Sunday, July 31, 2011

Ghost Story by Jim Butcher

Once I started reading Jim Butcher's latest Dresden Files book, Ghost Story, I threatened to stay home from work and finish it. It's a story that Harry Dresden fans have been waiting to read. What happened to Harry after he was shot and fell off the boat and drowned?

Harry Dresden wants the answer to that question as well. He had finally had a chance to escape after rescuing his daughter from the Red Court, when someone shot him. As a ghost, he's almost run over by a train when a long-dead acquaintance saves him, telling him he's "In between." He's offered a choice. Since the bad guys cheated to kill him, he can go back and find his killer. But, he has to go back as a spirit with no magic, and most people won't be able to see or hear him. Oh, and if he doesn't go back and find his killer, three people he loves will come to great harm. Some choice.

This is Harry Dresden we're talking about, a wizard who always fought on the side of good. He arrives back in Chicago to find his friends trying to defend his beloved city against forces of evil who grew more powerful following Harry's death, and the destruction of the Red Court. Six months have passed, to Harry's shock, and his friends are besieged from all sides. Harry used to call himself the only wizard in the Chicago Yellow Pages. Now, he says, "Maybe I should make it my new slogan: Harry Dresden - I take responsibility for more impossible situations in the first twenty-four hours of being dead than most people do all day." Ghosts and other evil forces are threatening Harry's friends, and Chicago. He plans to take control.

Butcher's Ghost Story is a fascinating peek into Harry's past, his memories, his regrets, and the man he became. It's a powerful story of change, in Harry, and in other characters. It's still a story of good vs. evil, but it's a story that questions the decisions people make.

And, my advice to anyone starting Ghost Story? Start reading it when you can stay home and finish the book.

Jim Butcher's website is

Ghost Story by Jim Butcher. ROC (Penguin Group, USA). ©2011. ISBN 9780451463791 (hardcover), 481p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Growing Up Amish by Ira Wagler

So, it's religion day here. If you don't want to read about the problems in the Catholic Church, you can read about Ira Wagler's memoir, Growing Up Amish. It's packed with details about Amish life, but, ultimately, it's the story of a young person searching for answers, and faith.

Ira Wagler grew up in an Amish home, the ninth of eleven children. His father, David, was known worldwide in the Amish community, one of the few with a degree, and a passion for writing that he shared in a magazine he launched, Family Life. But, while he poured his energy into his writing, some of his sons couldn't live the Amish lifestyle, with no cars, no electricity, no telephones. And, some Amish communities were stricter than others. Wagler commented, "Even among the Amish, other Amish seem odd."

Wagler tells his story, and, briefly, that of his brothers and sisters. An older sister left home, and became a Mennonite. When Ira was ten, he says of his mother's second son, "Jesse was the first of her sons to pack a bag and simply walk away into the night. He would not be the last." Ira's youngest brother, Nathan, walked away in broad daylight, with his mother crying behind him. That's why so many of the Amish young people leave during the night, so as not to listen to their mothers' cries. Ira walked away from the Amish life five times, the last time for good. And, four times he came back, afraid to leave the life he knew, while he feared eternal damnation if he left. He always felt a tug-of-war between the Amish world and the English world, the outside world.

Novels of Amish life are popular because the outside world wonders about the people and their lifestyle. Now, Ira Wagler reveals what it was like for a restless young man to grow up in that culture, a strict environment filled with complex rules and restrictions. It wasn't the place for a softhearted, sensitive soul, a young man who craved freedom. He provides the details readers crave about life, the family life, the church, the school, the community. But, he also tells the sad story of a young man who tried to succeed in that world, but had to walk away for the sake of his sanity.

Once you've read Ira Wagler's account, that book cover becomes a more powerful image. I'm sure Wagler meant his memoir to show that he succeeded. He found answers, faith, and comfort in life. At the same time, that's still a lonesome image, the Amish young man walking away. And, Growing Up Amish is still a sad, and lonely, story.

Ira Wagler's website is

Growing Up Amish by Ira Wagler. Tyndale House. ©2011. ISBN 9781414339368 (paperback), 288p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I picked up an ARC in the reference room at our Main Library.

A Predator Priest by David Margolick

I'm passing on this information for those who might have a Kindle, and might be interested in a different type of true crime. Journalist and author David Margolick has written a disturbing piece that was released as a Kindle Single on July 22nd --- A Predator Priest. I haven't read this book, but I agreed to pass it on, since I respect the source that sent me the information.

The press release says, "Much has been written about priests and pedophilia, but not about particular priests and their particular victims. Margolick’s A Predator Priest (Kindle Single, $0.99) tells the story of Father Bernard Bissonnette, a priest from Grosvenordale, Connecticut and the fifty-year path of destruction and heartache he left in his wake. There were dozens of victims, first in his home state and then in New Mexico, where the Catholic Church sent him to be “cured,” only to recycle him in parishes throughout the state. It highlights the Deary family of Putnam, Connecticut, whose eldest son, Tommy – the second of their thirteen children – was one of Bissonnette’s earliest victims, and who, after struggling for many years with depression, marital problems, and his own sexual identity, eventually killed himself. And it follows the tireless efforts of his youngest brother to overcome the obstructionism and hostility of the Catholic Church and track down Father Bissonnette, confront him with his misdeeds, then bring him to justice – or at least get him thrown out of the Church."

More information can be found at: Additionally, Margolick wrote about A Predator Priest on (

Friday, July 29, 2011

Laura DiSilverio, Guest Blogger

Laura DiSilverio is not new to the mystery field, but I only "discovered" her with the  publication of her new book, Die Buying. The amateur sleuth sounded a little different, so I asked Laura to write a guest post for us. I hope you'll welcome her to the blog today.

A heroine who used to be in the military?  A sidekick grandfather who is a retired CIA operative?  Sounds more like a thriller than a cozy mystery, some might say.
Not so fast.  Emma-Joy “EJ” Ferris enlisted in the Air Force as an act of teenage rebellion against her Hollywood-liberal parents and was medically retired in her twenties when her leg got shredded by an IED in Afghanistan.  Now she’s a mall security officer with not even a taser or a bottle of pepper spray, never mind a gun, to subdue shoplifters and vandals at the Fernglen Galleria in Vernonville, Virginia.  That might be okay on an average day, but an animal rights group recently “liberated” all the reptiles, including a 15-foot python, from the Herpetology Hut, and a murderer left a dead body in a boutique window.
As if EJ’s life isn’t complicated enough, her 83-year-old Grandpa Atherton buys spy gadgets off the Internet and uses them to spy on mall customers and merchants, resulting in complaints that make EJ’s professional life awkward, to say the least.  Her best friend Kyra, a roller derby enthusiast, encourages EJ to investigate the murders, she has the boss from Hades, and EJ’s cat Fubar insists on littering her house with dead rodents.
So, in DIE BUYING, the first in my Mall Cop series, EJ must come to terms with the fact that her disability makes it unlikely she’ll ever get a “real” police job, keep her grandpa out of trouble, deal with body image issues as a result of her injured leg, help her hero-worshiping co-worker Joel lose a few pounds so he can get a girlfriend, and catch a murderer.
I have fun writing this series because I like infusing a cozy mystery with new elements and lots of humor.  EJ has a little more crime scene related knowledge than most cozy heroines (such as the ladies of Violetta’s Salon in the Southern Beauty Shop series I write as Lila Dare), but she doesn’t have access to any of the tools cops use to solve cases:  no cop databases, no legal authorities, no forensic capabilities.  She works in a mall which is a setting just made for laughs.  How many times have you visited the mall and not seen or heard something funny?  A ludicrous product in one of those kiosks that turn the halls into obstacle courses (Egyptian hookahs, anyone?), an outfit that makes you gasp, an unintelligible conversation between teenage girls?   (I have two teenage girls and, let me tell you, using the word “unintelligible” is probably redundant.)
I hope you have as much fun reading DIE BUYING as I had writing it.  I’m donating the profits from this book to the Wounded Warrior Project that helps injured veterans because EJ’s a vet and my husband and I are both veterans and it’s important to care for the military members who sacrificed so much for this country. 
Many thanks to Lesa for inviting me to post on her excellent blog today.
Please visit my website,  to learn more about my books, or “Like” me on Facebook.

Thank you, Laura. I hope that summary will encourage readers to try Die Buying. Thanks for taking time to write for us. And, good luck with the book, and the series!

Die Buying by Laura DiSilverio. Penguin Group (USA), ©2011. ISBN 9780425242735 (paperback), 288p.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Winners and a Legal Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the last contest. The autographed first edition of J.A. Jance's Betrayal of Trust will go to Connie H. from Sherman, TX. Sue F. from Crosslake, MN will receive Dana Stabenow's Whisper to the Blood. The books will go out in the mail tomorrow.

Legal thrillers anyone? I have two novels featuring lawyers to give away this week. I have an autographed first edition of Robert Dugoni's latest book, Murder One. When David Sloane reconnected with Barclay Reid, opposing counsel in his most prominent case, he never expected he'd be defending her against a charge of murder. It's Sloane's first criminal case. Is he up to the job of defending the woman he loves?

If you never got around to reading Michael Connelly's The Lincoln Lawyer, here's your chance to win a copy. It's the legal thriller that introduced Mickey Haller, the lawyer who operates out of Lincoln Town Cars. And, his defense of a rich boy arrested for assault isn't the easy case he anticipated. Instead, Haller find himself taking a deadly risk.

Which book would you like to win? You can enter to win both books, but I need separate entries. Email me at  The subject lines should read, either "Win Murder One" or "Win The Lincoln Lawyer".  Include your name and mailing address in the body of the email.  Entries only from the U.S., please.

The contest will close Thursday, Aug. 4 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!

The Herring in the Library by L.C. Tyler

I wasn't familiar with L.C. Tyler's mystery series featuring third-rate mystery author  Ethelred Tressider and his literary agent Elsie Thirkettle, although the first two books in the series had been nominated for Edgar Awards. But, the latest book, The Herring in The Library, is a funny treat for those who appreciate traditional British mysteries.

The book opens with Ethelred and Elsie playing a game of Cluedo (Clue). As Ethelred tells the story, it's obvious that Elsie cheats. It's also obvious she's the stronger character of the two, very opinionated. When they are invited to dinner at Muntham Court, the new home of Ethelred's friend, Sir Robert Muntham, it isn't long before the set-up reminds Elsie of Cluedo. She views it as a classic puzzle, with the wealthy man dead in a locked library, while his wife and assorted friends are in the house. At times, Ethelred tells the story since he's asked by Lady Muntham to investigate, and it's clear he's being led in the direction she wants him to go. When Elsie takes her turn as narrator, it's obvious that she thinks Lady Muntham is the culprit, and has set up the entire scenario.

The Herring in the Library has so many elements that are common to British mysteries, from the odd cast of characters, the eccentric sleuths, to the "locked" room. There's even the plot within the plot as Ethelred wrestles with his latest mystery story, one that seems to contain very familiar characters. Tyler manages to turn all conventions upside down with surprises. The alternating narrators, with their very different approaches to the investigation, allows Tyler to have fun with the story, right up to the conclusion. Hopefully, readers will have just as much fun as the author did.

L.C. Tyler's website is

The Herring in the Library by L.C. Tyler. Felony & Mayhem. ©2010. ISBN 9781934609767 (paperback), 240p.

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

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Blaize Clement - R.I.P.

If you've read my blog for a few years, you probably came across my reviews for  Blaize Clement's Cat Sitter mysteries. I was fond of them, since I knew the Sarasota area she wrote about. Author Elaine Viets informed readers on DorothyL yesterday that Blaize died of cancer on July 20, and she attached the obituary from the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. I know I didn't know of all the health problems Clement had over the years.

This is the kind of news I always hate to pass on. Here's the link to the obituary.

I'm sure Blaize Clement would be pleased to know her son, John, will continue the series. According to the obituary, she left two upcoming novels, and he's signed a contract to write at least two more.

Rest in peace, Blaize Clement.

Sandie's Corner - Janet Evanovich, An Investigative Report

I won't always kick off Sandie's Corner with a note, but I just loved her latest idea. I think you're going to enjoy reading her pieces as much as I do. This is going to be fun! - Lesa

After reading some of Lesa’s recent entries here on Lesa’s Book Critiques, I got curious about Janet Evanovich.  I’ve enjoyed her stories since ONE FOR THE MONEY came out back in 1994.  We became friends when we discovered we were both Jersey girls for quite some time!  She really does get that part just right, if anyone has ever wondered.  She doesn’t live there now but splits her time between New Hampshire and Florida.

There are so many types of detectives in the mystery world – police detectives, FBI agents, private eyes, and amateur sleuths to name some major categories.  I decided we should add the book detective – or the book investigator who will research oddities in the book world.  We have a report back from our own book investigator about some questions brought up about Janet Evanovich and her next books.

I asked her about the release date of #18 being in November.  The website only listed the current dates and backward not forward, so I couldn’t use that as a reference.  Unfortunately Janet didn’t have time to answer me in full right now, so she asked her assistant Ken Wilson (whom I’ve dealt with before and who is terrific) to fill us in.  This is what he said:  “Janet thought it would be fun to explore some of the story lines established in SMOKIN’ SEVENTEEN more deeply.  That's why EXPLOSIVE EIGHTEEN is scheduled [for release] on November 22, seven months earlier than normal.  Despite rumors fueled by the change in publication dates, Janet has no plans to end the series.  More rumors will likely fly when Plum Nineteen doesn't show up in June of '12, but that's only because that's the month chosen for the next Diesel book. The Deadly Sin covered in this one -- lust. “

Well, that all makes sense to me.  She’s actually publishing early, so I’m going to close my mouth and not complain that an author wrote faster like we always ask for!!  I did ask if they knew when #19 would be out, and Ken said, “At this point in time, we don't yet have a firm date for Plum Nineteen.”

Ken also said, “Nice review on Lesa's part.  Tell her thanks from us.  And congrats to you in getting a spot for your own reviews.”

I hope this answers some questions fans had for Janet Evanovich.  At least we know we have the right information straight from the source.

Thanks for joining me for my first investigative report.  We’ll keep you posted on any changes we learn of.  As always in the mystery world, there is more to come!

Sandie Herron
For Sandie’s Corner, Lesa’s Book Critiques

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Square Root of Murder by Ada Madison

If Dr. Sophie Knowles wasn't such a nice person, and a mentor to so many math students, I'd be more upset with the character in the new mystery series by Ada Madison. Sophie violates one of my cardinal rules for amateur sleuths. She keeps secrets from the police. But, I like Sophie and the other characters in The Square Root of Murder, so I'll forgive her, this time.

In her mid-forties, Sophie teaches math at Henley College, a women's college about to turn coed, in Massachusetts. She loves math and her students, In her spare time, she publishes puzzles and brainteasers, and does beading at a shop owned by her best friend. She also spends as much time as she can with Bruce Granville, the pilot of a medevac helicopter. There are a few flies in Dr. Knowles' ointment. The dean doesn't seem to like her. And, she has frequent disagreements with Dr. Keith Appleton, a chemistry professor. But, then, everyone except the dean seems to have problems with Keith, from Rachel, a post-graduate assistant, to the science undergrads, to Sophie's friend, physics professor Dr. Hal Bartholomew. But who hated him enough to kill him during the party celebrating Hal's promotion?

When Rachel is called in for questioning, Sophie tries to convince a friend, homicide detective Virgil Mitchell, that Rachel couldn't have killed the professor. When her defense of the student fails, Knowles decides to use her analytical skills to narrow down the possibilities, and find a killer. When Sophie sneaks files out of Keith's office, and they subsequently disappear, it seems the killer has learned about Dr. Knowles extracurricular sleuthing activities. There might just be a second dead professor from Henley College.

As I mentioned, some of Sophie's methods bother me. I don't approve of the amateur sleuth who sets out on their own to find a killer, and fails to turn clues over to the police, particularly when one of the investigators is a friend. However, when she lines up enough information, Dr. Knowles does reveal her timeline to the police, along with her list of sources. But, I like Sophie. I like her depth of feeling for her students and friends. She has a terrific relationship with her boyfriend, and, despite her secrets, a good relationship with Virgil. So, after The Square Root of Murder, I'm willing to give Dr. Sophie Knowles a second chance to prove how smart she really is. I'm looking forward to the next puzzle in Sophie's life.

Ada Madison's (Camille Minichino) website is

The Square Root of Murder by Ada Madison. Berkley Prime Crime. ©2011. ISBN 9780425242193 (paperback), 292p.

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

Monday, July 25, 2011

August Mysteries from Berkley Prime Crime & Obsidian

Mysteries and cats just seem to go hand-in-hand, don't they? Enjoy!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

We All Fall Down by Michael Harvey

No author who writes thrillers or books about serial killers terrifies me as much as Michael Harvey. It's not that he writes about serial killers or stalkers. Instead, he writes about a detective caught up in a realistic world in Chicago. And, he presents creepy scenarios that scare me to death because of the possibilities, the what ifs. The Chicago Way was bad enough, but We All Fall Down is terrifying because it could happen.

Michael Kelly is an ex-cop turned private eye, a loner in the tradition of so many detectives. He's a man who uses his friends to achieve justice, endangers those who loves without meaning to, and even has to send his dog away to protect him. At the end of The Chicago Way, Kelly knew there were two lightbulbs in the Chicago subway that could have anthrax in them. At the start of this book, he wakes with a premonition that something happened. He only had that premonition twice before, once when his brother committed suicide, and the night his father died. Kelly should have stayed in bed, and not answered the phone.

When one of the lightbulbs fell, it released a deadly pathogen. And, the disease slowly spreads. As the sick and dead show up at hospitals and morgues, those attending them start to get sick. It isn't long before Homeland Security and scientists are involved. And, it isn't long before cell phones and the Internet are shut down, and the people accept the only story they've been given, the party line from the government. While gang warfare and fires break out in the quarantined sector, Michael Kelly hunts for the forces who are destroying his beloved city.

Once again, Michael Harvey takes readers into a terrifying world of black biology and government secrets. What will happen to this country if someone releases a deadly pathogen? According to Harvey, we have no solutions. It's comforting to watch Michael Kelly, Harvey's knight errant, as he scours the city, looking for answers and taking on those who threaten him and those he loves, as well as the city he is determined to protect. However, knowing we actually have no protection is not comforting at all. Want to read the scariest book you will read all summer? Try Michael Harvey's We All Fall Down.

Michael Harvey's website is

We All Fall Down by Michael Harvey. Alfred A. Knopf. ©2011. ISBN 9780307272515 (hardcover), 303p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Lunch-Box Dream by Tony Abbott

Tony Abbott's Lunch-Box Dream is a disturbing, at times beautiful, emotional story of two young boys, a troubling journey, and prejudice. Abbott based the story on a trip he himself took as a child, a trip that must have lingered in his memory. Unfortunately, as interesting as the story is to an adult, I think it's going to leave its target audience lost and confused. Lunch-Box Dream is marketed as a book for readers ten to fourteen, I don't think they'll understand the history and the emotional tension in this story.

Most of the story is seen through Bobby's eyes as he and his older brother Ricky, along with his mother and grandmother, drive from Cleveland, Ohio to Florida. Bobby's grandmother is returning home after her husband's funeral. As a treat for Ricky, they stop at Civil War battlefields along the way. It's not such a treat for Bobby, whose troubled by confusing thoughts of his grandfather's death, Abraham Lincoln's coffin on his funeral train, and the battlefield deaths. While Ricky is enthralled, vividly describing the battles, Bobby is disturbed and haunted by his thoughts. And, he's too young to understand the emotional undercurrents of this trip.

However, another story is interwoven, the story of the Thomas family, a Negro family from Georgia. Their story is told by various family members up to the point when they realize a child is missing.  Bobby is a typical white child of his time, 1959, with no experience with blacks, and a fear of the people he calls "chocolate." But, an accident brings Bobby's family to the same bus station where the Thomases are trying to get a ride. And, it's no surprise that Bobby, who has been fighting his emotions on the trip, often unsuccessfully, is the one who realizes how much people are alike, no matter what the color of their skin.

It's difficult to know who to recommend this book to. Most young people will not understand the history of the period with the Jim Crow laws and the racism. They will probably not understand the emotional problems in either family. This is a beautifully written book. I've never read a description of Abraham Lincoln's funeral train that chilled me the way Abbott's short three page description did, as Bobby imagined it. And, the final bus scene was moving. It's a thoughtful story. Maybe I should just recommend it here, for those readers who are willing to take a chance on a book marketed for youth. Lunch-Box Dream is a story that will touch and move adult readers.

Tony Abbott's website is

Lunch-Box Dream by Tony Abbott. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ©2011. ISBN 9780374346737 (hardcover), 192p.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Smokin' Seventeen by Janet Evanovich

I'll admit I thought I'd given up on Janet Evanovich and Stephanie Plum a couple books ago. The books were starting to feel stale, and nothing new seemed to be happening. So, I picked up Smokin' Seventeen thinking I might get through a few chapters and quit. Instead, there were a few new twists to the story that made me laugh again at Stephanie's antics.

Vincent Plum Bail Bonds is working out of a motor home on an empty construction lot. Except the lot isn't empty. First one dead body, and then another, is dug up on the lot, and they all seem to have business connections. But, after the first couple corpses, the next ones seem to have a connection to Stephanie. She's too busy to worry about a creepy connection to a killer, though. She's trying to bring in a man who claims he's a vampire, Morelli's grandmother has put a curse on her, and Stephanie's own mother is trying to fix her up with Dave Brewer, a former high school football player who cooks. And, oh, yes, there's the crazy woman who ran over her husband, and tries to catch Stephanie in the parking lot to run her over. Who has time to worry about some killer who leaves her notes?

Evanovich has filled the book with a little of everything that makes these books fun, and funny. Stephanie is still torn between Morelli and Ranger, but, now, all the women she knows seem to be rooting for Dave, a man who cooks. Of course, there's a scene with Grandma Mazur and a funeral home. And, Lulu is as funny as ever. Over the course of the series, the exploding cars became a little too much. However, this time, Ranger pointed out the humor in the whole situation. Stephanie points out she always destroys the cars he loans her. He agrees, but says, "Working at Rangerman is a high-stress job, and you're one of our few sources of comic relief. I give you a car and my men start a pool on how long it will take you to trash it. You're a line item in my budget under entertainment."

Comic relief. Entertainment. This time there actually is a little mystery thrown in. Who is killing people, depositing them at the construction lot, and what's the connection to Stephanie? Smokin' Seventeen might just be the perfect comic relief for a hot summer day.

Janet Evanovich's website is

Smokin' Seventeen by Janet Evanovich. Bantam Books. ©2011. ISBN 9780345527684 (hardcover), 320p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Winners and Crime in the Northwest

Congratulations to the winners of the last contest. Alafair Burke's Long Gone will go to Sandi L. from Monroeville, PA. Fallen by Karin Slaughter heads to Karen B. of Bloomington, MN . I'll put the books in the mail tomorrow.

This week, I'm giving away two mysteries set in the Northwest. Since J.A. Jance just appeared at our Foothills Library, I have an autographed first edition of the latest J.P. Beaumont mystery, Betrayal of Trust. Beaumont, an old friend of the governor of Washington State, takes on a touchy case. It seems the governor's grandson has a video on his cell phone, a video that appears innocent, until it turns deadly, and becomes a snuff film  When the teen denies any knowledge, the governor turns to Beaumont for help.

Or, if you prefer Alaska over Washington, you could enter to win Dana Stabenow's Whisper to the Blood.  A gold mining company is buying up land inside Alaska's biggest national park, making residents uneasy. The company's new spokesperson might be popular, but she can't make her case before there are two murders. Add those murders to a series of attacks on snow mobilers, and part-time P.I. Kate Shugak has her hands full.

Do you want to head to Washington or Alaska for your armchair travel? You can enter to win both books, but I need separate entries. Email me at  The subject lines should read, either "Win Betrayal of Trust" or "Win Whisper to the Blood".  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 28 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!

An Introduction to Sandie's Corner

About thirteen years ago, I "met" Sandie Herron. At the time, she was the owner of A Novel Idea bookstore in Sarasota, Florida, and I was the Authors Programming Chair for the Lee County Reading Festival. Sandie took the time to work with me, suggesting authors, and, once she had their permission, giving me addresses and phone numbers so I could book Florida authors for the first Reading Festival. Sandie Herron's name opened a number of doors. She was, and is, well-respected by the crime fiction authors.

So, today, I'm introducing a new feature on my blog, Sandie's Corner.In November, she sent me a book review that proved to be popular. Sandie's health doesn't allow her to publish regularly. And, this is still my blog, and I will continue to write most of the content. But, she and I discovered, as much as we both love mysteries, we really read different authors. Sandie's occasional reviews will offer you comments that you wouldn't normally see on my blog, reviews of books by other authors. In fact, Sandie will sometimes review older books by authors you might not have read, or books you might have missed.

Sandie has an interesting background in writing, too. She wrote a tribute about David Thompson for the 2010 NoirCon program.  And, she wrote two essays for the multiple-award winning book, THEY DIED IN VAIN: Overlooked, Underappreciated and Forgotten Mystery novels edited by Jim Huang. It was a follow up to 100 FAVORITE MYSTERIES OF CENTURY.  The driving question was "If characters die in a mystery novel, and no one reads their story, have they died in vain?  Sandy said, " I was fortunate to write an essay on Phil Reed's BIRD DOG and William Kent Krueger's IRON LAKE (both first mysteries).  The book won many awards, the Anthony, Agatha, and Macavity Awards for Best Non-Fiction of 2002.  I was so ecstatic when we won them, too."

So, I'm turning this blog over to Sandie for today. She can introduce herself, and I'll publish a set of her retrospective reviews. Don't worry. You'll still see all of my regular features from Treasures in My Closet to recaps of events. But, I hope you welcome Sandie Herron, and enjoy the comments from someone else who loves crime fiction.

Thank you, and welcome, Sandie

I couldn't decide what I wanted to be “when I grew up.”  I think I had too many strong interests.  After enjoying music and conducting most in high school, I started college majoring in biochemistry to become a medical assistant while continuing music informally.  I especially enjoyed studying genetics.  Squeezing five years of courses into four actual years seemed daunting.  My biochemistry lab teacher about broke into tears when I told her I quit the course, and she spurted out, “But you’re the only one who got the test right!”  I didn’t want to stumble my way from course to course and not be sure of a trajectory, so I left the umbrella of Rutgers University and continued on to night school for my associate’s degree. 

I decided secretarial work would get me a good job to support myself and enable me to try different fields while searching for one that would fit me best. I worked at AT&T headquarters, in probate, in a company sponsoring investment seminars, managed a physical therapy practice, managed my husband's CPA firm, and ran my own bookstore, A Novel Idea.

Several autoimmune diseases ganged up on me at once, so I had to give up many of the jobs I loved, but I refused to give up completely.  Even tho more related illnesses have popped up since, I have not given up managing Bill’s office, and I do that now on a part time basis and off site to avoid stress.  However, I did close A Novel Idea totally, which took months and generated many tears. I loved A Novel Idea, but the workload was large, the hours long, and the pay very, very small. 

As they say, once a window closes, a door opens, and an opportunity to review books was offered to me, and I grabbed it with both hands.  It gave me the time to actually read the books I loved and still enjoy the many book related friendships I had made.  Taking care of me has become much more of a full time job these days because illness has put limitations on what I can do. I look at it as a an opportunity to read more.

It is with great joy to reconnect with Lesa after networking with each other while I ran A Novel Idea and Lesa ran the Lee County Reading Festival's Authors' Committee.  We complement each other in many ways.  

A little background on Sandie -
Favorite quote:  Nothing is ever final, and nothing is ever finished. Every ending is always a new beginning. We are safe; it's only change." Louise Hayes

Favorite Music:  almost anything as long as it’s well written, the Dixie Chicks, Renaissance, Spyrogyra, Dan Fogelberg, the Eagles, Liquid Mind, Pachebel

Favorite Books:  Way too many to name, but the same holds as for music – almost anything as long as it’s well written, the Sookie Stackhouse mysteries by Charlaine Harris, Tess Gerritsen’s Rizzoli and Isles series, Shirley Rousseau Murphy’s Joe Grey and Dulcie series and that should give you a broad idea of my interests.

Favorite Movies:  As above, including Dave, Independence Day, While You Were Sleeping, Jumpin’ Jack Flash, Medicine Man, the Die Hard series.

Favorite TV:  You can guess by now that would include True Blood, Rizzoli and Isles, HGTV, Bones

Unlike me, Sandie has read almost all of Donna Andrews' Meg Langslow mysteries. She just received a copy of the latest one, The Real Macaw, so she hasn't reviewed it yet. So, while you're waiting for that review, here's a preview of what you will get when Sandie reviews.  Here's Sandie's review of an earlier mystery by Donna Andrews.

We’ll Always Have Parrots    #5
By Donna Andrews
St. Martin’s Press, February, 2004

Meg Langslow, blacksmith, has accompanied her fiancé Michael, a drama professor, to a convention run by Friends of Amblyopia, fans of the cult TV show "Porfiria, Queen of the Jungle."  Michael plays the part of Mephisto, a Machiavellian sorcerer, on the show.  His presence at the convention is required by his contract and by Tamerlaine Wynncliffe-Jones, the aging woman who plays Queen Porfiria and owns the production company.
Trouble is brewing right from the start when room service delivers parrots, freed by monkeys from the jungle-like lobby display, along with breakfast trays.  The health department insists they remove the live animals yet somehow each time they are captured, they are set free again.
Michael does extremely well during his "spotlight" in front of the fans in costumes from the show.  Meg spies a woman holding up a headdress covered with ostrich feathers and wearing a purple brocade dress with a ten-foot train.  The man with her is dressed in black velvet robes that mark him as a healing magician.  They are Meg’s parents, along with her ten-year-old nephew Eric dressed as an Amblyopian knight.
Meg is attending the convention to be with Michael; however, she also has a booth where her swords are for sale which she shares with Alaric Steele.  She’s honored when the show’s blade master, in charge of teaching the cast fencing and stage fighting, asks for her help in a demonstration.  Wandering the convention as though lost is Ichabod Dilley.  Ichabod Dilley was the artist of the original comic strip that inspired the TV show, but this Ichabod Dilley is not an artist but a motivational speaker.  Meg takes him under her wing to escort him to his panel at the convention.
It takes much coaxing to get Porfiria, or the "QB" (Queen Bee) to open her hotel room door, where it is obvious she’s been drinking.  She is due on stage for her "spotlight" and to sign autographs afterwards.  When Meg’s nephew Eric asks for her signature, QB refuses to sign because another cast member had signed it first.  No one really likes Porfiria, and she keeps employees and cast members for only short lengths of time.
Later on, as the charity auction is winding down, there’s no Porfiria there to judge the look-alike contest.  Meg trudges up to her room where the door has been opened a crack by security, but only as far as the chain will allow.  Meg goes into her room next door and climbs over the balcony to enter the QB’s room.  What she finds inside is a grey parrot shrieking "Leave me alone" each time someone knocks on the door and a dead body next to the bed.  Queen Porfiria has been bludgeoned with a wine bottle.
It took writer Donna Andrews a bit to hit her witty stride in this fifth installment of the Meg Langslow series after MURDER WITH PEACOCKS, MURDER WITH PUFFINS, REVENGE OF THE WROUGHT-IRON FLAMINGOS, and CROUCHING BUZZARD, LEAPING LOON.  Andrews has a way of finding the hilarity in a situation and then exploiting it to make it even more entertaining.  As always, Meg’s dad fancies himself a solver of mysteries and has his travel medical bag along just in case.  Salome, the tiger, another of the jungle animals on display, has been saved from a life of misery.  The fans are getting the police to autograph their programs along with the stars.  All sorts of commotion ensues with almost no one feeling any remorse that Porfiria is dead, unless you count all the people who may now have to find new jobs with the continuity of the series in question.
WE’LL ALWAYS HAVE PARROTS could go over the top in someone else’s hands, but Donna Andrews has a good grip on the wild situations.  Ultimately Meg must defend her life against a killer, which nets her far more than she ever imagined.  I can’t wait to find out how it all comes together in the next tale.
So, please join me in welcoming Sandie Herron to Lesa's Book Critiques. I hope you'll enjoy Sandie's Corner when it does appear on the blog.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Brown Bag Luncheon

Today is my favorite day of the month! It's the day I do a book talk for the library staff. So, here are the books I'm going to talk about today.  (You saw them before the staff.) 

Allbritten, Esri – Chihuahua of the Baskervilles - Tripping Magazine, devoted to travel stories for believers in the paranormal, sends a team to Manitou Springs to check out the appearance of the ghost of a Chihuahua.

Bass, Elizabeth – Wherever Grace is Needed -  Grace Oliver goes to Austin, TX to help her father after a fall, only to find the neighbors need her assistance as well.

Blackwell, Juliet – Hexes and Hemlines - San Francisco witch Lily Ivory is asked by the police to give her opinion on a strange death, when the man is surrounded by items of superstition.

Dewey, Laurel – Revelations - Sgt. Det. Jane Perry finds the entire town of Midas, Colorado to be odd when she arrives on the case of a missing fifteen-year-old boy whose family doesn’t seem concerned.

Fairstein, Linda – Silent Mercy - Manhattan Assistant DA Alexandra Cooper investigates murders at churches.

Gustainis, Justin – Hard Spell – In Scranton, PA, a member of the Occult Crimes Unit Investigation has to deal with a valuable stolen item and deaths of a number of vampires.

Hearne, Kevin – Hounded - Introduces Atticus O’Sullivan, an ancient Druid living in Tempe with his Irish Wolfhound, Oberon, as they battle figures from mythology in the first in The Iron Druid Chronicles.

Hyzy, Julie – Grace Interrupted - Grace Wheaton deals with the death of an actor during a Civil War reenactment, when the groundskeeper at Marshfield Manor is the suspect.

Macomber, Debbie – A Turn in the Road -Three generations of women in a family hit the road, driving from Washington to Florida, looking for answers to questions in their lives.

Ozma, Alice – The Reading Promise - The story of the relationship of Alice and her librarian father, as she grows up with her father reading to her nightly.

Richards, Emilie – Sunset Bridge - Five women who live in a group of cottages in Florida find their friendship gets them tough times.

Scalzi, John – Fuzzy Nation - Humorous science fiction of an independent contractor who discovers a valuable substance, and an unknown species, on the planet Zarathustra.

Slaughter, Karin – Fallen - When a GBI Agent finds her mother’s door open, a bloody handprint, and her mother, an ex-cop, missing, the GBI and local police team up to investigate.

Stewart, Mariah – Almost Home - Can the owner of an ice cream parlor trust the man she always loved, when he returns to St. Dennis with a little boy?

Watson, S.J. – Before I Go to Sleep - Psychological thriller in which a woman wakes up every morning, not knowing who she is, or who the man beside her is.

Weiss, Jan Merete – These Dark Things - While Captain Natalia Monte investigates the murder of a young woman whose body is found in the catacombs of Naples, the crime families go to war over garbage contracts.

Zuckoff, Mitchell – Lost in Shangri-La - True story of a crash, survival, and rescue in the waning years of WWII.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Hard Spell by Justin Gustainis

No, I haven't gone to the dark side. Just because I've read a few urban fantasies lately doesn't mean I'm turning to books about vampires and werewolves. I'm a fan of those urban fantasies that clearly define good vs. evil, and, often, have a detective searching for answers. In my mind, Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden is just as much a detective as he is a wizard. And, I love the dark humor in so many of these books.

Justin Gustainis' Hard Spell is scheduled for release next Tuesday. It's called "An Occult Crimes Unit Investigation." What fan of Dragnet or crime fiction can turn down a book that starts like this? 'This is the city - Scranton, Pennsylvania....Scranton's got a "live and let unlive" relationship with the supernatural, just like everyplace else. But when a vamp puts a bite on an unwilling victim, or some witch casts the wrong kind of spell, that's when they call me.'

"My name's Markowski. I carry a badge.

"Also a crucifix, some wooden stakes, a big vial of holy water, and a 9mm Beretta loaded with silver bullets."

I was hooked on the very first page. Markowski, a Detective Sergeant who chose to work in the Occult Crimes Unit Investigation, partners with other officers to investigate crimes involving "supes," the supernatural element. After WWII, vampires, werewolves, witches, and others found it easy to get to the U.S., and they can be victims of crime as much as they can be the villains. It's a crime against a supe that brings Markowski into the worst case he's ever investigated. A wizard has been tortured and killed to give up a valuable item that could prove to be a powerful weapon for the killer.

The death of that wizard is a case that bothers Markowski, and it only gets worse as it spirals out of control. Between a white witch that disappears, dead vampires, and a wizard Markowski doesn't quite trust, he has his hands full. It's going to take all the skills and knowledge he's acquired over the years, along with cooperation from other police departments to bring this case to a successful conclusion without allowing a killer to have unlimited power.

Stanley Markowski is a fascinating person, a man whose history has a darkness to it, secrets he seldom shares. But, he's also a good detective, a solid cop who knows how to work the system, and make it work for him. And, that means he works the police system, as well as the supernatural system.

Hard Spell combines the best of a police procedural with the grittiness and dark humor of urban fantasy. The body count is high, and the deaths are gory and brutal. This is a blue collar police department, with plenty of coarse language and sexual innuendos. The female detectives are as libel to be crude as the men. But, then there's the wonderful, irreverent humor. Scranton's SWAT team is the Sacred Weapons & Tactics Unit. And, when they're working, The SWAT team is accompanied by a Prayer Team, three clergymen who work together to pray while the police work. Markowski's take on that is, "How somebody figured that God would pay more attention to a group effort than if each of these guys prayed separately wasn't real clear to me, but I'm just a simple cop, not a theologian."

Justin Gustainis' Hard Spell isn't for everyone. But, anyone who appreciates the darkness, the perverse humor, and the solid police work of a good urban fantasy will welcome this first book in the Occult Crimes Unit Investigation series.

If you'd like to see the book trailer for Hard Spell, I'm sharing it here.

Justin Gustainis' website is

Hard Spell by Justin Gustainis. Angry Robot. ©2011. ISBN 9780857661159 (paperback), 394p.

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

Monday, July 18, 2011

Rebecca Cantrell at the Poisoned Pen

I'm kicking off the recap of Rebecca Cantrell's appearance at the Poisoned Pen with the picture of us with the poster promoting her latest Hannah Vogel mystery, A Game of Lies. I'm sure she prefers that picture over the one in which she thinks she looks like a zombie. (I'll use it for the part of the program where it gets really serious.) Rebecca lives on the Big Island, Hawaii, so it's always a treat to see her.

Barbara Peters kicked off the program by asking how many people in the audience had seen the footage of the 1936 Olympics. A Game of Lies is set during that event. From 1923 to 1933, the Nazis were coming to power. Once they did, within a year they had taken over everything, the cultural organizations, sports.
Barbara was going to ask how that could have happened. Then she thought of living in Arizona for the last year. And, she mentioned Minnesota, and asked, how did we lose control of the governors? Rebecca told us there was no room for dissent in Germany from 1933 on.

In 1936, Russia and Spain boycotted the Olympics. But, the Nazis anticipated putting on a big show on the international stage, allowing only Aryans to compete for Germany.  However, the English and the U.S. showed up, ruining their plans. According to Cantrell, Jesse Owens and eighteen black Americans won medals, and thirteen were won by people of Jewish descent.

Hannah Vogel, Cantrell's crime reporter, had fled Germany before this event. Rebecca said she has to come up with pretences for her to go back. The fifth book in the series will be set in Palestine. In the fourth book, she'll go back to Germany, dragged back against her will. In A Game of Lies, book three, Hannah is working as a reporter under an assumed name. However, people there know her, so she has to be careful. Cantrell said people only see what they want to see. There were 100,000 people at the opening of the Games, so if Hannah stayed out of sight, she could go undetected.

Hannah Vogel is covering the Games for a Swiss newspaper. She has begun smuggling documents out of Germany to Switzerland. And, she was there meeting an old friend.

Peters reminded us that Hannah's lover is a repulsive SS guy. But, Cantrell told us he's evolved in the books, and he realizes Nazism is wrong, and he's trying to subvert it. In this book, he's cracking under the strain of lying. He drinks a lot. He's unreliable as a partner, though. Rebecca said she keeps trying to kill him off. But, he's an interesting character, and he can do things Hannah can't. She's not evil.

Hannah is a lot like her creator, though, in that she doesn't like to be told what to do. She dumped her hot Swiss banker. And, she's committed to her job.

In discussing the history of this period and the anti-Semitic rhetoric, Cantrell and Peters wanted to make it clear that it wasn't unique to Germany. It was part of the ideology of the time. And, the economy was terrible in Germany. The country  had a crippling debt and war reparation. The Allies had been warned not to make the war reparations so bad after World War I. In fact, if they had paid off all the reparations, they would have finished paying them off this year. The U.S. had helped them, providing aid, until the economy crashed in the late '20s. The average German wanted to end this debt.

And, Germany had Adolf on one side, and a fear of Stalin on the other. People in Germany with money worried they'd get shot if the Russians took over. People will trade a lot of things for safety.

When Peters said Germany needed a scapegoat, and they found one in the Jews, Cantrell said Hitler was crazy like a fox. He targeted the Jews. Barbara said the usury debate in the Catholic Church had put banking in the hands of the Jews for years. They made a great target group because they had money. In the initial stage when Hitler was crafting his political agenda, he thought the Jews would be the best group to  scapegoat.

Rebecca said Hitler was effective, and he was good at what he did. He hired people who were good at what they did. They built the economy, had the trains running on time. They harnessed the potential of engineers and other scientists. They had the best in the world. He was effective, if evil.

And, Hitler inspired worship like no one else. The Germans were happy to give their children to him. In the time leading up to the Olympics, his propaganda campaign was effective. People had to buy flags. He made them get rid of anti-Semitic posters. Press coverage was supportive after the Games. Cantrell quoted the New York Times as saying, with this, Germany has rejoined the world nations. The German Press wasn't allowed to write racist articles during the two week period around the Games. There were Nazi fact checkers in place at the German newspapers.

There were some dissenting voices. William Shirer said it was all a facade. But, the dissenters were in the minority. Remember, sports reporters were covering the Olympics, not real reporters.

Peters asked Rebecca if there was a conflict with the characters in writing a historical thriller, since everyone knows how the events really played out. Cantrell answered that in writing the books with a first person narrative, the reader can only know what Hannah knows. She can't know the full scope of the Holocaust, for instance.

As a historical novelist, Cantrell tries to show readers what we don't already know. Her award-winning debut novel, A Trace of Smoke, deals with the gay subculture in 1931 Berlin. A Night of Long Knives deals with the night in which the leaders of the SA, and some of Hitler's other political opponents, were killed. However, there were as many as 950 other men killed that night, and we don't know who they were. Hundreds of people who were part of German society disappeared, and we don't know what happened. A Game of Lies is Cantrell's Olympic story.

The fourth book, A City of Broken Glass, will deal with Kristallnacht. Everyone knows Jews were sent to concentration camps after that night. But, they don't know how organized and personalized the plan was to get people. First, they cut off power and phones. Then SS cars went into neighborhoods, and the SS broke windows. They would even throw rocks through the windows, then go in, retrieve the rocks, and take them with them to the next house. This was personal violence against Jewish people. They deliberately destroyed property. They would take hammers to pictures. They would go into pantries, and throw glass jars of honey and jam on the floor to break them. This was more personal than the burning of synagogues, the events people know about. And, often it was someone you knew who was destroying your house.

Barbara asked how Cantrell knew these details. She answered that until 1939, there was a great deal of press in Germany. The press covered Kristallnacht, particularly correspondents for the American and British press. And, survivors told stories. Cantrell read a diary of a man who kept detailed information about living through the events.

Kristallnacht started on Nov. 9, 1938. It was the German government's response to the murder, two days earlier, of a German diplomat in Paris. He had been killed by a young Jew, and, radio broadcasts actually told the Germans to feel free to do whatever you wanted to in reprisal. But, it was very organized. The SS and the Nazis had schedules and maps. There were also boys of twelve to fourteen running around breaking windows. What we forget is that things were even worse in Austria for the Jews. And, Hitler was Austrian.

Romania and France were also anti-Semitic. The Dutch had a good record with the Jews. And, Denmark and Sweden said not here, and they didn't turn over their Jewish population. The Nazis allied themselves with the worst. Peters commented that, like Napoleon, their mistake was turning on Russia. Cantrell said Stalin was actually a worse beast than Hitler.

One question for Rebecca was about her research, the gray areas. What makes her focus on one idea? She said she has a vague idea of what she wants Hannah to do when she researches the era, what she finds interesting. For instance, Nuremberg uncovered the stories of the Night of Long Knives. How did over 800 men disappear, and no one knew what happened? What did the people living through it see that we don't know about? Everyone knows the Jesse Owens story. Cantrell wanted to tell what we don't know.

She loves to research. She researches all the time. She starts researching a month or so before beginning to write. She'll research until they take away the book. And, she'll write notes in the paperback edition. Her son had to tell her it was too late. It couldn't be changed.

Asked if she researches in Germany, Cantrell said the last time she was in Germany was in 2006. But, for A Game of Lies, every angle of the Games were filmed. And, the Germans submitted a lengthy summary to the Olympic Committee. In included information about the extra buses, police protection, pre-ticket sales. It was the first Games in which the Olympic torch was carried, and there were complete details of bringing the flame from Greece. There are diaries. If possible, she uses primary source material. The Germans kept terrific records. They wanted to open a big museum, showing how they wiped out the Jews.

The brief discussion of lack of privacy covered everything from Hugh Grant's BBC interview about hacking of cell phones and Rupert Murdoch's empire to Google and Apple. Cantrell told us Apple can track where we are every 20 minutes on our cell phones. Google tracks flu outbreaks faster than the CDC because people Google flu symptoms. Peters said the fact that every inch of London is covered by film footage is becoming a problem for crime writers. Rebecca countered with, then there needs to be better crooks, because there are ways to wipe out technology.

Rebecca Cantrell's books are about the years before, during, and, eventually, after World War II. Peters called it the war that will never die for novelists. She quoted Ken Follett as saying, "It's the only war where it's clear who was good and who was bad." No one can defend the Germans and the evil Nazis. They were evil, and evil has no lobby. And, essentially, it was a short war. The allies fought Napoleon for twenty years. World War II was actually coming to an end in 1944. But, there were all facets to this war, a war clearly about good and evil.

Rebecca sends Hannah to Palestine in book five. She likes to write about Hannah, because there are almost no books about women's experiences in Germany, and they were half the population. It's a voice that's not heard. Barbara said there were women spies. The British had a lot, but they were all forced to retire or become secretaries.

Cantrell told us she thinks she wants to do nine books, but, then, she thought she was only going to write one. She's covered '31, '34, and '36, pre-war. Her war trilogy will be '38, '42, and '45. And, then the post-war books will cover the airlift, the unification of families, and war crimes. The '42 book will find Hannah in Palestine. And, there's the story that the Russians didn't repatriate prisoners for years. Some men returned after ten years to find their wives had remarried and had families.

Asked if she always intended to tell the story in first person, Rebecca said when she first started writing, Hannah was a man, and a cop. But, that wasn't close enough. Cantrell wanted to make the story in someone's head, covering one person's life. Once she went to first person, she found Hannah's voice.

Cantrell is also working on another series, a YA one, under the name Bekka Black. Once she said it was about vampires, the conversation deteriorated until the plot was summarized as about a doctor who is an Hawaiian vampire who goes night surfing. True?

Rebecca researches for one or two months. Then, she tries to write five pages a day, after she drops her son off at school. If she gets to five pages, she eats lunch. If not, she keeps writing until time to pick her son up at 2, and then they go to lunch. And, she's an obsessive rewriter.

In answer to a question, Cantrell said she went to high school in Germany. The Germans then were open about talking about the war. The father of her first host family had been a Nazi. He had his uniforms, and he was proud of what he had done. By the '80s, most Germans had come to terms with their role in the war. They knew it was wrong. They had lots of exhibits about the war. There were survivor accounts in the '80s. Since reunification, the attitude is a little different.

Barbara Peters ended the program with the comment that there are still people who want to tell stories, and still discoveries to be made.

However, that really wasn't the end of our story that night. I had met Rebecca at Left Coast Crime. She is friends with a number of the people in the Desert Sleuths, the Arizona Chapter, Sisters in Crime. R.K. (Roni) Olson, Deborah J. Ledford and Chantelle Osman from the group. Before Roni, Deb, Rebecca and I headed off for ice cream at the Sugar Bowl, I managed to get a picture of them with Rebecca.

Left to right - Rebecca Cantrell, R.K. Olson and Deborah J. Ledford

We all decided it was just as well I didn't take pictures at the Sugar Bowl. We went for ice cream, not drinks. We ended the night with lots of laughter, and closed the ice cream parlor.

Rebecca Cantrell's website is

A Game of Lies by Rebecca Cantrell. Tor Books. ©2011. ISBN 9780765327338 (hardcover), 320p.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

J.A. Jance at the Foothills Library

Arizona favorite, J.A. Jance, recently appeared at the Foothills Branch Library in Glendale. The introduction for New York Times bestselling mystery author J.A. Jance said she has 10 million books in print. Jance said she thinks someone at her publishing house doesn't do math. Betrayal of Trust is her 44th book, and there are 250,000 of each in print. That comes to more than 10 million.

Jance wanted to be a writer since she was in second grade when she read The Wizard of Oz. While other readers saw a wizard hiding behind a curtain, she saw Frank Baum hiding behind the words.
As an adult she applied to be in the creative writing class at the University of Arizona, but the professor said he wouldn't allow a woman in the class. Her husband was allowed in the class that was closed to her. In 1968, he told her there would only be one writer in the family. He died of chronic alcoholism at the age of 42, a year and a half after she divorced him. He worked hard at that, and he was good at dying. He was right about one thing, though. There was only one writer in the family. He never published anything. Both Jance's ex-husband and the professor who wouldn't allow her in the class were dead when J.A. Jance's first book was published. And, her latest book, Betrayal of Trust, debuted at #9 on the New York Times bestseller list.

J.A. Jance introduced her dachshund, Bella, to the audience. She pointed out that people had petted Bella for an hour while Jance signed books before the program, and she was friendly and didn't bark. But, an hour earlier they had been in the lobby at the Ritz-Carlton. A man reached down to pet her, and she went straight up in the air, barked, and turned away from him. Later the desk clerk told Jance and her husband that that man had been hanging out, and was really weird. Jance said she wrote a short shorty about a dog in Naples that started to bark at a couple. Bella is cut from the same cloth. She knew something was wrong with that man.

Jance admitted she's always referred to small dogs as "Wastes of fur." She's accustomed to big dogs, and she was not a dog person. That was until October of the past year. At the time, she had a thirteen-year-old Golden Retriever. She had been shopping with her daughter, and her grandson, Cody, in Bellevue, Washington. They were southbound when they saw a dachshund running northbound in the middle of the road. If you've ever seen a dog running after a car that left her, that's how desperately the dog was running. Jance's daughter got out, and started flagging down oncoming traffic to stop it from hitting the dog. And, Jance was out of the car, heading northbound with her grandson hollering, "Animal Rescue! Go Gram!"

Jance chased the dachshund the better part of a mile, uphill. She was fast, but short. Finally, two young men helped her herd the dog out of traffic, and then one handed her the wet, little, sad dog. They went straight to her daughter's vet, where she was wanded, and found not to have a chip. Jance and her daughter even went door-to-door in the neighborhood, thinking someone would recognize the dog. There was no luck. Then, Jance called her husband, Bill, to tell him they had a stray dog issue.

Jance didn't want to say any more to her husband. Many years ago, shortly after Noah and the Great Flood, Bill had a date with the woman who became his first wife. Those were the days when on a first date, the young man went to the house to meet the parents. And, in the house was the family dog, Moxie, a male dachshund. He took one look at Bill and thought, you are evil and attacked Bill's Achilles tendon, drawing blood, and wrecking Bill's socks and pants.

J.A. Jance went home and handed the dog to Bill. And, it certainly proved there is love at first sight. He said, "Well, you're not going to the pound." Colt kept talking about the dog as "Fella," and Bill said that's a boy's name. This is Bella.

Jance and her husband always took their dogs to the same academy for training. When they took Bella for her intake interview, they found out she had bad breath because her teeth were rotten. She only weighed seven pounds, and it probably hurt her to eat. She went through two weeks of boot camp, and when they picked her up, they had removed fourteen chips, and put in a chip. So Jance had a dachshund. Within two months, she was flying first class from Seattle to Tucson. A true rags to riches story.

Bella is terrified of most men, including the man who takes care of Jance's dogs, so they couldn't leave her at home. When Jance went on her January book tour, Bella went with them. She spent five days during the cold snap in January living at the Ritz-Carlton on Camelback. They decided Belle must have lived somewhere with an elevator. Most dogs are afraid of them, but she understands elevators. You face the wall; it opens; you get in and turn around. Then the wall opens again, and you get off.

Jance told us it's hard to find restaurants to take puppies. So, they were in the room enjoying room service when there was a knock on the door. The concierage stood there with a sweater for Bella, since it was cold.

Three weeks ago, Jance and her husband went to New Orleans for a convention. They thought they'd try leaving Bella at home. But, she wouldn't do anything when she went outside. And, she left what they can't call accidents. They call them deliberates. So, Bella is on this book tour, too.

Jance turned Bella over to Bill, and then said, that was the preview of the actual talk. Think of it as a trailer.

The first Detective Beaumont was published in 1985. J.A. Jance started it in 1982. They've been together as author/character for thirty years, way longer than she was with her first husband. Bill, her husband now, says his life is perfect since her life with her first husband was so bad. With Bill, it's happily ever after. But, she knew so much about her first husband, that, from the point of view of a novelist, she has a gold mine of material.

For six months, Jance tried to write that story from the wrong point of view. In 1983, she sent her kids to camp, and she went to Portland to visit a friend. She took her notebooks and pens on the train. She thought she'd try to write through the detective's point of view. She started to write, and after the first two sentences, she was at the crime scene, seeing it through J.P. Beaumont's eyes. They've been like that ever since.

Jance told us After the Fire is her autobiography, a book of poetry that chronicles the years with her first husband. He died of chronic alcoholism at 42. He was hospitalized nine times in six years. He came to a tee ball game for one of their kids, and afterward, he was so sick he had to crawl to the car. It was at that point, after eighteen years of loving him, Jance realized she couldn't save him. She divorced him to save her and the kids.

In 1982, she was in Seattle, trying to write. She was a single parent with two kids, working full-time for an insurance company. She wrote every morning from four to seven because that was teh only time she had to write. When she hears people say they want to be a writer, but it isn't the perfect time, she knows they'll never write because writers write when life is imperfect.

Beaumont is told from a man's point of view. While Jance was trying to understand why her husband would rather be in a bar than home with her, she would go to the bars and listen to the men talk. It was research. She learned what made men tick.

They always say write what you know. Beau did the kind of drinking that Jance lived with for years. Jance was in Portland at a B.Dalton's, signing the fourth book, Taking the Fifth, when a woman came up to her. She said, J.P. Beaumont drinks every day. It's interfering with his work. Does he have a problem? She answered. "These are books." Jance said the author is the last person to know, but alcoholism is a disease of denial.

In the sixth book, Beaumont has his first blackout. He wakes up with splints on his hands, and doesn't know how he got them. In the eighth book, he goes into treatment. Now, J.A. Jance is in Glendale, Arizona in 2011, with Betrayal of Trust, the twentieth book. Beaumont has been sober for twelve books longer than he was drinking. Still there are people who say they liked him better as a drunk. Jance worries about them.

Years ago, Jance was at the Texas Book Festival, and she could see a young guy waiting in line with a little girl in a stroller, and he was grinning at her. When he finally got up to her, he said, "My name is Rob." He was in Rosehill Junior High when he first encountered Beaumont. He wanted to be a cop after he read the frist Beaumont. He went into the service, and served as an MP. He became a raging alcoholic, but he still wanted to be a police officer. He was hired, but knew he had to get sober. So, the day he graduated from the police academy, he went into treatment. He's now the police chief of that town. And, he introduced her to his daughter, Morgan. He said, "My wife wouldn't let me name her J.P." There are unintended consequences of books.

J.A. Jance said she always read murder mysteries. She read the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. She read John D. MacDonald as an adult. He taught her it was possible to write a series of books for adults. But, even though she read John D. MacDonald, there was something irksome about Travis McGee. He never got smarter. He always went for the wrong women. He'd get into fights, and two pages later he'd be fine. That was irksome.

Jerry Janc was Jance's first husband. When his forebears landed at Ellis Island, the last name was longer, but it was shortened. The family got tired of people pronouncing it wrong, so in 1983, they went to court and bought a vowel for $400, and Janc became Jance. Four years later, when Bill asked her to marry him, she said yes, but she had just paid for a new name, and wanted to keep it.

When Jance took her first manuscript to her agent, she knew it was about a 40-some male homicide cop. She retyped it, and put the name J.A. Jance on the manuscript for Until Proven Guilty. When the publisher read it, he said that guy was a good writer. When the agent said, what if I said the author was a woman, he said, I'd say she's a hell of a good writer.

Jance thought she was writing a standalone until the contract came and it was for a series. Then marketing became involved. Jance's first name is Judy. Marketing said they wanted to keep the initials, J.A. Jance. She said, "God love them!" It's a gender-neutral name, and her real name is Judith Ann Jance.

The first six Beaumonts were published with no author photo/biography. In Seattle, a retired homicide cop was rumored to have written the books. When the seventh book came out with her photo, rumors were that she was just the cover for a retired homicide cop who had written the books.

In the next five years, Jance wrote two Beaumonts a year.  By book nine, she was tired of Beaumont. In Until Proven Guilty, he makes a Travis-McGee like mistake and falls for the wrong woman. They're together just for days, and then he leaves his life changed. They married, and then she committed suicide by cop after the wedding, using Beaumont to pull the trigger.

At that time, Beaumont didn't trust his partner, Ron Peters. On the wedding night, after Anne Corley died, Peters comes back to the apartment, and finds the leftover wedding cake. He takes the wedding cake, and puts it down the garbage disposal. Beaumont knows they'll be good partners and friends. The problem with Anne Corley, though, is she didn't hang around long enough to be annoying.

Jance went to Bisbee High School, and Doug Davis was two years ahead of her in school. He was smart and athletic and handsome. From Bisbee, he went to West Point, and then Vietnam. He came home in a body bag.

After nine Beaumonts, Jance wrote Hour of the Hunter. Then the Beaumonts became fun again. Then her agent suggested maybe she wanted to alternate with Beau. She did know about being a single parent, and knew a lot about the desert. So, that became Joanna Brady's background. In Desert Heat, Joanna Brady's husband is dead. He's buried in Graveside Cemetary in Bisbee, the same cemetary where Doug Davis is buried. In Caifornia, someone read that book. A woman came up to Jance two years later at a signing, and asked, "Have you ever been to Bisbee?" When Jance said she went to school there, she asked her if she knew Doug Davis. Jance said she had. The woman said, my sister was engaged to marry him, and she was packed to join him for R & R when he died. When she bought Desert Heat, and read the scene at the cemetary, she thought the author might have known Doug Davis. She carried the book around with her for two years. J.A. Jance and Bonnie became friends. Bonnie didn't know any of Doug's Bisbee friends, so she was able to learn about his life there from Jance. She married after losing Doug, but the marriage didn't last. Her husband couldn't compete with the legend of a dead guy.

She tells this story because J.P. Beaumont couldn't let go of his wife's legend. He only had a brief relationship with her, but it hung on.

Jance told us Beaumont does talk to her. She'll be writing along, and he'll say something that makes her laught. She'll write it, but he said it.

In the last Beaumont book, Fire and Ice, he was attending a family reunion at Disneyland. He has a motion sickness problem, but he went on the Teacups. He ended up at the infirmary after riding them, and the nurse asked, if you know you have motion sickness, why did you go on the Teacups. His answer? My granddaughter asked me.

J.A. Jance had just fnished an Ali Reynolds book. She writes boooks, and Bill writes checks. She watches characters. He watches the cash flow, which can have peaks and valleys. She had just sent the manuscript off to her editor on a Friday afternoon. At dinner that night, Bill asked, is what he thought was an inoffensive fashion, have you given any thought to the next Beaumont book. She said, as a matter of fact, it's going to be about the Washington state governor. He wasn't impressed, but she started writing it on Monday. It's about the Washington state governor. It took her two months to write it. Don't discount the effect of a head of steam when mad. The next Ali Reynolds took her nine months to write. Betrayal of Trust took two.

Jance needed two points of information from Beaumont's past for this book. But, she had written nineteen books about him, and these were unimportant details. She writes a blog on her website, She writes about one a week. Think of it as Erma Bombeck for free. She put an S.O.S. on her blog. She needed Beau's mother's given name, and the name of his English teacher, and told the readers whoever answered her would become characters in the book. So, the book is dedicated to Joan and Rebecca, and they are also worked into the story in return for helping her.

The next Ali Reynolds book, Left for Dead, will be out in January or February. Nobody tells her since she's just the author. She's working on next summer's Joanna Brady. Writing four sets of characters in four locales keeps it fresh and interesting for her.

She said someone always asks if she outlines. She met outlining in sixth grade geography class, and hated it then. Nothing has changed. She has a terminal fear of Roman numberals, and you can't fear them and outline. She starts the books with somone dead, and spends the rest of the book finding out who did it and why.

J.A. Jance writes out deadline. She told us when she's hit by lightning, we can assume there will be no more books. There are no manuscripts piled up somewhere.

Jance ending by reminding us After the Fire is her book of poetry. It's her autobiography about the years with her first husband while he was dying of booze. It's published by the University of Arizona Press. When asked, she tells people that Hour of the Hunter is her favorite book. The main character wants to be a writer. Her husband is dead. He was allowed in the creative writing class she wasn't allowed in. And, a former professor of creative writing from teh University of Arizona is the crazed killer.

J.A. Jance's website is

Betrayal of Trust by J.A. Jance. HarperCollins. ©2011. ISBN 9780061731150 (hardcover), 352p.