Monday, October 31, 2011

The Ancient Ones by Lori Hines

Lori Hines’ paranormal mystery, The Ancient Ones, is the perfect story for anyone interested in Ghost Hunters, the reality series. The story combines the paranormal, romance, and good vs. evil.

Lorelei Lanier is part of a team, the Arizona-Irish Paranormal Research Society. Since her mother’s death, though, she’s discovered she has skills as a psychic/medium. But, her skills are greater than she knows, as she’ll learn.

Together with Ian Healy, pagan, Wiccan, healer, and paranormal investigator, and Shannon Flynn, an FBI investigator, Lorelei and the rest of the team test their skills at Vulture Mine in Wickenburg, Arizona. Lorelei experiences a number of unusual sightings, but it’s their first case for the FBI that increases her powers, and places her in danger.

In Cochise County in southeast Arizona, the owner of a ranch found a body on her property, but, when she returned less than fifteen minutes later, it was gone. That, combined with unusual sightings of a wolf and a giant bird, cause the FBI to suspect a paranormal connection. The team discover a connection to a cult from the 1930s. But, Lorelei discovers her connection to the ancient ones, a vanished race that developed their connection to the stars and the universe. And, her abilities seem to increase with the powerful connection she discovers with Ian.

Hines pulls out all the stops, connecting ancient races, the paranormal, sexuality, and suspense. Until Lorelei and Ian actually learned how they were connected, the sexual attraction became a joke to the rest of the team, and a little irritating. However, the author finally made a connection that made it acceptable, and logical. And, there were small mistakes in the manuscript. One that was never corrected was the repeated reference to a “father-in-law” and “son-in-law” when it should have been stepfather and stepson.  

Anyone who is interested in paranormal investigation will find all the instruments used in the book, and the methodology to be fascinating.

The Ancient Ones was a fascinating book that successfully linked two storylines with different crimes. And, Hines created intriguing characters in Lorelei and Ian. It will be interesting to see if she can, and will, continue to develop the mysteries of their past, and their future.

Lori Hines’ website is

The Ancient Ones by Lori Hines. Aberdeen Bay. ©2011. ISBN 9781608300525 (paperback), 258p.

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

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Who Do, Voodoo? by Rochelle Staab

Rochelle Staab launches her mystery career with a successful debut, the first book in the Mind for Murder series, Who Do Voodoo? What happens when a psychologist is forced to deal with magic, power she’s unwilling to accept?

Liz Cooper doesn’t want to accept the occult. She's a true skeptic. Her best friend, Robin Bloom, on the other hand, is a believer following the unexpected death of her husband a year earlier, the day after Liz’ mother read his tarot cards. Liz admits she has a “Distrust of the occult, ripened by a lifetime of Mom’ ridiculous predictions, turned into disgust.” When Robin finds a threatening tarot card on her door, though, followed by two more, on the anniversary of her husband’s death, Liz is angry enough to help her friend find the threat. So, she calls on her brother’s friend, Nick Garfield. Nick is a religious philosophy professor who teaches and writes about alternative beliefs.

Before Liz and Nick can track down the set of tarot cards, things get worse for Robin. When there’s a murder in the parking lot at The Greek Theater, Robin’s the primary suspect. She had a loud, observed argument with the victim shortly before Nick and Liz found the body in the parking lot. As evidence piles up, Liz is the only one convinced her childhood friend could not be a killer. And, if she has to join forces with Nick, going into the victim’s world of voodoo and hexes in order to find the truth, she’ll go against all her beliefs, and do it.

Staab’s characters are intriguing in this debut mystery. Liz and Nick represent opposing viewpoints, psychology and religion, to learn why people do what they do. And, as serious as the subjects are, along with the subject of murder, the author manages to include humor and light romance. There’s a fun scene in Liz’ kitchen, a confrontation between her ex, a baseball player, and Nick. And, her mother always adds a touch of humor, with her belief in the tarot cards, and her pushiness when it comes to Liz’ relationships.

At times, Liz seemed a little immature, particularly when it came to her feelings and actions around Nick. But, she’s still an interesting protagonist. Staab manages to include magic, the history of religion, humor and interesting characters in a solid mystery debut. I’m looking forward to the second book in the series. The contrasting beliefs leave a great deal of room for future stories. Who Do, Voodoo? successfully launched the series.

And, just as a point of interest, check out the terrific cover illustration by Blake Morrow. I still think Berkley Prime Crime has some of the best mystery book covers.

Rochelle Staab's website is

Who Do, Voodoo? by Rochelle Staab. Berkley Prime Crime. ©2011. ISBN 9780425244593 (paperback), 292p.

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

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Jeri Westerson for Authors @ The Teague

Author Rebecca Cantrell is right. When Jeri Westerson appears for an author event, she brings cool toys. She recently appeared for Authors @ The Teague on her Troubled Bones tour. Anyone who wanted to handle her medieval weapons was welcome to try them out. Jeri does a terrific program, fun and informative.

Westerson calls her style medieval noir. She said she was first writing historical fiction at a time when Publishers Weekly called historical fiction dead. She tried to sell it for ten years, and saw her agents come and go. One of those agents said, why don’t we try mysteries. After more rejections, Jeri thought maybe she should try mysteries. She decided to write medieval mysteries. She always loved Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael. But many of those medieval mysteries have a slower pace with a monk or nun as the protagonist. Westerson wanted to do something much different. 

Westerson was reading Chandler and Hammett, so she decided to create a hardboiled detective in a medieval setting. Then, he would be hired to solve mysteries. She made him the typical lone detective. Crispin Guest is hard-drinking and hard-living. He gets beaten up. He’s a sucker for a dame in trouble. But, he also was a knight, so he’s educated, and has the skills he needs to be an investigator. He can read and write. He knows several languages. He has in intense sense of justice and honor.  When Crispin Guest was convicted of treason, he lost his knighthood. Everything that defined him was taken. Guest redefines himself as “the Tracker.”

London becomes another character in Westerson’s books. Each book deals with a religious relic or venerated object. Troubled Bones, the latest book, deals with relics at Canterbury Cathedral, the bones of Thomas à Becket. Crispin got in some trouble in London, and the sheriff offered him options, go to jail or do a job for the Archbishop of Canterbury. So, Guest agreed to guard the bones of Thomas à Becket. The Archbishop was afraid the Lollards would steal them. Lollards were members of a reformist movement, and they didn’t believe in relics. While Crispin was in the cathedral, a pilgrim was murdered.

Westerson told us she had been waiting to do this book since she knew she was setting her series in the 14th century. She wanted to do this story. Jeri’s parents were rabid Anglophiles. They were history buffs, particularly British history buffs. Their collection included fiction and nonfiction from authors such as Thomas B. Costain and Norah Lofts.

As a kid, Jeri read a child’s version of The Canterbury Tales when she was eight nor nine. It had great illustrations. She loved the pilgrims. Then the afterword said Chaucer died before he finished The Canterbury Tales, and she was upset. Naturally, some of the bawdier tales were left out of the child’s version.

Jeri’s mother had a record of The Canterbury Tales. It included the prologue and some of the stories, written and read in middle English. Westerson loved the lyrical flow of the language.

When Westerson was young, her parents took the family to lots of museums. For a family of five, it was cheap entertainment because admission was free. One they visited was the Huntington Library. It had a Gutenberg Bible. There was one of Shakespeare’s quartos, and one of his bad quartos. And, there was the Ellesmere Manuscript. It was commissioned after Chaucer’s death. It was written by hand, and contains illustrations of all the pilgrims and Chaucer. 

So, Westerson has been waiting to get to the right year to write about The Canterbury Tales and Chaucer. In Troubled Bones, Crispin Guest meets the pilgrims and Chaucer. Chaucer was quite an interesting person. He was a knight, a poet, a spy for the king. His sister-in-law was the mistress of the Duke of Lancaster, John of Gaunt.

Westerson said she does most of her research in university libraries. There are a number of archives on the Internet. Many of the small archives are thrilled to answer her questions. She’s only been to Europe once when she was eighteen. She was there for a month in England and northern Europe.

It was Canterbury Cathedral that struck her, and touched her the most. Westerson showed us a diagram of the Cathedral, showing it built outside the town. The monastery was there as well, and it was self-sufficient. The Archbishop of Canterbury, the voice of Rome, had his own manor house. She showed us a picture of the narrow gate leading to the cathedral, perfect as a gate to get to the heavenly cathedral. The west gate was still being built in Crispin’s days. There were towers and guards. Mercy Lane, on the way to the cathedral, was a medieval lane. Canterbury Cathedral is very much a character in Troubled Bones.

Thomas à Becket was murdered in Canterbury Cathedral. At one time, he was King Henry II's best friend. Henry II was the father of Richard the Lionheart and King John. Becket was Chancellor of England. Henry II had a problem with the Church. He wanted to try clerics in court, and the Archbishop of Canterbury told him no. They had to be tried in Church courts. Then, the Archbishop died, and Henry seized the opportunity. He had Thomas made Archbishop, even though he wasn’t a priest.

However, Thomas took his job seriously, and the next time Henry II brought up the subject of trying priests, Thomas said no. The priests were under the jurisdiction of the Church. Henry was frustrated, and, at court, asked, “Who will rid me of the troublesome priest?” Four barons killed him while he was at prayer in the cathedral. The people immediately declared Becket a saint, and the Church made it official only a year later. Canterbury Cathedral became a place of pilgrimage.  Henry II said, please forgive me for having him murdered, and wore sackcloth. Pilgrimage sites were very popular at the time because people could get points off their time in purgatory by making a pilgrimage.

Westerson showed us illustrations of Becket’s shrine. A canopy was lowered over it to protect it at night. During the day, though, people could touch the bones. It’s just that some started to take home bones as souvenirs. There was a charge to come and see the shrine.

The shrine to Thomas à Becket is no longer there. There was another Henry who had problems with the Church. Henry VIII took over the Church of England. He dissolved the monasteries, and destroyed shrines, particularly this one. It was a shrine to an Archbishop who opposed a king named Henry.

The coffin of Edward of Woodstock, the Black Prince, is also there. His surcoat, helm, gauntlets and sword are on display. It’s unusual to have the originals in a museum.

Jeri told us she likes to write about medieval times because she likes to play with the weapons. She does pack them in her luggage when she flies. The TSA always picks her luggage when they do random searches. She thinks they actually take everything out and play with them.

Then, Westerson took time to show us the weapons she brought. The broadsword weighed three pounds, and was forty-four inches long. It was a one-handed weapon, more or less. It was designed as a hacking and slashing weapon. It was not used as a foil, as it is in many films.

She said everyone needed a good dagger. If you’re caring a small shield, a buckler, it’s also good to have a dagger. That’s where the term swashbuckler came from. A man could block a broadsword with a dagger and a buckler. Women wore jewel-encrusted daggers. Westerson even recommended a particular dagger because if someone was stabbing with a dagger, there would be momentum with their hand, and when the dagger stops in the body, the hand might continue, and the person would be cut. So, she said you wanted a dagger with a piece to stop the hand from being cut.

Jeri had a piece of mail in her possession. She said it was part of a piece sent to a museum for repairs. It would rust, so it needed to be cleaned in sand. She demonstrated the use of a little battleax, saying it would be used on horseback, and the user would slash away. She showed us what most of us would have called a mace. But, hers is a flail. Attached with a chain, it’s a flail. Without a chain, it’s a mace. That would be used on horseback.

She showed us the gauntlet, then the sugarloaf helm. It was called that because sugar came in a container of that shape.

Jeri Westerson's next book, Blood Lance, has jousting in it. She'll have a powerpoint in which she’s on a 2000 pound Percheron dressed as a knight. It’s hard to see with the helm. But, the knight on that horse would plow through foot soldiers.

Asked to talk about Crispin’s apprentice, Jack Tucker, Westerson said she introduced him in the first book, Veil of Lies. He was an orphan, eleven years old, and a cutpurse. Each book is now a year later, so Jack ages.  Westerson has turned in book five, and is working on six. Jack is a Huck Finn, Artful Dodger character. He’s all kinds of things to Crispin, including the child and family he’ll never have. After a couple books, Crispin takes him under his wing, seeing him as his legacy. In Troubled Bones, Jack has his own chapters, and many readers say those are their favorites.

Westerson likes writing a series because she’s writing the world’s largest novel. She knows the backstory. Jack’s growing up, and, someday, Crispin might.  Jack starts at eleven, and he’s now thirteen/fourteen. The characters change in the course of the series.

Most of the books are set in London. Maybe one will be set in France. Chaucer is in the next one. In this series, she can follow Crispin, but also can follow the historical timeline. She can include the politics of the time, and sometimes, more of the actual characters who lived.

To finish up, members of the audience tried on the helm and gauntlet, and played with the medieval weapons while Jeri Westerson signed books. This program combined books, history and weapons, a little different for Authors @ The Teague.

Jeri Westerson's website is 

Troubled Bones by Jeri Westerson. St. Martin’s Minotaur. ©2011. ISBN 9780312621636 (hardcover), 288p.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Jamie Shaheen's Los Angeles

Jamie Shaheen, my college roommate, has an entire list of places to take people who come to LA. If she ever gives up her career as an entertainer, she can get a job as a tour guide. But, be prepared! Jamie knows how to pack it in in one day. We had a fantastic time, but we went from 9 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. There's no one more fun to spend the day with if you want to pack in an entire day.

We did drive-bys of many of these places, so no pictures of some of them. But, we hit all these places in one day.

We started our day at the Buddhist temple. Very impressive.

The Buddhist Temple

From there, we went downtown. Jamie took me to Chinatown, Olvera Street, and by the Walt Disney Concert Hall and Dorothy Chandler pavilion.

Entrance to Chinatown

She took me by the courthouse where the O.J. Simpson trial was held. And, we went by the Staples Center. From there we went to the La Brea Tar Pits, and walked around. (Just about as sticky as the O.J. trial.)

Lunch was at the Farmer's Market, close to CBS Studios. The last time Jamie and I were at the Farmer's Market together was in 1979 when we took a tour of California and Las Vegas together. It's certainly changed for the better since then.

And, followed lunch by walking through The Grove shopping area. Gorgeous, but since neither of us are shoppers, we just walked it. Jamie then took me on a driving tour of Beverly Hills. (You do get to see more mansions when you take a wrong turn, and the security guard sends you up the hill past more mansions in order to turn around.) From there it was to Rodeo Drive, then past Grauman's Chinese Theater (saw it in 1979). We did Sunset & Vine just to say we had.

From there, we headed to Griffith Park. We did spend an hour at the Griffith Observatory going through all the exhibits. I told her Jim would have loved that.

Griffith Observatory

Have you ever seen Los Angeles from the hills?

And, this was also the best view I had of the Hollywood sign.

Actually, we'll admit we didn't realize how wonderful the Griffith Observatory and the view would be. The real reason we went to Griffith Park? We were heading to the Greek Theatre, an outdoor theatre to see the Celtic Thunder show. I dragged a musician to see the show, and brought back another fan who told me I turned her into a groupie. Yes, we went out to the buses to see the guys. We saw three, but that wasn't as good as I did two nights earlier in Mesa, when I met all six singers, got photos of all of them, and a hug from George Donaldson. Even so, it's fun to see them again. And, I brought back a convert.

We ended the day at the Santa Monica Pier, getting there at 11 p.m. and walking out the pier to see the ocean. Did you know the pier marks the end of Route 66? It also marked the end of that day's LA tour.

I'm going back in February. Jamie's already planning my tour of the Queen Mary and Laguna Beach. And, who knows what else? I have faith in her. She's high energy. We've done Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C. highlights in just days. We just cram as much as we can in the time we have together in a city.

So, thanks, Jamie! Best tour guide I ever had!