Saturday, December 31, 2011

Year End Wrap-Up - Part 2

Thursday at breakfast, a woman told me I gave her the best advice she had received in the last year following her husband’s death. I told her she needed to find her passion, something she didn’t share with her husband, but something that was her own. She told me she’s passed that on to others.

One of my passions is Authors @ The Teague. Thanks to the authors, and, quite often, thanks to Barbara Peters at The Poisoned Pen Bookstore in Scottsdale, I get to introduce authors to readers. Authors @ The Teague represents one of the reasons I won the Arizona Library Association’s Outstanding Library Service Award. So, I owe a great deal to the authors, Barbara Peters and her staff, and all of the people who attend the programs. This year, again, more than twenty-five authors appeared for the program. Thank you to all of them. And, it’s a perfect way to end the year, by sharing those authors one more time with all of you. Here’s 2011 Authors @ The Teague – the year in pictures.

We kicked off the year with a local author, and the only nonfiction author we hosted this year, Susan Pohlman. Pohlman’s memoir, Halfway to Each Other, is a thoughtful, poignant look back at the year she and her family spent in Italy, a trip to save a marriage, a family, and to find a lost faith.

Donis Casey’s books are popular with the audience here, so I was lucky to have her appear at Velma Teague this year. I know she did limited appearances for her latest mystery, Crying Blood. But, the fifth book in her Alafair Tucker series set in rural Oklahoma took a turn, allowing Alafair’s husband to take the stage in a story set in the early 1900s. As always, it’s fascinating to hear Donis talk about life in ranch life in Oklahoma, and the history as it relates to her books.

In one week in March, we hosted two panels of Women in Crime. Juliet Blackwell, Deborah Coonts and Sophie Littlefield were on the first panel. Blackwell wrote an art mystery series with her sister, under the name Hailey Lind, before branching out on her own. Now, she writes two paranormal series. One features a witch who runs a vintage clothing store. The other is the Haunted Home Renovation series. Juliet had just launched the first book in that series, If Walls Could Talk, when she appeared at Velma Teague.

Left to right - Deborah Coonts, Juliet Blackwell, Sophie Littlefield

Deborah Coonts’ books, Wanna Get Lucky? and Lucky Stiff, are wonderful mystery capers set in Las Vegas. Kirkus Book Reviews referred to them as “Deliciously raunchy.”

Sophie Littlefield discussed her award-winning mystery books, A Bad Day for Sorry, A Bad Day for Pretty, and A Bad Day for Scandal. Her most recent book at the time of the program was Aftertime, part apocalyptic, with zombies.

Just four days later, we hosted Zoё Sharp, Libby Hellmann and Cara Black for the second Women in Crime panel. Cara Black’s latest book, Murder in Passy, was the eleventh book in her Aimée Leduc series, set in Paris. Fourth Day was Sharp’s eighth book in the Charlie Fox series, featuring the female bodyguard. Set the Night on Fire was Libby Hellmann’s seventh novel. Although she writes two series, this one was a standalone thriller, with one part of the book set in the ‘60s in Chicago, and the other part in the present.
Left to right - Cara Black, Libby Hellmann, Zoe Sharp

When Kathy Cano-Murillo appeared for Authors @ The Teague, she brought out the local audience, people who had gone to school with her, and readers who wanted to know what she said about Glendale in her latest novel, Miss Scarlet's School of Patternless Sewing. Cano-Murillo is a local favorite whose "Crafty Chica" column used to appear in The Arizona Republic.

Left to right - Vicki Delany & R.J. Harlick
We finished out March with Canada Day. R.J. Harlick and Vicki Delany are Canadian residents who write mysteries set there. R.J. (Robin) writes the Meg Harris mysteries, books with a wilderness setting in West Quebec. All four books in the series deal with Meg and the Algonquin First Nation. (The next book, A Green Place for Dying, is due out in February.) Vicki Delany was signing the latest book in her series set in British Columbia, Among the Departed. Those books feature Constable Molly Smith and Sergeant John Winters, Chief of Detectives.

Left to right - Avery Aames, Me, Kate Carlisle
It was so much fun to host authors Avery Aames and Kate Carlisle in May. Kate is the author of the Bibliophile mystery series. Although she discussed all the books, she focused on her latest one, Murder Under Cover. And, Kate was a good sport that day. Avery had just won the Agatha Award for Best First Novel for The Long Quiche Goodbye. Although she was on tour for her second book in the Cheese shop series, Lost and Fondue, I found a way to surprise her and celebrate her award. Her cake said, “Congrats, Avery! The Big Cheese.”

Left to right - Jane Cleland and Rosemary Harris
Jane K. Cleland and Rosemary Harris frequently do book tours together, so they played off each other beautifully for their Authors @ The Teague presentation. Jane’s latest mystery, Deadly Threads, was the sixth book in her Josie Prescott series. Slugfest was the latest book in Rosemary’s Dirty Business series, mysteries that have a gardening theme. Gardening and antiques were perfect subjects for a program held on the Saturday that Glendale held a downtown Mother’s Day celebration.

Left to right - Earlene Fowler and Carolyn Hart
I told people I was a little giddy in May, knowing I was going to host two of the biggest names in the traditional mystery field, Carolyn Hart and Earlene Fowler. But, Earlene Fowler said she felt the same way when Barbara Peters from The Poisoned Pen asked if she “minded” signing with Carolyn Hart. Fowler said the question was, would Carolyn Hart have her?

It proved to be a fascinating morning of mystery history as Hart and Fowler discussed their books and the mystery field. Hart was promoting the twenty-first book in her Death on Demand series, Dead by Midnight, and Fowler discussed her latest Benni Harper mystery, Spider Web.

Arizona was the last stop on Robert Dugoni’s extensive tour for his legal thriller, Murder One. Although Dugoni never thought he’d write a series, his first David Sloane book, The Jury Master, hit the New York Times Bestseller list. Then, his editor wanted more. Murder One was the fourth book in the series.

I introduced William Dietrich as a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist for his coverage of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, but said he was at Velma Teague to discuss his fiction, particularly his latest book, Blood of the Reich. He’s a New York Times bestselling author, and his books have been published in 31 languages. All of his historical thrillers have a grounding in history. For this one, he used the Nazi fascination with Tibet as the kickoff to the story.

Denise Hamilton is an LA native who worked for ten years as a journalist for the LA Times. With that background, it's no surprise that her latest book, Damage Control, seemed to be taken straight from the headlines. When she was writing Damage Control, the John Edwards scandal was in the news because of his affair and his love child. For a while, his campaign said his aide fathered the child. It was a media political scandal. Denise wondered how far someone would go if they could silence someone to keep the scandal from coming out. What if someone on staff could "get rid of the problem?"

Hosting an Authors @ The Teague program with a fantasy author is different than hosting a mystery author. Fantasy authors have SERIOUS fans, who read the books, can quote the books, and can give the author the answers when the author can’t remember what he wrote. I was all set to introduce the author of the series about a Druid who is twenty-one centuries old, but his fans knew about Atticus O'Sullivan. It was a treat to host Kevin Hearne, the author of The Iron Druid Chronicles. This was his first appearance for Authors @ The Teague, but, hopefully, it won’t be his last. Fans of his first three books, Hounded, Hexed, and Hammered, showed up to support him, ask questions, and chime in with comments. I’m sure many will be back when his next book, Tricked, is released in April 2012. And, some of us (smile) have tickets to the release party at Rula Bula in Tempe, where some scenes in the book are set.

Simon Wood is a favorite of many of members of Desert Sleuths, the Arizona Chapter of Sisters in Crime. This time, when he came to Arizona, he appeared for Authors @ The Teague. All of Wood's books have been standalones until now. Did Not Finish is the first in a series. It's set in the racing world. Racing is expensive, and people are willing to compromise. It's a competitive world with rule-bending. Dick Francis took readers into the world of horse racing. This series is an inside point of view of motor sports.

Thirteen members of Desert Sleuths showed up to promote their new anthology, So West, So Wild. SoWest, So Wild shows that the West is still wild. The stories are all set in the Southwest, most in Arizona. It's a diverse collection of crime fiction. I love to host this group, but we had a few technical difficulties this year when we lost the power in the library that morning. Normally, I get a group picture of all of the authors. There are individual pictures on the blog post from Oct. 16. What I do have to represent the program is a picture of the cake I had made to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Sisters in Crime. The colors matched the cover of So West, So Wild.

When Jeri Westerson appears for an author event, she brings cool toys. She 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. Each book in Westerson’s medieval noir series 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. It also introduces Geoffrey Chaucer and his Canterbury Tales’ pilgrims as characters in this Crispin Guest mystery.

Kris Neri finished out 2011 for us, appearing to discuss her latest mystery, Magical Alienation. Kris is the author of the Magical mystery series, and the Tracy Eaton mysteries. She has published over sixty short stories, winning the Derringer Award twice. Neri is also co-owner of The Well Red Coyote bookstore in Sedona. To summarize the book, Kris Neri read from the back cover of Magical Alienation. "A spaceship crash in Roswell...a rumored alien...the mysterious Area 51...a harmonic convergence in Sedona. No connection, right? With its rock stars and shape shifters, gods and haunting militia leaders - Magical Alienation will turn what you think you know upside down."

I can only repeat some of the year end comments from last year. Thank you to all of the authors who made Authors @ The Teague a successful series in 2011. And, thank you to Barbara Peters for her assistance in bringing the authors to Glendale. I love this series, and I hope the authors enjoyed their appearances at Velma Teague.

So, here's my New Year's resolution for 2012. I'm going to try to continue to bring authors to Glendale for Authors @ The Teague.  What can you expect in 2012? Watch the sidebar on the blog for planned appearances. There are already a few programs scheduled, and I'm excited about the programs. At the moment, these authors are scheduled - 

Deborah Crombie - Feb. 9 - 2 p.m.
Beth Aldrich - Feb. 18 - 2 p.m.
Hilary Davidson - Feb. 22 - 2 p.m.
Rhys Bowen, Cara Black and Libby Hellmann - March 12 - 2 p.m.

I'm sure we'll be booking more authors. If you're an author, particularly a mystery author, who will be in the Phoenix area, and want to appear in a small venue, with no promise as to the size of the audience, contact me! I'm at Keep Authors @ The Teague in mind for your 2012 schedule!

And, thank you, again, to all of the authors who appeared for Authors @ The Teague in 2011. You truly are treasures. Authors @ The Teague is one of my passions. Thank you.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Year End Wrap-Up - Part 1

Last year, I did a Year End Wrap-Up for the first time, and more people read it than I expected. So, like last year, I’ll summarize the year in two parts, featuring Authors @ The Teague tomorrow.

I did a great deal of traveling this year, but still managed to read 188 books. (I know my friend, Sandie, tells people I read a book a day, but it’s close to a book every two days.) That’s ten more books than 2010, so I do seem to have a regular pace. Of those 188 books, 105 were mysteries or crime fiction, a higher number than last year.

With Craig Johnson at LCC

Two of my trips actually involved books. I attended Left Coast Crime in Santa Fe, a city I had wanted to see for ten years. I had the chance to meet a number of mystery writers there. And, I was at Craig Johnson’s table at the banquet the night he won the Watson for a mystery novel (Junkyard Dogs) with the best sidekick.

My other book-related trip was to New York City in May. I was on a panel at Book Expo America (BEA), The Great Readalike – If You Like This…You’ll LOVE That!, where I talked about mysteries.

In July, I welcomed Sandie Herron to Lesa’s Book Critiques. Sandie, the former owner of A Novel Idea bookstore in Sarasota, Florida, writes book reviews that appear in Sandie’s Corner. With her reviews, you’re able to read someone else’s opinions about books.

Photo by Bette Sharpe for Glendale Daily Planet

It was a surprise, and a wonderful honor, this year when the Arizona Library Association presented me with the Outstanding Library Service Award in November. That award was given because of my contribution to the community through my blog, Authors @ The Teague, and my brown bag luncheons, as much as for my job as a library manager. So, thank you to all of you for sharing in those events.

And, I can't forget to mention the "conversation" I had with two friends, Jen Forbus and Kaye Barley, as the three of us shared a chat about mysteries and books via our blogs, a conversation with three reading women. That was a treat for me, and I hope readers enjoyed it. 

One of my favorite things about reading is discovering debut fiction authors. As usual, I was impressed with the ones I read. In 2011, I read first novels by Eleanor Brown, author of The Weird Sisters, graphic novelist Jonathan Case (Dear Creature), Sarah Jio (The Violets of March), Jael McHenry (The Kitchen Daughter), Meg Mitchell Moore (The Arrivals), and Deborah Rodriguez. Although Rodriguez is the author of Kabul Beauty School, A Cup of Friendship was her first novel.

Fans of crime fiction may want to watch for these debut novelists that I enjoyed this year: Esri Allbritten (Chihuahua of the Baskervilles), Carol K. Carr, with two books, India Black and India Black and the Widow of Windsor; Spencer Seidel (Dead of Wynter), and Tina Whittle (The Dangerous Edge of Things). S.J. Watson's thriller, Before I Go to Sleep, was one of the most talked about debuts of the year.

And, I saved one debut for last. One of the authors, Kevin Hearne, is a local Valley author. His urban fantasy series, The Iron Druid Chronicles, kicked off with three terrific books in succession, Hounded, Hexed, and Hammered. I was so impressed with these books that I asked him to appear for Authors @ The Teague. What a terrific appearance! The audience was packed with fans who discovered this author. Now, a number of us have tickets to the launch in April of the next book in the series, Tricked.

I want to end by thanking every reader of Lesa's Book Critiques. I want to thank you as readers who love books, in whatever format. You comment on the posts, tell your friends about the blog, follow me here, and on Twitter (@LesaHolstine). I want to welcome new readers, and I hope you will continue to stop back once in a while. It's fun to tell you about books and discuss them here. I love to hear that you read and enjoyed a book I reviewed, or that you didn't like a book. Thank you for all the comments. I love to write this blog because I know you're reading it.

In early January, 2012, I'll be kicking off the eighth year of Lesa's Book Critiques, and I have an idea as to how to do that. So, I hope you'll stick with me.

In the meantime, please come back tomorrow, when part 2 will include the year in pictures.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Sweet Tea and Jesus Shoes

The collection of stories called Sweet Tea and Jesus Shoes has tantalized me for years, but no library I worked at owned the book, and I didn’t know enough of the authors in it to buy it. But, when the publisher sent me a note saying it was free for Kindle for a short time, I scooped it up. I am a big fan of Deborah Smith, one of the authors. I enjoy her books, and loved Sweet Hush. And, Donna Ball is an author I discovered this year, the author of one of my favorite books of 2011, Keys to the Castle. So, now I had the perfect opportunity to accept their invitation to sit on the porch and listen to some Southern storytellers.

Every one of the women who contributed stories to this collection can sweep the reader down south. Sandra Chastain’s “The Jesus Shoes” takes readers to Vacation Bible School where a little girl learns a big lesson. And, then there’s the lesson about interrupting Grandmother during her soap opera, as shown in Virginia Ellis’ “No More Mickey Mouse.” Deborah Smith, Debra Dixon and Nancy Knight also tell stories of family, food, and animals, stories you could imagine being told on some porch as family gathers. But, two of Donna Ball’s stories stood out, “Storytelling” and “Fingerprints.” And, “Fingerprints” exemplifies the entire spirit of the book, Southern roots, family, food, and tradition. It’s the story of a family that honors tradition and the elders, while teaching new family members the legends, and bringing them into the fold.

If you want some of that Southern cooking to go with the stories, recipes are included for everything from sweet tea to fried chicken. These authors know how to tell a story, how to carry a reader into the South, into a family. If you enjoy Southern stories, Southern life, and some time on the porch with sweet tea, you just might want to pick up a copy of Sweet Tea and Jesus Shoes.

(Note – And, you might want to try Deborah Smith’s Sweet Hush and Donna Ball’s Keys to the Castle, two of my favorite books.

Bellebooks' website is

Sweet Tea and Jesus Shoes by Deborah Smith, et al. Bellebooks, Incorporated, ©2000. ISBN 9780967303505 (paperback), 192p.

FTC Full Disclosure – This was free on Kindle.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Explosive Eighteen by Janet Evanovich

Who would have ever thought Stephanie Plum could be introspective and show a little maturity? It took eighteen books, and a confrontation between Ranger and Morelli, but Stephanie Plum shows a few signs of growing up in Janet Evanovich’s latest book, Explosive Eighteen.

When Stephanie returned a day early from Hawaii, she wasn’t too happy with the men in her life, but she wasn’t talking about it. She had worse problems to deal with. A man on the first leg of her flight home ended up dead, and she ended up with a photograph in her bag, one he put there. Now, four groups of people, including the FBI, are looking for that picture. Too bad Stephanie put it in the trash at her parents’ house, but can’t convince anyone that the picture is gone.

What would a Stephanie Plum novel be without car problems, trouble bringing in people who skipped their hearings, and an explosion or two? And, the problems with the office are only getting worse, since everyone is working out of a bus. Then, there’s Lulu and her food, and her men, along with Grandma Mazur and funeral homes. It’s a typical Stephanie Plum caper.

Lulu, convinced that Stephanie brought all kinds of bad luck back with her from Hawaii, tells her, “It’s like you’re a reality show all by yourself.” And, Stephanie has problems with that.“Truth is, I was beginning to not like myself so much. The honest confusion of loving two men was giving way to something that felt a little like unhealthy self-indulgence. I’m not an especially introspective person. Mostly, I go day by day putting one foot in front of the other, hoping I’m moving forward….Anyway, like it or not, I was presently caught in the throes of self-examination, and I was coming up short.”

There’s all the familiar humor, the familiar situations, and the characters readers love in this latest novel. But, an introspective Stephanie, one who actually stops and thinks, is a refreshing change of pace. Explosive Eighteen may not be as funny as some of the earliest books in the series. However, after seventeen earlier books, it’s nice to see Stephanie finally show a little more maturity. For me, it was a welcome change.

Janet Evanovich’s website is

Explosive Eighteen by Janet Evanovich. Bantam Books. ©2011. ISBN 9780345527714 (hardcover), 305p.

FTC Full Disclosure – Library book

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A Vine in the Blood by Leighton Gage

Leighton Gage’s first three Chief Inspector Mario Silva crime novels, beginning with Blood of the Wicked, were extremely graphic, violent stories of Brazil and Silva’s investigations. Although they were always fascinating, providing views of a Brazil that few of us knew, I’m sure some readers were not happy with the graphic nature of the books. Crime and murder are not pretty. But, with the fourth book, Gage toned down the violence. And, now, with the fifth, A Vine in the Blood, he gives us a police procedural that concentrates on the investigation, not on the graphic nature of murder. Now, he’s able to play up the personalities of the police investigators even more.

The kidnapping of a wealthy woman, Juraci Santos, would normally not bring out the resources of all of the Brazilian Federal Police. But, Juraci Santos was the mother of Tico, “the Artist.” And, with the FIFA World Cup less than two weeks away, it was important that the Artist be happy. Brazil’s success in the World Cup was dependent on Tico. For the first time in sixty years, the country would be hosting the World Cup. No one in the country wanted to lose to Argentina, their bitter rival. If Chief Inspector Mario Silva failed to find the kidnappers, and the Artist was unable to play, or played poorly, the wrath of the country and the government would fall on Silva’s boss, the Director in charge, Nelson Sampaio.

As Federal Police, Silva’s team can work anywhere in the country. Silva’s nephew, Hector Costa, is in charge of the São Paulo office, where the kidnapping occurred. He and his team investigated the scene of the crime, where Juraci Santos was kidnapped and two young maids, sisters, were killed. They did the initial work on a case that took strange turns. As the entire nation watched, the case involved the football world, a model with a great deal of klout, organized crime, samba schools, an honest judge, and a private investigator. Mario Silva never had a case in which the entire nation had a vested interest.

Crime always involves politics in Leighton Gage’s Brazil, and A Vine in the Blood is no exception. There’s constant pressure and media attention on this case. But, this case allows Gage to focus some of the attention on the investigators, from Silva with his alcoholic wife, to “Babyface” Gonçalves, the attractive officer who looks much younger than his years, to Arnaldo Nunes and Mara Carta, who constantly bicker. For the first time, Gage’s crime novel reminds me of one of the best, Ed McBain and his cops of the 87th Precinct.

It’s been fascinating to watch the changes in Leighton Gage’s writing. He’s still the master of Brazil crime novels. He still brings to life the passions and interests of the country. Last year, with Every Bitter Thing, he put more emphasis on the Federal Police and less on the brutality of the crimes. A Vine in the Blood continues that progression, combining the best of the international crime novel with the personalities and stories of the best police procedurals.

Leighton Gage’s website is

A Vine in the Blood by Leighton Gage. Soho Press, ©2011. ISBN 9781616950040 (hardcover), 289p.

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