Thursday, June 30, 2011

Winners and a Strong Women Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the last contest. Joel Fox' Lincoln's Hand will go to Linda S. in Columbus, OH, and Cindi H. of Edwardsville, IL won Steve Berry's The Jefferson Key. The books will go out in the mail tomorrow.

This week, I have crime novels by women, featuring strong women. I'm giving away the last autographed copy of Julia Spencer-Fleming's One Was a Soldier. Reverend Clare Fergusson has returned from Iraq, and she's still dealing with issues that she hasn't discussed with Russ Van Alstyne. They're trying to get back together, but when the death of a young Army specialist is ruled a suicide, Clare disagrees, and starts her own investigation.

Or you could head to Ohio's Amish country with Linda Castillo's Breaking Silence. Police Chief Kate Burkholder has one of her toughest cases when three members of an Amish family die terrible deaths. Were the deaths an accident, or linked to recent hate crimes against the Amish. Castillo's thrillers are violent, but probe the inner thoughts of a police officer responsible for the safety of her community.

Would you like to win One Was a Soldier or Breaking Silence? You can enter to win both books, but I need separate entries. Email me at  The subject lines should read, either "Win One Was a Soldier" or "Win Breaking Silence."  Include your name and mailing address in the body of the email.  Entries only from the U.S., please.

The contest will close Thursday, July 7 at 6 PM PT when I'll draw the winners using a random number generator.  The books will go out in the mail on Friday.  Good luck!

Karin Slaughter, Guest Blogger

I am a big fan of authors. I admire their commitment, their creativity, their energy.  It's always an honor to host Karin Slaughter as a guest blogger. She could have come on here today to promote her latest book, Fallen. I know readers would have enjoyed her comments about it. Instead, Karin Slaughter is going to talk about the campaign in which she puts her commitment, her creativity, and her energy. She's the force behind the Save the Libraries campaign. I had the chance to meet her, and thank her, when I was in New York City at the Library Day of Dialog. I can't thank her enough.

Last year, I gave a speech to a group of librarians in Portland, OR, thanking them for all they were doing while bemoaning the cut in funding to our nation’s libraries. Staff are being fired. Facilities are being closed. Hours are being cut. I compared what was happening with funding cuts to a tsunami eroding the shores of our education system. I said that funding libraries, giving children access to reading, was a matter of national security.

I still believe those words, but at the time, they felt a bit hollow to me, sort of like I was cheering on the troops to battle, only afterward, we all put down our weapons and had some tea instead of going to war. I felt really bad about that, and decided to try to think of something to do that would actually deliver real help where it was needed most.

By help, I of course mean money, because while America will spend eleven billion dollars building schools in libraries in foreign nations, America is loathe to spend money on building schools in our own communities. Politicians look for ways to save money, and libraries are an easy target. They forget that for eighty percent of kids in rural areas, the library offers their only access to reading and the Internet outside of school. They ignore that most companies only accept online applications now, and that adults without computer access are effectively left out of the job market. They don’t bother to find out that book clubs, community groups and literacy action organizations meet at the library. Most importantly, they don’t seem to understand that for every dollar spent on a library, four dollars is returned to the community.

That’s why I created Save the Libraries, which is an author initiative to raise money that will go directly to libraries. With the help of the International Thriller Writer’s association, I and fellow authors Kathy Hogan Trochek (aka Mary Kay Andrews) and Kathryn Stockett held the first Save the Libraries fundraiser at our local Dekalb County Library, which is just outside the Atlanta area. After expenses were paid, we raised $50,000. This represented the only money the Dekalb system had with which to buy books for the year. It was a lifeline for a system that has crashed on more than its share of rocky shores.

The second program will be held in Boston sometime in October. Linda Fairstein, Joseph Finder, Lisa Gardner, Tess Gerritsen and I will host an event to raise money for the Boston Public Library system. As we did in Dekalb, we’ll open an eBay store where people from all over the world can bid on items such as having their name appear in the next Michael Connelly book or joining my agent for lunch in New York. We plan to reach out to the local Boston business community and ask them for sponsorship. We plan to tap into new donors who don’t yet know that their libraries are in danger of being lost.

I suppose the most important task Save the Libraries has before them is educating people about the great stress our libraries are under. My Dekalb system was closed several days in December because they could not afford to heat the buildings. There is a brand new branch that can’t be opened because there’s no money to turn on the lights. These are not isolated incidences. Libraries all across the country are in dire need. If we don’t do something to help them, their governments will end up spending the money anyway, whether it’s through lost tax revenue or ramping up their police force.

Soon, we’ll announce a national raffle to send ITW authors to four more libraries across the country. The details are still in the works, but please know that authors are doing everything we can to help our champions on the front line. I don’t know a single author who doesn’t have a story of transformation through their childhood library. They have done so much for us for so long. It’s time we gave something back.


Is it any wonder I'm always eager to host Karin Slaughter? On behalf of librarians and library users everywhere, thank you, Karin.

Karin Slaughter's website is

Fallen by Karin Slaughter. Random House. ©2011. ISBN 9780345528209 (hardcover), 400p.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Macavity Award Nominees

Yesterday, Janet Rudolph, editor of Mystery Readers Journal, announced the nominees for the Macavity Awards. The winners will be announced at Bouchercon, the World Mystery Convention. Bouchercon will be held in St. Louis in September. This award is named for Macavity, the "mystery cat" of T.S. Eliot (Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats). Congratulations to all of the nominees!

Best Mystery Novel

The Glass Rainbow by James Lee Burke (Simon & Schuster)
Faithful Place by Tana French (Viking)
The Queen of Patpong by Timothy Hallinan (HarperCollins-William Morrow)
Thirteen Hours by Deon Meyer (Grove Atlantic)
Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny (Minotaur)
The Scent of Rain and Lightning by Nancy Pickard (Ballantine)

Best First Mystery Novel

The Damage Done by Hilary Davidson (Forge)
Rogue Island by Bruce DeSilva (Forge-Tom Doherty Associates)
The Poacher’s Son by Paul Doiron (Minotaur)
Full Mortality by Sasscer Hill (Wildside)
A Thousand Cuts by Simon Lelic (Viking)

Best Mystery-Related Nonfiction

The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York by Deborah Blum (Penguin)
Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks: Fifty Years of Mysteries in the Making by John Curran (HarperCollins)
Following the Detectives: Real Locations in Crime Fiction edited by Maxim Jakubowski (New Holland)
Charlie Chan: The Untold Story of the Honorable Detective and His Rendezvous with American History by Yunte Huang (W.W. Norton)
Thrillers: 100 Must Reads, edited by David Morrell and Hank W Wagner (Oceanview Publishing)

Best Mystery Short Story

“The Scent of Lilacs” by Doug Allyn (EQMM)
“Swing Shift” by Dana Cameron in Crimes by Moonlight: Mysteries from the Dark Side (Berkley)
“Devil’s Pocket” by Keith Gilman in Philadelphia Noir (Akashic)
“The Gods for Vengeance Cry” by Richard Helms (EQMM)
“Bookworm” by G.M. Malliet in Chesapeake Crimes: They Had It Comin’ (Wildside)

Sue Feder Memorial Historical Mystery

A Marked Man by Barbara Hamilton (Berkley)
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell (Random House)
City of Dragons by Kelli Stanley (Minotaur)
The Red Door by Charles Todd (HarperCollins- William Morrow)
The Fifth Servant by Kenneth Wishnia (HarperCollins-William Morrow)

Kindred Spirits by Sarah Strohmeyer

As soon as I started Sarah Strohmeyer's Kindred Spirits, I thought, here we go again; another novel about a group of women, and a friend that died of cancer. And, I was right. For a while, I felt as if I was reading a story I'd read before. But, somewhere in the middle, Strohmeyer's characters grabbed on to me, and I found myself crying in parts of the story. There's nothing really new in this book. However, it has that message about friendship and life that bears repeating, "It's the journey, not the destination."

Lynne Flannery endured cancer treatments for eight years before finally giving up and committing suicide. When she died, she left behind a husband, two sons, and three friends. Beth, Carol, and Mary Kay had bonded with Lynne years earlier, drinking martinis after a bad PTA meeting. Their friendship grew into the Ladies Society for the Conservation of Martinis. And, then Lynne had one last request for her friends. Find the daughter she gave up for adoption when she was just a teenager, a child none of her friends knew she had.

Their trip on Lynne's behalf was only a four-day drive around Connecticut. But, the women had the time to examine problems in their lives and make some decisions, while mourning and celebrating Lynne's life. There are marital issues, lies, family issues to clear up. As I said before, there's really nothing special about the women or the trip. In fact, the large quantities of martinis seem a little ghoulish at times. But, some of the comments about family connections, mothers and daughters, hit home.

Don't read Sarah Strohmeyer's novel expecting anything unusual. However, Kindred Spirits provides another opportunity for women to examine their lives, and their friendships. In the end, these women's novels celebrate us; our lives, our families, our mothers, our sisters, and our friendships. Kindred Spirits is one more story showing how strong women are, and how our friendships enable us to be strong. It's worth reading to celebrate us.

Sarah Strohmeyer's website is

Kindred Spirits by Sarah Strohmeyer. Dutton. ©2011. ISBN 9780525952220 (hardcover), 304p.

FTC Full Disclosure - The author sent me an Advanced Copy, hoping I would review it.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Books Can Be Deceiving by Jenn McKinlay

Jenn McKinlay, author of the Cupcake Bakery Mysteries, whipped up a new recipe for success with Books Can Be Deceiving. This time, she takes readers to the charming town of Briar Creek, Connecticut in the first Library Lover's Mystery.

Lindsey Norris has only been the library director in Briar Creek for six months. Her best friend, Beth Stanley, is the children's librarian there. Lindsey has made a number of friends in town, from her motherly landlord to the eighty-year-old library board president, who regularly practices yoga in the library. But, she can't warm up to Beth's boyfriend, Rick, a successful children's book illustrator. Rick and Beth argue in public when he tries to stop her from showing her artwork to a visiting children's book editor. And, both women are furious when they find out why Rick has been so secretive. Their plan to confront Rick ends in disaster when they find him dead, and the police chief zeroes in on Beth as his number one suspect. It might take some research, but Lindsey is up to the task of proving Beth didn't kill her boyfriend.

Knowing Jenn McKinlay's other books, I was surprised to find Lindsey Norris to be so naive. She failed in so many ways common to mystery heroines, from leaving a door unlocked to failing to contact the police while going off on her own. Those are qualities I dislike in an amateur sleuth. Saying that, I loved Lindsey as a librarian and library director. The stories of library life, staff and patrons were believable. And, Briar Creek is everything you could want in a small mystery town, a "Decidedly quirky but incredibly kind community." I like Lindsey, Beth, the possibility of a love interest for Lindsey, and so many of the people of Briar Creek. And, the book discussion group is fun, combining knitting and books. In the long run, one of the charms of cozy mysteries is community.And, Jenn McKinlay has created a wonderful community in Briar Creek. So, I'll give Lindsey Norris a chance to grow into her role as amateur sleuth. After all, she's just learning that Books Can Be Deceiving.

Jenn McKinlay's website is

Books Can Be Deceiving by Jenn McKinlay. Berkley Prime Crime.©2011. ISBN 9780425242186 (paperback), 291p.

FTC Full Disclosure - The publisher and the author sent me copies of the book, hoping I would review it.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Fallen by Karin Slaughter

It's going to be difficult to summarize Karin Slaughter's latest thriller, Fallen, without giving away too much of the plot. Take my word that the book is hard to put down as the police and agents with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation deal with a case that gets completely out of control.

After a morning training session, Agent Faith Mitchell was running late in picking up her baby at her mother's house. But, Faith's training went out the window when she found a bloody hand print on the door of her mother's house, a hostage situation inside, and her mother missing. When she forced to shoot men to protect herself, she found herself sitting on the sidelines of the investigation. But, Faith's boss, Amanda, and her partner, Will Trent, found a way into the investigation. It was Will who insisted that Dr. Sara Linton examine Faith, knowing Faith was diabetic, and she was crashing.

Faith's mother becomes the focus of the case for this fast-paced story, taking place in just six days. Evelyn Mitchell's past may have come back with a vengeance. The woman who had retired from the police force when members of her drug squad were found to be dirty, is now missing, with a lot of blood left behind at the scene. And, her long-time friend, Amanda Wagner, is hiding things from Will, making the investigation that much harder. Everyone seems to have secrets in a case in which lives hang in the balance.

While Karin Slaughter's Fallen is a thriller, with all the violence and connections to gangs and drugs, it's also a story of vulnerability. Will Trent, Sara Linton, and Faith Mitchell all show their vulnerable sides. But, there are surprises in this story of conflict between professional and personal lives. Karin Slaughter's characters have lives outside their work, sometimes complicated lives. And, readers return to read about these very human, flawed characters. But, in Fallen, those flaws and weaknesses, hidden secrets, could destroy a number of lives.

Karin Slaughter's website is

Fallen by Karin Slaughter. Delacorte Press. ©2011. ISBN 9780345528223 (hardcover), 387p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Note - Karin Slaughter is guest blogger on Thursday, with her post about libraries. I hope you come back to read that guest blog.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Robert Dugoni for Authors @ The Teague

Robert Dugoni appeared at the Velma Teague Library on his book tour for Murder One. He told us the Phoenix area was his last stop on an extensive tour. He spoke at the library, and he was speaking for the Poisoned Pen Conference over the weekend, ending the trip with a class on the craft of writing on Sunday. Then he was heading home to Washington state.

He did get to lay by the pool on Thursday, but it was a difficult trip. There were a number of changes in flights due to all the storms in the south. One night, when his flight was canceled, he was faced with sleeping in the Charlotte Airport. The hotels had no vacancies at 1:30 in the morning. When a Holiday Inn van came around, he jumped in with a bunch of other people. The others put their baggage in the bag, but Bob knew they'd have to wait to unload their baggage, so he held onto his. He hurried into the hotel, and, even then, was fourth in line. He kept hearing the question, "Do you have a reservation?" When he got to the front, and was asked, "Do you have a reservation," he pleaded with the line from the Steve Martin/John Candy film, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, "Have mercy." They found him a room, and he went to sleep at 2:30, only to get up at 5:30 to get to the airport. He had a 7:40 flight to Hilton Head. Then, that was canceled, so he had two flights out of Charlotte canceled.

Dugoni said he never thought he'd write a series. When he wrote the first David Sloane book, The Jury Master, he never thought he'd see the character again, so he tortured him. Then, when it hit the New York Times Bestseller list, his editor told him they wanted more David Sloane. Murder One is the fourth one in the series. It's had fabulous reviews, and even Publishers Weekly liked it. He's had a number of starred reviews. Bob did a large amount of research for this book.

According to Dugoni, the book you see isn't what he started to write. He starts with a big idea, but he takes it down to the personal level. You used Wrongful Death as an example. He had a friend whose child died due to a toy. So, Bob researched the toy industry. But, Wrongful Death became the personal story of someone who wanted justice, and contacted David Sloane, the lawyer who couldn't lose, to try to get justice.

With Murder One, Dugoni researched the Russian mafia, since it's very big in Seattle. He thought Sloane was going to take it on. He researched about the fall of Russia, the drug trade. The Russian mafia viewed capitalism as a legal way to steal. Four or five months after he started his research, the catalog copy for Robert Dugoni's new book came out. Bob read it, and contacted his editor, telling her that's no longer what the book is about. His editor, who is also his publisher, said, talk to me. Bob said the book is a personal story about a woman who lost her daughter to a drug overdoes. She asks Sloane to go after the Russian mafia in a civil case. Dugoni told his editor he saw it as a cross between Presumed Innocent and Basic Instinct. Afterward, Bob thought, "Oh, my God. What did I just do?" The book has to be a criminal trial book. Sloane is a civil lawyer. He doesn't do criminal law. Robert Dugoni doesn't do criminal law either.

There was a capital murder case being tried in King County just at that time. It was a horrific crime. A young man slaughtered two women and two children. It was unusual for King County to have a trial with four capital murder charges because Washington is a liberal state. The senior prosecutor was a friend of Dugoni's, and he was able to get in to watch the trial. For three months, he sat in the back and watched it. A criminal case is like a play on stage. When the jury is out, everyone is quite casual, with jackets off, and talking together. When the jury comes back in, jackets are on, ties are up, and it's business-like. Dugoni recommended that the audience see a criminal trial if they get the chance. Part-way through the trial, the judge called counsel into his chambers and asked, who is the guy in the back taking notes. He was told it was a novelist who wasn't writing about that case, but needed information.

Eventually, Bob was able to go to lunch with Brad Porter, the homicide detective from the case. He walked him through the investigation. Then, he said, "But, you know, you really should talk to a CSI homicide detective. So, he toured the Washington Crime lab. Then, someone said, "But, you know, you really should talk to Kathy Decker, a man-tracker." She can look at vegetation, and tell when someone walked through it. She worked on the Green River case. So, he met her at Starbucks. She was quite tan, and he asked her if she played sports. No, she had her tan from working outdoors. She spends a lot of time looking for bodies. She can look at footprints on a lawn, and say how long they've been there, the weight of the person who made them, and, if there are overlapping footprints, who stepped there first.

Then, she said, "But, you know..." The investigators would have brought a dog. So, she hooked him up with a sergeant, a man nicknamed Ziggy, who handles canines. And, he told him he should see the dogs in action, so he was to meet them at midnight at a warehouse. The dogs actually scent skin cells. They can even scent people in water. Then, when Dugoni thought he was done at 2 a.m., he was told, "But, you know...," you need to talk to a ballistics expert.

So, Bob was to meet the head guy for the Washington State Criminal Lab at a Starbucks. And, he got there, and waited, and finally he saw a guy who looked about 14 watching him, and he asked, "You, Bob?" He was in his forties, but when he got out of school with a degree in English, he couldn't find a job. So, he got a low-paying job with the criminal lab, and it turned out he was good at blowing things up and shooting things. He has a talent for simulating shootings. But, he told Bob there was a lot of stuff they needed for the lab, so he was hoping Bob would put the stuff in his book so they could get it. There were so many people that helped him with the research for Murder One.

Even with all that help, Dugoni still had to find a way to get David Sloane into criminal court. Then he realized this is the fourth book in the series, but really a sequel to Bodily Harm. David is coming out of grieving. He connects with Barclay Reid, the attorney he was up against in Bodily Harm. Now, she's a mother who lost her duaghter.

In thirteen states there is a "Drug dealer liability act." You don't have to show why a drug dealer is responsible for a death, just that the guy deals heroin, for example, and you can go after him. But, Washington doesn't have that law. Barclay has been lobbying for the legislature to pass it, but the system fails her. So, she goes to David, the attorney who can't lose, and asks him to sue in civil court. Before he can take action, the drug dealer she blames ends up death, and all evidence points to Barclay. She insists that Sloane take the case, and he agrees to defend her.

This is the story Dugoni sent his editor, and then he waited. Finally, he got a phone call saying it was great. Murder One has received great reviews. But, Bob's favorite came from a blogger in Washington who said the book is a cross between Presumed Innocent and Basic Instinct. Dugoni is happy with the book, and happy he didn't shy away from criminal court.

One question from the audience referred to the man-tracker. They wanted to know who she was teaching her skills to. Dugoni said she's part of the search-and-rescue team in Washington. Homicide there is divided into six divisions. It takes 1200 hours of time in class and working before you can be certified as a man-tracker. It's a job that is mostly finding bodies. And, sometimes the bodies have been dead for decades, as in the case of the Green River killer.

Dugoni modeled the homicide detective, Kinsington Rowe, in Murder One, on Brad Porter, the detective that helped him. He's contemplating doing a second series. He'd like to bring back Kinsington Rowe. He also had the chance to meet Washington's only female homicide detective, and she was honest, telling him how no one wanted to work with her. If he does that second series, he'd do two books a year.

Bob has started another book, but it's hard to write on the road. That book would be out in June 2012. It's another David Sloane. This time, though, his publisher made him work from an outline. That book will be Jake's story, the story of Sloane's son. He realized they have parallel lives. Both Jake and David watched their mothers die violently at a young age. He's going to deal with the psychological and legal elements.

With Bodily Harm, Dugoni took a leap of faith that his readers would follow him. Other authors told him not to kill off Sloane's wife. But, Dugoni never intended to write a series, and he doesn't ever want to write the same book over and over. He won't cheat the reader with a cheesy ending. Every book has to stand on its own, and he doesn't want readers to say they could predict the ending. He wrote Bodily Harm when he himself was dealing with grief because he had lost his father that year. Everyone has to deal with grief sometime, and he wanted his character to have to go through the same thing. In that book, Sloane showed that he could be vulnerable, angry, rage, and want revenge.

Asked about writing time, Bob said he doesn't follow a certain schedule; he just writes. He starts as early as he can, and just goes, without setting limits. He may go until 3, when it's time to pick the kids up. He's a father of two who are involved in sports, and he enjoys sports. In the evening, he'll work on Facebook and Twitter.

He said his characters do talk to him. He might go through a book forty times. He views it as a blank canvas for an artist, and each time he goes through it, the details become clearer. He didn't see at first that Jake and Sloane were leading parallel lives.

In  closing, asked about the writing classes, Bob Dugoni closed by saying this weekend he was teaching a class on creative pageturners, how to maintain suspense. He said the characters need to entertain, not the writer. The number one purpose of the writer is to entertain.

Bob Dugoni's website is

Murder One by Robert Dugoni. Simon & Schuster. ©2011. ISBN 9781451606690 (hardcover), 374p.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Reading Promise by Alice Ozma

Anyone whose parents shared a love of reading will have a hard time letting go of Alice Ozma's book. The Reading Promise is subtitled "My Father and the Books We Shared." It could have easily been subtitled, "How books got us through life." This is a touching book that will probably leave you a little angry when you finish. No, you won't be angry at the author or her father, just at the state of the world.

Alice's father, Jim Brozina, wrote the forward to this book. His memories of the reading promise differ from his daughter's, and both of them give their account. What matters, though, is that the two of them read together every day from the time Alice was nine until the day she moved into her college dorm. And, they made a commitment. Alice's father would read to her for at least ten minutes every night. "The Streak," as they called it, started as a promise to read for 100 nights. They both agree that it was at the celebration of that accomplishment that they decided to make it 1000 nights. In reality, they read for 3,218 nights.

Alice Ozma's father spent 38 years as an elementary school librarian. His love of books and reading is something he shared with his youngest daughter, who name was actually Kristen Alice Ozma Brozina. He was the one who gave her the two middle names of Alice Ozma, naming her after two of his favorite literary characters. Although his oldest daughter asked him to stop reading to her in fourth grade, Alice loved the opportunity she had to spend time with her father. She loved the literary world they shared. That time together, and books, got her through the Thanksgiving her mother left them, the years of growing up with a single father who did his best, but didn't always understand girls. Those books brought Alice and her father close in a way living together never really did.

There's an old poem my mother paraphrased when she gave me a pillow with a picture of my father reading to me copied on the pillow. Both of my sisters have one as well. It says, "Richer than me you will never be. I had a father who read to me." The years and stories that Alice Ozma shared with her father are memories she treasures. So many readers have memories of someone in our life who shared that passion for stories. I can't wait to share this book, and the passion, with the other librarians in the system.

Alice Ozma blogs at

The Reading Promise: My Father and the Books We Shared by Alice Ozma. Grand Central Publishing. ©2011. ISBN 9780446583770 (hardcover). 304p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Friday, June 24, 2011

Lights! Camera! Murder! by Loni Emmert

Author Loni Emmert has worked in entertainment for thirty years, so she put her background to good use with her first Abigail Whitefeather mystery, Lights! Camera! Murder! Although Abigail Whitefeather does everything an amateur sleuth should not do, this is still a fun mystery.

Just when Abigail Hale was planning the rest of her life after sending her only daughter off to college, her husband announced he was leaving her for someone else. After falling apart, the forty-year-old packed up her dreams from the past, took back her maiden name of Whitefeather, and moved to Hollywood to see if she could have a career in acting. She wasn't there long before landing a bit part in a soap opera. No one paid attention to an actress with a small part, so she overheard a number of arguments about the leading man's plans to leave the show. Abby had no idea that life would imitate TV though, and the star would end up dead outside her townhouse. Now, she has to convince the handsome homicide detective that she isn't a killer.

Yes, there's an amateur sleuth who pokes around and almost gets herself killed. Yes, there are a couple romantic interests, including the police detective. Lights! Camera! Murder! really doesn't have an original plot.  It's just a fun mystery in which a likable woman takes her life in her own hands, in more ways than one.

Loni Emmert's website is

Lights! Camera! Murder! by Loni Emmert. Hilliard & Harris. ©2010. ISBN 9781591333104 (paperback), 184p.

FTC Full Disclosure - The author sent me a copy of the book, hoping I would review it.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Winners and a Presidential Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the last contest. Jane K. Cleland's Deadly Threads will go to John T. of Helen, GA.  Louise S. from Harrison, NY will receive the autographed copy of Rosemary Harris' Slugfest. I'll put the books in the mail tomorrow.

This week, you have your choice of two crime novels involving presidents. Joel Fox's debut mystery, Lincoln's Hand, takes FBI Special Agent Zane Rigby to Springfield, Illinois. A blackmail note from 1901 found with a hand indicates that Abraham Lincoln's body might be missing. Since Rigby embarrassed the FBI in his search for the Monument Bomber, he's the perfect person to send on this case. But, the FBI had no idea what they were getting into.

Or, you could win Steve Berry's The Jefferson Key. Former Justice Department operative Cotton Malone foils an assassination attempt on the U.S. president, but finds himself at odds with the Commonwealth, a secret society of pirates that came together during the American Revolution. The thriller holds secrets from Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, and the Founding Fathers.

So, which president do you want to read about, Lincoln or Jefferson? You can enter to win both books, but I need separate entries. Email me at  The subject lines should read, either "Win Lincoln's Hand" or "Win The Jefferson Key."  Include your name and mailing address in the body of the email.  Entries only from the U.S., please.

The contest will close Thursday, June 30 at 6 PM PT when I'll draw the winners using a random number generator.  The books will go out in the mail on Friday.  Good luck!

These Dark Things by Jan Merete Weiss

When I pick up a crime novel published by Soho Press, I can usually expect a satisfying police or detective procedural set in some exotic location. There's Leighton Gage's Brazil, Jassy Mackenzie's South Africa, Garry Disher's Australia, Cara Black's Paris. Now, add Jan Merete Weiss' Naples, Italy to the mix. These Dark Things, her debut mystery, isn't quite as polished as the other books mentioned, but I'm willing to give her time. She delves into the politics and history of Naples in a fascinating story.

It's one of the last of the bone cleaners who discovers the body of a young woman in the crypt of a church. She did holy work, disinterring bones a year after burial, cleaning them, and preparing them for a second burial. But, her discovery of the corpse of a German student at a cultural shrine brought Captain Natalia Monte of the Carabinieri, the national police, into the case. The Carabinieri were responsible for protection of cultural institutions, so this was their investigation.

And, it's a messy investigation, in more ways than one. Natalia and her partner, Sergeant Pino Loriano, have to work their way around the garbage in the streets. The Camorra, Naples' local criminal organization, is responsible for garbage pick-up, and they're feuding with the Italian government over landfills and incinerators, so they've stopped picking up the garbage. The politicians, the press, and the people of Naples are outraged at the incompetence and corruption. That doesn't mean anyone will back Natalia up if she discovers the Camorra and their local head, Gambini, are involved in this murder.

Weiss skillfully combines Naples' history with a contemporary criminal investigation. And, Natalia Monte is an intriguing woman, a woman whose personal history is intertwined with this story. Her childhood friendships, her failure in college, and her connections are all essential elements in this case. However, the solutions to a couple situations were a little too pat, and wrapped up too abruptly. Weiss' style is sure to be more polished as this series continues.

Saying that, I'd recommend Jan Merete Weiss' debut, These Dark Things, to anyone who enjoys a solid procedural along with a cultural experience. She's going to be a solid addition to the Soho Press group of authors.

These Dark Things by Jan Merete Weiss. Soho Press. ©2011. ISBN 9781569479384 (hardcover), 224p.

FTC Full Disclosure - The publisher sent me a copy of the book, hoping I would review it.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A Bad Day for Scandal by Sophie Littlefield

I didn't think it was possible that Sophie Littlefield's Stella Hardesty crime novels could get better after  A Bad Day for Sorry, but A Bad Day for Scandal, the third in the series, is my favorite one yet. Stella, the woman who delivers "her own brand of renegade justice," has grown more comfortable and confident with her role. It's fun to watch her blossom at the age of fifty. Those of us over fifty know Stella has it right. Life can be pretty good at this age.

But, before she can get on with her life, and her romance with Sheriff Goat Jones, Stella has to cope with her past. Priscilla Porter, a snob no one in town liked, called, offering to pay Stella to do a job for her. When Stella couldn't resist the large sum of money offered, she found a body in the trunk of Priss' Mercedes. Why would Priss think Stella would know how to dispose of a body? And, then Priss had the nerve to threaten Stella with photographs of one of Stella's attempts to straighten out an abusive man. Stella has too much gumption to be blackmailed. But, she still ends up as a suspect when Priss and her brother go missing. Now, Stella has to keep her secrets from Goat Jones while she digs into Priss' past.

Sophie Littlefield has created some of the most interesting, lovable characters in crime fiction, beginning with Stella. Stella's grown in the course of this series. She tells her friend, Chrissy Shaw, "Nowadays I think plain old happy's a good goal. Happy and not getting beat on by anyone." And, Stella makes it clear that a woman doesn't lose her sex drive just because she's over forty. Chrissy has grown from an abused woman to Stella's partner in crime, a woman who discovered she isn't stupid. She's a whiz at computers, a hacker, and a "tech goddess." One of my favorite characters is the young teen boy down the street. Stella has taken Todd under her wing. Her friendship with Todd was the first indication that Stella had a kind heart, and as Todd has grown, his need for an adult in his life has grown. He's street-smart, but still young in the ways of the world.

Stella's wisdom is not only on target, it's funny.  Take the Green Hat Ladies, women who wear John Deere caps instead of red or purple hats because they were free from the rep. "The ladies had about three hundred years of residence in Sawyer County, along with it knowledge of the undersides and underbellies of most of the local families. Stella had often reflected that if the nation's top law enforcement agencies would each get themselves a flock of old biddies, they'd be able to crack every stubborn gang stronghold and drug epidemic and crime wave in the country. But it had been her experience that the wisdom of mature ladies was often tragically undervalued."

So, here's a salute to Sophie Littlefield and Stella Hardesty. They're champions of the underdog, whether they're mature ladies who are overlooked or forgotten, abused women, or teenage boys. Sophie wraps her characters in warm, funny crime novels with heart. A Bad Day for Scandal is Sophie and Stella at their best.

Sophie Littlefield's website is

A Bad Day for Scandal by Sophie Littlefield. St. Martin's Minotaur. ©2011. ISBN 9780312648374 (hardcover), 320p.

FTC Full Disclosure - The publisher sent me an Advanced Reading Copy, hoping I would review it.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Craig Johnson at the Poisoned Pen

You can always tell when Craig Johnson is in the house. I went to the Poisoned Pen the other night to see him on his book tour. We were quite early, and 45 minutes before the program was to start, there was a booming voice from the front of the store, and my friend turned to me and said, "Craig Johnson is here."

Craig isn't the type to be in a room with an audience for forty-five minutes without telling stories. He started by telling us about his first library event in Wyoming. The staff at the library in Meeteetse contacted him and told him they loved his first book, The Cold Dish, and wanted to ask him to come and talk about it. He said the only thing he'd ever been told in a library was to shut up. Then, they emphasized they were a small library. There's only about 350 people in Meeteetse, and they didn't know if they could handle his honorarium. After he told them all he wanted was a six pack of Ranier beer, he thinks he's appeared at every library in Wyoming in recent years. Craig said he's been in every place there's a library in the state. He hasn't bought a beer in five years.

Craig enjoys touring. He appeared at the National Book Festival in Washington, D.C,, and got to meet authors he always wanted to meet. After a reception at the Library of Congress, limos picked up the authors to take them back to five star hotels. One big name author threw himself into the limo, and said, "I have been signing and talking all day, and I'm absolutely exhausted." Craig's wife, Judy, tried to stop him, but he leaned forward and said, "You've never had a real job, have you?" He said book tours are fun, except for the strip searches at the airport. He gets to go to wonderful bookstores, talk to friends who read his books, fly around on the publisher's dime, and stay at nice hotels. What's the problem with that?

Someone asked him about the time he spends on the computer, and he said he doesn't play on it. He's convinced computer solitaire was responsible for Tony Hillerman's death. He was always playing cards. Johnson is a two finger typist. He does Facebook because his wife insists on it. He has to replace keyboards, though, because he types with passion.

He said author Ivan Doig still works on a mechanical typewriter. They get together whenever Johnson gets to Montana, but they send postcards back and forth to get a lunch date set up. Doig doesn't even always answer the phone.

Craig said he doesn't play any games on the computer. He does get up every morning and turn on the computer and read his email. There's nothing he likes better than having a couple dozen people praise you. It's a good way to start the day. He reads all his emails and responds. Sometimes, it's only one line when he's on the road.

Johnson was just up on the rez working on his next book. It's another world up there. He had a lookout cabin in Custer National Forest. You can rent them for $10. Some of the cabins don't even have water, but you can haul it in. It's $10 a night, and all the firewood you can use.

Johnson's friend, Marcus Red Thunder, was hired as a creative consultant for the filming of the pilot of Longmire, based on Johnson's books. Craig kept answering questions about the Cheyenne and Crow, and he had to call Marcus and get the answers. Finally, he told the TV team that Marcus could answer all their questions about Indians. One thing he did was train Lou Diamond Phillips, who plays Henry, in the pronunciation of the Cheyenne dialect.

Marcus is the living embodiment of Henry's sense of humor. In researching the second book, Johnson learned there had been a Mennonite church on the rez. He asked Marcus about Mennonites on the rez. He looked up, and said, "It didn't take."

Marcus and Craig were driving on 212 across the rez when they saw a boy, about 10 or 11, with one shoe on. Marcus said pull over, I know that boy. And, he said, "Hey, you lost your shoe." The boy answered, "No, I found one." Craig thought, that's going in a book. The Cheyennes are indestructible, self-depreciating, with a dry humor. The next book is set on the Cheyenne rez. It's the wedding book.  Walt's daughter, Cady, is marrying Vic's little brother.

Johnson said anytime there was something important in his life, a strong woman was there to help him. The president of Penguin talked him into making the Walt Longmire books into a series. He intended The Cold Dish to be a standalone. She told him a series survives on the complexity of characters. Craig said in the series that die, the characters never change. It's important to have the evolution of characters. There will be more complications for Johnson's characters down the road.

Cady wants to get married on the rez. That's a nightmare because everyone has an opinion. The Cheyennes don't discuss differences of opinion. They'll listen, and walk out if they disagree. They don't get into discussions.

Three books ago, Johnson was already thinking about the present one, Hell is Empty. Virgil was introduced in Another Man's Moccasins. His voice was damaged in that book. Now, he started talking. Virgil has a checkered past. His life was what Walt and Henry's lives would have been if they had gone bad.

Feels as if this was a whole program, doesn't it? The program hadn't even started yet. Barbara Peters arrived with the beef jerky to go with the beer that had been served earlier. She asked Craig about his beard. He said it was left over. He grows one every winter, and usually shaves it when spring comes. But, spring never came to Wyoming this year. He left it to irritate his wife.

Peters mentioned how big Johnson was in France. He's been there about eight times in two years. He said he has to go keep his wife in French shoes. When Peters commented that they love westerns over there, he corrected her, saying they love Indians over there. Barbara said that's right. Buffalo Bill took his Wild West Show to France. According to Craig, since they war, the French have been inundated with pulp westerns, TV, and movies. He said he had lunch with publishers and he was talking about some of the western authors he liked, and they knew all of them. They have a knowledge of the period West. They're curious about the contemporary American West, and how it all turned out. He started to talk about space, and you could drive hundreds of miles without cities. Barbara Peters mentioned a spacious area of central France, the Auvergne. And, she told us Wyoming has a French influence. Grand Tetons is French for big breasts.

Craig Johnson's Longmire series has been sold to Warner Brothers and A & E. Peters commented that it's nice to see authors they know sell their books to TV. Michael Koryta sold The Cypress House. They can use a generic train in that one.

Asked why A & E was filming Longmire in New Mexico, Craig answered that Chris Donahue had been told to scout locations in Wyoming and Montana. He asked what the exact time of year it was supposed to be in the pilot, and, told early fall, he said Wyoming and Montana in January do not look like early fall. True Grit and No Country for Old Men were filmed in Las Vegas, New Mexico. New Mexico gives incentives to film companies, and there are motion picture crews there.

When he was asked about his books being made into TV, Barbara interjected that TV is just another form of storytelling. Craig had a quick story. He was having dinner in Albuquerque with a lesser known mystery author named Tony Hillerman. It was at the time that PBS was doing movies from his books. A woman came up to him and asked how much control he had with PBS. Hillerman responded that he had just enough control to take the checks and put them in the bank.

Here's how the sale came about. Warner Brothers had an agent with CAA, Creative Artists Agencies in LA, whose job was to find material that might work for TV or movies. That agent went to Craig's literary agent's office, and asked if she had any stories with strong characters. The agent reached back and handed over The Cold Dish. Asked if there were any others, the agent said not until you read that one.

Craig had a conference call with the people on board, and realized they all did quality work. He decided a weekly series was kind of nice. There would be more exposure of his work than with a movie, and there would be the chance to tell more than one story. He said nowadays the more mature work is done on TV. If it's not skateboards or vampires, it doesn't get made for the movies. After a three hour conference call, they told him they'd like to make him an Executive Creative Consultant. He told us that's someone who knows where the porta potties are. However, they kept him in the loop, and asked questions. His author friends told him that's not the way it normally goes.

After a couple weeks, the screenwriters told him they had a hard time fitting The Cold Dish into forty-five minutes. He said that didn't surprise him because his original draft was 600 pages. They said they'd wanted to use the books for overarching the entire series. But, they wanted to bounce ideas for various episodes off him. Craig said some of the ideas were good, some bad, and he told them the difference. Then, Warner Brothers said they wanted to send him the manuscript of the pilot episode. He warned them he had lost writer friends that way, because he will critique it, and he's meticulous. He asked if they were sure they wanted him to go through it. They said yes, and sent Johnson a forty-eight page manuscript. He made 57 changes, and sent it back. There was no response, and he thought, well, that's that. But, two weeks later, he received another package. They made 55 of the 57 changes. That was the turning point.

Then, they wanted to send him dvds of the actor tryouts. Johnson's writer friends said, "What the f..k?" Craig said watching those was like tending a house plant for seven or eight years, and then one morning it starts talking to you.

The company asked, "Why is Walt 6'5" and 250 pounds?" He was a ranch kid, a big Wyoming ranch kid. Johnson didn't want him a studied character who knew self-defense. He was an offensive tackle for USC in the '60s. There are counties in Wyoming as big as Maryland, and they have limited resources. A law enforcement officer can drive forty miles to beat in a door during a bar fight, and it's you alone, with no backup. Craig said he knew from his short exposure in law enforcement how little animals react when they see big animals. That was Walt. The studio told him that they wouldn't be able to find someone 6'5" who can act. Craig answered, it doesn't matter. Everyone in Hollywood is 5'8".

There were a number of well-known actors who sent dvds, but Warner Brothers wanted someone who was unbranded. The last dvd Craig received was labeled Robert Taylor. Johnson said he thought he was dead. Then, he watched it, and thought he was pretty damn good. He was age appropriate. He had the wrinkles and lines, and people could believe he was a Wyoming sheriff. On the back of the dvd was a note from the screenwriters. "He's 6'4", ha ha ha ha."

Craig's wife, Judy, said, "That's the guy." He moves like a westerner. He has the movement, the gestures. He's age appropriate. He's magnificent. He was in The Matrix, and has done TV series. Robert Taylor is from Australia. You can't tell when he's talking, except when he tells New Zealand jokes. One day, he stood and told Craig all about Walt Longmire; that he was depressed after his wife's death. Then, he looked at Craig and said, "I can't believe I'm telling you about Walt Longmire." Johnson answered, as of this morning, there was only one expert. Now there are two.

When it came time to cast Henry Standing Bear, they said the only twelve Indian actors in LA had auditioned. It had to be someone sharp, and fast, and no one was clicking. When they asked Craig what he thought of Lou Diamond Phillips, he thought he was too young and too skinny. Then he realized he was thinking of him in La Bamba, and that was thirty years ago. He's older now, and he did a fantastic audition. It blew Johnson away. He had heard the other auditions. When Phillips read for the role, he used no contractions. Craig realized he'd read the books. Lou Diamond Phillips knew he had seven books of material. He knew Henry's passages, and quoted them to Johnson. Then he said, "People quote all my movie lines back to me. Am I annoying you?" Johnson told him he knew he'd read all the books.

The third important character is Vic Moretti. Katee Sackhoff, who played in Battlestar Galactica, will be Vic. Craig liked her appearance for the role. She has broad shoulders and back. She was a swimmer. And, she looked like her nose had been broken. You can't be a street cop in Philadelphia, and not have had a broken nose. Vic has four brothers and came from a family of cops. Sackhoff did a great audition. Then, Johnson tracked down an interview she had given. She grew up with four brothers in a logging family in Portland, and she had to fight to stay alive. She's perfect for the part. And, Johnson told the story of calling her "Toots," and she pointed a finger at him, and said, "That's The Terror," showing she had read book three.

Barbara Peters mentioned that Craig had been at the Poisoned Pen for every book. The Cold Dish had been a selection of their Firsts book club. For the second one, Johnson rode down on his motorcycle because his publisher didn't want him to tour for the book. But, the attitude of the publisher has changed since then.

Craig wanted to thank the audience. He said he was surprised to know he had a big enough following that Hell is Empty appeared at #24 on the New York Times Bestseller List.

Peters called Hell is Empty an amazing book. She said it had one of the baddest guys she had run across. Johnson admitted it was different. He said he doesn't follow a formula with his books. He'd rather have readers angry at him for writing this than writing formulaic. He said some authors' series die after seven or eight books because they become victims of their success, and they write the same book over and over.

Craig said this book includes the idea of hell as ice and cold. He likes to do something different with the books. This is his first thriller. He knows how bad the guys are, and the book also has mysterious elements. Good storytelling keeps readers in the game. This one is a question of why done it, not who did it. He's never happy when he doesn't know how a bad guy got to that point. But, Peters said a person's backstory should never be an excuse for their actions.

The mysterious elements in the book go back to The Cold Dish when Walt was walking out, and there was a gunshot. There's Indian spirituality in this book as well. When the subject of Indian spirituality came up, Craig mentioned that Lou Diamond Phillips spent four days on the Northern Cheyenne Rez to learn to be a Cheyenne. He said he had played Apaches before, but had never played a Cheyenne.

Johnson was aware the manhunt in the snow scenario had been done to death. He started thinking about Dante's Inferno three books back with Another Man's Moccasins. He asked how many people in the audience had read Dante's Inferno. Then, he asked how many had finished it. He knew he was going to have to be an expert on it if he was using it. Virgil was introduced in Another Man's Moccasins. Dante's bottom rings of hell are not fire, but ice and cold.

Santiago Saizarbitoria had been mad because Walt was always using literary quotes. So, he asked everyone for a list of ten books he should have read in college, and didn't. Walt gave him readable books that might encourage him to continue to read, books such as The Grapes of Wrath, The Three Musketeers, and To Kill a Mockingbird. Ruby, who was always trying to improve people, gave him Dante's Inferno and the New Testament. The Inferno was slow going. Hector, a gang banger out of LA, asked Santiago who wrote Dante's Inferno. So, Santiago asked him who was buried in Grant's Tomb. When Hector said he didn't know, Santiago said, I didn't think so. Hector looked at the other books on the pile, and responded, "Well, at least I'm not reading a book by Alexander Dumb Ass." Barbara immediately said, "There's that French theme again."

In Junkyard Dogs, Walt promises Santiago's wife that he won't let him be harmed again. But, things go wrong in Hell is Empty, and guys escape. Walt is the only one who can after them. Santiago tucks his copy of Dante's Inferno into Walt's backpack, saying he knows how he hates to be without something to read. And, then Walt's experiences start mirroring Dante's Inferno. He needs a guide - Virgil.

The title of Hell is Empty is taken from The Tempest. It's easy to get titles from Shakespeare. Johnson remarked that Shaw once said Shakespeare was so good you want to dig him up and throw rocks at him. But, this book is about what's real and what is not, as The Tempest was.

In going back to the discussion of the TV show, Johnson answered questions, saying Turk's name was changed to Branch Connelly, and he'll be in more than just the pilot. Cady moved back to be closer to her father after her mother's death. Walt and Henry are ten years younger. When Johnson questioned the ages, he was told they hope it runs for ten to fifteen years, and they don't want them on walkers.

The pilot cost $4 million dollars. After that, the price per episode should go down. They have the initial investments in props, etc. By September, the A&E board has to make a yes or no decision as to whether or not the show will be made. They'll screen audiences. Only 25% of pilots ever make it. Everything else gets thrown in the garbage.

Asked about the issues of the environment that appear in his books, Johnson said he gets many of his ideas from newspaper articles. The stories are grounded in the contemporary American West. For instance, take the story that kicks off Hell is Empty. Private companies take prisoners from one place to another, and they have shitty records. There was a story about a company transporting prisoners. They stopped for gas and drove 104 miles afterward before they did a headcount and realized two guys were missing. They found them in a culvert in Wyoming. Johnson feeds those articles into a file. The sediment from his research is just floating in the waters. By the time it's time to write the book, it's settled, and he can do a detailed outline.

He told us the pilot was to premiere Wednesday, June 23, but he's on book tour. Judy's going to go. Someone asked about James Lee Burke's movie. And, he said that's what drove him to try TV. Burke's movie had a great cast, but it went straight to dvd. Barbara said the same thing happened to Don Winslow's The Death and Life of Bobby Z. It went straight to dvd.

Craig told us his next book will be called As the Crow Flies. Then, he ended the program with a story about the other important character in his books, Dog. The production company asked what type of dog Dog was. Johnson said he was part German Shepherd and part St. Bernard. They said, "You mean Dog is a mutt?" He said, well, yes. Then, they said, isn't there anything that looks like Dog. They have to have four of those dogs for shooting TV. So, here it is. Craig Johnson said Dog could be played by a Leonberger.

Craig Johnson's website is

Hell is Empty by Craig Johnson. Viking. ©2011. ISBN 9780670022779 (hardcover), 320p.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Honored Dead by Joseph Braude

Since I tend to read mostly mysteries and women's fiction, my reading doesn't usually end up in the Arab world. Joseph Braude's true crime book, The Honored Dead: A Story of Friendship, Murder, and the Search for Truth in the Arab World, takes readers inside the Arab world of Morocco. It's more than a true crime book. It's a study of Arab politics, beliefs, and culture. The investigation into a murder is just a vehicle for Braude to introduce readers to a different world.

Braude's mother was an Iraqi Jew, a woman who remembered the Baghdad of her childhood with fondness. She shared that passion with her son, who grew up to study Arabic, study Iraq, and work all over the Arab world until his misguided naive beliefs got him into trouble. And, that trouble ended a ten-year friendship with the man he considered his best friend. Braude relates his story in greater detail as part of the account of his experiences in Casablanca, Morocco.

Braude's account of his investigation into a murder opens with the victim's friend, Muhammad Bari, the man who befriended Braude, and pushed to learn the truth about his friend's death. He thought Braude could help him. At the time, Moroccan officials had allowed Braude to have "embed-style" access to a precinct of the Moroccan police for four months. He was attached to the Judiciary Police. "Like the American FBI, they gather evidence, interrogate witnesses, apprehend suspects, and arraign the alleged perpetrators of grand crimes," crimes equivalent to felonies. One of those crimes was the murder of Ibrahim Dey, killed in a warehouse. Although the killer was apprehended after three days, Bari wasn't satisfied that the truth had come out about his friend's death. He wanted to know why Dey had died.

To find out the truth, Bari enlisted Joseph Braude, knowing he had access to the police. Braude made it clear to the police that he was looking into the death, and they provided limited access to reports. But, the true story in The Honored Dead is the story of the people and the communities in Morocco where Bari and Braude searched for answers. And, it's the story of a man who knew how to honor friendship, Muhammad Bari.

The Honored Dead is a true crime story of an investigation. But, I was fascinated by the book because of Braude's information about the Arab world, about life and beliefs there, and the opposing forces fighting for control of so many countries, and so many people. The beliefs there are ones we don't share or understand in the U.S.  Braude shared his background, his honesty about his own faults, and his knowledge, as well as admission of lack of knowledge, of the countries and cultures he came to appreciate.

The Honored Dead is an account of a convoluted investigation. Is there a satisfactory answer to the search for truth? Not necessarily. But, I'd suggest readers look at the book as a study of a culture and way of life we don't understand.

The Honored Dead: A Story of Friendship, Murder, and the Search for Truth in the Arab World by Joseph Braude. Random House. ©2011. ISBN 9780385527033 (hardcover), 336p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I was sent a copy of this book to participate in the TLC Book Tour.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

July Mystery Releases from Penguin's Berkley Prime Crime and Obsidian

 I hope you enjoy the book chat featuring ten books and three cats.


Saturday, June 18, 2011

Love, Loss, and What I Wore by Ilene Beckerman

Ilene Beckerman's Love, Loss, and What I Wore is old enough to have already been made into a play written by Nora Ephron and Delia Ephron. But, Beckerman was one of the speakers at the librarians' dinner when I was in New York City, and I found her small book charming.

Beckerman wrote and illustrated this book, the story of her life as told through the clothes she wore. It starts in the 1940s when Ilene was seven years old. Her Brownie uniform is the first dress pictured, and she tells about going to Girl Scout camp with her older sister. The book not only tells the story of Beckerman's life, but also gives glimpses into the culture during those years. In the pages covering the 1940s, she talks about rag curls and listening to her favorite radio shows. There's humor and sadness expressed in short sentences. Ilene was five years younger than her sister. At one point, she mentions they had identical pinafores. "My sister wore a blouse under her pinafore. I didn't have to."

The clothes and hairstyles take Beckerman through her life, one that wasn't always happy. It comes as a shock to read, "The spring after my mother died...." As the book goes on through the 50s, Beckerman grows up. In the '60s, she marries, divorces, remarries, and has her children. The '70s, '80s, and '90s are covered briefly.

Love, Loss, and What I Wore is a fascinating look in to one woman's life, however it's also a reflection of life during those years, and the changes all women face in their lives. According to the reviews, the Ephrons' play was well-received because women could identify with the characters. If you appreciate costume, or the changes in women's lives in the twentieth century, you might want to pick up Ilene Beckerman's account. It's more than just a personal account. It's a poignant look back at a life and a period in contemporary history.

Ilene Beckerman's website is

Love, Loss, and What I Wore by Ilene Beckerman. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. ©2005. ISBN 9781565124752 (paperback), 144p.

FTC Full Disclosure - This was part of the gift package at the Librarians' dinner prior to BEA.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Breaking Silence by Linda Castillo

P.L. Gaus and Linda Castillo both set their Amish mysteries near Holmes County, Ohio. They both write fascinating books, but they're worlds apart. While Gaus' books delve into the culture, Castillo's books are more violent, with that violence focused on the Amish. The third book in Castillo's series,  Breaking Silence takes Police Chief Kate Burkholder into a world of hate crimes and murder, with the Amish at the center of that world.

When sheep are violently killed on a farm, Burkholder doesn't know if that act of violence was just directed at the gruff woman who lived there. But, the sheriff of Holmes County is worried enough about crimes directed at the Amish to call for help from the Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation. Fortunately Agent John Tomasetti is the one sent to Painters Mill, Ohio. He and Burkholder worked well together on two previous cases, and their troubled pasts have drawn them closer to each other.
By the time Tomasetti arrives, Burkholder has a scene with multiple deaths on an Amish farm. Three people from one family died in a manure pit where there's danger of methane gas. Four Amish young people are left orphaned, breaking Kate's heart. When the coroner concludes that one of the men was murdered, she's determined to find answers for those children. Are these deaths connected to the rash of hate crimes in the county? Or, did someone intend to kill the Slabaughs? Somehow, Burkholder must find a way to break through, convincing someone in the Amish community to talk.

Once again, Castillo shows that violent crime can find its way into the peaceful Amish community. The character of Kate Burkholder is an excellent vehicle for these crime novels, a law officer who left the Amish life herself, a woman who understands the community, but can no longer be a part of it because of her own violent history. She's a police officer forced to face violence every day, but she faces it with her heart, and, sometimes raw emotion. Breaking Silence may be about breaking the Amish code of silence, but it's also about Burkholder breaking her own silence, revealing more of herself to Tomasetti.

Castillo's Amish crime novels are violent thrillers with a fascinating protagonist. Breaking Silence will draw you into Police Chief Kate Burkholder's world in Ohio's Amish country.

Linda Castillo's website is

Breaking Silence by Linda Castillo. St. Martin's Minotaur. ©2011. ISBN 9780312374990 (hardcover), 320p.

FTC Full Disclosure - The publisher sent me a copy of the book, hoping I would review it.

Personal note - I just returned from Ohio where I read a newspaper article about Millersburg, Ohio, the heart of Amish country, where 150 Amish men and women turned out for a meeting with law enforcement to discuss the invasion of meth into their community. Although no Amish had been arrested, the crimes associated with meth were beginning to affect the Amish. As much as they would like to remain separate from the world, the world is finding a way to invade. The novels by Castillo and Gaus examine crime and its impact on Amish life.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

An Authors @ The Teague Giveaway

Tonight I'm kicking off the first contest in a few weeks, and it's appropriate that it's an Authors @ The Teague Giveaway. When Rosemary Harris and Jane K. Cleland appeared at the library, they signed Advanced Reading Copies (ARCs) of their latest books. That's the first tie-in to Authors @ The Teague. The second tie-in comes from the ending time of this contest. It will end next Thursday morning, June 23 because I'm hosting Robert Dugoni for an Authors @ The Teague program that night.

So, you could win Rosemary Harris' Slugfest. When Paula Holliday agrees to act as exhibit manager at a flower show, she doesn't expect to be knee-deep in sabotage beheaded gnomes and homicide. And, Paula holds a clue to the murder.

Or, you could win Jane K. Cleland's Deadly Threads. Josie Prescott has started holding classes at her antiques and appraisals shop. When Josie finds a guest lecturer dead under the table, there are a number of local suspects. It doesn't take long for Josie to link up with the local police chief for the investigation.

Do you want to win Slugfest or Deadly Threads? You can enter to win both books, but I need separate entries. Email me at  The subject lines should read, either "Win  Slugfest" or "Win Deadly Threads."  Include your name and mailing address in the body of the email.  Entries only from the U.S., please.

The contest will close Thursday, June 23 at 6 AM PT when I'll draw the winners using a random number generator.  The books will go out in the mail on Friday.  Good luck!

A Song for My Mother by Kat Martin

In 2009, Kat Martin introduced readers to the small town of Dreyerville, Michigan in her book, The Christmas Clock. Dreyerville is based on Ionia, Michigan, a town Martin describes as a charming nineteenth century village that "Represents old-fashioned values, the days when honesty, courage, loyalty and integrity were more valuable than they seem to be today." In her latest book, A Song for My Mother, she takes readers back to that town. You don't have to have read the previous book. The story and the characters all stand alone. But, their lives and feelings are rooted in small-town values.

Marly Hanson hasn't been home in twelve years, since the day she fled the life she knew, marrying to escape. Now, the divorced mother reluctantly returns. Her ten-year-old daughter, Katie, wants to meet the grandmother she never met. And, it's hard for Marly to deny that to the daughter who just went through radiation and chemotherapy for brain cancer. But, just because she's giving Katie the chance to know her grandmother, Winnie Maddox, that doesn't mean Marly has to enjoy her visit or spend time with her mother. Marly never forgave her mother for staying with her abusive father, and doesn't understand why her mother chose him over her only daughter.

It's too bad Marly doesn't want to stay in Dreyerville. Katie instantly loves her grandmother, and even finds a neighbor boy, Ham Bennett, who accepts her in her hairless state, and wants to be friends. And, Ham's father, Reed, the local sheriff, accepts Katie, and finds Marly attractive. But, Marly's anger and pain may prove too much of an obstacle to overcome.

A Song for My Mother is a short book, just 165 pages. But, Martin manages to pack the book with emotion. It's a story of relationships, and a story of strong women who have to make choices in their lives. Martin has mastered the art of creating well-drawn characters, people the reader cares for. This book is no exception. It's a story of a small community that pulls together when people are in need,  a story of people who recognize the tug of home, and honesty, and love. Some of Martin's characters, including Marly and her mother, have tough times in life, and everyone chooses different ways to make it through. People try to do their best to make it through the tough times. But, sometimes, others really don't understand people's actions, and why they make their choices. Martin doesn't hit her readers over the head with her message, but A Song for My Mother makes it clear.

Kat Martin's website is

A Song for My Mother by Kat Martin. Vanguard Press. ©2011. ISBN 9781593156565 (paperback), 165p.

FTC Full Disclosure - The publicist sent me a copy of the book, hoping I would review it.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Clouds without Rain by P.L. Gaus

P.L. Gaus' understanding of the Amish culture brings his mysteries to life. The third novel in his series, Clouds without Rain digs deep into a contemporary problem, the loss of farmland and the displacement of Amish families.

The story opens with Professor Michael Branden working undercover as an Amish man, trying to flush out the teens who were robbing the Amish as they drove their buggies. His unproductive day ends with a radio broadcast from Sheriff Bruce Robertson at the site of a violent accident involving a jackknifed truck, an Amish buggy, a couple cars, including a deputy's, and a fire. In trying to rescue the deputy, Robertson is critically injured by the fire, leaving Branden, newly deputized, to work with the rest of the department in the investigation. It isn't long before Branden learns the dead Amish man was a wheeler-dealer, a man who owned land in three counties, including land he had just taken away from eight Amish families. The land transactions brings Pastor Cal Troyer into the situation, the third man in the friendship with Branden and Robertson. Troyer, one of the few English trusted by the Amish, works closely with a local bishop, Andy Weaver, brother of that Amish land owner.

While the police look one direction in their investigation, Branden searches for answers to the questions about the land deals. And, when a local banker disappears, the professor knows he's on the right track. Is it possible that accident wasn't really an accident?

Gaus' mysteries of the Ohio Amish-Country are always fascinating, with the glimpses of that unusual culture. In this one, he deals with issues of the loss of land, the loss of the Old Order as many Amish turn to modern ways, and the trouble teens get into. Gaus manages to skillfully incorporate all of these elements into a mystery and the investigation by three men linked by their childhood friendship.

Clouds without Rain is another strong entry in this intriguing series. Anyone with an interest in Amish Country can learn a great deal from this author and series.

P.L. Gaus' website is

Clouds without Rain by P.L. Gaus. Penguin Group (USA), ©2011. ISBN 9780452296688 (paperback), 208p.

FTC Full Disclosure - The publisher sent me a copy of the book, hoping I would review it.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Revelations by Laurel Dewey

Revelations is Laurel Dewey's third Jane Perry novel. I haven't read the previous ones, but, after reading this one, I'll read all future ones. Revelations is one of the most intriguing crime novels I've read this year. Jane is a flawed, but fascinating character. And, the mystery is complex and absorbing.

Sergeant Detective Jane Perry was just about to take leave after she learned there was the possibility she had cancer when her partner and former boss, Sergeant Morgan Weyler, said he owed an old friend, and asked her to go with him to Midas, Colorado to investigate an unusual kidnapping. Fifteen-year-old Jake Van Gorden was missing after he tried to kill himself by hanging on the bridge. And, now the police and Jake's parents were getting unusual communications from someone who may have the teen. But had the teen been complicit in his own disappearance?

Jane doesn't trust anything she finds when they arrive in Midas. The small, upscale town is filled with secrets. And, the police chief, Bo, is part of the puzzle. He and his assistant are on the verge of retirement, and, even though he reluctantly shares clues and his suspicions with Weyler and Perry, he's hiding something. And, he's convinced he has his suspect, Jordan Copeland, a man who served time for a child's murder. Bo only succeeds in angering Jane, and she sets out to find answers for herself. And, she has to do it on her own, because even Jake's parents have secrets, and they are blocking the investigation.

While Jane is determined to find answers, she's also wrapped up in her own issues. She's a recovering alcoholic who just quit smoking. And, she's already had a tragic life. When she stumbles upon Jordan, he digs at her feelings and past, and that frustrates and angers her. In her confusion, she finds the owner of a bar, The Rabbit Hole, a man who accepts and reaches out to her. As Jane Perry searches for answers to the mystery of Jake's disappearance, she also searches for the truth about the puzzles of her own life.

Laurel Dewey combines mystery, mysticism, secrets and revelations in a riveting story that takes Jane Perry down her own rabbit hole. Jane is a gruff, angry woman, a fascinating character, in search of answers in her own life.  Revelations has truths to tell about the past, secrets to unveil. Sink into Jane Perry's story of an investigation and its Revelations.

Laurel Dewey's website is

Revelations by Laurel Dewey. The Story Plant. ©2011. ISBN 9780984190553 (paperback), 479p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I received the book in order to participate in a book tour.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Joel Fox, Guest Blogger

I recently reviewed Joel Fox's Lincoln's Hand. I had heard him discuss it at the New Author's  breakfast at Left Coast Crime, and found his short introduction to be fascinating. It's a pleasure to welcome him as guest blogger today, when he addresses a tough issue head on. Thank you, Joel.

Can Blurbs Hurt?

How important blurbs are on the cover of books is not a settled issue amongst writers, but I believe they could be very helpful especially for a first time novelist. At least, I figured a blurb couldn’t hurt.

Or could it?

Take my extraordinary case for my first mystery novel, Lincoln’s Hand.

I knew no well-known mystery novelist who’s name on my cover would give the high sign to legions of his or her fans that my novel was worth a read. However, I did know someone famous who had a reputation for picking good stories. He might, despite his extremely busy schedule, take the time to read the book and give me a cover blurb.

I made contact with his office and asked if this world-renowned person might read my book and offer an encouraging blurb. I was told that it was unlikely because requests like mine came to him all the time but … send the book and we’ll see.

A couple of months later, I got an email that said I would get the blurb. Short and sweet it was, an affirmation from someone who had been associated with story telling informing the world that I had written a good story.

Here’s the blurb that appears on the cover of my mystery novel:

Lincoln’s Hand is a great story, a page-turner from start to finish” –
Arnold Schwarzenegger

Being involved in California politics, I knew Schwarzenegger in my role as a policy advisor to him both during and after the recall election that made him governor of California.

I was thrilled to get his endorsement. I felt the blurb would tell readers that appreciated the stories he made on film to take a look at Lincoln’s Hand. I also knew that a blurb from a film action star was not the standard fare on the cover of mystery novels, but I thought it was worth the risk.

Now, however, the story of Schwarzenegger’s personal transgression has surfaced. I feel badly for his family and do not in any way defend his action.

But his blurb has been printed on the cover of copies of my book. Does the blurb now hurt, help, or have little consequence?

The fact is the blurb cannot be erased so I push forward, adding a new dimension to the discussion of my novel, hoping not to take the focus off of what is between the book’s covers rather than what is on the cover.

Thank you, Joel. Since I read the book, and noticed the blurb, I can tell readers the book is definitely exciting, and worth reading, no matter who did the blurb. Thank you for addressing a touchy subject.

Joel Fox's website for the book is

Lincoln's Hand by Joel Fox. Echelon Press.©2010. ISBN 9781590806746 (paperback), 313p.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Finger Lickin' Dead by Riley Adams

How can you go wrong with Memphis barbeque, an eccentric group of characters, and even a wedding at Graceland? Riley Adams brings all those elements together in a fun mystery, Finger Lickin' Dead.

Lulu Taylor, owner of Aunt Pat's Barbeque, knows none of her friends, docents at Graceland who call themselves the Graces, are crazy about their friend Evelyn's ex-husband and new boyfriend, Adam Cawthorn. When they prove to Evelyn he's cheating on her, she only intends to get even with him. None of them actually wanted to kill the man. But, the circle of suspects is much wider than the small group of friends. Under a pseudonym, Adam was a restaurant critic who destroyed restaurants and careers. He even attacked Aunt Pat's just before he was murdered. Now the suspects include Evelyn, Lulu's son, Ben, the cook at Aunt Pat's, and a number of others who had run-ins with the dead man.

Lulu was already involved in one investigation. She's reluctant to look for another killer. But, one of Lulu's beloved twin granddaughters found the body, and wants answers. Evelyn doesn't like being a suspect, and asks Lulu to ask questions. And, there are two many relatives and friends on the police list of people of interest. Would it hurt anything if a woman in her sixties, who knew everyone in their close circle, just poked around a little?

Riley Adams' second Memphis BBQ Mystery, Finger Lickin' Dead, is a humorous story with mouth-watering food and recipes, a terrific cast of unusual characters, Southern charm, and a solid mystery. But, this story comes with a warning. You'll want to sit down with the charming Lulu Taylor for barbeque, sweet ice tea, and peach cobbler by the time you finish the book.

Riley Adams is also Elizabeth Spann Craig. Her website is

Finger Lickin' Dead by Riley Adams. Berkley Prime Crime. ©2011. ISBN 9780425241912 (paperback), 257p.

FTC Full Disclosure - The publisher sent me a copy of the book, hoping I would review it.