘Collision of Evil’ Characters

One of the elements that runs through ‘Collision of Evil’ is the evolving relationship between the American character Robert Hirter and the German Kommissar of police, Franz Waldbaer. In a sense, the two protagonists play off of one another throughout the novel. When I first began to gestate the concept of the story, Waldbaer was the first character that came to mind as essential to the plot. I had from the beginning envisioned the setting of the book as being in Bavaria, along with much of the action, and knew that a German – and more precisely a Bavarian – police detective would have to figure importantly in the writing. So, the Waldbaer character was the first one devised. As the first rough draft of the book’s initial chapters took shape, it became clear to me that an American protagonist, and not just an American murder victim, would add considerably to the story. Accordingly, Robert Hirter was born and came into play. This permitted some dramatic interplay between the two main characters to transpire.

I tried to portray Waldbaer as embodying some ‘old world’ German traits, with Hirter a character with an American outlook and perspectives. Waldbaer is arguably a bit plodding, though organized in his own way, and quite thorough. These are sort of stereotypical German features, by my lights, based on having lived many years in Germany. Waldbaer likes beer, which speaks to his Bavarian identity, as beer is a real cultural feature of Bavarian life, often referred to by the natives as “liquid bread”. It might also be said that many Germans are rather more pessimistic than Americans on a broad scale, and I tried to capture this element too, with a rather introspective Waldbaer skeptical of making headway at times during the investigation, and in his worries about his own health. Robert Hirter, on the other hand, is portrayed in a way that I imagine many Americans to be: action-oriented and a bit impulsive and impatient; wanting to get things done right away. Hirter is more casual in dress, language and overall style while Waldbaer is more formal and conservative.

As well, the two characters compliment each other in another sense. Waldbaer is a professional law enforcement officer. Hirter is a clandestine intelligence operative, something quite different in terms of training, mission and attitude. Law enforcement officials (such as policemen) are trained to enforce the law. Intelligence officers are trained and authorized to break the laws of other countries in the interests of getting things done. The two professions view the world rather differently and I wanted to include these two distinct perspectives in the novel, as this is something that occurs in real life. Despite differing backgrounds, training and mission, however, Waldbaer and Hirter are able to effectively work together – just as law enforcement and intelligence officials can and do cooperate in the real world, if not always perfectly or easily.

A word about the Kommissar’s name might be in order. Franz is a typically Bavarian name, the German equivalent of Francis. It is not a name one would commonly associate with Northern Germany. The name ‘Waldbaer’, translated into English, means ‘forest bear’. I created the name because I thought it captured the physical way that I image the detective: a sort of heavy, large creature, generally a bit lumbering – but surprisingly capable of action when required. I also just liked the name! Both Waldbaer and Hirter feature again in a second thriller that I am currently writing. Their nemesis is new but the plot is another international thriller set in several locations, but with Bavaria figuring again importantly in the storyline.

Thank you, John! It was a pleasure to have you as guest blogger today.

John J. Le Beau is giving away a signed copy of his book, Collision of Evil, to one lucky tour visitor. Go to his book tour page,, enter your name, e-mail address, and this PIN, 3484, for your chance to win. Entries from Lesa's Book Critiques will be accepted until 12:00 Noon (PT) tomorrow. No purchase is required to enter or to win. The winner (first name only) will be announced on his book tour page next week.”

John J. Le Beau's webpage is

Collision of Evil by John J. Le Beau. Oceanview Publishing, ©2009. ISBN 9781933515540 (hardcover), 336p.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

Talk about taking on a major New Year's resolution! Gretchen Rubin took on such a large project that it called for a large title for the resulting book, The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun.

Gretchen Rubin is totally honest about her own inclinations and faults. She admits, "I have a perfectionist, dissatisfied, fretful, worrying nature, and I'm not easily thrilled." So, she decided to take on a happiness project, a different approach to changing her life. Each month, she took one step to work on her happiness, and, as a result, the happiness of her family. Rubin felt as if she was failing to appreciate the life she had. She said she was haunted by the words of the writer Colette. "What a wonderful life I've had! I only wish I'd realized it sooner!" Rubin was determined to lead a happier life, by changing her moods, her actions, and her life. So, she dedicated one year of her life to trying to be happier.

The resulting book takes us through that year, month-by-month. Each month, Rubin focused on an over-all project, but the following months would build on the first. So, in January, she tried to boost her energy, get enough sleep, and exercise. In February, she wanted to remember the love in her marriage. Then, in March, when the focus was work, she started her Happiness Project blog, a blog that caught the attention of others wanting to change their lives.

My favorite month was September. That month was spent in pursuing a passion, and Rubin's was books. It's a passion I share, so it was interesting to read about her month devoted to books. Gretchen Rubin is a reader, and all of her steps along the way were inspired by books. There's a lengthy list of books about happiness at the end of this one.

Rubin admits she didn't accomplish everything she wanted. But, she knows the attempt to achieve happiness is a life-long quest. She learned a great deal about herself during the year. Most of all, she learned that she needed to "Be Gretchen." Great advice, to learn to be ourselves in order to be happy.

The Happiness Project is an inspirational book for anyone who might want to change their life, or even shake it up just a little. Gretchen Rubin has given all of us something to think about in this account of her own resolution.

Gretchen Rubin's website is

The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun by Gretchen Rubin. HarperCollins, ©2009. ISBN 9780061583254 (hardcover), 301p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I requested this review copy from the publisher so I could read and review the book.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Robert B. Parker - R.I.P.

I was stunned to arrive at work today and find out that Robert B. Parker had died. He was only seventy-seven, and the newspapers indicate he died at his desk. And, that's the place I'll always picture him, writing the wonderful Spenser novels.

I can think of no finer tribute, with all of the ones that have already come out, than to repeat what I said in my review of The Professional, the most recent Spenser book. "By my count, I've read forty-five books by Robert B. Parker, probably the most I've read by any author. When I finished The Professional, his latest Spenser novel, I had read all thirty-seven Spenser books, one Jesse Stone, four Sunny Randall, both Philip Marlowe ones, and even a teen novel. And, I just discovered he has "A Young Spenser novel," called Chasing the Bear, in which Spenser reflects back to when he was fourteen. I ordered it.

"What is it about Parker's books that appeal to me? The characters and conversation. It certainly isn't suspense, since there isn't much in recent books. And, I've said that before when I've reviewed the Spenser books. But, I like Spenser, the idealistic knight fighting for good, with his own code of conduct. He's a loyal friend, and his friendships with Hawk, Quirk, Belson, and even Susan Silverman are long-standing ones, that require little chitchat. Instead, there's humor, wordplay, and unspoken affection between Spenser and his friends. That loyalty and wit draw me back for one book after another."

I'm going to miss that loyalty, wit, conversation, and friendship. Rest in Peace, Robert B. Parker, and, thank you for Spenser.

Here's the link to the Washington Post obituary,

Edgar Award Nominees

It's award season for mysteries! Today, Mystery Writers of America announceed, on the 201st anniversary of the birth of Edgar Allan Poe, its Nominees for the 2010
Edgar Allan Poe Awards, honoring the best in mystery fiction, non-fiction and television published or produced in 2009. The Edgar® Awards will be presented to the winners at the 64th Gala Banquet, April 29, 2010 at the Grand Hyatt Hotel, New York City.


The Missing by Tim Gautreaux (Random House - Alfred A. Knopf)
The Odds by Kathleen George (Minotaur Books)
The Last Child by John Hart (Minotaur Books)
Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death by Charlie Huston (Random
House - Ballantine Books)
Nemesis by Jo Nesbø, translated by Don Bartlett (HarperCollins)
A Beautiful Place to Die by Malla Nunn (Simon & Schuster – Atria Books)


The Girl She Used to Be by David Cristofano (Grand Central Publishing)
Starvation Lake by Bryan Gruley (Simon & Schuster - Touchstone)
The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf (MIRA Books)
A Bad Day for Sorry by Sophie Littlefield (Minotaur Books – Thomas Dunne Books)
Black Water Rising by Attica Locke (HarperCollins)
In the Shadow of Gotham by Stefanie Pintoff (Minotaur Books)


Bury Me Deep by Megan Abbott (Simon & Schuster)
Havana Lunar by Robert Arellano (Akashic Books)
The Lord God Bird by Russell Hill (Pleasure Boat Studio – Caravel Books)
Body Blows by Marc Strange (Dundurn Press – Castle Street Mysteries)
The Herring-Seller’s Apprentice by L.C. Tyler (Felony & Mayhem Press)


Columbine by Dave Cullen (Hachette Book Group - Twelve)
Go Down Together: The True, Untold Story of Bonnie and Clyde by Jeff Guinn (Simon & Schuster)
The Fence: A Police Cover-Up Along Boston’s Racial Divide by Dick Lehr (HarperCollins)
Provenance: How a Con Man and a Forger Rewrote the History of Modern Art
by Laney Salisbury and Aly Sujo (The Penguin Press)
Vanished Smile: The Mysterious Theft of Mona Lisa by R.A. Scotti
(Random House - Alfred A. Knopf)


Talking About Detective Fiction by P.D. James (Random House - Alfred A. Knopf)
The Lineup: The World’s Greatest Crime Writers Tell the Inside Story
of Their Greatest Detectives
edited by Otto Penzler (Hachette Book
Group – Little, Brown and Company)
Haunted Heart: The Life and Times of Stephen King by Lisa Rogak (Thomas Dunne Books)
The Talented Miss Highsmith: The Secret Life and Serious Art of Patricia Highsmith by Joan Schenkar (St. Martin’s Press)
The Stephen King Illustrated Companion by Bev Vincent (Fall River Press)


"Last Fair Deal Gone Down" – Crossroad Blues by Ace Atkins (Busted Flush Press)
"Femme Sole" – Boston Noir by Dana Cameron (Akashic Books)
"Digby, Attorney at Law" – Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine by Jim
Fusilli (Dell Magazines)
"Animal Rescue" – Boston Noir by Dennis Lehane (Akashic Books
"Amapola" – Phoenix Noir by Luis Alberto Urrea (Akashic Books)


The Case of the Case of Mistaken Identity by Mac Barnett (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers)
The Red Blazer Girls: The Ring of Rocamadour by Michael D. Beil (Random House Children’s Books – Alfred A. Knopf)
Closed for the Season by Mary Downing Hahn (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Children’s Books)
Creepy Crawly Crime by Aaron Reynolds (Henry Holt Books for Young Readers)
The Case of the Cryptic Crinoline by Nancy Springer (Penguin Young Readers Group – Philomel Books)


Reality Check by Peter Abrahams (HarperCollins Children’s Books –HarperTeen)
If the Witness Lied by Caroline B. Cooney (Random House Children’s
Books – Delacorte Press)
The Morgue and Me by John C. Ford (Penguin Young Readers Group – Viking Children’s Books)
Petronella Saves Nearly Everyone by Dene Low (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Children’s Books)
Shadowed Summer by Saundra Mitchell (Random House Children’s Books –
Delacorte Press)


“Place of Execution,” Teleplay by Patrick Harbinson (PBS/WGBH Boston)
“Strike Three” – The Closer, Teleplay by Steven Kane (Warner Bros TV for TNT)
“Look What He Dug Up This Time” – Damages, Teleplay by Todd A.
Kessler, Glenn Kessler & Daniel Zelman (FX Networks)
“Grilled” – Breaking Bad, Teleplay by George Mastras (AMC/Sony)
“Living the Dream” – Dexter, Teleplay by Clyde Phillips (Showtime)


"A Dreadful Day" – Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine by Dan Warthman
(Dell Magazines)


Dorothy Gilman


Mystery Lovers Bookshop, Oakmont, Pennsylvania
Zev Buffman, International Mystery Writers’ Festival


Poisoned Pen Press (Barbara Peters & Robert Rosenwald)

(Presented at MWA’s Agents & Editors Party on Wednesday, April 28, 2010)

Awakening by S.J. Bolton (Minotaur Books)
Cat Sitter on a Hot Tin Roof by Blaize Clement (Minotaur Books)
Never Tell a Lie by Hallie Ephron (HarperCollins – William Morrow)
Lethal Vintage by Nadia Gordon (Chronicle Books)
Dial H for Hitchcock by Susan Kandel (HarperCollins)

Congratulations to all of the nominees!

Raining Cat Sitters and Dogs by Blaize Clement

I'm a big fan of Blaize Clement's Dixie Hemingway mysteries, so I couldn't wait until release date today. After living in Florida for eighteen years, the Siesta Key setting is comfortable. And, there's all of the wonderful animals in these books. But, it's Clement's strong characters, beginning with Dixie, that make these some of my favorite mysteries. The latest one, Raining Cat Sitters and Dogs, is one of the strongest books in the five book series.

Dixie was a deputy with the Sarasota County Sheriff's Department until her life was destroyed in one day, with the tragic death of her husband and daughter. After she lost her mind, and her job, she became a pet sitter on Siesta Key, a barrier island off of Sarasota. She lives in the garage apartment next to the house shared by her brother Michael, a firefighter, and his partner, Paco, an undercover detective. Both before her marriage, and after, Michael was the stable one in her family, since their father died, and their mother ran off. Dixie was a troubled teen, so she identifies with lost teens.

Put together a young teen and an injured animal, and Dixie's heart is gone. While picking up one of her charges at the vet's, an African Grey parrot named Big Bubba, she meets Jaz, a girl who brings in an injured rabbit. Dixie and Hetty, a friend who raises service dogs, both think there's something odd about Jaz' relationship with her stepfather, but it's Hetty who offers to let Jaz help with her puppy. Unfortunately, it's Dixie who hears about Jaz from an unexpected source, three gang members who show up when she's tending Big Bubba, threatening Dixie with a switchblade, and asking for Jaz. And, Lieutenant Guidry, the homicide detective Dixie is interested in, thinks Jaz might know something about a murder. It's too bad Jaz disappears.

Dixie is always vulnerable when it comes to stories that remind her of her own past, so when a former high school friend shows up, frantic for help when her husband is kidnapped, Dixie reluctantly agrees to help. Is it any wonder that Dixie's brother, Michael, worries about her, when she talks about missing teens, gang members, murder, switchblades, kidnappings and ransom? Is this the life of a normal pet sitter? Clement cranks up the tension as Dixie digs her way into more trouble.

Blaize Clement has a knack for creating interesting characters, both human and animals. Big Bubba and a recurring character, the greyhound Billy Elliot, are just as interesting as Dixie's friend Cora. And, Hetty and Jaz are wonderful together. I'd recommend readers start with the first book in the series, Curiosity Killed the Cat Sitter. It won't be long before you'll want to get to book five, Raining Cat Sitters and Dogs. Dixie Hemingway will draw you into her life in Siesta Key, too.

Blaize Clement's website is

Raining Cat Sitters and Dogs by Blaize Clement. St. Martin's Minotaur, ©2010. ISBN 9780312369569 (hardcover), 304p.

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

Monday, January 18, 2010

2009 Dilys Award Nominees

The Independent Mystery Booksellers Association has announced the nominees for the 2009 Dilys Awards, given to the mystery title of the year which the member booksellers have most enjoyed selling. The Dilys Award is named in honor of Dilys Winn, the founder of the first specialty bookseller of mystery books in the United States, and is presented at the Left Coast Crime mystery convention.

These are this year's nominees -

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
A Quiet Belief in Angels by R.J. Ellroy
The Dark Horse by Craig Johnson
The Girl Who Played with Fire by Steig Larsson
The Ghosts of Belfast by Stuart Neville
The Brutal Telling by Louise Penny
The Shanghai Moon by S.J. Rozan

Congratulations to all of the nominees, with a special note to two authors. Louise Penny is a friend, and Authors @ The Teague will be hosting Alan Bradley on April 1 when he tours for his new book, The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag. Congratulations!

Kreativ Blogger Award

Thanks to le0pard13 at Lazy Thoughts From a Boomer for presenting me with the Kreativ Blogger Award. Before I dig into my life to try to find seven more things I haven't yet told you, here are the rules for the award.

1.Thank the person who gave this to you.
2.Copy the logo and place it on your blog.
3.Link the person who nominated you.
4.Name seven things about yourself that no one would really know.
5.Nominate seven "Kreativ Bloggers."
6.Post links to the seven blogs you nominate.
7.Leave a comment on each of the blogs letting them know you nominated them.

I've already done the first three. Now, here are seven more things about myself. (sigh) I don't really like to talk about myself that much!

1. I saw John Paul II at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. when he first came to this country. They only allowed students and invited guests on campus, and, since I was a grad student, I had a front-row view.

2. My sister and I were lucky enough to tour the White House gardens on one of the two days of the year they were open during the Carter administration, and we saw Amy Carter coming from the tennis courts.

3. I saw Taming of the Shrew performed at the Folger Shakespeare Library.

4. Jim and I went to see Barack Obama when he toured for his book tour for The Audacity of Hope. When he shook my hand, he asked my name. (Every author should be left-handed as he is, so he could sign books and shake hands at the same time.)

5. I won a coloring contest as a kid. Here's a question. What kind of first prize is a hair dryer?

6. I'm from a small town that had a great little newspaper for years, covering all kinds of events. For instance, it included my surprise birthday party when I was in third grade, listing all of the girls that attended.

7. I won $60 at Bingo once, and got up and walked away with it.

I'm going to post links to seven blogs I'd nominate for the Kreativ Blogger Award. Maybe you'll check out these blogs. I'm not going to make them post seven items because, as much as we like the awards, it's hard to continue to come up with them. So, here are my seven blogs, and congratulations to all of these award winners! If you choose to accept the award, and post, great! - All of the reviewers on this site, especially because they recently reviewed a favorite of mine - The Scarlet Pimpernal by Baroness Emmuska Orczy. - a new favorite. - If you're a cat lover, there's nobody any funnier or cuter than Albert. - Bermudaonion's Weblog for a fellow reader and blogger, who I've come to see as a friend. - To all of the authors of Mystery Lovers Kitchen for a combination of food, recipes, cozy mysteries, and friendship! - To Luanne, another blogging friend!

And, I'm going to cheat here, and pass this award to any of the other bloggers who read this, and care to accept it. You're all #7. I read so many blogs, but know that some people have the time to pass on the award, and others don't have the time. So. here's your Kreativ Blogger Award. Congratulations for taking time to talk about books, popular culture, and our world. (And, Jen, I know Michael already gave you this award, or you would have been #1 on the list.)

Thanks, Michael. And, congratulations to everyone!

Desert Lost by Betty Webb

In 2003, when Betty Webb wrote the second Lena Jones mystery, Desert Wives, few of us were aware of the polygamy sects in Arizona and Utah. Even though Warren Jeffs, the leader of a fundamentalist polygamist cult has been convicted, those sects continue to thrive while creating problems for all of society. Now, in the sixth book, Desert Lost, Webb once again involves Lena in a case involving those sects.

Lena was working on a case in a Scottsdale storage yard, when she heard strange noises, and found the dumped body of a woman. From the woman's dress, Lena concluded she was a polygamist. But, what was she doing in Scottsdale, Arizona? Even the police didn't want to believe polygamists were in Scottsdale, but Rosella, a former sister-wife, recognized the dead woman. Before Rosella took her kids and ran again, she hired Lena to find Celeste's killer.

As Lena spies on a compound across from the storage yard, she digs up more stories of the cult, and the boys who have been expelled from the sect, the lost boys. Left on the streets of Phoenix, Flagstaff, and other large cities, these boys are thrown out so other men can have multiple wives. They're thrown out with little education, no skills, and little chance for a productive life. When Celeste's son is arrested for her murder, Lena finds a boy on drugs, turning tricks to get money. And, one of the other sister-wives begs Lena to rescue her son before he's kicked out. With Lena's own troubled childhood, she's desperate to help these boys, if she can.

At times, Lena is dragged out of her primary case when she has to go to LA to deal with threats to a client. This case seems intrusive to the story of Desert Lost, but it is important to know Lena is getting a great deal of money working for TV, enough that she can indulge her passion, helping wounded women and children.

The mystery of who killed Celeste takes second place in Desert Lost. Instead, there's a greater focus on the lost boys, and the fundamentalist sect. Lena is determined to find the killer, but her own past comes back to haunt her when a beloved figure returns, and is threatened by Lena's investigation. And, another one of Lena's relationships is threatened by her childhood wounds.

No one does a better job than Betty Webb in exposing the secret sins hidden in our society. Desert Lost, like Desert Wives, drags polygamy and all of the accompanying issues, into the light of day.

Betty Webb's website is

Desert Lost by Betty Webb. Poisoned Pen Press, ©2009. ISBN 9781590586815 (hardcover), 264p.

FTC Full Disclosure: I read a review copy, sent by the publisher, in hopes I would review the book.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Sunday Tidbits

On Friday, I reviewed Spencer Quinn's latest Chet and Bernie mystery, Thereby Hangs a Tail. A couple people let me know that Spencer Quinn is actually Peter Abrahams. Since I didn't know it, and found that interesting, I thought others might as well. Here's a link to an article by Mark Medley, from March 2009, "Peter Abrahams' Secret Life as Spencer Quinn.

Deni Dietz, author of books under the names of Denise Dietz and Mary Ellen Dennis, has accepted a position with Tekno-Books/Five Star as Associate Editor. She'll be in charge of all first-time mystery and romance authors. That includes first-book writers and published authors (but new to Five Star).

Have you checked out Murder She Writes lately? With the addition of Laura Griffin, Lori G. Armstrong, and Sophie Littlefield, there are now ten authors blogging. Check it out, and read what these women, and Allison Brennan, Debra Webb, Jennifer Lyon, Karin Tabke, Roxanne St. Claire, S.J. Day, and Toni McGee Causey, are writing.

J. Sydney Jones, author of Requieum in Vienna, just launched a new blog, Scene of the Crime. He says, "This blog will be devoted to interviews with authors of mysteries and thrillers who have a particular connection with a city or locale. Think Simenon and Paris, Conan Doyle and London. Now think extant writers: Cara Black and Paris, Philip Kerr and pre-war Berlin, Robert B. Parker and Boston, Matt Beynon Rees and Jerusalem, Donna Leon and Venice, Jason Goodwin and early nineteenth-century Istanbul, and yes, yours truly for Vienna 1900." Who do you think of when you think of a particular connection to a location? I think of Leighton Gage and Brazil, Vicki Delany and British Columbia, and Ann Parker with Leadville, CO in the 1870s and 1880s. Oh, and of course, some of my favorites - Louise Penny and Quebec, Steven Havill for Posadas County, New Mexico, and Donis Casey with Oklahoma in the early 1900s.

Thank you to Dean James for passing on the obituary of crime fiction author M.R.D. Meek. Here's the link.

And, finally, good news for those of us who are fans of Margaret Maron's Sigrid Harald. Maron hasn't had a Sigrid Harald book since 1995's Fugitive Colors. According to her website, she's researching "The 2011 book—a book that will finally let Deborah Knott and Sigrid Harald meet for the first (and only?) time—and I’m having fun noticing the differences between their two worlds." I was a big fan of Sigrid Harald. If you haven't read these mysteries, go back and start with One Coffee With, the book that introduced Police Lieutenant Sigrid Harald way back in 1981.

Happy Reading this week!